abstracts

16.1 Vessela Misheva:
"Excommunication and the Concept of Total Alienation"


The paper discusses alienation within the framework of the theory of autopoietic systems in macrosociology. For the purpose of analyzing alienation in systems terms, the importance of three systems peculiarities will be stressed: 1) The systems of politics, unlike any other functional subsystem, have a territorial basis for the demarcation of communication boundaries, which means that these boundaries can be directly controlled from without or from "above." 2) There is only one societal system, namely, the world system of society, and no social system can exist outside of it (Luhmann). 3) No system can interfere in the internal operations of an autopoietically closed system; however, this rule does not count for social systems on the societal level.

The hypothesis advanced here is that the societal system may destroy the autopoiesis of its subsystems by redefining their boundaries from without or by excluding them from the communication process of the societal system as a whole. Such ex-communication of a particular social subsystem from the world system of society leads both to the reduction of the system in question to the state of an external environment, as well as to the emergence of the feeling of total alienation or social absence on a mass scale. The escalation of distrust will be discussed as an important characteristic of the subsequent social crisis insofar as trust is considered to be a basic precondition for the emergence of the process of communication.


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



16.2 Felix Geyer:
"Sociocybernetics and the New Alienations"


The paper argues there has been a co-evolution and even confluence between alienation theory and sociocybernetics since the 1950's. An overview is presented of developments in both fields, which have considerably matured over the last few decades. On the one hand, the emergence of new complexity-related forms of alienation has stimulated new and more value-neutral forms of alienation theory; on the other hand, the application of cybernetics and General Systems Theory (GST) to the field of the social sciences has led to second-order cybernetics, which likewise focused attention on the accelerated change and resultant increasing emergence of complexity in society. Of course, there will remain a place for more normative types of alienation theory, as long as Marxist and psychiatric forms of alienation continue to exist, and also for the more mechanistic engineering-type approaches in first-order cybernetics as long as they pertain to relatively simple, non-human environments - e.g. the developments in robotics. Here, however, the stress is on Prigogine-like processes of irreversible and accelerating change, thet lead to the emergence of new levels of complexity in societal interactions. Sociocybernetics tries to describe these processes, while modern alienation theory concentrates in their dysfunctional effects.


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



16.3 Lauren Langman:
"In Praise of Folly: Fitting Humanistic Pegs Into Cybernetic Holes"


One of the fundamental problematics of social theory has been the debate between the humanistic vs mechanistic approaches. This was traditionally considered the Naturwissenschaft vs the Geisteswissenschaft approach. A long tradition from Marx to Weber, and the various interactionisticand phenomenological approaches have defended what was fundamentally humanistic, the empirical subject as an agent whose personal experiences constitute the basis for evaluation, action and reflection. For just as long, there have been more structural, objectivist approaches to the study of human behaviour. The question of alienation, initially formulated by Marx as a consequence of wage labor and private property, was and remains one of the most important aspects of humanistic social critique. But almost since the time of that formulation we have other approaches attempt to capture the meaning of alienation but locate it whithin other frameworks. Thus Durkheim, the father of various anti-humanistic structuralisms, attempted to reformulate alienation as anomie. In recent years, while Marxist theory endures, indeed the unfolding of capital fosters even greater immiseration and alienation, and new theoretical paradigms arrive that would embrace 'alienation' and locate it within the latest paradigmatic fad. Today we see the attempt to understand 'alienation' within the frameworks of cybernetic and system theories. While surely recent developmenent by theorists such as Prigogine have great allure, I would argue that systems theories, even at their most sophisticated, nevertheless do not originate as humanistic approaches. Rather, they may come from information science, biology, physics, communication theory, etc. While they would attempt to capture Marx's insights, if not brilliance, by definition they can only remain analogical maps of the environment. To continue to locate humanistic understandings in the dominant logic of modern science represents what Lukács called reification. Bourgeois categories of understanding - no matter how well intentioned - with an inherent logic of domination and control, can no more grasp the humanistic insights of alienation than can one fit a round peg in a square hole.


Lauren Langman, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Loyola University of Chicago, 6525 North Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL 60626, USA. Email: YLPSLL0@cpua.it.luc.edu



16.4 TR Young:
"Chaos Theory, Alienation and Human Agency - Postmodern Approaches to Emancipatory Knowledge"


1. Most premodern knowledge processes presume that one must seek divine intervention in order to improve or control one's own life. In these knowledge processes, one must abandon both self and society if one is to gain sure and certain knowledge.
2. Modernist knowledge processes also assume that sure and certain knowledge is possible; however, one must use carefully designed research processes and one must focus them upon dynamics of really existing natural and social systems in this world. Knowledge loses its divine face and takes upon itself, a human face.
3. Nihilist postmodern knowledge processes assume, falsely, that sure and certain knowledge is impossible; that all knowledge processes are hopelessly contaminated by human interests, human desire and human effort to mystify others in both theory and practice.
4. Affirmative postmodern knowledge processes accept the human sources of research designs, research targets and research findings. However, affirmative postmodern knowledge processes posit that, as much as is the scientific endeavor distorted by the structures of race, class, gender and ethnicentric purpose, still transcendent knowledge is possible; some of which is mystic in nature and thus never fully proveable.
5. Chaos theory offers a multi-focal view of natural and social science in which both stable and semi-stable outcome states ground a useable knowledge process. In it, human agency has a changing dialectic with objective structural dynamics: there are moments when human agency is possible and is low cost; there are times when human agency is difficult and, if possible, very costly in terms of energy and effort.
6. In both pre-modern and modernist knowledge processes, human agency is pre-empted by forces beyond human control; in the first, the god-concept controls both knowledge and agency; in the second, universal laws shape both natural and social processes.
7. In postmodern sensibilities, human agency is much more however personal agenda and malevolent purpose reduce the knowledge process to power struggles between those who have access to resources and those who want to displace them.
8. An affirmative, well tempered human agency is possible using concepts of praxis from marxist theory; concepts of community from theology; and concepts of humanism from liberal social philosophy.


T.R. Young, 8085 Essex, Weidman, MI 48893, USA. Email: tr@tryoung.com




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created: June 10,1998