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Complexity theory offers some useful insights into the nature of continuity and change, and is thus of considerable interest in both the philosophical and practical understanding of educational and institutional change. Complexity theory’s notion of emergence implies that, given a significant degree of complexity in a particular environment, or critical mass, new properties and behaviours emerge that are not contained in the essence of the constituent elements, or able to be predicted from a knowledge of initial conditions. These concepts of emergent phenomena from a critical mass, associated with notions of lock-in, path dependence, and inertial momentum, contribute to an understanding of continuity and change that has not hitherto been readily available in other theories of or perspectives on change.

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In this contribution the focus is on sketching a programmatic view of thinking in complexity about learning and development. This kind of thinking goes beyond linear thinking. The new thinking in complexity about a dynamic complex reality may enable us to build a new science of learning and education, which does not take the nonlinear complex reality for granted, but regards it as “real”: a science with a framework that does not exist yet. A new vision on learning is presented which takes the concept of interaction as a key concept, which may be linked with the notion of dynamic complexity. Thinking in complexity has its focus on “that which is interwoven”. Learning and development through interaction may thus be viewed as a way of co‐creating ourselves within a web of reciprocal relationships with the other. This co‐creation may be described as a complex of self‐generative, self‐sustaining processes of mutual “bootstrapping” with potentially nonlinear effects over time. Modelling learning this way, may show learning to be a potentially nonlinear phenomenon within a new reality as the domain of possibilities and potentialities of learning. The modelling of such learning as “bootstrapping,” and the concomitant effects on both partners in the interaction, shows these very possibilities and potentialities of learning in their humanly connected spaces of possibility. It demonstrates the very truth of Vygotsky’s adage that “it is through others that we develop into ourselves.” Based on his thoughts, we are able to develop a new view of the complex nonlinear reality of learning and education, with learners as potentially nonlinear human beings.

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Oriented by complexity thinking and informed by a selection of “game-changing” research findings in the educational literature, we describe a set of innovations to a teacher education program. These innovations include broad awareness of theories of learning, specialization across levels, integration of pre-service and in-service offerings, a developmental curriculum, and deep partnerships with schools.

Across the sort of teacher education initiatives we have described, a central goal is to dislodge public education from its rut of common sense – that is, unquestioned structures, uninterrogated practices, unnoticed simplifications. What might happen when differences in theoretical perspective are framed in terms of productive conversation rather than reductive argument? Our guess is that such shifts in emphasis will help to move the cultural project of education to a new place, away from an ethos of segregated action and separated interests into a space of mutual challenge, joint interest, collective production. Importantly, the principal site of this cultural project is teacher education.

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Complexity science is in the forefront of contemporary scientific development; its rise and development triggered the breakthrough and innovation of methodology in scientific research. Curriculum is a complex adaptive system. Complexity curriculum research also includes nonlinearity, uncertainty, self-organization and emergent properties.

To look at and examine the school curriculum from a complex scientific theory helps us understand, interpret, and handle complex curriculum issues, and helps us to master the complexity of the curriculum system during the practice of specific curriculum reform. At the same time, it also has some practical significance and inspiration value for our understanding and awareness of the current systemic reform of basic education: its curriculum, complexity, difficulties. Now, the complexity of curriculum studies is in the ascent, although its research mission still has a long way to go. We’re just on the road.

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This paper aims at contributing to new ways of thinking about democratic education. We discuss how revisiting this concept may help raise fresh questions in relation to non-formal fora grappling with intricate sustainability issues that span international borders. Starting from Rancière’s ideas on democracy, we first examine a conception of democratic education derived from these ideas. Next, we turn to a complexity informed notion of education as proposed by the two strands of emergence and enaction. We discuss how, in introducing additional dimensions, these strands might fruitfully complement the Rancierian conception of education. We conclude our discussion by proposing to reposition democratic education as a process of (co)-emergence afforded by a series of critical moments which, we suggest, can call forth radically novel visions for governing the commons.

The present paper is structured as follows: After a brief overview of writings that we found relevant for the ensuing discussion, we introduce Rancière’s thinking on democracy and democratic practices. We show how this thinking informs recent theorizing on democratic education. We next compare what we shall call a Rancierian conception of education with one informed by complexity, more precisely, its two strands of emergence and enaction. We highlight how we see the two ways of thinking about education as complementary in several respects. Finally, we discuss implications of combining these approaches in relation to the notion of novelty. As the recent Occupy movements – along with transboundary environmental activism – illustrate, formal policies currently presented as democratic are increasingly contested. All too often, the logic to which national governments and their teams of experts adhere are found inappropriate for addressing intricate and uncertain problems, the scope of which tends to span national boundaries. Change seems instead to happen at the edge as collective experiments seek novel ways of tackling such problems.

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An understanding of chaos theory and the sciences of complexity is crucial to systemic transformation of our educational systems to better meet the rapidly changing needs of our children and communities. Helpful concepts include co-evolution, disequilibrium, positive feedback, perturbance, transformation, fractals, strange attractors, self-organization, and dynamic complexity. These concepts can help us to understand (a) when a system is ready for transformation, and (b) the system dynamics that are likely to influence individual changes we try to make and the effects of those changes. Furthermore, chaos theory and the sciences of complexity can help us to understand and improve the transformation process as a complex system that educational systems use to transform themselves. Strange attractors and leverage points are particularly important to help our educational systems to correct the dangerous evolutionary imbalance that currently exists.

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This paper uses complexity theory as a means towards clarifying some of Gilles Deleuze’s conceptualisations in communication and the philosophy of language. His neologisms and post-structuralist tropes are often complicated and appear to be merely metaphorical. Howevertheir meanings may be clarified and enriched provided they are grounded in the science of complexity and self-organising dynamics. Reconceptualizing communication in a manner consistent with Deleuze’s philosophy enriches our understanding of the complexity involved in the process of learning and the whole of educational experience. The paper explores education as “becoming,” that is, a process of growth and becoming-other enabled by creative communication. While the mathematics of complexity is beyond the scope of this paper, some of its conjunctions with Deleuze’s philosophy will be examined for the purpose of addressing such problematic areas in education as, for example, specialisation and the breadth of curriculum. Finally, the paper moves to a practical level so as to construct an image of a self-organised classroom. Self-organising dynamics are posited as consistent with what Noddings called an excellent system of education. Education proceeds without any reference to an external aim. Rather, the “aim” is implicit in the experiential process of self-organisation and, as such, is conducive to students’ learning, creation of meanings, and eliciting broad curricula.

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In order for complex systems to change sustainably, agents at various levels of those systems must interact with each other, and control must be distributed in such a way as to “promote individual autonomy and enrich communication” amongst the systems’ various levels. The practical implication of this is that each school system implementing an effort at instructional improvement must establish and maintain a common direction while also allowing individual actors – principals, teachers, and other educators – to make decisions that are appropriate for them and their local constituencies.

As schools, districts, and the overall education system are complex entities, both the approaches taken to improve them and the methods used to study them must be similarly complex. Simple solutions imposed with no regard for schools’ or districts’ unique contexts hold little promise, while seemingly insignificant differences between those contexts affect in seemingly disproportionate ways the quality and success with which they implement the same programs. Context must be taken very much into account when initiatives are planned and implemented, as well as when their impacts are investigated.

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This article examines systemic change through a gradual, self-generating change that can lead to a paradigm shift, using urban pioneering movement in Helsinki as an example. The urban pioneering movement aims at transforming the urban culture through activities that generate more tolerant and open city with appreciation to citizen democracy. The movement works against controlled and regulated urban experience and aims at a paradigm shift on how the city is used and perceived. Urban pioneering movement has succeeded in its aims with approaches and maneuvers that may show promise especially in the context of the sustainability movement. The research that was conducted as a part of future learning environments study in Aalto University showed that the urban pioneers generate emergent culture in their environment and they do so by working as if there were two different environments that they need to affect. One of the environments is the visible urban cultural scene where the envisioned change would be taking place and the second is the invisible environment of rules and regulations that the urban pioneers have to work hard with in order to diminish and remove obstacles that slow down the transformation that they aim at. The transformation, when successful, happens as a snowball effect, generating increasingly more change towards the desired goals, until the system has gradually transformed also its values.

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The theory of cognition of Varela and Maturana differs in specific aspects from constructivist theories and so should not be seen or interpreted as another form of constructivism. To encourage the emergence of a discussion on important differences between both theories, this paper aims at highlighting three of these specific aspects, namely the biological roots of cognition, its phylogenic and ontogenic basis, and the nature of reality and knowledge. In many regards, it is possible that the first two points were seen as extensions of constructivism, and had not been theorized previously as distinctions, as is done in the paper. The third point concerning the ideas of “bringing forth a world” represents a clear conceptual shift from the visions inherent in constructivism, and should not be neglected in discussions on epistemology and the nature of knowledge and reality. This third fundamental point brings us to see Varela and Maturana as being different than constructivists, rather seeing them as “bring forthists.”

It was my intention to elaborate on some aspects where Maturana and Varela’s theory diverged from constructivism, even if they do share many common cybernetic roots, to show that it should not be (mis-)interpreted as another form of constructivism. The intention was, however, not to sort out which is better and which is not, but mostly to prompt and encourage discussions and reactions around the differences (and even similarities) between both theories – to understand what makes each theory its own, and to make better sense of them. I hope to have succeeded in this and played the role of a “trigger” in that sense.