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Sociocybernetics: Complexity, Autopoiesis, and Observation of Social Systems

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In an effort to shed light on recent developments in sociocybernetic research, this volume represents recent and advanced thinking in this rapidly developing field. The authors address the core problems in social science caused by increasing societal complexity and analyze the inadequacy of many of the methodological tools still used for grappling with nonlinear, self-organizing systems. Together, the 18 contributors propose elements of a new methodology based on sociocybernetic principles aimed at describing and explaining the growth of societal complexity, the contribution of autopoiesis of societal subunits to more societal complexity, and the new simulation-based methodology needed to observe complex social systems. This unique volume contributes to a greater understanding of sociocybernetics and its uses as a method for researching modern problems of increasing complexity and interdependence.

The first part of the book deals with increasing societal complexity and contains chapters on its overall development, the complexity of brain-environment interaction loops, organizational change, the development of human values, and the increasing interpenetration of societal subsystems. The second part concentrates on a current issue in sociocybernetics: autopoiesis, or self-production. The chapters included in Part II concentrate on embodied cognition, on the applicability of autopoiesis to business firms, on its roots in Aristotelian philosophy, and on the possibility of societal control and steering in democratic societies. Part III, more focused on methodology, discusses the difficulties inherent in observing complex social systems. The chapters deal with the problems of cross-cultural comparative research, simulation of the evolution of social systems, longitudinal simulation of education systems, and the methodological difficulties associated with analyzing the unexpected complexities of mutually interacting nonlinear systems.

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Editorial Reviews

A selection of 13 papers from the more than 100 presented at sociocybernetics sessions of the 1998 World Congress of Sociology in Montreal describe recent developments in the field, examine issues around the self-production concept it has borrowed from biology, and discuss the methodological difficulties inherent in observing complex social systems. There is no subject index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780313314186
  • Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/30/2001
  • Series: Controversies in Science Series
  • Pages: 262
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

FELIX GEYER headed the methodology section of SISWO,(Institute for the Social Sciences), and has been retired since 1998.

JOHANNES VAN DER ZOUWEN is a professor in the Social Research Methodology department at Free University, The Netherlands.

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Table of Contents

Preface vii
Introduction to the Main Themes in Sociocybernetics 1
Part I Growing Societal Complexity
1. Sociophysics and Sociocybernetics: An Essay on the Natural Roots and Limits of Political Control 17
2. Mind and Brain: A Dynamic System Model 41
3. Management by Complexity: Redundancy and Variety in Organizations 59
4. The Emergence of Societal Information 73
5. On the Interpenetration of Social Subsystems: A Contemporary Reconstruction of Parsons and Luhmann 89
Part II Autopoiesis
6. Information, Meaning, and Communication: An Autopoietic Approach 109
7. Are Firms Autopoietic Systems? 125
8. The Autopoiesis of Social Systems: An Aristotelian Interpretation 141
9. Autopoiesis and Governance: Societal Steering and Control in Democratic Societies 159
Part III Observation of Social Systems
10. Implications of Autopoiesis and Cognitive Mapping for a Methodology of Comparative Cross-Cultural Research 173
11. Social Differentiation as the Unfolding of Dimensions of Social Systems 191
12. The Dynamics of Educational Expansion: A Simulation Model 205
13. Towards a Methodology for the Empirical Testing of Complex Social Cybernetic Models 223
Index 241
About the Contributors 249
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