Innovation and Organization: An Overview from the Perspective of Luhmann’s Autopoiesis

Few words in modern society have become as positively charged as the word innovation. Of course, premodern societies were also innovative in their way. Still, technology, ideas, and organizational forms have changed over time, and it is only in modern society that innovation has become almost mandatory; that is to say, ranked uppermost in society’s value system. ‘‘Be innovative!’’ has become an imperative in modern society.

Niklas Luhmann viewed innovative processes (understood as social change or renewal) not from an action-theoretical perspective, i.e., as the result of an intervention into a social system with the structural changes that go with it, but rather from the perspective of self-referential processes of systems where change in structures are interpreted as changes in communicative events. Innovation can thus be understood as structural changes where systems react to events in the environment with a changed connectivity between communications.

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Overcoming Autopoiesis: An Enactive Detour on the Way from Life to Society

Modern organic metaphors for society have run parallel to the very idea of sociology as a science, starting with Comte and Spencer’s use of the term “social organism” (Comte, 1830–42; Spencer, 1897). These metaphors provide a self-renewing source of debate, analogies, and disanalogies. Processes of social regulation, conservation, growth, and reproduction provoke an irresistible epistemic resonance and make us lose little time in offering explanations resembling those of biological regulation, conservation, growth, and reproduction. The phenomenon has not been restricted to metaphor-hungry social scientists: the final chapter of W. B. Cannon’s The wisdom of the body (1932) is called “Relations of biological and social homeostasis.” Attempts to apply a modern theory of living organisms — the theory of autopoiesis (Maturana & Varela, 1980) — to social systems are but the latest installment in this saga. Despite the appeal of the organic metaphor, there are good reasons to remain skeptical of these parallels. “Because every man is a biped, fifty men are not a centipede,” says G. K. Chesterton (1910) ironically in his essay against the medical fallacy. Doctors may disagree on the diagnosis of an illness, he says, but they know what is the state they are trying to restore: that of a healthy organism (implying, admittedly, a rather unproblematic concept of health). In social systems, a “social illness” confronts us with precisely the opposite situation: the disagreement is about what the healthy state should be.

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Outlining the Terrain of Autopoietic Theory

Although Maturana and Varela’s idea of autopoiesis is not new to organization studies — it has hovered around the margins of the field for several decades — it has yet to enter the mainstream of organizational thinking. One can debate the reasons for this; however, it is almost certainly the case that the complexity and scope of the idea has been one of the main impediments to its wider take-up. The basic concept of autopoiesis is straightforward enough; it refers to the idea that some systems arise through a circular process in which they ‘‘self-produce’’ their own components. If these components are molecular, the result is a particular class of system that we describe as ‘‘biological’’ or ‘‘living.’’ Beyond this relatively simple idea, for example when the domain of application extends from biological to social systems, or from molecular to abstract components, and when one adds into the mix the broader set of ideas and concepts that people tend to associate with the term autopoiesis, the terrain becomes infinitely more challenging and complex. Here the extended concept, i.e., what is often referred to as ‘‘autopoietic theory (Whitaker, 1996),’’ spans a broad range of topics as diverse as cognition, language, epistemology, emotion, social organizations, culture, human relationships, and ethics, to name but a few. Given this breadth, gaining a sense of what the theory, in its developed form, really is, and where one might best start in trying to understand it, presents a significant challenge. This is especially so for those scholars who are accustomed to thinking in reductionist terms and who prefer to develop specialist expertise or understanding in one or two key areas. Even for those who take a more holistic approach, understanding the complete set of ideas at once, in all its finery, is a daunting prospect.

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Autopoiesis Theory and Organization: An Overview

This introductory chapter elaborates some of the key ideas which shaped the concept of this book. The overriding idea is that autopoiesis theory has the potential to provide a unifying framework for the study of organizational phenomena in the 21st century. Although organization studies have recently had no shortage of new paradigms and approaches — such as postmodernism, phenomenology, ethnomethodology, reflexivity, and critical theory — the field seems to be expanding in ways that make it increasingly difficult to comprehend, especially for the uninitiated.

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Rethinking Children’s Participation in Curriculum Making: A Rhizomatic Movement

Today, freedom of expression is viewed as both a right and a universal value. In the early childhood field, respecting children’s views is seen as important for children to develop a sense of worth, make responsible decisions, and become active citizens. Children are no longer considered passive objects in the hands of their parents and society, but full-fledged persons to whom public authorities are accountable (Santos-Pais, 1999). Children’s rights to be heard and to have their views taken into account are now embedded in education policy and practice.

For example, over the past two decades, considerable movement has been made on the global stage and in Canada to recognize children’s right to participate in decision-making processes. Globally, the international policy landmark the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is now used by many states to develop policies for children. These policies generally outline that young children can and should participate in matters that affect them, and suggest that children’s early experiences influence their later abilities, identities, and well-being.

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On Beauty and Classroom Teaching

Beauty is why we teach, and how we learn. I remember reading the philosopher Michel Foucault for the first time, and finding his ideas so challenging and compelling — so beautiful, really, in their explanatory power — that I could not help but think of them as I sat in classrooms, navigated the dining hall, or exercised in the university gym. After Foucault, my world was teeming with micro-practices of surveillance and normalization, meaning that my own perceptual processes had been altered to include micro-practices of surveilling the surveillance all around me.

As educators, we choose the discipline, topics, and texts we teach based not only on our interests, but also on the beauty we see in them. We teach at our best not when we conceive of ourselves as lecturers delivering content, but when we invite our students to explore with us the internal logic, complexity, and beauty of the subject matter we teach, whether it’s organic chemistry or the contemporary Japanese novel.

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Reimagining universities post-Covid-19

The issues surrounding COVID-19 and various policy responses to its salience in communities across the world do not however relate to health and economic issues alone. They have also given rise to issues of sociality – how, under the new conditions, might people within and across communities relate to each other, and what new cultural and social formations might emerge in their aftermath. How might we need to rethink and reimagine issues of global interconnectivity and interdependence? How might they lead to the emergence of a new kind of world society? And for us as educators, how might we rethink the basic purposes of education, and the pedagogic models better suited to the ever-present possibilities of insecurity, risk and relentless change?

In the wake of COVID 19, universities around the world have been closed for instruction on campuses. Most are transitioning to online remote course instruction and learning for the semester. Universities have suspended study abroad programs.3 A number of Australasian universities, dependent on international students, especially Chinese students, have simply closed down for the semester. The loss of international students across Australasian universities could be 40 billion dollars, says QUT Margaret Sheil, leading to the devastation of the IE market.4 Around the world, many universities have also closed.

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Reflecting on experiences of social distancing

One of our children, age 7 years, was asked if he wanted to talk to his friends online. “No!” he replied angrily, “what’s the point if I can’t touch them!?” While his exasperation may not be shared by all of us, it concerns something basic to human life: embodied interaction with other people. Many aspects of our lives that were once taken for granted have been profoundly altered by lockdowns and social distancing measures that are part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Things as simple as hugging a friend, talking face-to-face, socialising freely, and travelling have been restricted in many countries. Even as social distancing measures are slowly relaxed, hesitation and anxiety remain. The situation has had a profound effect on our social relations. How might we better understand how people have experienced this seismic shift?

A promising place to look is the philosophical tradition of phenomenology, which is dedicated to the detailed study of human experience. Phenomenology draws on a range of methods to make explicit and clarify the subtle and intricate structures of experience. We build here on our previous work on the phenomenology of illness, which brought to light fundamental dimensions of illness experience using this method. Phenomenology is concerned with aspects of experience that are so deeply rooted in our lives that we typically overlook them, seldom reflecting on their nature. These include being situated in a meaningful world, feeling connected to others, feeling at home in a place, and experiencing things as real or present. Differing forms of experience, including illness experiences, have characteristic features that can be illuminated by phenomenological research.

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The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic are different for various socio-demographic groups, and Medical News Today has zoomed in on the ways in which this crisis has affected the more vulnerable ones. In this Special Feature, we focus on how the pandemic has affected older adults.

From the likelihood of developing a more severe form of COVID-19 to the risks of isolation and mental health problems, this feature looks at ways in which older adults have taken the brunt of the pandemic.

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In-cell defense mechanism against viruses, decrease with age

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Depression during COVID-19

Living under lockdown can cause negative emotions and force lifestyle changes that may be difficult to handle. This might be especially true for those experiencing mental health conditions, such as depression.

There are several ways people can try to manage pandemic-related fears, anxieties, and changes to prevent them from causing or worsening depression.

This article discusses depression, how the coronavirus pandemic may affect it, and ways to manage depression using at-home remedies, lifestyle tips, and medical treatments.

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Caring for someone with depression during the COVID-19 pandemic

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