Social systems are my academic fetish. I *WANT* to study them as
autonomous self-organizing systems, and am implementing this idea
computaitonally. It would be NIFTY from an epistemological
srtandpoint if I could say they were autopoietic, but I'm not going to
go making my own DEFINITION just so I can sound cool....


Sorry, I think you can take the most radical definition of autopoiesis to
do that. If you really want to do that and if you really are able to see the
world with new eyes. Social systems don't have to do very much with
people and their thougts if you take the argument of an autonomous (but not
autark) social system seriously. Social systems reproduce themselve, as
communication-systems, by social situations. The basal elements are
communications, which grow up, "live" for a time through a topic, and die.

There are components and relations between the components. The classical
way to make science is, take first the relations (ontological kategories:
"Wechselwirkung" (physics), relations (mathematics) or conflict
(social-theory) and logically: contradiction (dialectic)) and say, that
both: the real and the logical level ground, are the same. The most
important category for classical sciencemaking (and speaking about the
world (natural, social, psychical) is the relation. At last, all elements
are relations of relations. For example: In a classical oriented sociology
you have classes and, much more important because it is the relation, the
class-struggle, which structured and organized the organisations classes
(and second the classes structured the class-struggle. You know then what
class-struggle is, but you dont know what classes are.) We all think in
this tradition-line: "first relations then components" til yet, if we want
to construct and analyse clear. But with the autopoietic turn
in systemtheory you take as sociologist the way round: Now the components
(systems in systems ("classes")) are "self-intelligent", and the relations
("class-struggle") are perturbations to the systems.

The social-systems are closed by binary operatings: For example: The
oeconomic system scaned its surrounding by payment/not-payment. This is
its inner code. No other system understand this code. The programming of
this code and its openess for surrounding are prices. The oeconomic system
reconstruct its surrounding only with prices. On this level the oeconomic
system ant the other systems reconstruct each other. But the systems dont
understand (understanding in the hermeneutic meaning) eachother, they
reconstruct eachother by its own codes. With this construction (difference
between code (binary-difference) and programming (many quantity-differences
in the same medium)) you can understand the openess and clothness
of social systems on the same time. An oeconimist can see his special
world only in dollars and nothing else. Law and truth, love and religion
are shown on his oeconomic-monitor as conditions of paying.

The specific quality of autopoiesis is not selfreference/
selfreproduction, this is an old topic (with G.W. Hegel at its top). The
new revolutionary element of autopoiesis is its elementary character: "the
ontological monism". With the construction I have referred in my meagre
english words, you take the chance of a new start to understand the
emergence of social systems after Marx, Durkheim and Parsons.

- Martin


Martin Rost / Germany, Kiel /

Social systems are my academic fetish. I *WANT* to study them as
autonomous self-organizing systems, and am implementing this idea
computaitonally. It would be NIFTY from an epistemological
srtandpoint if I could say they were autopoietic, but I'm not going to
go making my own DEFINITION just so I can sound cool....


I am new to this whole thing and have been trying to develop an alternative
way of looking at national development in developing countries. My present
search involves attempting to use the autopoietic notion as a way of
thinking about development. My problem in doing this included identifying
those components that are the focus of the renewal processes and
determining those structures and associated "organizations" that were
maintained by the autopoietic processes. I also have problems with apparent
non-congruence between renewal (autopoiessis) and the growth and change
associated with national "development." It is tempting to try and
appropriate novel notions but to me it seems almost unethical to re-define
autopoiesis so that it can fit our purpose.

It does however, appear that certain "social institutions" such as the
family, is autopoietic. parents age and offspring mature, marry and start
families. The more complex the institution, the less autopoietic it seems.
I would also venture to say that the greater the amount of human design (as
opposed to natural tendency) that goes into constituting an institution,
the less autopoietic it is. This seems to lead to an autopoietic continuum.
On one end, structure and organization are retained, on the other,
structure and organization is in a state of flux. I would also suggest that
this flux is not a smooth process but would show stages in intensity
levels that correspond to time durations equivalent to a human "generation"
or Human life time that is, 40 to 70 years. Finally, all these conjectures
lead me to a picture of cycles within cycles within cycles where the
greater the duration of a cycle, the less certain its regularity. In here
somewhere I need to insert the observation, supported by diffusion
research, that innovators (that is, drivers of change) have a propensity to
travel and borrow ideas. In the case of colonization, "innovation" in
indeginous cultures is hadly voluntary but rather, a revolutionary
imposition by a more powerful culture. This would seem to destroy
autopoietic characteristics on the "victims" of colonization.

Such destructive events could be thought of as catastrophies and would be
categorized together with weather and disease as "external" catastrophies.
Perhaps there are also "internal" catastrophies such as technological
revolutions. By introducing catastrophy, I have gone beyond autopoiesis
into the general field of self-organizing systems.

Does it all make any sense?

I have left out the notion of evolution because I think it is too vague a
term and has been subject to the same kind of abuse that Ggreg complains of
regarding autopoiesis.

I look forward to further discussion.

Jason M. Githeko

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