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Article
Publication date: 1 June 1995

Felix Geyer

Summarizes some of the important concepts and developments in cybernetics and general systems theory, especially during the last two decades. Shows how they can indeed be…

Abstract

Summarizes some of the important concepts and developments in cybernetics and general systems theory, especially during the last two decades. Shows how they can indeed be a challenge to sociological thinking. Cybernetics is used here as an umbrella term for a great variety of related disciplines: general systems theory, information theory, system dynamics, dynamic systems theory, including catastrophe theory, chaos theory. Also considers the emerging “science of complexity”, which includes neural networks, artificial intelligence and artificial life, and discusses the methodological drawbacks of second‐order cybernetics.

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Kybernetes, vol. 24 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0368-492X

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Article
Publication date: 23 October 2007

Ranulph Glanville

The purpose of this paper is to explore the two subjects, cybernetics and design, in order to establish and demonstrate a relationship between them. It is held that the…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore the two subjects, cybernetics and design, in order to establish and demonstrate a relationship between them. It is held that the two subjects can be considered complementary arms of each other.

Design/methodology/approach

The two subjects are each characterised so that the author's interpretation is explicit and those who know one subject but not the other are briefed. Cybernetics is examined in terms of both classical (first‐order) cybernetics, and the more consistent second‐order cybernetics, which is the cybernetics used in this argument. The paper develops by a comparative analysis of the two subjects, and exploring analogies between the two at several levels.

Findings

A design approach is characterised and validated, and contrasted with a scientific approach. The analogies that are proposed are shown to hold. Cybernetics is presented as theory for design, design as cybernetics in practice. Consequent findings, for instance that both cybernetics and design imply the same ethical qualities, are presented.

Research limitations/implications

The research implications of the paper are that, where research involves design, the criteria against which it can be judged are far more Popperian than might be imagined. Such research will satisfy the condition of adequacy, rather than correctness. A secondary outcome concerning research is that, whereas science is concerned with what is (characterised through the development of knowledge of (what is)), design (and by implication other subjects primarily concerned with action) is concerned with knowledge for acting.

Practical implications

The theoretical validity of second‐order cybernetics is used to justify and give proper place to design as an activity. Thus, the approach designers use is validated as complementary to, and placed on an equal par with, other approaches. This brings design, as an approach, into the realm of the acceptable. The criteria for the assessment of design work are shown to be different from those appropriate in other, more traditionally acceptable approaches.

Originality/value

For approximately 40 years, there have been claims that cybernetics and design share much in common. This was originally expressed through communication criteria, and by the use of classical cybernetic approaches as methods for use in designing. This paper argues a much closer relationship between cybernetics and design, through consideration of developments in cybernetics not available 40 years ago (second‐order cybernetics) and through examining the activity at the heart of the design act, whereas many earlier attempts have been concerned with research that is much more about assessment, prescription and proscription.

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Kybernetes, vol. 36 no. 9/10
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0368-492X

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Article
Publication date: 1 March 2005

Timon Paul Beyes

The paper discusses possible implications of Heinz von Foerster's notion of second‐order cybernetics for management thinking. The purpose of this paper is to outline…

Abstract

Purpose

The paper discusses possible implications of Heinz von Foerster's notion of second‐order cybernetics for management thinking. The purpose of this paper is to outline challenges of as well as prospective further developments for management theory that emanate from second‐order cybernetics.

Design/methodology/approach

As a conceptual paper, the paper tries to develop its findings through theoretically applying von Foerster's insights to management thinking's conventional assumptions. When looking for applications of von Foerster's approach within the social sciences, at least in german‐speaking countries one sooner or later comes across Niklas Luhmann's system sociology. Hence, Luhmann's version of the theory of the observer is introduced and its take on organization and management is briefly outlined. Drawing upon von Foerster's and Luhmann's reflections, possible implications for management thinking are presented – ideas that might be disagreeable for “classical” management science but might set out a path for further developments of management thinking.

Findings

What difference might second‐order cybernetics (and autopoietic systems sociology) make for management thinking? As a conclusion, deliberately poignant statements are formulated, calling for a higher degree of self‐reflection, for critical readings of conventional texts, for more complex descriptions of organizations and for a more modest, low‐key take on management theory's endeavours.

Originality/value

Whereas first‐order cybernetics has been fairly well‐received in management theory, second‐order cybernetics, which poses troubling questions to conventional epistemologies, remained relatively unpopular. Acts of “observing observers” reclaim these questions, possibly leading to valuable insights for researchers and reflected practitioners alike.

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Kybernetes, vol. 34 no. 3/4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0368-492X

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Article
Publication date: 23 October 2007

Peg Rawes

The purpose of this paper is to examine shared principles of “irreducibility” or “undecidability” in second‐order cybernetics, architectural design processes and Leibniz's…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine shared principles of “irreducibility” or “undecidability” in second‐order cybernetics, architectural design processes and Leibniz's geometric philosophy. It argues that each discipline constructs relationships, particularly spatio‐temporal relationships, according to these terms.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper is organized into two parts and uses architectural criticism and philosophical analysis. The first part examines how second‐order cybernetics and post‐structuralist architectural design processes share these principles. Drawing from von Foerster's theory of the “observing observer” it analyses the self‐reflexive and self‐referential modes of production that construct a collaborative architectural design project. Part two examines the terms in relation to Leibniz's account of the “Monad”. Briefly, developing the discussion through Kant's theory of aesthetics, it shows that Leibniz provides a “prototype” of undecidable spatial relations that are also present in architectural design and second‐order cybernetics.

Findings

The paper demonstrates that second‐order cybernetics, architectural design and metaphysical philosophy enable interdisciplinary understandings of “undecidability”.

Practical implications

The paper seeks to improve understanding of the geometric processes that construct architectural design.

Originality/value

The paper explores interdisciplinary connections between the disciplines, opening up potential routes for further examination. Its analysis of the aesthetic and geometric value of the Monad (rather than its perspectival value) provides a particularly relevant link for discussing the aesthetic production and experience of spatial relations in second‐order cybernetics and contemporary architectural design.

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Kybernetes, vol. 36 no. 9/10
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0368-492X

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Article
Publication date: 7 September 2015

Ranulph Glanville

The purpose of this paper is to justify the theme of the ASC 50th anniversary conference; to implement Mead’s cybernetics of cybernetics; and to establish cybernetics as…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to justify the theme of the ASC 50th anniversary conference; to implement Mead’s cybernetics of cybernetics; and to establish cybernetics as “a way of acting” as well as Glasersfeld’s “a way of thinking”.

Design/methodology/approach

Examination of the implicit in Mead’s cybernetics of cybernetics and comparison with Foerster’s second order cybernetics, related to the central concept of circularity – that acting and understanding form a whole.

Findings

Mead’s cybernetics of cybernetics is more general than Foerster’s second order cybernetics; the advantages of working from the bottom up as well as (instead of) the top down.

Practical implications

Cybernetics is not just a study, but a way of acting. The author lives in cybernetics. If the author wish cybernetics to regain its former influence, the author should consider the way of living in cybernetics as an example that may attract others.

Originality/value

To return cybernetics to a subject that focuses on acting as well as understanding, and to point to effective ways of acting.

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Article
Publication date: 1 October 2004

Bernard Scott

In 1974, Heinz von Foerster articulated the distinction between a first‐ and second‐order cybernetics, as, respectively, the cybernetics of observed systems and the…

Abstract

In 1974, Heinz von Foerster articulated the distinction between a first‐ and second‐order cybernetics, as, respectively, the cybernetics of observed systems and the cybernetics of observing systems. Von Foerster's distinction, together with his own work on the epistemology of the observer, has been enormously influential on the work of a later generation of cyberneticians. It has provided an architecture for the discipline of cybernetics, one that, in true cybernetic spirit, provides order where previously there was variety and disorder. It has provided a foundation for the research programme that is second‐order cybernetics. However, as von Foerster himself makes clear, the distinction he articulated was imminent right from the outset in the thinking of the early cyberneticians, before, even, the name of their discipline had been coined. In this paper, the author gives a brief account of the developments in cybernetics that lead to von Foerster's making his distinction. As is the way of such narratives, it is but one perspective on a complex series of events. Not only is this account a personal perspective, it also includes some recollections of events that were observed and participated in at first hand.

Details

Kybernetes, vol. 33 no. 9/10
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0368-492X

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Article
Publication date: 1 March 2005

Wolfgang Winter and Manuela Thurm

The following contribution tries to answer the question of whether the management theory's interpretation of cybernetics has something to do with second‐order cybernetics

Abstract

Purpose

The following contribution tries to answer the question of whether the management theory's interpretation of cybernetics has something to do with second‐order cybernetics, or in other words: what the impact of von Foerster's ideas so far on the German speaking management theory is.

Design/methodology/approach

Different methodological programs in business administration and management theory will be summarized to become aware of the fundamental difference between Foerster's ideas and their interpretation through the systemic approach in management theory.

Findings

In the beginning of the 1970s and all through the 1980s systemic thinking became what some management thinkers wanted to be called a “new paradigm” that ever since has attracted numerous researchers and practitioners, especially in the German speaking regions. So it seemed only natural that, together with systems theory, cybernetics, too, was introduced to the management discipline. Can you seriously have cybernetics without second‐order cybernetics? Of course you can. The question here is: how far did German speaking systemic management thinking dare to go in incorporating cybernetics into the theory of management of social systems?

Originality/value

We will clearly see what Heinz von Foerster was pointing at when he talked about management being an autological concept where the manager has to take his being part of the system seriously. When making obvious different conceptual versions of cybernetics and demonstrating their corresponding attempts in transferring cybernetic thinking into the domain of social systems we might get an insight into new directions for researchers in management.

Details

Kybernetes, vol. 34 no. 3/4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0368-492X

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Article
Publication date: 13 July 2018

Amin Vahidi, Alireza Aliahmadi and Ebrahim Teimoury

This paper reviews the underpinning principles and scientific trends of cybernetics and the viable system model (VSM). Therefore, this paper aims to guide authors and…

Abstract

Purpose

This paper reviews the underpinning principles and scientific trends of cybernetics and the viable system model (VSM). Therefore, this paper aims to guide authors and managers active in management cybernetics and to inform them about the past, current and future trends in this discipline.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper adopts both qualitative and quantitative methods. First, a descriptive and qualitative approach is used to review and analyze management cybernetics historical trends. Then, a frequency analysis (quantitative) is conducted on the 1,000 first publications in the field.

Findings

The cybernetics was emerged in the Josiah Macy conference in 1946. Then, Wiener introduced the field of cybernetics and Ashby, Von Foerster and McCulloch developed this concept as a discipline. The Management cybernetics field that was introduced by Beer is a combination of system, control and management sciences. Beer presented VSM as an operational model in this area. Analyzing the 1,000 top-ranked publications shows that the introduction of this field reached maturity and further development became relatively mature. Moreover, based on the analyzed trends, VSM model application can now be strongly attractive. In this paper, the main journals, authors and research trends are analyzed. The main application area of this model is in the IT field and large-scale organizations.

Practical implications

The present paper’s implication for practitioners and researchers is guiding authors and managers to most appropriate studies in the field, so that they can produce and use the most efficient studies in this field.

Social implications

The fields of IT, Policy-Making, Production, Social Issues, Service industry, Software developers, etc., are some of this paper’s implications for industry and society.

Originality/value

In this paper, the steps of VSM development are investigated. Then, recent trends (classifications, authors, journals and topics analysis) are surveyed by analyzing the top 1,000 publications in this field. This paper would help researchers find more appropriate research fields. In addition, it helps practitioners find the optimum solutions based on management cybernetics for their problems among vast numbers of publications.

Details

Kybernetes, vol. 48 no. 5
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0368-492X

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Article
Publication date: 7 May 2020

Tom Scholte

The purpose of this paper is to suggest a more central role for reflexive artistic practices in a clarified research agenda for second-order cybernetics (SOC). This is…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to suggest a more central role for reflexive artistic practices in a clarified research agenda for second-order cybernetics (SOC). This is offered as a way to assist the field in the further development of its theoretical/methodological “core” and, subsequently, enhance its impact on the world.

Design/methodology/approach

The argument begins by reviewing Karl Müller’s account of the failure of SOC to emerge as a mainstream endeavor. Then, Müller’s account is recontextualized within recent developments in SOC that are traced through the Design Cybernetics movement inspired by Ranulph Glanville. This alternate narrative frames a supposedly moribund period as a phase of continuing refinement of the field’s focus upon its “proper object of study,” namely, the observer’s mentation of/about their mentation. The implications of this renewed focus are then positioned within Larry Richard’s vision of the cybernetician, not as “scientist” per se but rather as a “craftsperson in and with time” capable of productively varying the dynamics of their daily interactions. Having centered widespread capacity building for this “craft” as a proposed research agenda for a new phase of SOC, the paper concludes by pointing to the unique and necessary role to be played by the arts in this endeavor. Personal reflections upon the author’s own artistic and theoretical activities are included throughout.

Findings

The development and application of artistic methods for the enhancement of individual capacity for second-order observation is consistent with the purpose of SOC, namely, “to explain the observer to himself.” Therefore, it is in the field’s interest to more fulsomely embrace non-scientific, arts-based forms of research.

Research limitations/implications

In a truly reflexive/recursive fashion, the very idea that first-person, arts-based narratives are seen, from a mainstream scientific point of view, as an insufficiently rigorous form of research is, itself, a research limitation. This highlights, perhaps ironically, the need for cybernetics to continue to pursue its own independent definitions and standards of research beyond the boundaries of mainstream science rather than limiting its own modes of inquiry in the name of “scientific legitimacy.”

Practical implications

A general uptake of the view presented here would expand the horizon of what might be considered legitimate, rigorous and valuable research in the field.

Social implications

The view presented here implies that many valuable contributions that SOC can make to society take place beyond the constraints of academic publication and within the realm of personal growth and social development.

Originality/value

The very clearly defined and “refocused” vision of SOC in this paper can be of substantial utility in developing a more robust, distinctive and concrete research agenda across this field.

Details

Kybernetes, vol. 49 no. 8
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0368-492X

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Article
Publication date: 7 September 2015

Christiane M. Herr

The purpose of this paper is to identify two ways of conceptualizing cellular automata (CA) systems: a utility-focussed approach focussed on modeling, simulation and…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to identify two ways of conceptualizing cellular automata (CA) systems: a utility-focussed approach focussed on modeling, simulation and prediction as typically found in science-based disciplines, and a second, exploration and speculation-focussed approach typically found in design-related contexts. These two approaches to CA are linked to first-order cybernetics and second-order cybernetics, respectively.

Design/methodology/approach

The author illustrate and support the argument made by showing in a review of earlier work as well as three case studies of CA use in architectural design work how linear, science-based “first-order CA” cannot adequately support design processes. In such contexts, CA are typically adapted to allow for circular, conversational processes and to take involved observers into account.

Findings

The analysis of the three case studies shows that design-oriented approaches to CA aimed at generating novelty require “second-order CA” – CA that are based on second-order cybernetic principles.

Research limitations/implications

Limitations of this paper arise from the limited number of reported and analyzed case studies as well as from a necessary simplification and generalization of observations for the sake of brevity.

Originality/value

Findings resulting from the investigation emphasize and extend early experimental approaches to CA in design-related contexts that conceived CA systems as part of conversational design processes. The transition from first-order to second-order CA is necessary to allow for speculative and explorative design conversations that support designers in generating novelty in conversational settings.

Details

Kybernetes, vol. 44 no. 8/9
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0368-492X

Keywords

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