Complex Social Systems

Key information

Start date: 27 April 2020

Attendance dates:

April 2020: 27, 28, 29

Time commitment: 3 days


Stag Hill campus, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH

Contact details:


Complexity social science represents an important new suite of methods that moves researchers beyond the traditional reliance on quantitative or qualitative approaches.

This module will introduce you to complex social systems and the challenges of complexity social science and policy research. You will learn about a range of methods to tackle these challenges, in particular focusing on methods to understand complex causality including qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) and process tracing/Bayesian updating. You will encounter real-world case studies, within the research and policy processes.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, you will be able to:

  • Understand the challenge of complexity in the social sciences and policy research (C, P and T)
  • Be able to use QCA and process tracing/Bayesian updating as methods in social science research (K, C, P and T)


Code Description
C Cognitive/analytical
K Subject knowledge
P Professional/practical skills
T Transferable skills

Course content

  • Introduction to complex social systems
  • Causality in complex systems
  • Deep uncertainty and “wicked” problems
  • QCA
  • Process tracing
  • Bayesian updating
  • Narratives and evidence
  • Social science and policy research

Learning and teaching methods

  • Lectures
  • Practical workshops
  • Group discussion

Course leader

Corinna Elsenbroich

Corinna is a computational social scientist. Her main research interests are in methods development, in particular methods for complexity social science, and methodological and epistemological aspects of agent-based modelling and social simulation.

Reading list

Byrne, D. and Callaghan, G., 2013. Complexity theory and the social sciences: the state of the art. Routledge.

Rihoux, B. and Ragin, C.C., 2009. Configurational comparative methods: qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) and related techniques. Sage Publishing.

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this module.

Fees and funding

Price per person:


Government and commercial sector applicants


Education and charitable sector applicants



How to apply

You can apply for this module through our online store.

Apply now

Terms and conditions

When you accept an offer of a place at the University of Surrey, you are agreeing to comply with our policies and regulations and our terms and conditions. You are also confirming you have read and understood the University's prospective student privacy notice.

Further details of our terms and conditions will follow.


This online prospectus has been prepared and published in advance of the commencement of the course. The University of Surrey has used its reasonable efforts to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content or additional costs) may occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for a course with us. Read more.