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[Xmca-l] Re: Systems views [leontievactivity]
Thanks for this. I am a little confused and curious. In what way are
functional approaches not a part of these systems?
The way systems ideas are used doesn't assume causal relations, so in
the spirit of 'bracketing' and exploring 'direct appearance' in
dialogue- using systems notions as means of getting to focus in an
understood sense through an indirect 'mediational frame' ( I'm
borrowing this from this community's use of the concept of
dual-stimulation). However as this is in dialogue any 'function' of
use of systems concepts is formed within not a priori.
The relation with reality is explored, systems ideas do not function
as 'ideal types', nor is action envisaged as 'realising the concept of
system as represented in modelling' Various notions of system can be
useeful in such dialogue, the motive is to gain systemic understanding
of relations within practices '.
Peter Checkland and Ray Ison work in this way.
Luria (1963, p.35) provides a good working definition in line with how tend
to think about them in this work:
“The view has often been expressed in the literature that the term
“function” implies two totally different concepts. On the one hand it may
denote the direct and manifest activity of a tissue (the secretory
functions of the glands, the contractile function of muscle, and so on); in
this sense the “function” naturally is characteristic of and inseparable
from the particular tissue; the tissue cannot change its function nor take
on a new one.
Perhaps this could be refined with Maturana's notion of 'structure'
within an organism, but he and Varela used this at the same time as
the held the notion of 'Organisation' in autopoieisis - where
'organisation (unobservable) prescribes the limits of change possible
in structure' ( before entropy ,death etc) However they studied the
nervous system, Varela went on to be concerned about 'energy' , but as
yet there is little understanding of how endocrine systems regulate
'functions'. So neuroscience is not the relevant source, but study of
substrates and enzymes. In relation to changing their environment
organism 'parts' do change function when interpreted through
The significant difference is the concept of 'structural-coupling --
rather than a notion that organisms only adapt to given environment
conditions ( and the simplistic notion of evolution this entails).
On the other hand the term “function” may have a completely different
meaning when we speak of “functions” as the basic form of adaption of the
living organism to its environment and the principal manifestations of its
Organisms as 'self-producing - living- are not in this kind of
relation, but this is a systemic unity.
Expressions such as the “respiratory functions”, the
Well, these are ways of considering a systemic unity as a composite
unity - and these are not separate functions they are in dynamic
or the complex “locomotor functions” and, finally, the
still more complex “psychological functions” (speech, writing, and so on)
have a quite different meaning. We are concerned here with complex adaptive
activity (biological at some stages of development and socio-historical at
Aren't they always inevitably inter-twined ?
satisfying a particular demand and playing a particular role in
the vital activity of the animal.
If we say 'the animal' have we included all those 'complex'
socio-historical aspects still? So we don't have 'the animal' as unit
of analysis now.
A complex adaptive “function” such as
this will usually be executed by a group of structural units
Anokhin (1947) showed, these will be integrated into a “functional system.”
The parts of this system may be scattered over a wide area of the body and
united only in the execution of their common task (for example, respiration
or locomotion). Between these parts there is a pliable yet strong temporary
connexion, uniting them into one system and synchronizing their activity.
This “functional system” works as a complete entity, organizing the flow of
excitation and co-ordinating the activity of individual organs.”
Where would you see Bateson's boundary - not 'the skin'?
The kind of work T. Parson's did was labelled 'functionalist', but he
didn't acccept that label. It was 'evolutionary' in this way of
regarding humanity as a totality. There was a rebound against / after
Parsons, and the 'interpretive' stance that became influential in
Systems research after that emerged shaped 'in contrast to'
'functionalist' causal assumptions. ( And cybernetic, second order
cybernetic strands also co-exist still). So It difficult to locate
'function' from Luria's quote . Anohkin's quote hints at Maturana
and Varela's 'Organisation', yet their conclusions are drawn from
neural laboratory work and study ofcognition. This isn't life-science
grounded to explain such relations within cultural lifeworlds. The
temporal seems to frame singular co-ordinations, but doesn't provide a
basis for relations in practices, with contradictory motives .
Vasilyuk's work suggests an aesthetic work in that ( earlier in the
Leontiev thread Andy situates it).