The systems approach to Irish society: 136 years of unintended consequences

Thomas John McCloughlin (STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies, Dublin City Univeristy, Dublin, Ireland)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Publication date: 4 February 2019



This paper aims to examine a range of unintended consequences in Irish society both historical and present-day, with a view of presenting the structure of society as a dynamic system with both homeostatic or autopoietic aspects.


The approach taken in this work is in the examination of the concept of institutionalisation and whether the public perception of life in Ireland can be compared between two widely separated periods, in this case, 1800s and 2000s, and then taking one example from this model and determining the validity of single case isolation: autism units in mainstream primary schools.


Even initiatives in society for the “common good” appear to have unforeseen consequences which are negative. Irish society has the appearance of a homeostatic system but on closer examination is autopoietic. The term “better” is misplaced when comparing two time frames, and argument can be made to agree or disagree.

Research limitations/implications

There are serious limitations in using historical data in the first place, but secondarily problematic when correlating with the equivalent modern data, for example, how questions are termed and answers given, how data are collected and validated are different across different time frames. Even when one finds comparable data, it is difficult to validate and selection does itself create a bias.


The value of this work is to evaluate the commonplace distinction policymakers make when comparing two periods in time; for the lay person, this is a means to say whether modern Irish society could be said to be “better” than that in the nineteenth century.



McCloughlin, T. (2019), "The systems approach to Irish society: 136 years of unintended consequences", Kybernetes, Vol. 48 No. 2, pp. 348-360.

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