Our Research

A pioneering transdisciplinary approach that brings the application of complexity science to the critical issues of our time

Complexity arises in many domains, but is often characterised by the emergence of qualities that are unable to be reduce to simpler characteristics. Environmental scientist Donella Meadows described a complex system as something that is more than the sum of its parts.[1]

Physicist Philip Anderson noted that at each level of complexity entirely new properties appear, and that the understanding of these new behaviours requires research which is as fundamental in its nature as any other.[2]

Feminist legal scholar Kimberl Crenshaw introduced the concept of intersectionality, arguing that redress of discrimination by race, and separately by gender, does not provide relief where racial and gender discrimination intersect. [3]

Emergent properties – whether broken symmetries, intersectionalities, or mutualistic networks – cannot be understood completely by studying the constituent parts of a complex system in isolation.

Te Pūnaha Matatini 2015-2021’s research programme has sought to develop theories, models, and simulations which capture this complexity, rather than merely reduce it.

Since complex systems tend to exhibit universal features that can yield insights when diverse knowledges, concepts, frameworks, data, methods, skills, interpretations, and experiences from a wide range of domains are exchanged, integrated, or compared, we are able to study emergent phenomena in economic, ecological, and socio-ecological systems. Such an approach is critical for tackling the large environmental and social challenges we face, from stemming biodiversity loss, to reducing poverty, to rebuilding civil society. 


1. Meadows DH. Thinking in systems: A primer. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing; (2008).

2 Anderson PW. More is different. Science 1972; 177(4047):393-396; DOI: 10.1126/science.177.4047.393.

3. Crenshaw K. Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University Chi Legal f 1989; 1989(1):139.


Complex Economic and Social Systems


Complexity and the Biosphere


Complexity, Risk, and Uncertainty