4th International Conference of Sociocybernetics
- Society from Ancient Greece to Cyberspace and Beyond -

Corfu, Greece, June 30-July 5, 2003

—Basic Concepts for a Sociocybernetic Analysis
of Information Society—

Bernd R. Hornung
Marburg University, Germany
University Hospital - Data Protection Office
Robert-Koch-Str. 5, D-33037 Marburg
E-mail: hornung@med.uni-marburg.de, Fax: +6421 286 6572

Key Words: Information Society, First Order Cybernetics, Sociological Theory,
Social Systems, Sociocybernetics

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1. Basic Concepts of Cybernetics and Systems Science 2
1.1) Sociocybernetics Defined 2
1.2) Basic Concepts of First Order Cybernetics 2
2. Basic Concepts of Sociology and Sociocybernetics 4
2.1) Sociology 4
2.2) Social Action 5
2.3) Norms 7
2.4) Values 8
2.5) Meaning 9
2.6) Socialization 10
2.7) Person 11
2.8) Individual 12
2.9) Identity 12
2.10) Habitus 13
2.11) Sex and Gender 13
2.12) Deviant Behavior 14
2.13) Social Group 15
2.14) Institution 16
2.15) Organization 17
2.16) Power 18
2.17) Force and Violence 19
2.18) (Legitimate) Rule 19
2.19) Social Constraints 20
2.20) Social Inequality 21
2.21) Caste 22
2.22) Estate 22
2.23) Class 23
2.24) Social Stratification and Status 25
2.25) Mobility 25
2.26) Culture 26
2.27) Development and Modernization 27
2.28) Social Structure 29
3. Conclusion and Perspectives 30
Literature Quoted 31



The paper defines sociocybernetics as “Systems Science in Sociology”. Systems science, because sociocybernetics is not limited to theory but also includes application, empirical research, methodology, and axiology (i.e. ethics and value research) [ ]. In sociology, as the present paper deals with sociological theory proper, thus disregarding for the moment the other social sciences like psychology, anthropology, political science, etc. However, the approach presented should be expandable to the other social sciences later on. Furthermore, in an attempt to construct sociology from basic concepts the paper is based on First Order Cybernetics, again with the intention to remain open to the introduction of the complications of Second Order Cybernetics in a later step. Sociocybernetics nevertheless is understood to include both First and Second Order Cybernetics. Second Order Cybernetics, originally based on the work of Heinz von Foerster, is different from First Order Cybernetics in two basic aspects. One is, that it is explicitly based on constructivism, the second is, that one of its main concerns is self-organization. Constructivism includes the particular attention which is devoted to the observer and the observer dependence of knowledge including scientific theories [ ].

Systems science, or more precisely First Order Cybernetics, will be understood according to Wiener´s definition as the science of “steering and control in the animal and the machine”, including human beings and natural “machines” [ ]. The construction of sociology from cybernetics will be based on the fundamental idea elaborated elsewhere [ ] that the world consists at an elementary level of events or processes which are of two kinds, i.e. energetical/material and informational, an idea found (without theoretical justification though) already in the simulation studies of Jay W. Forrester.


On this background a series of basic cybernetic or systems theoretical concepts will be presented and developed, starting with feedback or circular causality as the basic cybernetic process. The closing of a causal chain provides the basic mechanism for positive (deviation amplification) and negative (deviation reduction) feedback loops. This both at the level of matter/energy, and at the level of information flows or combinations of both. If some kind of measuring device, a so-called comparator (which can be a mechanical device like the flyer in an old steam engine), is added to a negative feedback loop, controlled feedback becomes possible keeping a process close to an average or ideal state. It is control (or feedBACK), if the deviation to be reduced is measured after the event, it becomes steering or feedFORWARD) if the deviation is anticipated and counter-action induced already before the event (like in driving a car around a curve). More complex set-ups of circular causality are reflexivity, self-reference, self-organization, and autopoiesis.

Regular patterns of such (and other) basic processes can be interpreted as structures, as they are stable over time. In particular so-called micro-processes, in the natural sciences as well as in social systems according to Herbert Simon [ ], often constitute structures at a higher level. Dynamic systems consequently can be conceived as consisting of a combination of processes and structures. If these are functionally interdependent, functionally cooperating and, at least to some extent, closed off from the environment by a boundary, such a conglomeration of components, i.e. structures and processes, can be considered a system, i.e. “A system is a whole consisting of interdependent parts” [ ].

A system, according to Laszlo [ ], is characterized by four key properties: (1) Wholeness implying a system boundary [ ], (2) positive feedback loops [ ], (3) negative feedback loops [ ], and (4) a systems hierarchy [ ], i.e. usually a system can be considered as a subsystem of a higher level system (supra-system) and as being composed in its turn of sub-systems and sub-sub-systems etc., as far as the research purpose requires such a differentiation. These basic characteristics of systems according to Laszlo inlcude two process and two structural properties. The most simple and general functional model of such an open system is the input-output model consisting of an input mechanism, a transducer transforming inputs into outputs and an output mechanism. At the information level the basic scheme is the same, but the transducer is usually called the processor and a memory is added. The input mechanism is called a perceptor and the output mechanism an effector. Looking at the basic modelling components of the early simulation models of Forrester [ ], we might as well add a “memory” or rather a storage unit for “stocks” to the basic material-level input-output model.

Hence with the same basic building blocks it is possible to conceptualize both matter/energy systems (material systems) and information resp. information processing systems (IPS) [ ], whereby the latter are in fact always combinations of material processes and structures and information processes and structures. The latter are not possible without a material substrate, a “medium”, although it is in many cases possible to abstract from the material basis. Thus it is possible to construct theoretically a coherent cybernetic world of systems and information processing systems which might after all be used to model and analyze even information society.

On the side of sociology proper the situation is much less clear, as so far sociology is characterized by a pluralism of more or less partial and incomplete theories along with a number of, more or less historical, attempts at “grand theory” covering the whole. The most recent one of the latter is doubtlessly the work of Niklas Luhmann [ ]. Nonetheless, looking at the field of sociology at large few efforts are visible towards what might be called a “systematic sociology” [ ].

A kind of empirical attempt in this direction was presented by Korte and his collaborators who published a series of four books in German, intending to cover the field of sociology as introductory texts. The first volume presents a series of basic concepts of sociology which are “empirical” in the sense that the authors looked at the body of literature of sociology, and in particular at the “classics”, to identify the basic concepts of sociology.

According to Korte and his collaborators there are 28 main concepts of sociology [ ]. These are:

1) Sociology
2) Social action
3) Norms
4) Values
5) Meaning
6) Socialization
7) Person
8) Individual
9) Identity
10) Habitus
11) Sex/Gender
12) Deviant behavior
13) Social Group
14) Institution
15) Organization
16) Power
17) Force/violence
18) (Legitimate) Rule
19) Social constraints
20) Social inequality
21) Caste
22) Estate [ ]
23) Class
24) Social stratification and status
25) Mobility
26) Culture
27) Development
28) Social structure

The paper will try to systematize these sociological concepts in the context of sociocybernetic theory by means of the cybernetic concepts presented and developed previously.



“Sociology is the science of the conditions and structures of social action and the different forms of constituting communities (“Vergemeinschaftung”) and societies. Part of its area of investigation are also the social processes which guarantee both the continuity of particular social structures and figurations and effect their change.” [ ]

Sociology is the science of human beings living together, the science of the “social” or of social reality, i.e. the reality which can be experienced when humans are living together and which is produced by such living together [ ]. It limits its scope to the investigation of humans and does not focus on animal societies and nature, which, however, are relevant to sociology as parts of the environment of human social life. The “social” is not limited to physical human beings living together but includes the emergent properties and phenomena of such life [ ], e.g. Durkheim´s “social facts” [ ]. In some cases it focusses on social action, society, human population or also on communciation without humans, like in the theory of Niklas Luhmann [ ]. For the present purpose, however, all of these are to be considered as particular aspects of “the social”, which starts with two humans living together and ends with (world) society. As a science sociology is an empirical-rational endeavor including appropriate methodologies. It is still characterized by a set of heterogenous theoretical approaches, one of which is sociocybernetics, and hence a multi-paradigmatic structure [ ].

In terms of cybernetics, humans living together can be interpreted as components of a system which are related to each other in more or less stable relations. The components, human beings, are actors, i.e. actor systems, either at the level of the individual human being or also at the collective level of a group, organization etc. (see below). A set of actor systems, along with other social components as analyzed below, constitutes a set of components which are related to each other in a certain way. The resulting set of relations constitutes the structure of a system, which in this case is a social system. The dynamic processes going on within such a structure are matter/energy processes and information processes or a combination thereof, which means that social actions (and non-actor, i.e. emergent) social processes) on the one hand are to be distinguished from communications, i.e. information processes, on the other hand.

Hence, in terms of sociocybernetics sociology can be defined as the science of social systems, whereby “social system” is a more abstract and general concept than the more special aspects listed above which are included after all as special cases of social systems, ranging from dyadic systems to global world society. Sociocybernetics, in such a view, is a subfield of general systems science restricted to social systems, i.e. the kinds of systems formed by humans living together, aggregates thereof, and the resulting emergent properties and phenomena.

Key concepts of dynamics: Social Action, Social Process, Communication
Key concepts of structure: Components, Social Relations, Types of Social Systems


If sociology is defined as the science of humans living together, a key category at the micro-level is social action, which for the time being is meant to include communication. This is action aimed at and referring to other humans or companions (lat. socius = companion). Social action takes place according to certain rules and in certain patterns which are more or less constant and stable. Although referring to the micro-level in a first approach, also conventional sociology expands this concept to the meso- and makro-level. Moreover, being close to the individual human being at the micro-level, to say the least, theoreticians usually make reference to psychological and social-psychological phenomena. [ ] Social action is often defined on the basis of Max Weber, who considers it as “action based on a subjectively intended meaning” [ ]. Although this definition is not unproblematic, it makes clear that action is based on some conscious (psychological) processing, while behavior in its classical meaning [ ] refers to an automatic and blind stimulus-response mechanism. Behavior, in this sense, can of course also refer to the “companions” and hence be social behavior. Another, non-traditional, use of the concept of behavior which is suggested here is to use it as a more abstract and general category including both social action and classical (skinnerian) social behavior, taking into account that an empirical delimitation of both is highly problematic.

In social action the human being always selects certain possibilities over others and hence requires some kind of criteria for selection. Norms and values are considered to be such criteria which, together with other aspects, provide meaning to human actions and the decisions they are based on.

In sociocybernetic terms social action requires first of all the specification of an actor system [ ]. An actor system, it is suggested, is a system which is both capable to act, i.e. to operate at the material level, and to communicate, i.e. to operate at the informational or symbolic level, e.g. in the sense of the "speech acts" and "verbal behavior" of psychology and linguistics. Moreover, “social action” traditionally implies some kind of reflection and meaning, i.e. information processing and not just a stimulus-response system which would be a merely behavioral system. The distinction of actor systems and classical behavioral systems correponds to the distinction Heinz von Foerster makes in cybernetics between “trivial” and “non-trivial” systems [ ]. The reactions of trivial systems to an input are easy to predict, the reactions of non-trivial systems only with great difficulty or not at all, as they can be innovative in their reactions which is what humans can be. Moreover, following Max Weber, it would also imply consciousness which, at least in a first approach, can be conceived as reflexivity at the level of information processing, i.e. the availability of a model both of the environment and of the actor himself inside the information processing (cognitive) system of the actor [ ]. In addition, “social” action implies a reference both of the action and the related information processing of the actor to other social units or social phenomena.

Hence actor systems are information processing systems operating both at what is going to be called here the level of physical activity resp. action (for the sake of simplicity not distinguishing separately the chemical and biological levels [ ] and the level of communication. They interact directly with other actor systems or indirectly by addressing other, non-actor, social mechanisms of various kinds which will be discussed to some extent subsequently. Social action of an actors system is based on internal information processing which selects certain actions to be carried out over others not to be carried out.

For this purpose of selection criteria are necessary which are appropriate for performing, among others, the functions of a cybernetic comparator in a steering or control loop, comparing empirical data to normative, ideal data initiating appropriate action.

In a sociocybernetic context such criteria can be conceptualized as “orientors” according to the systems theoretical “orientation theory” develope by Hartmut Bossel [ ]. “Orientor” is a general and abstract term for everything that orients the information processing and action of a system at the cognitive level. This includes indicators, norms, goals, values, and basic values (e.g. in the sense of Maslow or Rokeach [ ] but also in the sense of basic human rights as to be found in national constitutions of the UN Declaration of Human Rights [ ].

Sociological concepts: Action, Behavior, Norms, Values, Meaning, Selection
Sociocybernetic concepts: Actor System, Internal Model, Information Processing, Criteria, Orientors, Reflexivity

2.3) NORMS

Norms are standardized rules for behavior and action made explicit. They are selections excluding other possibilities and hence basic principles for establishing structures. They guide the actions of interacting humans by enabling them to base their actions on mutual expectancies which can be established either by a long mutual process of trial and error or by jointly known and accepted standards and rules which, as social norms, can be considered the result of such a long process of trial and error in the course of social evolution, which permits a short cut to those actors who know the norms. Norms vary according to the degree they are mandatory from laws, which have to be enforced, over customs, which are desirable and to be complied with, to habits and usages which may or may not be observed [ ]. Correspondingly there is a wide variety of different positive and negative sanctions to ensure compliance with norms.

The obligation to observe norms and their legitimacy can have quite different bases like convention, purpose-orientation, value-orientation, affectual/emotional foundations, tradition (long-term habits [ ].

If sets of norms and the corresponding expectations are stabilized and integrated we can talk of social roles [ ], which according to role theory [ ] constitute a key concept for microsociology.

In terms of orientation theory norms constitute the lowest, i.e. the most concrete and specific, level of an orientor hierarchy. Norms are concrete, specific prescriptions of action, like e.g. in traffic regulations. They are recipes or, in the terminology of Luhmann [ ], conditional programmes, telling the actor “If ... then ...”. This is in contrast to goal-oriented programms which indicate a purpose or goal along with the rough outlines of action required to achieve the purpose, but leaving open the details which may need to vary according to circumstances. Like in conventional sociology norms are criteria or even small conditional programs which structure social action, provide stability and continuity and the possibility of mutual reciprocal behavioral expectations. On the other hand, however, orientation theory conceives of norms as integral parts of a complete orientor hierarchy, even if such connections got lost in the social memories of the actors involved. This opens the way to a systematic functional analysis of norms and also an analysis of their potential obsolescence. From an evolutionary perspective social norms have evolved as responses and adaptations to certain (social) problems. The question needs to be raised, however, whether the respective problems still persist or whether the social and non-social environment has changed in a way that a norm under consideration has become obsolescent or even dysfunctional.

If clusters of norms are integrated and stabilized into social roles, this means in sociocybernetic terms that a system of behavioral prescriptions and expectations is created which on the one hand is attributed or acquired by an individual actor and which on the other hand identifies a type of social unit which can be combined with other types of such units (roles) into complex social systems. In this, the role itself is a structural element providing the conditions and orientations for dynamic role behavior or action. To the extent roles are related to other roles and to roles of other actors the emergent relations constitute a pattern (social structure) in which a role or also the role set of an actor can be identified by its position within this social structure in relation to the others.

Sociological concepts: Norms, Roles, Rules,
Sociocybernetic concepts: Selections, Conditional/Goal-oriented Programme, Behavioral Expectation, Social Structure


In order to achieve compliance with norms, more general values are considered necessary to integrate a society. Values are not given once and for all, but on the other hand value change is more a matter of changes of importance and relative weight than the appearance of really new values and complete disappearance of existing values. As values are considered essentials for the integrations of societies, value change is linked to all major social changes resp. the latter influence or even cause a value change in turn. [ ]

Orientation theory on the basis of cybernetics and general systems theory clearly distinguishes between a scientific, external view of values and an empirical, subjective and internal view of the values held and complied with by the different social actors and systems investigated. From a scientific, external view orientation theory claims that all dynamic systems existing in dynamic environments need to comply with or implement a limited number of so-called basic orientors. Otherwise long-term survival of the respective system will not be possible. The only metaphysical assumption or decision required as a basis to formulate a scientific ethics is, according to orientation theory, the assumption or decision that long-term survival of a respective system, or in the case of social systems human life, is desirable an worthwhile. If this is accepted, orientation theory shows on systems theoretical grounds that all systems need to comply with the following basic orientors (or basic values) which, from a different perspective, also constitute basic needs:

1) Material well-being
2) Informational/psychological well-being
3) Security
4) Freedom
5) Adaptation
6) Efficiency
7) Responsibility

These basic orientors at the highly abstract level of general systems theory and cybernetics need to be and can be concretized into a hierarchy of more concrete orientors, taking into account specific types of systems, problem situations, research interests etc., while always maintaining the seven basic orientor dimensions. Against such scientifically constructed orientor hierarchies the empirical hierarchies found in particular social actors can be mapped and analyzed [ ]. Hence a sociocybernetic view of social systems and values does not only permit empirical value research but also functional value analyses revealing problems, like onesidedness of the value systems of certain social actors, as well as the development of strategies for change and improvement. Furthermore, this view need not insist anymore on a complete value integration, i.e. all members of a society sharing the same values [ ], but only on a factual and functional value integration, i.e. it is sufficient if partial, incomplete, and discrepant subjective value systems in different actors or social groups after all function together in a way that the basic needs of the society as scientifically identified are in fact adequately fulfilled, although a few scientists may be the only ones to see the overall picture. In other words, on the basis of a sociocybernetic orientation theory information societies may be well-functioning and well-integrated using not only distributed databases but also distributed value systems.

Sociological concepts: Values, Value Change, Social Integration, External/Internal View, Value Integration
Sociocybernetic concepts: Orientors, Basic Orientors, Theoretical/Empirical Orientor System, Adaptation, Functional Value Integration


Action, in contrast to behavior, is goal-oriented and guided by purposes and motives. This is what “meaning” refers to. In German “Sinn” is also a word for the “senses” with which a human being perceives stimuli both from the external environment. Also in this meaning, however, it refers to the connection of such sensual perceptions with feelings and conscious cognitive concepts. Meaning in social action has basically two aspects, one is the selection an actor makes and wants to communicate to others, the other is that action itself produces meaning. The selectivity of meaning is, of course, an aspect of orientation in a complex environment. In this way meaning is a category closely related to culture. [ ]

An information processing system, be it a human actor or a computer, is essentially dealing with two kinds of information. One are the facts or data to be processed, the other one are criteria, goals or objectives which are guiding and orienting the processing of the facts or data making something useful (or meaningful) out of them. In a computer such orientation is provided by user inputs, e.g. initiating a printing process, but also the programs doing the data processing are sets of normative statements, which, however, at a meta-level can be considered as data, to be stored e.g., in their turn. Thus social norms can be considered as programs controlling and steering social action while the information processed and communicated can be divided into two fundamental categories, factual information or knowledge and normative or value information and knowledge. While the term “information” is either used in a generic sense covering all types of information or in a specific sense referring to single items or chunks (or also bits) of information, knowledge refers to pieces of information which are interrelated and networked in a coherent way. This is the way the term knowledge is generally used in the information sciences, e.g. when dealing with knowledge processing systems or knowledge engineering.

While “knowledge” is simply interrelated and structured information, both factual and normative, seen from the external view of an observer, “meaning” involves (1) a subjective perspective from the viewpoint of an actor and (2) a relation to the observer´s interests, values or intentions, and if it is only the intention of the scientist to make an objective observation and analysis. A piece of information becomes meaningful when it is (a) inserted into an existing network of other information or rather knowledge, thus activating a particular network of relations with other items of information which changes with the very place, where the respective information is inserted, and if this network of facts is related to normative knowledge, i.e. orientors of the respective system (which may be a scientist looking for “truth”). Only then meaning can provide orientation, guidance, and direction to the thinking and acting of a human being. Data or information remains meaningless, i.e. without a capacity for guidance, if either it cannot be inserted and connected to a wider context of knowledge, of if such a wider context of knowledge remains unrelated (meaningless) to objectives, goals, and values of the respective actor.

For the representation of meaning and processing of meaning appropriate codes and semiotics are indispensable.

Sociological concepts: Interests, Intentions, Communication, Emotions/Feelings, Cognition, Orientation
Sociocybernetic concepts: Information, Code, Semiotics, Factual/Normative Knowledge, Orientors, Culture, Selection


“Socialization .. includes quite generally the processes in which the individual acquires habits, behavioral patterns, values, and norms which are found in society.” [ ]

Socialization is the process in which an individual finds a way to cope with its social environment, becomes capable to act and to take its own decisions according to its own interests. In this way socialization concerns three aspects, the personality as the social aspect of a human being, its individuality as its distinctive uniqueness, and its subjectivity as a thinking, feeling, and decision-making actor. [ ]

Hence socialization as a processs going on in everyday life due to all kinds of influences as long as a human being lives in a social context is to be distinguished from education as a similar but goal-oriented and intentional process usually carried out by specialized institutions. [ ]

From a sociocybernetic perspective the individual is an information processing actor system which needs to acquire the information, both normative and factual, and the skills necessary for effective and efficient decision-making and action in a highly complex and dynamic social environment. This means human beings have to be conceptualized as learning systems whereby socialization is the learning of socially relevant knowledge and skills which takes place in any social environment. Socialization develops and enhances the actor´s problem-solving capacity by learning by experience [ ], without a formal teacher. Education, on the other hand, implies intentional and purposeful teaching in the context of a particular teaching/learning environment. To the extent that sociocybernetics is based on constructivism or also on the paradigm of autopoiesis, the paradigm of a simple information transfer between environment and learner (socialization) or teacher and learner (education) has to be abandoned in favor of a learner-oriented paradigm which puts much more emphasis on the learner´s own constructive activity. This evidently also implies a different understanding of the teacher, whose role cannot be limited anymore to “filling the learners with information”. The teacher has to be rather a facilitator providing favorable learning environments and incitements to the student´s own curiosity and learning activity and learning experiences [ ]. Learning itself consists of (a) the integration of new information, knowledge, and experience, both factual and normative, into both the cognitive and affective/emotional systems already in place, (b) in the modification of smaller or larger parts of these systems, and (c) in the deletion and abandoning of obsolescent or wrong information, knowledge, and experience, i.e. “unlearning”. Moreover, learning does not only refer to cognitive/affective learning by means of the psychic system, but also to the acquisition, modification, and unlearning of skills, i.e. bodily capabilities.

Sociological concepts: Socialization, Education, Coping, Social Environment, Decision-making, Personality, Individual, Subject
Sociocybernetic concepts: Constructivism, Cognitive Learning, Affective Learning, Skill Learning


The person or personality is, so to speak, the social view of the human being when looking at the roles, values, norms, expectations, habits etc. it has taken over from its social environment. [ ]

This concept, as defined by Korte et al., only partially corresponds to the concept of personality as it is mostly used in psychology. “Person” in this reading corresponds to the role set of a given human being or, in psychological terms, to its “social self”. In many cases “person” seems to be used more or less synonymously with “individual”.

In a sociocybernetic sociology therefore the concept of “person” does not seem to be very useful unless consistently used as a less technical term for the role set of a human being and consistently and clearly distinguished from “personality” as a psychological concept designating the overall features and characteristics of a psychic system. “Person” defined as the role set of a human being would only correspond partially to the “social self” of psychology [ ], as the social self encompasses more than roles.

Sociological concepts: Person, Personality, Role Set
Sociocybernetic concepts: Personality (psychological), Psychic System, Social Self


“Human beings are first of all unique single beings, individuals, who are different from all the other individuals not only in their physical characteristics, but also in their feelings, thinking and acting.” [ ]

In a sociocybernetic context the term “individual” is in a way a synonym for the purely descriptive empirical term “human being”, but more general and more theory-laden. It has basically the same meaning as stated above for “human being”, but in addition to referring to the uniqueness of each human being it also refers to its wholeness as a system and to the different levels of emergence incorporated in a human being. From a cybernetic and systems theoretical point of view the human individual is a physical-chemical-biological-psychological system which, together with other systems of this type, constitutes social systems as a further level of emergence [ ]. The individual is clearly an actor system, but not all actor systems, to which belong also e.g. organizations, are individuals.

Sociological concepts: Human Being, Individual
Sociocybernetic concepts: Individual, Wholeness, Emergence, Actor System, Social System


Following G.H. Mead, identity can be defined as the capacity to perceive oneself as an independent individual which succeeds in integrating a multitude of diverse experiences [ ]. This concept of identity points towards the same direction but does not go as far as Erikson´s ego-identity which refers to the innermost core of the self which is an individual´s sense (experience, perception) of continuity and unity through all the changes the individual and its self may go through.

For a sociocybernetic theory Erikson´s concept of ego-identity [ ] appears to be more useful and compatible as it is a quite abstract core of the psychological self providing a continuity of experience but not insisting too much on integration which may remain imperfect and deficient. Also research on the self has shown that the psychological self has to be considered as a quite complex system in itself [ ], so that identity can hardly be attached to this entire system. It is more promising and compatible with recent psychological theories to link it to a core part of it only, which can be conceived as the read thread and continuity of the development and change of the personality and self, which is experienced by an individual.

In the social context the social identity refers to the uniqueness of the respective social actor.

Sociological concepts: Identity, Personality
Sociocybernetic concepts: Ego-Identity, Psychological Self


The habitus [ ], just like identity, is seen as a behavioral disposition which humans develop in the course of their lifetime in interactions with society and culture. Thus the two concepts link the microsociological level of individual action with the macrosociological level of societal structures [ ]. While identity refers to something internal as separated from the external world, habitus stresses more the mediation between inside and outside. It is considered a complex system of patterns of thought, perception, behavior, and action which, as an automated mechanism, orients and regulates the shaping and carrying out of further actions [ ]. As such, it is neither simply a role or a role set nor an attitude or habit or set thereof, but rather a combination of attitudes and similar orientations at the cognitive level and the level of behavioral dispositions with manifest behavior. As a “specific imprint”, which the individual shares with other members of his group or society [ ], it is more encompassing than a single role, as it is likely to influence behavior in several roles or even the entire role set of an individual, and less specific but also less encompassing than personality. It is rather a style of behavior specific for an individual as a member of a particular social group.

From a sociocybernetic point of view habitus is not so much a component of the social system itself, the way a role and the social actions resulting from it constitute building stones of a social system, but as a behavioral style across different roles it is rather a cultural component (see below) internalized by the individual. Nonetheless, being specific for a group or even society, it is a social category as the individual acting out a habitus remains interchangeable [ ]. For use in a sociocybernetic context the term “behavior style” seems to be preferable, as it clearly refers to the wide category of “behavior” which includes (role-based) action on the one hand and to cultural phenomena (“style”) which serve as collective but internalized guidelines to the members of particular social groups, i.e. subsystems, or of society at large. For the individual a behavior style is a learned program for behavior and action which remains largely unconscious and shapes specific social behaviors and actions.

To what extent the concept of habitus or behavior style is indeed to be considered a basic category of a sociocybernetic sociology seems to be rather questionable, although it can be considered a means of selection and reduction of complexity which, as a result of such selection and reduction, provides in turn the pre-conditions for further build-up of complexity [ ]. The usefulness of this concept seems to lie rather in its potential for a refinement of the concepts of role, identity, personality or also of action/behavior pattern, which clearly find their places as important categories within a sociocybernetic theory based on actor systems.

Sociological concepts: Behavior Disposition, Orientation, Inside/Outside, Role Set, Personality, Behavioral Style
Sociocybernetic concepts: Behavior Programme, Behavioral Style, Culture, Internalized Guidelines


Specific behavioral styles are linked to two basic groups of social actors, females and males. These seem to be natural, biological groups. A closer analysis, however, makes clear that it is indeed necessary to distinguish biological sex from social sex or gender [ ]. Gender is a central category of social structure which is apparently directly resulting from biological sex. Independently from social actions of individuals and beyond social positions it structures subjective attitudes, moral views, and social action [ ].

This structuring takes place in a form of violence (“Gewalt”) which concerns nearly exclusively the female gender, i.e. male dominance and violence towards the weaker, depreciation, and abusement, i.e. what is called sexism. Women are integrated into society both through the class hierarchy and the gender hierarchy. This means they are also in the class hierarchy defined through their husbands to whom they are related by the gender hierarchy thus being in a double state of disadvantage and oppression [ ]. These findings of gender research, however, have to be considered empirical results valid for certain historical societies rather than purely theoretical concepts.

Sex and gender are doubtlessly sociocybernetically relevant as it is a fact that without the two sexes no society would exist and that somehow biological reproduction has to be handled socially, what gives rise to the concept of gender, i.e. two socially distinct categories of individual, women and men, who, according to gender research, also have distinctive experiences, views, and perspectives. The latter is perfectly in line with the constructivism underlying sociocybernetics, according to which there is no ontological truth but only different perspectives of different observers which may or may not result in intersubjectivity, i.e. a joint perspective of several observers. Hence it is perfectly legitimate to suspect that women and men have different views and perspectives but it remains an empirical question to be proven what kinds of differences are typical or representative for the two categories of gender. In a similar way it can be suspected on theoretical grounds that cultural beliefs and social mechanisms serve to support, stabilize, promote, and create gender differences and but it has to be proven empirically which cultural beliefs and social mechanisms do so and how this works. A classical case for a systems analysis using cybernetic concepts.

Sociological concepts: Sex, Gender, Behavioral Styles, Social Structure, Attitudes, Moral Views, Violence, Social Hierarchy
Sociocybernetic concepts: Reproduction, Constructivism, Gender Difference, Observer Perspective, Culture, Belief System


Deviant behavior or deviance designates behavior which violates social norms that are effective in a society or a part of it and which, if discovered, causes social reactions aiming at punishing, isolating, treating, or bettering the individual which shows this behavior. In order to ensure conformity social control is necessary, which includes all structures, processes, and mechanisms by means of which a society or social group tries to make its members comply with its norms. By external social control behavior is (positively or negatively) sanctioned by the social environment of an actor, internal control is exercised by the respective actor himself as a result of internalized social norms and values. [ ]

Deviance and its counter-measures can be seen as typical cases of negative feedback loops. Crucial, and in sociology widely discussed, is of course the question of the criteria for non-deviance which are at the same time the criteria for the steering and control taking place in feedback loops. Cybernetically, however, feedback loops are only a first conceptual component to analyze deviance. Related to the question about the appropriate criteria is the question of the system or subsystem level involved. In different subsystems and at different system levels different norms may be in effect and “the right ones”. Hence conformity and deviance are (sub-)system relative, in particular in contemporary highly complex societies with a multitude of different and heterogeneous subsystems. What may be deviance in one subsystem may be conformity in another one. Thus the concept of deviance points to the question of how different subsystems are related to each other and integrated within the overall society and whether it is necessary to have the same norms and values or not. This, after all, is an empirical question which, in a sociocybernetic framework, may have two different answers, i.e. value integration or functional integration (see above 2.4) [ ].

Deviance, however, is not necessarily dysfunctional and “bad” for a system and negative for its stability. In the first place social norms do not appear all of a sudden but in a history of evolution and also positive law does not instantaneously provide the definite solution to a given problem but usually passes through a series of revisions based on the experience made, i.e. there is an evolution also of positive law. Such an evolution, adjustment, and improvement of norms and laws is only possible if there are enough cases of deviance showing where the problems are and indicating possible improvements. Cybernetically speaking this is a mix of negative and positive feedbacks and (structural) adaptations of norms and laws. Thus deviance permits to better define and specify social norms. Furthermore the problem situation itself may change, so that certain norms become maladapted and outdated requiring change or abolition. Deviance can initiate such processes of innovation as deviance constitutes part of the variety required for evolutionary processes and innovation. This need for variety, in any dynamic system, was formulated by the cybernetician W. Ross Ashby as the “Law of Requisite Variety” [ ] which constitutes one of the very fundamental principles of cybernetics.

Sociological concepts: Social Norms, Conformity, Social Control (External/Internal)
Sociocybernetic concepts: Negative Feedback, Criteria for Steering and Control, Subsystems, Complexity, Value Integration, Functional Integration, Evolution, Requisite Variety, Adaptation


A social group includes a defined number of members (group members) who are during a prolonged period of time in a relatively continuous process of communication and interaction in order to achieve a common goal (group goal) and who develop a feeling of belonging together (we-feeling). In order to achieve the group goal and in order to stabilize the group identity a system of common norms and a distribution of tasks is necessary by means of a group-specific set of different roles. ( ]

According to this a social group is indeed a particular kind of social system composed of a certain number of actor systems in different roles and interrelated to form a whole with an outside boundary. A group is in intermediary system between society and the individual with its role set. A more precise and systematic conceptual structuring of the area between the overall society as a macrosystem and the actor system(s) at the microlevel becomes possible once different types of groups are distinguished and combined with the concept of organizations (see below 2.15) and other (macro-) categories or subsystems.

These are pairs or dyads, i.e. two individuals resp. actor systems joining to form a relatively stable social system, small groups as defined above typically with a membership between 3 and 25 members [ ], and large groups with more members, sometimes up to a few hundred, in which, however, the internal structure and integretation tend to be rather diffuse [ ]. Large groups tend to blur with masses, social movements or collectivities [ ] on the one side and with organizations and social spheres (see below 2.15) on the other side. This is the top end at the macrolevel. Towards the microlevel still another type of social system has to be mentioned, the interaction system [ ]. In a way it corresponds to the small group, but it lacks the stability and continuity being purely situational. Moreover its composition is not stable, but participants can enter and leave an interaction system at any moment.

The social group is a social formation in its own right [ ].

Although the concept of roles is a central sociological category, it is not roles which constitute dynamic social systems but the action and communication with at least one partner which takes places within the role-structures. In this way roles and in particular combinations of complementary roles constitute social structures within which communication and social action takes place. We should talk about a social “system” only with reference to the combination of both roles and action/communication.

Sociological concepts: Communication, Interaction, Goals, Identity, Norms, Roles
Sociocybernetic concepts: Social System, Actor System, Whole, Boundary, Dyad, Small Group, Large Group, Masses, Social Movement, Collectivity, Organization, Social Sphere, Interaction System, Social Structure


While in ordinary language the terms institution and organization are often used synonymously they need to be clearly distinguished in sociology as they have quite different meanings.

“In a first approach ... “institution” refers to a unit of meaning of habitualized forms of acting and of interaction, the meaning and legitimation of which result from the respective culture, and the continuous observation of which ensures the existence of the society in its evironment.” [ ]

Following Malinowski, an institution is a unit comprising four kinds of components: (1) The charter or guiding idea of the institution, (2) its staff filling the different roles involved, (3) the rules and norms to be observed, and (4) the “material apparatus”, i.e. material objects, rooms, buildings etc. [ ]

From these formulations the difference between an institution and e.g. an organization or social group is not very clear, as also organizations and social groups comprise a “charter”, group-goal or organizational goal, staff, social norms and mostly also a material equipment.

Institutions, however, are closely linked to a cultural foundation and legitimation, and to a clear societal function in maintaining and contributing to the life of the larger society, both of which organizations and social groups are not or at least need not. In sociocybernetic terms they are to be considered as problem-solving mechanisms of a society which have evolved over time to resolve types of socially relevant problems which appear frequently in a society, both in time and space, and which can or have to be utilized by the members of society for this purpose. Institutions are to be conceived as a kind of mechanism or programme which can be activated in a multitude of particular cases if the concrete need arises to constitute a (temporary) social system based on an institution. The institution itself is a generic type of social mechanism or system to be found in a society which needs to be instantiated for particular applications. It is not a mechanism or system permanently in place to resolve a particular permanent problem, e.g. like an organization.

Institutions are culturally provided standardized generic steering, control, and problem-solving mechanisms to be activated and implemented by the members of society to resolve standard problems in case they arise. They are emically produced abstractions of certain classes of social problems which are, as abstractions, in the collective memory of the respective social system itself. The etic (scientific) look of the scientist is creating a second order abstraction by developing typologies of institutions.

Sociological concepts: Action, Interaction, Legitimation, Meaning, Roles, Norms
Sociocybernetic concepts: Societal Function, Problem-Solving, Programme, Temporary Social System, Steering and Control Mechanism, Emics/Etics


An organization is a form of regulated cooperation which is established consciously and intentionally and mostly also in a planned way to fulfill a certain purpose or to achieve a certain objective permanently. An organization has a formal and explicit binding order or structure. By means of this order the activities of the members and other available resources are to be coordinated in a way that the goal of the organization can be achieved continuously. An organization is a constructed and not a naturally grown social unit. [ ]

As a system, an organization is an actor system at the collective level which is capable of acting as a unit as a result of its internal decision-making and coordination. It comprises a certain number of individual actors as members, some of which form a unit steering the organization. Hence an organization is a steered or controlled system [ ] similar to the small groups discussed above. Different from those, however, an organization disposes of an explicit model of itself, i.e. its charter, including organizational goals, organigrammes, job descriptions etc., which constitutes organizational, not only individual, knowledge and which is the informational or cognitive core of its operations. On principle an organization is, different from a small group, (largely) independent of its individual members and their individual traits, as on principle all members can be replaced by functionally equivalent other members as long as they comply with the job descriptions and the operational needs of the organization.

An organization is a multi-level system which is likely to diverge in its real set-up from its ideal cognitive model of iteself, the organizational charter. Moreover it comprises both individuals as members and informal groups both of which do not strictly function according to the organizational rules only or are not even stipulated in the formal organizational rules. The analysis of real-life organizations consequently has to go far beyond an analysis of the formal structure and regulations of an organization and has to take into account its multi-level structure including subsystems which are in their turn actor systems with their own cognitive and normative knowledge which may or may not be in line with that of the official overall organization.

Sociological concepts: Intention, Purpose, Goal, Informal Group, Organizational Rules
Sociocybernetic concepts: Actor System, Decision-making, Controlled System, Internal Model, Organizational Knowledge, Functiona Equivalence, Multi-level System

2.16) POWER

Power is the possibility or chance to enforce one´s own will in a social relationship also against resistence, irrespective of the basis of such a possibility. [ ]

This means that in possessing or exercising power at least two actor systems are involved with incompatible interests, objectives or goals which, without the power relationship, would lead to incompatible or conflicting social actions. Power is any possibility of the more powerful actor system to act on the less powerful one either by communication, influencing the other´s cognitive system, or by direct action on the other actor or its environment in a way, that the less powerful is either obliged to modify his original preferences and plan of action in a way convenient to the powerful or in a way blocking and modifying the other´s physical possibilities of action. The latter can be achieved by direct physical coercion, i.e. force or violence (see below 2.17), or by acting on the other´s essential resources and setting constraints (see below 2.19), e.g. blocking his bank accounts or taking away his driver´s licence.

Referring to social relations between actor systems already makes clear that the possession and exercise of power is not a once and for all clear-cut situation, but a matter of interaction, bargaining, tactic and strategic moves in a longer or shorter sequence of interactions which easily may modify the initial distribution of power [ ].

Sociological concepts: Social Relationship, Action, Physical Coercion, Resources, Constraints
Sociocybernetic concepts: Actor System, Goals/Orientors, Power Relationship, Conflict, Communication, Cognitive System


Force and violence [ ] are usually understood as phyical, corporeal threats and actions [ ]. Force and violence can be seen as particular forms of power relations based on physical action and coercion, although in sociology also the concepts of “structural force” and “symbolic violence” can be found.

Following the above arguments about power, as sociocybernetic concepts force and violence can be seen as the exercise of power based on physical action and coercion, directed either towards the other actor system itself or towards its essential resources in the environment. While in the English context “force” refers rather to the planned and organized use of physical action, “violence” refers rather to the unorganized and often unplanned use of physical action. To what extent “symbolic violence”, e.g. mobbing, fits into the present conceptual scheme or how it should be dealt with terminologically in different languages certainly requires further discussion which is beyond the scope of the present contribution.

Sociological concepts: Power Relations, Physical Coercion, Resources, Symbolic Violence
Sociocybernetic concepts: Actor System,


Legitimate rule [ ] can be defined as an exercise of power based on legitimacy and in which the use of force (or violence) is a means of last resort. Legitimacy, i.e. a general acceptance of the use of power for ruling, can be obtained only by the consent of those which are ruled. Following Max Weber, it is the chance to find obedience to an order of specific contents among a specifiable group of persons. [ ]

According to this definition “rule” goes beyond power in at least three aspects. First, unlike power, which may be a short term achievement only, rule has to be conceived on principle as something enduring. Second, it involves a “specifiable group of persons”, i.e. a larger social unit, not just individuals or a small group. Third, “finding obedience to orders” indicates that also in terms of issues rule has to be conceived as covering a larger area of decision-making and social action which is ruled, not just a few isolated, maybe only one-time, issues. Evidently rule and power cannot always be strictly delimited, but rather show a gradual transition into each other.

Thus rule, in a first step, can be defined without resorting to legitimacy as the enduring exercise of power over a specifiable group of social actors and with respect to a certain scope of issues. The more this is based on force and violence, the less legitimacy is needed, but even in the extreme case a minimum of “acceptance” is required to keep the ruled from immediate rebellion and revolution. Legitimacy, as the consent of the ruled, replaces force and violence up to the point where the use of force is only a means of last resort in exceptional cases.

Legitimacy can be based on affective/emotional beliefs, beliefs based on rational values, tradition, and statutes and positive law. The latter are believed to be justly valid due to the procedures by which they were arrived at. [ ]

Sociocybernetically rule is the implementation of a permanent central control and steering mechanism inside a social system which is operated in its turn by an actor system which often is a collective actor system (e.g. a government). The span of control of the ruling actor system(s) is on principle the entire respective social system and extends in scope to a certain number of issues crucial for the operation and existence of the system. Legitimacy, in its different forms, is the acceptance of binding decisions and orders by the ruled systems, ultimately based on the knowledge and value systems and founded in the emotional systems of the ruled actor systems. Both rule in itself and legitimacy require feedback circles. Orders have to be given and executed, which is only useful if the results are reported back to the ruler in some way. Legitimacy has to be communicated to the ruled in order to obtain obedience, but the ruler(s) in their turn have to acquire legitimacy, i.e. the consent of the ruled. They also have to know how far their legitimacy reaches, in order to be able to rule effectively and efficiently.

Sociological concepts: Legitimacy, Force/Violence, Consent, Social Unit, Social Actors
Sociocybernetic concepts: Steering and Control, Social System, Actor System, Span of Control, Binding Decisions, Knowledge, Value System, Emotional System, Feedback


Social constraints [ ] are only marginally defined by Korte et al. as something we are subject to in our interactions with other human beings, but in a rather diffuse way as everybody effects everybody else and as constraints are therefore highly complex [ ].

This rather vague definition indicates, that “constraint” is a rather general notion. In the present systematic context constraints can be seen as a more general category than rule, power, and force/violence. While the latter are considered as intentional actions and communications of actors, constraints are also effects influencing (coercing) either directly an actor or indirectly through influencing the actor´s relevant environment. Constraints, however, are not linked to the interests or intentions of another actor and not even necessarily to an actor. Instead, non-actor social structures, processes or also systems can be the sources of constraints. In addition, constraints can be material (physical) or informational (symbolic), similar to power, which can be exercised both by physical means (force, violence) and by informational resp. symbolic means (e.g. money, knowledge, ideology etc.). Thus power, rule, and force/violence can be considered as special cases of the more general category of constraints.

In sociocybernetic theory the concept of constraints becomes very crucial in relation to structures and structural constraints. Both in Giddens´ theory of structuration and in Luhmann´s theory of complexity and complex systems structures have the double character of reducing uncertainty and constraining/limiting on the one hand and, precisely through doing this, opening up new possibilities and new complexities on the other hand. [ ] At this point it should be emphasized that structures, in a sociocybernetic context, are not necessarily something “material”, static, and immutable. A “structure” is rather any regularity, also in processes, persisting over time, if an appropriate time horizon is taken into account (see below 2.28).

Sociological concepts: Power, Force/Violence, Rule, Intention, Actor, Environment, Social Structure, Social Process, Social System
Sociocybernetic concepts: Structural Constraints, Reduction of Uncertainty, Complexity


Power relations, i.e. unequal power of social actors, combined with social units like groups and organizations or other collectivities (see above 2.13) lead to the concept of social inequality and stratified societies, if such inequalities between at least two categories of social actors cut across the entire society in more or less the same way.

Human societies consist of individuals which are different from each other in many aspects, including their physical appearance. These differences, to the extent that they are socially relevant, give rise to social inequality which can be defined as the unequal distribution of the chances to have power and influence, to enjoy appreciation and privileges, to gain wealth and a high income etc. Social inequality is expressed by different observable social characteristics which are achieved or ascribed. Among the most important of these are education, income, and occupation. [ ]

Sociocybernetically speaking elementary social actor systems, i.e. individuals, but also the collective actors which may be composed of them, are different from each other in a number of socially relevant respects, of which power is only one. Unequal disposition of valuables and socially valued resources result in unequal chances to obtain social satisfaction. Within the systems framework social satisfaction means for an actor system (a) satisfaction of the internal needs and orientors (see above 2.4) by social means, and (b) the availability of external social or socially relevant resources. According to the basic distinction between the levels of matter/energy and information such basic resources are (a) material resources, among which are wealth and income, and (b) informational resources, in particular education. Both kinds of resources merge in the third important characteristic mentioned by Korte et al., occupation or profession.

Taking a functional view of society and distinguishing four major functional subsystems [ ], power would correspond to the political function, wealth, income, and occupation to the economic function, status and prestige to the social function, and education and knowledge to the cultural function.

If social inequalities are distributed across an entire society in a similar way, hierarchization and stratification appears. Depending on the reading, this may take three or four basic forms: castes, estates, classes, and strata.

Sociological concepts: Power, Power Relations, Social Units, Stratification, Society, Social Actor, Individual, Education, Income, Occupation
Sociocybernetic concepts: Actor System, Collective Actor, Social Satisfaction, Needs/Orientors, Resources, Matter/energy, Information, Material Resources, Informational Resources, Functional Subsystem,Hierarchization, Stratification

2.21) CASTE

Castes are social units the members of which are considered to have certain social characteristics which are inborn and unchangeable. Membership in a caste is determined by birth. Marriage is possible only within the same caste. Membership in a caste regulates the entire life of the respective human being. The legitimacy of castes is based on (religious) belief in their justification. Castes are in themselves highly closed at the level of the individuals, but at the same time functionally highly interdependent with the other castes at the level of society.

Castes can be conceptualized as subsystems of a caste society which are positioned in hierarchical layers. The hierarchical boundaries are practically impermeable for the individuals which thus live within their respective castes as in highly closed (sub-) systems. On the other hand, there is an extreme functional division of labor between the different castes at the collective level, reducing the autarchy of the castes as subsystems to a minimum. Furthermore, life in caste societies is highly regulated by far-reaching rigid social norms impeding innovation and change, at least in those areas they are regulating.

The peculiar combination of closure and openness in caste societies might make them a worthwhile object to study autopoiesis and to investigate to which extent the study of autopoiesis can be extended into sociology and sociocybernetics beyond Luhmann.

Sociological concepts: Social Unit, Norms, Legitimacy, Functional Interdependence, Society
Sociocybernetic concepts: Subsystem, Hierarchization, Functional Division of Labor, Openness/Closure, Autopoiesis

2.22) ESTATE

Similar to caste, which is primarily referring to the caste society in India, estate is a theoretical concept with a very limited geographical and historical reference. Estate refers to the medieval, pre-modern European societies in Central and Western Europe, which, however, do have some similarities with caste societies.

Both are stratified hierarchical societies with birth determining the membership in a particular stratum. Mobility of individuals is limited in both, but in case of estate it is tradition, not religion, which is the reason for the lifelong belonging to a particular estate. An estate is composed of human beings who are subject to strict and rigid social constraints with regard to their occupations and professions, their rights, and their duties. This may include a particular mentality and ethos resulting in particular norms and values, a sense of community, and professional honor. Belonging to a particular estate is connected to a characteristic shared by many or most of the members of that estate. The membership in an estate determines the appreciation, esteem, and privileges a person enjoys, i.e. the person´s social status. [ ] The concept of social status as the esteem a person enjoys depending on his social position was originally introduced by Ralph Linton [ ].

According to this definition of estate, the main differences with caste are the source of legitimacy, tradition more than religion, a stronger focus on occupation rather than on religious/cultural characteristics of the persons concerned, and finally slightly less rigidity than in a caste society. Also the estate, however, implies closure, expressed also in habitus and lifestyle.

The difference to caste seems to be one of degree rather than one of essence. This raises the question whether estate is indeed to be considered a basic sociological category, whether one concept should not be enough to cover both phenomena, and finally to what extent caste and estate are indeed theoretical concepts and not empirical, historical concepts.

As a theoretical concept, in particular in sociocybernetic terms, a hierarchically layered or stratified rank-ordered society seems to be more appropriate. This would be a much more generic concept covering both castes and estates along with still other variants. It could also be linked easily to the concepts of segmentary and functional social differentiation, both of which are usually seen as vertikal dividing lines in a society while stratification and hierarchization constitute horizontal dividing lines. Key characteristics of both caste and estate societies, it has been stated, are, however, functional differentiations and interdependencies between the horizontal layers, i.e. after all a horizontal functional differentiation. In the case of rank-ordered societies, like caste and estate societies, however, this goes along with clear control hierarchy which in caste and estate societies is built into the basic cultural structure of the respective society rather than into organizations like, e.g., in the case of a modern state.

Sociological concepts: Stratification, Hierarchization, Tradition, Occupation, Social Constraints, Norms, Values, Mentality, Social Status, Legitimacy, Habitus, Lifestyle, Closure
Sociocybernetic concepts: Stratification, Hierarchization, Segmentation, Functional Differentiation, Control Hierarchy, Culture

2.23) CLASS

Class can be defined as a formation of human beings the members of which have certain economic characteristics in common. From this, a similar social condition results within a class. This objective class condition has to be distinguished from class consciousness, which is the subjective awareness of the class members of their class condition going along with an identification with the class and a respective solidarity. [ ]

Class as a theoretical concept is hence very similar to the concept of estate, whereby in contrast to estates the criterion for classes is specifically economic and there may or may not be a class consciousness. Along the marxist lines, but also according to a sociocybernetic view, a class can only be a collective actor if it has a class consciousness, i.e. collective orientors, knowledge, and interests and objectives, and if it is organized, i.e. if the actions of the individual members can be coordinated. If this is the case, a class is a controlled system or actor system, whereas otherwise it is a collectivity without central control and steering mechanism.

The problem with the concept of class, and similarly that of estate, which after all has been largely abandoned already for the analysis of contemporary societies, is that the economic factor is not all determining but closely intertwined both with education and occupation, whereby occupation has to be considered a category which in contemporary societies creates often more differences between groups of workers with different occupations than in other cases exist between certain groups of “workers”, e.g. employed managers, and “real” capitalists. Also thesmall shareholders as worker-capitalists without real influence do not fit into the theoretical framework of classes.

Moreover, new forms of social inequalities have appeared, thus adding ever more dimensions to religion, tradition, possession of income and capital, occupation, education, mobility, computer literacy etc. Moreover, the horizontal layering of classes or the former estates has been fragmented in multiple ways by these developments. The dividing lines, apart from being multidimensional, are not cleanly horizontal anymore, but rather take the form of a patchwork.

In other words, contemporary society has to be analyzed as a complex multidimensional conglomeration of different social groups and categories interacting with each other. They still may be layered in more or less horizontal strata, but more or less only. In these conglomerations hierarchies exist along a number of different dimensions which may or may not correlate across these dimensions.

In systems terms such a complex multidimensional society is composed of subsystems of different types, i.e. controlled (e.g. individuals, organizations) or uncontrolled actor systems (e.g. groups, teams) or eco-systems (e.g. interaction systems, unorganized collectivities, milieus, lifestyles, regions, social spheres). All of these are positioned at the same or at different levels of hierarchy in relation to each other. The hierarchy along one dimension need not necessarily correlate with the hierarchy along another dimension. Moreover, the respective systems are in many cases nested in each other, i.e. there is a systems hierarchy in addition to the hierarchy(ies) of social inequality.

Sociological concepts: Class Condition, Economic Condition, Class Consciousness, Solidarity, Identification
Sociocybernetic concepts: Orientors, Knowledge, Controlled System, Collectivity, Education, Occupation, Social Inequality, Complexity, Hierarchization, Subsystem, Uncontrolled System, System Hierarchy


The previous considerations already indicated the need for a more general theoretical concept which is encompassing caste, estate, and class as particular cases. The notion of social strata can be considered as such a concept.

The concept of social strata is the weakest of those discussed so far. There are no clear dividing lines between the different strata but rather gradual transitions from one stratum to the next. The criteria used to determine strata may be of different kinds, i.e. multidimensional, although a number of classic criteria can be found which are related to the major functional subsystems of contemporary societies: Income (economic), occupation (economic), education (cultural), prestige (social), power (political). The social position of an individual determined according to these criteria is called social status. The social status determines unequal advantages, disadvantages, and privileges of the respective individuals. Strata can be defined as vertically positioned status groups. [ ]

From this definition it is not likely to find a common consciousness, like class consciousness, or organization in a stratum. This means that social strata seem to correspond better than caste, estate, and class to the description of highly differentiated complex societies, but that social strata are not likely to be actor systems. It even appears legitimate to ask whether social strata in contemporary modern societies are indeed to be considered as social units playing a role in the life of these societies or whether they are not merely very rough descriptive social categories or an index sociologists use for a number of macro-level descriptions to simplify what above was called the patchwork structure of complex societies. The increasing relevance of new inequalities appearing e.g. in health, housing, social security, gender, leisure and recreation underline this patchwork structure and the need to go beyond simple stratification when analyzing modern complex societies.

In sociology concepts like milieu, i.e. a group of equal-minded persons [ ], lifestyle, i.e. typical regularities in the leading of everyday life [ ], and condition of life [ ] are more and more used in order to take into account these difficulties. For a sociocybernetic sociology this indicates the need to develop a systematic framework for the classification of different social units, i.e. systems, both along a dimension of types and the micro-macro dimension.

Sociological concepts: Social Strata, Income, Occupation, Education, Prestige, Power, Social Position, Individual, Milieu, Lifestyle, Condition of Life
Sociocybernetic concepts: Functional Subsystems, Complex Society, Social Unit


Social mobility is the movement from one social position to another one. It is called “vertical” mobility if it involves the movement between positions unequal with regard to their respective advantages and disadvantages and “horizontal” mobility if the movement is between more or less comparable positions.

In terms of sociocybernetics this definition is fully acceptable. It might be useful, however, to add the distinction between intra(sub-)system mobility, i.e. mobility inside one and the same subsystem of society, e.g. climbing the ladder of the hierarchy inside a business company, and inter(sub-)system mobility, i.e. mobility between different subsystems, e.g. changing the group of friends or moving to another town.

Sociological concepts: Social Position, Vertical Mobility, Horizontal Mobility
Sociocybernetic concepts: Intrasystem Mobility, Intersystem Mobility


“Culture” is mostly used in an undefined or an ill-defined way. When it is defined, it is defined in a wide array of different meanings. These fall more or less into three broad categories: (1) What might be called “high” culture, i.e. referring to art, opera, Mozart, Shakespeare etc.; (2) what might be called “mass culture” and the “culture industry” ( ), referring to the marketing of assets, gadgets, entertainment, infotainment, shows, restaurants, but also the marketing of “high” culture to the extent it can be commercialized; (3) the “culture” of cultural anthropology, which ranges from synonymous use for “society” to the theories of cultures as elaborate systems of symbols and meanings as professed, e.g., by Leslie White [ ] or Claude Lévi-Strauss [ ].

This problem is very evidently reflected in the attempt of Korte et al. to explain and define culture. In ancient Rome culture referred to an encompassing way of life supporting the development of spirit and soul, the shaping of the external nature and the human being´s own life. The bourgeois concept of culture later on referred to moral perfection, religiously based humanism, aesthetics, liberty, and the education (“Bildung”) of Wilhelm von Humboldt. This already differentiated a “high culture” from a “mass culture”. [ ]

These concepts of culture include both what is called material and immaterial culture [ ], although the immaterial seems to be more emphasized. Max Weber and Georg Simmel consider art, creativity, and meaning as central to culture and to the human capacity to create and to handle culture. Culture as something meaningful has both subjective and objective aspects. [ ]

Along similar lines Arnold Gehlen focusses on the immaterial and symbolic. He conceives culture as the necessity of the human being to create first of all himself and his world. Culture is not a particular field of human action, but a basic necessity and condition for human life, the construction of a symbolic world in the struggle against nature. [ ] As he expresses it in another place, culture is “the nest built into the world by the human being” [ ]. Also Lévi-Strauss conceives cultures as systems of symbols and meanings including language, i.e. as something immaterial, although frequently expressed in material manifestations. The latter, however, are only the media or carrier of symbolism.

While Korte et al. explicitly state that it is impossible to formulate a clear definition of culture [ ] and also present a nice example of a circular non-definition [ ], it is suggested that sociocybernetics with its information theoretical framework should build on approaches which are consequent in developing the immaterial symbolic view, like those of Leslie White, Lévi-Strauss, and Arnold Gehlen. Culture, as something essentially immaterial and symbolic, can then be conceived as a particular kind of information, or rather knowledge. In this way continuity with a large body of classical research and theories can be maintained. A precise definition becomes possible, and the concept of culture can be firmly linked to information theory and systems theory thus becoming subject of an exact and well-defined treatment with a large array of theoretical instruments available from these fields. Culture in this understanding and context can be defined as [ ]:

“The information, i.e. experience, knowledge, beliefs, norms and values, contained in the collective memory of a group or population that has been collected and retained in the course of the history of that group (or system). It is an encompassing system of knowledge and symbols which is passed from generation to generation by means of socialization.”

In other words, it is that core of normative and factual knowledge contained in the collective memory of a collectivity of social actors which is passed on to the next generation of actors who are members of that particular collectivity. With this definition it is perfectly legitimate, and not only metaphorical, to speak about the culture of sub-populations, e.g. the “youth culture” or “organizational culture”.

Sociological concepts: Mass Culture, High Culture, Culture Industry, Cultural Anthropology, Way of Life, Humanism, Aesthetics, Liberty, Education, Material Culture, Immaterial Culture, Creativity, Meaning, Symbol, System of Symbols, System of Meanings, Language, Media
Sociocybernetic concepts: Information, Knowledge, Experience, Belief, Norms, Values, System of Knowledge, Socialization, Collective Knowledge, Factual Knowledge, Normative Knowledge


The terms ´development´ and ´modernization´ are used more or less synonymously by Korte et al.

Modernization is the development from simple and poor agrarian societies to complex, differentiated, and rich industrial societies, which dispose of a certain degree of self-steering both inside and outside. [ ]

Modernization implies industrialization, democratization, the formation of states and nations, secularization, rationalization, and a pluralism of value systems [ ]. In a very similar way Dahrendorf considers as basic components of modern society competitive democracy, market economy, a high level of well-being, mass consumption, and the welfare state. [ ]

The synonymous use of “modernization” and “development” is rather questionable, as large parts of “modernization theory” in fact refer to the historical period of industrialization. Also its scope is limited to human societies and their components, while “development” is a more general term also used in psychology, biology, and other natural sciences. Hence from a systems perspective “development” is clearly preferable as a theoretical and more abstract term. Development includes modernization with its different aspects and components as mentioned above. In terms of sociocybernetics and systems theory, however, development has to be seen in parallel to evolution, another theoretical concept which is interdisciplinary and which implies a kind of “progress”. At the level of sociocybernetics and systems theory, however, the aspects and components listed above can be reformulated at a much higher level of abstraction and within a systematic theoretical context. “Progress” can be conceptualized on the one hand in terms of abstract (general) systems theory as an increase of systems (development) or populations of systems (evolution) in complexity, richness of resources (including requisite variety), and negentropy. On the other hand it can be formulated in terms of social systems theory, ecology, and sustainability as an increase of the systems´ capacities to fulfill the requirements for longterm survival (or even the “good life”) as specified by orientation theory (see above 2.4). The two possibilities imply different viewpoints but they are mutually compatible and even complementary. While orientation theory provides a theory-based systems framework for normativity, i.e. for what a system should accomplish, the negentropy/complexity approach provides a theory-based systems framework for the mechanisms by which systems can accomplish it. All of this means that systems theory can provide criteria for “progress” which are not naive and simplistic.

Thus from a sociocybernetic view evolution, as usual, refers to “progress” in a population of systems (phylogenesis) in which the classical evolutionary mechanisms of deviance (or generation of variety), selection, and stabilization are operative, while development refers to the “evolution” of a single system (ontogenesis) in which mechanisms of adaptation, i.e. structural change improving functionalities, is operating. This does not exclude the possibility of evolution at lower system levels, i.e. at levels of subsystems where possibly again entire populations of subsystems can be found.

In such a theoretical context development can be defined in the following way:

“Development as a process is to be understood as the change in a particular single system, in case this change is resulting in improvements of a certain kind, i.e. “progress”. Development of a single system or also a single organism is part of the process of evolution which takes place at the level of the population of which the system under consideration is a member. The development of human societies can, partially at least, occur in an intentional and goal-oriented way, i.e. as a project of the human beings concerned.” [ ]

“Progress”, as has been mentioned already, can be defined and specified in a highly differentiated way within the framework of orientation theory and problem-solving, and with theoretical foundations in negentropy and complexity theory.

Sociological concepts: Society, Complex Society, Modern Society, Industrial Society, Steering, Industrialization, Democratization, State, Nation, Secularization, Rationalization, Pluralism, Value Systems, Well-Being, Welfare State, Mass Consumption
Sociocybernetic concepts: Evolution, Progress, Complexity, Requisite Variety, Resource, Negentropy, Ecology, Sustainability, Orientation Theory, Phylogenesis, Ontogenesis, Selection, Stabilization, Adaptation


Social structure, according to Korte et al. [ ], can be concepualized in at least three different ways. (1) As the basic demographic composition of a society, (2) the composition of society of classes and strata, including different value systems and mentalities, and (3) the historical forms of societal order which can be found in the course of history around the world. The latter concerns typifying models of society which are mainly oriented around the concepts of modernization, industrialization, and post-industrializaton/-modernization. [ ]

In this way “social structure” is strongly associated with the macro-level and “the system” as a structural opposite to the individual, or, like in the work of Giddens [ ], a counterpart in interaction. At a micro-level social norms and rules are mainly considered. These, however, influence (in order to avoid the stronger concept of “determine”) social action. Looking, e.g., at Goffman´s encounters it is clear that also action at a micro-level is structured.

Sociocybernetics, in contrast, promises to provide a unified concept: “Systems” are not only social macro-systems, but also social meso- and micro-systems, including the actor himself. In case of the individual the actor, as defined above, is surely not a “social” system but still an actor system. [ ] The structure of social action and social systems is certainly not a material “thing” to touch, but the repetitive regularity of micro-processes forming a (more or less) stable pattern at the meta-level which constitutes a structure at this meta-level. [ ]

Hence a sociocybernetic concept of social structure encompasses all levels of social systems. Structures are emerging phenomena of (lower level) processes. This view is in line, e.g., with modern physics, according to which the regular movement of electrones is essential for the stability of an atom.

At a macro-level social structure in traditional sociology has been discussed primarily in terms of social stratification (see also above 2.20 - 2.24). This concept of hierarchical layering of horizontal strata has to be complemented by a corresponding concept of vertical su-division, segmentation, and a third concept, which is most important for modern societies, functional differentiation. The latter can be conceived both as a horizontal and a vertical subdivision of a society. Horizontal, e.g., in the case of teamwork or economic or other specialization among roughly equal partners. Vertical, because functional differentiation and division of “labor” has usually a hierarchical connotation. Division of tasks is not likely to persist very long without the existence of some coordinating instance and hence at least a rudimentary hierarchy. Moreover, hierarchically stratified societies, like caste and class societies, are intrinsically functionally differentiated among the different strata involved. This is also true for simple chiefdoms [ ], which have at least a functionally specialized leadership stratum.

From a sociocybernetic view, however, a fourth concept has still to be added. After all, social structure not only refers to the set-up of social units but also includes the structural set-up of mechanisms for their working or functioning. This means that in addition a steering and control structure has to be distinguished. For the sake of simplicity this will be called “control structure” in the following, implying, however, the case of “steering”.

In traditional sociology control structures have been covered largely under the concept of power and power structures (see above), which, from the sociocybernetic viewpoint, are particular cases of steering and control (see above 2.16). Control structures point to the concept of feedback and process, i.e. to the fundamental idea that social systems and social phenomena, also at the macro-level, are not just a matter of structure alone but always matters of an interplay of structures and processes.

This leads to another concept, which is rather vague in traditional sociology, but for which a whole set of precise theoretical notions are available in sociocybernetics. These are derived from the interdisciplinary context of cybernetics and systems theory in general. This is “social change”, which is usually considered to be structural change. In a sociocybernetic context a particularly important kind of structural change is adaptation, defined as a structural change in a system in response to environmental problems [ ] which improves or restitutes the problem-solving capacity of the respective system. What means “improvement” and “problem-solving capacity” can be specified, in sociocybernetics, by means of orientation theory (see above 2.4).

Adaptation is closely connected to the concepts of development, evolution, negentropy, and organization, but also to concepts like morphogenesis, morphostasis [ ], multistability, and ultrastability [ ], state space, and trajectory [ ].

Sociological concepts: Demography, Class, Strata, Value System, Mentality, Society, Modernization, Industrialization, Post-Industrial Society, Post-Modern Society, Norms, Stratification, Power, Power Structure, Social Change
Sociocybernetic concepts: Micro-Level, Macro-Level, Social System, Actor System, Micro-Processes, Meta-Level, Segmentation, Functional Differentiation, Social Units, Steering and Control Structure, Feedback, Process, Adaptation, Problem-solving Capacity, Orientation Theory


All of this cannot be developed further in the present paper. However, it sets the scene for putting a “self” in front of a number of these concepts, opening up the discussion about “self-reference”, “self-organization”, “autopoiesis” etc., which are the central themes of Second Order Cybernetics. Talking about self-organization, autopoiesis, and Second Order Cybernetics easily remains pure speculation, if the sociological basics it implies or one talks about are not clear. The intention of the present paper is to provide at least a basis for such a clarification upon which a further theoretical discourse about Second Order (Socio-) Cybernetics can continue.


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