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JOURNAL of SOCIOCYBERNETICS
AFSCET
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de Science des Systèmes
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de Systémique
6th European Congress on SYSTEMS SCIENCE

PARIS
19 - 22 septembre 2005
with the patronage of UNESCO

RC51 SYMPOSION ON SOCIOCYBERNETICS
ISA - Research Committee 51 on Sociocybernetics
"Social Complexities from the Individual to Cyberspace"


REPORT

SYMPOSIUM ON SOCIOCYBERNETICS
"Social Complexities from the Individual to Cyberspace"

organized by
ISA - Research Committee 51 on Sociocybernetics
ISA - International Sociological Association



The symposium took place in Paris, France, at the "Ecole Nationale Supérieure d´Arts et Métiers" (ENSAM) as a part of the 6th Congress of the European Systems Science Union (ESSU) which was held from September 19 to 22, 2005. It permitted the ISA Research Committee 51 (RC51) to deal with five major themes: Sociocybernetic Principles and Practice, Sociocybernetic Approaches to Scientific Disciplines, Sociocybernetic Methodology, Sociocybernetic Epistemology, and Sociocybernetic Perspectives. A panel discussion about "Sociocybernetics - Science of Social Complexities ?" concluded this series of sessions and permitted also the participants to express their views on the symposium as a whole.

Our symposium included 13 papers presented by speakers from ten countries: Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom, and United States of America.

Two of the five sessions were in French. One of them was the opening session of the symposium, which took place in the big amphitheater with simultaneous translation. The translation was highly appreciated by our participants and permitted a much larger public to attend the presentation of the session on sociocybernetic principles and practice. The panel discussion, held in English, which closed the symposium also attracted listeners interested in knowing more about RC51 and sociocybernetics. The sessions on sociocybernetics which took place on Tuesday, September 20, all day long and on Wednesday, September 21, during the morning, were attended by 10 to 25 listeners.

* * *

The first session encompassed three papers in French. The first one, by Bernd R. Hornung, outlined the basic principles of sociocybernetics. This was followed by an illustration of the application of sociocybernetics in practical consulting work done in business organizations, the "Socianalysis". Since many years "Socianalysis" has been practised successfully by Jacques and Maria van Bockstaele and their team. Diane Laflamme then showed how sociocybernetic theory can be used to analyze the constitution of meaning under conditions of complexity as they are found in complex contemporary society.

The second session focussed on the disciplinary environment of sociocybernetic research with a first paper by Bernard Scott and Simon Shurville who argued for the need of epistemological unification of the scientific disciplines and discussed the potential of sociocybernetics to contribute to such a unification. Matjaz Mulej, co-authored by Vojko Potocan and Bojan Rosi, deepened this issue by discussing the more specific problem of specialization vs. systemic thinking in science. They proposed a view of interdependence in order to overcome this conflict by cooperation of mutually different specialists.

After this analysis of scientific disciplines attention was turned to methodology. The concepts of cross-, inter-, and transdisciplinarity were clarified by Marilena Lunca who, in the main part of her paper, developed a definition of problem-solving and the respective methodological theories. Arne Collen then analyzed the process of empirical research from a sociocybernetic perspective. The session finished with a report by Lucio Biggiero and Enrico Sevi about the effects of different kinds of complexity on group performance which was based on research with a simulation model.

One might say that all of these contributions have dealt with the issue "How". This was followed by session four which dealt with epistemological issues as being the foundations of sociocybernetic theory and methodology. Klaus Anders presented reflections about the circular question "Why". He was followed by Francisco Parra-Luna who demonstrated how sociocybernetics can be used to answer the question "Where?", i.e. more concretely: Where was the town of Don Quichotte de la Mancha, the name of which was never given by Cervantes in his novel? Nicholas Paritsis closed this first day of sociocybernetics speaking about the epistemology of social holons, the question of "what" is the object of sociocybernetics.

On Wednesday morning at 8:30h French was resumed as a working language for the early birds coming back to the conference with a little delay after a reception, a good dinner, and a long night in Paris. Sociocybernetic perspectives were now to be presented and discussed from a more practical and empirical point of view. Marie-Noëlle Sarget presented a systems approach to marginality and Marie-Claude Dupré developed from an ethnological background "The Three Limits" of human action and development. She made clear that society and social development do not exist and cannot occur in an empty or ideal space. Instead they are part of an ecological environment which has to be taken into account seriously and which puts very clear limits to any human endeavors. Systemic/holistic thinking has to replace the currently prevailing one-sided and partial thinking. The discussion which followed this presentation led directly to the topic of the panel discussion which took place immediately afterwards.

* * *

The panel discussion, held in English, was intended to summarize essential points made during the symposium with regard to the present state and further development of sociocybernetics. The panel dealing with "Sociocybernetics - Science of Social Complexities ?" brought together five scientists from different subfields of sociocybernetics: Lucio Biggiero, Italy, Marie-Claude Dupré, France, Matjaz Mulej, Slovenia, Marie-Noëlle Sarget, France, Bernard Scott, United Kingdom. It was chaired by Bernd R. Hornung, Germany.

The discussion, which was opened to the floor after a first round of the panel, brought forth a number of important issues to be taken into account in future efforts to develop and promote sociocybernetics as an approach to the social sciences. Matjaz Mulej argued very clearly for removing the question mark in the title of the panel, as according to him sociocybernetics, defined as the application of systems and cybernetics in sociology and the other social sciences, is clearly the science to deal with social systems and their complexities. Only systems science has the capacity to cope with the high degree of interdependence which also requires a particular kind of ethics - an ethics of interdependence. Following his arguments, there is not so much a need for further self-reflection of sociocybernetics, but its proponents, in particular RC51, should rather concentrate on the question of how to promote sociocybernetics among other sociologists and other social scientists.

Nevertheless, it was pointed out in the discussion that an empirical approach to sociocybernetics still would be largely missing. This was true to some extent for the present symposium, which concentrated on theoretical and methodological issues. Mainly the three French papers by van Bockstaele et al. presenting the "Socianalysis" as an approach to consulting work in enterprises, by Sarget dealing with the issue of marginality, and by Dupré presenting a framework for the analysis of societal development, took a more or less empirical approach.

Lucio Biggiero´s proposal for more openness of RC51 towards the outside and more dialogue with other approaches and disciplines was discussed at some length. It became clear, that the strategy followed by RC51 so far basically corresponds to these ideas. The basic issue is to find an appropriate equilibrium between developing a core of common knowledge inside the Research Committee, which requires closure, and communication and dialogue with others, which requires openness. Too much closure may not permit anymore a further development of sociocybernetic knowledge but may lead to sterile discussions and self-reflections instead. Too much openness may not permit anymore creative innovation but may simply result in diluting and losing the core of sociocybernetic knowledge. This means, that in a systemic sense a certain optimum needs to be found - the necessary degree and equilibrium of both.

In fact, after a first phase of trying to collect a maximum of members - diversity - RC51 had closed itself in a series of annual conferences which permitted self-reflection and joint efforts at developing a core of sociocybernetics. In particular this past year, however, RC51 has participated in several international conferences organized by other associations. The risk to be taken into account in this situation, however, is to strain too much the possibilities of our members to participate in conferences, both in terms of time and resources.

In this context it was also brought forth and discussed that many colleagues use systems and cybernetics but do so only implicitly. Such implicit use can be intentional, when intervention and innovation are applying it to be successful without bothering colleagues or clients with an overhead of theoretical discussion which could be counterproductive. In other cases, however, the unintentional use should be an opportunity for sociocyberneticians to make the application of systems science explicit. When it is explicit, the users can profit much more from all of its advantages and they really know what they are doing.

Opening up more towards the outside also corresponds to another point made during the panel discussion. Discussants expressed the desirability to inform decision- and policy-makers on the basis of sociocybernetics and in particular international institutions like the UN. Some steps in this direction are currently underway, as RC51 is preparing both to become a member of the IFSR - International Federation of Systems Research, and to cooperate with the International Social Science Council, ISSC, which acts as a consulting body to UNESCO and other UN institutions.

Another observation made by some discussants at the congress was that the average age of congress participants seemed to be very high. This, however, does not hold for RC51 after all. RC51 has made deliberate efforts over the past years to recruit young members and to encourage students and young scientists to participate in our annual International Conferences of Sociocybernetics and to cooperate also in other ways. These efforts meanwhile do show success.


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updated: NOVEMBER 85, 2005