abstracts

7.1 Lucio Biggiero:
"Are Firms Autopoietic Systems?"


In the last 15 years, the model of autopoiesis seems to have fascinated social sciences more than it ever did the natural sciences and its proper field of biology. It sinks its roots in second-order cybernetics, with which it is frequently identified, and it radicalizes it. Many applications were devised in the social sciences, including management science, mainly following Maturana's and Luhmann's suggestions. A close look at such applications allows to see that they have an essentially metaphorical basis or else that they are hastily done. Firstly, I point out that autopoiesis differs from second-order cybernetics and, secondly, I argue that its application, at least to economic organizations, does not work. Finally, I suggest that second-order cybernetics has everything to gain from separating its scientific fate from autopoiesis.

Keywords: autonomy; autopoiesis; boundary; enactment; environment; invariance; second-order cybernetics; self-organization; self-reference; system.


Lucio Biggiero, Dipartimento di Informatica e Sistemistica, 12, Via Buonarroti, 00185 Roma, Italy. Email: biggiero@peano.dis.uniroma1.it



7.2 Colin Dougall:
"The Autopoiesis of Social Systems - An Outline of an Aristotelian Model"


In doing his science Maturana begins at the beginning with what is clearer and more knowable to us and proceeds, through logos, to what is clearer and more knowable by nature. The nature of the knowing subject that subsequently emerges has excited great interest and controversy in the social and management sciences, especially as attempts have been made at developing a theory of `social' autopoiesis. What has proved to be and continues to prove to be elusive however is a hook upon which to hang the autopoiesis of social systems. Maturana's celebrated hook is `self-production' with all that entails. Luhmann, in spite of his considerable sophistication, has failed to demonstrate that `communication' is the most appropriate hook for social autopoiesis. In fact Aristotle adverts to such a hook early on in his Physics with his enigmatic phrase `Some things exist by nature, others are due to other causes.'. He then proceeds to suggest that the things that exist by nature `have within themselves a source of change and stability' and that it is present `in its own right and not accidentally'. While these may sound enigmatic phrases, they are no more or less obscure than what is to be found in Maturana. All that is required is a little unpacking. Once unpacked they provide pointers to a reading of autopoiesis that is both internally consistent and coherent and at the same time has enough generality to encompass both physical and social autopoiesis. It is to such a reading that this paper is directed.


Colin Dougall, Napier University Business School, Napier University, Sighthill Court, Edinburgh EH11 4BN, United Kingdom. Email: c.dougall@napier.ac.uk



7.3 Yuko Fujigaki:
"Knowledge as an Autopoietic System: Implication for Knowledge Society"


What kind of implication does "Autopoiesis" have for social theory? This study shows one of the answers to this question using the application of autopoiesis to scientific knowledge. Since scientific knowledge provides a basis to many aspects of society (e.g. cultural aspects, technological innovation, economic growth, and social welfare) this application gives us many insights for social theory.

In this study, the aggregation of publications in scientific journals is defined as the unity of the autopoiesis system and scientific papers as the components of that system. Furthermore, publishing is defined as the operation of the system. Using this definition, we can make that component (a paper) the basis for the publication of the next component (another paper), which forms a network through the system's operation (publication). Adopting these components, we can realize the knowledge system as an autopoietic system, that produces its own walls by its operation. This wall, that is, the boundary of accepting/rejecting papers reflects the politics of scientists as well as the embedded validation boundary of the research field.

These validation boundaries of research fields are slightly different from the knowledge criteria in society. These differences are useful in a consideration of the relationship between science and society. The knowledge production within the scientific community and the knowledge production outside interpenetrate. This consideration is also applied to the distinction between basic science and applied science. This point of view gave us new insights and an empirical perspective on how the system's two boundaries (i.e., the boundary between science and non-science and the boundary between science and society) can be constructed in knowledge society. In this way, considering knowledge as an autopoietic system gave us implications for knowledge society.


Yuko Fujigaki, National Institute of Science and Technology Policy, 1-11-39 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100, Japan. Email: fujigaki@nistep.go.jp, fujigaki@idea.c.u-tokyo.ac.jp



7.4 Lucas D. Introna:
"Social Systems, Autopoiesis, and Language"


Are social systems autopoietic? If they are, in what way are they? What are the particular processes at work in social systems as autopoietic systems? The hypothesis of this paper is that the philosophy of language of Wittgenstein and Heidegger through the notion of form of life can provide an adequate description of social systems as autopoietic. This paper is a first step towards defending this hypothesis. The purpose of this paper is not to reengage the debate on whether social systems are or are not autopoietic. The paper will rather put forward two suppositions and work from there. First, the paper contends that social systems are autopoietic. As such the key question to understand becomes the unity of social autopoiesis. The paper further supposes that the path to understanding this is through language. The paper argues that the expressive view of language is primordial and that the designative role of language presupposes the former. From an expressive point of view the Wittgensteinian notion of form of life becomes the focal point for understanding social systems as autopoietic. When we find ourselves in a form of life we find ourselves already in language - a set of already there socially significant linguistic distinctions - that we implicitly draw upon as part of saying something that matters, in that particular form of life. In language and through languaging a very subtle and intricate interwoveness - a co-connection and co-evolution - between human interlocutors come about, a structural coupling that is the fundamental condition for existentially meaningful social interaction. The paper argues that through languaging forms of life become complex and sophisticated landscapes of socially significant meanings or linguistic practices that get shaped and reshaped 'in' and through everyday conversation; conversations that 'folds' me/us into the form of life but also at every point (re)form it.


Lucas Introna, Department of Information Sysytems, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE. Email: L.INTRONA@lse.ac.uk



7.5 Akira Ishikawa:
"Apoptosis and Management Sciences (Accounting)"


APOPTOSIS is a Greek word which links APO (being apart) with PTOSIS(collapse or decay). This word has recently shed light in an area of the biological and medical sciences. It connotes a positive removal of cells which are no longer necessary and, therefore, covers a suicidal process of the cell.

Regarding cellular death, most of the studies have been devoted to the death of the cell as a result of debility due to injury or aging, i.e., studies of necrosis or apobiosis. As a result, apoptosis has been ignored and left unsurfaced for many years.

Recently, however, in connection with a cancerous process of the cell and AIDS, apoptosis is considered a revolutionary concept that is worth exploring. There is an expectation that uncovering this process might breakthrough a preconceived notion.

Bearing this in mind, we first attempt to explore the concept and process of apoptosis, and then pursue the possibility of applying the concept and its mechanism to the area of management sciences, in particular, management accounting. Thirdly, if applicable, we intend to envisage how to build a management (accounting) system that really contributes to the growth of the firm by identifying the dead ground. Finally, we will discuss possible directions for management (accounting) research in the future.


Akira Ishikawa, 4-4-25, Shibuya, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150, Japan. Email: ishikawa@sipeb.aoyama.ac.jp



7.6 Rodrigo Jokisch:
"Some Problems with Niklas Luhmann's Theory of Social Systems - And Their Possible Solutions. Observations from the Point of View of the Theory of Distinctions."


Niklas Luhmann's theory of social systems is perhaps the most sophisticated and best thought out theory that sociologists have at the moment (and for the last 30 years!) internationally in the field of general sociological theory. Therefore, it is a theory that sociologists must take very seriously, whether we want to or not. On the other hand, this theory also has - like every universal theory - its large and small deficits. A detailed, intensive study of this theory, in first place a study of Luhmann's pinnacle work, his theory of social systems, confronts us with at least four deficits, that we classify as cardinal.

A first deficit can be detected at the most abstract level of that theory . It involves Luhmann's use of the logico-mathematical theory of the Englishman George Spencer Brown. Every constitution of 'something' - as well as the adaptation that Luhmann makes of such theory, and this implies the constitution of those theories for the so-called social systems - has to be based on a single distinction with an asymmetrical form. We are of the opinion that this 'theoretical manoeuver' is not sufficiently complex to explain the constitution of social systems. We propose adding a symmetrical formed distinction to such asymmetrical distinction.

We see a second deficit in Luhmann's inappropriate use of the semantics of action. For Luhmann, 'action' is actually a form of social communication. We propose taking the semantics of action in a more traditional sense. At this level, we define what could be called "social unit" as an intertwining between action and communication.

A third deficit in Luhmann's theoretical architecture refers to the concept of 'human being' ('der Mensch'). Luhmann is of the opinion that the 'human being' does not belong to what he calls society. Our opinion is that this 'human being' can be very well conceived of as an integral part of the social, providing him with a central and at the same time, a special, place. We propose seeing the 'human being' as the starter of what in the end comes to be society. Lastly, we think we detect a fourth deficit in what corresponds to the concept of communication, since we are of the opinion that Luhmann understands as communication, in the first place, 'spoken and/or written communication'. However, the communication processed in society is first a nonverbal and/or nonwritten communication.


Rodrigo Jokisch, Isoldestrasse 9, 12159 Berlin, Germany. Email: rjokisch@compuserve.com, rodrigo.jokisch@uia.mx



7.7 John H. Little
"Autopoiesis and Governance: Societal Steering and Control in Democratic Societies"


Niklas Luhmann's interpretation of social systems as autopoietic raises interesting questions about societies and governance. Luhmann suggests that external control of a social system is impossible, while also implying that the functions of governance cannot be eliminated or taken over by another system. This leads to a tension that can only be overcome through temporary, indirect methods of control.

Kickert (1991), Teubner (1991) and others have addressed the question of autopoietic social systems and the implications for societal steering and governance. More recently, Dunshir's (1996) analysis of autopoiesis and governance considers the impact of organizational closure and self-referentiality on the possibility for governmental regulation, and suggests several possible strategies for governmental intervention into autopoietic social subsystems.

The problem of how democratic forces can effectively intervene in, or influence autopoietic governmental or administrative organizations, remains to be addressed. The question is not only how governments can control social systems, but how governments, themselves, can be democratically controlled.
Autopoiesis theory implies that democratic control of government is impossible, if by "democratic control" we mean the top-down, direct control exerted via elections and the political system as we know it. If this conclusion is correct, we must look for other, indirect approaches.

One approach involves the dual role of human beings as both elements and observers of autopoietic social systems. Is it possible to move system boundaries to allow citizens to observe (and influence) from inside the administrative systems of governance, rather than from outside them?



John H. Little, 3724 Krysia Court, Annandale, VA 22003, USA. Email: Littlej197@aol.com



7.8 John Mingers:
"Embodied Cognition: Information, Meaning, and Communication "


In their early papers, Maturana and Varela were very sceptical of concepts such as "information" and "communication". They argued that since organisms were structurally determined systems, and since the nervous system was organizationally closed, it was not possible for there to be "instructive interactions". That is, interactions (including linguistic ones) that themselves determine the effect they will have on the receiver. This means that traditional ideas such as objective information, and communication as the transmission of information from one person to another, are not tenable. More recently, Luhmann has developed an autopoietically-based social theory in which society consists of a network of communications that trigger further communications. In this theory, information becomes relative to the observer, and is related to meaning.

This paper addresses the question of information and meaning anew, bringing in concepts from Habermas, Dretske and semiotics. It argues for two separate domains, that of information, existing objectively, and carried and transmitted by events and signs, but not directly accessible to humans; and that of meaning as the interpretation and significance of information for individual subjects, generated through a process of embodied cognition. This interpretation and production of meaning at the individual level is linked to Luhmann's theory of communication at the social level.


John Mingers, Senior Lecturer in Operational Research and Systems, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, United Kingdom.
Email: orsjm@wbs.warwick.ac.uk



7.9 Karl-Heinz Simon:
"Modelling Certain Aspects of the Luhmann Complex: Expected benefits"


The main question the paper is dedicated to is: Could a modelling approach to certain aspects of Luhmann;'s theory empire improve the understanding of the "Luhmann complex" and help to estimate the consistency of, and the omissions in, the network of concepts?

One important result is that modelling methodology should not to be taken as an endeavour functioning in a completely formalised way of dealing with concepts and relationships. Firstly, formalisation requires a certain stage of development of theory and with respect to Luhmann's system theory this stage has not yet been reached up to now. The second reason is that too many important facets and characteristics would be suppressed and only rather trivial results will be created then.

Another approach is that of modelling parts of the theory, an approach which allows the integration of formal as well as of more intuitive concepts with the consequence of achieving more richness in problem orientations, material involved and results produced. At the starting point it remains open which modelling methods in detail will be used: system dynamics, viable systems theory, or frame-based knowledge representation, for example. But a first step which is common to all the approaches mentioned will be the definition of system diagrams representing the structures involved.

But again the question arises which benefits such an approach would provide. Using structural coupling, which is one of the most important theoretical concepts in modern sociological systems theory, as an example, we try to shed light on this question and to discuss possible answers. As structural coupling is that location in the theory where the interconnectedness of otherwise autonomously working autopoietical systems is guaranteed, it is of special importance, and experiences with respect to this point are of more common interest.


Karl-Heinz Simon, Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel, 34109 Kassel, Germany. Email: simon@usf.uni-kassel.de



7.10 Galin Gornev:
"Autopoietic View on Creativity: Implications for Social Theory"


The relationships between "agency" and "structure" as well as between "micro-" and "macro-levels" of sociological analysis are among the most important problems of social theory. Two contrasting theoretical strategies, of phenomenological and of structural sociology, tend to accentuate either the freedom of the human agent or the constraining effects of social structure, thus creating an unacceptable theoretical imbalance.

One of the most promising attempts to overcome this theoretical impasse is undertaken by Giddens; his "structuration theory" emphasizes the potential of social structures for both constraining and enabling human action. The way Giddens understands "structuration" is similar to our own understanding of "creativity"; most generally, it was expressed by Einstein who once noticed that there is a deeply conservative tendency in every revolutionary act. However, by the detailed implementation of the developmental perspective in terms of co-evolving "ratios" between "True Self" and "False Self" activities, from the one side, and between structuration processes of "sociality" and "socialization"(as introduced by Bauman), from the other side, Autopoietic Systems Theory based creativity theorizing is able to cast more light upon the way the agent is "manipulating" both the enabling and the constraining aspects of social structure.


Galin Gornev, Institute of Sociology, Moskovska Street 13A, 10 Sofia, Bulgaria. Email: gornev@bgcict.acad.bg




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