Complexity and Realist view and specificity of social sciences

Complexity and Realist view and specificity of social sciences

(Methodos II)

Marc Jacquinet


Le désir comme le devoir de toute pensée est en effet de surmonter l’écart qui la sépare d’un réel préexistant, dont la diversité et la complexité la mettent au défi.

Jean-Jacques Wunenburger[1]


I adopt a general stance that can be characterized as “complexity vision” (Colander 2000b) and a realist view.  The complexity vision postulates an object of study composed of many interrelated elements combined in a non-linear and unpredictable way.

The realist stand posits that reality is, to a large extent, independent of our search for understanding.  I can admit that there is some dependence or interaction between the object and the observer, as many constructivists insist on, such as Piaget, Le Moigne, etc.; but the same observer, the economist, can follow prudence and mitigate the disturbance he or she exercises on the reality before him or her.  This reserve implies that the results of the research have to be taken with due criticism.  There is a growing literature in economics dealing with realism and transcendental realism that is parallel to what I defend, such as the works by Bhaskar and Lawson (Bhaskar 1975, Lawson 1997).  I will use some of the argument they made for being relevant to and coherent with the framework I adopt here.


The complexity approach I adopt here can be qualified as dialectic, as well as the entities – I should say the organizations and the processes, given that I do not adhere to, the Aristotelian metaphysics of substances, entities and fundamental and invariant qualities, neglecting relationships, and this has much in common with rational agents, firms, and fixed preferences in economics.  Innovation is clearly a dialectical process.  The path dependence features, under specific historical conditions, are quite common and reinforce the dialectical logic behind and within innovation.  This will lead me to discuss the literature on path dependence. 

Another “entity” that is frankly dialectical is the firm and the human organizations in general.  This aspect of the firm has been recently stressed by Nonaka and others at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology .  They focus the knowledge base of the firms and the process of knowledge creation, which lead them to view the firm as a knowledge-creating entity (Nonaka, Toyama and Nagata 2000, Nonaka and Toyama 2002). 

Other dialectical dimensions are to be taken into account such as law , other institutions like the regulations agencies, and the structure of the productive sectors and the internal dynamics.  In another post, I will discuss the institutional framework of the Port Wine sector and the intellectual property and patents rights.  The latter has become one area of research that has receive scant attention from evolutionary economists and a historical perspective is still lacking since the seminal paper from Paul David a decade ago (David 1993b).

[1] Wunenburger, Jean-Jacques (1990): La raison contradictoire. Science et philosphies modernes: la pensée du complexe. Paris: Albin Michel, p. 9.


Cite this article as: {Jacquinet, Marc}, Complexity and Realist view and specificity of social sciences,"{Management Critique}," in {}, 07/11/2019,

Marc Jacquinet

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