Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Theodore Schatzki

Second Advisor

Tony Stallins


Five principles are at the foundation of complex systems theory: emergence, openness, contingency, historicity, and indeterminacy. Of those five, the principle of emergence is easily the most prevalent. Simply put, emergence refers to the idea that some wholes cannot be properly accounted for by appealing to individual explanations of the parts that compose it. In ecological complexity theory, the principle of emergence is strongly associated with the self-organizing feedbacks that often identify the structural framework of ecosystems.

Within the last half century, the intense focus on the principle of emergence has engendered the development of many conceptual distinctions that have importantly contributed to explanations of ecological patterns and ideas about environmental management and restoration. I argue, however, that ecological complexity theory has become somewhat stagnant and myopic in its devout commitment to the principle of emergence.

This dissertation highlights the issue of ecological complexity theory’s overreliance on the principle of emergence by investigating the role of the principle of openness. I argue the reverse of what is typically maintained in the literature – the principle of openness possesses metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical primacy. By beginning with the principle of openness and working towards the use of the principle of emergence in explanations of ecological phenomena, I urge greater appreciation for an ecosystem’s complete causal narrative and a reconsideration of the formulation and carrying out of future management and restoration practices and policies.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)