The Conceptualisation and Measurement of Socio-Cybernetic Forces

As has been mentioned, one outcome of Prof. Raven’s research has been the realisation that it is necessary to “turn psychology inside out” in a manner analogous to the way in which Newton turned physics inside out. Newton “de-animated” explanations of movement. No longer was it attributed to the internal properties of the object or to the whims of the gods.

In a similar way, we need to de-animate explanations of behaviour in psychology.

No longer are we to attribute most of the behaviour of teachers, public servants and politicians to their personal properties. Most of what they do is attributable to the systems forces which act upon them. Indeed, it turns out that, despite what was said in relation to some of the research programmes mentioned earlier, much of the variance in performance of occupational roles is to be explained in this way.

It is relatively easy to construct a systemogram illustrating the interacting and supporting nature of such forces (although the choice of which variables to include and exclude and the way in which the map is to be laid out in such a way as to highlight the most important issues which emerge is much more difficult).

Illustrative material will be found in Conceptualising, Mapping and Measuring Social Forces and The Development and Use of maps of Socio-Cybernetic Systems to Improve Educational and Social Policy, with particular reference to sustainability. Although the links can be shown in a systemogram, the real problem is to weight them in such a way as to indicate their relative strength or importance. When this has been done one would have something which could more legitimately be described as a socio-cybernetic diagram

In Newtonian physics, the actual strength of the multiple forces acting on a sailing boat can be measured and plotted as vectors on a diagram of forces. The overall effect of this network of forces can then be calculated to accurately predict the direction and strength of movement. See Appendix to Conceptualising, Mapping and Measuring Social Forces for an illustration.

Other illustrations of what is to be achieved will be found in the circuitry of the networks of connections in electronic cybernetic (control) systems.

Yet in what appears to be the closest approximation to what seems to need to be done to map socio-cybernetic forces, ie the work of Jay Forrester (see Conceptualising, Mapping and Measuring Social Forces, no attempt was actually made to measure any forces which might have been involved.

Instead, attention focussed on measuring the inputs and outcomes – rates of depletion of physical or animal resources, increases in particle content in the atmosphere, rise or decline in infectious diseases, population, etc. The impacts of each of these on all of the others could then be calculated … or at least the correlations between them assessed.

In Raven’s opinion, ways will be found to do one or other of these things if the task of transforming systemogram 20.6 in The New Wealth of Nations into a genuine socio-cybernetic diagram taken seriously.

The task is of inestimable importance to the future of humankind.

The distinctly “unsophisticated” first steps that need to be taken toward conceptualising and measuring forces which were in the process of conceptualisation can be illustrated from the work of Newton and Faraday. The way in which Newton initially measured “force” in the wind has already been described. Faraday likewise “measured” the strength of an electric current by observing the distance his elbow jumped in various conditions.

In both cases what occurred was a distinctly cyclical process of measurement and conceptualisation and the same can be expected in the domain of socio-cybernetics.

And it is not entirely irrelevant to remark that one can sense the strength of various social forces acting upon one.

In closing, it is perhaps important to reiterate that the way forward being suggested here differs markedly from attempts to explain social behaviour in terms of the “power” of the actors. It is often claimed that we are at the mercy of powerful politicians or bankers. Such statements well illustrate the power of animistic explanations. The argument here is that the power of these “gods” is precisely what has to be explained. What are the systems processes which consistently lead to the selection, promotion, and appointment of people who consistently drive society in a particular direction – ie toward hierarchy enacted through the continuous creation of senseless work? The point being made here - i.e. the need to genertae systemic explanations of social behaviour instead of resorting to "explanations" in terms of schemes of evil people or groups - can be illustrated at the opposite end of the scale where it is more difficult to explain such things as the way in which the seats of school pupils once labelled as having "special educational needs" do not remain empty but are immediately filled by other pupils. Clearly,what is happening is being determined by the system itself, not by the characteristics of the individuals within it. The Question is "How is this stratification - with all its undesirable and destructive consequences - maintained despite changes in the personnel occupying various positions in the hierachy?"

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