Agile Actors on Complex Terrains: Transformative Realism and Public Policy, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Agile Actors on Complex Terrains

Transformative Realism and Public Policy, 1st Edition

By Graham Room


204 pages | 16 B/W Illus.

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This book assesses the value and relevance of the literature on complex systems to policy-making, contributing to both social theory and policy analysis. For this purpose it develops two key ideas: agile action and transformative realism. The book takes some major themes from complexity science, presents them in a clear and accessible manner and applies them to core problems in sociological theory and policy analysis. Combining complexity science with perspectives from institutionalism and political economy, this book is the first to integrate these fields conceptually, methodologically and in terms of the implications for policy analysis and practice.

Room shows how the models and methods of social and complexity science can be jointly deployed and applied to empirical areas of public policy. He demonstrates how complexity science can provide insight into the nonlinear dynamics of the social world, but why these need to be understood by reference to the unequal distribution of power and advantage. Among the sociological debates with which the book engages are those concerned with causation and explanation, rational action and positional competition, and the place of evolutionary concepts in accounts of social change. Among the policy debates are those concerned with evidence and policy, the dynamics of inequality, and libertarian paternalism.

The book will appeal to final year undergraduates and postgraduate students in social sciences; scholars in social and policy studies broadly defined; policy-makers who want to go beyond conventional discussions of evidence-based policy-making and cross-national lesson-drawing, and consider how to approach complex and turbulent policy terrains; and a wider range of scholars in other disciplines where complexity science is already well developed.

Table of Contents



Part I: Transformative Realism

1. Complexity and the Social Sciences

2. Evolution and the Arts of Civilisation

3. Contingent Development and Explanation (with Graham K Brown)

Part II: Agile Actors

4. Rationality, Rationales and Agile Action

5. Positional Advantage: A Three-Dimensional Analysis

6. Navigating Complex Environments

Part III: Public Policy

7. Evidence for Agile Policy-Makers

8. Nudge or Nuzzle? – Improving Decisions about Active Citizenship

9. Unequal Rewards and the Super-Rich

10. Conclusion

About the Author

Graham Room is Professor of European Social Policy at the University of Bath. He is author, co-author or editor of twelve books, including Complexity, Institutions and Public Policy: Agile Decision-Making in a Turbulent World, Edward Elgar, 2011. He was Founding Editor of the Journal of European Social Policy and Founding Director of the Institute for Policy Research.

About the Series

Complexity in Social Science

This interdisciplinary series encourages social scientists to embrace a complex systems approach to studying the social world. A complexity approach to the social world has expanded across the disciplines since its emergence in the mid-to-late 1990s, and this can only continue as disciplines continue to change, data continue to diversify, and governance and responses to global social issues continue to challenge all involved. Covering a broad range of topics from big data and time, globalization and health, cities and inequality, and methodological applications, to more theoretical or philosophical approaches, this series responds to these challenges of complexity in the social sciences – with an emphasis on critical dialogue around, and application of these ideas in, a variety of social arenas as well as social policy.

The series will publish research monographs and edited collections between 60,000–90,000 words that include a range of philosophical, methodological and disciplinary approaches, which enrich and develop the field of social complexity and push it forward in new directions.

David Byrne is Emeritus Professor at the School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University, UK.

Brian Castellani is Professor of Sociology at Durham University and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at Northeastern Ohio Medical University.

Emma Uprichard is Reader at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick, UK. She is also director of the Nuffield, ESRC, HEFCE funded Warwick Q-Step Centre aimed at promoting quantitative methods across the social sciences.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General

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