Complexity and the Law Abstracts


Andy Philippides, University of Sussex (Informatics) – ‘Modelling Complex Adaptive Networks with Agent-Based Models’
In this talk I will first briefly review methods that can be used to model complex systems and in particular, those that involve networks. I will then focus on agent-based models, in which we view the system as being comprised of multiple interacting elements. I will discuss benefits and issues with using these methods, showing how they are well-suited to modelling systems that are adaptive, that is, that interact dynamically and change over time. I will end with an example of how we can use these methods to investigate social networks and their effect on a complex system.”

Anil K Seth, University of Sussex (Informatics) – ‘The complex networks of the brain: from concepts to measures’
The human brain contains about 90 billion neurons and a thousand times more connections, organized into a dynamic network of almost unimaginable complexity. The patterns of neuronal activity orchestrated by this network underlie perception, cognition, action, and even consciousness itself. Understanding these patterns requires a deep recognition of impact of complexity on brain networks. I will describe one way in which complexity has been operationalized within neuroscience, which is as the co-existence of functional differentiation and functional integration. That is, different parts of a complex network must behave somewhat independently while at the same time maintaining a global coherence and coordination in global dynamics. Fortunately we now have precise ways to characterize this form of complexity, using the languages of network theory, time series analysis, and information theory. These measures are now showing promise within neuroscience for detecting and discriminating conscious states, and their profound theoretical basis may indicate powerful applications elsewhere, perhaps even in law.

Seth, A.K., Barrett, A.B., and Barnett, L.C. (2011). Causal density and integrated information as measures of conscious level. Phil. Trans R. Soc A. 368:3748-3676

Ben Fincham, University of Sussex (Sociology) – ‘Complexity and other ways to bake a cake’
Despite popularity in other places, complexity theory has been an approach advocated by relatively few sociologists since its introduction to the social sciences in the mid to late 1990s. Using a recent study of suicide I will offer a view as to why this is and critically assess the contemporary utility of complexity theory for sociology, in particular, and arts, humanities and social sciences more generally.

Lucy Finchett-Maddock, University of Sussex (Law) – ‘Complex Others’
Within this analysis will be discussed the metaphor of ‘entropy’ in terms of offering legal studies an understanding of both the way in which law works and conducts itself, at the same time as explaining the movements of resistance and resistances. The use of entropy in law shall be introduced through socio-legal studies’ recent welcoming of ‘complexity theory’, in contrast to the more established autopoietic schools of systems theory. Without determining a rigid framework within which to explain legal phenomena, it is hoped that this piece will contribute towards a growing literature on the relevance of entropy to not just socio-legal analyses but also those more fluid schools relying on critical legal theory and law in humanities, specifically relating the interplay between law and resistance. Entropy, following the work of J. B. Ruhl, Paul Cilliers, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, as well as more recently that of Jamie Murray, Julian Webb and Thomas Webb, shall be suggested as offering a way of envisioning both law and resistance that does not strive for a totalising methodology, more one that is deemed as useful and poignantly characteristic of the limits and delimits of law.

Charlie Blake, University of Brighton (Film) – ‘A Series of Repetitive Beats: Acceleration, Entropy and the Law of the Crowd’
In 1960, perching on the edge of a transformative decade, the Bulgarian novelist, essayist and Nobel Prize winner, Elias Canetti, wrote in his Crowds and Power of “crowd crystals” which he delineates as : “small, rigid groups of men (sic), strictly delimited and of great constancy, which serve to precipitate crowds.” (73). These he contrasts with open crowds, which appear “suddenly… where there was nothing before…,” this being a crowd “which is there before they can find words for it,” its momentum directed towards “the blackest spot where most people are.” (16)

Over half a century later, in their Accelerationist Manifesto from 2013, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams claim that: “ the most important division in today’s Left is between those who hold to a folk politics of localism, direct action and relentless horizontalism, and those that outline what must become called an accelerationist politics at ease with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology,” and continue by stating that “an accelerationist politics seeks to preserve the gains of late capitalism while going further than its value system, governance structures, and mass pathologies will allow.” (354)

Somewhere between, in 1992, the music system and post-anarchist techno-shamanist sound system Spiral Tribe played for over four days at the infamous Castelmorton rave, claiming a commons that was both physical and entheogenic, striated and nomadic, and based very overtly around temporality as much as space – a provocation which lead in due course, and amidst the broader culture or rave, to an important element in the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 with its stipulation of the potential illegality of gatherings engaging with music characterized by “series of repetitive beats.” It was a provocation and an act which in turn led to the commodification of the phenomenon of rave in the superclubs of the 1990s – an instance of hyper-specularity that so amply demonstrates the ascendancy of neoliberalism as – on one level at least – the capture of desire as a monetized consumption and expression, the flood of desire as money, as that capture and its apparatus permeates contemporary culture in 2104.

This paper will attempt to map out the links between these three moments and indicate ways in which the law of the crowd in its relation to property, territory and music can be seen as a synechdoche of emergent systems and properties based on an algorithm of what I elsewhere call the “possessed multitudes.”

Tom Webb, University of Lancaster (Law) – ‘The Consequences of Single Answers’
Complexity theory can be employed as a critical device to challenge legal models which are based on a limited and unexamined set of premises. In particular, it can be used to explain why a belief that single objective answers exist is problematic; indicating the dangers of a lack of self-reflexivity, oversimplification, and a failure to consider the ethical consequences of adopting a particular boundary construction as delineating the answer. Complexity theory views society as comprising an unknowably vast range and depth of interactions between participants (people and organisations of people) operating in their own situated contexts. On this view, models which claim anything other than provisional applicability should be treated with suspicion.

In the public law discourse on the theory of constitutionalism it is generally the case that participants assert that their theoretical model for understanding the phenomenon of constitutionalism is – however it is construed – the single right answer, and do not make reference to alternative approaches. Complexity theory can be used to observe several difficulties in relation to this. First, it indicates an unwillingness to participate in meaningful discourse with the many other perspectives on the subject, denying their legitimacy, while also showing a lack of self-reflexivity or -criticality towards one’s own model – the idea of the model being incorrect is implausible. Secondly, it denies the rich and varied nature of the subject under observation by confining its understanding to one contextual dimension, that of the author and their selected evidence. Thirdly, the author avoids consideration of the ethical consequences of their particular construction, and does not take responsibility for the constitutional, or other social consequences which are implied within and which flow from their account.

In order to demonstrate the tendency in the discourse on constitutionalism, and the problems this causes, I draw on a small number of theorists indicative of wider practices in the discourse.

Emanuela Orlando, University of Sussex (Law) – ‘Addressing the complexity of international environmental law in a multi-layered legal framework: an international and EU law perspective’
One of the main features characterising current developments in the international legal order is the emergence of multilevel and transnational regulatory responses to global challenges. This aspect is particularly visible in the field of the protection of the environment. Originally emerged from the application of traditional international law concepts to transboundary environmental disputes between neighbouring states, international environmental law has known an enormous expansion and, at the same time, an increasing degree of complexity and specialisation. Furthermore, modern international environmental law is increasingly premised on the idea that the environment is “an international public good to be administered and maintained in the general interest of humanity and of the generations to come.”

From a regulatory perspective, the conceptualisation of environmental problems as common concerns and global responsibilities has translated in the increasing interplay between international, regional and domestic legal orders in the process of standard-setting and

implementation of international environmental law. It is also reflected in the emergence of non-state actors and civil society in playing an increasing role in the application and enforcement of environmental norms. While the involvement of different actors and regulatory regimes in the management of environmental problems reflects an emerging concept of shared responsibility for the protection of a common good, it also risks to undermine current efforts to find appropriate solutions at the international level, and in turn, it risks undermining the credibility of international law as an appropriate framework to address global environmental problems. A related question concerns how to reconcile the increasing complexity of the global regulatory framework, with the holistic, indivisible and interdependent nature of the environment.

Against this background, the present contribution will examine the practice related to the relationship between EU and international law in order to illustrate how the plurality and interaction between different legal frameworks should not be regarded as a threat to the unity, cohesiveness and effectiveness of the international legal order in the environmental field. Rather, it can be seen as an opportunity to explore potential synergies and to build a mutually supportive relationship with the ultimate aim to contribute to the protection of the environment as an international public good.

Stuart Harrop, University of Sussex (Law) – ‘The complexity of the planet – naivety of the law: holistic legal solutions to environmental challenges’

Jamie Murray, University of Lancaster (Law) – ‘The Future of Legal Studies is in High Dimensionality Manifolds’
A little bit of a provocation, talking personally and anecdotally about the ten years or so I have been aware of complexity theory alongside legal theory, and then turn to how ecology and the law may be a privileged site for the diffusion of complexity theory into legal studies.

Debra Benita-Shaw, University of East London (Arts & Digital Industries) – ‘Complex Urban Figures: Crowds, Flâneurs and Cyborgs’
The flâneur was a character dreamed up by Charles Baudelaire in the early 19th century who, despite being pronounced ‘dead’ by Walter Benjamin in the early 20th century has had an extraordinary afterlife and has most recently been resurrected as the cyberflâneur and transplanted from urban space to digital space.

This paper will assess the persistence of the flâneur as a figure that functions to manage the unruly urban crowd; to articulate the everyday life of the street with the productive forces of the economy and the architectural arrangements of state power and its institutional histories. The cyberflâneur thus emerges as a figure which attempts to manage the tension between a residual subjectivity, anchored in the first flowering of the industrial city, and established by the flâneur and an emergent posthuman ontology and consciousness which, I contend, can re-structure our relationship to space and thus our understanding of ourselves as urban subjects. Drawing on posthuman theory, I will propose that we understand the production of space as performative and thus responsive to practices which confound the fixed orders of modern materialities.

Nathan Moore, Birkbeck College, University of London (Law) – ‘Complex Decisions’
What happens when the decision is unfounded? Kant’s response is well known: the form of law founds the decision, whilst Kafka will take this to its absurd conclusion. Then, Schmitt will attempt to save the foundation by transforming it into the exception. Taken together, these three thinkers show that the decision can no longer be thought in terms of linearity, as a simple matter of legitimation and authority, of cause and effect. From this, the contemporary response has been to manage the decision, to automate it through economisation and risk assessments. This trend is particularly evident in recent decisions about English contract law, and my paper will touch on some of these. However, my main argument will be towards the need to de-link decisions from questions of authority, of intention, of what is deemed relevant or irrelevant (externalities). Instead, it is a matter of following decisions wherever they may lead, and in this we have to find methods to think in complexity, so as to perceive or diagram decisions and their consequences. Decisions are taken, but they are not made once and for all. How are they extended, rolled back, transformed, disfigured? Or: what might it mean to become artisans of the decision?

Create a website or blog at