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The Atlas of
Social Complexity
by Brian Castellani and Lasse Gerrits



Embark on a riveting journey through the study of social complexity with ‘The Atlas of Social Complexity’. Over three decades of scientific exploration unfold, unravelling the enigmatic threads that compose the fabric of society. From the dance of bacteria, to human-machine interactions, to the ever-shifting dynamics of power in social networks, this Atlas maps the evolution of our understanding of social complexity.


Brian Castellani’s and Lasse Gerrits’ Atlas is not merely retrospective. It is a compass pointing to uncharted territories: new directions for research and intellectual debate. With wit and insight, they invite the reader to ponder unanswered questions, taking them on a quest for alternative ways to understand the intricate complexities of societies.


‘The Atlas of Social Complexity’ is a thrilling expedition into the heart of what makes us human: from cognition, emotion, consciousness, the dynamics of human psychology, to social networks, collective behaviour, politics and governance, technology and planning, and the practice of social interventions. The Atlas also visits cross-cutting themes such as intersectionality, configurational complexity, and research methods.


Organised around six transdisciplinary themes and twenty-four topics the Atlas is an invaluable resource for all social science and complexity science scholars and students interested in new ideas and new ways of working in social complexity. It paves the way for the next generation of research in the study of social complexity.

The Atlas of Social Complexity

  • Brian Castellani and Lasse Gerrits

  • ISBN: 978 1 78990 951 7

Biographical Summary

Brian Castellani (PhD, FAcSS) is professor and Director of the Durham Research Methods Centre and Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing, Durham University (UK). He is also adjunct professor of psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio Medical University (USA).

Lasse Gerrits (Dr.Dr.) is Associate Professor and Academic Director, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam 


Peter Sloot

University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

"This book stands as a formidable achievement, a true tour de force wherein the authors delve into our complex social world. They unravel the intricacies from the molecules comprising our cells to those shaping our bodies and ultimately forming us as conscious individuals. These individuals, in turn, have pioneered, discovered, and advanced technologies such as electronics, thinking robots, nuclear power, the contraceptive pill, and antibiotics. Collectively, they shape a complex society that, with an accelerating pace of change, achieved remarkable feats like landing a man on the Moon, eradicating smallpox, and establishing the World Wide Web. And, yes, also a society that kills its brothers and sisters and destroys its own natural environment much faster than it can reason about it. A profound sense of urgency emerges to comprehensively grasp these intricacies of our human society, considering its multifaceted interactions. Much like the Greek Titan, this Atlas bears the weight of the world and its remarkable inhabitants, and – guided by the science of complexity- offers new qualitative and quantitative avenues to make sense of this amazing world we live in."

Sylvia Walby

University of London, UK

“This is a superb comprehensive state of the art review of the development of social complexity in the social sciences.  It is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in cutting edge social theory.  Castellani and Gerrits convincingly show that this set of concepts is being transformative of social science thinking across multiple disciplines, even if it is developing too slowly.”

Sharon Zivkovic

Community Capacity Builders, Centre for Autistic Social Entrepreneurship, Australia

"In this thought-provoking collaboration, Castellani and Gerrits take us on an exciting journey beyond established boundaries to imagine what a new study of social complexity could look like. Targeted at both scholars from across the academy and practitioners, the Atlas challenges and inspires readers to make the intellectual and practical breakthroughs that are desperately needed in order to address the world’s most pressing problems. While my fellow social entrepreneurs will find the content on wicked problems, civil society, social movements, and the process for moving from theory to practice compelling, the breadth of the Atlas provides readers with an opportunity to explore new territories. During my journey through the Atlas, embodied cognition was one of a number of new terrains that I explored and now want to investigate further. Refreshingly, the Atlas does not shy away from concepts, such as power and inequality, that are often ignored in other complexity science books. My journey through the Atlas has left me feeling very hopeful about the future and motivated to explore even deeper into the unknown."

Nigel Gilbert

University of Surrey, UK

"This book is not just an invaluable ‘Atlas’ to the extensive and fascinating literature on social complexity, but also an opinionated (in the best way) tour of the landscape, its heights and its depth and its quirks.  The authors have read widely, thought carefully and explained clearly a broad sweep of research and practice on the idea of complexity and its application in the social, psychological and economic sciences. The book will be invaluable to academics, researchers, and policy analysts intrigued by how a social complexity approach might aid in the understanding of our complex world."

Noortje Marres

University of Warwick, UK

"An inspiring read for believers and non-believers. Whether or not you agree that complexity is what it is all about, this book formulates a great set of challenges to spark renewal in the interdisciplinary social sciences. Covering a wide terrain from cognition to ecology and intersectionality, it charts a set of adventurous routes through recent research to show how a sociologically informed complexity science can meaningfully address the questions that matter."

David Byrne

Durham Univeristy, UK

"For those of us deploying the complexity frame of reference across social science and policy, Castellani and Gerrits have done us a considerable service in putting this Atlas together. There are many good things in it. In particular, it puts human agency front and centre in engaging with social complexity. By so doing in an era of interwoven social and ecological crises, it reminds us that agency has causal power in shaping the future of complex systems."

Michael Batty

University College London, UK

"Many have observed that in the social sciences, everything is connected to everything else but so far we have been singularly unsuccessful in attempting to explain the richness and diversity of this interconnected world. Glimpses of such explanations have come from the sciences of complexity but much of this reasoning has been contained within the traditional straitjacket of the physical sciences. What Castellani and Gerrits have done is to produce an Atlas of this world, through a series of maps that guide the reader to a great array of disciplines that can be informed by a multitude of ideas that they define as social complexity. This is a remarkable commentary on our progress in dealing with complex systems in all their guises and it is essential reading for everyone who seeks an understanding of our interconnected world."

Upcoming Events

  • Book Launch at the Institute for Advanced Study, University of Amsterdam
    Book Launch at the Institute for Advanced Study, University of Amsterdam
    Tue, 10 Sept
    10 Sept 2024, 14:00 – 16:00 CEST
    Amsterdam, Oude Turfmarkt 147, 1012 GC Amsterdam, Netherlands
    10 Sept 2024, 14:00 – 16:00 CEST
    Amsterdam, Oude Turfmarkt 147, 1012 GC Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Our formal book launch is in September at the IAS, University of Amsterdam.
  • AESOP Keynote Address,  28-29 November 2024, RWTH Aachen University
    AESOP Keynote Address,  28-29 November 2024, RWTH Aachen University
    Thu, 28 Nov
    28 Nov 2024, 12:00 – 29 Nov 2024, 16:00
    Aachen, Templergraben 55, 52062 Aachen, Germany
    28 Nov 2024, 12:00 – 29 Nov 2024, 16:00
    Aachen, Templergraben 55, 52062 Aachen, Germany
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