Publication 1207

Zeleny M. & Hufford K. D. (1992) The application of autopoiesis in systems analysis: Are autopoietic systems also social systems?. International Journal of General Systems 21(2): 145–160. Fulltext at
Autopoietic systems are “self-producing” systems. The concepts of the autopoietic nature of a system were developed by Varela et al., based upon a living, biological, system. To illustrate the diversity of autopoiesis in its application to systems analysis, three systems (a eukaryotic cell, an osmotic precipitation membrane, and the human family) have been defined and analyzed using the six-point key, or criteria, of Varela et al. Conclusions have been drawn as to the autopoietic nature of each system. Varela et al.’s criteria as they have been applied to a biological (living) system can be applied to other systems (e.g., chemical, spontaneous social) that are not currently considered as “living” and this may have a profound effect on the way a “living organization” is defined and/or viewed. The very question of autopoiesis in spontaneous social systems is irrelevant. Not only are spontaneous social systems autopoietic but a stronger relation exists where “All autopoietic, and therefore all biological (living) systems, are social systems.” Relevance: This paper questions the restriction of autopoietic systems to biology as originally proposed by Maturana and Varela.


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