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Volume 1 Number 2, Autumn 2004, Pages 1-171   

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Complexity and Systems Theory: Implications for the EFL Teacher/Researcher

    Andrew Finch

Applied Linguistics has, since its beginning, attempted to employ principles and methods of research used more effectively and successfully by the physical sciences. Collection and analysis of language learning data has thus taken a Newtonian, cause-and-effect perspective, relying on isolation of factors, purity of experimental conditions and rigorous, quantitative interpretation. During the twentieth century, however, the "hard" sciences which had given birth to this view of the universe found it to be incomplete, and turned to more holistic ways of investigating time/space, weather, plant cell growth, and other phenomena which cannot be described or predicted in any but probabilistic terms. Complexity theory and systems theory are two examples of this new way of viewing data. Both are universally accepted in physical and social sciences, but have yet to be generally accepted in the field of language learning, largely because of difficulties associated with the identification and analysis of data. This paper examines some of these problems, and identifies some implications of systems and complexity theories for ELT teachers and-researchers.