Rika Preiser

Wall Scholar


Associate Professor


Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, School of Public Leadership


Stellenbosch University

Geographic Location

South Africa
Rika Preiser

Prof. Preiser’s research explores the philosophical and conceptual development of the features and dynamics that characterise complex adaptive systems and how complexity thinking can inform novel ways of inquiry in participatory and qualitative research methods. Her research draws on more than 10 years of applying complexity concepts to various fields of study. Her contribution lies in translating what the concepts mean or imply in various disciplines and domains of application. Studying and understanding the multi-scale, interconnected and continuously evolving complex systems that characterise contemporary societies—such as the economy, food supply, cities, the power grid, technological innovation, to name a few—demands in-depth understanding of the mechanisms and processes of how change and transformation occur and can be navigated within these systems. 

Prof. Preiser is one of a few African complexity theorists that work on the African continent and brings her experience of the socio-political and scientific importance of complexity for a developing continent and offers contextual insights in how complexity thinking can be studied and applied from an interdisciplinary and African perspective. More recently her research is focussed on understanding the interconnected nature of social-ecological systems and the challenges they pose for creating more sustainable futures at the science-society interface. She is co-editor of the new Handbook: A Guide to Navigating Methods for Studying Social-Ecological Systems (Routledge 2021). This volume represents the first serious effort to introduce complexity-based research methods for studying social-ecological systems.

Primary Recipient Awards

Rika Preiser – Wall Scholars – 2021

As a Wall Scholar, Prof. Preiser will explore how a relational theory of change (understanding how things relate to each other) could shed light on sustainable development frameworks and practices. Based on the notion that complex systems come about through recursive and dynamic interactions, she aims to investigate how a ‘relational ethics’ could guide decision-making that acknowledges the complex nature of human-environment interconnections.