A Critique of Social Applications of Autopoiesis

By:
Dr. James Juniper
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Maturana and Varela’s notion of autopoiesis, initially developed to provide insights into the biology of living processes at the level of the individual cell level, has been adopted by a number of social theorists, including Talcott Parsons, Niklas Luhmann and Gunther Teubner. In "Life Itself", Robert Rosen set out a similar, and equally comprehensive argument about what he sees as the inadequacies of reductionist modes of materialist analysis that are based on mechanism.

This paper presents a philosophical critique of those social theorists who, under the influence of Luhmann’s work, have adopted autopoietic frameworks in their analysis of social phenomena. This critique is primarily directed at Maturana and Varela’s arguments that autopoietic ways of thinking call for a transformation in the epistemology and ontology of scientific analysis: one that properly accounts for cognitive processes of self-organisation and self-reference. The paper argues that, in this regard, Rosen’s arguments provide an alternative and more credible framework for analysis that is more congruent with other Foucauldian and Habermasian strands of social theory.


Keywords: Autopoiesis, Regulation, Governance, Biocybernetics, Systems Theory, Metabolism-Repair Systems
Stream: Research Methodologies, Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Critique of Social Applications of Autopoiesis, A


Dr. James Juniper

Lecturer, School of Economics, Politics and Tourism
Faculty of Business and Law, Newcastle University

Callaghan, NSW, Australia

I have worked on industry policy, corporate taxation, and forecasting in the both the federal and state public service and for the trade union movement. I currently teach in both economics and politics. I have published research on regional policy, macroeconomic policy, monetary theory, and labour market analysis, and continental philosophy. My current research on biocybernetics has relevance for debates in public policy (employment, welfare, envirnmental sustainability, and the theory of regulation) and the philosophy of the social sciences. In my research on econphysics and systems theory, I have worked on economic interpretations of anomalous diffusion, risk-sensitive control theory fractional Brownian motion, and generalised entropy-based measures of uncertainty.

Ref: I06P0152