The conceptualization of society and actors as an interrelated ensemble of autopoietic systems-as it is done in Luhmann’s theory of social systemsÍ-raises above all the question: How is it possible to govern operationally closed entities? Luhmann himself was a steering-pessimist. He devoted considerable effort to the explanation of the constraints of governance. But closer examination of the theory of social systems shows that it could be used as well to develop ideas about ‘how to govern. ’ The present text attempts to interpret the autopoietic self-steering approach against its original steering-pessimism-intention. Contrary to the argument that the autopoiesis approach contributes to the steering discussion in only a marginal way, it will be shown how the conceptualization of the governance of autopoietic systems is possible. This will be done by using the concepts of resonance, openess to the environment (Umweltoffenheit) and media of steering (Steuerungsmedien). The empirical relevance of this approach will be demonstrated by the example of public governance of organizational systems.
In spite of decades of use of agent-based modelling in social policy research and in educational contexts, very little work has been done on combining the two. This paper accounts for a proof-of-concept single case-study conducted in a college-level Social Policy course, using agent-based modelling to teach students about the social and human aspects of urban planning and regional development. The study finds that an agent-based model helped a group of students think through a social policy design decision by acting as an object-to-think-with, and helped students better connect social policy outcomes with behaviours at the level of individual citizens. The study also suggests a set of new issues facing the design of Constructionist activities or environments for the social sciences.
Higher education research frequently refers to the complex external conditions that give our old-fashioned universities a good reason to change. The underlying theoretical assumption of such framing is that organizations are open systems. This paper presents an alternative view, derived from the theory of social systems autopoiesis. It proposes that organizations, being open systems, are yet operationally closed, as all their activities and interactions with the environment are aspects of just one process: the recursive production of themselves, according to a pattern of their own identity. It is their identity that captures exactly what can and what cannot be sustained in their continuous self-production. Examining the organizational identity of universities within the theoretical framework of autopoiesis may hence shed new light on their resistance to change, explaining it as a systemic and social phenomenon, rather than an individual and psychological one. Since all processes of an autopoietic system are processes of its self-production, this paper argues that in the case of traditional European universities, the identity consists in the intertwinement of only two processes: (1) introducing continuous change in the scope of scientific knowledge and (2) educating new generations of scholars, who will carry on this activity. This surprisingly leaves at the wayside seemingly the most obvious “use of the university’: the adequate education of students for the job market.