Critical complexity in environmental health practice: simplify and complexify

Keune, Hans
January 2012
Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source;2012, Vol. 11 Issue Suppl 1, p1
Academic Journal
The magic word 'complexity' has been buzzing around in science, policy and society for quite some time now. There seems to be a common feel for a 'new way' of doing things, for overcoming the limits of tradition. From the combined perspective of critical complexity thinking and environment and health practice we want to contribute to the development of alternative routines that may help overcome the limitations of traditional environment and health science. On the one hand traditional environment and health science is too self-confident with respect to potential scientific insight in environment and health problems: complexity condemns us to limited and ambiguous knowledge and the need for simplification. A more modest attitude would be more realistic from that point of view. On the other hand from a problem solving perspective more boldness is required. Waiting for Godot (perfect undisputed knowledge) will not help us with respect to the challenges posed to society by environment and health problems. A sense of urgency is legitimate: the paralysis by traditional analysis should be resolved. Nevertheless this sense of urgency should not withhold us from investing in the problem solving quality of our endeavour; quality takes time, fastness from a quality perspective often leads us to a standstill. We propose the concept of critical complexification of environment and health practice that will enable the integration of relevant actors and factors in a pragmatic manner. We will illustrate this with practical examples and especially draw attention to the practical complexities involved, confronting us not only with fundamental questions, but also with fundamental challenges.


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