How is the field of systems science different from other scientific fields, and how can we distinguish the various traditions within systems science? We propose that there is a set of underlying assumptions which are generally shared within systems science but are less common in other scientific fields. Furthermore, the various traditions within systems science have adopted different combinations of these assumptions. We examine six traditions within systems science – cybernetics, operations research, general systems theory, system dynamics, total quality management, and organizational learning. We then consider eight underlying assumptions – observation, causality, reflexivity, self-organization, determinism, environment, relationships, and holism. We then assess where each tradition stands with respect to each of the underlying
Geyer F. (1995) The challenge of sociocybernetics. Kybernetes 24(4): 6–32. https://cepa.info/3854
Summarizes some of the important concepts and developments in cybernetics and general systems theory, especially during the last two decades. Shows how they can indeed be a challenge to sociological thinking. Cybernetics is used here as an umbrella term for a great variety of related disciplines: general systems theory, information theory, system dynamics, dynamic systems theory, including catastrophe theory, chaos theory. Also considers the emerging “science of complexity”, which includes neural networks, artificial intelligence and artificial life, and discusses the methodological drawbacks of second‐order cybernetics.
Kravchenko A. (2014) Human Autopoiesis? Constructivist Foundations 9(2): 177–179. https://constructivist.info/9/2/177
Open peer commentary on the article “Social Autopoiesis?” by Hugo Urrestarazu. Upshot: It is argued that to define social systems as non-biological is to deny their intrinsic biological groundedness, which affects their complex system dynamics. In the case of human social systems, the ecological phenomenon of human society should not be confused with human social organizations as cultural artifacts.
Scholte T. (2018) Toward a systems theatre: Proposal for a program of non-trivial modeling. Futures 103: 94–105. https://cepa.info/6794
This paper makes the case for, and calls for participants in, an interdisciplinary research program exploring the development of theatrical methods of social system modeling. It combines argumentation that synthesizes concepts from the theatre and the system sciences with results from a pilot application of some of the modeling methods discussed. Theatrical methods of modeling facilitate surprising insights regarding the impacts of emotion and other non-trivial factors on system behaviour that are difficult to address in purely computational and diagrammatic forms of modeling. While a theoretical relationship between systems approaches and the theatrical techniques discussed has been articulated elsewhere, this paper is the first to propose a more fulsome exploration of the potentialities of this relationship for systems praxis.
The concept of autopoiesis introduced by Maturana and Varela has, in the last four decades, triggered intellectual efforts for the understanding of phenomena of selforganization in general. This contribution aims at conceptualizing and applying two aspects of autopoiesis – operational closure and self-reference – in respect of social organizations. We formalize these concepts and demonstrate their power to explain change processes. This is achieved by means of a qualitative case study and a quantitative simulation model, which lead to counterintuitive insights about the dynamics of organizational transformation.
The story of systems theory and cybernetics is a story of several research traditions all of which originated in the mid 20th century. Systems ideas emerged in a variety of locations and for different reasons. As a result the ideas were developed in relative isolation and emerged with different emphases. This paper discusses the books and people, conferences and institutes, and politics and technology that have influenced the systems movement. The schools of thought presented are general systems theory, the systems approach, operations research, system dynamics, learning organizations, total quality management, and cybernetics. Three points-of-view within cybernetics are discussed. Total quality management is a new addition to the list, but we feel it is appropriate because of its extensive use of systems ideas. This paper does not address artificial intelligence, complexity theory, family therapy, or other traditions which might have been included.
Vernon D., Lowe R., Thill S. & Zieme T. (2015) Embodied cognition and circular causality: On the role of constitutive autonomy in the reciprocal coupling of perception and action. Frontiers in Psychology 6: 1660. https://cepa.info/2523
The reciprocal coupling of perception and action in cognitive agents has been firmly established: perceptions guide action but so too do actions influence what is perceived. While much has been said on the implications of this for the agent’s external behavior, less attention has been paid to what it means for the internal bodily mechanisms which underpin cognitive behavior. In this article, we wish to redress this by reasserting that the relationship between cognition, perception, and action involves a constitutive element as well as a behavioral element, emphasizing that the reciprocal link between perception and action in cognition merits a renewed focus on the system dynamics inherent in constitutive biological autonomy. Our argument centers on the idea that cognition, perception, and action are all dependent on processes focussed primarily on the maintenance of the agent’s autonomy. These processes have an inherently circular nature – self-organizing, self-producing, and self-maintaining – and our goal is to explore these processes and suggest how they can explain the reciprocity of perception and action. Specifically, we argue that the reciprocal coupling is founded primarily on their endogenous roles in the constitutive autonomy of the agent and an associated circular causality of global and local processes of self-regulation, rather than being a mutual sensory-motor contingency that derives from exogenous behavior. Furthermore, the coupling occurs first and foremost via the internal milieu realized by the agent’s organismic embodiment. Finally, we consider how homeostasis and the related concept of allostasis contribute to this circular self-regulation.