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Self‐organization, knowledge and responsibility

Christian Fuchs (Institute for Design and Technology Assessment, Vienna University of Technology, Wien, Austria)
Wolfgang Hofkirchner (ICT&S Center for Advanced Studies and Research in ICTS & Society, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 1 January 2005




The main purpose of this paper is to consider knowledge production as a social self‐organization process, to clarify ethical implications of such an approach, and to relate it to the thinking of Heinz von Foerster.


The method employed is the one of dialectical constructions, i.e. existing contradicting approaches on knowledge research are identified and classified and a constructive synthesis of these approaches is made.


Since Heinz von Foerster's pioneering work, information‐generating systems are considered to be self‐organizing systems. We see knowledge as only a particular kind of information: it is the manifestation of information in the social realm. Thus, the creation of social information is due to the self‐organization of social systems. Heinz von Foerster has given us some indications of how knowledge and self‐organization could be applied to society. In this paper, we try to sketch a position of our own while taking into consideration Heinz von Foerster's relevant ideas.

Practical implications

The research results in this paper imply that a knowledge‐based society can only survive if it is designed in a participatory and socially and ecologically sustainable way. Hence a practical implication is that participation and co‐operation need to be advanced in order to guarantee human development.


The innovative aspect of the paper is that it suggests that all social self‐organizing systems are knowledge‐producing systems and that considering knowledge as a co‐operative process implies responsibility for solving the global social problems. It combines knowledge research and systems thinking based on ideas on self‐organization by Heinz von Foerster in order to describe social systems.



Fuchs, C. and Hofkirchner, W. (2005), "Self‐organization, knowledge and responsibility", Kybernetes, Vol. 34 No. 1/2, pp. 241-260.



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Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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