Accessibility statement



Organisers: Richard Walsh, English and Related Literature and Susan Stepney, Computer Science/ York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA)

The concept of complexity, while it connects with associated ideas like the complicated or the difficult, gains precision from its use in complex systems theory, where it relates to the emergent qualities of systemic interactions. Complexity science studies such systemic processes in disciplinary contexts ranging across the natural and social sciences, but complexity is also manifestly of great interest in the humanities, both as a problem for cultural forms of representation and knowledge, and as a quality of cultural artefacts and discourses in themselves.

The humanities have much insight to gain from dialogue with complexity science, its methods and conceptual frameworks; but it is equally the case that humanities perspectives have much to contribute to the challenges complex systems present as objects of scientific inquiry, in conceptual and communicative terms. Complexity in the Humanities seeks to open up several dimensions of an exchange with complexity science in order to draw out the reciprocal benefits of such a radically interdisciplinary dialogue.

The disciplinary perspectives embraced by CModS offer three overlapping approaches to this dialogue, building upon the several respects in which questions of complexity arise in humanities research, and the connections already established in York with the York Cross-disciplinary Centre for Systems Analysis (YCCSA).

These connections have been developed via the Interdisciplinary Centre for Narrative Studies(the NarCS group) and the previous CModS research strand, World Systems/Systems of the World, as well as the ongoing Complexity Reading Group co-hosted by CModS and YCCSA.

The three axes of this research strand are:

  • The Politics of Complexity/ the Complexity of Politics: we shall bring to bear the critical discourses of the humanities upon the ideological stakes of complexity (its social, economic and environmental manifestations, but also its academic study); at the same time we shall explore the conceptual value of complexity science with respect to political processes in themselves. 
  • The Aesthetics of Complexity/Complex Aesthetics: how does the concept of complexity elucidate questions of aesthetic value and experience, in theory and in contemporary culture? And how can aesthetics, as a field of inquiry, inform our engagement with complex systems in academia and in culture at large? 
  • Narrating Complexity/Complex Narratives: complex systems defy narrative explanation, even as they exhibit exactly the sort of behaviour that invites it, because their systemic qualities are not reducible to narrative expression. As such, complex systems present a problem of intelligibility that is both challenging and illuminating for narrative theory, and we shall explore its implications for complexity science, science communication, narrative cognition, and narrative representations across contemporary cultural media.


Complexity in the Humanities will be inaugurated with a symposium in which papers on narrating complexity will be presented by members of the multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional NarCS network, with respondents drawn from the CModS participants.
The symposium will be followed up with a CModS and YCCSA workshop developing aspects of the dialogue on complexity in terms of the three axes of the Complexity in the Humanities research theme and pursuing the opportunities for collaborative humanities research these topics afford.

The ongoing Complexity Reading Group meets on a monthly basis, alternating hosted by CModS in the Berrick Saul Building and by YCCSA in the Ron Cooke Hub; it is open to all interested faculty and graduate students.