Publication 8008

Beeson I. (2009) Information in organizations: Rethinking the autopoietic account. In: Magalhães R. & Sanchez R. (eds.) Autopoiesis in organizations and information systems. Emerald, Bingley: 185–199.
Excerpt: The rejection of the notion of information, as ordinarily understood, in the theory of autopoiesis, presents problems to theories of organization rooted in ideas of information, control, system, and communication. But the rejection seems well founded if the idea of a self-producing organism is taken seriously. There are various ways of trying to resolve the issue. We can say that autopoiesis cannot be extended to “third-order unities” (societies and organizations), so that its strictures are irrelevant, even if the autopoietic account can be useful metaphorically. Luhmann’s solution is to work out a full-blown autopoietic account of social systems in which the selfproducing entities are not individual human beings but communications. This is elegant, but discards autopoiesis’s biological foundation and so breaks the connection with living in the world. A reworking of ideas of information and communication using theories from pragmatics takes us closer to the autopoietic view by switching focus from stored information and instructive interaction toward a cooperative search for meaning and relevance. Such an approach, however, remains epistemologically focused (on how knowledge is exchanged), while (as Dell suggests) autopoiesis is oriented ontologically (toward existing and what exists). A more radical reworking of the idea of information taken from Gibson’s perceptual theory has therefore been suggested as more compatible with autopoiesis. In terms of the design and interpretation of organizations and organizational systems, an autopoietic account, coupled with a pragmatic approach to communication and a Gibsonian treatment of information pickup, would shift focus (and effort) away from information storage, control, and abstraction toward richer forms of interaction and awareness. While the message of organizational closure from autopoiesis has been taken to mean that individuals and organizations have limited capacity for change (so perhaps need to be forced), the positive conclusion from the theory is that individuals and organizations are autonomous, not finally determinable nor controllable, and so are open, even within their structural constraints, to inexhaustible possibilities.
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