abstracts

13.1 Felix Geyer:
"From Simplicity to Complexity: Adapting to the Irreversibility of Accelerating Change"


Future studies and sociocybernetics have one core concept in common: change. Several irreversible processes (globally increasing interdependence, fueled by the knowledge, technology. information and communication explosions) cause increasingly rapid change in all fields and on all levels of human endeavor, and thus a continuing acceleration of societal complexity, which leads to emergence of new institutions, ideologies, processes, etc. that impinge on the individual's life.

Two problems are especially relevant in this context:
1) How will individuals react to thus becoming ever smaller cogs in ever more machines, and how will it affect their mental health, and with what results?
Or, more precisely: how many will try to lead change and in what directions? How many will become alienated and withdraw from wider societal involvements with potentially disastrous results for societal cohesion? How many will fight change, in often fanatical ways, with results out of proportion to their numbers, and what can be done to keep them in check?

2) Can the future be foretold? From a Prigogine-like systems perspective, and bearing the principles of chaos theory in mind, it cannot: there are too many bifurcation points in dissipative systems to forecast societal developments over more than a short timespan. Therefore, both future studies and sociocybernetics should be modest in their specific predictions of future developments, and should concentrate on discovering the general laws of change under conditions of societal overcomplexity.


Felix Geyer, SISWO, Plantage Muidergracht 4, 1018 TV Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Email: geyer@siswo.uva.nl



13.3 Richard Lee:
"Imagining the Future: Constructing Social Knowledge after 'Complexity Studies'"


Contemporary modes of constructing authoritative social knowledge grew out of nineteenth-century epistemological debates and their institutionalization in an arena of on-going contention between conceptions of knowledge as an expression of unbiased (universal) truth or concerned (particular) values, that is, in the social science disciplines we still recognize today. Suppressed opposition to this "two cultures" antinomy--the ordered/lawlike, factual/expository sciences versus the chaotic/anarchic, impressionistic/poetic humanities--accompanied the structure of knowledge over its 500 year development and has been especially pronounced from the humanities pole at various times over the past 150 years.

This paper argues that developments in "complexity studies" at the science pole of the disciplinary hierarchy--especially, order-in-chaos (strange attractors), order-out-of-chaos (dissipative structures), pathological functions and natural forms exhibiting non-integer dimensions (fractal geometry)--have, since the 1960's, led to a fundamental questioning of the naturalized, "taken-for-granted" premises of legitimate knowledge: objectivity, precision, prediction. This has opened up issues of what is, and is not, thinkable and therefore doable, in the present conjuncture of crisis and instability. Choice really matters in reconceiving the relationship between knowledge production and politics, structure and agency, order and anarchy, necessity and chance, truth and values. Resolution of these heretofore mutually exclusive, but tacitly accepted, visions in the form of negotiation and compromise cast within relations of power may now be rethought in terms of the ethical imperative of scholarly participation in the transformation of the social world conceived as the active social event of imagining possible futures.


Richard Lee, Fernand Braudel Center, SUNY-Binghamton, Binghamton, NY 13902-6000, USA. Email: rlee@binghamton.edu



13.3 Pentti Malaska:
"Work Development and the Late-industrial Transition"


Long-term unemployment, unbalance between supply and demand of know-how and service-type skills, emerging new infrastructures of network markets, and environmental stress caused by economic growth and demands of sustainable development are signs of fundamental transitions of the world community. The recent recession of the 1990s is not only a traditional economic decline, but a transitional phenomenon of multiple structural changes that are superimposed by short-range fluctuations. A theoretical framework of dynamic transformations through transient periods is developed and applied.
Since the 1960s the labour force in manufacturing has been declining in most industrialised countries. The industrial period is in a turbulent late-industrial transition which will continue for the coming decades. While production of goods will employ less and less of the work force its production volume will grow. We get more from less by means of intensive use of knowledge and new technology and smarter ways of working.
The present transient stage of development bears in it both threats and opportunities for human intentions, as it has done previously. This study reveals the phenomena of transient change in a perceptual as well as empirical way of prospective research. The empirical study is based on the data of the labour force of the USA from 1870 to the 1990s and of Finland from 1910 to the 1990s.


Keywords: Societal change, long-term, labour force development. service intensive



Pentti Malaska, Finland Futures Research Center, P.O. Box 110, FIN-20521 Turku, Finland. Email: pentti.malaska@tukkk.fi



13.4 Vessela Misheva:
"On the Question of Sociology's Identity - Thucydides - the Lost Father of Sociology"


On the basis of systems theory (Luhmann), this paper examines the identity crisis of sociology caused by 1) the mistaken classification of Thucydides classical work as "contemporary history" instead of sociology, and 2) the meagre presence of sociology within the framework of philosophy as an "alien resident" with the false consciousness of being philosophy's offspring. A comparative analysis of the current problems of history, philosophy, and sociology aims to prove Thucydides, as "The Father of Sociology", conceived of as a "third-type" science alongside history and philosophy.


Vessela Misheva, Department of Sociology, Uppsala University, Box 821, S-75108 Uppsala, Sweden. Email: Vessela.Misheva@soc.uu.se



13.5 Eleonora Masini:
"Futures Studies and Sociocybernetics"


Both areas have in common the interest in the complex society and in uncertainty. Both areas are oriented to change in society. Both areas have as basis (at least in my case and that of many others) social sciences with an interdisciplinary broader support. These common characteristics have to be analysed in their commonalities and differences. Both futures studies and sociocybernetics have a challenge to offer to sociology because of common and different aspects of the same orientation. Following Felix Geyer's thinking it can be debated that although first-order cybernetics has had an influence on sociology as it has had in futures studies, for example in all the applications of the systems approach in it, second-order sociocybernetics is having and will have a stronger influence. The importance of the observer and its effect is crucial but if its biological basis is important for change I would be critical of the transposition of this approach in social terms without a deep analysis of the methodologies as well as the consequences. I would rather go with Varela's cautiousness in terms of self-production in society. This specially in futures studies terms where the basic concept is choice among different alternatives in relation to different possible, probable, plausible and desirable futures, but where also it is very difficult that the most plausible among the probables and possibles is also desirable. I think a discussion in these terms has to take place. At the same time, as sociologists, we have to recognize that, if a future-oriented analysis is rigourously conducted as well as based on clearly stated assumptions, we are not forecasting the future but learning to deal with an IF THEN process which implies a subsequent choice but requires sound sociological research on which to base the choice.


Eleonora Barbieri Masini, Via Antonio Bertoloni 23, 00197 Roma, Italy. Email: fmasini@pelagus.it






first page
sessions program




If you want more information, please contact Felix Geyer. Secretary


Your comments about these pages Chaime Marcuello. webmaster
created: June 10,1998