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Language in the Constitution of Social Systems

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  1. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems Klaus Krippendorff The Annenberg School for Communication University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia kkrippendorff@asc.upenn.edu American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  2. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems Approaches to systems • General Systems Theory • Generalizations from living organisms – Bertalanffy – hierarchy of levels of organization – Miller • – autopoiesis – Maturana • Cybernetics • The study of all possible systems, which is informed when some of them cannot be build or evolve in nature – Ashby • Second-order Cybernetics • The study of systems that include the properties of their observers – von Foerster American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  3. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems Second-order Cybernetics • v. Foerster: The cybernetics of cybernetics • The cybernetics of observing systems • Varela: The cybernetics of autonomous systems • Pask The purpose of the modeler • Umpleby Interaction between observer and observed What they have in common: The observer (= cybernetician) is expected to enter his/her domain of observation American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  4. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems Second-order Cybernetics Areas where observers enter their domain of observation • Quantum physics • Ethnomethodology / Ethography • Family systems practice • Sociology of science (Strong Program) Problems for second-order cybernetics in the social domain: • The primacy of observer • The missing role for language in the construction of reality • Second-order (recursive) understanding • Accountability for social constructions of reality American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  5. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems The primacy of the observer – what does s/he do ? • As autopoietic systems, second-order cyberneticians are aware of their observing and of living in their own constructions of reality • If “everything said is said by an observer,” what is said has to do with how observers observe • Observers ultimately observe themselves in the context of happenings they experience • Observers are committed to making descriptions, offer explanations of these, and generate descriptions of future observations • Descriptions occur in language as a medium of representation – they are monologue, not dialogue American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  6. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems The primacy of the observer – consequences • Observed systems appear deterministic • Determinism is the belief that happenings determine each other – without the actions of an observer/agent • Causal determinism = everything has a cause and a consequence • State determinism = states follow each other • Structural determinism = networks of interaction have their own dynamics • Structural coupling = an involuntary mutual dependency • Biological determinism is an artifact of how a community of observers (of living systems) speak • Languaging is primary, biology is one of its many artifacts • Biological and radical constructivist conceptions of human nature are rooted in individualism – even if the environment (medium) of living systems is acknowledged American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  7. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems The missing role for language Four conceptions of language • Abstract-Objectivist: Medium of Representation • Individual-Subjectivist: Medium of Expression • Hermeneutic: Medium of Interpretation • Constitutive: Medium of Being (Human) Heidegger: Language is the house of being Nietzsche: Language is a mobile army of metaphors Wittgenstein:A language game is a way of life Rorty: A language is a human creation, realities follow Maturana: Language is the coordination of coordination of action Krippendorff: Languaging realizes everything social American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  8. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems The the role of language Constitutively • Languaging realizes everything social – human being-with • Languaging implies addressivity and responsiveness – language is interactive, dialogue, not monologue • Languaging is always embodied in the bodies of a community of speakers – not an abstract system • “The observer” (a standard observer) is an abstraction, hence, a disembodied human. “The observer” cannot speak. The language of this observer becomes a medium of representation. It invokes disembodied Cartesian dualism • Languaging-based conceptions are constitutively social. Theories not cognizant of their linguistic nature are not. American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  9. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems Second-order (Recursive) Understanding = Understanding Others’ understanding A, B = two humans capable of languaging, understanding, enacting their understanding, and observing the consequences of their actions X = an issue, belief, or construct held by A or B A’s A’s Their construction experiences comparison of with yields: A(X) (X) (dis)confirmation A(X) B(X) (dis)agreement A(B(X)) B(X) (mis)understanding A(X) B(A(X)) being (mis)understood A(B(A(X))) B(A(B(X))) (failure of) realization American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  10. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems When is a Construction Social ? An individual construction = individual understanding, belief • is enacted and • (dis)confirmed – ultimately (non)viable to beholder A social construction is constituted in • the understanding that its constituents have of it • the understanding of each others’ participation in it • the interactive enactment of this understanding • its (failure of) realization = accountable acquiescence Recall: A(X) vs. (X) = (dis)confirmation A(B(A(X))) vs. B(A(B(X))) = (failure of) realization Examples: money, law, marriage American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  11. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems Mutual Accountability for social constructions of reality • Not to be confused with responsibility • One can distinguish two forms: • Responsibility that is assigned by A to B for C • Responsibility that is assumedby B for C Assigning responsibilities presupposes a hierarchy of authority in which A can delegate responsibilities to others Assuming responsibilities for C presupposes B’s purpose In any case, C is inferior to B. When C is a person or group, B’s responsibility patronizes C American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  12. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems Mutual Accountability for social constructions of reality Giving accounts occurs in conversations (language use) where everyone can hold everyone else accountable for what they said or did. (Near synonyms:motives, intentions} • Accounts come in conversational triplets: • Requesting an account • Offering an account • Accepting or rejecting an account The most typical accounts: • Explanations = coordinating understanding • Excuses = acknowledging an untoward action • but denying agency • Justifications = admitting agency and claiming • and claiming the virtue of one’s action American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  13. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems Second-order Cybernetics may be defined as The cybernetics of conversation in a context under reconstruction by its constituents • Cybernetics is a recursive way of languaging, practicing • Conversation presupposes multiple speakers who acknowledge each others participation – no observers • Participation entails agency – no structural coupling • Re.con.struction = a jointly coordinated restructuring of the (bodily, social, or material) context in which second-order cybernetics is practiced • Organizationally closed, self-organizing – not predictable without participation (not observationally determinable) American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  14. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems My Aim So Far Was • To replace the primacy of observation by that of constructive participation (agency) • To enter dialogue, interactivity, and joint action where determinist explanations (monologue) ruled supreme • To unsettle biological fundamentalism (individualism) by the possibilities that languaging and conversation offers • To acknowledge the embodied nature of social constructions and human action in opposition to abstract theories that fail to address their basis of being • To propose a second-order cybernetics capable of allowing its practitioners to question and reconstruct social phenomena without loosing touch with its first-order origin American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  15. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems How Can We Conceive Social Systems from the perspective of second-order cybernetics that is, without imposing an observer perspective ? Let me define a social system as: (1) Encompassing human participants as declared members (2) Residing in the interactions between members, which, at appropriate times, reconstitute both the system and the roles of its members in it. As such, social systems are intermittently active, self-organizing, or organizationally closed (3) Its members performing certain acts and utterances that continuously confirm the system’s identity – draw a boundary between what belongs and what does not American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  16. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems How Can We Conceive Social Systems from the perspective of second-order cybernetics that is, without imposing an observer perspective ? continued: (4) Its members acting in the understanding that all other members act within their own understanding of the system and hold each other accountable for apparent deviations from their own perception of the system’s identity (5) Its viability is demonstrated by its repeated reconstitution with same or different members. Profit, growth, preservation of structure, are all secondary to their reconstitutability American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  17. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems Examples • Conversation • Family • The American Association for Cybernetics American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  18. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems What Does This Concept Accomplish ? It recognizes that • Social systems cannot be understood by observation but by participation, including by introducing challenges • Interactions are embodied, partially tacit. They are incomprehensible without language, without engaging in conversations, without realizing that words change things, and without acknowledging accountability for one’s actions • The conception of a social system is delegated to what its constituents do and say, not imposed by an outsider • Social systems may be self-organizing, control may be distributed, communication may be heterarchical – or not, the point is to grant them the possibility of autonomy • Their reconstitutability renders social systems a resource rather than a fact American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  19. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems What Does This Concept Accomplish ? Continued: • It realizes the wisdom of Heinz von Foerster’s • playful definition of second-order cybernetics as • “The cybernetics of cybernetics, • The communication of communication, and • The control of control” • and substantiates what actually is a radical idea • It socializes second-order cybernetics and grounds the social sciences • It raises new questions • It is politically biased against intellectual imperialism • enshrined in objective truth claims. • Instead, it encourages emancipatory, liberating, and • constructively critical inquiries into realities American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28

  20. Language in the Constitution of Social Systems Thank you for listening Klaus Krippendorff The Annenberg School for Communication University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia kkrippendorff@asc.upenn.edu American Society for Cybernetics, Washington, DC, 2005.10.28