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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 secondorder 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 secondorder 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 secondorder 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 (secondorder 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 secondorder 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 secondorder 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 secondorder 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 secondorder 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, secondorder 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: 1 October 2004

Ranulph Glanville

In this paper, the origins of secondorder Cybernetics are sketched, and are particularly identified with circularity: a quality that was at the basis of the studies that…

Abstract

In this paper, the origins of secondorder Cybernetics are sketched, and are particularly identified with circularity: a quality that was at the basis of the studies that lead to the creation of the field of Cybernetics. The implications of the new analysis that secondorder Cybernetics (Cybernetics treated cybernetically: that is, Cybernetics when circularity is taken seriously) gives rise to are considered in terms of the two qualities that Wiener gave to Cybernetics in his eponymous book – control and communication. Finally, the analysis is applied to that other proto‐cybernetic concept, purpose. It is shown that (and in consequence how) the notion of goal and purpose must be radically reconsidered in secondorder Cybernetic systems.

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

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Article
Publication date: 3 February 2020

Claudia Westermann

The purpose of this paper to discuss ethical principles that are implicit in second-order cybernetics, with the aim of arriving at a better understanding of how second

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper to discuss ethical principles that are implicit in second-order cybernetics, with the aim of arriving at a better understanding of how second-order cybernetics frames living in a world with others. It further investigates implications for second-order cybernetics approaches to architectural design, i.e. the activity of designing frameworks for living.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper investigates terminology in the second-order cybernetics literature with specific attention to terms that suggest that there are ethical principles at work. It further relates second-order cybernetics to selected notions in phenomenology, pragmatism and transcendental idealism. The comparison allows for conclusions about the specificity of a second-order inquiry. In line with the thematic focus of this journal issue on the framing of shared worlds, the paper further elaborates on questions relating to the activity of designing “worlds” in which people live with others.

Findings

The paper highlights that a radical openness toward the future and toward the agency of others is inscribed in the conception of second-order cybernetics. It creates a frame of reference for conceiving social systems of all kinds, including environments that are designed to be inhabited.

Originality/value

The paper identifies an aesthetics grounded in the process of living-with-others as an ethical principle implicit in second-order cybernetics thought. It is an aesthetics that is radically open for the agency of others. Linking aesthetics and ethics, the paper’s contributions will be of specific value for practitioners and theoreticians of design. Considering second-order cybernetics as a practice generally dealing with designing, it also contributes to the wider second-order cybernetics discourse.

Details

Kybernetes, vol. 49 no. 8
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 secondorder cybernetics, architectural design processes and Leibniz's…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine shared principles of “irreducibility” or “undecidability” in secondorder 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 secondorder 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 secondorder cybernetics.

Findings

The paper demonstrates that secondorder 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 secondorder cybernetics and contemporary architectural design.

Details

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: 27 November 2017

Vladimir Lepskiy

The aim of this paper is to elaborate the connection between the evolution of cybernetics and the development of scientific rationality (classical, non-classical…

Abstract

Purpose

The aim of this paper is to elaborate the connection between the evolution of cybernetics and the development of scientific rationality (classical, non-classical, post-non-classical) and to emphasize the relevance of the formation of post-non-classical cybernetics for self-developing reflexive-active environment (the third-order cybernetics).

Design/methodology/approach

This paper includes interdisciplinary analysis of the evolution of cybernetics and possible directions of its development.

Findings

A connection between the types of scientific rationality (classical, non-classical and post-non-classical) and the stages of the development cybernetics is presented. Classical rationality is first-order cybernetics dealing with observed systems (an external observer). Non-classical rationality is second-order cybernetics dealing with observing systems (built-in observer). Post-non-classical rationality is third-order cybernetics dealing with the self-developing reflexive-active environment (distributed observer).

Research limitations/implications

This is an initial theoretical conceptualization, which needs a broader assessment and case studies.

Practical implications

This proposed direction for the analysis of cybernetics opens new approaches to social control on the basis of the subject-focused models and integration of traditional cybernetic tools.

Social implications

Third-order cybernetics will promote the development of civil society. Direct democracy receives new tools for development.

Originality/value

The value of this research is in the interdisciplinary analysis of the cybernetics evolution and in new possible directions for its development.

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Article
Publication date: 1 October 2004

Bernard Scott

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

Abstract

In 1974, Heinz von Foerster articulated the distinction between a first‐ and secondorder 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 secondorder 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: 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

Keywords

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