We Need to Talk About Complexity in Health Research: Findings From a Focused Ethnography
Papoutsi C., Shaw J., Paparini S., Shaw S.
© The Author(s) 2020. There is increasing focus on complexity-informed approaches across health disciplines. This attention takes several forms, but commonly involves framing research topics as “complex” to justify use of particular methods (e.g., qualitative). Little emphasis is placed on how divergent and convergent ways of knowing complexity become negotiated within academic communities. Drawing on findings from a focused ethnography of an international workshop, we illustrate how health researchers employ “boundary-ordering devices” to navigate different meanings ascribed to complexity while they attempt to sustain interdisciplinary communication and collaboration. These include (a) surfacing (but not resolving) tensions between philosophical grounding of knowledge claims and need for practical purchase, (b) employing techniques of representation and abstraction, and (c) drawing on the fluid, ongoing accomplishment of complexity for different audiences and purposes. Our findings have implications for progressing complexity-informed health research, particularly with respect to qualitative approaches.