Complexity, Law & Public Policy

Complexity theory studies "how agents interact and the aggregate product of their interactions." The discipline originated in the hard sciences and has now become an important methodology in the study of social systems, from history to economics to law. Lawyers will already be familiar with game theory, which is one of many important components of complexity theory. The insights provided by complexity theory are particularly pertinent to areas of law with high public policy components, divisive economic issues, and/or strong components of strategic human and national behavior, such as international and domestic financial regulation. Indeed, as environmental lawyers have already discovered, the whole field of administrative law and regulation is ripe for exploration as a cluster of complex systems.

This seminar will take a broadly comprehensive view of the law as a complex adaptive system in itself and explore the ways in which complexity theory might enrich our understanding of legal development and the formulation and application of public policy. The seminar will introduce the field of complexity theory, its general principles, and the ways in which it can be applied to regulatory law and public policy.

The material consists of a basic text (MELANIE MITCHELL, COMPLEXITY: A GUIDED TOUR (O.U.P. 2009), selected readings, and group discussion led by Professor Baxter. Individual students will be required to prepare research papers, the results of which will be presented by individual students to the seminar group. In advance of each presentation, the other, non-presenting students will be given a set of basic readings to prepare them to offer constructive comments on the presentation, and their own performance can continue to be evaluated. After presenting, each student will be encouraged to develop his or her ideas further to refine the final paper and prepare it as a possible publication.

The group will meet once a week for two hours and the seminar participation, presentations and papers will be graded. The grade will be allocated as follows: 50% for the paper; 25% for the individual presentation; and 25% for overall seminar participation.

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