ISA RC51 on Sociocybernetics

The Research Committee 51 (RC51) of the International Sociologic...al Association (ISA) is one of the more than fifty Research Committees which, along with a large number of national sociological associations, constitute the ISA.

Sociocybernetics can be defined as “Systems Science in Sociology and Other Social Sciences” - systems science, because sociocybernetics is not limited to theory but includes application, empirical research, methodology, axiology (i.e., ethics and value research), and epistemology. In general use, “systems theory” and “cybernetics” are frequently interchangeable or appear in combination. Hence, they can be considered as synonyms, although the two terms come from different traditions and are not used uniformly in different languages and national traditions.

Sociocybernetics includes both what are called first order cybernetics and second order cybernetics. Cybernetics, according to Wiener´s original definition, is the science of “control and communication in the animal and the machine”. Heinz von Foerster went on to distinguish a first order cybernetics, “the study of observed systems”, and a second order cybernetics, “the study of observing systems”. Second order cybernetics is explicitly based on a constructivist epistemology and is concerned with issues of self-reference, paying particular attention to the observer-dependence of knowledge, including scientific theories. In the interdisciplinary and holistic spirit of systems science, although sociology is clearly at the center of interest of sociocybernetics, the other social sciences, such as psychology, anthropology, political science etc. are addressed as well, emphases depending on the particular research question to be dealt with.

The group was founded in 1980 as an ISA Ad Hoc Group by Francisco Parra-Luna, who organized its sessions at subsequent World Congresses of Sociology (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994). The group became a Thematic Group and finally a Working Group of the ISA. In 1992 it was demoted back to Thematic Group for lack of activities. In 1995 it was reactivated under the leadership of Felix Geyer, and the first board was elected with Kenneth Bailey, USA, as president and Felix Geyer, The Netherlands, as secretary. The group was re-recognized by the ISA first as a Working Group and at the 1998 World Congress of Sociology in Montreal as a Research Committee. It grew from some 30 members in early 1995 to about 240 members at the time of the 1998 World Congress of Sociology in Brisbane. At that point about half of these members were also individual members of the parent association ISA.

RC51 offers to its members a biannual Newsletter which was started in 1996 and which has continued as part of the peer-reviewed electronic Journal of Sociocybernetics. This journal has been published by RC51 since 2000 on the RC51 website. It is complemented by Cybernetics & Human Knowing, <http://www.imprint.co.uk/>, which has become the second official journal. Another important means of communication and exchange of scientific information is regular e-mail contac to keep members up-to-date about the activities of RC51 and pertinent issues in its worldwide scientific environment. This website of RC51, hosted by the University of Zaragoza, Spain, provides detailed information about up-coming and past activities. It makes available bibliographic information and includes abstracts and papers presented by members of RC51 since 1998 both in the World Congresses of Sociology (held every four years) and in the International Conferences of Sociocybernetics which, since 1999, have been held in the years between the World Congresses. The highlights of RC51 activities are definitely the World Congresses of Sociology organized every four years by the ISA. In the last World Congress in Brisbane, RC51 organized 16 scientific sessions on different topics of sociocybernetics, including one session in Spanish and one in French (both languages are official languages of the ISA, along with English). In addition, several pre-congress tutorials were offered on different areas of sociocybernetics. A similar program is currently under preparation for the XVIth World Congress of Sociology, Durban, South Africa, July 23-29, 2006.

RC51 lives on and takes its particular strength from face-to-face interaction and intensive personal discussions backed by e-mail distribution lists and the organization taking place in cyberspace. Such discussions often last from dawn till after midnight, especially as they occur in the more intimate setting of the International Conferences of Sociocybernetics: Kolimbari, Greece - Panticosa, Spain - León, Mexico - Corfu, Greece - Lisbon, Portugal - Maribor, Slovenia ...