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Julie Allan

Oh, rats. I do see your point Chris, but had just got fond of Maturana and Varela again (biologists). May not use their terminology in most public places but still like their notion of a human being as fundamentally both the producer and the product ('autopoesis'), plus their invitation to attend to ideas of objectivity by pointing out 'everything said is said by someone'. Surely we people are intrinsically of the natural world? Or maybe we are unnatural. Of course, entirely agree that just because something walks like a duck and quacks like a duck inevitably means it is a duck. Alas, it seems to be the case that if we think it's a duck, it may as well be one.

Chris Rodgers

Hi Julie,

Many thanks for your comment.

To begin with, I agree with you when you say, “Surely we people are intrinsically of the natural world?” But I’m talking here about organizational dynamics. And the proposition in this blog is that what we think of as ‘an organization’ is not a natural phenomenon (or living system) but a social construction – a continuously emerging ‘outcome’ of the complex social process of human interaction. As such, we are not talking about a collection of independent, self-determining individuals (or a systemic whole) but rather interdependent people who both enable and constrain each other through their ongoing interactions.

When I say, “The dynamics of human interaction are fundamentally different from those that are found in the natural world,” I’m drawing attention to a number of complex social dynamics which do not have parallels in ‘the living world’. These include the recognition that:

(i) this ongoing interactional (essentially conversational) process is unavoidably power-laden and political;

(ii) it is also a self-organizing, patterning process - embodying the paradoxical dynamics of simultaneously enabling and constraining, forming patterns whilst being formed by them, creating expectancy at the same time as being fundamentally unpredictable, and so on; and

(iii) the interactions always embody differing, and potentially competing, interpretations, intentions, interests, identities, and ideologies.

I understand Maturana and Varela’s point about “producer and product”, and their recognition of the inherent subjectivity of human communication (in its widest sense). These usefully challenge established management assumptions of linear cause and effect, and people’s capacity to behave objectively. At the same time, I think that they view these dynamics in terms of individual selves and their behaviour as parts of wider systemic wholes. So, in that sense, my processual understanding differs significantly from theirs.

Finally, I agree very much with your point about the need to choose one’s language in, as you say, “public places”. This was the primary motivation behind my original post, in the light of various on-line exchanges that I'd been party to.

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