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Locusts, snowflakes and recasts: complexity theory and spoken interaction

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Paul SeedhouseORCiD



Complexity theory is becoming established as a conceptual framework which is relevant to many areas of applied linguistics (Larsen-Freeman and Cameron 2008) as well as to many other academic disciplines. This article examines the extent to which spoken interaction has the characteristics of a complex adaptive system. The study commences by introducing complexity theory and its importance in understanding how nonlinear systems of all kinds function. The typical characteristics of complex adaptive systems in the human and natural world are identified. L2 classroom interaction is chosen for study as an example of a variety of spoken interaction since it has certain distinctive characteristics and because a description of its architecture already exists (Seedhouse 2004). Interaction in this setting is shown to display some characteristic features of a complex adaptive system, which are illustrated through the use of classroom data. The IRF pattern is selected for particular examination as it is the best-known pattern in this setting. It is concluded that the study of spoken interaction as a system may benefit from the insights of complexity theory.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Seedhouse P

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Classroom Discourse

Year: 2010

Volume: 1

Issue: 1

Pages: 4-24

Print publication date: 01/05/2010

Date deposited: 07/10/2010

ISSN (print): 1946-3014

ISSN (electronic): 1946-3022

Publisher: Routledge


DOI: 10.1080/19463011003750624


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