Volume 9 · Number 2 · Pages 153–166
Social Autopoiesis?

Hugo Urrestarazu

Download the full text in
PDF (1382 kB)

> Citation > Similar > References > Add Comment

Abstract

Context: In previous papers, I suggested six rules proposed by Varela, Maturana and Uribe as a validation test to assess the autopoietic nature of a complex dynamic system. Identifying possible non-biological autopoietic systems is harder than merely assessing self-organization, existence of embodied boundaries and some observable autonomous behavioural capabilities: any rigorous assessment should include a close observation of the “intra-boundaries” phenomenology in terms of components’ self-production, their spatial distribution and the temporal occurrence of interaction events. Problem: Under which physical and components’ relational conditions can some social systems be properly considered as autopoietic unities compliant with the six rules? Results: Dynamic systems can be classified according to “degrees of autonomous behaviour” that they may acquire as a result of the emergence of organizational closure (i.e., autonomy. Also, the different “degrees of attainable systemic autonomy” depend on the “degrees of autonomy” shown by a system’s dynamic components. For human social systems, a necessary balance between individuals’ autonomy and the heteronomous behaviour brought about on people by social norms (laws, culture, tradition or coercion) sets limits to the “degree of systemic autonomy” that human organizations may acquire. Therefore social systems, defined as dynamic systems composed of physical agents, could not attain the high “levels of systemic autonomy” ascribable to autopoietic systems without constraining the autonomy of agents to “levels” that are incompatible with spontaneous human behaviour. Also, social organizations seen as composed of physical agents interacting in physical space cannot be construed as autopoietic systems. Alternatively, if seen as composed of “process-like” entities, where agents participate as actors within processes, some social systems could be described as autopoietic wholes existing in the abstract space in which we distinguish interactions between processes, provided that we can assess compliance with the rules for some specific cases. Implications: These conclusions contribute to the debate on the possible autopoietic nature of some human social systems and to grasping the opportunity to shift focus to the more interesting issue of the “degrees of systemic autonomy” that human organizations could acquire (if needed) without imposing unbearable limitations on the autonomy of human actors. Also, the conceptual framework of this explanatory approach could be used in practical terms to assist the development of new dynamic modelling languages capable of simulating social systems.

Key words: Autopoiesis, autonomy, heteronomy, self-organization, social system, organizational closure, causation, Maturana, Varela, Luhmann.

Citation

Urrestarazu H. (2014) Social autopoiesis? Constructivist Foundations 9(2): 153–166. http://constructivist.info/9/2/153

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Urrestarazu H. (2011) Autopoietic Systems: A Generalized Explanatory Approach – Part 2
Urrestarazu H. (2012) Autopoietic Systems: A Generalized Explanatory Approach – Part 3: The Scale of Description Problem
Urrestarazu H. (2011) Autopoietic Systems: A Generalized Explanatory Approach – Part 1
Alrøe H. F. & Noe E. (2012) Observing Environments
Riegler A. & Scholl A. (2012) Niklas Luhmann and the Sociological Turn in Constructivism

References

Abbott A. (2001) Time matters. On theory and method. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Alrøe H. F. & Noe E. (2012) Observing environments. Constructivist Foundations 8(1): 39–62. http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/8/1/039.alroe
Ashby W. R. (1981) Principles of the self-organizing System. In: Mechanisms of intelligence. Ross Ashby’s writings on cybernetics. Edited by R. Conant. Intersystems, Seaside CA: 51–74. Originally published 1961. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bateson G. (1972) Steps to an ecology of mind. Ballantine, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bateson G. (2000) Steps to an ecology of mind. With a new foreword by Mary Catherine Bateson. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bruner J. (1996) The culture of education. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Campbell D. T. (1969) Variation and selective retention in socio-cultural evolution. General Systems XIV: 69–85. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Cowley S. J. (2011) Taking a language stance. Ecological Psychology 23(3): 185–209. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Cowley S. J. (ed.) (2011) Distributed language. John Benjamins, Philadelphia. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
De Jaegher H. & Di Paolo E. (2007) Participatory sense-making: An enactive approach to social cognition. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 6: 485–507. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Deacon T. W. (1992) Brain-language coevolution. In: Hawkins J. A. & Gell-Mann M. (eds.) The evolution of human languages. Addison-Wesely, Redwoord City CA: 49–83. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Deacon T. W. (1997) The symbolic species: The co-evolution of language and the brain. W. W. Norton, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Deacon T. W. (2009) Relaxed selection and the role of epigenesis in the evolution of language. In: Blumberg M. S., Freeman J. H. & Robinson S. R. (eds.) Oxford handbook of developmental behavioral neuroscience. Oxford University Press, New York: 730–752. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Durkheim E. (1988) Les règles de la méthode sociologique. Second edition. Edition Flammarion. Originally published in 1901. English translation: Durkheim E. (1982) The rules of sociological method, The Free Press, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (1960) On self-organizing systems and their environments. In: Yovits M. C. & Cameron S. (eds.) Self-organizing systems. Pergamon Press, London: 31–50. Reprinted in: Foerster H. von (2003) Understanding understanding: Essays on cybernetics and cognition. Springer, New York: 1–19. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (2002) Der Anfang von Himmel und Erde hat keinen Namen. Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (2003) Understanding understanding. Essays on cybernetics and cognition. Springer, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Fuchs P. (1997) Adressabilität als Grundbegriff der soziologischen Systemtheorie. Soziale Systeme 1: 57–79. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Glasersfeld E. von (1995) Radical constructivism: A way of knowing and learning. Falmer Press, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Goffman E. (1967) Interaction ritual. Essays on face-to-face behavior. Anchor Books, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Habermas J. (1987) Excursus on Luhmann’s appropriation of the philosophy of the subject through systems theory. In: The philosophical discourse of modernity: Twelve lectures. MIT Press, Cambridge MA: 368–385. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hall W. P. (2005) Biological nature of knowledge in the learning organization. The Learning Organization 12(2): 169–188. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hopkins J. & Fishwick P. A. (2001) Synthetic human agents for modeling and simulation. In: Proceedings of the IEEE 89(2): 131–147. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Husserl E. (1962) Die Krisis der Europäischen Wissenschaften und die Transzendentale Phänomenologie. Martinus Nijhoff, Den Haag. Originally published in 1935–1936. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Husserl E. (1973) Cartesianische Meditationen und Pariser Vorträge [Cartesian meditations and the Paris lectures]. Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague. Originally published in 1929. http://ia600601.us.archive.org/10/items/CartesiamMeditations/
Husserl E. (1989) Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy. Second book: Studies in the phenomenology of constitution. Translated by R. Rojcewicz & A. Schuwer. Kluwer, Dordrecht. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Järvilehto T. (1998) The theory of the organism-environment system: I. Description of the theory. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science 33: 317–330. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Jennings R. E. & Thompson J. J. (2012) The biological centrality of talk. In: Kravchenko A. V. (ed.) Cognitive dynamics in linguistic interactions. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne: 33–63. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Karafillidis A. (2010) Soziale Formen. Fortführung eines soziologischen Programms. Transcript, Bielefeld. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Karafillidis A. (2013) Socializing a calculus. The emergence of a theory of social forms and a sociological notation. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 20(3–4): 108–141. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kravchenko A. V. (2007) Whence the autonomy? A reply to Harnad and Dror. Pragmatics & Cognition 15(3): 587–597. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Laflamme D. (2013) Moralized communication and social regulation. In: Febbrajo A. & Harste G. (eds.) Law and intersystemic communication. Ashgate, Farnham: 197–225. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lettvin J. Y., Maturana H. R., McCulloch W. S. & Pitts W. H. (1959) What the frog’s eye tells the frog’s brain. Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) 47(11): 1940–1951. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Leydesdorff L. & Ahrweiler P. (in press) In search of a network theory of innovations: Relations, positions, and perspectives. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Leydesdorff L. & Franse S. (2009) The communication of meaning in social systems. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 26(1): 109–117. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Leydesdorff L. & Ivanova I. A. (2014) Mutual redundancies in inter-human communication systems: Steps towards a calculus of processing meaning. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 65(2): 386–399. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Leydesdorff L. (2008) The communication of meaning in anticipatory systems: A simulation study of the dynamics of intentionality in social interactions. In: Dubois D. M. (ed.) Proceedings of the Eight International Conference on Computing Anticipatory Systems CASYS’07. Conference Proceedings Volume 1051. American Institute of Physics, Melville NY: pp. 33–49. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Leydesdorff L. (2010) The communication of meaning and the structuration of expectations: Giddens’ “structuration theory” and Luhmann’s “self-organization.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 61(10): 2138–2150. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Leydesdorff L. (2012) Radical constructivism and radical constructedness: Luhmann’s sociology of semantics, organizations, and self-organization. Constructivist Foundations 8(1): 85–92. http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/8/1/085.leydesdorff
Limone A. & Bastías L. E. (2006) Autopoiesis and knowledge in the organization: Conceptual foundation for authentic knowledge management. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 23(1): 39–49. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (1986) The autopoiesis of social systems. In: Geyer F. & van der Zouwen J. (eds.) Sociocybernetic Paradoxes. Observation, control and evolution of self-steering systems. Sage, London: 172–192. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (1990) Essays on self-reference. Columbia University Press, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (1990) Meaning as sociology’s basic concept. In: Essays on self-reference. Columbia University Press, New York: 21–79. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (1994) Läßt unsere Gesellschaft Kommunikation mit Gott zu? In: Luhmann N. (eds.) Soziologische Aufklärung, Band 4: Beiträge zur funktionalen Differenzierung der Gesellschaft. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen: 227–253. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (1995) Die Form “Person.” Soziologische Aufklärung 6. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen: 142–154. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (1995) Intersubjektivität oder Kommunkation: Unterschiedliche Ausgangspunkte soziologischer Theoriebildung. Soziologische Aufklärung 6. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen: 169–188. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (1995) Social systems. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA. German original published in 1984 as: Soziale Systeme. Grundriß einer allgemeinen Theorie. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (1997) Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft [The society of society]. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (2002) How can the mind participate in communication? Chapter 8 in: Luhmann N., Theories of distinction: Redescribing the descriptions of modernity. Edited and Introduced by William Rasch. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA: 169–184. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (2005) The autopoiesis of social systems. In Seidl D. and Becker K. H. (eds.) Niklas Luhmann and Organization studies. Liber & Copenhagen Business School Press, Malmö: 64–82. Originally published in 1986. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (2005) The concept of autopoiesis. In: Seidl D. & Helge Becker K. H. (eds.) Niklas Luhmann and organization studies. Copenhagen Business School Press, Copenhagen: 54–63. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (2012) Theory of society, Volume 1. Stanford University Press, Stanford. German original published in 1997. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (2013) Introduction to systems theory. Edited by Dirk Baecker. Translated by Peter Gilgen. Polity Press, Cambridge. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Luhmann N. (2013) Theory of society. Volume 2. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lyon P. (2004) Autopoiesis and knowing: Reflections on Maturana’s biogeneic explanation of cognition. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 11(4): 21–46. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Martin J. L. (2011) The explanation of social action. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1980) Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Reidel, Dordrecht. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1987) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Shambhala, Boston MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1998) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Revised edition. Shambala, Boston MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Verden-Zöller G. (2008) The origins of humanness in the biology of love. Imprint academic, Exeter UK. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. (1970) Biology of cognition. Biological Computer Laboratory Research Report BCL 9.0. University of Illinois, Urbana. Reprinted in: Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1980) Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Reidel, Dordrecht: 1–58. http://www.enolagaia.com/M70–80BoC.html
Maturana H. R. (1978) Biology of language: The epistemology of reality. In: Miller G. E. & Lenneberg E. (eds.) Psychology and biology of language and thought: Essays in honor of Eric Lenneberg. Academic Press, New York NY: 27–63. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. (1980) Biology of cognition. In: Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J., Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Reidel, Boston: 5–58. Originally published in 1970 by the Biological Computer Laboratory (BCL) Research Report BCL 9.0. University of Illinois, Urbana. http://www.enolagaia.com/M70–80BoC. html
Maturana H. R. (1981) Autopoiesis. In: Milan Zeleny (ed.) Autopoiesis: A theory of living organization. Elsevier North Holland, New York: 21–33. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. (2000) The nature of the laws of nature. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 17: 459–468. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. (2002) Autopoiesis, structural coupling and cognition: A history of these and other notions in the biology of cognition. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 9(3–4): 5–34. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Mingers J. (1994) Self-producing systems: Implications and applications of autopoiesis. Plenum, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Mitterer J. (1992) Das Jenseits der Philosophie. Wider das dualistische Erkenntnisprinzip [The beyond of philosophy: Against the dualistic principle of cognition]. Passagen, Vienna. Republished, with a new afterword, in 2011 by Velbrück Wissenschaft, Weilerswist. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Nöth W. (1990) Handbook of semiotics. Indiana University Press, Bloomington. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Neumann M. & Cowley S. J. (2013) Human agency and the resources of reason. In: Cowley S. J. & Vallée-Tourangeau F. (eds.) Cognition Beyond the Brain: Computation, Interactivity and Human Artifice. Springer, Dordrecht: 13–30. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Noe E. & Alrøe H. F. (2006) Combining Luhmann and Actor-Network Theory to see farm enterprises as self-organizing systems. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 13(1): 34–48. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Noe E. & Alrøe H. F. (2012) Observing farming systems: Insights from social systems theory. In: Darnhofer I., Gibbon D. & Dedieu B. (eds.) Farming systems research into the 21st century: The new dynamic. Springer, Dordrecht: 387–403. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Palmaru R. (2012) Making sense and meaning. On the role of communication and culture in the reproduction of social systems. Constructivist Foundations 8(1): 63–75. http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/8/1/063.palmaru
Parsons T. & Shils E. A. (1951) Toward a general theory of action. Harper and Row, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Parsons T. (1937) The structure of social action. Free Press, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Parsons T. (1968) Interaction. In: Sills D. L. & Merton R. K. (eds.) International encyclopedia of the social sciences. Volume 1. Macmillan, London: 429–441. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Raimondi V. (2013) À la recherche de la matrice du langage: Des approches mentalistes de l’interaction sociale au languaging. Unpublished Ph.D dissertation. École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ross D. (2007) H. sapiens as ecologically special: What does language contribute? Language Sciences 29(5): 710–731. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ruesch J. & Bateson G. (1987) Communication: The social matrix of psychiatry. W. W. Norton, New York. Originally published 1951. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Schmidt S. J. & Zurstiege G. (2007) Kommunikationswissenschaft. Systematik und Ziele [Communication science. Systematics and objectives]. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Schutz A. (1951) Making music together. Social Research 18(1): 76–97. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Shannon C. E. & Weaver W. (1949) The mathematical theory of communication. University of Illinois Press, Urbana. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Shapiro L. (2011) Embodied cognition. Routledge, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Spencer Brown G. (1969) Laws of form. George Allen and Unwin, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Spencer Brown G. (1994) Laws of form. Limited Edition. Cognizer, Portland. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Stano P., Rampionia G., Carraraa P., Damianob L., Leonia L. & Luisi P. L. (2012), Semi-synthetic minimal cells as a tool for biochemical ICT. Biosystems 109(1): 24–34. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Steffensen S. V. (2011) Beyond mind: An extended ecology of languaging. In: Cowley S. J. (ed.) Distributed language. John Benjamins, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: 185–210. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Steiner P. & Stewart J. (2009) From autonomy to heteronomy (and back): The enaction of social life. Phenomenology and the Cognitive sciences 8(4): 527–550. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Thibault P. J. (2011) First-order languaging dynamics and second-order language: The distributed language view. Ecological Psychology 23(3):1–36. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Urrestarazu H. (2011) Autopoietic systems: A generalized explanatory approach – Part 1. Constructivist Foundations 6(3): 307–324. http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/6/3/307.urrestarazu
Urrestarazu H. (2011) Autopoietic systems: A generalized explanatory approach – Part 2. Constructivist Foundations 7(1): 48–67. http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/7/1/048.urrestarazu
Urrestarazu H. (2012) Autopoietic systems: A generalized explanatory approach – Part 3: The scale of description problem. Constructivist Foundations 7(3): 180–195. http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/7/3/180.urrestarazu
van Gigch J. P. (1993) Metamodeling: The epistemology of system science. Systems Practice 6(3): 251–258. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vanderstraeten R. (2002) Parsons, Luhmann and the theorem of double contingency. Journal of Classical Sociology 2: 77–92. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vanderstraeten R. (2012) Rewriting theory: From autopoiesis to communication. Systems Research & Behavioral Science 28: 377–386. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. & Goguen J. A. (1978) The arithmetic of closure. Journal of Cybernetics 8: 291–324. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1979) Principles of biological autonomy. Elsevier North Holland, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1981) Autonomy and autopoiesis. In: Roth G. & Schwegler H. (eds.) Self-organizing systems: An interdisciplinary approach. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt: 14–24. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1996) The early days of autopoiesis: Heinz and Chili. Systems Research 13: 407–416. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J., Maturana H. R. & Uribe R. (1974) Autopoiesis: The organization of living systems, its characterization and a model. BioSystems 5(4): 187–196. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
White H. C. (1992) Identity and control. A structural theory of social action. Princeton University Press, Princeton. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
White H. C., Fuhse J., Thiemann M. & Buchholz L. (2007) Networks and meanings: Styles and switchings. Soziale Systeme 13(1+2): 543–555. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Wittgenstein L. (1953) Philosophical investigations. Third Edition. English translation by G. E. M. Anscome. Macmillan, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ziemke T. (2012) The construction of embodied agency: The other side of the system-environment coin. Constructivist Foundations 8(1): 52–54. http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/8/1/052.ziemke

Comments: 0

To stay informed about comments to this publication and post comments yourself, please log in first.