Cybernetics, Autopoiesis, and Social Systems Theory

Cybernetics, Autopoiesis, and Social Systems Theory

Key Developments:

  • Cybernetics to Second Order Cybernetics
  • Social Systems (Talcot Parsons) to Autopoietic Social Systems (Niklas Luhmann)
  • Semiotics to Cyber Semiotics
  • Systems Theory to Networks Theory
  • Communication Theory
  • Conversation Theory
  • Culture Theory

Key Terms and People

  • Niklas Luhmann
  • Dirk Baecker
  • F Varela
  • H Maturana
  • Heinz Von Foerster
  • George Spencer Brown
  • Charles Sanders Pierce
  • Soren Brier
  • Louis Kauffman
  • Gordon Pask
  • Second Order Cybernetics
  • Socio Cybernetics
  • Second Order Systems Theory
  • Social Systems Theory
  • Cybernetics of Cybernetics
  • Semiotics
  • Cyber Semiotics
  • Autopoiesis
  • Emergence, Embodiment, Enactment
  • Organizations in Networks

From Second Order Cybernetics

Second order Cybernetics (also known as the Cybernetics of Cybernetics, and the New Cybernetics) was developed between 1968 and 1975 in recognition of the power and consequences of cybernetic examinations of circularity. It is Cybernetics, when Cybernetics is subjected to the critique and the understandings of Cybernetics. It is the Cybernetics in which the role of the observer is appreciated and acknowledged rather than disguised, as had become traditional in western science: and is thus the Cybernetics that considers observing, rather than observed systems.

In this article, the rationale from and through the application of which, second order Cybernetics was developed is explored, together with the contributions of the main precursors and protagonists. This is developed from an examination of the nature of feedback and the Black Box—both seen as circular systems, where the circularity is taken seriously. The necessary presence of the observer doing the observing is established. The primacy of, for example, conversation over coding as a means of communication is argued-—one example of circularity and interactivity in second order cybernetic systems. Thus second order Cybernetics, understood as proposing an epistemology and (through autopoietic systems) an ontogenesis, is seen as connected to the philosophical position of Constructivism.

Examples are given of the application of second order Cybernetics concepts in practice in studies of, and applications in, communication, society, learning and cognition, math and computation, management, and design. It is asserted that the relationship between theory and practice is not essentially one of application: rather they strengthen each other by building on each other in a circularity of their own: the presentation of one before the other results from the process of explanation rather than a necessary, structural dependency.

Finally, the future of second order Cybernetics (and of Cybernetics in general) is considered. The possibility of escalation from second to third and further orders is considered, as is the notion that second order Cybernetics is, effectively, a conscience for Cybernetics. And the popular use of “cyber-” as a prefix is discussed.

 Please see my related posts:

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches

Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Cyber-Semiotics: Why Information is not enough

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics

Ratio Club: A Brief History of British Cyberneticians

Key Sources of Research:


Niklas Luhmann

TRANSLATED BY John Bednarz, Jr., with Dirk Baecker



Click to access Niklas_Luhmann_Social_Systems.pdf

Form of the Firm

Dirk Baecker

Why Systems

Dirk Baecker

Systems, Networks and Culture

Dirk Baecker


Ranulph Glanville,

Click to access Glanville-SECOND_ORDER_CYBERNETICS.pdf

Observing Networks: A Note on Asymmetrical Social Forms

Dirk Baecker

Systemic Theories of Communication

Dirk Baecker

Reintroducing Communication into Cybernetics

Dirk Baecker

Managing Corporations in Networks

Dirk Baecker

Click to access 5795f05a08ae33e89fad5f96.pdf

Niklas Luhman and Cybernetics

Cybernetics and Human Knowing

Click to access Peirce%20and%20Spencer%20Brown.pdf

Systems in Context
On the outcome of the Habermas/Luhmann‐debate

Poul Kjaer

Click to access ancilla2006_66_kjaer.pdf

The myth of the system: On the development, purpose and context of Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory

Stefan Rossbach
University of Kent at Canterbury

Click to access 30ae4fa5-2413-4e4d-a837-37c5df56f4c7.pdf

Niklas Luhmann and Organization Studies

Click to access 9788763003049.pdf

Network Society

Dirk Baecker

Shape of things to come: From the ‘laws of form’ to management in the post-growth economy

André Reichel

Click to access 17-1reichel.pdf

Luhmann’s theory of autopoietic social systems

David Seidl

Click to access paper2004_2.pdf

Systems, Network, and Culture

Dirk Baecker

Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen, Germany

Click to access baecker2.pdf

Niklas Luhmann neosystemic theory and the notion of communicative autopoiesis in organizational studies

Click to access 2b127064006ab5fedb0746faa395f9d3a5b1.pdf

A Calculus for Autopoiesis

in: Dirk Baecker und Birger P. Priddat (eds.), Ökonomie der Werte: Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Michael Hutter, Marburg: Metropolis, 2013, 249-267

15 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2012 Last revised: 1 Jun 2013

The N-Closure of the Observer

Dirk Baecker

Working the Form: George Spencer-Brown and the Mark of Distinction

Author: Mayank Chaturvedi

You can contact me using this email mchatur at the rate of AOL.COM. My professional profile is on

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