Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches
There are two related concepts.
- Constructivist Approaches
Will appeal to people interested in Philosophy, Cybernetics, and Systems Theory.
A. Socio Cybernetics
Socio-cybernetics can be defined as “Systems Science in Sociology and Other Social Sciences” – systems science, because sociocybernetics is not limited to theory but includes application, empirical research, methodology, axiology (i.e., ethics and value research), and epistemology. In general use, “systems theory” and “cybernetics” are frequently interchangeable or appear in combination. Hence, they can be considered as synonyms, although the two terms come from different traditions and are not used uniformly in different languages and national traditions. Sociocybernetics includes both what are called first order cybernetics and second order cybernetics. Cybernetics, according to Wiener´s original definition, is the science of “control and communication in the animal and the machine”. Heinz von Foerster went on to distinguish a first order cybernetics, “the study of observed systems”, and a second order cybernetics, “the study of observing systems”. Second order cybernetics is explicitly based on a constructivist epistemology and is concerned with issues of self-reference, paying particular attention to the observer-dependence of knowledge, including scientific theories. In the interdisciplinary and holistic spirit of systems science, although sociology is clearly at the centre of interest of sociocybernetics, the other social sciences, such as psychology, anthropology, political science, economics, are addressed as well, with emphases depending on the particular research question to be dealt with.
SOCIOCYBERNETICS traces its intellectual roots to the rise of a panoply of new approaches to scientific inquiry beginning in the 1940’s. These included General System Theory, cybernetics and information theory, game theory and automata, net, set, graph and compartment theories, and decision and queuing theory conceived as strategies in one way or another appropriate to the study of organized complexity. Although today the Research Committee casts a wide net in terms of appropriate subject matters, pertinent theoretical frameworks and applicable methodologies, the range of approaches deployed by scholars associated with RC51 reflect the maturation of these developments. Here we find, again, GST and first- and second-order cybernetics; in addition, there is widespread sensitivity to the issues raised by “complexity studies,” especially in work conceptualizing systems as self-organizing, autocatalytic or autopoietic. “System theory”, in the form given it by Niklas Luhmann, and world-systems analysis are also prominently represented within the ranks of RC51. The institutionalization of sociocybernetic approaches in what was to become RC51, the Re-search Committee on Sociocybernetics of the International Sociological Association, began in 1980 with the founding of an ISA Ad Hoc Group and proceeded with the organization of ses-sions at succeeding quadrennial World Congresses of Sociology. The eventual RC51 became a Thematic Group and then a Working Group. Finally, in recognition of its extraordinary success (growing from some 30 members in early 1995 to 240 in 1998), the group was promoted to the status of Research Committee at the 1998 World Congress of Sociology in Montreal. Over these past two decades, sociocybernetics has attracted a broad range of scholars whose departmental affiliations represent the entire spectrum of the disciplines, from the humanities and the social sciences through the sciences, mathematics and engineering. Furthermore, the many countries of origin of these RC51 members attest to the wide international appeal of sociocybernetic approaches. Within this highly diverse community, there is wide agreement on some very general issues, for instance, on developing strategies for the study of human reality that avoid reification, are cognizant of the pitfalls of reductionism and dualism, and generally eschew linear or homeostatic models. Not surprisingly, however, there are also wide divergences in subject matter, theoretical frameworks and methodological practices. Many have argued that models developed for the study of complexity can be usefully appropriated for the study of human reality. Moreover, however, the emphasis in complexity studies on contingency, context-dependency, multiple, overlapping temporal and spatial frameworks, and deterministic but unpredictable systems displaying an arrow-of-time suggest that the dividing line between the sciences and the historical social sciences is fuzzier than many might like to think. What is more, in the humanities, the uniquely modern concepts of original object and autonomous human creator have come under serious attack. The coincidence of these two phenomena substantiate the impression that across the disciplines there may be observed a new concern for spatial-temporal wholes constituted at once of relational structures and the phenomenological time of their reproduction and change. In this context of rich history and exciting possibilities, the Research Committee on Sociocybernetics of the International Sociological Association extends an open invitation through the Journal of Sociocybernetics to all engaged in the common quest to explain and understand social reality holistically and self-reflexively without forsaking a concern for human values–human values not construed simply as a matter of individual ethics, but conceived as an integral part of a social science for our time.
B. Constructivist Foundations
Constructivist Foundations (CF) is an international peer-reviewed e-journal focusing on the multidisciplinary study of the philosophical and scientific foundations and applications of constructivism and related disciplines. The journal promotes interdisciplinary discussion and cooperation among researchers and theorists working in a great number of diverse fields such as artificial intelligence, cognitive science, biology, neuroscience, psychology, educational research, linguistics, communication science, sociology, mathematics, computer science, and philosophy.
Constructivist approaches covered in the journal include the theory of autopoietic systems, enactivism, radical constructivism, second-order cybernetics, neurophenomenology, constructionism, and non-dualizing philosophy.
Constructivist approaches support the idea that mental structures such as cognition and perception are actively built by one’s mind rather than passively acquired. However, constructivist approaches vary in function of how much influence they attribute to constructions.
Many assume a dualistic relationship between reality and constructed elements. They maintain that constructed mental structures gradually adapt to the structures of the real world (e.g., Piaget). In this view perception is the pickup of information controlled by the mental structure that is constructed from earlier perceptions (e.g., Neisser). This leads to the claim that mental structures are about learning sensorimotor contingencies (e.g., O’Regan).
Others seek to avoid the dualistic position. Either they skeptically reject that the structures of the real world can be compared with mental ones, independently of the senses through which the mental structures were constructed in the first place (e.g., von Glasersfeld), or they embrace a phenomenological perspective that considers perception as the grouping of experiential complexes (e.g., Mach).
All these approaches emphasize the primacy of the cognitive system (e.g., Llinás) and its organizational closure (e.g., von Foerster, Maturana). Hence, perceived patterns and regularities may be regarded as invariants of inborn cognitive operators (e.g., Diettrich).
Constructivist approaches can be said to differ also with respect to whether constructs are considered to populate the rational-linguistic (e.g., von Glasersfeld, Schmidt) or the biological-bodily (“enactivist/embodied” theories, e.g., Varela).
Common Denominators of Constructivist Approaches
The common denominators of constructivist approaches can be summarized as follows.
- Constructivist approaches question the Cartesian separation between the objective world and subjective experience;
- Consequently, they demand the inclusion of the observer in scientific explanations;
- Representationalism is rejected; knowledge is a system-related cognitive process rather than a mapping of an objective world onto subjective cognitive structures;
- According to constructivist approaches, it is futile to claim that knowledge approaches reality; reality is brought forth by the subject rather than passively received;
- Constructivist approaches entertain an agnostic relationship with reality, which is considered beyond our cognitive horizon; any reference to it should be refrained from;
- Therefore, the focus of research moves from the world that consists of matter to the world that consists of what matters;
- Constructivist approaches focus on self-referential and organizationally closed systems; such systems strive for control over their inputs rather than their outputs;
- With regard to scientific explanations, constructivist approaches favor a process-oriented approach rather than a substance-based perspective, e.g. living systems are defined by the processes whereby they constitute and maintain their own organization;
- Constructivist approaches emphasize the “individual as personal scientist” approach; sociality is defined as accommodation within the framework of social interaction;
- Finally, constructivist approaches ask for an open and less dogmatic approach to science in order to generate the flexibility that is needed to cope with today’s scientific frontiers.
- Felix Geyer
- Ernst Von Glasersfeld
- H Maturana
- F Varela
- Heinz Von Foerster
- Niklas Luhmann
Key Sources of Research:
Constructivist Foundations (CF)
The role of sociocybernetics in understanding world futures
PRINCIPLES OF SOCIOCYBERNETICS
Bernd R. Hornung
JOURNAL OF SOCIOCYBERNETICS
THE CHALLENGE OF SOCIOCYBERNETICS
Felix Geyer and Johannes van der Zouwen
JOURNAL OF SOCIOCYBERNETICS