Volume 11 · Number 3 · Pages 443–454

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Mapping the Varieties of Second-Order Cybernetics

Karl H. Müller & Alexander Riegler

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Context: Although second-order cybernetics was proposed as a new way of cybernetic investigations around 1970, its general status and its modus operandi are still far from obvious. Problem: We want to provide a new perspective on the scope and the currently available potential of second-order cybernetics within today’s science landscapes. Method: We invited a group of scholars who have produced foundational work on second-order cybernetics in recent years, and organized an open call for new approaches to second-order cybernetics. The accepted contributions are discussed and mapped. We also investigate the relations between second-order cybernetics and second-order science. Results: We present a coherent outlook on the scope of second-order cybernetics today, identify a general methodology of science (with second-order cybernetics as a special instance) and show that second-order cybernetics can be used in a large number of disciplines that go well beyond purely scientific domains. These results are based on a new epistemic mode “from within,” which can be traced back directly to von Foerster. We also arrived at the conclusion that from its early years onwards second-order cybernetics was developed in two different ways, so that second-order cybernetics and second-order science operate in different domains. Implications: Both the coherent perspective of the scope of second-order cybernetics with a new five-part agenda and the outline for a general methodology of science based on a new epistemic mode that was created within and for second-order cybernetics demonstrate the growing importance of reflexivity in science, which, so far, has not been widely recognized.

Key words: Second-order cybernetics, second-order science, observers, endo-mode, reflexive domains, scientific methodology, Heinz von Foerster, Ranulph Glanville


Müller K. H. & Riegler A. (2016) Mapping the varieties of second-order cybernetics. Constructivist Foundations 11(3): 443–454. http://constructivist.info/11/3/443

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