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The complexity continuum, part 2: modelling harmony

Maurice Yolles (Business School, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 1 November 2018

Issue publication date: 23 September 2019




Complex systems adapt to survive, but little comparative literature exists on various approaches. Adaptive complex systems are generic, this referring to propositions concerning their bounded instability, adaptability and viability. Two classes of adaptive complex system theories exist: hard and soft. Hard complexity theories include Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) and Viability Theory, and softer theories, which we refer to as Viable Systems Theories (VSTs), that includes Management Cybernetics at one extreme and Humanism at the other. This paper has a dual purpose distributed across two parts. In part 1 the purpose was to identify the conditions for the complementarity of the two classes of theory. In part 2 the two the purpose is to explore (in part using Agency Theory) the two classes of theory and their proposed complexity continuum.


Explanation is provided for the anticipation of behaviour cross-disciplinary fields of theory dealing with adaptive complex systems. A comparative exploration of the theories is undertaken to elicit concepts relevant to a complexity continuum. These explain how agency behaviour can be anticipated under uncertainty. Also included is a philosophical exploration of the complexity continuum, expressing it in terms of a graduated set of philosophical positions that are differentiated in terms of objects and subjects. These are then related to hard and softer theories in the continuum. Agency theory is then introduced as a framework able to comparatively connect the theories on this continuum, from theories of complexity to viable system theories, and how harmony theories can develop.


Anticipation is explained in terms of an agency’s meso-space occupied by a regulatory framework, and it is shown that hard and softer theory are equivalent in this. From a philosophical perspective, the hard-soft continuum is definable in terms of objectivity and subjectivity, but there are equivalences to the external and internal worlds of an agency. A fifth philosophical position of critical realism is shown to be representative of harmony theory in which internal and external worlds can be related. Agency theory is also shown to be able to operate as a harmony paradigm, as it can explore external behaviour of an agent using a hard theory perspective together with an agent’s internal cultural and cognitive-affect causes.


There are very few comparative explorations of the relationship between hard and soft approaches in the field of complexity and even fewer that draw in the notion of harmony. There is also little pragmatic illustration of a harmony paradigm in action within the context of complexity.



The author wish to thank Gerhard Fink and José Rios for their comments on an earlier version of this paper.


Yolles, M. (2019), "The complexity continuum, part 2: modelling harmony", Kybernetes, Vol. 48 No. 8, pp. 1626-1652.



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