Autopoiesis and Organizations: A Biological view of Social System Change

For many years we have been concerned with the role that autopoietic theory can play in resolving what is often termed the micro-macro problem in social science. The “micro-to-macro problem” concerns our capacity to explain the relationship between the constitutive elements of social systems (people) and emergent phenomena resulting from their interaction (i.e. organizations, societies, economies). To this end we have argued, for a synthesis of autopoietic and complexity theory, where autopoietic theory provides a basis for understanding the characteristics of the micro-level agents that make up social systems (human individuals), whilst complexity theory provides a basis for understanding how these characteristics influence the range and type of macro-level behaviours that arise from their interaction. Implicit to this view is the assumption that it is biology which specifies the characteristics and qualities of human agents. Therefore it is also biology which constrains the range and type of interactions these agents can generate, and hence the form of structure which emerges from that interaction. This approach differs considerably from the disembodied sociological path taken in Luhmann‘s application of autopoietic systems. The main contribution of Maturana and Varela‘s autopoietic theory has been to provide a concise specification of the defining characteristics of biological agents including humans.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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