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Complexity theory confuses explanation with prescription – hopelessly fails

Morrisson 2010 (Keith, “Complexity Theory, School Leadership and Management: Questions for Theory and Practice” Educational Management Administration & Leadership 38(3) 374–393)

The view of CT adopted here has been used prospectively, to prescribe actions and situations that promote change and development. For example, school leaders and managers can promote the climate or conditions for emergence-through-self-organization by fostering creativity, openness, diversity, energy, networking, relationships and people-skills, order without control, co-evolution, connectedness, support, trust, dialogue, cooperation and competition, feedback, bottom-up developments and distributed power.22 However, the legitimacy of moving from description to prescription is questionable. A theory of inevitability, like evolutionary theory (with emergence through self-organization—willed or not (Falconer, 2007)—occurring both behind the backs of participants as well as intentionally), may have little to offer by way of prescription. It may be inevitable that the sun rises each day, but that sanctions or enables a range of practices to occur. To move from description to prescription is dangerous. CT is used prescriptively in leadership and management literature.23 However, this is problematic (Ortego´n-Monroy, 2003: 396), as one can question whether the view of CT adopted here is disguised ideology. Under the cloak of inevitable, emergent order it is actually advocating and prescribing a particular set of practices and principles for ‘what works’. The problem is not reduced even if, more cautiously, in school leadership and management, one provides only advice on ‘how to focus efforts’ (Davis and Sumara, 2005: 318). The question raised is whether, and in what senses, CT can, or should, constitute application and prescription for practice rather than be used only as explanation. CT not only confuses explanation with prescription, but moves rapidly from being a descriptive to a prescriptive theory, yet to do this is, again, to commit Ryle’s ‘category mistake’, to mix fact and value, to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ (though post-positivists might question the tenability of such distinctions). One sees that members of the human race commit murder, and one can explain this perhaps, but this is no reason to prescribe or commend it. How easily one can slip from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought’ is evidenced in, for example the work of several authors24 who use tenets of CT to prescribe how leaders and managers ought to behave and what dispositions and conditions they ought to cultivate. The question is raised of why school leaders and managers should use derivatives of CT to prescribe behaviour (Fitzgerald and van Eijnatten, 2002).

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