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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
Tatiania Medvedea

Four Views of Social Systems and Four Methods for Describing Them

Department of World Economy and Law
Siberian State University of Transport
Novosibirsk, Russia

The various social science disciplines have adopted different methods for describing systems. Some disciplines describe systems as sets of interrelated variables (e.g., physics, economics). Some disciplines describe the behavior of a system in terms of a sequence of events (e.g., history, computer science). Some disciplines look at systems as collections of groups (e.g., political science, sociology). Some disciplines focus on ideas that influence behavior (e.g., psychology, cultural anthropology). When dealing with a complex social and economic system, all of these methods can be used to create a more holistic understanding of a social and economic system. This paper provides connections between the four-sided conception for understanding social systems and four methods for describing systems. This paper also provides an illustrative case about the change in social and labor relations in Russia during the last 20 years of reforming the Russian economy.

The reforms and changes since 1989 can be viewed as an example of self-organization in a social system. New laws, institutions, and patterns of behavior have emerged. Increasing complexity of the social and labor reality in changing economy requires rethink and revamp the theories, which were developed to govern and support industrial relations in the 20th century, through transdisciplinary approach. The self-organization and emergence of the past 20 years will be described using the four-sided conception for understanding social systems and the four methods for describing systems.


Four-sided conception, pattern, content, process, form, sense, social and labor relations, descriptions, methods, disciplines, complexity, changes in Russia.