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Heinz von Foerster 100
Organizing Institutions:
Heinz von Foerster Gesellschaft / Wien
ASC – American Society for Cybernetics
WISDOM – Wiener Institut für
  sozialwissenschaftliche Dokumentation und Methodik

Institut für Zeitgeschichte | Universität Wien
AINS – Austrian Institute for Nonlinear Studies
Bruce Clarke

The Self-Organizing Classroom: Documenting Foerster’s BCL Pedagogy, 1968-1974

Horn Professor of Literature and Science
Texas Tech University

Robert Martin and Stuart Umpleby, among others, have given us first-hand accounts of the student-driven “Heinz seminars” in the BCL, which began in 1968 with “Heuristics,” and which yielded four student-produced book publications: the Whole University Catalog in 1969, the Ecological Source Book in 1970, Metagames in 1972, and most famously, at 523 pages, Cybernetics of Cybernetics in 1974. The Heuristics courses were begun during the final heyday of the well-funded BCL, in part as a spin-off of its success as a research environment, and at a time when Heinz was not yet under the pressure he would later face, in the aftermath of the Mansfield Amendment’s destruction of his funding prospects, to teach traditional engineering classes. However, by the time of Cybernetics of Cybernetics, that writing was on the wall, the funding for the course, such as it was, came from Stewart Brand's Point Foundation, and so this mega-document was the final, comprehensive compendium of an intellectual operation, it seems likely, Heinz already knew he was about to bring to close. I will situate the Heinz seminars and their class projects in the wider historical context of the counterculture of the late 1960s, in particular, Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog and Foerster’s early establishment of relations with that West Coast operation. My presentation will offer a slide show, projecting samples especially of the earlier, more obscure student publications. In the process I will offer some interpretive commentary relating their content to the legacy of second-order cybernetics.