Randall Whitaker is a senior human factors analyst in the defense sector, currently specializing in cognitive work analysis and work-centered design (of which he is a co-originator). His academic path proceeded from studies in anthropology and psychology, through computer science and cognitive psychology, to a Ph.D in informatics (1992; Umeå Universitet). His dissertation applied Maturana and Varela’s work to group decision support systems. Since then, he has continued to research their work and to promote their theories as creator and manager of “The Observer Web” at http://www.enolagaia.com/AT.html
Whitaker R. (1993) Interactional models for collective support systems: An application of autopoietic theory. In: Glanville R. & de Zeeuw G. (eds.) Interactive interfaces and human networks. Thesis Publishers, Amsterdam: 119–135.
Because competitive advantage accrues to those enterprises that effectively manage their ‘knowledge’, researchers are seeking a viable organizational epistemology. This paper addresses one epistemological challenge – the slippery but critical notion of ‘context’ – by presenting and substantiating four claims. First, as ‘that which imparts meaning’, context is inherently important to epistemological enquiry generally and enterprise knowledge processes specifically. Second, context is a key issue in three areas of current enterprise (re-) engineering and ‘organizational learning’ research: (a) systemic theories; (b) knowledge acquisition tools; and (c) conversation management. Third, a systemic perspective requires redefining context as a process (contexture) embedded in a system’s intrinsic operational ‘situatedness’. Finally, this shift of perspective can be practically implemented through innovative enterprise knowledge acquisition procedures. One such innovative procedure (nichepicking) is illustrated by a case study.
Whitaker R. (2004) Thanks for the Magic, Humberto. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 11(4): 93–97. https://cepa.info/3670
It is my opinion that Humberto Maturana’s contributions to the state of human knowledge about both humans and their knowledge are nothing short of monumental. At least that’s the magnitude of impact his ideas had on me, both as a doctoral student and in my various subsequent roles researching how information technologies interact with human cognitive capacities, interpersonal communication, and directed collaboration, for example. Though already familiar with the work of scholars like Ashby, Beer, von Foerster, Angyal, Bateson, and Pask, I had remained adrift in deciding how best to apply the wisdom of cybernetics to matters like group decision support.
Whitaker R. (2007) Applying phenomenology and hermeneutics in IS design: A report on field experiences. Informing Science 10: 63–96. https://cepa.info/7746
Phenomenology and hermeneutics have long been promoted as sources of inspiration for better information system (IS) design. Practical approaches to applying these philosophical ideas have been awaited for just as long. This paper offers a review of one practitioner’s experience in devising a theoretical and methodological ‘toolkit’ via which these disciplines’ principles have been applied in actual IS design practice.
Purpose: This paper aims to present lessons learned in applying 2nd‐order cybernetics – specifically Maturana and Varela’s “biology of cognition” – to the actual design of interactive decision support systems. Design/methodology/approach – This consists of a review of the rationale and bases for applying 2nd‐order cybernetics in interactive IT design, the challenges in moving from theory to praxis, illustrative examples of tactics employed, and a summary of the successful outcomes achieved. Findings: The paper offers conclusions about the general applicability of such theories, two sample applications devised for actual projects, and discussion of these applications’ perceived value. Research limitations/implications – The applications described are not claimed to represent a complete toolkit, and they may not readily generalize beyond the scope of interactive information systems design. On the other hand, the examples offered demonstrate that 2nd‐order cybernetics can constructively inform such designs – advancing the focus of discussion from theory‐based advocacy to praxis‐based recommendations. Practical implications: The paper presents illustrative examples of the exigencies entailed in moving 2nd‐order cybernetics ideas forward from theory to praxis and specific tactics for doing so. Originality/value – This paper addresses the persistent deficiencies in both concrete examples and guidance for practical applications of 2nd‐order cybernetics theories. It will hopefully stimulate similar attempts to demonstrate such theories’ practical benefits.
Context: Maturana’s published corpus is vast, and his publications span multiple venues, formats, and languages. For these and other reasons, the corpus is as complex as it is daunting in its scale. Problem: Over the last two decades, bibliographic data on Maturana’s publications had proliferated in terms of available resources, scope of coverage, and accessibility. However, as of 2011 the degree of accessibility was not matched by the inclusiveness, detail, and accuracy of the relatively few dedicated bibliographies upon which most such resources relied. It had become time to update, consolidate, and better validate the core bibliographic data. Method: The five most comprehensive electronic bibliographies were merged and collated. The merged listing was then validated using the available evidence and a three-tiered set of evaluation criteria. Finally, the resultant merged and validated listing was augmented with previously unrecorded entries and data, subject to the same evidentiary constraints and evaluation criteria pertaining to the validation phase. Results: None of the five bibliographies in the starting set was comprehensive. All five contained ambiguities, missing details, discrepancies, and outright errors. The updated and consolidated listing presented here is the largest, most comprehensive, and most accurate compiled to date. Implications: The resultant bibliography offers a more complete and more reliable reference resource to both veteran Maturana scholars and newcomers to his work than previously existing bibliographies.
Open peer commentary on the target article “Luhmann and the Constructivist Heritage: A Critical Reflection” by Eva Buchinger. > Upshot: Buchinger’s review of Luhmann’s theoretical framework leads to a conclusion that Luhmann’s consolidation of a kaleidoscopic array of sources represents his primary innovation. However, this conclusion bypasses the question of whether Luhmann’s admirably fused result actually reflects viable – or even valid – applications of those sources he purports to integrate. I shall illustrate grounds for doubt on this question with specific regard to the construct Luhmann most centrally adopted – autopoiesis.
Whitaker R. (2022) Author’s Response: In the Wake of “In Maturana’s Wake”. Constructivist Foundations 18(1): 147–151. https://cepa.info/8219
Abstract: The commentators pose questions and note issues arising within multiple contexts invoked in the target article. In this response, I endeavor to address as many of the points and queries as I can within the prescribed space afforded me. The responses are organized with regard to the three main topical areas within the target article: engaging with and learning Maturana’s BoC; employing BoC orientations and tenets to practical effect; and the prospects for continuing to refine and extend Maturana’s work.
Whitaker R. (2022) In Maturana’s Wake: The Biology of Cognition’s Legacy and its Prospects. Constructivist Foundations 18(1): 119–131. https://cepa.info/8212
Context: Humberto Maturana’s biology of cognition (BoC) represents a novel analysis of cognition grounded in biology and neuroscience. While BoC has facilitated demonstrable improvements in research and development results, it contrasts with prevailing mainstream viewpoints, models, and terminology. Accordingly, effort is required to develop a working knowledge of Maturana’s work before one can reasonably apply it or contribute to BoC’s ongoing conceptual advancement. Problem: The effort required in learning BoC increases the risk of misrepresenting or misinterpreting BoC and overlooking its value. Applying BoC requires both a working knowledge and creative adaptations. These adaptations can prove difficult and obscure recognition of credit due BoC for positive outcomes. Finally, the BoC community of interest faces challenges in absorbing lessons learned and refining the BoC conceptual framework to facilitate future researchers in benefiting from Maturana’s legacy. These issues reflect three areas of concern: (a) effectively understanding BoC; (b) usefully applying BoC; and (c) elaborating and extending BoC. Method: I identify key issues underlying these areas of concern, review lessons learned regarding the understanding and application areas, and offer recommendations for elucidating some of the most important issues for constructively advancing BoC. Using examples from successful professional experience, I illustrate the issues involved in applying BoC in research and development projects, the benefits obtained, and the problems in assigning credit for such benefits to BoC. Results: Access to fundamental BoC resources has improved over the last three decades. The specific points of difficulty in developing a working knowledge of BoC remain much the same as they were for Maturana’s university students decades ago. The four issues I consider most important for clarification or conceptual development are: A - the role and scope of autopoiesis, B - ontological and epistemological entailments of BoC, C - the entitative bias, and D - the new orientation that shifts from entities to relations. Implications: The core of biology of cognition risks increasing obscurity unless (a) its tenets are more clearly established and widely disseminated and (b) the means for applying its insights for practical benefit are developed and tested via experience. These results are offered to aid in progressing Maturana’s version of constructivism toward increased recognition of the potential value BoC - and constructivism in general - offers. Constructivist content: Maturana’s work entails a focus on an observer’s subjective experience of its life world, and therefore entails an epistemology consistent with the constructivist perspective. Key words: Applied constructivism, autopoiesis, biology of cognition, epistemology, languaging, Maturana, observer, ontology, Varela.