Publication 7044

Kickert W. J. M. (1991) Applicability of autopoiesis to administration science. In: in ’t Veld R. J., Schaap L., Termeer C. J. A. M. & Van Twist M. J. W. (eds.) Autopoiesis and configuration theory: New approaches to societal steering. Springer, Dordrecht: 193–206. Fulltext at
Excerpt: In this chapter the applicability of the autopoiesis model to administrative science will be discussed. The model has already stimulated some outstanding social and administrative scientists to creative thinking about analogies and possible implications. The model apparently triggers lateral thinking and seems a rich source of creativity. In order to assess the applicability of ‘autopoiesis’, it is, however, not sufficient to judge whether or not the various interpretations are ‘creative’. The question then arises whether or not these ideas have much to do with the original model. In order to apply a theory to the social sciences that has been derived from the natural sciences, it is necessary to fully understand the original and to be cautious in converting and applying it. I had some doubts about the full understanding and cautious conversion when I considered some social scientific ‘applications’ of the biological model of a living organism: autopoiesis. As a matter of fact, the originators of the model themselves explicitly opposed the idea of stretching the model beyond the area of biology (Varela, 1981). It is therefore probably wise to start our consideration of the applicability of autopoiesis by first explaining what the natural scientific model originally meant. The primary fields of origin of autopoiesis are biology and systems theory. Only after this exploration of the home lands of the model will we discuss the various applications of autopoiesis to different fields of the social sciences and consider its usefulness for (public) administration.

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