E.   Social Systems Theory, Media & Mode of Communication, Gender


1.     Systems Theory & Complexity [aas]

a.      Spatio-temporal patterns generated by interaction of many factors

b.     Bifurcations: Sudden emergence or change in patterns of system behavior

c.     Chaos theory: complex patterns in the behavior of systems

d.     Self-organization and emergence

2.     Medium Theory—The Toronto School

a.      Innes—“History is perceived as a series of epochs separated by discontinuity. Each is distinguished by dominant forms of media that absorb, record, and transform information into systems of knowledge consonant with the institutional power structure appropriate to the society in question. The interaction between media form and social reality creates biases, which strongly affect the society’s cultural orientation and values.” [hp on I]

b.     McLuhan— “Every media extension of man is an amputation.” “The medium is the message.” “Electronically imploded, the globe is no more than a village.  . . [which extends] our central nervous system in a global embrace.” (McLuhan, 1967, 1973.) Nevertheless, McLuhan envisions the bright side, and the potential to avoid these hazards. His vision is that we are in a major historical transformation that needs guidance and nurturing. Smart (1992) states that, “McLuhan sets out to reveal the ways in which prominent technological innovations have been associated with significant forms of social and personal transformation. . . . Indeed the stated aim of the work is to contribute to an understanding of the effects of media technologies on human sensibilities and social life, and thereby to help bring about a ‘genuine increase of human autonomy’. As McLuhan (1967) comments, ‘the influence of unexamined assumptions derived from technology leads quite unnecessarily to maximal determinism in human life. Emancipation from that trap is the goal of all education.’” Smart further comments that, unfortunately, we seem to be headed more in the direction of vocational training than toward the liberal education McLuhan was advocating. [amh]

c.     Deibert—“The central proposition of medium theory is that changing modes of communication have effects on the trajectory of social evolution and the values and beliefs of societies. Medium theory traces these effects to the unique properties of different modes of communication—to the way information is stored, transmitted, and distributed through different media at different times in history. It focuses on the material properties of communication environments rather than on the content of the message being conveyed, hence McLuhan’s well-worn quip: ‘the medium is the message.’”

“In the pages that follow, I reformulate medium theory, embedding it in what I call an ‘ecological holist’ framework . . . At the heart of these modifications are the drawing out of the ‘media as environments’ metaphor alluded to above, and the use of an evolutionaryh analogy to describe the processes by which social foerces and ideas a the margins of society are brought into the center by the unintended consequences of technological change.” [d pp. ix-x]

3.     Mode of Communication—Mark Poster holds that many social theorists (Marx, Weber, Durkheim) make action primary over language as a mode of social change. Poster considers language more primary, but he maintains that: observed that many social analysts saw electronic communications as creating “enormous social transformations. . . A right-wing contingent envisions a benign automated world of material plenty, . . A left-wing contingent, equally sanguine, foresees radical democracy as the outcome of the new technologies.” Also, according to Poster, many people see daily lives as improved, but many others dispute that claim and point out that there is increasing isolation with the increasing dependency on global communications. [amh on p]

4.     Social Systems Theory

a.      Parsons—“[I attempt] to represent the best attainable in the present state of knowledge with respect to the theoretical analysis of a carefully defined class of empirical [social] systems. . .The concept of system as a guiding conceptual scheme is of the first importance as an organizing principle and a guide to research. [pt p. 537]

b.     The Luhmann-Habermas Debates—“Jurgen Habermas and Niklas Luhmann debated the worth of systems theory thirty years ago. The issues that they durfaced are still not resolved. Habermas, the philosopher, advocated a lifeworld conception of society, in which democratic decision-making is the necessary basis of a legitimate society. Luhmann argued that automatic systemic processes have supplanted discourse processes in modern society.”
“Two questions in the debate stand out. The theoretical questions: Can all social processes be explained in primarily systemic terms? Or alternatively, can social processes be completely explained withouot resort to systems thinking? In this debate, Habermas contends that social action requires consensual decision-making. Luhmann, on the other hand, contends that social activities are too complex for consensual bartering; they require impersonal systemic regulation.”
“The ethical question concerns the issue: How does reliance upon systems theory normatively affects an advanced industrial society? Habermas claims that applications of systems theory tend to repress free personal agency because they operate mechanically without recourse to common sense, democratic discourse, and social justice. Luhmann counters tht the complexity of pluralistic societies precludes normative consensus in the particulars of contested situations. Moreover, impersonal, positive laws are the safeguards of individual and community rights. Finally, insistence on personal norms in social contexts is a remnant of dysfunctional metaphysical narrow-mindedness.” [b chap. 4]

c.     Recall the subject-individual distinction of the Cartesian rational ‘individual’ vs the ‘subject’. [see title of hj]

d.     Notice also the closeness of these ideas during this period of global economic implosion. In the US (and elsewhere) the debate between free market philosophy (Republican Party in the US) and Keynesian emphasis on government control during periods of severe economic collapse (Democrats in the US), a debate which is as recurrent as the economy.

e.      “Complex dynamical systems theory provides a new modeling strategy for social systems, which are usually too complicated to model without a theory that allows for chaos and bifurcation. These new models contribute to the grok [hermeneutic] circle for evolving social structures, in which mathematical help in understanding may be very welcome, as even the simplest social systems, whether two persons or two nations, tax our intuitive cognitive strategies. Dynamical models may be used as navigational aids for cooperation or conflict resolution in situations where good will prevails yet does not suffice. Here we give a few examples of erodynamics, the art of building social models.” [ar p. 209]

5.     Gender

a.      Scientific (psychology) revolution

i.        “Feminist psychology is generating a revolution in the field of psychology, not just in its demand for an egalitarian, gender-complete program for its subject matter but in the demand for an improved methodology and conceptual framework. With an emphasis on a holistic, process-oriented psychology that considers the contextual social system as well as individuals, it should find a powerful ally in the dynamical systems approach, which provides a theoretical modeling strategy and an experimental design and analysis strategy appropriate to the feminist program. In short, feminist psychology and the dynamical systems approaches share the holistic, process orientation in focusing on the patterns of change among multiple interactive variables in psychosocial systems.” [ma p. 295]

ii.      “By stripping behavior of its social context, psychologists rule out the sociocultural and historical factors, and implicitly attribute cause to factors inside the person. [cm p. 731]

iii.    Sikolohiyang Pilipino is is largely devoted to opposing this trend. (e.g., Abragana, Alvarez, Valbuena, and see sp, also Silliman Journal).

iv.   “Neutrality is a myth in the sense that the pursuit and use of scientific principles are not merely contrived in a particular socio-scientific value matrix, but their very technological flavor tends to support their role in social conformity rather than in support of individual fulfillment.” [a p. 250]

v.     Importance of using many different methods in feminist psychology if their assumptions are made clear. These clarifications include:

(01)   “Recognizing the interdependence of experiment and subject;

(02)   Avoiding the decontextualizing of the subject or experimenter from their social and historical surroundings;

(03)   Recognizing and revealing the nature of one’s values within the research context;

(04)   Accepting that facts do not exist independently of their producers’ linguistic codes, and

(05)   Demystifying the role of the scientists and establishing an egalitarian relationship between science makers and science consumers.” [r p. 47 re g]

b.     Postmodern

i.        Kristeva—“She has a theory of marginality, subversion and dissidence. She believes in the potentially revolutionary force of the marginal and repressed aspects of language. She identifies the semiotic with a repressed feminine libidinal system, and the symbolic with a masculine libidinal system. R. Eisler, & R. Abraham extend this dichotomy to higher dimensional chaos and lower-order lococentricity respectively (chao-footnote 1). The semiotic is anarchic, pre-Oedipal, and polymorphous erotgenically, maternally oreinted, and involves primary processes. The symbolic is Oedipalized, paternally oreinted, and involves secondary processes. It is "order superimposed on the semiotic. The semiotic overflows its boundaries . . . in madness, holiness and poetry.", and avant-guarde art and texts. The synthesis of these ideas with those of chaos theory lies in the use of both chaos and bifurcation (self-organized or autopoetic major transformations) emerging from the Lacanian/Kristevan synthesis, and leads to discourse nurturing the emergence of change, internal emancipation and external, social empowerment, from the feminist/chao-theoretical synthesis.” [a3] [see also s, esp. chap. 5]

ii.      Cixous—“I think Wolmark inherits this usage of the terms non-hierarchical and non-binary from French feminist, philosopher, playwright, and poet Hélène Cixous (Cixous & Clement, 1986). For Cixous, as for Jacques Derrida, oppositions (binaries) can be dangerous, a source of oppression. For those of us involved (and many who are not so involved) in dynamical systems theory (see Schuldberg in Richards, 2007), we have a great deal of admiration for the Heraclitian model of oppositions as creating a process that produces a new dynamic of greater complexity (an attractor—a pattern of activity created by mutually interactive agents) that surpasses each component of the binary (Bird, 2003; Greeley, 1990; Sabelli, 1989).” [a3]

iii.    Hutcheon—“My sense has always been that there were certain important social movements in the 1960s (and before) that made the postmodern possible: the women's movement (though, of course, the movement existed much earlier, but this wave of it in the 1960s was crucial) and, in North America, the civil rights movement. Suddenly gender and racial differences were on the table for discussion. Once that happened, "difference" became the focus of much thinking -- from newer issues of sexual choice and postcolonial history to more familiar ones such as religion and class. I think feminisms (in the plural) were important for articulating early on the variety of political positions possible within the umbrella term of gender -- from liberal humanist to cultural materialist. Feminist discussions "complex-ified" questions of identity and difference almost from the start, and raised those upsetting (but, of course, productive) issues of social and cultural marginality.” [hl2]

iv.   Wolmark (Cybersexualities) on Haraway (A Cyborg Manifesto) “. . . employs the metaphor [of the cyborg] in order to argue, firstly, for a reconsideration of Marxist and feminist analyses of the social relations of science and technology which rely on a received model of domination and subordination and, secondly, for the development of an innovative socialist-feminist political strategy that is not dependent on totalizing theories and in which the formation of new and unexpected alliances and coalitions are prioritized.” [w p. 2]

v.     The major domination from which all others flow is the fear of chaos (complexity in nature), which begets the desire for order (the temple). Most social upheavals as well as the philosophical battle between the Parmedian and Heraclitian worldviews involve this dynamic. This is the basis of the “Orphic Trinity” identified by my brother in his book, Chaos, Gaia, Eros. These forces are emplified in Aescheles’ Orestein Trilogy [ar, a2, e]

vi.   Creativity and Social Change—“This evolution of society and self influences the programs of emancipation suggested by postmodern social theory and philosophical hermeneutics. Cybersexuality—a philosophical, literary, and scientific genre inspired in part by new visions from science fiction—provides some prime examples. This evolution also brings up some fundamental human motivations, such as the desire to optimize knowledge and stability, to know our origins and destinies, our meaning, to satisfy our ontological-existential quests. The quests for truth and for stability are at once two sides of the same tapestry, sometimes in conflict with each other, and sometimes synergistic, but always interactive, playing in the same conceptual attractors. Creativity lies in exploring where and how to weave within these fractal imbrications, and these involve tensions of stability and change.  Creativity, or the generation of novelty requires instability [and challenges existing social institutions and practices]. How does the tension between the need for stability and instability resolve itself? Or put another way, why does stability require instability?” [a4, see also a2]


6.     Evolution of Moral Sensibility

a.      “Important as the struggle for existence has been and even still is, yet as far as the highest part of our nature is concerned there are other agencies more important. For the moral qualities are advanced either directly or indirectly much more through the effects of habit, by our reasoning powers, by instruction, by religion, etc., then through natural selection.” [dc p. 404 quoted in l]

b.     “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” [j p. 285]

c.      “Creativity Against Conformity—that is, of forces supporting open and iinnovative inquiry versus those promoting falling in line with dominant views. What now adds urgency to the story is that the conflict of paradigms that shape science, society, and the lives of every one of us, it is becoming evident to many of us that conformity to the ‘old’ Darwinian paradigm of ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘selfishness above all’ is relentlessly driving our species toward destruction.”
”Project and prospects for an alliance of psychologists along with evolutionary systems scientists to more effectively and swiftly shift from old to new.”
”Digging still further [into Darwin’s ideas on human nature], by applying rigorous contents as well as hermeneutical analysis from an advanced systems scientific perspective, I uncovered the rest of a startling picture wholly at odds with the prevailing stereotype.” [l p. 156]

d.     “Yet in [Darwin’s] second book, he outlines the psychological superstructure, prefiguring the development o cognitive, social, developmental, humanistic, transpersonal, and positive psychology in our time. Of the most neglected urgency, it is in this second book that he provides the basic sketch for a moral and action-oriented second or completing half for his theory of evolution that psychology, as well as the rest of science, has only barely begun to build.” [l p. 157]

e.      Loye goes on to say that the development ideas beyond natural selection about emergent features of humanity (e.g., empathy, sympathy, moral development) depended upon self-organization theory, and ideas of Freud, Dewey, Piaget, Kurt Lewin, and humanistic psychology, founded by Abraham Maslow. [l]


“Transformation is not a mere re-arrangement of surface elements, but a complete turning inside out of every aspect of a thing, and the greatest transformation of all is the great story of the transformation of humanity in its journey from created to creator being.  As yet, this is still an unfinished story. It could go either way. We may well overshoot the “eye of the needle”. And that’s why good stories are so exciting, for whilst Good should triumph over Evil, in the end it all hangs by a thread waiting for someone to wake up at the critical moment and make the right choice.”

Michael Hallman, 2002





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21 January 2009