Publication 7653

Valentinov V. (2012) System–environment relations in the theories of open and autopoietic systems: Implications for critical systems thinking. Systemic Practice and Action Research 25: 537–542. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/7653
This short paper revisits Bertalanffy’s open systems theory and Luhmann’s theory of autopoietic social systems in order to highlight the linkage between systemic complexity and the carrying capacity of the environment. Being paradigmatically focused on biological complexity, Bertalanffy’s work shows this linkage to be relatively unproblematic. In contrast, Luhmann argued that autopoietic social systems are likely to develop excessive complexity which overstrains the environment’s carrying capacity. The paper synthesizes these conceptions into a framework of discretionary social decision-making aimed at preventing systemic complexity from becoming excessive. Rooted in the idea of balancing the system and the environment, this framework determines the optimal level of systemic complexity as that level which systems can maximally attain without incurring the risk of self-destruction. The system–environment balance is shown to be the general systems theory core of Ulrich’s critical systems heuristics and critical systems thinking more generally.

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