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Mutually arising abstract and actual

Christiane M. Herr (Department of Architecture, Xi'an Jiaotong‐Liverpool University, Suzhou, China)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 9 August 2011




This paper connects the notions of abstract and actual based on a reflection of the Chinese notions of xiangsheng (mutual arising) and xushi (abstract/actual, empty/full). These word pairs enable a conception of abstract and actual that shows an alternative to, and which complements, distinctions of the terms that are based in dualism and rationalism.


The author sidesteps methodological rigour as practiced in the West as the style of thought introduced here shows a picture of abstract and actual arising from mutual interdependence rather than attempting to describe and formally distinguish abstract and actual through an observer‐independent methodology.


Discussing the relationship of actual and abstract from the viewpoint of the Chinese cultural tradition, this paper shows how abstract and actual may be thought of as a mutually generating, dynamic and polar relationship. The discussion further provides a basis for understanding how perceptions of abstract and actual can be understood as choices made by observers.

Research limitations/implications

This research is based on the limited personal experience of the author as a teacher of architectural design at one Taiwanese and one Chinese university.


This paper reflects on the relationship of abstract and actual from a non‐dualist viewpoint by introducing traditional Chinese ways of seeing and appreciating, and connecting this perspective to cybernetic and radical constructivist epistemologies. To show the relationship between abstract and actual as polar and mutually arising, the paper focuses particularly on making and experiencing in and through creative processes.



Herr, C.M. (2011), "Mutually arising abstract and actual", Kybernetes, Vol. 40 No. 7/8, pp. 1030-1037.



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