Leadership is Self-Organization: English Higher Education through an Evolutionary-Complexity Lens

  • Gerardo Abreu Pederzini

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Some processes in nature spontaneously self-organize. For instance, evolution through natural selection has blindly self-organized complex organisms on Earth, including humans. A human, from the intricate arrangement of its molecules to the emergence of its consciousness, epitomizes self-organization. But, how do humans -at the social level- self-organize? In order to advance complexity leadership theory, in this thesis I will develop a complexity-evolutionary lens, through which I will suggest that human social self-organization occurs through transmittable units of culture called memes. Memes form symbolic orders, in order to make the world meaningful. Through meanings and directions memes, thus, order humans, or in other words, lead them. Hence, it becomes evidenced that leadership is a systemic social process of self-organization. There are two main conundrums regarding the memetic social self-organization of humans that this thesis explores. The first one is the conundrum of the necessary mechanisms for the operation of closure. Since the world is undetermined, in the process of making it meaningful, the operation of closure is fundamental, as closure enables humans to evade such indeterminacy. The second conundrum regards what happens to individual leaders once leadership has been shifted to a systemic process. This thesis studies these conundrums in the context of England’s higher education sector, which has experienced recent disturbances that are both cause and effect of social self-organization. Field research was done, including 47 semi-structured interviews with senior higher education leaders, plus an extensive documentary analysis. This thesis sheds light on how the necessary operation of closure might work. Particularly, in the studied context closure emerges from magical realism. Furthermore, regarding what happens to individual leaders once leadership has been shifted to a systemic process beyond their ken, in the explored context sensegiving missions seem to have bestowed a role on leaders to play in this systemic process.
Date of Award17 Nov 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorYiannis Gabriel (Supervisor), Jurgen Enders (Supervisor), Julia Balogun (Supervisor), Geoffrey Whitty (Supervisor) & Veronica Hope Hailey (Supervisor)

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