After more than fifteen years of discussions about autopoietic systems in the social sciences it seems helpful to look critically at what has been achieved and at some of the residual desiderata. This contribution (which is based on an earlier contribution to an interdisciplinary discussion on self-organization) therefore (1) presents and discusses very briefly why it seems necessary to address questions related to epistemology and theory of science, which are relevant for the social sciences in the new theoretical context; (2) argues that the theory of autopoiesis might be helpful to clarify and answer some of the aspects mentioned; and (3) outlines, in the central part, how a theory of social systems could take up the main concepts of autopoiesis at a mechanical or functional level. The goal is to use the innovative concepts and insights as such and not mainly the vocabulary used to describe them. A central aspect in this context is to maintain the link between cognition, physical necessities, communication, and problems of theory-building, e.g., the problem of the observer (cf. the title of the paper). In addition, it seems necessary to “keep the door open” to disciplines that can help to theoretically and empirically explain individual and social human behavior. Finally, in the Postscriptum, some points are taken up again, either to clarify them or to add further insights or reflections that have occurred since the publication of the first version of this chapter.
Are social systems autopoietic? If they are, in what way are they? What are the particular processes at work in social systems as autopoietic systems? The purpose of this paper is not to reengage the debate on whether social systems are or are not autopoietic. The paper will rather put forward two suppositions and work from there. First, the paper contends that social systems are autopoietic. As such the key question to understand becomes the unity of social autopoesis – which leads to the second supposition. The paper supposes that the path to understanding the unity of autopoiesis in social systems is through language. The paper argues that the expressive view of language is primordial, and that the designative role of language presupposes the former. The paper argues that, from an expressive point of view, the Wittgensteinian notion of form of life, and the Heideggerian notion of world, are important focal points for understanding social systems as autopoietic. The paper presents an account of social autopoiesis based on the dialectical interpenetration of self and other in and through language. When we find ourselves in the world, in a form of life, we find ourselves already in language–a set of already there socially significant linguistic distinctions, which we implicitly draw upon as part of saying something that matters, in that particular form of life. We share a world in as much as we share a language. Language is the common unity of our community. However, in speaking, in a community, I also take hold of my own existence. As a speaking-subject “I” express myself as a significant “other,” an-other that matters. Through language self and community interpenetrate each other in a fused horizon of significance. It is the conservation of this existential dialectic between same and other, community and self, they and me, in and through language–or rather as language–that is the autopoietic dynamic of social system. To understand social autopoiesis we have to understand language.
In this chapter we argue that a theoretical position derived from a combination of autopoietic theory and complexity theory provides a means for addressing two fundamental problems with the knowledge management (KM) concept. These problems are a lack of consistent epistemology – inadequate theorization about the nature of knowledge and a tendency to identify knowledge as residing primarily at the level of individuals. It represents an opportunity to move away from the reified view of knowledge that dominates most discussions of KM to one of knowledge which is deeply situated and contextualized. We argue that organizations are complex systems of a particular class; they comprise human (biological, reflexive) agents. This has important implications for the range and type of behaviors we can expect from organizations, but it also has implications for how we theorize about them.
Use of systems-theoretical concepts is prevalent in 20th century European philosophy, cognitive science, and autopoietic and sociological systems theory. Each of these diverse fields of study can be placed in still closer proximity since each assigns a form of operational closure to systems. Operational closure refers to the capacity of a system to distinguish itself from its environment in order to build up internal complexity through mechanisms of circular causation or recursive feedback. Originally articulated within the autopoietic theory of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela as a function of autopoietic systems, the concept of operational closure has deeper philosophical roots. Yet it has not been the subject of any intellectual history. This paper provides that history by locating the origin of the concept in Kantian and German idealist philosophy, particularly in the ontology of G.W.F. Hegel, and tracing it to constructivist epistemologies in the 20th century. After establishing the conceptual debt the 20th century systems fields owe to Hegelian ontology, this paper examines the common philosophical problems the concept of operational closure is used to solve in contemporary philosophical accounts of systems and states the epistemological significance of the concept within these fields. Relevance: Links autopoietic theory – and particularly the concept of operational closure – of Maturana and Varela in particular, with some brief mention of Luhmann, to philosophical roots in G.W.F. Hegel and also examines how this concept has been taken up in recent European philosophy.
This book is an attempt to re-evaluate some basic assumptions about language, communication, and cognition in the light of the new epistemology of autopoiesis as the theory of the living. Starting with a critique of common myths about language and communication, the author goes on to argue for a new understanding of language and cognition as functional adaptive activities in a consensual domain of interactions. He shows that such understanding is, in fact, what marks a variety of theoretical and empirical frameworks in contemporary non-Cartesian cognitive science; thus, cognitive science is in the process of working out new epistemological foundations for the study of language and cognition. In Part Two, the traditional concept of grammar is reassessed from the vantage point of autopoietic epistemology, and an analysis of specific grammatical phenomena in English and Russian is undertaken, revealing common cognitive mechanisms at work in linguistic categories.
Abstract: MATURANAs Theorie lebender Systeme besitzt für systemische Therapeuten große Attraktivität. Darüberhinaus findet sie Eingang in den Bereich der Soziologie. LUHMANN verwendet einige Konzepte davon für seine Theorie sozialer Systeme. In diesem Beitrag nehmen MATURANA und LUHMANN zu einigen grundlegenden systemtheoretischen Fragen Stellung. – MATURANAs theory of living systems has fascinated systemic therapists. His theory is also entering the field of sociology. LUHMANN uses some of these concepts for his theory of social systems. In this paper both MATURANA as well as LUHMANN comment an some basic issues of systems theory.
I describe four paradigms of communication relevant to social, economic, and political development of large social systems: the control paradigm, the network-convergence paradigm, the information seeking paradigm, and the autopoiesis paradigm. The first is largely what is practiced. The second is what is currently in vogue. The third is already implicit in some literature. The fourth needs further development and is depicted here in its infancy.
A central feature of living systems is their autonomy. In this article I propose that the manner of autonomy of living systems is self-production, and that all biological phenomena are consequences of this. In particular 1 discuss reproduction, heredity and evolution, as structural phenomena that result from the structural dynamics of the cell as a first order self-producing (autopoietic) unity in the medium in which it is realized as such a unity.
In diesem Artikel zu Ehren meines Freundes und Lehrers Joaquin Luco möchte ich auf anregende Weise und in groben Zügen meine Ansichten über das Phänomen des Lernens darstellen. Natürlich ist das, was ich hier sagen werde, nicht ohne ganz bestimmte Voraussetzungen; es hat seinen Ursprung in meiner Geschichte als Biologe in Chile, wo ich Gelegenheit hatte, bei Luco zu lernen, was ich niemals in einem anderen Teil der Welt hätte lernen können. Dafür möchte ich ihm mit dieser Arbeit meinen Dank sagen.