Explaining Complexity and Dynamic Systems Theory (CDST)

This month we published Research Methods for Complexity Theory in Applied Linguistics by Phil Hiver and Ali H. Al-Hoorie. In this post the authors explain why their book is so important for complexity research.

What are the big questions that occupy researchers in the human and social sciences? Chances are that these questions share two key features. First, many social questions, from the minute level to the grand scale of things, are interconnected. Second, their optimal solutions are constantly changing over time. As the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking once said, the 21st century is likely to witness a general intellectual reorientation around a complex, interconnected, and dynamic view of the world, a view that is indeed sweeping through various human and social disciplines. And, if many of the major issues of our time are complex and systemic, they need to be approached with a corresponding shift in perception. One such approach is complexity and dynamic systems theory (CDST).

Of course, once we began to adopt a CDST understanding of language learning, development, and use in our work in applied linguistics, it seemed to us that everything straightforward was ruined. Like many others, we had happily operated on the assumption of a neatly ordered and simple world. We studied phenomena by breaking them up into smaller parts, drawing boundaries between those parts, and studying them separate from their environment and in isolation. It is no wonder that before long we ended up frustrated and puzzled as to why we were no closer to understanding and capturing reality than before. While embracing a CDST view promised to bring us closer to an approximation of this complex and dynamic reality, we quickly realized that there was very little guidance for the methods necessary to do this kind of research. Many sources of information were too abstract or conceptual, but also misleading (e.g. “qualitative data are inherently better for studying complex systems”); others were far too technical (e.g. “Lyapunov functions are scalar functions that can be used to measure asymptotic equilibrium in stochastic models”) and did not seem to lend themselves to the kinds of questions that concern us applied linguists.

Methods for doing CDST research did prove elusive at first. But with just a little more digging, we became convinced that certain existing research templates, techniques for data elicitation, and methods of analysis that have a firm complexity basis in other human and social domains did hold promise. This book is the result of that journey we took to learn about already well-established designs and methods for complexity research. Based on our search, and a healthy dose of trial and error, we set out to share a variety of methods for complexity research already in widespread use by social complexivists. In the end, this is the book that we wish we had when we set out nearly a decade ago to explore the issues and questions of interest to us in applied linguistics. We hope it will function like a road map in pointing the way forward to many others who are also interested in the interrelated and dynamic reality of the human and social world.

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Profiling Learner Language as a Dynamic System edited by ZhaoHong Han.

New Ways of Looking at Language Learning Motivation

This month we published Contemporary Language Motivation Theory: 60 Years Since Gardner and Lambert (1959) edited by Ali H. Al-Hoorie and Peter D. MacIntyre. In this post the editors explain how the idea for the book came about.

The idea behind this book was born during the second Psychology of Language Learning conference (PLL2) in Jyväskylä, Finland. At the conference, which took place in August 2016, Ali and Peter realized that the 60th anniversary of the seminal paper by Gardner and Lambert (1959) entitled “Motivational variables in second language acquisition” (Canadian Journal of Psychology, 13, 266-272) was on the horizon. That 1959 paper was brief, only seven pages in length, but it is one of the most influential papers in applied linguistics because it helped establish motivation as a valuable subject for study, on par with aptitude.

At the PLL2 conference we were able to approach several potential authors to invite them to join this project. To our delight, we received a favorable response from everyone we spoke with, and they encouraged us to go ahead with the project. People appreciate the impact that Robert Gardner, the Father of second language motivation, has had on our field.

While still at the conference, we also approached Laura at the Multilingual Matters desk to pitch this idea. As always, she offered all necessary assistance and encouragement to speed up the process and complete the paperwork and other preparations. The project was born!

Now, as the physical copy of the book comes into our hands, the project has reached a milestone. We hope that it will inspire new ways of looking at language learning motivation in the Gardner tradition. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in all things motivational just now, so perhaps this is coming at the best possible time to inspire new research with a strong connection to well-established theory, methods, and findings. That Gardner’s contribution to all three areas has been sustained over some 60 years is a notable achievement – worth celebrating, and worth continuing.

We think it is worth carrying on the work of looking at the social psychology of motivation for language learning, and the new book suggests a number of exciting new directions for those studies to take. Maybe we will need a 70th anniversary edition as well.

 

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter D. MacIntyre and Alastair Henry.