The author compares the development of constructivist approaches in two national communities of communication researches, France and Germany. Radical approches are nearly unvisible in the French community, here social constructivism relies mainly on action and speach theory.
This special issue invites a reflection on and reformulation of options for social construction as a theoretical and practical approach to studying communication as continuously emergent in relationships, constitutive of social reality, consequential to communicators, experienced through the bodily senses, and afforded by their material circumstances. Authors are encouraged to take stock of our predicted and actual accomplishments, consider the tensions between the promised and actualized changes brought about by social construction work in communication, and project the impact of social construction on the discipline in the next five to ten years. The focus is not only critical, but reflexive: How do we wish to reconstruct social construction? Relevance: The articles in the journal critically address social construction, taking on issues of its possibilities, shortcomings, and practical applications in psychotherapy, communication, and medicine.
I employ spoken and written discourse and extended excerpts from teleconferences between local, state, and federal officials in the midst of Hurricane Katrina to examine the term coordination as one powerful way of accounting for and pragmatically (re)constructing weather in crisis discourse. By means of discourse analysis, I find that the indexical term coordination is part of a metadiscursive vocabulary of disaster, and that, though it performs important social functions in the communication of accountability, authority, and redress, it has very little to do with communicating about weather itself. My conclusion presses for a discursive approach as a means of recovering and understanding social ontologies like weather and the way we materially organize around themes what Latour refers to “matters of concern.” Relevance: It analyzes how notions of weather and disaster are constructed in language.
The paper presents a social system’s perspective on the Internet, based mostly upon a radical constructivist approach. It summarizes the contributions of German sociologist Niklas Luhmann and outlines the theoretical boundaries between the theory of social systems and that of media studies. The paper highlights the self-referential nature of the Internet, which is depicted as both a system and an environment by means of a network of serialized selections and passing on of data. Therefore, whereas media theory pictures the Internet as a medium, this paper describes it as a system in regard to its self-referential dynamic, and as an environment in regard to the non-organized complexity of data within the medium. Even though the Internet is hereby depicted as an autopoietic system from a social system’s perspective, the paper does not resort to all the concepts of Luhmann’s theory.
The attempt to define living systems in terms of goal, purpose, function, etc. runs into serious conceptual difficulties. The theoretical biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela realized that any such attempt cannot capture what is distinctive about them: their autonomy and unity. Goal, purpose, etc. always define the system in terms of something extrinsic, whereas living systems are unique because they maintain their unitary continuity of pattern despite the ceaseless turnover of their components. So, system-closure is a prerequisite of their adequate conceptual comprehension. Maturana and Varela themselves found that system-closure pertains exclusively to their organization, i.e. the set of relations among system-components which unify them. For living systems this comprises the relation between the system-components and the processes which they undergo. This relation is self-referential because it is closed, i.e. it essentially (re)produces itself. \\While this model worked very well in the biological domain, attempts to extend it to the social domain met with serious conceptual obstacles. The reason for this is that Maturana did not make a consistent enough application of it. He understood the components of social systems biologically (individuals, persons, etc.) and the relations between them socially (language). This inconsistency ruptured the system’s organizational closure. Consequently organizational closure (autopoiesis) can be maintained only when both the components of social systems and their processes are of the same type: social. This interpretation can be found in the work of Niklas Luhmann who recognizes that the components of social systems are not persons, individuals, actors or subjects but communicative actions themselves. This preserves the organizational closure of the system and permits the concept of autopoiesis to be used as a powerful instrument of social analysis.
In this essay I develop a systems-theoretical observation of John Lilly’s cybernetics of communication in his 1967 work “The Mind of the Dolphin.” The eight-year-old project that “The Mind of the Dolphin” recounts for public consumption details his aspiration to achieve an unprecedented breakthrough beyond companionate communion to fully abstract linguistic communication across species boundaries. Between 1959 and 1968 Lilly wagered and lost his mainstream scientific career largely over this audacious, ultimately inconclusive bid to establish and document for scientific validation “communication with a nonhuman mind.” In that effort, however, he mobilized the best available tools, a cutting-edge array of cybernetic concepts. He leaned heavily on the information theory bound up with first-order cybernetics and operated with heuristic computational metaphors alongside the actual computers of his era. Relevance: As I will elicit through some close readings of his texts, Lilly also homed in on crucial epistemological renovations with a constructivist redescription of cognition that may have influenced and motivated his colleague Heinz von Foerster’s more renowned formulations, arriving in the early 1970s, of a second-order cybernetics.
Observership: The view from semiotics.In: Thellefsen T., Sorensen B. & Cobley P. (eds.) From first to third via cybersemiotics: A festschrift in honor of Professor Soren Brier on the Occasion of his 60th Birthday. Scandinavian Book, Frederiksberg: 423–447.
Although semiotics has not consistently and explicitly developed a theory of observership, constructivism has, particularly in its radical form (see, for example, Watzlawick 2008, Poerksen 2004). However, it envisages a theory of the observer that amounts to a form of nominalism. This paper takes its cue from Sebeok’s (1986, 1991) comments on John Archibald Wheeler’s conception of the “participatory universe” and tries to explicate the relevance of Wheeler’s (1994, 1998) philosophy of science for semiotics. The paper contributes to recent key debates in the field on “knowing” sciences (Kull 2009) and on relation (Deely 2010).
Open peer commentary on the target article “From Objects to Processes: A Proposal to Rewrite Radical Constructivism” by Siegfried J. Schmidt. Upshot: In the 1990s the emergence of radical constructivism as a meta-theory inspired many scientific disciplines. Since more or less simple realistic concepts of the media as mirroring the world prevailed, communication science was challenged to re-think the relation of media and reality as well. Recently, criticism of constructivist media theory has grown, while those constructivst approaches have not developed any further. Thus, the commentary examines the potential for Schmidt”s process-oriented constructivism, which is interpreted as part of a non-dualistic paradigm, to revitalize the debate. I will argue that the idea of acting as a perpetual process of positings and presuppositions [Setzungen und Voraussetzungen] can especially be related to current research on media and memory.
In this paper, the origins of second-order Cybernetics are sketched, and are particularly identified with circularity: a quality that was at the basis of the studies that lead to the creation of the field of Cybernetics. The implications of the new analysis that second-order Cybernetics (Cybernetics treated cybernetically: that is, Cybernetics when circularity is taken seriously) gives rise to are considered in terms of the two qualities that Wiener gave to Cybernetics in his eponymous book – control and communication. Finally, the analysis is applied to that other proto-cybernetic concept, purpose. It is shown that (and in consequence how) the notion of goal and purpose must be radically reconsidered in second-order Cybernetic systems.