System Archetypes: Stories that Repeat

System Archetypes: Stories that Repeat

Source: Archetypes

Archetypes in stories express patterns.

While plots may be “archetypal” when they exhibit certain forms, in this post we are concerned with character archetypes.

In modern storytelling, to consider them as archetypes might suggest a bit of a corset, perhaps even a straightjacket for the characters. For today’s author, to present a character as an archetype does not seem conducive to achieving psychological verisimilitude.

But an archetype is not the same as a stereotype. An advisor or mentor does not need to be a wise old man like Obi-Wan Kenobi. And an antagonist does not need to be a baddy.

Consider archetypes as powers within a story. Like planets in a solar system, they have gravity and they therefore exert force as they move.

Archetypes denote certain general roles or functions for characters within the system of the story. There is ample room for variation within each role or function. Boundaries between one archetype and another may be fuzzy. And it is possible for one character to stand for more than one archetype.

Archetypes Through The Ages

Certain archetypes are ancient and have been around as long as stories have been told. Others may have a Christian background. Some are modern interpretations of ancient archetypes seen in the light of dramaturgical principles.

We may distinguish between three sorts of archetypes.

  • Ancient – archetypes that we find in the very oldest stories, and in very modern ones
  • Classical – archetypes that we find in works of literature of the past two thousand years
  • Role-based – modern variants that consider the dramaturgical function of characters

This categorisation has overlaps. The ancient, original archetypes, such as the Mentor, are of course also classical. And certain role-based archetypes, such as the Protagonist, may correspond to ancient ones, such as the Prince.

The Protagonist is sometimes called the Hero, a word which in terms of ancient archetypes might refer to a number of archetypes, for instance Warrior (Achilles) or Trickster (Odysseus). In the modern sense of role-based archetypes, this is the person (or rabbit, or robot, or whatever) the story is primarily about, the one whose travails the recipient, the audience or reader, follows through to the end of the story.

The Protagonist’s opposing power is the antagonism, which may be personified in an individual Antagonist. It helps to remember that in terms of function within the story, an antagonist does not necessarily have to be a villain, but is a counterforce to the protagonist (for an ancient example, consider Agamemnon and Achilles in the Iliad).

The antagonistic force is sometimes referred to as the “Shadow”. This can be misleading, since really almost every archetype has its own shadow side. A Patriarch may be presented as benevolent or “light”, or as tyrannical and “dark”. Indeed, in one story the character (or characters) representing such an archetype might show signs of both.

Characters Wearing Hats

Several of the roles or functions that you find in all sorts of stories – such as the Mentor, the Ally, the Patriarch – do not always have to be riveted to one specific character. For instance, it is quite possible that one character may have the Mentor hat on at one point in the story, and the Ally hat at another.

The point is that such forces or functions tend to be present in stories, and characters express these forces through their role or function within the story at each point in the narrative.

There is even an archetype for a character that explicitly changes roles in the story, where it becomes part of that character’s function to jump role at one or more points along the story. That is a Shapechanger.

Some archetypes are gender specific. The Patriarch/Father/King stands for different values from the Matriarch/Mother/Queen. For other archetypes, whether the character is male or female is not the point. A Shapechanger or a Trickster is defined by what the character does in the story.

So archetypes are really little more than signposts. Assigning a character an archetype is not to pressure that character into behaving in a certain way. Calling a character an archetype is merely to give us a pointer to that character’s role and function in the story. Characters that can be labelled as several archetypes tend to be multi-facetted. Hamlet, for instance, fulfils the criteria for several archetypes. So thinking about characters in terms of which archetypal roles they may play is actually a way of making the characters richer, giving them more depth, making them appear psychologically real and ultimately human.

System archetypes are the pattern which are recurrent.

Key Terms

  • Systems
  • System Archetypes
  • Feedback
  • Causal Loops
  • Delays
  • Leveraged Networks
  • The Systems Thinker
  • Daniel H Kim
  • Peter Senge
  • Barry Richmond
  • Ventana Systems
  • Isee Systems


Source: Systems Archetype Basics : From Story to Structure

Without having to climb beanstalks or push anyone into an oven, children learn lessons from fairy tales about how to hide from powerful, cruel beings, build solid dwellings, and be respectful of old people. Literary themes also show us the hero’s journey, the trials of hard work, the outcomes of faithful love and misguided passion, and the ennui of a materialistic life. In these examples from literature, the term archetype signifies a recurring, generic character, symbol, or storyline. In systems thinking, the term has a very similar meaning. It refers to recurring, generic systemic structures that are found in many kinds of organizations, under many circumstances, and at different levels or scales, from internal personal dynamics to global international relations.

Captured in the stories, structures, and behavior over time of the archetypes are similar teachings about competition, addiction, the perils of quick fixes, and the high flyer’s downfall. And as we do with stories and fairy tales, we can use the archetypes to explore generic problems and hone our awareness of the organizational dramas unfolding around us. We can even use archetypes to sharpen our ability to anticipate difficulties, communicate about them with our colleagues, and find ways to address them together.

The systems archetypes, as a group, make up one of the 10 current categories of systems thinking tools. (See Appendix B for a complete list of these tools.) Each archetype features a storyline with a distinctive theme, a particular pattern of behavior over time that can be graphed, and a unique systemic structure that can be depicted in a causal loop diagram. The value of archetypes is that we can study them apart from a specific story, problem, or organizational situation and take away generic, transferable learnings that we can then apply to many situations in our own lives.


In the 1960s and 1970s, Jay Forrester, Dennis Meadows, Donella Meadows, and other pioneers of systems thinking observed several recurring systemic structures. In the 1980s, Michael Goodman, Charles Kiefer, Jenny Kemeny, and Peter Senge built on that work, in part with the help of notes developed by John Sterman, by describing, diagramming, and cataloguing these generic systemic structures as systems templates. When Peter Senge authored The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, he referred to those structures as systems archetypes. Since then, the notion of systems archetypes has become quite popularized, and systems thinking practitioners have continued to teach, apply, and write about these recurring generic structures as well as investigate and test the potential of identifying new ones.

List of Key System Archetypes

  • Drifting Goals
  • Escalation
  • Fixes that Fail
  • Growth and Underinvestment
  • Limits to Success
  • Shifting the Burden/Addiction
  • Success to the Successful
  • Tragedy of the Commons

Source: Systems Thinking Tools: A User’s Reference Guide


Source: Systems Thinking Tools: A User’s Reference Guide


System Archetypes and Their Storylines


Archetypes and their Applications


Source: Systems Archetype Basics : From Story to Structure

Source: Systems Archetype Basics : From Story to Structure

Source: Systems Archetype Basics : From Story to Structure

Source: Systems Archetype Basics : From Story to Structure

Growth Archetypes

Source: A theory of spatial system archetypes

➤ A Glossary of Systems Thinking Tools

Source: Systems Archetype Basics : From Story to Structure

Systems thinking can serve as a language for communicating about complexity and interdependencies. To be fully conversant in any language, you must gain some mastery of the vocabulary, especially the phrases and idioms unique to that language. This glossary lists many terms that may come in handy when you’re faced with a systems problem.


Anything that builds up or dwindles; for example, water in a bathtub, savings in a bank account, inventory in a warehouse. In modeling software, a stock is often used as a generic symbol for accumulators. Also known as Stock or Level.

Balancing Process/Loop 

Combined with reinforcing loops, balancing processes form the building blocks of dynamic systems. Balancing processes seek equilibrium: They try to bring things to a desired state and keep them there. They also limit and constrain change generated by reinforcing processes. A balancing loop in a causal loop diagram depicts a balancing process.

Balancing Process with Delay 

A commonly occurring structure. When a bal- ancing process has a long delay, the usual response is to overcorrect. Over- correction leads to wild swings in behavior. Example: real estate cycles.

Behavior Over Time (BOT) Graph 

One of the 10 tools of systems thinking. BOT graphs capture the history or trend of one or more variables over time. By sketching several variables on one graph, you can gain an explicit understanding of how they interact over time. Also called Reference Mode.

Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) 

One of the 10 tools of systems thinking. Causal loop diagrams capture how variables in a system are interrelated. A CLD takes the form of a closed loop that depicts cause-and-effect linkages.

Drifting Goals 

A systems archetype. In a “Drifting Goals” scenario, a gradual downward slide in performance goals goes unnoticed, threatening the long- term future of the system or organization. Example: lengthening delivery delays.


A systems archetype. In the “Escalation” archetype, two parties compete for superiority in an arena. As one party’s actions put it ahead, the other party “retaliates” by increasing its actions. The result is a continual ratcheting up of activity on both sides. Examples: price battles, the Cold War.


The return of information about the status of a process. Example: annual performance reviews return information to an employee about the quality of his or her work.

Fixes That Fail 

A systems archetype. In a “Fixes That Fail” situation, a fix is applied to a problem and has immediate positive results. However, the fix also has unforeseen long-term consequences that eventually worsen the problem. Also known as “Fixes That Backfire.”


The amount of change something undergoes during a particular unit of time. Example: the amount of water that flows out of a bathtub each minute, or the amount of interest earned in a savings account each month. Also called a Rate.

Generic Structures 

Structures that can be generalized across many different settings because the underlying relationships are fundamentally the same. Systems archetypes are a class of generic structures.

Graphical Function Diagram (GFD) 

One of the 10 tools of systems thinking. GFDs show how one variable, such as delivery delays, interacts with another, such as sales, by plotting the relationship between the two over the entire range of relevant values. The resulting diagram is a concise hypothesis of how the two variables interrelate. Also called Table Function.

Growth and Underinvestment 

A systems archetype. In this situation, resource investments in a growing area are not made, owing to short-term pressures. As growth begins to stall because of lack of resources, there is less incentive for adding capacity, and growth slows even further.

Learning Laboratory 

One of the 10 tools of systems thinking. A learning lab- oratory embeds a management flight simulator in a learning environment. Groups of managers use a combination of systems thinking tools to explore the dynamics of a particular system and inquire into their own understand- ing of that system. Learning labs serve as a manager’s practice field.


See Accumulator.

Leverage Point 

An area where small change can yield large improvements in a system.

Limits to Success 

A systems archetype. In a “Limits to Success” scenario, a company or product line grows rapidly at first, but eventually begins to slow or even decline. The reason is that the system has hit some limit— capacity constraints, resource limits, market saturation, etc.—that is inhibiting further growth. Also called “Limits to Growth.”

Management Flight Simulator (MFS) 

One of the 10 tools of systems thinking. Similar to a pilot’s flight simulator, an MFS allows managers to test the outcome of different policies and decisions without “crashing and burning” real companies. An MFS is based on a system dynamics computer model that has been changed into an interactive decision-making simulator through the use of a user interface.

Policy Structure Diagram 

One of the 10 tools of systems thinking. Policy structure diagrams are used to create a conceptual “map” of the decision- making process that is embedded in an organization. It highlights the fac- tors that are weighed at each decision point.


See Flow.

Reference Mode 

See Behavior Over Time Graph.

Reinforcing Process/Loop 

Along with balancing loops, reinforcing loops form the building blocks of dynamic systems. Reinforcing processes com- pound change in one direction with even more change in that same direc- tion. As such, they generate both growth and collapse. A reinforcing loop in a causal loop diagram depicts a reinforcing process. Also known as vicious cycles or virtuous cycles.

Shifting the Burden 

A systems archetype. In a “Shifting the Burden” situa- tion, a short-term solution is tried that successfully solves an ongoing prob- lem. As the solution is used over and over again, it takes attention away from more fundamental, enduring solutions. Over time, the ability to apply a fundamental solution may decrease, resulting in more and more reliance on the symptomatic solution. Examples: drug and alcohol dependency.

Shifting the Burden to the Intervener 

A special case of the “Shifting the Burden” systems archetype that occurs when an intervener is brought in to help solve an ongoing problem. Over time, as the intervener successfully handles the problem, the people within the system become less capable of solving the problem themselves. They become even more dependent on the intervener. Example: ongoing use of outside consultants.

Simulation Model 

One of the 10 tools of systems thinking. A computer model that lets you map the relationships that are important to a problem or an issue and then simulate the interaction of those variables over time.


See Accumulator.

Structural Diagram 

Draws out the accumulators and flows in a system, giving an overview of the major structural elements that produce the system’s behavior. Also called flow diagram or accumulator/flow diagram.

Structure-Behavior Pair 

One of the 10 tools of systems thinking. A structure- behavior pair consists of a structural representation of a business issue, using accumulators and flows, and the corresponding behavior over time (BOT) graph for the issue being studied.


The manner in which a system’s elements are organized or interre- lated. The structure of an organization, for example, could include not only the organizational chart but also incentive systems, information flows, and interpersonal interactions.

Success to the Successful 

A systems archetype. In a “Success to the Success- ful” situation, two activities compete for a common but limited resource. The activity that is initially more successful is consistently given more resources, allowing it to succeed even more. At the same time, the activity that is initially less successful becomes starved for resources and eventually dies out. Example: the QWERTY layout of typewriter keyboards.

System Dynamics 

A field of study that includes a methodology for constructing computer simulation models to achieve better understanding of social and corporate systems. It draws on organizational studies, behavioral decision theory, and engineering to provide a theoretical and empirical base for structuring the relationships in complex systems.


A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements form- ing a complex whole. Almost always defined with respect to a specific pur- pose within a larger system. Example: An R&D department is a system that has a purpose in the context of the larger organization.

Systems Archetypes 

One of the 10 tools of systems thinking. Systems archetypes are the “classic stories” in systems thinking—common patterns and structures that occur repeatedly in different settings.

Systems Thinking 

A school of thought that focuses on recognizing the inter- connections between the parts of a system and synthesizing them into a unified view of the whole.

Table Function 

See Graphical Function Diagram.


A tool used to identify systems archetypes. To use a template, you fill in the blank variables in causal loop diagrams.

Tragedy of the Commons 

A systems archetype. In a “Tragedy of the Commons” scenario, a shared resource becomes overburdened as each person in the system uses more and more of the resource for individual gain. Eventually, the resource dwindles or is wiped out, resulting in lower gains for everyone involved. Example: the Greenhouse Effect.

The above glossary is a compilation of definitions from many sources, including:

  • Innovation Associates’ and GKA’s Introduction to Systems Thinking coursebooks
  • The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, by Peter Senge
  • High Performance Systems’ Academic User’s Guide to STELLA
  • The American Heritage Dictionary and The Random House Dictionary.

Systems Thinking Tools


Source: Systems Thinking Tools: A User’s Reference Guide

Source: Systems Thinking Tools: A User’s Reference Guide

Systems Thinking Publications


The Systems Thinker


The Language of Links and Loops

Source: System Archetypes I

My Releated Posts

Jay W. Forrester and System Dynamics

Feedback Thought in Economics and Finance

Stock Flow Consistent Models for Ecological Economics

What are Problem Structuring Methods?

Law of Dependent Origination

Oscillations and Amplifications in Demand-Supply Network Chains

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics

Stock Flow Consistent Input Output Models (SFCIO)

Stock-Flow Consistent Modeling

Myth of Invariance: Sound, Music, and Recurrent Events and Structures

Systems Biology: Biological Networks, Network Motifs, Switches and Oscillators

Key Sources of Research



Systems Archetype Basics

From Story to Structure

Daniel H. Kim
Virginia Anderson

Introduction to Systems Thinking

Daniel H. Kim

Systems Archetypes I: Diagnosing Systemic Issues and Designing High-Leverage Interventions

The System Thinker

Pegasus Communications

Systems Archetypes II: Using Systems Archetypes to Take Effective Action

The System Thinker

Pegasus Communications

Systems Archetypes III: Understanding Patterns of Behavior and Delay

by Daniel H. Kim
© 2000 by Pegasus Communications, Inc.
First edition.

First printing March 2000

Systems Thinking Tools: A User’s Reference Guide







Click to access Vol.%2021%20No.%203,%20abr.%202010.pdf

Systems Thinking Basics: From Concepts to Causal Loops

Book by Virginia Anderson



Tools for Systems Thinkers: The 12 Recurring Systems Archetypes

Disruptive Design

The System Archetypes 

By William Braun


By Jorge Taborga

Saybrook Forum, Human Experience – Monday, August 15, 2011

Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg: Using Systems Archetypes to Understand Common and Recurring Issues in Sports Coaching

Scott McLean1*Gemma J. M. Read1Adam Hulme1Karl Dodd1Adam D. Gorman2Colin Solomon1,3 and Paul M. Salmon1

  • 1Centre for Human Factors and Sociotechnical Systems, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, QLD, Australia
  • 2School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
  • 3School of Health and Sports Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, QLD, Australia


Interaction Structures of the Universe

Systems: Schools of Thought and Traditions of Practice

W. Barnett Pearce
Fielding Graduate University
Public Dialogue Consortium
Pearce Associates
CMM Institute for Personal and Social Evolution

On systems thinking in logistics management – A critical perspective

Magnus Lindskog

June 2012

Department of Science and Technology Linköpings universitet, SE-581 83 Linköping, Sweden

Applying resilience thinking

Seven principles for building resilience in social-ecological systems

An Introduction to Systems Thinking

by Barry Richmond

Chapter 1 Featuring Stella

ISBN 0-9704921-1-1

isee systems
Phone: (603) 643.9636

Systems Thinking: A Review and Bibliometric Analysis 

Niamat Ullah Ibne Hossain , Vidanelage L. Dayarathna, Morteza Nagahi and Raed Jaradat *

Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA; (N.U.I.H.); (V.L.D.); (M.N.)



17-18 September 2019, OECD Conference Centre

Edited by Gabriela Ramos, William Hynes, Jan-Marco Müller and Martin Lees


A Dissertation
Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School
of Cornell University
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Derek Anthony Cabrera May 2006;sequence=1

Systems thinking: critical thinking skills for the 1990s and beyond

Barry Richmond

System Dynamics Review Vol. 9, no. 2 (Summer 1993):113-133

System Dynamics/Systems Thinking: Let’s Just Get On With It

Barry Richmond

Delivered at the 1994 International Systems Dynamics Conference in Sterling, Scotland

Thinking in Systems

Donella H. Meadows





Systems Thinking Resources

Using generic system archetypes to support thinking and modelling

Eric Wolstenholme

System Dynamics Review Volume 20 Number 4 Winter 2004

System Archetypes as Diagnostic Tools

Daniel H Kim

Using System Archetypes to Identify Failure Patterns in Acquisition

Diane Gibson Linda Levine, PhD William E. Novak
May 2, 2006

An Approach for the Development of Complex Systems Archetypes

Walter Lee Akers
Old Dominion University,

(2015). Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Dissertation, Engineering Management & Systems Engineering, Old Dominion University, DOI: 10.25777/6xmx-r674

Thinking systemically about ecological interventions: what do system archetypes teach us?

Lauren M. HallettRichard J. Hobbs

First published: 11 June 2020

Use of System Archetypes to Accelerate, Advance, and Deepen Systems Thinking Skills of Nurses

Daniel J Pesut PhD RN FAAN
Professor of Nursing Population Health and Systems Cooperative Unit Director of the Katharine Densford International Center for Nursing Leadership University of Minnesota School of Nursing
308 Harvard St. SE


Judith Pechacek, DNP, RN, CENP University of Minnesota, School of Nursing

Clinical Associate Professor
Director, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program 308 Harvard St. SE


System Archetypes

System Innovation


How to Guides

The System Thinker

Using the Archetypes

System Archetypes at a Glance

Palette of System Thinking Tools


A theory of spatial system archetypes

Todd K. BenDor* and Nikhil Kaza

System Dynamics Review

System Dynamics Review vol 28, No 2 (April-June 2012): 109–130


Frames in Interaction

Frames in Interaction

Key Terms

  • Interaction
  • Frames
  • Frames in Interaction
  • Cognitive Frames
  • Media Frames
  • Audience Frame
  • Multiple Frames
  • Ambiguity
  • Uncertainty
  • Unpredictability
  • Incomplete Knowledge
  • Frame Production
  • Frame Alignment
  • Dialectics
  • Dialogical Interaction
  • Learning
  • Individual Learning
  • Social Learning
  • Agenda Setting
  • Priming

Interacting Frames

  • Frames in Interaction
    • Interaction as a cause of frame production, reflection, learning and frame alignment.
  • Competing Frames
    • Differing perspectives on a current issue. Contesting and competing.
  • Frames of Possibilities
    • Farmes of possible future due to uncertainty. Scenarios of future states.
  • Media Frames and Audience frames
    • Dielectics between media frames and audience frames

Frames – Sociological and Psychological

Source: CONCEPTUAL ISSUES IN FRAMING THEORY: A Systematic Examination of a Decade’s Literature

Conceptually, framing can be said to have two broad foundations—sociological (Entman, 1991; Gamson & Modigliani, 1987; Gitlin, 1980; Goffman, 1974) and psychological (Domke, Shah, & Wackman, 1998; Iyengar, 1991; Kahneman & Tversky, 1984). Framing research that grew from sociological foundations refers to the ‘‘frames in communication’’ (Chong & Druckman, 2007b, p. 106). In general, this research tends to focus on the ‘‘words, images, phrases, and presentation styles’’ (Druckman, 2001, p. 227) that are used to construct news stories and the processes that shape this construction.

Goffman (1974) was one of the first scholars to have developed the general concept of framing. As such, frames help people organize what they see in everyday life. Goffman calls frames the ‘‘schemata of interpretation,’’ a framework that helps in making an otherwise meaningless succession of events into something meaningful (p. 21). Gitlin (1980) defines frames as devices that facilitate how journalists organize enormous amounts of information and package them effectively for their audiences. He sees frames as ‘‘persistent patterns of cognition, interpretation, and presentation, of selection, emphasis, and exclusion,’’ organizing the information for both the journalists and their audiences (p. 7). According to Entman (1993), framing involves selection and salience—‘‘to frame is to select some aspects of perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described’’ (p. 52). Framing could have significant connotations as frames highlight some aspects of reality while excluding other elements, which might lead individuals to interpret issues differently.

Besides examining media frames, researchers have most enthusiastically studied the processes involved in the formation of the audience frame. There is much research that demonstrates how news framing influences information processing and the subsequent decision-making processes. Kahneman and Tversky (1979, 1984) were the first to demonstrate how different presentations of essentially the same information can have an impact on people’s choices. They found that individuals were inclined to take risks when ‘‘losses’’ are highlighted. But when the same information is presented in terms of ‘‘gains,’’ individuals shy away from risks. This approach, called ‘‘equivalency’’ (Druckman, 2001, p. 228), examines the influence of different but logically equivalent messages. In this approach, all factual and stylistic elements are comparable so that the pure influence of the frame can be observed. The ‘‘equivalency’’ perspective draws extensively on the experiments of risk-gain research (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979, 1984).

The ‘‘emphasis’’ (Druckman, 2001, p. 230) approach to framing demonstrates that accentuating certain considerations in a message can influence individuals to focus on those particular considerations. Scholars (Domke et al., 1998; Iyengar, 1991; McLeod & Detenber, 1999; Nelson, Clawson, & Oxley, 1997; Valkenburg, Semetko, & de Vreese, 1999) aligned to this interpretation of framing maintain that it is not always possible to manipulate a frame without changing some of the facts. Druckman (2004) aptly points out that in many cases, especially with political issues, there is not always a way to present a situation in different but equivalent ways. Instead, emphasis framing effects refer to situations when, by ‘‘emphasizing a subset of potentially relevant considerations,’’ individuals are led to focus on these considerations in the decision-making process (Druckman, 2004, p. 672). Thus, for political issues the concept of framing usually refers to ‘‘characterizations’’ of a course of action where a central idea provides meaning to the event (Sniderman & Theriault, 2004, p. 136). It is within ‘‘emphasis’’ framing that scholars have again differentiated frames—episodic versus thematic (Iyengar, 1991); strategy versus issue (Cappella & Jamieson, 1997); in terms of values (Brewer & Gross, 2005; Shah et al., 1996) to name a few.

The dual nature of framing research—frames in the news versus frames in the individuals’ minds—is evident. Scholars have examined both areas of literature in the past decades.

Frame competition

Source: CONCEPTUAL ISSUES IN FRAMING THEORY: A Systematic Examination of a Decade’s Literature

Moreover, in previous experimental research, scholars have focused largely on how different frames can affect the audiences’ attitudes, their learning, or political behavior. These studies have mainly focused on the difference of framing effects in single frame conditions, for instance, strategic versus value framing, loss versus gain, or episodic versus thematic (Iyengar, 1987, 1991; Nelson, Clawson, et al., 1997; Shah et al., 1996). However, there has been little research on the effects of multiple frame conditions, where the same subjects get alternative frames of an issue (Shah, Kwak, Schmierbach, & Zubric, 2004; Sniderman & Theriault, 2004). In general ‘‘the role of multiple competing frames has gone largely unexplored’’ (Chong & Druckman, 2007a, p. 101).

To be able to capture what actually happens in politics, ‘‘it is necessary to have an additional condition in framing experiments, in which opposing frames are presented together’’ (Sniderman & Theriault, 2004, p. 146). The authors consider ‘‘ambivalence’’ as key for framing effects (p. 137). They argue that the very nature of politics requires choices to be made between competing values. So value conflict is critical to the link between issue framing and political judgment. As such, the present study examined the published literature for the presence of studies exploring mixed frames.

Frames, Frame Effects, and Multiple Frames in Interaction

Sources: Toward a Relational Concept of Uncertainty: about Knowing Too Little, Knowing Too Differently, and Accepting Not to Know

Framing research has important roots in the work on cognitive biases and decision heuristics (Tversky and Kahneman 1981, De Martino et al. 2006). From this perspective, frames are representations of the external world, but these heuristic representations are biased when compared with accurate, decision theoretical representations (cf. Tversky and Kahneman 1981). This view has been adopted in classical decision-making theory, and served as a basis to study inconsistencies underlying judgment and choice (e.g., Kahneman and Tversky’s (1996) work on judgmental heuristics and limitations of intuitive choice). In this context, “framing effects” represent a violation of the standard economic account of human rationality. Having different formulations of what decision theory considers to be the same problem (in terms of expected utility) elicits different preferences: risk aversion can be encouraged by framing the situation in terms of gains, whereas risk seeking is encouraged by framing the situation in terms of losses (Tversky and Kahneman 1981). Although we do not share the assumption of the decision-heuristic approach that there is always a unique and correct decision theoretical formulation of a decision problem, this research does demonstrate that formulating a problem in a different way may elicit distinct decision preferences (Tversky and Kahneman 1981), affecting the meaning of and the importance attributed to uncertain information, and pointing toward different actions.

We understand frames as sense-making devices (Weick 1995) that mediate the interpretation of reality by adding meaning to a situation. The same situation can thus be framed in multiple, equally valid ways. For example, a situation of water shortage can be framed as a problem of “insufficient water supply” by one actor and, one of “excessive water consumption” by another. When a problem is framed as insufficient water supply, the most relevant uncertainties will be those associated with the amount of water available, and technical solutions that help avoiding water shortage can be favored (e.g., adopt a more efficient irrigation technology, Koundouri et al. 2006). However, when the problem is framed as an excessive water consumption issue, other solutions can be considered, such as changing the way in which water is used and consumed (e.g., diversification of crops). In this case, uncertainties associated with how society will react to a change in land use, or policies that stimulate the change (e.g., Common Agricultural Policy) will be the most important. In this way, frames significantly affect how meaning is inferred and how a situation is understood, serving to define a problem relative to core values and assumptions and to determine how to respond to it (Nisbet and Mooney 2007).

There have been two main approaches to framing research, namely, a cognitive approach where frames are defined as “cognitive representations,” and an interactional approach where frames are defined as “interactional co-constructions” (an in-depth comparison of both approaches can be found in Dewulf et al. (2008)). The cognitive approach has focused on frames as knowledge structures. It is based on the idea that frames are memory structures that help us organize and interpret incoming perceptual information by fitting it into pre-existing categories about reality (Minsky 1975). In contrast, the interactional approach focuses on how parties negotiate frame alignments in interactions. It considers frames as communicative devices, that is interactional alignments or co-constructions that are negotiated and produced in the ongoing interaction through “metacommunication” that indicates how a situation should be understood. From this perspective, frames are co-constructions of the meaning of the external world. This view has been adopted in multiparty collaborations and is exemplified in Dewulf et al. (2004) and Putnam and Holmer (1992).

Here, we adopt an interactional approach, where framing is defined as the process through which the meaning of a situation is negotiated among different actors (Putnam and Holmer 1992, Gray 2003a, Dewulf et al. 2004). Thus, framing is thought to be an interactive process where actors are engaged in developing an understanding of problems and alternative solutions. It is through the joint activities of framing, and reframing, that the actors can arrive at a joint problem definition. From this social experience, a common language and a new sense of community can emerge, opening up possibilities for further creativity and developments, and fostering learning and change (Bouwen 2001).

In our definition of uncertainty, we incorporate the concept of multiple frames, in order to capture the difference among multiple forms of knowledge. We consider each frame to represent a potentially valid view of a situation, reflecting the viewpoint of a particular community of practice (Bouwen 2001). Under the rationale of an interactional approach to framing research, we acknowledge the social processing of uncertain information and capture the interactions among actors during deliberative processes of framing and reframing. However, during these processes, encountering multiple frames that are incompatible is unavoidable, and results in ambiguity about the meaning and importance attributed to uncertain information.

Next, we discuss and describe some of the implications of ambiguity in the conceptualization of uncertainty.

Source: Towards a relational concept of uncertainty: Incorporating the human dimension

Source: Towards a relational concept of uncertainty: Incorporating the human dimension

Source: More is not always better: Coping with ambiguity in natural resources management

Strategies for dealing with Multiple Knowledge Frames

Source: Towards a relational concept of uncertainty: Incorporating the human dimension

Multiple or conflicting views about how to understand the system often represent different kinds of knowledge that are difficult to reconcile or integrate. The incompatibility in frames may result from different scientific backgrounds, from differences between context-specific experiential knowledge and general expert knowledge, from different societal positions of ideological backgrounds, and so forth.

In relational terms, actor A has a certain knowledge relation to phenomenon X, and actor B has a different knowledge relation to the same phenomenon X. In these kind of situations, relevant strategies address the relation between A and B and have something to do with dealing with differences.

We draw on a Table (Table 2) from Bouwen, Dewulf & Craps (2006) to give an overview of relevant strategies to deal with multiple knowledge frames.

Action PrincipleAccept. ofInterde- pendenceProcessCharac- teristicsPossible OutcomesContextContingen- cies
Persuasive Communic ationApproachPersuasionModerateExposure to persuasionAdoption or imitationUnequal involvement or competence
Dialogical LearningApproachMutual Interactive LearningHighJoint discovery and exchangeMutual understandi ng and synergyShared involvement
Negotiation ApproachTit for that, deal makingHigh/ moderateNegotiation tactical phasesFair deal, settlementCalculative involvement
Opposition al Modes ofActioncold or hot conflictLow or negationKeeping distance or escalationFreeze or dominanceMutual negation or fight

Table 2. Strategies to deal with multiple frames

The first strategy can be called the persuasive communication approach. This consists of trying to convince others of your own frame of reference, not by imposing it but by presenting it as attractive and worthwhile. This strategy is successful if others can be convinced to adopt your own frame of reference.

The second strategy is the dialogical learning approach, where the aim is to understand each other’s frames better through open dialogue and encourage learning on all sides. The literature on participation, organizational learning and consensual group decision making documents extensively this approach (Argyris and Schön, 1978; Wenger, 1998). The emphasis is on the interactive nature and reciprocal quality of the communication. Actors engage with each other as equally valuable partners and inclusion of all actors is the overall goal.

The negotiation approach aims at reaching a mutually beneficial and integrative agreement which makes sense from multiple perspectives or frames. Theories of conflict in organizations deal extensively with these negotiation strategies. Actors engage in a mutual calculative information sharing and positioning strategy. They develop alternative packages for giving and taking to come to a balanced sharing of positives and negatives. The negotiation can have a dominantly ‘integrating’ quality when both actors develop in common some synergetic win-win outcomes. The negotiation can rather be ‘distributive’ when the actors take a win-loose position and they distribute equally profits and gains in an antagonistic way.

The fourth strategy is the oppositional mode. When parties have a history of rivalry for resources or they don’t have any history of collaboration, taking or holding distance is likely. In conflict theory the distinction is made between cold and hot conflict. Cold conflict means that there is no recognition of mutual interdependence and distancing from each other is a dominant mode of operating. Hot conflict refers to heated opposition as a result of an adversarial experience of the mutual interdependency. Parties try by force a strategy to change the power difference in the relationship. When it comes to some form of collaboration, parties will move their strategy in the direction of a negotiation approach.

My Related Posts

Frames, Framing and Reframing

Frames, Communication, and Public Policymaking

What are Problem Structuring Methods?

Phenomenology and Symbolic Interactionism

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

Erving Goffman: Dramaturgy of Social Life

Narrative, Rhetoric and Possible Worlds

Key Sources of Research

Framing mechanisms: the interpretive policy entrepreneur’s toolbox,

Ewert Aukes, Kris Lulofs & Hans Bressers (2017):

Critical Policy Studies, DOI: 10.1080/19460171.2017.1314219

“From Interactions to Institutions: Microprocesses of Framing and Mechanisms for the Structuring of Institutional Fields”

Gray, Barbara; Purdy, Jill M.; and Ansari, Shahzad (Shaz),

(2015). Business Publications. 79.

Contrasting frames in policy debates on climate change adaptation

Art Dewulf∗

Issue Framing in Conversations for Change: Discursive Interaction Strategies for “Doing Differences”

Art Dewulf1 and René Bouwen2

The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science XX(X) 1–26 2012

Deliberating Our Frames: How Members of Multi‑Stakeholder Initiatives Use Shared Frames to Tackle Within‑Frame Conflicts Over Sustainability Issues

Angelika Zimmermann1 · Nora Albers2 · Jasper O. Kenter3

Received: 11 December 2019 / Accepted: 5 March 2021

Journal of Business Ethics

Disentangling approaches to framing in conflict and negotiation research:

A meta-paradigmatic perspective

Art Dewulf, Barbara Gray, Linda Putnam, Roy Lewicki,

Noelle Aarts, Rene Bouwen and Cees van Woerkum

Human Relations

DOI: 10.1177/0018726708100356

Volume 62(2): 155–193 Copyright © 2009

Toward a Relational Concept of Uncertainty: about Knowing Too Little, Knowing Too Differently, and Accepting Not to Know

Marcela Brugnach 1Art Dewulf 2Claudia Pahl-Wostl and Tharsi Taillieu 3

1Institute for Environmental Systems Research, University of Osnabrück, 2Public Administration and Policy Group, Wageningen University, 3Center for Work, Organizational and Personnel Psychology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Ambiguity: the challenge of knowing and deciding together

M. Brugnach a,*, H. Ingram b,c

a Faculty of Engineering Technology, University of Twente, The Netherlands b Southwest Center, University of Arizona, United States
c School of Social Ecology, University of California Irvine, United States

environmental science & policy 15 (2012) 60–71

Agenda-Setting, Priming, and Framing Revisited: Another Look at Cognitive Effects of Political Communication

Dietram A. Scheufele 

Pages 297-316 | Published online: 17 Nov 2009

Mass Communication and Society 

Volume 3, 2000 – Issue 2-3

Framing, Agenda Setting, and Priming: The Evolution of Three Media Effects Models

Dietram A. Scheufele1 & David Tewksbury2

1 Department of Life Sciences Communication and School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, WI 53706
2 Department of Speech Communication and Department of Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801

Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916

Framing as a Theory of Media Effects

by Dietram A. Scheufele

The End of Framing as we Know it . . . and the Future of Media Effects

Michael A. Cacciatore

Department of Advertising and Public Relations University of Georgia

Dietram A. Scheufele

Department of Life Sciences Communication University of Wisconsin and Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania

Shanto Iyengar

Department of Communication and Department of Political Science Stanford University

Mass Communication and Society, 19:7–23, 2016

The State of Framing Research: A Call for New Directions

Dietram A. Scheufele and Shanto Iyengar
The Oxford Handbook of Political Communication

Edited by Kate Kenski and Kathleen Hall Jamieson

Subject: Political Science, Political Methodology, Political Behavior
Online Publication Date: Oct 2014 DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199793471.013.47

News Framing Theory and Research

David Tewksbury and Dietram A. Scheufele

Social Movements

An Insider’s Critique of the Social Movement Framing Perspective”

Robert D. Benford, University of Nebrasku- Lincoln

Framing Social Interaction. Continuities and Cracks in Goffman’s Frame Analysis

  • August 2018


  • ISBN: 9781315582931


Anders Persson


Juliane Reinecke

King’s Business School,

King’s College London, Bush House, 30 Aldwych London, WC2B 4BG United Kingdom
Phone: +44 20 7848 8753 Email:

Shahzad (Shaz) Ansari

Judge Business School University of Cambridge Cambridge, CB2 1AG United Kingdom Phone: +44 1223 768 128 Email:

Forthcoming in the Academy of Management Journal, Published Online: 1 Apr 2020

Are Logics Enough? Framing as an Alternative Tool for Understanding Institutional Meaning Making

Jill Purdy

Milgard School of Business University of Washington Tacoma

Shaz Ansari

Cambridge Judge Business School University of Cambridge

Barbara Gray

Smeal College of Business The Pennsylvania State University;jsessionid=67B97F57301F833C96876E1CD4078A5C?sequence=3

Priming and Framing

Chapter 13 in Book

The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Sociology

edited by Wayne H. Brekhus, Gabe Ignatow

Thoughts on Agenda Setting, Framing, and Priming

David H. Weaver

School of Journalism, University of Indiana, Bloomington, IN 47405

Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916

Framing Bias: Media in the Distribution of Power

Robert M. Entman

School of Media and Public Affairs, The George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052

Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916

Click to access Media%20and%20framing%20bias.pdf

A Failure to Communicate: Agenda Setting in Media and Policy Studies,

Michelle Wolfe , Bryan D. Jones & Frank R. Baumgartner (2013)

Political Communication, 30:2, 175-192, DOI: 10.1080/10584609.2012.737419

Media Effects Theory


Washington State University, USA

The International Encyclopedia of Political Communication, First Edition. Edited by Gianpietro Mazzoleni. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

DOI: 10.1002/9781118541555.wbiepc156

Attribute agenda setting, priming and the media’s influence on how to think about a controversial issue

Sei-Hill Kim

University of South Carolina, USA

Miejeong Han

Hanyang University, South Korea

Doo-Hun Choi

University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

Jeong-Nam Kim

Purdue University, USA

the International Communication Gazette 74(1) 43–59 a  2012

DOI: 10.1177/1748048511426991

A Theory of Framing and Opinion Formation in Competitive Elite Environments

Dennis Chong & James N. Druckman

Department of Political Science, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208

Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916


Douglas M. McLeod University of Wisconsin-Madison

Gerald M. Kosicki The Ohio State University

Jack M. McLeod University of Wisconsin-Madison

Chapter in Book MEDIA EFFECTS Advances in Theory and Research Third Edition


Dennis Chong and James N. Druckman

Department of Political Science, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208; email:;

Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 2007. 10:103–26

doi: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.10.072805.103054

Conceptual Issues in Framing Theory:

A Systematic Examination of a Decade’s Literature

Porismita Borah

School of Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53726, USA

Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916

Click to access Conceptual-Issues-in-Framing-Theory-A-Systematic-Examination-of-a-Decades-Literature.pdf

Disentangling approaches to framing in conflict and negotiation research:

A meta-paradigmatic perspective

Art Dewulf, Barbara Gray, Linda Putnam, Roy Lewicki,

Noelle Aarts, Rene Bouwen and Cees van Woerkum

Human Relations 2009

DOI: 10.1177/0018726708100356

Volume 62(2): 155–193

Towards a relational concept of uncertainty: Incorporating the human dimension

Brugnach, M.1; A. Dewulf 2; C. Pahl-Wostl 1 and T. Taillieu 3

1. Universität Osnabrück, Germany
2. Wageningen University, The Netherlands
3. Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
Contact author: Marcela Brugnach,

Social Learning and Water Resources Management

Author(s): Claudia Pahl-Wostl, Marc Craps, Art Dewulf, Erik Mostert, David Tabara and Tharsi Taillieu

Source: Ecology and Society , Dec 2007, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Dec 2007) Published by: Resilience Alliance Inc.

Stable URL:


A Comprehensive Approach to Today’s Complex Planetary Issues

Sean Esbjörn-Hargens Michael E. Zimmerman

The Variety of Integral Ecologies
Nature, Culture, and Knowledge in the Planetary Era

Sam Mickey – Editor
Sean Kelly – Editor
Adam Robbert – Editor
Mary Evelyn Tucker – Foreword by

SUNY series in Integral Theory
Release Date: June 2017
ISBN13: 978-1-4384-6527-2

Integrated management of natural resources: dealing with ambiguous issues, multiple actors and diverging frames

A. Dewulf*, M. Craps*, R. Bouwen*, T. Taillieu* and C. Pahl-Wostl**

*Center for Organizational and Personnel Psychology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Tiensestraat 102, 3000 Leuven, Belgium (E-mail:,,,
**Institute of Environmental Systems Research, University of Osnabru ̈ck, Albrechtstrasse 28, Osnabru ̈ck, Germany (E-mail:

Integral Ecology


Foreword by Marc Bekoff

Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World

Sean Esbjörn-Hargens and Ken Wilber

March 25, 2009

Governance Capabilities for Dealing Wisely With Wicked Problems

Catrien J. A. M. Termeer1, Art Dewulf1, Gerard Breeman1, and Sabina J. Stiller1

Administration & Society XX(X) 1–31 © 2012

DOI: 10.1177/0095399712469195

More is not always better: Coping with ambiguity in natural resources management

M. Brugnach a, b, *, A. Dewulf c, H.J. Henriksen d, P. van der Keur d

a Faculty of Engineering Technology, University of Twente, The Netherlands
b Institute for Environmental Systems Research, University of Osnabrück, Germany c Public Administration and Policy Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands d Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Denmark

Journal of Environmental Management xxx (2010) 1e7

Issue Framing in Conversations for Change: Discursive Interaction Strategies for “Doing Differences”

Art Dewulf1 and René Bouwen2

The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science XX(X) 1–26 2012

DOI: 10.1177/0021886312438858

Contrasting frames in policy debates on climate change adaptation

Art Dewulf∗

Defining Uncertainty A Conceptual Basis for Uncertainty Management in Model-Based Decision Support



Integrated Assessment 1389-5176/03/0000-000


The Constructionist Approach to Framing: Bringing Culture Back In

Baldwin Van Gorp

Department of Communication Science, Radboud University Nijmegen, 6500 HC Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916

What are Problem Structuring Methods?

What are Problem Structuring Methods?


Problem structuring methods provide a methodological complement to theories of policy design. Arguably, structuring a problem is a prerequisite of designing solutions for that problem.4 In this context, problem structuring methods are metamethods. They are “about” and “come before” processes of policy design and other forms of problem solving.

Source: Strategic Development: Methods and Models

Key Terms

  • PSM
  • Soft OR
  • Hard OR
  • Unstructured Problems
  • Systems
  • System Sciences
  • SODA Strategic Options Development and Analysis
  • SSM Soft Systems Methodology
  • SCA Strategic Choice Approach
  • Robustness Analysis
  • Drama Theory
  • Interactive Planning
  • Scenario Planning
  • Critical Systems Heuristics
  • SWOT
  • Strategic Assumption Surfacing and Testing
  • Viable Systems Model VSM
  • System Dynamics
  • Decision Conferencing
  • Multi-methodology
  • John Mingers
  • Jonathan Rosenhead
  • John Morecroft
  • MC Jackson
  • Operational Research
  • Problem Structuring Methods PSM
  • Stafford Beer
  • Robert Dyson
  • Jay Forrester
  • Russell Ackoff
  • Robert Flood
  • Peter Checkland
  • Group Model Building
  • Behaviour Operational Research
  • Community Operations Research
  • Ill-structured versus Well-structured Problems
  • Wicked Versus Tame Problems
  • Ill-Defined versus Well-Defined Problems
  • Nigel Howard
  • Metagames
  • Hypergames

Problem Structuring Methods

Source: Past, present and future of problem structuring methods

The problematic situations for which PSMs aim to provide analytic assistance are characterized by

  • Multiple actors,
  • Differing perspectives, 
  • Partially conflicting interests,  
  • Significant intangibles,
  • Perplexing uncertainties.

The relative salience of these factors will differ between situations (and different methods are selective in the emphasis given to them). However, in all cases there is a meta-characteristic, that of complexity, arising out of the need to comprehend a tangle of issues without being able to start from a presumed consensual formulation. For an introduction to PSMs, see Rosenhead and Mingers, 2001

Source: Problem structuring methods in action

Strategic options development and analysis (SODA) is a general problem identification method that uses cognitive mapping as a modelling device for eliciting and recording individuals’ views of a problem situation. The merged individual cognitive maps (or a joint map developed within a workshop session) provide the framework for group discussions, and a facilitator guides participants towards commitment to a portfolio of actions.

Soft systems methodology (SSM) is a general method for system redesign. Participants build ideal-type conceptual models (CMs), one for each relevant world view. They compare them with perceptions of the existing system in order to generate debate about what changes are culturally feasible and systemically desirable. 

Strategic choice approach (SCA) is a planning approach centered on managing uncertainty in strategic situations. Facilitators assist participants to model the interconnectedness of decision areas. Interactive comparison of alternative decision schemes helps them to bring key uncertainties to the surface. On this basis the group identifies priority areas for partial commitment, and designs explorations and contingency plans.

Robustness analysis is an approach that focuses on maintaining useful flexibility under uncertainty. In an interactive process, participants and analysts assess both the compatibility of alternative initial commitments with possible future configurations of the system being planned for, and the performance of each configuration in feasible future environments. This enables them to compare the flexibility maintained by alternative initial commitments. 

Drama theory draws on two earlier approaches, meta games and hyper games. It is an interactive method of analysing co-operation and conflict among multiple actors. A model is built from perceptions of the options available to the various actors, and how they are rated. Drama theory looks for the “dilemmas” presented to the actors within this model of the situation. Each dilemma is a change point, tending to cause an actor to feel specific emotions and to produce rational arguments by which the model itself is redefined. When and only when such successive redefinitions have eliminated all dilemmas is the actors’ joint problem fully resolved. Analysts commonly work with one of the parties, helping it to be more effective in the rational-emotional process of dramatic resolution. (Descriptions based substantially on Rosenhead, 1996.)

Given the ill-defined location of the PSM/non- PSM boundary, there are a number of other methods with some currency that have at least certain family resemblances. These include critical systems heuristics (CSH) (Ulrich, 2000), interactive planning (Ackoff, 1981), and strategic assumption surfacing and testing (Mason and Mitroff, 1981). Other related methods which feature in this special issue are SWOT (Weihrich, 1998), scenario planning (Schoemaker, 1998), and the socio-technical systems approach (Trist and Murray, 1993). Those which are particularly close to the spirit of PSMs in at least some of their modes of use, and therefore thought to merit inclusion in Rosenhead and Mingers (2001), are the following:

Viable systems model (VSM) is a generic model of a viable organization based on cybernetic principles. It specifies five notional systems that should exist within an organization in some form––operations, co-ordination, control, intelligence, and policy, together with the appropriate control and communicational relationships. Although it was developed with a prescriptive intent, it can also be used as part of a debate about problems of organizational design and redesign (Harnden, 1990). 

System dynamics(SD) is a way of modelling peoples’ perceptions of real-world systems based especially on causal relationships and feedback. It was developed as a traditional simulation tool but can be used, especially in combination with influence diagrams (causal–loop diagrams), as a way of facilitating group discussion (Lane, 2000; Vennix, 1996).

Decision conferencing is a variant of the more widely known “decision analysis”. Like the latter, it builds models to support choice between decision alternatives in cases where the consequences may be multidimensional; and where there may be uncertainty about future events which affect those consequences. What distinguishes decision conferencing is that it operates in workshop mode, with one or more facilitators eliciting from the group of participants both the structure of the model, and the probabilities and utilities to be included in it. The aim is cast, not as the identification of an objectively best solution, but as the achievement of shared understanding, the development of a sense of common purpose, and the generation of a commitment to action (Phillips, 1989; Watson and Buede, 1987).

There are a number of texts which present a different selection of “softer” methods than do Rosenhead and Mingers. These include Flood and Jackson (1991), who concentrate on systems-based methods, Dyson and O’Brien (1998) who consider a range of hard and soft approaches in the area of strategy formulation; and Sorensen and Vidal (1999) who make a wide range of methods accessible to a Scandinavian readership. There is clearly an extensive repertoire of methods available. In fact it is common to combine together a number of PSMs, or PSMs together with more traditional methods, in a single intervention––a practice known as multimethodology (Mingers and Gill, 1997). So the range of methodological choice is wider even than a simple listing of methods might suggest.

Source: Are project managers ready for the 21th challenges? A review of problem structuring methods for decision support

Benefits of Problem Structuring Methods

Source: Are project managers ready for the 21th challenges? A review of problem structuring methods for decision support

My Related Posts

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics

Micro Motives, Macro Behavior: Agent Based Modeling in Economics

Production and Distribution Planning : Strategic, Global, and Integrated

Drama Theory: Choices, Conflicts and Dilemmas

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Quantitative Models for Closed Loop Supply Chain and Reverse Logistics

Hierarchical Planning: Integration of Strategy, Planning, Scheduling, and Execution

Stock Flow Consistent Input Output Models (SFCIO)

Stock Flow Consistent Models for Ecological Economics

Gantt Chart Simulation for Stock Flow Consistent Production Schedules

Shell Oil’s Scenarios: Strategic Foresight and Scenario Planning for the Future

Water | Food | Energy | Nexus: Mega Trends and Scenarios for the Future

Global Trends, Scenarios, and Futures: For Foresight and Strategic Management

HP’s Megatrends

Global Flow of Funds: Statistical Data Matrix across National Boundaries

Credit Chains and Production Networks

Supply Chain Finance (SCF) / Financial Supply Chain Management (F-SCM)

Financial Social Accounting Matrix

Morris Copeland and Flow of Funds accounts

Systems Biology: Biological Networks, Network Motifs, Switches and Oscillators

Oscillations and Amplifications in Demand-Supply Network Chains

Portfolio Planning Models for Corporate Strategic Planning

Cyber-Semiotics: Why Information is not enough

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Key Sources of Research

Understanding behaviour in problem structuring methods interventions with activity theory.

White, L., Burger, K., & Yearworth, M. (2016).

European Journal of Operational Research, 249(3), 983-1004.

“Is Value Focused Thinking a Problem Structuring Method or Soft OR or what?”

Keisler, Jeffrey,


Management Science and Information Systems Faculty Publication Series. Paper 42.

Rational Analysis for a Problematic World Revisited: Problem Structuring Methods for Complexity, Uncertainty and Conflict

John Mingers, Jonathan Rosenhead

2001 Book Second ed.

The characteristics of problem structuring methods: A literature review

Problem structuring methods in action

John Mingers a,*, Jonathan Rosenhead b

a Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK 

b London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK

European Journal of Operational Research 152 (2004) 530–554

Click to access Problem%20structuring%20methods%20in%20action.pdf

Click to access Problem%20structuring%20methods%20in%20action.pdf

Introduction to the Special Issue: Teaching Soft O.R., Problem Structuring Methods, and Multimethodology.

John Mingers, Jonathan Rosenhead, (2011)

INFORMS Transactions on Education 12(1):1-3.

Click to access Mingers-Rosenberg-PSM-SoftOR.pdf

Problem Structuring Methods, 1950s-1989: An Atlas of the Journal Literature

Georgiou, Ion and Heck, Joaquim,

(June 26, 2017).

Available at SSRN: or

“An Investigation on the Effectiveness of a Problem Structuring Method in a GroupDecision-Making Process”

Thaviphoke, Ying.

(2020). Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Dissertation, Engineering Management, Old Dominion University,

DOI: 10.25777/cx7x-z403

What’s the Problem? An Introduction to Problem Structuring Methods

Jonathan Rosenhead

Published Online:1 Dec 1996


William N. Dunn
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs University of Pittsburgh

Past, present and future of problem structuring methods

J Rosenhead

London School of Economics, London, UK

Journal of the Operational Research Society (2006), 1–7

Framing and Reframing as a Creative Problem Structuring Aid

Victoria J Mabin, and John Davies Management Group Victoria University of Wellington PO Box 600 Wellington

Tel +4-495 5140
email: Tel + 4-471 5382
Fax + 4-471 2200

Reassessing the scope of OR practice: the influences of problem structuring methods and the analytics movement

Ranyard, J.C., Fildes, R. and Hun, T-I (2014).

(LUMS Working Paper 2014:8).

Lancaster University: The Department of Management Science.

Reasoning maps for decision aid: an integrated approach for problem-structuring and multi-criteria evaluation

G Montibeller1∗, V Belton2, F Ackermann2 and L Ensslin3

1London School of Economics, London, UK; 2University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK; and 3Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Floriano ́polis, Brazil

Journal of the Operational Research Society (2008) 59, 575–589

Special issue on problem structuring research and practice

Fran Ackermann • L. Alberto Franco • Etie ̈nne Rouwette • Leroy White

EURO J Decis Process (2014) 2:165–172 DOI 10.1007/s40070-014-0037-6

Soft OR Comes of Age – But Not Everywhere!

Mingers, John (2011)

ISSN 0305-0483.

Omega, 39 (6). pp. 729-741

An Investigation on the Effectiveness of a Problem Structuring Method in a Group Decision-Making Process

Ying Thaviphoke
Old Dominion University,


OR competences: the demands of problem structuring methods

Richard John Ormerod

EURO J Decis Process (2014) 2:313–340

DOI 10.1007/s40070-013-0021-6

Hard OR, Soft OR, Problem Structuring Methods, Critical Systems Thinking: A Primer

Hans G. Daellenbach

Department of Management University of Canterbury Christchurch, NZ

Are project managers ready for the 21th challenges? A review of problem structuring methods for decision support

José Ramón San Cristóbal Mateo

Emma Diaz Ruiz de Navamuel

María Antonia González Villa

Towards a new framework for evaluating systemic problem structuring methods

Gerald Midgley  Robert Y. Cavana  John Brocklesby , Jeff L. Foote  David R.R. Wood , Annabel Ahuriri-Driscoll 

European Journal of Operational Research 229 (2013) 143–154

Problem structuring methods

Jonathan Rosenhead1

Chapter in book

(1) The London School of Economics and Political Science, London, England

Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Encyclopedia of Operations Research and Management Science

2001 Edition | Editors: Saul I. Gass, Carl M. Harris

Beyond Problem Structuring Methods: Reinventing the Future of OR/MS

Author(s): M. C. Jackson

Source: The Journal of the Operational Research Society, Vol. 57, No. 7, Special Issue: Problem Structuring Methods (Jul., 2006), pp. 868-878

Published by: Palgrave Macmillan Journals on behalf of the Operational Research Society

Stable URL:

Strategic Development: Methods and Models

Robert G. Dyson (Editor)Frances A. O’Brien (Editor)

ISBN: 978-0-471-97495-6 

May 1998 346 Pages

Group Model Building:
Problem Structuring, Policy Simulation and Decision Support

David F. Andersen, University at Albany
Jac A.M. Vennix, Radboud University Nijmegen George P. Richardson, University at Albany Etiënne A.J.A. Rouwette, Radboud University Nijmegen

Reassessing the Scope of OR Practice: the Influences of Problem Structuring Methods and the Analytics Movement

J. C. Ranyard, R. Fildes* and Tun-I Hu

The Department of Management Science Lancaster University Management School Lancaster LA1 4YX

Victor Turner’s Postmodern Theory of Social Drama

Victor Turner’s Postmodern Theory of Social Drama

Although it might be argued that the social drama is a story in [Hayden] White’s sense, in that it has discernible inaugural, transitional, and terminal motifs, that is, a beginning, a middle, and an end, my observations convince me that it is, indeed, a spontaneous unit of social process and a fact of everyone’s experience in every human society. My hypothesis, based on repeated observations of such processual units in a range of sociocultural systems and in my reading in ethnography and history, is that social dramas, “dramas of living,” as Kenneth Burke calls them, can be aptly studied as having four phases. These I label breach, crisis, redress, and either reintegration or recognition of schism. Social dramas occur within groups of persons who share values and interests and who have a real or alleged common history. The main actors are persons for whom the group has a high value priority. Most of us have what I call our “star” group or groups to which we owe our deepest loyalty and whose fate is for us of the greatest personal concern. It is the one with which a person identifies most deeply and in which he finds fulfillment of his major social and personal desires. We are all members of many groups, formal or informal, from the family to the nation or some international religion or political institution. Each person makes his/her own subjective evaluation of the group’s respective worth: some are “dear” to one, others it is one’s “duty to defend,” and so on. Some tragic situations arise from conflicts of loyalty to different star groups.

Victor Turner is professor of anthropology and a member of the Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Virginia. His many publications include Schism and Continuity in an African Society, The Forest of Symbols, The Ritual Process, and, with Edith Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture

Social Dramas and Stories about Them
Victor Turner
Critical Inquiry 7 (1):141-168 (1980)

Key terms

  • Social Drama
  • Frames
  • Victor W Turner
  • David M Boje
  • Liminality
  • Meta theater
  • Meta Commentary
  • Conflict
  • Fragmentation
  • Spectcle
  • Carnival
  • Communitas
  • Anti structure
  • Mela
  • Tamasha
  • Circus
  • Khel
  • Natak
  • Nautanki
  • Leela
  • Communication
  • Reflexivity
  • Social Reflexivity
  • Public Reflexivity
  • Cybernetics
  • Higher Order Cybernetics
  • Processual
  • Performance processes
  • Interpretative Anthropology
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Clifford Geertz

Below, I am reposting an article by David Boje on Victor Turner’s theory of social drama.

Victor Turner’s Postmodern Theory of Social Drama:

Implications for Organization Studies

David M. Boje, Ph.D., New Mexico State University

August 1, 2003


I review Victor Turner’s more postmodern moves, such as process, indeterminacy, liminality, fragmentation, and metatheatre. 

The contribution to organization theory of studying Turner’s social drama is in developing a postmodern theatrics that is more processual and dynamitic than dramaturgical theories advanced by Burke and Goffman. Turner acknowledges the influence of Burke and Goffman in his postmodern theatre concepts, but moves off to explore the indeterminacy, liminality, and fragmentation aspects (defined below).  This postmodern dramaturgy allows us to explore how patterns emerged in the seeming chaos of successive situations. 

Theatre Theory

Most reviews of theatre theory focus on contrasts of Burke and Goffman (Boje, Luhman, Cunliffe, 2003; Gusfield, 1989; K’rreman, 2001; Oswick, Keenoy & Grant, 2001), while hardly mentioning Victor Turner’s work (1969; 1974, 1982a, 1982b, 1985). Goffman (1959, 1974) is often criticized, in these reviews, for using theatre as metaphor and for being less sociological than Burke. Burke (1937, 1945, 1972), by contrast, is said to view theatre as part of everyday life and extend literary criticism to politics and sociology.  Goffman is also criticized for engaging in “sociological reductionism” and for not being “particularly dramaturgical at all” (K’rreman, 2001: 96, 107).  

 Turner acknowledges roots to Burke (Turner, 1982a) and to Goffman (Turner, 1985: 181). Burke and Goffman have been applied to organization and public administration studies. Within organization studies, there is a growing body of research taking Goffman seriously. His approach fits neatly with Mintzberg’s (1973) managerial roles and more recent studies of charismatic leadership behavior as dramaturgic (Gardner & Alvolio, 1998; Harvey, 2001), emotional improvisation (Morgan & Krone, 2001) where the leader is the spokesperson and dramatist of organizational life.  Work by Czarniawska-Joerges (1997), Mangham (1990),  Mangham  and Overington (1987), and Rosen (1985, 1987) also seeks to apply tools and devices from theatre to organizational realities and the dramaturgical perspective has become quite central to charismatic leadership studies (Conger, 1991; Gardner & Alvolio, 1998; Harvey, 2001; Howell & Frost, 1989; Jones & Pittman, 1982). 

Theatre for Burke is not a metaphor used in some areas of organizational or social life; human action is dramatic (Gusfield, 1989; p. 36; K’rreman, 2001, p. 106).  As Maital (1999) puts it, “organizing is not like theatre — it is theatre” (as cited in Oswick, Keenoy & Grant, 2001, p. 219). Burke’s dramatistic pentad has been used widely to analyze organizations as theatres of action (Czarniawska-Joerges & Wolff, 1991; Mangham & Overington, 1987; Pine & Gilmour, 1999). Pine and Gilmour (1999) use Burke’s dramatism to assert work is theatre and every business is a stage. Czarniawska (1997) explores how the identities of organizational actors are constituted theatrically through role-playing and image construction.  

We see this critical postmodern integration in the writings of Guy Debord (1967) on “spectacle,” Mikhail Bakhtin (1984) on “carnivalesque,” and Augusto Boal (1972, 1992, 1995) on Theatre of the Oppressed.  

Social drama, says Turner, is defined as aharmonic or disharmonic social process, arising in conflict situations (1974: 37; 1985: 180).   Social drama is defined by Turner (1985: 196), as an eruption from the level surface of ongoing social life, with its interactions, transactions, reciprocities, its customs making for regular, orderly sequences of behavior. Turner’s social drama theory has four phases of public action:

  1. Breach of norm-governed social relations that have liminal characteristics, a liminal between more or less stable social processes;
  2. Crisis, during which there is a tendency for the breach to widen and in public forums, representatives of order are dared to grapple with it;
  3. Redressive action, ranging from personal advice and informal mediation or arbitration to formal juridical and legal machinery, and to resolve certain kinds of crisis or legitimate other modes of resolution, to the performance of public ritual. 
  4. Reintegration of the disturbed social group, or of the social recognition and legitimation of irreparable schism between the contesting parties. 

There is a sequence of processual acts and scenes across the four phases of social drama, with dynamic shifts in scripts, characterizations, rhetoric, and symbolism. The processes were more dynamic, rapid, and forceful during the crisis, and now there is a lull in the action.  There are six key concepts which we can use to explore the dialectic of spectacle and carnival, as well as reactionary counter-carnival theatrics. 

Conflict  Conflict situations between patriotic nationalism and the peaceniks make us aware of the beaches in the societal fabric. Conflict seems to bring fundamental aspects of society, normally overlaid by the customs and habits of daily intercourse, into frightening prominence (Turner, 1974).  People are divided, taking sides, using theatre to dramatize their differences.  In the weeks leading up to the war, and during the war, a cleavage occurs between antagonistic groups. At the same time in crisis, there is the flash of imaginative fire, an inspirational force to be harnessed. The conflict escalates locally, as a reflections of the globally conflict in the Middle East. Some crises spread, and more and more people turn out for vigils, marches, parades, rallies, and teach-ins. For Turner, public crisis has a liminal quality, betwixt and between, more or less stable phases of the social process. Antagonists dare and taunt each other, to deal with liminal forces. For example, the majority accept U.S. occupation of Iraq, even though no weapons of mass destruction were found. On May 30th, members of the administration disclosed that there never had been proof of WMD, but saying they were there, served as a way to rally the nation to go to war.

Within the spectacles and carnivals there are factions.  There were a series of social dramas in the U.S. that weakened the solidarity of the peace movement. Acts of repression under the U.S.A. PATRIOT act and Homeland Security were used to make peace people fearful of being blacklisted.  They have a chilling effect on free speech. We resist being reintegrated back into that social fabric of the status quo; communitas is broken, and our freedoms are curtailed.

Performance Processes  A society is defined by Turner (1985: 44, Paraphrasing) as a set of interactive processes that are punctuated by situations of conflict, with intervals between them.  Turner’s theatrical approach, being processual and dynamic, is more appropriate than Burke or Goffman’s to explore the rise and fall of social movements. In his 1985 book, (On the Edge of the Bush: Anthropology as Experience), Turner develops a postmodern treatment of social drama. He explores the contingent, ad hoc, and emergent character of the phases of social drama (breach, crisis, redress, & reintegration), focusing on how conflicts run their course. The situations interact over time. One set of interactions influence the premises for the next (Turner, 1985: 48).  During periods of intense global conflict, such as the outbreak of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, we became a dense network of social organizing. During the week leading up to March 19th war in Iraq, we had events, such as rallies, teach-ins, retreats, marches, and vigils happening daily.  We joined the millions of people who tried to persuade the administration not to go to war. Once war happened we persisted with our vigils and marches, trying to bring a swift end to the conflict.  After the administration declared an end to the war (though the fighting continued), our numbers dropped off, and many people reintegrated into more normal patterns of social life. 

As the antagonist to disputation play out the conflict phases of social drama, there is resistance to acts of suppression and repression (Turner, 1985: 44).  Contentious issues are kept in abeyance in ritual situations, but can surface again in public situations; some political situations threaten to turn violent, both in their protest and in their repression.  Solidarity of a nation at war, for example, has a chilling effect on political rivalry, so as not to threaten the safety of troops deployed in battle theatres.  The unresolved conflicts and rivalries carry over into subsequent ritual situations in ways that affect behavioral patterns. In this way as Pondy observed, conflict events are interdependent over time. 

The performance events interact such that situations develop spontaneously out of quarrels with domestic and foreign policy which rapidly acquire formalized or structural character (Turner, 1985: 45). For example, contending factions draw apart, consolidate their ranks, and develop spokesmen who represent their cases in terms of a rhetoric that is culturally standardized (p. 45). 

Liminality  Key to Turner is the ‘betwixt and between’ features that have liminal qualities (Turner, 1985: 113). Liminality is defined by Turner (1974: 52), as being ‘between successive participations in social milieu.’ There is a grander ‘liminal transition’ in the peace movement, and seemingly no way to stop the growth of fascism that embeds American governance (Turner, 1974: 47).  There is liminality in the transition from the conceptual system of democracy to another one, we in the movement call, fascism (Turner, 1974: 51). There is also liminal decay, a reluctant reincorporation into the charade and facade of polite society, into more stable social processes.  The reentry is accompanied by rituals of humiliation for the peace movement heroes, such as Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, Gore Vidal, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky. For example, status degradation and social leveling are indicated by the distribution of playing cards depicting peace heroes as traitors, and most wanted. The tricksters have won the symbolism wars, and liminality is existentially untenable to those of us hanging in with the peace movement. 

Each situation in the peace movement affects the premises of the next one.  There is am emergent pattern to the inter-situational events. The successive events have liminal spaces between them.  Liminal space is Turner’s concept of what is betwixt and between situated events.  In the liminality between situations, a leader is without a situation to rally around.  For example, as the Iraq invasion drew nearer, the number of local organizing events that I lead and facilitated was denser, and in the final weeks, there was an event every day.  Now that the invasion has morphed into an occupation, local events are few and far between.  This liminal space is a time for mourning our failure to get our President to stop the war; it is a time for rest and reflection, a time to plan for the next situation. For a few weeks in late April and early May, it looked like Syria would be the next campaign. But, that has subsided. The 2004 election is a bit far off to worry about. 

I am neither what I have been nor what I will become. Similarly, peace consciousness is a liminal space, not yet what it will be. The peace movement refuses reintegration until the social order transforms to something more non-violent than what it is.

Summer vacations, the exodus of students from a university town, also decreased our numbers. Our rebellion is low-key, smoldering factionalism divides us. Members of PeaceAware slip back into anonymity of daily routine. Only a few die-hards persist with vigils or demonstrations outside Congressman Peace’s events. 

Indeterminacy  Indeterminacy is always present in the background of any ritualized performance, ready to intrude. Spectacles, even with expert choreography, scripting, and stage handling, fail to contain the embedded chaos. For example, the search for weapons of mass destruction slips into a sea of indeterminacy along with the war on terror. Each emplotment unravels.  The exact meaning of a speaker’s utterance or performance is a contextualized exchange in which meaning is often indeterminate. Various stakeholders will apprehend different views of the performance. Aristotle’s poetic elements of theatre are in constant flux, with ever-shifting indeterminate plots, characters, themes, dialogs, rhythms, and spectacles. All the president’s men cannot bind chaos with the most advanced theatrics. The spectacle is always self-deconstructing.  Yet, chaos can be used to confuse. There is a sequence of rhetoric switching in the justification and legitimation for war. 

The rhetorical and speech styles have shifted since the war was a way to find weapons of mass destruction hidden from the UN inspectors, to war being way to protect the troops, to a way to support the president. On 30 May 2003, Paul Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair, they the administration did not believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; officials thought it was best way to get officials to go to war.[1] “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on,” says Wolfowitz. It was also a way to get the public on board. In this sense, the spectators cannot determine the cause for the war, and now that war is declared officially over, the original premises no loner matter. 

Spectacle cannot fix the fluidity of context, nor bind the shifting context from infecting performance processes.  The situational adjustments of President Bush’s handlers, betrays the flux and fluidity, and indeterminacy of everyday life. This indeterminacy, says Turner (1985: 185), ‘is towards postmodern ways of thinking’ about social life. 

Fragmentation – Fragmentation is definable as a persistent dialectical ‘opposition of processes’ with many ‘levels of processes’ (Turner, 1985: 185). Postmodern theory spotlights moments when fragmentation takes center stage, revealing how social reality invades spectacle during moments of conflict.  Spectacle role-playing is not able to cover the breakdowns between official perspectives and countless counter stories revealing fragmentation.  For Turner ‘the truly ‘spontaneous’ unit of human social performance is not role-playing sequence in an institutionalized or ‘corporate group’ context; it is the social drama which results precisely form the suspension of normative role-playing, and in its passionate activity abolishes the usual distinction between flow and reflection, since in the social drama it becomes a matter of urgency to become reflexive about the cause and motive of action damaging to the social fabric (Turner, 1985: 196). 

There are moments in institutionalized spectacle, where the social drama of conflict emerges, and Bush engages in reflection. In such moments the fragmentarity of the social fabric becomes temporarily visible, ‘as factors giving meaning to deeds that may seem at first sight meaningless’ (p. 196). These are moments of reflection when we can see an irreparable schism between war and peace factions.

The more the Bush handlers defragment, the more Bush’s performance processes reveal oppositions and layers. The thespian nature of his performance unmasks itself, resulting in a media that begins to reflect upon the fragmentation covered over by performance controls. The president is detected as a performing actor. 

Metatheatre – Turner (1985: 181) invents the term ‘meta-theater.’ Where for Burke and Goffman, all the world is a theatre stage, for Turner, ‘meta-theatre’ is the communication about the communication process, spectators and actors reflect upon how the actors do what they do on stage, ‘the ability to communicate about the communication process itself’ (p. 181). In contrasting his own dramaturgy work with Goffman’s, Turner (1985; 181) says that for him ‘dramaturgical analysis begins when crises arise in the daily flow of social interaction.’   Turner continues, ‘Thus, if daily living is a kind of theater, social drama is a kind of meta-theater, that is, a dramaturgical language about the language of ordinary role-playing and status-maintenance which constitutes communication in the quotidian social process’ (p. 181). Metatheatre then is for Turner, reflexivity by everyday actors about the communication system, where they consciously show spectators what they are doing. Turner studies reflexivity in crisis phase of social interaction, but also within the redressive phase.  Turner theorizes four phases, breech, crisis, redressive action, and reintegration in what he calls ‘social drama.’

Metacommentary, is a term Turner, 1982a: 104) borrows from Geertz, ‘a story a group tells itself about itself’ or ‘a play a society acts about itself.’  Metatheatre then builds upon the idea of metacommentary, ‘an interpretive reenactment of its experience’ (Turner, 1982a: 104). In the positive, metatheatre reenacts conflicts, giving them contextualization, so that with metacommentary, facets are illuminated and accessible for remedial action. Through multiple reflections, spectators are able to provoke transformations in everyday life.  On the negative side, the metatheatre distorts event and context in ways that provoke conformity. For example, our weekly street theatre is a metacommentary on global, national, and local conflicts, a time for reflection and reflexivity. Our signs are commentary, and we resist conformity. We are opposed by metacommentary of our critics, what see our acts as traitorous, seditious, and rebellious. Both sides use drama to provoke and persuade.

Metatheatre is about the dialectic process of framing through theatre, in ways that appeal to the frame of mind of the spectator; resistance is about bringing counter-frames to bear on dominant frames.

In the next section I apply Turner’s constructs of conflict, performance processes, liminality, indeterminacy, fragmentation, and metatheatre to that antagonism of the war and peace movements. 


Aristotle (written 350BCE). Citing in the (1954) translation Aristotle: Rhetoric and poetics. Introduction by F. Solmsen, Rhetoric. (W Rhys Roberts, Tran.); Poetics (I. Bywater, Tran.).  New York, NY: The Modern Library (Random House).  Poetics was written 350 BCE. Custom is to cite part and verse (i.e. Aristotle, 1450: 5, p. 23) refers to part 1450, verse 5, on p. 23 of the Solmsen (1954) book.  There is also an on line version translated by S. H. Butcher or

Bakhtin, M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays (Caryl Emerson, Michael Holquist, Trans.). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Bakhtin, Mikhail M.  (1973). Rabelais and His World. Translated by H’ l’ ne Iswolsky. 1st ed. Cambridge: MIT Press.

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Boal, A. (1992). Games for actors and non-actors. (A. Jackson, Trans). A conflation of two books, Stop C’est Magique (Paris: Hachette, 1980) and  Jeuz pour acteurs et non-acteurs (Paris: La D’couverte, 1989) with additions by Boal. London, UK: Routledge.  

Boje, David M. (2001). Carnivalesque resistance to global spectacle: A critical postmodern theory of public administration, Administrative Theory & Praxis, 23(3): 431-458.

Boje, David M. (2003). Theatres of Capitalism. NJ: Hampton Press. In press. 

Boje, David M.  John T. Luhman, & Ann L. Cunliffe (2003). A Dialectic Perspective on the Organization Theatre Metaphor American Communication Journal. Volume 6 (2): 1-16.

Bumiller, Elisabeth (2003). Keepers of Bush Image Lift Stagecraft to New Heights.  The New York Times. 16 May, accessed on the web May 31 2003 at

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Burke, K. (1945). A grammar of motives. Berkeley: University of California Press.  

Burke, K. (1972). Dramatism and development. Barre, MA: Clark University Press with Barre Publishers.  

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Fox, Charles J. and High T. Miller. (1995a). Postmodern Public Administration: A short treatise on self-referential epihenomena. Administrative Theory & Praxis 15(2): 52-70. 

Fox, Charles J. and High T. Miller. (1995b). Postmodern Public Administration: Toward Discourse. Thousand Oaks :Sage Publications, Inc.

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Turner, Victor (1974). Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society. Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press. 

Turner, Victor (1982a). From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. NY: PAJ Publications (Division of Performing Arts Journal, Inc.). 

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Turner, Victor (1985). On the Edge of the Bush: Anthropology as Experience. Edith L. B. Turner (Ed). Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press. 

Zanetti, Lisa A. (1997) Advancing praxis: Connecting critical theory with practice in public administration. 27(2): 145-167.

Zanetti, Lisa A. and Carr, Adrian (1999) Exaggerating the Dialectic: Postmodernism’s ‘New Individualism’ and the Detrimental Effects on Citizenship.  AT&P Vol 21 (2) 205-.

Zanetti, Lisa A. & Carr, Adrian (1997). Putting critical theory to work: Giving the public administrator the critical edge. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 19(2): 208-224

My Related Posts

Erving Goffman: Dramaturgy of Social Life

Kenneth Burke and Dramatism

Dialogs and Dialectics

Narrative, Rhetoric and Possible Worlds

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

The Social Significance of Drama and Narrative Arts

Drama Therapy: Self in Performance

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Drama Theory: Choices, Conflicts and Dilemmas

Third and Higher Order Cybernetics

Narrative Psychology: Language, Meaning, and Self

Psychology of Happiness: Value of Storytelling and Narrative Plays

Paradoxes, Contradictions, and Dialectics in Organizations

Key Sources of Research

Victor Turner’s Postmodern Theory of Social Drama:

Implications for Organization Studies

David M. Boje, Ph.D., New Mexico State University

August 1, 2003

‘Themes in the Symbolism of Ndemdu Hunting Ritual, 

Turner, Victor (1962)

Anthropological Quarterly 35, pp. 37-57 reprinted in Myth and Cosmos: Readings in Methodology and Symbolism, edited by John Middleton, 1967, New York: Natural History Press, pp. 249-69.

“Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage.” 

Turner, V.W. (1967)

The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual pp. 93-111. Ithaca: Cornell UP.

The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure 

Turner, V.W. (1969) 

London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

Dramas, Fields and Metaphors 

Turner, V.W. (1974) 

Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press

The Anthropology of Performance 

Turner, V.W. (1988) 

New York: PAJ Publications.

From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play

by Victor Turner

Social Dramas and Stories about Them

Victor Turner

Critical Inquiry 7 (1):141-168 (1980)

Frame, Flow and Reflection: Ritual and Drama as Public Liminality

Victor Turner

Japanese Journal of Religious Studies Vol. 6, No. 4 (Dec., 1979),

pp. 465-499 (35 pages) 

Published By: Nanzan University

“Symbols in African Ritual,” 

Victor Turner

Science March 16, 1972, vol. 179, 1100-05.

Performing Ethnography

Victor Turner; Edith Turner

The Drama Review: TDR, Vol. 26, No. 2, Intercultural Performance. (Summer, 1982), pp. 33-50. Stable URL:

Victor Turner

Victor Witter Turner

The Drama of Social Life 

A Dramaturgical Handbook

Edited By Charles Edgley

Edition 1st Edition

First Published 2013


Notes towards an Anthropology of Political Revolutions


Society and Globalization, Roskilde University

Comparative Studies in Society and History 2012;54(3):679–706.

# Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2012


Variations on a theme of Liminality

Victor Turner

chapter in a book Secular Ritual

The Ritual Process

Structure and Anti-Structure


Acting in Everyday life, Life in Everyday Acting

Click to access Turner.pdf

Paradoxes, Contradictions, and Dialectics in Organizations

Paradoxes, Contradictions, and Dialectics in Organizations

Source: The role of paradox theory in decision making and management research

In our increasingly complex, global and fast-paced world, competing demands on individuals and teams continually surface in the context of organizational life. Individuals face challenges between work and family, learning and performing, collaborating and competing. Teams grapple with tensions between individual and collective accomplishments, specializing and coordination, and meeting creativity and efficiency goals. Leaders need to maintain both distance and closeness, treat subordinates uniformly while allowing individualism, and ensure decision control while allowing autonomy. Moreover, in an increasingly global environment, individuals and leaders must increasingly act globally, while dealing with local demands or nuances. Perhaps as an even greater challenge, they may value nationalistic concerns, while simultaneously embracing multiculturalism and a global mindset.

Key Words

  • Paradox
  • Conflicts
  • Contradictions
  • Dialectics
  • Process
  • Disequilibria
  • Disruption
  • Opposition
  • Synthesis
  • Competing Poles
  • Dilemmas
  • Trade-offs
  • Dualities
  • Polarities
  • Virtuous Cycles
  • Vicious Cycles
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Oxymora
  • This and That
  • This or That
  • Either/ Or
  • Both/And
  • Inclusion and Exclusion
  • Networks and Boundaries
  • Outside and Inside
  • Before and After
  • Japanese Zen Koans
  • Chinese Yin Yang
  • Aristotle Logic
  • Hegel Dialectics
  • Tensions
  • Ambidexerity
  • Paradox Theory
  • Ambivalence
  • Double Bind
  • Contingency Theory
  • African Ubuntu
  • Trialectics
  • Verbs: working with (through), addressing, resolving, combining, embracing, mediating, simultaneously achieving, managing contradictions, achieving balance, dealing with, coexisting, aligning, reconciling, solving the struggle between, enabling multiple interests, negotiating tensions, facing, synthesizing opposites, mastering the paradox, overcoming;
  • Nouns: coping strategies, emerging strategies, resolutions, solutions, tactics, compromises (trade-offs), framework, mediator
  • Coping strategies : the presence or absence of coping strategies in the paper and the type of coping strategies (splitting, specializing, suppressing, opposing and synthesizing).
  • Key concept (paradox, dilemma, duality, polarity, dialectic or ambidexterity)

Organizational Paradox


Organizational paradox offers a theory of the nature and management of competing demands. Historically, the dominant paradigm in organizational theory depicted competing demands as trade-offs or dilemmas that could be resolved by choosing one option. In the late 1960s, scholars such as Joan Woodward, Paul Lawrence, and Jay Lorsch introduced contingency theory, suggesting that individuals resolve these tensions by taking the context and environment into account. Paradox theory offers an alternative approach, suggesting that these tensions cannot be resolved. By depicting competing demands as tensions that are not only contradictory, but also interdependent and persistent, paradox theory argues that actors need to accept, engage, and navigate tensions rather than resolve them. Foundational work on paradox in organizations emerged starting in the late 1970s and 1980s. This work drew from rich insights across a variety of disciplines, including Eastern philosophy (Taoism, Confucianism), Western philosophies (Hegel, Heraclitus), psychodynamics (Jung, Adler, Frankel), psychology (Schneider, Watzlawick), political science (Marx, Engel), communications and sociology (Taylor, Bateson), and negotiations and conflict resolution (Follett). More recent work has advanced foundational building blocks toward a theory of paradox. Underlying the theory of paradox is ontologies of dualism—two opposing elements that together form an integrated unity—and dynamism— ongoing change. Scholars have defined paradox as tensions that are contradictory, interdependent, and persistent, noting their dynamic, everchanging, cyclical nature. Some scholars describe the origins of paradox as inherent within systems, while others highlight their social construction through cognition, dialogue, and rationality. Still others explore the relationship between the inherent and socially constructed nature of tensions, depicting tensions as latent within a system, becoming salient through social construction and external conditions. Moreover, some scholars focus more on understanding the poles of paradox, while others depict the ongoing dynamic interaction and evolution. As paradox theory continues to grow and expand, scholars have also added complexity to our understanding, emphasizing paradoxes as nested across levels and as knotted and interwoven across various tensions, while also taking into account the power dynamics, uncertainty, plurality, and scarcity of systems within which paradoxes emerge. This article identifies scholarship that depicts these varied approaches and ideas, providing the foundations of paradox theory for scholars new to this field and in-depth analysis for those seeking to expand their understanding. Section 1 offers foundational work. Section 2 introduces early scholarship that launched the field. Section 3 includes work describing foundational building blocks toward a theory of paradox. Section 4 highlights research that recognizes the nested nature of paradox and describes how this theory has been applied across different levels. Section 5 includes papers that address the meta-theoretical and multi-paradigmatic aspect of paradox theory, noting how these ideas have been applied across phenomena and across theoretical lenses. Section 6 describes papers that draw on the varied methodological traditions associated with paradox. Finally, section 7 identifies several handbooks and special issues that offer an introduction to or integration of paradox theory.

The Pillars of the Paradox: Foundational Papers

The early foundational work in organizational paradox dates back to the late 1970s and 1980s, and it established paradox as a core lens through which to understand organizational phenomena. These different insights emerged out of multiple traditions. One of the earliest pieces, Benson 1977 draws on the work of Hegel, Marx, and Engels to introduce the idea of dialectics in organizations. Discussion continues to this day about the distinctions and synergies between dialectical and paradoxical perspectives (see, e.g., Hargrave and van de Ven 2017, cited under Different Traditions and Influences). Putnam 1986, a foundational work, draws its roots from communication and sociology from writers such as Taylor, Bateson, and Watzlewick, while the core insight of Smith and Berg 1987 grew out of work on psychodynamics from scholars such as Jung, Adler, Frankel, and Freud. In 2000, Marianne Lewis wrote her AMR paper, “Exploring Paradox: Toward a More Comprehensive Guide” (Lewis 2000), which brings together these traditions and has inspired the next generation of those examining paradox. In doing so, she won AMR’s best paper of the year award.

  • Benson, J. Kenneth. “Organizations: A Dialectical View.” Administrative Science Quarterly 22.1 (1977): 1–21. Benson draws heavily on insights from Marx and Engels, providing a dialectical perspective of organizations in which contradictions morph and change over time into new integrations. This piece constitutes an early introduction to thinking about organizational systems as embodiments of oppositional tensions. Benson suggests that understanding these tensions depends on four basic principles: social construction, totality, contradiction, and praxis.
  • Cameron, Kim S. “Effectiveness as Paradox: Consensus and Conflict in Conceptions of Organizational Effectiveness.” Management Science 32.5 (1986): 539–553. Cameron reviews the areas of consensus and conflicts in the literature on effectiveness and in doing so describes the inherently paradoxical nature of effectiveness in organizations. He argues that to be effective an organization must own attributes that are simultaneously contradictory, even mutually exclusive.
  • Clegg, Stewart R., ed. Management and Organization Paradoxes. Advances in Organization Studies 9. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2002. Scholars debate the source of paradox as socially constructed and symbolic or inherent and material. Clegg organizes this edited volume to address this paradox of paradoxes. The first section addresses “representing paradoxes,” highlighting the role of symbols and discourse to create paradoxes. The second section focuses on “materializing paradoxes,” describing paradox within various organizational phenomena.
  • Clegg, Stewart R., João Vieira da Cunha, and Miguel Pina e Cunha. “Management Paradoxes: A Relational View.” Human Relations 55.5 (2002): 483–503. The authors offer a relational view of paradox. They discern four regularities from the literature: first, the simultaneous presence of opposites is the everyday experience in management; second, a relationship is often found between the opposing poles (synthesis); third, this synthesis emerges when the relationship’s structural side is kept at a minimal level, and the relationship is mutually reinforcing; finally, this relationship is local, it cannot be designed but emerges from situated practice.
  • Lewis, Marianne. W. “Exploring Paradox: Toward a More Comprehensive Guide.” Academy of Management Review 25.4 (2000): 760–776. This article advances foundational ideas of organizational paradox. Lewis defines paradox as “contradictory yet interrelated elements—elements that seem logical in isolation but absurd and irrational when appearing simultaneously” (p. 760). She develops a framework that starts with tensions (self-referential loops, mixed messages, and system contradictions), identifies defense mechanisms that lead to reinforcing cycles, and explores management strategies to tap into the power of paradox. She further categorizes paradoxes of learning, organizing, and belonging.
  • Poole, Marshall S., and Andrew H. van de Ven. “Using Paradox to Build Management and Organization Theories.” Academy of Management Review 14.4 (1989): 562–578. The authors explore how paradox thinking can be used to improve our approaches to theorizing. They describe paradoxes as “social paradoxes” that exist in the real world, subject to temporal and spatial constraints, and they propose four strategies for addressing social paradoxes: opposition, accepting the contradiction and using it; spatial separation, defining clear levels of analysis; temporal separation, taking time into account; and synthesis, adopting new term to overcome paradoxes. They illustrate each of these four approaches by exploring the paradoxical tension between structure and agency.
  • Putnam, Linda L. “Contradictions and Paradoxes in Organizations.” In Organization-Communication: Emerging Perspectives. Edited by Lee Thayer, 151–167. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1986. Putnam draws on theories of discourse, communication, and group relations to introduce a categorization of three types of paradoxes: contradictory messages in which words conflict with actions or in roles; paradoxes or double binds, which highlights self-referential interactions due to the dynamics between actors; and system contradictions in which the tensions are embedded within the organizational structures.
  • Quinn, Robert E., and Kim S. Cameron, eds. Paradox and Transformation: Toward a Theory of Change in Organization and Management. Cambridge MA: Ballinger, 1988. This edited volume includes essays from luminaries in organizational theory offering insights about how paradox can inform and is informed by strategic thinking, organizational change, communication, and group dynamics. These now classic essays provide foundational insights for applying paradox theory to organizational phenomena.
  • Smith, Kenwyn K., and David N. Berg. Paradoxes of Group Life: Understanding Conflict, Paralysis, and Movement in Group Dynamics. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1987. Smith and Berg define paradox as “a statement or set of statements that are self-referential and contradictory and trigger a vicious cycle” (p. 12). They trace the roots of paradoxical thought drawing heavily on psychoanalysis, and they highlight twelve paradoxes within groups and merge them in three different categories: paradoxes of belonging, paradoxes of engaging, and paradoxes of speaking. This text offers an early approach to exploring paradox within organizational phenomena.

SWG 09: Organizational Paradox: Engaging Plurality, Tensions and Contradictions


Costas Andriopoulos, City, University London, United Kingdom
Josh Keller, UNSW Sydney, Australia
Marianne W. Lewis, University of Cincinnati, USA
Ella Miron-Spektor, INSEAD, Europe Campus, France
Camille Pradies, EDHEC Business School, France
Jonathan Schad, King’s College London, United Kingdom
Wendy K. Smith, University of Delaware, USA

Organizational life faces unprecedented complexity. Multiple and contradictory goals, competing stakeholder demands, and fast-paced change increasingly give rise to persistent and interwoven tensions, such as today and tomorrow, social missions and business demands, centralization and decentralization, stability and change. Whereas traditional management research emphasizes contingency approaches to make explicit choices between alternatives of a tension, a paradox approach underlines the value of embracing competing demands simultaneously (Lewis, 2000). A paradox depicts a tension’s elements as contradictory and inconsistent, yet also interdependent, synergistic, and mutually constituted (Farjoun, 2010; Smith & Lewis, 2011). Engaging competing demands simultaneously enables long term organizational sustainability.

The aim of SWG 09 is to advance our understanding of plurality, tensions, and contradictions to better engage them for managerial practice (see Putnam et al., 2016; Schad et al., 2016).

Throughout continuous sub-themes at EGOS Colloquia, we have been able to further our understanding of tensions and contradictions, and thereby define clear boundaries and definitions. Building on a thriving community of scholars, we now seek to apply new theoretical terrains and discuss methodological possibilities to uncover the full potential of paradox research.
This SWG aims to specifically explore and advance research on plurality, tensions, and contradictions as follow:

  • Understanding the sources of tensions: Tensions are depicted as inherent to organizing as well as socially constructed (Smith & Lewis, 2011). Recent research explains that tensions can be rooted in complex systems, which is why they can be latent and become salient (Schad & Bansal, 2018).
  • Multiple, interwoven tensions: Given the pervasiveness of multiple tensions, scholars may study co-occurrence of tensions (Jarzabkowski et al., 2013), which span levels of an organizations (Andriopoulos & Lewis, 2009), and can be interrelationships among tensions (Sheep et al., 2017).
  • Microfoundations: What are the microfoundations of paradoxes (Miron-Spektor et al., 2018)? What is the role of emotions – anxiety, ambivalence, vulnerability – in sustaining or leveraging paradoxical tensions (Vince & Broussine, 1996)? What are the consequences for management and organization (Hahn et al., 2014)?
  • Paradoxes of grand and complex challenges:Given the changing landscape of organizations and the environment they are embedded in (social values, political orientations, technological, etc.) how does paradox as a lens inform in dealing with grand and complex challenges?
  • New methods in paradox research: What are new methods or combinations of methods that can help us examine paradoxes empirically (Andriopoulos & Gotsi, 2017; Jarzabkowski et al., 2019)? Are there new ways of triangulation informed by paradox theory, combining qualitative, quantitative and experimental approaches? Can paradox theory benefit from the analysis of big data or simulations? How can paradox be used to explore tensions between theory and methods?
  • The challenge of managing paradox: Addressing paradoxes is challenging (Denis et al., 2001), since tensions surface uncertainty and ambiguity (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002). What are the risks of engaging paradoxes (Pina e Cunha & Putnam, 2019)?
  • Abdallah, C., Denis, J.L., & Langley, A. (2011): “Having your cake and eating it too Discourses of transcendence and their role in organizational change dynamics.” Journal of Organizational Change Management, 24 (3), 333–348.
  • Andriopoulos, C., & Gotsi, M. (2017): “Methods of Paradox.” In: W. Smith, M. Lewis, P. Jarzabkowski & A. Langley (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Paradox. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 513–528.
  • Andriopoulos, C., & Lewis, M.W. (2009): “Exploitation-Exploration Tensions and Organizational Ambidexterity: Managing Paradoxes of Innovation.” Organization Science, 20 (4), 696–717.
  • Denis, J.-L., Lamothe, L., & Langley, A. (2001): “The Dynamics of Collective Leadership and Strategic Change in Pluralistic Organizations.” Academy of Management Journal, 44 (4), 809–837.
  • Farjoun, M. (2010): “Beyond Dualism: Stability and Change as Duality.” Academy of Management Review, 35 (2), 202–225.
  • Hahn, T., Preuss, L., Pinkse, J., & Figge, F. (2014): “Cognitive Frames in Corporate Sustainability: Managerial Sensemaking with Paradoxical and Business Case Frames.” Academy of Management Review, 39 (4), 463–487.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., Bednarek, R., Chalkias, K., & Cacciatori, E. (2019): “Exploring inter-organizational paradoxes: Methodological lessons from a study of a grand challenge.” Strategic Organization, 17 (1), 120–132.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., Lê, J.K., & Van de Ven, A.H. (2013): “Responding to competing strategic demands: How organizing, belonging, and performing paradoxes coevolve.” Strategic Organization, 11 (3), 245–280.
  • Lewis, M.W. (2000): “Exploring Paradox: Toward a More Comprehensive Guide.” Academy of Management Review, 25( 4), 760–776.
  • Miron-Spektor, E., Ingram, A., Keller, J., Smith, W.K., & Lewis, M.W. (2018): “Microfoundations of Organizational Paradox: The Problem Is How We Think about the Problem.” Academy of Management Journal, 61 (1), 26–45.
  • Pina e Cunha, M., & Putnam, L.L. (2019): “Paradox theory and the paradox of success.” Strategic Organization, 17 (1), 95–106.
  • Putnam, L.L., Fairhurst, G.T., & Banghart, S. (2016): “Contradictions, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizations: A Constitutive Approach.” Academy of Management Annals, 10 (1), 65–171.
  • Schad, J., & Bansal, P. (2018): “Seeing the Forest and the Trees: How a Systems Perspective Informs Paradox Research.” Journal of Management Studies, 55 (8), 1491–1506.
  • Schad, J., Lewis, M.W., Raisch, S., & Smith, W.K. (2016): “Paradoxical Research in Management Science: Looking Backward to Move Forward.” Academy of Management Annals, 10 (1), 5–64.
  • Sheep, M.L., Fairhurst, G.T., & Khazanchi, S. (2017): “Knots in the Discourse of Innovation: Investigating Multiple Tensions in a Reacquired Spin-off.” Organization Studies, 38 (3–4), 463–488.
  • Smith, W.K., & Lewis, M.W. (2011): “Towards a Theory of Paradox: A Dynamic Equilibrium Model of Organizing.” Academy of Management Review, 36 (2), 381–403.
  • Tsoukas, H., & Chia, R. (2002): “On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change.” Organization Science, 13 (5), 567–582.
  • Vince, R., & Broussine, M. (1996): “Paradox, Defense and Attachment: Accessing and Working with Emotions and Relations Underlying Organizational Change.” Organization Studies, 17 (1), 1–21.

The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Paradox  

Edited by Wendy K. Smith, Marianne W. Lewis, Paula Jarzabkowski, and Ann Langley


Organizations are rife with paradoxes. Contradictory and interdependent tensions emerge from and within multiple levels, including individual interactions, group dynamics, organizational strategies, and the broader institutional context. Examples abound such as those between stability and change, empowerment and alienation, flexibility and control, diversity and inclusion, exploration and exploitation, social and commercial, competition and collaboration, learning and performing. These examples accentuate the distinctions between concepts, positing their potential opposition; either A or B. Yet the social world is pluralistic, and comprises multiple, interwoven tensions, in which the relationship between A and B persists in a dynamic, ever-changing relationship. In the last thirty years, the depth and breadth of paradox studies in organizational theory has grown exponentially, surfacing new insights and applications while challenging foundational ideas, and raising questions around definitions, overlapping lenses, and varied research and managerial approaches. In this book, renowned organizational scholars draw from diverse lenses, theories, and empirics to depict paradox within organizational studies and provide a range of lenses and tools with which to understand and conduct research into such phenomena. In doing so, we hope these chapters re-energize continued insight on organizational paradox, plurality, tensions, and contractions.

Keywords: paradoxpluralitydichotomydialecticsdualitiestensionscontradictionsprocesspracticevirtuous and vicious cycles

Dualities, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizational Life

Front Cover

Moshe Farjoun, Wendy Smith, Ann Langley, Haridimos Tsoukas

Oxford University Press, Jul 26, 2018 – Business & Economics – 240 pages

Contradictions permeate and propel organizational life – including tensions between reaching globally while focusing locally; competing while also cooperating; performing reliably while experimenting, taking risks, and learning; or granting autonomy while constraining freedom. These tensions give organizational members pause, but also spur them to take action; they may be necessary for preserving the social order, but are also required to transform it. Drawing on the Eighth International Symposium on Process Organization Studies, Dualities, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizational Life examines how contradictions fuel emergent, dynamic systems and stimulate novelty, adaption, and transformations. It uses conceptual and empirical studies to offer insight into how process theorizing advances understanding of organizational contradictions; to shed light on how dialectics, paradoxes, and dualities fuel persistence and transformation; and to explore the convergence and divergence of dialectics, paradox, and dualities. Taken together, it offers key insights to inform persistent, contradictory dynamics in organizations and organizational studies.

Elgar Introduction to Organizational Paradox Theory

Elgar Introductions to Management and Organization Theory series

Publication Date: July 2021 ISBN: 978 1 83910 113 7 Extent: 192 pp

Marco Berti, Senior Lecturer in Management, UTS Business, University of Technology Sydney, Australia, Ace Simpson, Reader in Human Resource Management and Organizational Behaviour, Brunel Business School, Brunel University London, UK, Miguel Pina e Cunha, Fundação Amélia de Mello Professor, Nova School of Business and Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal and Stewart R. Clegg, Professor, University of Stavanger Business School, Norway and Nova School of Business and Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal 

This insightful Elgar Introduction comprises the first effort to provide a succinct overview of the field of organizational paradox theory, exploring contradictions and tensions in organizational settings. By conceptually mapping the field, it offers guidance through the literature on paradox, making space for new interpretations and applications of the concept. 

Opening with a critical analysis of research to date, the authors explore ideas related to dialectics and ambidexterity in organizations, as well as pragmatic approaches to organizational paradox. Chapters propose new ways to analyse responses to paradox, bringing together influential contributions that consider the nestedness of paradox, the relation between power and paradox, and paradoxes of positive organizational scholarships.

Providing novel approaches to the discipline, this cutting-edge book is crucial for graduate students and management scholars interested in employing organizational paradox theory as a conceptual framework for their research.

‘In an era in which paradox theory, research, and practice has grown exponentially, this book is a landmark contribution to the work on organizational tensions. As a highly accessible guide to the paradox terrain, it offers a number of unique features: 1) a broad historical picture of the evolution of paradox theory, 2) a succinct and insightful discussion of both the positive and negative sides of paradox, 3) a vivid expose on paradox complexity, 4) an exploration of the role of power in exercising and responding to paradox, and 5) recommendations for extending the vitality of this theory as well as avoiding practices that might reify it. The clarity of its presentation, sophistication of its ideas, and use of rich vignettes make it a “must read” for practitioners as well as academics interested in how contradictions and tensions pervade organizational experiences.’ 
– Linda L. Putnam, University of California, Santa Barbara, US

‘Berti, Simpson, Cunha, and Clegg’s thoughtful map of the paradox terrain offers deep insight to any traveler – whether they are just stepping into this world for the first time looking to understand the landscape or whether they are a seasoned explorer who can see old experiences with a new lens. Their focus on how features of power inform our experiences of paradox offers important ideas that allows us to grapple with tensions in new ways. I found myself delighted with the ideas, eager to read more, and energized to engage with paradox studies in new ways.’
– Wendy Smith, University of Delaware, US

‘This book is a tour de force, covering the field of paradox theory and all of the key concepts whilst also sketching out a compelling vision of how paradox theorising can both provide novel insights and also be taken to the next level in studying the grand societal challenges of our time. I strongly recommend it for new and established paradox scholars and those who are “paradox-curious”.’
– Paula Jarzabkowski, Cass Business School, City University of London, UK

‘With this book, the exciting new wave of paradox studies comes of age. It encourages and enables readers to go beyond managerial “both-anding” rhetoric and approaches. It unashamedly exhorts paradox scholars to look up and look around, at the absurdity and contradictions embedded in our lives and work in a society of organizations and the role of power and politics in framing paradoxes and our responses to them. Its stronger and bolder approach to paradox theory will speak to those who feel trapped in iron cages of contradictions, excite critical scholars who wish to deepen the treatment of paradox, and broaden student’s understanding and appreciation of the tensions, dilemmas and contradictions that bedevil life inside and outside modern institutions.’
– Richard Badham, Macquarie University, Australia

‘This book is a true guide to organizational paradox theory. It offers a multifarious picture of the landscape of organizational paradox with its gently rolling hills but also its sharp cliffs and deep abysses. It does a brilliant job in offering guidance into paradox research without tracing out a path to follow. Every word of this book reflects the deep and long-lasting engagement, dedication, and passion that the authors have devoted to studying paradox. It is a great service to our burgeoning field and to those who want to join the fascinating endeavor of venturing the winding roads of researching and navigating organizational paradox.’
– Tobias Hahn, ESADE Business School, Ramon Llull University, Spain


  • Global and Local
  • Cooperation and Competition
  • Nationalism and Globalism
  • Nativism vs Multiculturalism
  • Short Term Efficiency and Long term Development
  • Organizational Stability and Flexibility
  • Shareholders and Stakeholders
  • Conforming to and Shaping Collective Forces in the Environment
  • Nurture and Discipline
  • Respect vs Suspect
  • Consistency vs Flexibility
  • Solidarity vs Autonomy

Types of Competing Demands

Source: Analyzing competing demands in organizations: a systematic comparison

Source: Analyzing competing demands in organizations: a systematic comparison

Source: 27 years of research on organizational paradox and coping strategies: A review

Source: Dialectic, Contradiction, or Double Bind? Analyzing and Theorizing Employee Reactions to Organizational Tension

coping strategies

  • opposition
  • spatial separation
  • temporal separation
  • synthesis
  • splitting,
  • specializing,
  • suppressing

Source: 27 years of research on organizational paradox and coping strategies: A review


Source: From Tension to Transformation
How Wise Decision-makers Transcend Paradoxes and Ambiguity

Source: From Tension to Transformation
How Wise Decision-makers Transcend Paradoxes and Ambiguity

Seven Pillars of Cultivating Paradoxical Wisdom

Source: The seven pillars of paradoxical organizational wisdom: On the use of paradox as a vehicle to synthesize knowledge and ignorance

Source: Grasping the dynamics within paradox – comparing exogenous and endogenous approaches to paradox using social systems theory

My Related Posts:

Dialogs and Dialectics

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference

Second Order Cybernetics of Heinz Von Foerster

Knot Theory and Recursion: Louis H. Kauffman

Process Physics, Process Philosophy

Boundaries and Networks

Multilevel Approach to Research in Organizations

Networks and Hierarchies

Levels of Human Psychological Development in Integral Spiral Dynamics

Key Sources of Research

Metaphor, recursive systems, and paradox in science and developmental theory

W F Overton 1

Child Dev Behav. 1991;23:59-71.

doi: 10.1016/s0065-2407(08)60022-1.

Contradictions, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizations: A Constitutive Approach

  • January 2016
  • The Academy of Management Annals 10(1):65-171


Linda L. Putnam

Gail Fairhurst

Scott Banghart

Integrating Dialectical and Paradox Perspectives on Managing Contradictions in Organizations

Timothy J Hargrave, Andrew H Van de Ven

 May 13, 2016

Contradictions, Dialectics and Paradoxes

  • January 2016
  • Publisher: Sage
  • Editors: Ann Langley, Haridimos Tsoukas

Moshe Farjoun

  • York University

Dualities, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizational Life

edited by Moshe Farjoun, Wendy Smith, Ann Langley, Haridimos Tsoukas

Oxford Univ Press


Adding Complexity to Theories of
Paradox, Tensions and Dualities of Innovation and Change

Introduction to
Organization Studies Special Issue on
Paradox, Tensions and Dualities of Innovation and Change

Wendy Smith Miriam Erez Marianne Lewis Sirkka Jarvenpaa Paul Tracey

Organizational Paradox

Simone CarmineWendy K. Smith


DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199846740-0201

Paradox Research in Management Science: Looking Back to Move Forward.

Schad, J., Lewis, M. W., Raisch, S. & Smith, W. K. (2016).

Academy of Management Annals, 10(1), pp. 5-64.

doi: 10.1080/19416520.2016.1162422

Logics of Identity, Contradiction, and Attraction in Change

Jeffrey D. Ford and Laurie W. Ford

Published Online: 1 Oct 1994

Academy of Management Review VOL. 19, NO. 4

Contradictions, Tensions, Paradoxes, and Dialectics

Deborah Ballard-ReischPaaige K. Turner

First published: 08 March 2017

Contradiction and Harmony

Analyzing competing demands in organizations: a systematic comparison

Medhanie Gaim

1Umeå School of Business, Economics and Statistics, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

Nils Wåhlin , Miguel Pina e Cunha and Stewart Clegg

Journal of Organization Design (2018) 7:6

A Daoist Critique of Dialectics and Why It Matters

Joseph Pratt

Yingnan Zhao

Peking University Law School

70 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2018 Last revised: 22 Dec 2020

Date Written: April 12, 2019

The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Paradox  

Edited by Wendy K. Smith, Marianne W. Lewis, Paula Jarzabkowski, and Ann Langley

The curse of the Hegelian heritage: “Dialectic,” “contradiction,” and “dialectical logic” in Activity Theory

Michael H.G. Hoffmann, Atlanta, USA

Institutional Contradictions, Praxis, and Institutional Change: A Dialectical Perspective

Myeong-Gu Seo and W. E. Douglas Creed

The Academy of Management Review 

Vol. 27, No. 2 (Apr., 2002), pp. 222-247 (26 pages) 

Published By: Academy of Management

What, exactly, is a paradox? 

William G. Lycan

Analysis, Volume 70, Issue 4, October 2010, Pages 615–622,

Published: 28 July 2010

Dialectic, Contradiction, or Double Bind? Analyzing and Theorizing Employee Reactions to Organizational Tension

Sarah J. Tracy

Journal of Applied Communication Research, Vol. 32, No. 2, May 2004, pp. 119–146

Heraclitus and the Art of Paradox

Mary Margaret McCabe

In Platonic Conversations

Mary Margaret McCabe

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198732884

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198732884.001.0001


Stewart Clegg

Chapter prepared for The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Paradox: Approaches to Plurality, Tensions, and Contradictions, edited by M.W. Lewis, W.K. Smith, P. Jarzabkowski & A. Langley.


Nadia Stoyanova Kennedy State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook

Systems Intelligence in Leadership and Everyday Life

edited by Raimo P. Hämäläinen

Dialectical Opposition in Schoenberg’s Music and Thought

Michael Cherlin

Music Theory Spectrum, Volume 22, Issue 2, Fall 2000, Pages 157–176,

Published: 01 October 2000

From Tension to Transformation
How Wise Decision-makers Transcend Paradoxes and Ambiguity

Dr. Peter Verhezen


Dialectical Theory

The role of paradox theory in decision making and management research

David A. Waldman , Linda L. Putnam , Ella Miron-Spektor , Donald Siegel

Received 2 April 2019; Accepted 19 April 2019

Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes,

27 years of research on organizational paradox and coping strategies: A review

Nathalie Guilmot

Louvain School of Management

Ina Ehnert
Louvain School of Management

Chapter 1 Why are uncertainty, ambiguity and paradox important for managers?

Managing in Uncertainty: Complexity and the paradoxes of everyday organizational life. Routledge, 2015.

The Arrow of Time and the Cycle of Time: Concepts of Change, Cognition, and Embodiment

  • July 1994
  • Psychological Inquiry 5(3):215-237


Willis F. Overton

Paradox as a Metatheoretical Perspective: Sharpening the Focus and Widening the Scope


Marianne Lewis

Wendy K. Smith

Paradox theory and the paradox of success

Miguel Pina e Cunha

Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal

Linda L Putnam

University of California, USA

Strategic Organization 2019, Vol. 17(1) 95–106

The paradox of co‐operation and competition in strategic alliances: towards a multi‐paradigm approach

Colin  Clarke‐Hill, Huaning  Li, Barry  Davies

Management Research News

ISSN: 0140-9174

Article publication date: 1 February 2003

Twelfth International Symposium on Process Organization Studies

Organizing beyond organizations for the common good:

Addressing societal issues through process studies



CLIVE SMALLMAN University of Western Sydney

University of Cyprus and University of Warwick

ANDREW H. VAN DE VEN University of Minnesota

Academy of Management fournal 2013, Vol. 56, No. 1, 1-13.

The Practice Approach: For a Praxeology of Organisational and Management Studies

Davide Nicolini and Pedro Monteiro

Click to access nicolini_and_monteiro_-_the_practice_approach.pdf

The SAGE Handbook of Process Organization Studies

Ann Langley and Haridimos Tsoukas


Click to access 866021353.pdf

Dealing with Paradoxes of Law: Derrida, Luhmann, Wiethölter

Translated by Iain L. Fraser


Oren Perez and Gunther Teubner (eds.), On Paradoxes and Inconsistencies in Law, Hart, Oxford 2006, 41-64

On The Marxist Dialectic

Sean Sayers

The Influence of Biculturalism on the Development of a Dialectical Thinking

LUISS Guido Carli / Premio tesi d’eccellenza

Working paper n. 7/2016-2017

Publication date: February 2019

Dialectical Thinking and Humanistic Psychology

John Rowan

Click to access 3-2%2020%20Rowan%20-%20Humanistic%20Psychology.pdf

PARADOXES. Their Roots, Range and Resolution.

Nicholas RESCHER

Chicago and La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 2001

Review by Mirela Saim

Click to access ReviewRescher.pdf

Culture, Dialectics, and Reasoning About Contradiction

Kaiping Peng

Richard E. Nisbett

September 1999 • American Psychologist

Vol. 54, No. 9, 741-754

Elgar Introduction to Organizational Paradox Theory

Marco Berti, Senior Lecturer in Management, UTS Business, University of Technology Sydney, Australia,

Ace Simpson, Reader in Human Resource Management and Organizational Behaviour, Brunel Business School, Brunel University London, UK,

Miguel Pina e Cunha, Fundação Amélia de Mello Professor, Nova School of Business and Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal

Stewart R. Clegg, Professor, University of Stavanger Business School, Norway and Nova School of Business and Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal 

Elgar Introductions to Management and Organization Theory series

Publication Date: July 2021 ISBN: 978 1 83910 113 7 Extent: 192 pp

Transcending Paradox: The Chinese “Middle Way” Perspective


Darden Graduate School of Business, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550, USA

Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 19, 179–199, 2002


XIN LI Copenhagen Business School

VERNER WORM Copenhagen Business School

Submitted to Academy of Management 2015 annual conference On 8 December 2014
Submission number: 10466

Click to access Solutions%20to%20Organizational%20Paradox%20(1).pdf

Exploring Paradox: Toward a More Comprehensive Guide

M Lewis

Article in The Academy of Management Review · October 2000 

DOI: 10.2307/259204


Marco Berti

The Lived Experience of Paradox: How Individuals Navigate Tensions during the Pandemic Crisis




IMD Business School


UCL School of Management, London

Academy of Management Discoveries 2016, Vol. 2, No. 1, 51–78.
Online only

System of Systems Management

Brian Sauser, John Boardman, and Alex Gorod

Stevens Institute of Technology, USA

System of Systems – Innovations for the 21st Century, 

Edited by [Mo Jamshidi]. ISBN 0-471-XXXXX-X Copyright © 2008 Wiley[Imprint], Inc.


M. Ann Welsh

Department of Management College of Business Administration University of Cincinnati
P.O. Box 210165 Cincinnati, OH 45221-0165 513-556-7136

Gordon E. Dehler

Organizational Sciences Program The George Washington University 2147 F Street NW Washington, DC 20052 202-994-1880

A Paradox Approach to Societal Tensions during the Pandemic Crisis

Garima Sharma1, Jean Bartunek2, Patrice M. Buzzanell3,
Simone Carmine4, Carsyn Endres5, Michael Etter6,7, Gail Fairhurst5, Tobias Hahn8, Patrick Lê9, Xin Li7,10, Vontrese Pamphile11,
Camille Pradies12, Linda L. Putnam13, Kimberly Rocheville2, Jonathan Schad6, Mathew Sheep14, and Joshua Keller15

Journal of Management Inquiry
2021, Vol. 30(2) 121–137

Communicative dynamic to reconstruct paradoxes in organizations

Harald Tuckermann
University of St. Gallen,

Thomas Schumacher
University of St. Gallen,

Johannes Rüegg-Stürm
University of St. Gallen,

Chapter 4

The seven pillars of paradoxical organizational wisdom: On the use of paradox as a vehicle to synthesize knowledge and ignorance

in Book Wisdom Learning Edition 1st Edition First Published 2016
Imprint Gower
eBook ISBN 9781315547039

From Vicious to Virtuous Paradox Dynamics: The Social-symbolic Work of Supporting Actors

Camille PradiesAndrea TunarosaMarianne W. Lewis,

 …First Published March 18, 2020

Dynamic Capabilities and Strategic Paradox: a case study

Patrick bohl

Click to access VT_2015n11p25.pdf

Here Be Paradox: How Global Business Leaders Navigate Change

Janet Ann  Nelson

Advances in Global Leadership

ISBN: 978-1-78754-298-3, eISBN: 978-1-78754-297-6

ISSN: 1535-1203

Publication date: 26 November 2018

Grasping the dynamics within paradox – comparing exogenous and endogenous approaches to paradox using social systems theory

PROS 2019 – draft version 12.05.19

Harald Tuckermann, Simone Gutzan, Camille Leutenegger, Johannes Rüegg-Stürm,

Institute of Systemic Management and Public Governance, University of St. Gallen, Dufourstrasse 40a, 9008 St. Gallen, Switzerland,


Paradoxes in supply chains: a conceptual framework for packed products

Henrik Palsson
Faculty of Engineering, Lund University, Lund, Sweden, and

Erik Sandberg

Department of Logistics and Quality Management, Link€oping University, Link€oping, Sweden

The International Journal of Logistics Management

Vol. 31 No. 3, 2020 pp. 423-442

Top managers’ improvisational decision-making in crisis: a paradox perspective


Pooya Tabesh

Dusya Vera

Navigate Paradox in Organizations: The Implications of Combining Theory of Paradox with Practice

Mourad Mechiche
Independent Scholar, Vihastenkarinkatu 21-23 G, Raahe, Finland

European Journal of Business and Management ISSN 2222-1905 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2839 (Online)
Vol.12, No.29, 2020

We Have To Do This and That? You Must be Joking: Constructing and Responding to Paradox Through Humor

Paula A. Jarzabkowski

City University London, UK

Jane K. Lê

The University of Sydney, Australia

Organization Studies 2017, Vol. 38(3-4) 433–462

Paradox beyond East/West orthodoxy: The case of Ubuntu

Medhanie Gaim

Umeå School of Business, Economics and Statistics, Sweden

Stewart Clegg
University Technology Sydney, Australia & Nova School of Business and Economics, Carcavelos, Portugal

Responding to competing strategic demands: How organizing, belonging, and performing paradoxes coevolve

Paula Jarzabkowski

City University, UK; Cornell University, USA

Strategic Organization 11(3) 245–280.


A Paradox Approach to Organizational Tensions During the Pandemic Crisis

Simone Carmine1, Constantine Andriopoulos2, Manto Gotsi3 ,
Charmine E. J. Härtel4, Anna Krzeminska5, Nkosana Mafico4,
Camille Pradies6, Hassan Raza7, Tatbeeq Raza-Ullah8,
Stephanie Schrage9 , Garima Sharma10, Natalie Slawinski11, Lea Stadtler12, Andrea Tunarosa13, Casper Winther-Hansen14 , and Joshua Keller15

Journal of Management Inquiry
2021, Vol. 30(2) 138–153


Ella Miron-Spektor

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Haifa 32000, Israel
Tel: 972-4-829-4439
Fax: 972-4-829-5688

Amy Ingram Clemson University

Josh Keller
Nanyang Technological University

Wendy K. Smith University of Delaware

Marianne W. Lewis University of London

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

Bruner (1973: xi) described this duality as follows:“our knowledge of the world is not merely a mirroring or reflection of order and structure ‘out there,’ but consists rather of a construct or model that can, so to speak, be spun a bit ahead of things to predict how the world will be or might be”

Key Terms

  • Narratives
  • Culture
  • Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Meaning
  • Meaning making
  • Networks
  • Boundaries
  • Folk Culture
  • Communication
  • Sensemaking
  • Active Learning
  • Karl Weick
  • Dirk Baecker
  • Jerome Bruner
  • Erving Goffman
  • George Spencer Brown
  • Charles Sanders Peirce
  • Social Interactions
  • Strategic Interactions
  • Cultural Psychology
  • Systems
  • Social Systems
  • Individual and Collective
  • Symbolic Interactions
  • Face Work
  • Face to Face
  • Micro Sociology
  • Drama
  • Kenneth Burke
  • Chain of Events
  • Sequence of Events
  • Time Space
  • Choices, Conflicts, Dilemmas
  • Constraints, Limits, Boundaries
  • Networks, Connections, Interaction
  • Social Simulation
  • Discrete Events
  • Scenes, Scenarios
  • Games and Dramas
  • Harmony
  • Colors, Tones
  • Interaction Rituals
  • Interaction Order
  • Ethnomethodology
  • LL and LR Quadrants in AQAL Model of Ken Wilber
  • Many Faces of Man
  • Backstage and Frontstage
  • Russell Ackoff’s Interaction Planning
  • Faces, Masks, and Rituals
  • Frame Analysis
  • Self and Others
  • Social Constructivism
  • Agent Based Modeling
  • Cellular Automata
  • Computational Sociology
  • Micro Motives and Macro Behavior
  • Conversations
  • Strategic Conversations
  • Boundaries and Distinctions
  • Networks and Boundaries

Jerome Bruner ON Narratives

Source: Chapter 1 Narrative Inquiry: From Story to Method

… Narrative as a mode of knowing 

In 1984 at an address to the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Jerome Bruner challenged the psychological community to consider the possibilities of narrative as one of two distinct and distinctive modes of thinking, namely the “paradigmatic” or logico-scientific mode and the narrative mode. For Bruner, each mode constituted a unique way of construing and constructing reality and of ordering experience. Importantly, neither of these modes was reducible to the other, as each was necessary in the development of human thought and action. Taking up these ideas in later writings, Bruner (1986) presents the narrative mode of meaning-making as one that “looks for particular conditions and is centred around the broader and more inclusive question of the meaning of experience” (p. 11), whilst the paradigmatic mode is characterised as one that is more concerned with establishing universal truth conditions.

Bruner has pursued the notion of “narrative” modes of thinking and explored the ways in which we draw on “narrative” modes of knowing as a learning process (1996a). For Bruner, we construct our understandings of the world “mainly in the form of narrative – stories, excuses, myths, reasons for doing and not doing, and so on” (2003, p. 44). In earlier writings, he points to the power and import of narrative as a meaning-making process, commenting that “our capacity to render experience in terms of narrative is not just child’s play, but an instrument for making meaning that dominates much of life in culture – from soliloquies at bedtime to the weighing of testimony in our legal system” (1990, p. 97). Importantly, Bruner suggests that our “sensitivity” to narrative constitutes a major link between our “sense of self and our sense of others in the social world around us” (1986, p. 69) and is the mode through which we “create a version of the world” with which we can live (1996a, p. 39).

Bruner’s work in the field of cognitive psychology constitutes one way in which narrative has been conceptualised within scholarship and has led to the establishment of the field of narrative psychology. It is perhaps serendipitous that Bruner’s account of the narrative mode of thinking occurred at a time of growing interest in the ways in which narrative might be drawn upon for research and inquiry purposes. As educators and scholars took up the “call of stories” (Coles, 1989) to provide alternative means to explore, interrogate, interpret, and record experience, “it helped that the messenger was Bruner, an enormously powerful scholar with unusual cross-disciplinary knowledge, stature, and impact, who ventured to articulate what narrative could mean to the social sciences at large” (Bresler, 2006, p. 23). Crucially, Bruner’s work leads us to consider narrative as more than a means of presenting meaning and to consider the role of narrative and narrative forms in “re-presenting,” in the sense of constructing meaning, both individually and collectively. For Bruner, narrative operates simultaneously in both thought and action, shaping the ways in which we conceive and respond to our worlds. In short, all cognition, whatever its nature, relies upon representation, how we lay down our knowledge in a way to represent our experience of the world . . . representation is a process of construction, as it were, rather than of mere reflection of the world (Bruner, 1996b, p. 95).

Here, a narrative might become a “template for experience” (Bruner, 2002, p. 34) that works on the mind, modelling “not only its world but the minds seeking to give it its meanings” (p. 27). This move from narrative as “story presented” to narrative as a “form of meaning-making,” indeed, a form of “mind-making,” has played an important role in the development of narrative as a method of inquiry in the social sciences.

Source: INTRODUCTION: BRUNER’S WAY/ David Bakhurst and Stuart G. Shanker

Another reason why Bruner is an ideal focus is his role in two crucial paradigm shifts in twentieth-century psychology. In the 1950s, he was an instrumental figure in the cognitive revolution, which restored to psychology the inner life of the mind after decades of arid behaviourist objectivism. Cognitive psychology prospered and, in league with other fields, evolved into ‘cognitive science’, conceived as a systematic inter- disciplinary approach to the study of mind (see Gardner, 1985). Bruner, however, gradually grew more and more dissatisfied with what cognitivism had become. In 1990, he published Acts of Meaning, in which he argued that the cognitive revolution had betrayed the impulse that had brought it into being. The revolution’s principal concern, Bruner argued, had been to return the concept of meaning to the forefront of psychological theorizing. But cognitivism had become so enamoured of computational models of the mind that it had replaced behaviourism’s impoverished view of the person with one no better: human beings as information processors. In response, Bruner argued forcefully that meaning is not a given, but something made by human beings as they negotiate the world. Meaning is a cultural, not computational, phenomenon. And since meaning is the medium of the mental, culture is constitutive of mind.

In many ways, Bruner’s objection was familiar. It had often been lamented that mainstream psychology was individualistic and scientistic, representing minds as self-contained mental atoms and ignoring the social and cultural influences upon them. In the last decade, however, this well-known critique has really been gaining momentum. Besides Bruner, both Richard Shweder (1990) and Michael Cole (1996) have sounded the call for a new ‘cultural psychology’. Assorted versions of ‘constructionist’ and ‘discursive’ psychology have appeared on the scene, joining a veritable chorus of diverse voices urging that psychology treat the mind as a sociocultural phenomenon (e.g., Edwards and Potter, 1992; Harré and Gillett, 1994; Gergen, 1999). It is particularly striking that these voices no longer come exclusively from the margins. Just as the left/right divide is collapsing in political theory, so the dichotomy between mainstream ‘individualistic/scientistic/Cartesian’ psychology and radical ‘communitarian/interpretative/post-Cartesian’ psychology has become outmoded. Cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind now commonly acknowledge that no plausible account of the mind can be indifferent to the context in which we think and act, and some significant works have appeared devoted to the cultural origins, and social realization, of human mentality (e.g., Donald, 1991). A psychologist interested in culture is no longer a counter-cultural figure.

Source: The narrative constitution of identity: A relational and network approach

From diverse sources it is possible to identify four features of a reframed narrativity particularly relevant for the social sciences:1) relationality of parts, 2) causal emplotment, 3) selective appropriation, and 4) temporality, sequence and place.43 Together, these dimensions suggest narratives are constellations of relationships (connected parts) embedded in time and space, constituted by causal emplotment. Unlike the attempt to produce meaning by placing an event in a specified category, narrativity precludes sense making of a singular isolated phenomenon. Narrativity demands that we discern the meaning of any single event only in temporal and spatial relationship to other events. Indeed, the chief characteristic of narrative is that it renders understanding only by connecting (however unstably) parts to a constructed configuration or a social network of relationships (however incoherent or unrealizable) composed of symbolic, institutional, and material practices 4.4


Narrative accounts must have at least two characteristics. They should center upon people and their intentional states: their desires, beliefs, and so on; and they should focus on how these intentional states led to certain kinds of activities. Such an account should also be or appear to be order preserving, in the sense of preserving or appearing to preserve sequence — the sequential properties of which life itself consists or is supposed to consist. Now, in the nature of things, if these points are correct, autobiographies should be about the past, should be par excellence the genre (or set of genres) composed in the past tense. So just for fun, we decided to find out whether in fact autobiographies were all in the past tense — both the spontaneous ones we had collected and a sample of literary autobiographies.

We have never found a single one where past-tense verbs constituted more than 70 percent of the verbs used. Autobiographies are, to be sure, about the past; but what of the 30 percent or more of their sentences that are not in the past tense? I’m sure it will be apparent without all these statistics that autobiography is not only about the past, but is busily about the present as well. If it is to bring the protagonist up to the present, it must deal with the present as well as the past — and not just at the end of the account, as it were. That is one part of it. But there is another part that is more interesting. Most of the “present-tense” aspect of autobiography has to do with what students of narrative structure call “evaluation” — the task of placing those sequential events in terms of a meaningful context. Narrative, whether looked at from the more formalistic perspective of William Labov (1982) or the more literary, historical one of Barbara Herrnstein-Smith (1986), necessarily comprises two features: one of them is telling what happened to a cast of human beings with a view to the order in which things happened. That part is greatly aided by the devices of flashback, flashforward, and the rest. But a narrative must also answer the question “Why”, “Why is this worth telling, what is interesting about it?” Not everything that happened is worth telling about, and it is not always clear why what one tells merits telling. We are bored and offended by such accounts as“I got up in the morning, got out of bed, dressed and tied my shoes, shaved, had breakfast, went off to the office and saw a graduate student who had an idea for a thesis…”

The “why tell” function imposes something of great (and hidden) significance on narrative. Not only must a narrative be about a sequence of events over time, structured comprehensibly in terms of cultural canonicality, it must also contain something that endows it with exceptionality. We had better pause for a moment and explore what this criterion of exceptionality means for autobiography and, incidentally, why it creates such a spate of present-tense clauses in the writing of autobiography.


The object of narrative, then, is to demystify deviations. Narrative solves no problems. It simply locates them in such a way as to make them comprehensible. It does so by invoking the play of psychological states and of actions that transpire when human beings interact with each other and relates these to what can usually be expected to happen. I think that Kenneth Burke has a good deal to say about this “play of psychological states” in narrative, and I think it would help to examine his ideas. In his The Grammar of Motives, he introduces the idea of “dramatism” (Burke 1945). Burke noted that dramatism was created by the interplay of five elements (he refers to them as the Pentad). These comprise an Actor who commits an Action toward a Goal with the use of some Instrument in a particular Scene. Dramatism is created, he argues, when elements of the Pentad are out of balance, lose their appropriate “ratio”. This creates Trouble, an emergent sixth element. He has much to say about what leads to the breakdown in the ratios between the elements of the dramatistic pentad. For example, the Actor and the Scene don’t fit. Nora, for example: what in the world is the rebellious Nora in A Doll’s House doing in this banal doctor’s household? Or Oedipus taking his mother Jocasta unknowingly to wife. The “appropriate ratios”, of course, are given by the canonical stances of folk psychology toward the human condition. Dramatism constitutes their patterned violation. In a classically oral culture, the great myths that circulate are the archetypal forms of violation, and these become increasingly “smoothed” and formalized — even frozen — over time, as we know from the classic studies of Russian folktales published by Vladimir Propp (1986). In more mobile literary cultures, of course, the range and variation in such tales and stories greatly increases, matching the greater complexity and widened opportunities that accompany literacy. Genres develop, new forms emerge, variety increase — at least at first. It may well be that with the emergence of mass cultures and the new massifying media, new constraints on this variation occur, but that is a topic that would take us beyond the scope of this essay (see Feldman, in this volume).

Erving Goffman On Interactionism

Source: Wikipedia

Goffman was influenced by Herbert BlumerÉmile DurkheimSigmund FreudEverett HughesAlfred Radcliffe-BrownTalcott ParsonsAlfred SchützGeorg Simmel and W. Lloyd Warner. Hughes was the “most influential of his teachers”, according to Tom Burns.[1][3][22] Gary Alan Fine and Philip Manning have said that Goffman never engaged in serious dialogue with other theorists,[1] but his work has influenced and been discussed by numerous contemporary sociologists, including Anthony GiddensJürgen Habermas and Pierre Bourdieu.[23]

Though Goffman is often associated with the symbolic interaction school of sociological thought, he did not see himself as a representative of it, and so Fine and Manning conclude that he “does not easily fit within a specific school of sociological thought”.[1] His ideas are also “difficult to reduce to a number of key themes”; his work can be broadly described as developing “a comparative, qualitative sociology that aimed to produce generalizations about human behavior”.[23][24]

Goffman made substantial advances in the study of face-to-face interaction, elaborated the “dramaturgical approach” to human interaction, and developed numerous concepts that have had a massive influence, particularly in the field of the micro-sociology of everyday life.[23][25] Much of his work was about the organization of everyday behavior, a concept he termed “interaction order”.[23][26][27] He contributed to the sociological concept of framing (frame analysis),[28] to game theory (the concept of strategic interaction), and to the study of interactions and linguistics.[23] With regard to the latter, he argued that the activity of speaking must be seen as a social rather than a linguistic construct.[29] From a methodological perspective, Goffman often employed qualitative approaches, specifically ethnography, most famously in his study of social aspects of mental illness, in particular the functioning of total institutions.[23] Overall, his contributions are valued as an attempt to create a theory that bridges the agency-and-structuredivide—for popularizing social constructionismsymbolic interactionconversation analysis, ethnographic studies, and the study and importance of individual interactions.[30][31] His influence extended far beyond sociology: for example, his work provided the assumptions of much current research in language and social interaction within the discipline of communication.[32]

Goffman defined “impression management” as a person’s attempts to present an acceptable image to those around them, verbally or nonverbally.[33] This definition is based on Goffman’s idea that people see themselves as others view them, so they attempt to see themselves as if they are outside looking in.[33] Goffman was also dedicated to discovering the subtle ways humans present acceptable images by concealing information that may conflict with the images for a particular situation, such as concealing tattoos when applying for a job in which tattoos would be inappropriate, or hiding a bizarre obsession such as collecting/interacting with dolls, which society may see as abnormal.

Goffman broke from George Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer in that while he did not reject the way people perceive themselves, he was more interested in the actual physical proximity or the “interaction order” that molds the self.[33] In other words, Goffman believed that impression management can be achieved only if the audience is in sync with a person’s self-perception. If the audience disagrees with the image someone is presenting then their self-presentation is interrupted. People present images of themselves based on how society thinks they should act in a particular situation. This decision how to act is based on the concept of definition of the situation. Definitions are all predetermined and people choose how they will act by choosing the proper behavior for the situation they are in. Goffman also draws from William Thomas for this concept. Thomas believed that people are born into a particular social class and that the definitions of the situations they will encounter have already been defined for them.[33] For instance. when an individual from an upper-class background goes to a black-tie affair, the definition of the situation is that they must mind their manners and act according to their class.

In 2007 by The Times Higher Education Guide listed Goffman as the sixth most-cited author in the humanities and social sciences, behind Anthony Giddens and ahead of Habermas.[2] His popularity with the general public has been attributed to his writing style, described as “sardonic, satiric, jokey”,[31] and as “ironic and self-consciously literary”,[34] and to its being more accessible than that of most academics.[35] His style has also been influential in academia, and is credited with popularizing a less formal style in academic publications.[31] Interestingly, if he is rightly so credited, he may by this means have contributed to a remodelling of the norms of academic behaviour, particularly of communicative action, arguably liberating intellectuals from social restraints unnatural to some of them.

His students included Carol Brooks Gardner, Charles Goodwin, Marjorie Goodwin, John Lofland, Gary Marx, Harvey SacksEmanuel Schegloff, David Sudnow and Eviatar Zerubavel.[1]

Despite his influence, according to Fine and Manning there are “remarkably few scholars who are continuing his work”, nor has there been a “Goffman school”; thus his impact on social theory has been simultaneously “great and modest”.[30] Fine and Manning attribute the lack of subsequent Goffman-style research and writing to the nature of his style, which they consider very difficult to duplicate (even “mimic-proof”), and also to his subjects’ not being widely valued in the social sciences.[3][30] Of his style, Fine and Manning remark that he tends to be seen either as a scholar whose style is difficult to reproduce, and therefore daunting to those who might wish to emulate it, or as a scholar whose work was transitional, bridging the work of the Chicago school and that of contemporary sociologists, and thus of less interest to sociologists than the classics of either of those groups.[24][30] Of his subjects, Fine and Manning observe that the topic of behavior in public places is often stigmatized as trivial and unworthy of serious scholarly attention.[30]

Nonetheless, Fine and Manning note that Goffman is “the most influential American sociologist of the twentieth century”.[36] Elliott and Turner see him as “a revered figure—an outlaw theorist who came to exemplify the best of the sociological imagination”, and “perhaps the first postmodern sociological theorist”.[14]

Source: Looking back on Goffman: The excavation continues

The “descent of the ego,” then, was witnessed by both Durkheim and Goffman in terms of the mechanisms at work in modem Western society whereby the tendencies toward an unbridled egoistic individualism are continually rebuffed (Chriss, 1993). MacCannell successfully makes the case for such a Durkheim-Goffman link through a semiotic sociology which resists the temptation of explaining in solely positivistic terms why it is that in modem Western society, imbued as it is with a strong ethic of individualism, we nevertheless see persons orienting their actions toward a perceived moral universe and the accommodation of the other. Like Durkheim and many of the great students of society from Plato to Hobbes, from Kant to Parsons, Goffman was ultimately concerned with the question, how is social order possible (Berger, 1973: 356; Collins, 1980: 173)?

Burns recognizes the Durkheim-Goffman link as well, but carries the analysis even further by comparing and contrasting Durkheim’s notion of social order with Goffman’s interaction order. Durkheim’s sui generis reality was society; Goffman’s is the encounters between individuals, or the social act itself. The moral order which pervades society and sustains individual conduct constitutes a “social fact” in both Durkheim’s and Goffman’s eyes. But Burns (1992) notes also that for Durkheim this order was·seen as durable and all-sustaining, whereas for Goffman “it was fragile, impermanent, full of unexpected holes, and in constant need of repair” (p.26).

my Related Posts

Boundaries and Relational Sociology

Boundaries and Distinctions

Boundaries and Networks

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

Third and Higher Order Cybernetics

Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Relational Turn in Economic Geography

Cybernetics, Autopoiesis, and Social Systems Theory

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics

A Unifying Model of Arts

Ratio Club: A Brief History of British Cyberneticians

Micro Motives, Macro Behavior: Agent Based Modeling in Economics

On Holons and Holarchy

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference

The Social Significance of Drama and Narrative Arts

Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches

Drama Therapy: Self in Performance

Narrative Psychology: Language, Meaning, and Self

Psychology of Happiness: Value of Storytelling and Narrative Plays

Drama Theory: Choices, Conflicts and Dilemmas

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Key Sources of Research

The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology

edited by Jaan Valsiner

Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning

By Bradd Shore

Erving Goffman on Wikipedia

On Face-Work
An Analysis of Ritual Elements in Social Interaction

Erving Goffman
Pages 213-231 | Published online: 08 Nov 2016

Chapter in Book Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face to Face Behavior

Click to access Goffman,%20Erving%20%27On%20Face-work%27.pdf

Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-To-Face Behavior

E. Goffman

Published 1967


Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction.

Goffman, Erving. 1961

Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. 

Goffman, Erving. 1959. 

New York: Doubleday Anchor.

Strategic interaction.

Goffman, Erving (1969), 

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience.

Goffman, E. (1974). 

New York: Harper & Row.

Sociology. Narrative psychology: Internet and resource guide. 

Hevern, V. W. (2004, Apr). 

Retrieved [3/15/2021] from the Le Moyne College Web site:

Narrative scenarios: Toward a culturally thick notion of narrative. 

Brockmeier, J. (2012). 

In J. Valsiner (Ed.), Oxford library of psychology. The Oxford handbook of culture and psychology (p. 439–467). Oxford University Press.

Erving Goffman

Looking back on Goffman: The excavation continues

James J. Chriss 

Cleveland State University


Sociology & Criminology Faculty Publications. 98.

Beyond Goffman: Studies on Communication, Institution, and Social Interaction


Erving Goffman: Exploring,the interaction order 


Tom Burns’s Erving Goffman


Chapter 1
Narrative Inquiry: From Story to Method

Troubling Certainty

Margaret S. Barrett and Sandra L. Stauffer

In Narrative Inquiry in Music Education

DOI 10.1007/978-1-4020-9862-8  

Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009


David Bakhurst and Stuart G. Shanker

In Jerome Bruner: Language, Culture, Self

Edited by
David Bakhurst and Stuart G. Shanker

Sage Publications, 2001

Analyzing Narratives and Story-Telling

Matti Hyvärinen


The narrative constitution of identity: A relational and network approach


Universityof Michigan

TheoryandSociety23: 605-649, 1994

Cognitive–Linguistic and Constructivist Mnemonic Triggers in Teaching Based on Jerome Bruner’s Thinking

Jari Metsämuuronen1* and Pekka Räsänen2

  • 1Department of Pedagogy, NLA University College, Bergen, Norway
  • 2Niilo Mäki Institute, Jyväskylä, Finland

Front. Psychol., 12 December 2018 |

Storytelling and the Construction of Realities

Paul Stoller

Etnofoor Vol. 30, No. 2, Race-ism (2018), pp. 107-112 

The Construction of Identity in the Narratives of Romance and Comedy

Kevin Murray 

Texts of Identity In J.Shotter & K.Gergen (eds.)  London: Sage (1988)

The Construction of Identity in the Narratives of Romance and Comedy

Actual Minds, Possible Worlds

By Jerome S. BRUNER

The Narrative Construction of Reality

Jerome Bruner

Jerome Bruner Life as a Narrative

Polarising narrative and paradigmatic ways of knowing: exploring the spaces through narrative, stories and reflections of personal transition


David Cleaver University of Southern Queensland

Possibilities for Action: Narrative Understanding

Donald Polkinghorne

Fielding Graduate University

Two Modes of Thought

Jerome Bruner

Narrating the Self


Barbara Czarniawska

Acts of meaning. 

Bruner, J. (1990). 

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Language learner stories and imagined identities

Margaret Early and Bonny Norton
Department of Language and Literacy Education, University of British Columbia

Narrative Rhetorics in Scenario Work: Sensemaking and Translation

Zhan Li
University of Southern California USA

Chapter 2
Self-making and world-making

Jerome Bruner

In Narrative and Identity

Studies in Autobiography, Self and Culture

Jens Brockmeier
University of Toronto & Freie Universität Berlin

Donal Carbaugh
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

John Benjamins Publishing Company

A Grammar of Motives

By Kenneth Burke

Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950–1955

By Kenneth Burke


Kenneth Burke

Click to access CaricatureofCourtshipKafkaCastleKennethBurke.pdf

A Calculus of Negation in Communication

Cybernetics & Human Knowing 24, 3–4 (2017), 17–27

Posted: 23 Jan 2018

Dirk Baecker

Witten/Herdecke University

Date Written: September 1, 2017

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

Dirk Baecker

Universität Witten/Herdecke

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

André Reichel volume 17(1): 89-118

Click to access 17-1reichel.pdf

Systems, Network, and Culture

Dirk Baecker Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen, Germany

Presented at the International Symposium “Relational Sociology: Transatlantic Impulses for the Social Sciences”, Berlin, September 25-26, 2008

Click to access baecker2.pdf

Organisations as distinction generating and processing systems: Niklas Luhmann’s contribution to organisation studies

David Seidl and Kai Helge Becker


Niklas Luhmann
TRANSLATED BY John Bednarz, Jr., with Dirk Baecker FOREWORD BY Eva M. Knodt

Introduction to Systems Theory

Niklas Luhmann

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Mysteries of cognition. Review of neocybernetics and narrative by bruce clarke.

Baecker D. (2015)

Constructivist Foundations 10(2): 261–263.

The Communication of Meaning in Anticipatory Systems: A Simulation Study of the Dynamics of Intentionality in Social Interactions

Loet Leydesdorff

In: Daniel M. Dubois (Ed.) Proceedings of the 8th Intern. Conf. on Computing Anticipatory Systems CASYS’07, Liège, Belgium, 6-11 August 2007. Melville, NY: American Institute of Physics Conference Proceedings, Vol. 1051 (2008) pp. 33-49.

Why Systems?

Dirk Baecker

Universität Witten/Herdecke

Theory Culture & Society 18 (2001), pp. 59-74


In collaboration with the Liverpool University
and the Laws of Form 50th Anniversary Conference.
Alphabetum III
September 28 — December 31, 2019 West Den Haag, The Netherlands

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Systems in Context
On the outcome of the Habermas/Luhmann

Poul Kjaer

Niklas Luhmann and Organization Studies

Edited by
David Seidl and Kai Helge Becker

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A Note on Max Weber’s Unfinished Theory of Economy and Society

Dirk Baecker
Witten/Herdecke University, Germany

The fractal geometry of Luhmann’s sociological theory or debugging systems theory

José Javier Blanco Rivero

CONICET/Centro de Historia Intelectual, National University of Quilmes, Roque Sáenz Peña 352, Bernal, Argentina

Technological Forecasting & Social Change 146 (2019) 31–40

Diamond Calculus of Formation of Forms

A calculus of dynamic complexions of distinctions as an interplay of worlds and distinctions

Archive-Number / Categories 3_01 / K06, K03
Publication Date 2011

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Niklas Luhmann


Snakes all the Way Down: Varela’s Calculus for Self-Reference and the Praxis of Paradise

André Reichel*

European Center for Sustainability Research, Zeppelin University, Friedrichshafen, Germany

Systems Research and Behavioral Science Syst. Res. (2011)
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( DOI: 10.1002/sres.1105

Who Conceives of Society?

Ernst von Glasersfeld

University of Massachusetts

Constructivist Foundations 2008, vol. 3, no. 2

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Dramaturgy (sociology)


Beyond Bourdieu:
The Interactionist Foundations of Media Practice Theory

PETER LUNT University of Leicester, UK

International Journal of Communication 14(2020), 2946–2963

Drama as Life: The Significance of Goffman’s Changing Use of the Theatrical Metaphor

Phil Manning

Sociological Theory Vol. 9, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 70-86 (17 pages) 

Published By: American Sociological Association


Simon Susen

In: H. F. Dahms & E. R. Lybeck (Eds.), Reconstructing Social Theory, History and Practice. Current Perspectives in Social Theory. (pp. 111-143). Bingley, UK: Emerald. ISBN 9781786354709

Mainstreaming Relational Sociology – Relational Analysis of Culture in Digithum

P. Baert. Published 2016

The Foundations of the Social: Between Critical Theory and Reflexive Sociology

S. Susen. Published 2007

Language, self, and social order: A reformulation of Goffman and Sacks

A. RawlsPublished 1989SociologyHuman Studies

The Interaction Order: American Sociological Association, 1982 Presidential Address

Author(s): Erving Goffman

Reviewed work(s):
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Stable URL: .

Face and interaction

Michael Haugh

(2009): In Francesca Bargiela-Chiappini and Michael Haugh (eds.), Face, Communication and Social Interaction, Equinox, London, pp.1-30.

Public and private faces in web spaces – How Goffman’s work can be used to think about purchasing medicine online. 

Lisa Sugiura

Organizational Analysis: Goffman and Dramaturgy  

Peter K. Manning

The Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory, and Organization Studies: Contemporary Currents

Edited by Paul Adler, Paul du Gay, Glenn Morgan, and Mike Reed

Print Publication Date: Oct 2014

Complete bibliography: Erving Goffman ́s writings

Persson, Anders


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A review of Jerome Bruner’s educational theory:

Its implications for studies in teaching and learning and active learning (secondary publication)


Faculty of Economics Nagoya Gakuin University

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The Use of Stories in Moral Development: New Psychological Reasons for an Old Education Method

DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.45.6.709

Narrative Understanding and Understanding Narrative

Sarah E. Worth

Contemporary Aesthetics (Journal Archive): Vol. 2 , Article 9.
Available at:

Recursion, Incursion, and Hyper-incursion

Recursion, Incursion, and Hyper-incursion


How do Past and Future inform the present?

What happens in the Present is not only determined by the Past but also by the Future.  Karma and Destiny both play a role as to what is going on in your life Now.

Key Terms

  • Recursion
  • Incursion
  • Hyper Incursion
  • Discrete Processes
  • Cellular Automata
  • Fractal Machine
  • Hypersets
  • Interpenetration
  • Turing Machine
  • Symmetry
  • Non Well Founded Set Theory
  • Sets as Graphs
  • Leela
  • Predetermined Future
  • Bhagya
  • Fate
  • Destiny
  • Karma
  • Anticipation
  • Four Causes of Aristotle
  • Material Cause
  • Formal Cause
  • Efficient Cause
  • Final Cause
  • Left Computer
  • Right Computer
  • Parallel Computing
  • Fifth and the Fourth in Music Theory
  • Bicameral Brain
  • Hemispheric Division of Brain
  • One, Two, Three.  Where is the Fourth?


The recursion consists of the computation of the future value of the variable vector X(t+l) at time t+l from the values of these variables at present and/or past times, t, t-l, t-2 ….by a recursive function :

X (t+ 1) =f(X(t), X(t-1) …p..)

where p is a command parameter vector. So, the past always determines the future, the present being the separation line between the past and the future.

Starting from cellular automata, the concept of Fractal Machines was proposed in which composition rules were propagated along paths in the machine frame. The computation is based on what I called “INclusive reCURSION”, i.e. INCURSION (Dubois, 1992a- b). An incursive relation is defined by:

X(t+l) =f(…, X (t+l), X(t), X(t-1) ..p..).

which consists in the computation of the values of the vector X(t+l) at time t+l from the values X(t-i) at time t-i, i=1, 2 …. , the value X(t) at time t and the value X(t+j) at time t+j, j=l, 2, …. in function of a command vector p. This incursive relation is not trivial because future values of the variable vector at time steps t+l, t+2 …. must be known to compute them at the time step t+ 1.

In a similar way to that in which we define hyper recursion when each recursive step generates multiple solutions, I define HYPERINCURSION. Recursive computational transformations of such incursive relations are given in Dubois and Resconi (1992, 1993a-b).

I have decided to do this for three reasons. First, in relativity theory space and time are considered as a four-vector where time plays a role similar to space. If time t is replaced by space s in the above definition of incursion, we obtain

X(s+ l) =f( …, X(s+ 1), X(s), X (s-l) …p.).

and nobody is astonished: a Laplacean operator looks like this. Second, in control theory, the engineers control engineering systems by defining goals in the future to compute their present state, similarly to our haman anticipative behaviour (Dubois, 1996a-b). Third, I wanted to try to do a generalisation of the recursive and sequential Turing Machine in looking at space-time cellular automata where the order in which the computations are made is taken into account with an inclusive recursion.

We have already proposed some methods to realise the design of any discrete systems with an extension of the recursion by the concept of incursion and hyperincursion based on the Fractal Machine, a new type of Cellular Automata, where time plays a central role. In this framework, the design of the model of any discrete system is based on incursion relations where past, present and future states variables are mixed in such a way that they define an indivisible wholeness invariant. Most incursive relations can be transformed in different sets of recursive algorithms for computation. In the same way, the hyperincursion is an extension of the hyper recursion in which several different solutions can be generated at each time step. By the hyperincursion, the Fractal Machine could compute beyond the theoretical limits of the Turing Machine (Dubois and Resconi, 1993a-b). Holistic properties of the hyperincursion are related to the Golden Ratio with the Fibonacci Series and the Fractal Golden Matrix (Dubois and Resconi, 1992). An incursive method was developed for the inverse problem, the Newton- Raphson method and an application in robotics (Dubois and Resconi, 1995). Control by incursion was applied to feedback systems (Dubois and Resconi, 1994). Chaotic recursions can be synchronised by incursion (1993b). An incursive control of linear, non- linear and chaotic systems was proposed (Dubois, 1995a, Dubois and Resconi, 1994, 1995). The hyperincursive discrete Lotka-Voiterra equations have orbital stability and show the emergence of chaos (Dubois, 1992). By linearisation of this non-linear system, hyperincursive discrete harmonic oscillator equations give stable oscillations and discrete solutions (Dubois, 1995). A general theory of stability by incursion of discrete equations systems was developed with applications to the control of the numerical instabilities of the difference equations of the Lotka-Volterra differential equations as well as the control of the fractal chaos in the Pearl-Verhulst equation (Dubois and Resconi, 1995). The incursion harmonic oscillator shows eigenvalues and wave packet like in quantum mechanics. Backward and forward velocities are defined in this incursion harmonic oscillator. A connection is made between incursion and relativity as well as the electromagnetic field. The foundation of a hyperincursive discrete mechanics was proposed in relation to the quantum mechanics (Dubois and Resconi, 1993b, 1995).

This paper will present new developments and will show that the incursion and hyper-incursion could be a new tool of research and development for describing systems where the present state of such systems is also a function of their future states. The anticipatory property of incursion is an incremental final cause which could be related to the Aristotelian Final Cause.

Aristotle identified four explicit categories of causation: 1. Material cause; 2. Formal cause; 3. Efficient cause; 4. Final cause. Classically, it is considered that modem physics and mechanics only deal with efficient cause and biology with material cause. Robert Rosen (1986) gives another interpretation and asks why a certain Newtonian mechanical system is in the state (phase) Ix(t) (position), v(t) (velocity)]:

1. Aristotle’s “material cause” corresponds to the initial conditions of the system [x(0), v(0)] at time t=0.

2. The current cause at the present time is the set of constraints which convey to the system an “identity”, allowing it to go by recursion from the given initial phase to the latter phase, which corresponds to what Aristotle called formal cause.

3. What we call inputs or boundary conditions are the impressed forces by the environment, called efficient cause by Aristotle.

As pointed out by Robert Rosen, the first three of Aristotle’s causal categories are tacit in the Newtonian formalism: “the introduction of a notion of final cause into the Newtonian picture would amount to allowing a future state or future environment to affect change of state in the present, and this would be incompatible with the whole Newtonian picture. This is one of the main reasons that the concept of Aristotelian finality is considered incompatible with modern science.

In modern physics, Aristotelian ideas of causality are confused with determinism, which is quite different…. That is, determinism is merely a mathematical statement of functional dependence or linkage. As Russell points out, such mathematical relations, in themselves, carry no hint as to which of their variables are dependent and which are independent.”

The final cause could impress the present state of evolving systems, which seems a key phenomenon in biological systems so that the classical mathematical models are unable to explain many of these biological systems. An interesting analysis of the Final Causation was made by Emst von Glasersfeld (1990). The self-referential fractal machine shows that the hyperincursive field dealing with the final cause could be also very important in physical and computational systems. The concepts of incursion and hyper-incursion deal with an extension of the recursive processes for which future states can determine present states of evolving systems. Incursion is defined as invariant functional relations from which several recursive models with interacting variables can be constructed in terms of diverse physical structures (Dubois & Resconi, 1992, 1993b). Anticipation, viewed as an Aristotelian final cause, is of great importance to explain the dynamics of systems and the semantic information (Dubois, 1996a-b). Information is related to the meaning of data. It is important to note that what is usually called Information Theory is only a communication theory dealing with the communication of coded data in channels between a sender and a receptor without any reference to the semantic aspect of the messages. The meaning of the message can only be understood by the receiver if he has the same cultural reference as the sender of the message and even in this case, nobody can be sure that the receiver understands the message exactly as the sender. Because the message is only a sequential explanation of a non-communicable meaning of an idea in the mind of the sender which can be communicated to the receiver so that a certain meaning emerges in his mind. The meaning is relative or subjective in the sense that it depends on the experiential life or imagination of each of us. It is well- known that the semantic information of signs (like the coding of the signals for traffic) are the same for everybody (like having to stop at the red light at a cross roads) due to a collective agreement of their meaning in relation to actions. But the semantic information of an idea, for example, is more difficult to codify. This is perhaps the origin of creativity for which a meaning of something new emerges from a trial to find a meaning for something which has no a priori meaning or a void meaning.

Mind dynamics seems to be a parallel process and the way we express ideas by language is sequential. Is the sequential information the same as the parallel information? Let us explain this by considering the atoms or molecules in a liquid. We can calculate the average velocity of the particles from in two ways. The first way is to consider one particular particle and to measure its velocity during a certain time. One obtains its mean velocity which corresponds to the mean velocity of any particle of the liquid. The sec- ond way is to consider a certain number of particles at a given time and to measure the velocity of each of them. This mean velocity is equal to the first mean velocity. So there are two ways to obtain the same information. One by looking at one particular element along the time dimension and the other by looking at many elements at the same time. For me, explanation corresponds to the sequential measure and understanding to the parallel measure. Notice that ergodicity is only available with simple physical systems, so in general we can say that there are distortions between the sequential and the parallel view of any phenomenon. Perhaps the brain processes are based on ergodicity: the left hemisphere works in a sequential mode while the right hemisphere works in a parallel mode. The left brain explains while the right brain understands. The two brains arecomplementary and necessary.

Today computer science deals with the “left computer”. Fortunately, the informaticians have invented parallel computers which are based on complex multiplication of Turing Machines. It is now the time to reconsider the problem of looking at the “right computer”. Perhaps it will be an extension of the Fractal Machine (Dubois & Resconi, 1993a).

I think that the sequential way deals with the causality principle while the parallel way deals with a finality principle. There is a paradox: causality is related to the successive events in time while finality is related to a collection of events at a simultaneous time, i.e. out of time.Causality is related to recursive computations which give rise to the local generation of patterns in a synchronic way. Finality is related to incursive or hyperincursive symmetry invariance which gives rise to an indivisible wholeness, a holistic property in a diachronic way. Recursion (and Hyper recursion) is defined in the Sets Theory and Incursion (and Hyperincursion) could be defined in the new framework of the Hypersets Theory (Aczel, 1987; Barwise, Moss, 1991).

If the causality principle is rather well acknowledged, a finality principle is still controversial. It would be interesting to re-define these principles. Causality is defined for sequential events. If x(t) represents a variable at time t, a causal rule x(t+l) = f(x(t)) gives the successive states of the variable x at the successive time steps t, t+l, t+2, … from the recursive functionf(x(t)), starting with an initial state x(0) at time t=0. Defined like this, the system has no degrees of freedom: it is completely determined by the function and the initial condition. No new things can happen for such a system: the whole future is completely determined by its past. It is not an evolutionary system but a developmental system. If the system tends to a stable point, x(t+l) = x(t) and it remains in this state for ever. The variable x can represent a vector of states as a generalisation.

In the same way, I think that determinism is confused with predictability, in modern physics. The recent fractal and deterministic chaos theory (Mandeibrot, 1982; Peitgen, Jurgens, Saupe, 1992) is a step beyond classical concepts in physics. If the function is non-linear, chaotic behaviour can appear, what is called (deterministic) chaos. In this case, determinism does not give an accurate prediction of the future of the system from its initial conditions, what is called sensitivity to initial conditions. A chaotic system loses the memory of its past by finite computation. But it is important to point out that an average value, or bounds within which the variable can take its values, can be known;

it is only the precise values at the successive steps which are not predictable. The local information is unpredictable while the global symmetry is predictable. Chaos can presents a fractai geometry which shows a self-similarity of patterns at any scale.

A well-known fractal is the Sierpinski napkin. The self-similarity of pattems at any scale can be viewed as a symmetry invariance at any scale. An interesting property of such fractals is the fact that the final global pattern symmetry can be completely independent of the local pattern symmetry given as the initial condition of the process from which the fractal is built. The symmetry of the fractal structure, a final cause, can be independent of the initial conditions, a material cause. The formal cause is the local symmetry of the generator of the fractal, independently of its material elements and the efficient cause can be related to the recursive process to generate the fractal. In this particular fractal geometry, the final cause is identical to the final cause. The efficient cause is the making of the fractal and the material cause is just a substrate from which the fractal emerges but this substrate doesn’t play a role in the making.

Finally, the concepts of incursion and hyperincursion can be related to the theory of hypersets which are defined as sets containing themselves. This theory of hypersets is an alternative theory to the classical set theory which presents some problems as the in- completeness of G6del: a formal system cannot explain all about itself and some propositions cannot be demonstrated as true or false (undecidability). Fundamental entities of systems which are considered as ontological could be explain in a non-ontological way by self-referential systems.

Please see my related posts

On Anticipation: Going Beyond Forecasts and Scenarios

Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Key sources of Research


Computing Anticipatory Systems with Incursion and Hyperincursion

Daniel M. DUBOIS


Click to access cd554835f0ae367c3d3e3fa40f3e5e5f5f11.pdf




Anticipation in Social Systems:

the Incursion and Communication of Meaning

Loet Leydesdorff 

Daniel M. Dubois

Click to access casys03.pdf





Daniel M. Dubois


Click to access dubois.pdf




Non-wellfounded Set Theory


  • Jon Barwise &
  • Larry Moss

Non-well-founded set theory

Third and Higher Order Cybernetics

Third and Higher Order Cybernetics



The logic of the formation of third-order cybernetics is based on the transition from first-order cybernetics – “observable systems”, to second-order – “observing systems”, to third-order cybernetics – “self-developing poly-subject (reflexive-active) environments”. And also on the ascent from the paradigm “subject – object” to the paradigm “subject – subject” and then, in third-order cybernetics, to the paradigm of “subject – metasubject (self-developing poly-subject environment)”. Third-order cybernetics has its own specifics and also defines a paradigm (framework construction) that includes first and second order cybernetic paradigms, similar to post-non-classical scientific rationality.


What is required in third order cybernetics? Narrative arts such as Drama, Films, Literature, Stories, Novels as means of social reflexivity for providing ethical and moral grounds for social action & justice.


Key Terms

  • Cybernetics
  • Second Order Cybernetics
  • Third Order Cybernetics
  • Fourth Order Cybernetics
  • Reflexivity
  • Socio Cybernetics
  • Autopoiesis
  • Autocatalysis
  • Feedback
  • Interaction
  • Self Awareness
  • Observable Systems
  • Observing systems
  • Reflexive – Active system
  • Subject Object
  • Subject Subject
  • Subject Meta-Subject
  • Story Telling
  • Narratives
  • Mirroring of Experience
  • Social Reflexivity
  • Social Action
  • Social Justice
  • Coherence Narrative
  • Problem Structuring
  • Social Responsibility
  • Ethics in Society

World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics
18th Congress-WOSC2020
Moscow, 16th to 18th September 2020

1.5 Cybernetics of self-developing poly-subject (reflexive-active) environments:  third-order cybernetics

In recent years, much attention has been paid to the development of socially-oriented types of cybernetics, the development of second-order cybernetics (S. Umpleby, V. Lepskiy, R. Vallée, S. Bozicnik & M. Mulej, T. Ivanuša and others). An urgent problem is the analysis of the foundations and models of different types of socially-oriented cybernetics. The focus of this section is third-order cybernetics developed in Russia.

Third-order cybernetics (V. Lepskiy, 1998) is formed on the basis of post-non-classical scientific rationality. The logic of the formation of third-order cybernetics is based on the transition from first-order cybernetics – “observable systems”, to second-order – “observing systems”, to third-order cybernetics – “self-developing poly-subject (reflexive-active) environments”. And also on the ascent from the paradigm “subject – object” to the paradigm “subject – subject” and then, in third-order cybernetics, to the paradigm of “subject – metasubject (self-developing poly-subject environment)”. Third-order cybernetics has its own specifics and also defines a paradigm (framework construction) that includes first and second order cybernetic paradigms, similar to post-non-classical scientific rationality.

On the basis of post-non-classical scientific rationality it became possible to integrate ideas and concepts of humanitarian studies: ideas about the noosphere (V. Vernadsky), the concept of society as a social system (N. Luhman), activity and subject-activity approaches (A. Leontiev, L. Vygotsky, S. Rubinshtein, et al.), contributions of Russian methodologists (G. Shchedrovitsky, et al.), interdisciplinary ideas of the formation of social cybernetics (S. Umpleby), sociohumanitarian analysis of the experience of developing automated systems (V. Lepskiy), and others.

Discussion points
  • Foundations and models of socially-oriented types of cybernetics (S. Umpleby, V. Lepskiy, R. Vallée, S. Bozicnik & M. Mulej, T. Ivanuša and others).

  • Civilization aspects of self-developing poly-subject environments (third-order cybernetics).

  • Philosophical and methodological aspects of third-order cybernetics.

  • Third-order cybernetics is an ontological integrator of first and second order cybernetics.

  • The problem of complexity is third-order cybernetics.

  • Reflexive processes in third-order cybernetics.

  • Ethical aspects of third-order cybernetics.

  • Social Responsibility in Third Order Cybernetics.

  • Public participation in self-developing poly-subject environments

  • Organization of hybrid (subject, digital, physical) environments in third-order cybernetics.

  • Socio-humanitarian ergonomics of self-developing poly-subject environments.

New Horizons for Second-Order Cybernetics

Pages: 404


    • Karl H Müller (International Academy for Systems and Cybernetic Sciences, Austria)


In almost 60 articles this book reviews the current state of second-order cybernetics and investigates which new research methods second-order cybernetics can offer to tackle wicked problems in science and in society. The contributions explore its application to both scientific fields (such as mathematics, psychology and consciousness research) and non-scientific ones (such as design theory and theater science). The book uses a pluralistic, multifaceted approach to discuss these applications: Each main article is accompanied by several commentaries and author responses, which together allow the reader to discover further perspectives than in the original article alone. This procedure shows that second-order cybernetics is already on its way to becoming an idea shared by many researchers in a variety of disciplines.

Sample Chapter(s)

A Brief History of (Second-Order) Cybernetics


  • Prologue:
    • A Brief History of (Second-Order) Cybernetics (Louis H Kauffman & Stuart A Umpleb)
    • Mapping the Varieties of Second-Order Cybernetics (Karl H Müller & Alexander Riegle)
  • Part I: Exploring Second-Order Cybernetics and Its Fivefold Agenda:
    • Second-Order Cybernetics as a Fundamental Revolution in Science (Stuart A Umpleby)
    • Obstacles and Opportunities in the Future of Second-Order Cybernetics and Other Compatible Methods (Allenna Leonard)
    • Connecting Second-Order Cybernetics’ Revolution with Genetic Epistemology (Gastón Becerra)
    • Shed the Name to Find Second-Order Success: Renaming Second-Order Cybernetics to Rescue its Essence (Michael R Lissack)
    • Beware False Dichotomies (Peter A Cariani)
    • Second-Order Cybernetics Needs a Unifying Methodology (Thomas R Flanagan)
    • Viva the Fundamental Revolution! Confessions of a Case Writer (T Grandon Gill)
    • Author’s Response: Struggling to Define an Identity for Second-Order Cybernetics (Stuart A Umpleby)
    • Cybernetics, Reflexivity and Second-Order Science (Louis H Kauffman)
    • Remarks From a Continental Philosophy Point of View (Tatjana Schönwälder-Kuntze)
    • Finally Understanding Eigenforms (Michael R Lissack)
    • Eigenforms, Coherence, and the Imaginal (Arthur M Collings)
    • Conserving the Disposition for Wonder (Kathleen Forsythe)
    • Author’s Response: Distinction, Eigenform and the Epistemology of the Imagination (Louis H Kauffman)
    • Cybernetic Foundations for Psychology (Bernard Scott)
    • Wielding the Cybernetic Scythe in the Blunting Undergrowth of Psychological Confusion (Vincent Kenny)
    • To What Extent Can Second-Order Cybernetics Be a Foundation for Psychology? (Marcelo Arnold-Cathalifaud & Daniela Thumala-Dockendorff)
    • The Importance — and the Difficulty — of Moving Beyond Linear Causality (Robert J Martin)
    • Obstacles to Cybernetics Becoming a Conceptual Framework and Metanarrative in the Psychologies (Philip Baron)
    • The Social and the Psychological: Conceptual Cybernetic Unification vs Disciplinary Analysis? (Eva Buchinger)
    • Second Thoughts on Cybernetic Unifications (Tilia Stingl de Vasconcelos Guedes)
    • Cybernetics and Synergetics as Foundations for Complex Approach Towards Complexities of Life (Lea Šugman Bohinc)
    • Author’s Response: On Becoming and Being a Cybernetician (Bernard Scott)
    • Consciousness as Self-Description in Differences (Diana Gasparyan)
    • On the Too Often Overlooked Complexity of the Tension between Subject and Object (Yochai Ataria)
    • Where Is Consciousness? (Urban Kordeš)
    • Theorizing Agents: Their Games, Hermeneutical Tools and Epistemic Resources (Konstantin Pavlov-Pinus)
    • How Can Meaning be Grounded within a Closed Self-Referential System? (Bryony Pierce)
    • Self-Description Alone Will not Account for Qualia (John Pickering)
    • Consciousness as Self-Description and the Inescapability of Reduction (Sergei Levin)
    • The Non-Relationality of Consciousness (Adriana Schetz)
    • Author’s Response: Phenomenology of the System: Intentionality, Differences, Understanding, and the Unity of Consciousness (Diana Gasparyan)
    • Design Research as a Variety of Second-Order Cybernetic Practice (Ben Sweeting)
    • Design Cycles: Conversing with Lawrence Halprin (Tom Scholte)
    • Understanding Design from a Second-Order Cybernetics Perspective: Is There a Place for Material Agency? (David Griffiths)
    • What Can Cybernetics Learn from Design? (Christiane M Herr)
    • Rigor in Research, Honesty and Values (Michael Hohl)
    • Digital Design Research and Second-Order Cybernetics (Mateus de Sousa van Stralen)
    • Cybernetics Is the Answer, but What Was the Conversation About? (Jose dos Santos Cabral Filho)
    • (Architectural) Design Research in the Age of Neuroscience: The Value of the Second-Order Cybernetic Practice Perspective (Andrea Jelić)
    • Author’s Response: Beyond Application (Ben Sweeting)
    • “Black Box” Theatre: Second-Order Cybernetics and Naturalism in Rehearsal and Performance (Tom Scholte)
    • Audience and Autopoiesis (Bruce Clarke & Dorothy Chansky)
    • “Truthful” Acting Emerges Through Forward Model Development (Bernd Porr)
    • Naturalism in Improvisation and Embodiment (Edgar Landgraf)
    • Opening the Black Box of Minds: Theatre as a Laboratory of System Unknowns (Lowell F Christy Jr)
    • Does Second-Order Cybernetics Provide a Framework for Theatre Studies? (Albert Müller)
    • A Theatre for Exploring the Cybernetic (Ben Sweeting)
    • The Many Varieties of Experimentation in Second-Order Cybernetics: Art, Science, Craft (Laurence D Richards)
    • Author’s Response: “Playing With Dynamics”: Procedures and Possibilities for a Theatre of Cybernetics (Tom Scholte)
  • Part II: Reflecting on the Perspectives for a Fivefold Agenda of Second-Order Cybernetics:
    • Remarks of a Philosopher of Mathematics and Science (Michèle Friend)
    • The Past and the Future of Second-Order Cybernetics (Ronald R Kline)
    • Embracing Realists Without Embracing Realism: The Future of Second-Order Cybernetics (Robert J Martin)
    • Some Implications of Second-Order Cybernetics (Anthony Hodgson)
    • New Directions in Second-Order Cybernetics (Larry Richards)
  • Epilogue:
    • Possible Futures for Cybernetics (Karl H Müller, Stuart A Umpleby & Alexander Riegler)

Third Order Cybernetics

See First Order Cybernetics
See Second Order Cybernetics
See Fourth Order Cybernetics

When a whole system acknowledges its surroundings

  • First Order Cybernetics emerged from engineering, therefore tended to see systems as objects.
  • Second Order Cybernetics started explored the internal dynamics of the system.
  • Third Order Cybernetics regards a system more as an active-interactive element in a circuit.
  • It acknowledged the way that a whole system may redirect itself in order to adapt to its context.
  • Therefore, the observer and the system co-evolve together.
  • This mean that the observer can see himself as part of the system under examination.
  • Each player in a musical ensemble, for example, listens to each other player, and to his, or her, own instrument.
  • The whole ensemble may then play as a unified, emergent sound, as though all the instruments play as one.
  • This is a kind of System Transformation.
  • Wittgenstein’s language games (external link) may help to explain the complexity of this.
  • It will be evident that in this case the System itself is regarded from the perspective of a Loop in First Order Cybernetics.





Emergence of third order cybernetics

Much to the surprise and delight of the co-editors, this special issue of Emergence: Complexity & Organization on complexity and storytelling appears to mark more a beginning than an ending. For, while the publication of any journal is the end of a discrete project, what we are learning from it suggests the opening moves in a game of exploration pursuing a fascinating question: Are the studies of storytelling, in its widest sense, and of complex human systems largely the same thing? At first, that seemed an obvious overstatement. Yet, in the process of developing this special issue, both of us have concluded that it is a question that is, at least, worth exploring. In this way, we offer you this special issue as an introduction to the possibility that the dynamics that arise as people tell stories, to themselves as well as to others, and then enact those stories, create the dynamic human systems – families and neighborhoods; workgroups, organizations, and economies – that Ralph Stacey’s (2001) conception of complex responsive processes seems to deny.

Some readers may say that this exploration is hardly new. In fact, nearly 30 years ago, Louis R. Pondy’s essay “Beyond open system models of organization,” included as a classic complexity article in this issue (see pp. 119-137), lays out the challenge to launch into just such an exploration as the co-editors believe this issue represents. Basing his argument on Boulding’s nine levels of system complexity, Pondy insists that organizational theorists are locked into analysis based on the lower levels of complexity. Given the then-current understanding of organizations, analysts should think of them less as ‘input-output’ machines and more as ‘language-using, sensemaking cultures’. What is needed, as a result, is “radical methodological departures [such as] ethnographic techniques more suitable for studying meaning and belief systems.” The theme articles in this issue play with a variety of such departures.

Moreover, mostly over the last five years, a significant amount of work has been compiled applying complexity and storytelling to organizations, answering Pondy’s challenge after only a quarter century. Already, three practitioners – Carl Weick (1995), Dave Snowden (see Kurtz & Snowden, 2003), and David Boje (2001) – have developed sophisticated approaches to this study. What makes this issue of E:CO new and exciting is an explosion of interest in this developing area of study. Previously, the intersection of complexity and storytelling studies had been applied largely to organizations. However, among the more than 40 proposals we received were abstracts whose subject ranged from economics and law to disaster control, healthcare, and oriental literature. As a result, we began to suspect that this evolving hybrid field could suggest a powerful approach to the application of complexity thinking to all human systems. Nor are we the first to suggest this. One contributor to this issue, anthropologist Michael Agar, has observed elsewhere (Agar, 2005), that the most effective methodology to complexity-based social studies is ethnography.

In some ways, it seems odd that the intersection between complexity and storytelling has been so little examined. For one thing, the two studies have grown on remarkably parallel tracks for the last 15 years or so. During this time, both studies have been adapted from their origins – complexity in the natural sciences and narrative/storytelling in literature – and applied increasingly to organizations, but in a somewhat limited way. Complexity studies of organizations have been largely limited to considering organizations as (narratively) coherent entities in market ecosystems, ignoring what complexity thinking suggests about the dynamics of organizations as ecosystems for the people working in them. Some work on organizations as ecosystems has begun to appear in, for example, the work of Brenda Dervin, et al. (2003) or Ken Baskin (2005b). Similarly, the vast majority of the work on narrative in organizations has explored its function on the level of the organization and in its function for managers. It’s only in recent years, as writers such as Weick, Snowden and Boje have applied the double lens of complexity and storytelling, that attention has begun to focus also on how people within organizations use narrative and storytelling quite differently. Here, a thaw of sorts is occurring, as those studying the field move from narrative, with its implications as a complete linear-construction (with beginning, middle and end), to storytelling, with its suggestion that some stories are emergent attempts to formulate and negotiate the understandings held as finished in narrative study.

In addition to these historical similarities, the two studies (story-emergence and complexity) seem an almost ideal fit for each other. On one hand, some writers on storytelling are beginning to recognize it as an emergent phenomenon, sensitive to initial states, that groups negotiate in their interactions. On the other, some writers about complex human systems are beginning to recognize that storytelling drives the human equivalent of attractors at several levels – personality, group dynamics, and culture. As a result, the principles of complexity and storytelling come together as a series of strands that, like a rope, when woven together, form a more powerful tool than either alone.

Given all that, it seems only fitting that the co-editors of this issue approach this intersection of studies from opposite directions. David Boje (2001) came to it through his study of storytelling organizations. In his studies, he has focused on the difference between ‘antenarrative’, the preliminary stories people tell as they begin to understand what might be happening around them, and the more fixed (whole, linear) narratives, which are explanations of what people believe actually happened. Along with this view of storytelling, Boje (1995) had developed the idea of the organization as ‘Tamara’, a house with many rooms in which people in different rooms simultaneously tell different stories about the same events, experienced from their differing points of view, networking with one another to make sense of the divergent storylines. Much of the dynamics of any organization, he suggests, arises in the negotiation that occur as people enact these different stories about common events in distributed locations.

On the other hand, Ken Baskin approached this intersection from his work in applying complexity thinking to organizations. His 2001 research study on workgroup cultures in three American hospitals, funded by ISCE, brought him to the conclusion that the stories people tell, to themselves as well as others, create the human equivalent of attractors – personality in the individual, group dynamics, and culture in organizations and other larger entities (2005a). His most recent work (2005b) suggests that, in addition to being coherent units existing in market ecosystems, organizations can be examined as ecosystems of storytelling groups, a concept with much in common with Boje’s Tamara.

When we first issued the call for abstracts on complexity and storytelling, we had no idea that so many people had begun thinking about the function of storytelling and complexity in the various fields in which they worked. We quickly discovered that interweaving the principles of these areas of study was proving absolutely as illuminating as we had suspected from our own work. The nine topical articles published in this issue will give the reader an idea of the variety and excitement of thought among those combining the insights of complexity thinking and storytelling:

  • Theodore Taptiklis’s “After managerialism,” for instance, contrasts managerialism’s tendency to reduce complexity with the approach supported by this journal, among others, to confront the complexity of contemporary markets. He examines his work with organizations to record and share the narrative experience of professionals in order to foster emergence and creativity.

  • In “Narrative processes in organizational discourse,” John Luhman discusses organizational discourse as a complex system that includes three processes – storying coercion, story weaving, and story betting, the last of which reflects Boje’s antenarrative theory. For him, narratives provide a “field of choices in which meaning takes place.” In organizations managed as complex systems, these choices can create the rich diversity from which innovation emerges.

  • Michael Agar’s essay, “Telling it like you think it might be,” explores a methodology for analyzing organizational storytelling. At a time when so many organizations are trying to transform management style from the traditional mechanical model to a more complex one, Agar offers a way of measuring the degree of complexity recognized in any organization’s operations, through examining five elements of the storytelling.

  • Taking a different tack in “The use of narrative to understand and respond to complexity,” Larry Browning and Thierry Boudés compare two of the major models for using “narrative as a sensemaking response to complexity.” In examining David Snowden’s Cynefin model and that of Carl Weick, Browning and Boudés conclude that, in spite of the many differences in these models, they are remarkably similar, especially in their emphasis on widespread participation and “management by exclusion.”

  • In “Wanted for breaking and entering organizational systems in complexity,” Adrian Carr and Cheryl Lapp take a Freudian approach to the function of narrative in organizations transforming from a traditional model to a more complex one. Introducing the principles of complexity into such an organization, they note, demands that people in the organization co-create stories that cannot help but cause anxiety. It is through the pain created in the destruction of old certainties, which the authors insist people cling to as an expression of Freud’s ‘Thanatos’, that the creative energies of ‘Eros’ emerge.

  • Doug Smith’s “Order (for free) in the court” examines the legal system as a complex system that has evolved as a result of what he has called “full-contract storytelling.” Rather than the traditional view that law is a system governed by rules, Smith insists that it depends on a self-reinforcing cycle of learning and retelling stories in law school and then anticipating and countering the stories of others in practice. In court lawyers use stories to reduce the complexity of life in order to win judges and juries to their clients’ points of view. Ironically, this central role of storytelling in the legal system remains unacknowledged.

  • Similarly, Michelle Shumate, Alison Bryant and Peter Monge argue, in “Storytelling and globalization,” that networked global organizations engage in “narrative netwar” in order to affect the ideological landscape. Using the Direct Action network’s protest of the World Trade Organization’s 1999 meeting in Seattle as an example, they explore how people in both networks use narrative to simplify an issue as complex as global trade in order to persuade people to support their positions. The world is much more complex than any one story can communicate; by reducing that complexity with narrative, they can make their cases, suggesting that those narratives are the reality.

  • Finally, Check Teck Foo’s essay, “Three kingdoms, sense making and complexity theory,” examines the famous Chinese novel, Romance of three kingdoms, as a narrative about the phase transition between the Han and Jin dynasties. Rather than a monolithic narrative, the story is presented as a collection of short stories with interlocking characters, whose interactions eventually result in the reemergence of orderly government. As a novel about social phase transition, he notes, this work offers insights into how today’s leaders and approach the chaotic developments of our own period.

If, in fact, this intersection between the study of complexity and of storytelling is as powerful as the co-editors suspect, an enormous amount of work remains. Those exploring it are only beginning to develop methodologies and a vocabulary.

We would like to offer a bold conclusion, one that is an answer to Boulding (1968), as well as Pondy’s (1976) challenge to system/complexity theory. We think that the difference between coherence-narrative and the more emergence-storytelling theories is the dawn of the ‘Third Cybernetics’ of dynamic complexity. Boulding made it clear that for systems theory to theorize and study higher orders of complexity, we need to differentiate between sign-representations (e.g., narratives as the ‘mirror’ of experience). First and Second Cybernetics has been dominated by master-narratives, each with a particular metaphorization: level 1 (frameworks of narrative types); level 2 (mechanistic narrative); level 3 (thermostat-control narrative); level 4 (cell of the ‘open system’); and level 5 (tree as ‘organic’ narrative). First cybernetics is the mechanistic-narrative of deviation-counteraction through the input-output-feedback sign-comparison model of communication. Second cybernetics is the open (cell) system narrative of deviation-counteracting (comparing narratives of the environment, systemically-organizing more variety to process them).

We think the articles point to a Third Cybernetics, where what Boulding calls image (managed in story, level 6), symbol (self-reflexion in story, level 7), societal discourse (social organization shaped by story, a domain of discourse, level 8), and transcendental (stories of unknowable and knowable, level 9). For Pondy, these upper levels are where language, story, and symbol, exceed the theory of ‘open system’ modeling. The problem is that narrative (conceived as linear metaphorization), does not come to grips with the needs of Third Order Cybernetics[1].


  • Agar, M. (2005). “We have met the other and we’re all nonlinear: Ethnography as a nonlinear dynamic system,” Complexity, ISSN 1076-2787, 10(2): 16-24.
  • Baskin, K. (2005a). “Storytelling and the complex epistemology of organizations,” in K. A. Richardson (ed.), Managing organizational complexity: Philosophy, theory, application, Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing, ISBN 1593113188, pp. 331-344.
  • Baskin, K. (2005b). “Complexity, stories and knowing,” Emergence: Complexity & Organization, ISSN 1521-3250, 7(2): 32-40.
  • Boje, D. M. (2001). Narrative methods for organizational and communication research, London, UK: Sage Publications, ISBN 0761965874.
  • Boje, D. M. (1995). “Stories of the storytelling organization: A postmodern analysis of Disney as ‘Tamara-land’,” Academy of Management Journal, ISSN 0001-4273, 38(4): 997-1035,∼dboje/papers/DisneyTamaraland.html.
  • Boulding, K. (1968). “General systems theory: The skeleton of science,” in Walter Buckley (ed.), Modern systems research for the behavioral scientist, Chicago: Adeline, ISBN 0202300110, pp. 3-10. More recently reprinted in K. A. Richardson, J. A. Goldstein, P. M. Allen and D. Snowden (eds.) (2004). E:CO Annual Volume 6, Mansfield, MA: ISCE Publishing, ISBN 0976681404, pp. 252-264.
  • Dervin, B., Foreman-Wernet, L. and Lauterback, Eric (eds.) (2003). Sense-making methodology reader: Selected writings of Brenda Dervin, Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, ISBN 1572735090.
  • Kurtz, C. F. and Snowden, D. J. (2003). “The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world,” IBM Systems Journal, ISSN 0018-8670, 42(3): 462-483.
  • Pondy, L. R. (1976). “Beyond open systems models of organization,” Annual meeting of the Academy of Management, August 12, reprinted in this issue of E:CO, pp. 122-139.
  • Stacey, R.D. (2001). Complex responsive processes in organizations, London, UK: Routledge, ISBN 0415249198.
  • Weick, K. E. (1995), Sensemaking in organizations, London, UK: Sage Publications, ISBN 080397177X.

Fourth Order Cybernetics

M. C. Escher’s pictures illustrate some relevant issues…

See First Order Cybernetics
See Second Order Cybernetics
See Third Order Cybernetics

Can we Define a Fourth Order System?

  • Fourth Order Cybernetics considers what happens when a system redefines itself.
  • It focuses on the integration of a system within its larger, co-defining context.
  • Ultimately, Fourth Order Cybernetics is difficult or, perhaps, impossible to conceive.
  • It unavoidably defies certain principles that make sense at the ‘lower Orders’ .
  • Fourth Order Cybernetics acknowledges the complex system’s emergent properties.
  • Emergence entails a greater complexity that reduces knowability and predictability.
  • It also implies that a system will ‘immerge’ into its environment, of which it is part.
  • Immergence means ‘submergence’ or ‘disappearance in, or as if in, a liquid’.

The Distributed Nature of 4th Order Cybernetics

  • Who (or what) is capable of seeing a Fourth Order system in its full complexity?
  • At the Fourth Order, the discrete observer’s boundaries become problematic.
  • Who is sufficiently mercurial to notice all relevant changes as, and when they occur?
  • A single agent is unable to see enough – its standpoint is too fixed, partial or out of date.
  • In First Order Cybernetics the idea of a Network (external link) makes sense.
  • So could a network be described as an ‘observer’ of a Fourth Order system?
  • Yes, in theory, but we may not be able to learn what it ‘knows’ in any depth. (see neural networks (external link))
  • Consider a musical ensemble, and how it attunes itself to audience responses (e.g. cheering).
  • This raises complex issues of consciousness – where, when, and how it emerges.
  • We can discuss this by describing how the body manages many levels of knowing.

Fourth Order Systems Integrate the Inner with the Outer

It is difficult to focus on the dark birds at the same time as the light ones

  • Some human knowledge is tacit (external link) rather than descriptive or declarative (external link).
  • Embodied knowledge is an example of knowledge distributed within, and across a network
  • It is something we may say we ‘know’, but it exists at a level that cannot be described.
  • Saying that we know how to ride a bicycle is not saying the ‘knowing’ itself.
  • When I am riding, my body uses knowledge that cannot be described in words.
  • Nevertheless I may sit quietly and meditate on what it was like to ride a bicycle.
  • When I do so my attention focuses inwards and distracts me from events around me.
  • Conversely, when in a difficult task (e.g. winning a cycle race) I soon forget the ‘inner’ me.
  • This illustrates that systems appear to have distinct ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ realities.

Fourth Order Systems are Holarchic (external link)

  • How can we view a system as though from the outside and the inside, simultaneously?
  • To do this would mean combining two (categorically) opposite descriptions.
  • In Fourth Order Systems, anything we notice can also be seen as the system.
  • The system can therefore seem to become its own inverse
  • This cannot be conceived in terms of classical science
  • The ethical system needed to sustain a 4th Order system is likely to be eudaimonic (external link)

  • Fourth Order Cybernetics can only be understood and described in terms if the inverse of First Order Cybernetics.
  • Yet by understanding the underlying principle of system inversion, this makes it possible to describe the Open System.
  • The 4th Order system is contextualised, embedded and integrated into the context
  • It can thereby become representative for the integrated context.
  • It therefore operates at two levels simultaneously.
  • It is no longer a system, but a meta-system.
  • It operates both as a system in its context, and as a system that is part of the context.
  • It thereby has the capacity to integrate and disintegrate the contact between both.
  • It is an active, interactive, reactive and ideally representative agent in/for/with/of that context.
  • This requires a different level of description: not in relationship to the system, but to the relationship between systems.
  • The Interface is now the system of reference, instead of the system.
  • This relationship is the basis of the interaction.
  • The transformation is the basis of the processing.
  • The integration is the basis of integrity.
  • The significant feature of the meta-system is its duality.
  • The essence is the same, but the relevance brings inversion.
  • The metasystem is an object; the meta-system is a subject.
  • Whereas a system can normally be described, a meta-system can only be experienced
  • The ‘pillars’ in this transition are the relationships (Second Order) and the interactions (Third Order).
  • Fourth Order Design would integrate all activities in an inverted, contextualised form
  • It would be embedded in its context and responsible in, and for, its actions
  • The system would act as meta-system and design would act as meta-design.
  • This represents the level of self-awareness.
  • It is where the system reflects upon itself and steers itself (i.e. is autopoietic).
  • These attributes facilitate self-regeneration, thus self-healing.
  • They can therefore be managed to enable a healing process.

Fourth Order Cybernetics


Can we Define a Fourth Order System?

Fourth Order Cybernetics considers what happens when a system redefines itself.

It focuses on the integration of a system within its larger, co-defining context.

* The 4th Order system is contextualised, embedded and integrated into the context
* It can thereby become representative for the integrated context.
* It therefore operates at two levels simultaneously.
* It is no longer a system, but a meta-system.
* It operates both as a system in its context, and as a system that is part of the context.
* It thereby has the capacity to integrate and disintegrate the contact between both.
* It is an active, interactive, reactive and ideally representative agent in/for/with/of that context.
* This requires a different level of description: not in relationship to the system, but to the relationship between systems.
* The Interface is now the system of reference, instead of the system.
* This relationship is the basis of the interaction.
* The transformation is the basis of the processing.
* The integration is the basis of integrity.
* The significant feature of the meta-system is its duality.
* The essence is the same, but the relevance brings inversion.
* The metasystem is an object; the meta-system is a subject.
* Whereas a system can normally be described, a meta-system can only be experienced
* The ‘pillars’ in this transition are the relationships (Second Order) and the interactions (Third Order).
* Fourth Order Design would integrate all activities in an inverted, contextualised form
* It would be embedded in its context and responsible in, and for, its actions
* The system would act as meta-system and design would act as meta-design.
* This represents the level of self-awareness.
* It is where the system reflects upon itself and steers itself (i.e. is autopoietic).
* These attributes facilitate self-regeneration, thus self-healing.
* They can therefore be managed to enable a healing process.


More Information interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems.

Please see my related posts:

Cybernetics Group: A Brief History of American Cybernetics

Ratio Club: A Brief History of British Cyberneticians

Second Order Cybernetics of Heinz Von Foerster

Cybernetics, Autopoiesis, and Social Systems Theory

Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Recursive Vision of Gregory Bateson

Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference

Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics

Feedback Thought in Economics and Finance

On Holons and Holarchy

Psychology of Happiness: Value of Storytelling and Narrative Plays

Drama Theory: Choices, Conflicts and Dilemmas

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Drama Therapy: Self in Performance

Aesthetics and Ethics: At the Intersection

Arts and Moral Philosophy

Narrative Psychology: Language, Meaning, and Self

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought

Cyber-Semiotics: Why Information is not enough


Key Sources of Research:

Introduction to Sociocybernetics (Part 1):

Third Order Cybernetics and a Basic Framework for Society

Roberto Gustavo Mancilla


Click to access Third+order+cyberntics.pdf


Introduction to Sociocybernetics (Part 2): Power, Culture and Institutions

  • Roberto Gustavo Mancilla

Introduction to Sociocybernetics (Part 3): Fourth Order Cybernetics

Roberto Gustavo Mancilla

Click to access 208de7103c9fd87688023e66d06111454862.pdf




The Third Order Cybernetics of Eric Schwarz

Eric Schwarz and Maurice Yolles

July 2019




“There’s Nothing Like the Real Thing” Revisiting the Need for a Third-Order Cybernetics


Click to access kenny_cyber3.pdf




Cybernetics and Second-Order Cybernetics

Francis Heylighen Free University of Brussels

Cliff Joslyn Los Alamos National Laboratory

Click to access Cybernetics-EPST.pdf

A new – 4th order cybernetics and sustainable future

Stane Božičnik, Matjaž Mulej


Publication date: 14 June 2011




The cybernetics of systems of belief

Bernard Scott

Centre for Educational Technology and Development, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

Click to access b1c419023f5cec784d0c75e8058930f9e6c9.pdf




Ethics and Second-Order Cybernetics*

Heinz von Foerster


Philosophical-Methodological Basis for the Formation of Third-Order Cybernetics

V. E. Lepskiy

The New Science of Cybernetics: A Primer

Karl H. Müller




New Horizons for Second-Order Cybernetics


April 13, 2018

Karl H. Muller et al., “New Horizons for Second-Order Cybernetics” (World Scientific, 2017)









Introduction to the Theory of Intersubjective Management

Vladimir A. Vittikh

Click to access s10726-014-9380-z.pdf




Lacan and Maturana: Constructivist Origins for a 30 Cybernetics

Philip Boxer & Vincent Kenny


Click to access 552bda070cf2e089a3aa87d4.pdf




The Economy of Discourses: a third order cybernetics?

Philip Boxer & Vincent Kenny


Click to access The-economy-of-discourses-a-third-order-cybernetics.pdf





Vladimir Lepskiy

(Institute of Philosophy Russian Academy of Sciences)





Stuart A. Umpleby, Vladimir E. Lepskiy, and Tatiana A. Medvedeva


Click to access db4a81a13d83bd3222ead66e9988bc5b47ac.pdf




First-, Second-, and Third-Order Cybernetics for Music & Mediated Interaction


Click to access IDAH-FA10.pdf

Knot Theory and Recursion: Louis H. Kauffman

Knot Theory and Recursion: Louis H. Kauffman


Some knots are tied forever.


Key Terms

  • Louis H Kauffman
  • Heinz Von Foerster
  • George Spencer Brown
  • Francisco Varela
  • Charles Sanders Peirce
  • Recursion
  • Reflexivity
  • Knots
  • Laws of Form
  • Shape of Process
  • Trefoil Knots
  • Triplicity
  • Nonduality
  • Self Reference
  • Eigen Form
  • Form Dynamics
  • Recursive Forms
  • Knot Logic
  • Bio Logic
  • Distinctions
  • Topology
  • Topological Recursion
  • Ganth
  • Granthi – Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra
  • Chakra
  • Braids
  • Bandhu
  • Mitra
  • Vishvamitra
  • Friend
  • Relation
  • Sambandh
  • Love
  • True Love
  • Its a Knotty problem.

In mathematics, a knot is defined as a closed, non-self-intersecting curve that is embedded in three dimensions and cannot be untangled to produce a simple loop (i.e., the unknot). While in common usage, knots can be tied in string and rope such that one or more strands are left open on either side of the knot, the mathematical theory of knots terms an object of this type a “braid” rather than a knot. To a mathematician, an object is a knot only if its free ends are attached in some way so that the resulting structure consists of a single looped strand.

A knot can be generalized to a link, which is simply a knotted collection of one or more closed strands.

The study of knots and their properties is known as knot theory. Knot theorywas given its first impetus when Lord Kelvin proposed a theory that atoms were vortex loops, with different chemical elements consisting of different knotted configurations (Thompson 1867). P. G. Tait then cataloged possible knots by trial and error. Much progress has been made in the intervening years.

Schubert (1949) showed that every knot can be uniquely decomposed (up to the order in which the decomposition is performed) as a knot sum of a class of knots known as prime knots, which cannot themselves be further decomposed (Livingston 1993, p. 5; Adams 1994, pp. 8-9). Knots that can be so decomposed are then known as composite knots. The total number (prime plus composite) of distinct knots (treating mirror images as equivalent) having k=0, 1, … crossings are 1, 0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 5, 8, 25, … (OEIS A086825).

Klein proved that knots cannot exist in an even-dimensional space >=4. It has since been shown that a knot cannot exist in any dimension >=4. Two distinct knots cannot have the same knot complement (Gordon and Luecke 1989), but two links can! (Adams 1994, p. 261).

Knots are most commonly cataloged based on the minimum number of crossings present (the so-called link crossing number). Thistlethwaite has used Dowker notation to enumerate the number of prime knots of up to 13 crossings, and alternating knots up to 14 crossings. In this compilation, mirror images are counted as a single knot type. Hoste et al. (1998) subsequently tabulated all prime knots up to 16 crossings. Hoste and Weeks subsequently began compiling a list of 17-crossing prime knots (Hoste et al. 1998).

Another possible representation for knots uses the braid group. A knot with n+1 crossings is a member of the braid group n.

There is no general algorithm to determine if a tangled curve is a knot or if two given knots are interlocked. Haken (1961) and Hemion (1979) have given algorithms for rigorously determining if two knots are equivalent, but they are too complex to apply even in simple cases (Hoste et al. 1998).


LH Kauffman with Trefoil Knot in the back.

LH Kauffman


From Reflexivity

A Knot

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Trefoil Knot



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From Reflexivity

This slide show has been only an introduction to certain mathematical and conceptual points of view about reflexivity.

In the worlds of scientific, political and economic action these principles come into play in the way structures rise and fall in the play of realities that are created from (almost) nothing by the participants in their desire to profit, have power or even just to have clarity and understanding. Beneath the remarkable and unpredictable structures that arise from such interplay is a lambent simplicity to which we may return, as to the source of the world.


From Laws of Form and the Logic of Non-Duality

This talk will trace how a mathematics of distinction arises directly from the process of discrimination and how that language, understood rightly as an opportunity to join as well as to divide, can aid in the movement between duality and non-duality that is our heritage as human beings on this planet.The purpose of this talk is to express this language and invite your participation in it and to present the possiblity that all our resources physical, scientific, logical, intellectual, empathic are our allies in the journey to transcend separation.

From Laws of Form and the Logic of Non-Duality

True Love.  It is a knotty problem.

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Wikipedia on Knot Theory




Please see my related posts:

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference

Jay W. Forrester and System Dynamics

Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Recursive Vision of Gregory Bateson

Second Order Cybernetics of Heinz Von Foerster

Cybernetics Group: A Brief History of American Cybernetics

Cybernetics, Autopoiesis, and Social Systems Theory

Cyber-Semiotics: Why Information is not enough

Ratio Club: A Brief History of British Cyberneticians

Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Feedback Thought in Economics and Finance

Increasing Returns and Path Dependence in Economics

Boundaries and Distinctions

Boundaries and Relational Sociology

Boundaries and Networks

Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

Semiotics, Bio-Semiotics and Cyber Semiotics

Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought

Networks and Hierarchies


Key Sources of Research:


Home Page of Louis H. Kauffman

Recursive Distinctioning

By Joel Isaacson and Louis H. Kauffman


Click to access JSP-Spr-2016-8_Kauffman-Isaacson-Final-v2.pdf



Knot Logic – Logical Connection and Topological Connection

by Louis H. Kauffman

Click to access 1508.06028.pdf




by Louis H. Kauffman


Click to access KNOTS.pdf





Louis H. Kaufman, UIC

Click to access BioL.pdf

New Invariants in the Theory of Knots

Louis H. Kaufman, UIC




Eigenform – An Introduction

by Louis H. Kauffman

Click to access 2007_813_Kauffman.pdf



Knot Logic and Topological Quantum Computing with Majorana Fermions

Louis H. Kauffman


Click to access arXiv%3A1301.6214.pdf




by Louis H. Kauffman

Click to access videoLKss-slides.pdf




Eigenforms, Discrete Processes and Quantum Processes

Louis H Kauffman 2012 J. Phys.: Conf. Ser. 361 012034




Eigenforms — Objects as Tokens for Eigenbehaviors

by Louis H. Kauffman

Click to access 1817.pdf




Reflexivity and Eigenform The Shape of Process

Louis H. Kauffman A University of


Click to access ReflexPublished.pdf






Louis H. Kauffman


Click to access Eigen.pdf





Louis H. Kauffman UIC, Chicago


Click to access Eigenform.pdf



Form Dynamics

Click to access FormDynamics.pdf



Arithmetics in the Form

Click to access ArithForm.pdf




Self Reference and Recursive Forms

Click to access SelfRefRecurForm.pdf

Click to access Relativity.pdf




Laws of Form and the Logic of Non-Duality

Louis H. Kauffman, UIC


Click to access KauffSAND.pdf




Laws of Form – An Exploration in Mathematics and Foundations

by Louis H. Kauffman UIC


Click to access Laws.pdf




The Mathematics of Charles Sanders Peirce

Louis H. Kauffman1


Click to access Peirce.pdf




A Recursive Approach to the Kauffman Bracket

Abdul Rauf Nizami, Mobeen Munir, Umer Saleem, Ansa Ramzan

Division of Science and Technology, University of Education, Lahore, Pakistan