Complexity in international society: theorising fragmentation and linkages in primary and secondary institutions


  • Dennis R. Schmidt Swansea University



English School theory, institutional fragmentation, primary institutions, secondary institutions, complexity IR theory


This article seeks to contribute to theorising the institutional structure of international society by exploring synergies between complex systems thinking and the English School theory of International Relations (IR). Suggesting that the English School already embraces key conceptual insights from complexity theory, most notably relational and adaptive systems thinking, it reconfigures international society as a complex social system. To further advance the English School’s research programme on international institutions, the article introduces the notion of “law-governed emergence” and distils two effects it has on global institutional ordering practices: fragmentation and clustering. These moves help to establish complexity as a fundamental structural condition of institutional ordering at the global level, and to provide a basis for taking steps toward better understanding the nature and significance of institutional interconnections in a globalised international society.