Open peer commentary on the article “Social Autopoiesis?” by Hugo Urrestarazu. Upshot: We agree on the need to explore a concept of social autopoiesis that goes beyond a strictly human-centered concept of social systems as autopoietic communicative systems. But both Hugo Urrestarazu and Niklas Luhmann neglect the importance of semiosis in understanding communication, and this has important implications for the question of a more general approach to social systems.
Context: Although the theory of autopoietic systems was originally formulated to explain the phenomenon of life from an operational and temporal perspective, sociologist Niklas Luhmann incorporated it later within his theory of social systems. Due to this adoption, there have been several discussions regarding the applicability of this concept beyond its biological origins. Problem: This article addresses the conception of Luhman’s autopoietic social systems, and confronts this vision with criticism both of the original authors of the concept of autopoiesis and of other social theorists in order to elucidate the main problems of this debate and its possible solutions. Method: The objectives of the article are reached by means of a theoretical reconstruction of the main issues of the debate on the concept of autopoiesis. The main method used for the research is the use of documentary sources to discuss the arguments. Results: We claim that it is justified to extend the concept of autopoiesis from its biological origin to other disciplines, and to develop its interdisciplinary character, following the spirit of systems theory and constructivism. Implications: Our results are useful for promoting the development of new interdisciplinary research in the field of systems theory and constructivism. Important changes to practice should be made, namely, the development of new research methods, new concepts and perspectives. Constructivist content: The concept of autopoiesis is one of the fundamental concepts of the constructivist epistemology. The discussion proposes a radical understanding of this concept in order to realize all its explanatory potential.
This paper addresses the problem of social autopoiesis. We argue that to date no adequate solution to the problem of social autopoiesis exists and put this down to the lack of an adequate conception of a social autopoietic unity. We present such a solution based on our reconstruction of autopoiesis theory in a synthesis of Aristotelian/Maturanian metaphysics. From this we derive what we call the Enterprise model and test it against the six-point key of Varela et al. (1974). In light of our solution we then move to a consideration of further problems that may still cast doubt on the legitimacy of the notion of autopoiesis in the social domain. We conclude by arguing that such considerations are in fact groundless and do not materially affect our claims as to the autopoiesis of social systems.
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.
Open peer commentary on the article “Social Autopoiesis?” by Hugo Urrestarazu. Upshot: Social autopoiesis does not operate in physical space and cannot be understood by analyzing cause-effect relationships. Social systems are observing systems operating in the space of meaning. Therefore a validation procedure guided by the classic rules for determining autopoietic systems is misleading. However, the target article clarifies a point of great importance for sociological research: the difference between autopoiesis and autonomy (closure).
Open peer commentary on the article “Social Autopoiesis?” by Hugo Urrestarazu. Upshot: Urrestarazu’s presentation of social autopoiesis is compromised because he fails to take into account that social systems are meaning-constituting systems. The paper briefly comments on Luhmann’s theory of autopoiesis in communication systems, but does not refer extensively to Luhmann’s work. The possibility to establish bridges is thus impaired.
The main objective of this study is to revisit the fundamental postulations of autopoietic self-production wrapped within the autopoietic six-point key and to investigate whether or not firms as specific social systems can be treated as autopoietic unities. In order to do so firms have to be defined as simple and composite unities whereupon their boundaries have to be clearly identifiable. The test of social autopoiesis reveals that firms can be viewed as autopoietic social systems that exist in the communicative space with employees’ firm-specific communicative sub-domains as their components. Furthermore, it is argued that the social reification of autopoiesis (autokoinopoiesis) in firms is quintessentially interconnected with physical autopoiesis of their employees (autophysiopoiesis). Discontiguous focus on productivity as firms’ obvious physical implication may thus be upgraded by a very social nature of ideactivity, firms’ only real survival force.
As the results of man-engineered experiments with social design, social “revolution”, socialist “architectures”, and other feats of “social engineering”, are crumbling down, they are causing large-scale human suffering through their failures. There is a renewed awareness that self-organizing and spontaneous properties of complex social systems are much too powerful (and much too vulnerable at the same lime) to respond or be exposed to the endless, reductionistic “tinkering” of policy “makers”, “scientists” of the artificial, and “engineers of human souls”. The mankind is again ready to learn how to “trigger”, “catalyze”, “sustain” and “lead-manage” a spontaneous process of social self-organization; it is becoming less inclined to design another “central super-controller”, “information-processing command system”, or “World Brain”. The purpose of this paper is to show: (1) that theories dealing with “spontaneous social orders” have deep historical roots and (2) that systems sciences are in a good position (better than economics, engineering or sociology) to build upon these roots and expand the theories into useful, practical methodologies. For example, modern theories of autopoiesis and order through fluctuations, especially their rich, computer-based simulation experiments, provide a good and solid point of departure.
Open peer commentary on the article “The Autopoiesis of Social Systems and its Criticisms” by Hugo Cadenas & Marcelo Arnold. Upshot: I reaffirm and extend the notion of social autopoiesis away from mere labels and descriptions to acting physical components of social systems and societies, ranging from subcellular to biological and human. All self-producing biological organisms are essentially societies of interacting components and therefore notions of autopoiesis and social systems are fundamentally, if not definitionally, interrelated. Some examples of real-life applications of social autopoiesis are also given. Future generations of scientists might even find the qualifier “social” redundant because there is no other autopoiesis than “social.”