Publication 1804

Scott B. (2001) Cybernetics and the social sciences. Systems Research 18: 411–420. Fulltext at
Cybernetics was formulated by its founders as a metadiscipline with the aim not only of fostering collaboration between disciplines (interdisciplinarity), but also of sharing knowledge across disciplines (transdisciplinarity). In this paper the relationship between cybernetics and the social sciences is reviewed. The distinction between first and second (in general, higher) order forms of cybernetics is introduced to characterize three approaches to the study of social systems. The three approaches are described as ideal types; it is acknowledged that in practice investigators may draw on more than one of the approaches and that there are contexts in which the distinctions between them become fuzzy. The three approaches are: (1) studies of social systems and social behaviour that adopt classical scientific modes of investigation; (2) studies that investigate the interactions of social actors; (3) approaches that attempt to characterise social systems as distinct forms of autonomous whole. Pask’s conversation theory, with its concept of the “psychological individual,” is introduced as a theory that is explicitly designed to build a bridge between the second and third approaches.

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