Archive for October, 2014

Autopoesis and the Viable Systems Model

October 30, 2014

Autopoesis and the origins of the Viable Systems Model (VSM) are very much linked. Autopoesis was developed by two Chilean biologists Humbert Maturana and Francisco Varela and described in their joint work Autopoesis and Cognition (Maturana and Varela, 1972). Maturana had worked with some of the most prominent cyberneticians whilst in the USA, co-writing ‘What the frog’s eye tells the frog’s brain’ (Lettvin,et al, 1959). Maturana has reflected how his experiences in the transforming effects of the 1968 social struggles at the University of Chile. He then became involved with “second order cybernetics” working alongside Heinz von Foerster (Maturana 1980). He was working on the concept of Autopoesis with his student Francisco Varela when Stafford Beer was arrived in Chile to work on the Project Cybersyn. Beer was developing his concept of the Viable Systems Model, of which he gave a an incomplete outline in the first edition of The Brain of the Firm (Stafford Beer 1972).

Soon Stafford Beer, Maturana, Varela and von Foerster were all participating in the Group of 14, a Chilean cybernetics study group (Medina E., 2011). By 1980 the English translation of Autopoesis came out with an introduction by Stafford Beer. He also published an extended second edition of Brain of the Firm (Stafford Beer 1980) where he acknowledges his intellectual debt to Maturana and Varela.

This illustrates the importance of intellectual commoning: at the broader level of the social struggles of the Chilean students in 1968 – part of a broader global questioning of the role and function of higher education. Then it can also be seen in teh fruitful work of the Group of 14 study group. Rather than seeing intellectual enquiry simply as being the work of an idealised individual, shorn of their interactions with their colleagues, it is rather the collaborative working environment of an intellectual commons which enables all to participate in making substantial steps forward


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Lettvin, J.Y; Maturana, H.R.; McCulloch, W.S.; Pitts, W.H., ‘What the frog’s eye tells the frog’s brain’, Proceedings of the IRE, Vol. 47, No. 11, November 1959

Maturana, H. R. & Varela, F. J. (1972), De Maquinas y Seres Vivos, Santiago: Editorial Universitaria S.A.

Maturana, H. R. & Varela, F. J. (1980), Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, Vol. 42 of Series: Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company,

Median E. (2011) Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile, Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press

Stafford Beer A. (1972) Brain of the Firm (First edition) London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press

Stafford Beer A. (1981) Brain of the Firm (Second edition) London: John Wiley


Information is not a commodity

October 24, 2014

After last Monday’s lecture on autopoesis, I did some online research and found a video of Heinz von Foerster discussing the subject. He brings up several ideas including an understanding that “information is not a commodity” and that “communication is the interactive computation of a reality.”



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Dear Commoners

October 18, 2014

Our last session was really interesting, enjoyable; it prompted me to really think.

Also as I read blogs, comments, issues tackled, there is a lot that I can relate to, a lot that has been mentioned applies also to part of the world where I come from, Balkans.

Issues that we question are issues that we know about or are passionate about. Interesting is the mentioning of the politician who directly or indirectly through his cronies hinders efforts to help the infected and also efforts to stop the further spreading of the Ebola disease. How can somebody be so selfish and heartless, when others are risking own lives to help? Not to mention the fact that the virus is very contagious and himself or his loved ones might get infected.

Throughout history we encounter individuals who turn freedom fighters to fight against rulers, tyrants, dictators, etc. They are ready for the ultimate sacrifice for their ideals or liberty and the liberty of the commoners. But it seems that at a later stage, given the chance, they become themselves what they hated the most.

Philosophers, economists, scientists, revolutionaries etc. called upon ”Proletariat, working class or commoners to unite”. And boy did they listen!!!

Vast parts of the globe, hundreds of millions of commoners joined in effort to overthrow the bourgeoisie, the rich elites. Socialist “or communist” nations, flourished like mushrooms.

But why it did not last, why commoners did not manage to build on and sustain communities?

Is it that it was premature; the society was not ready for such a change? Can we blame the human nature to dominate, or is it outright the human greed?

When will our society or when will we, the commoners, be ready to unite?

How likely is it that such scale movements will happen in our lifetime? Who will trigger it; philosophers, scholars, politicians, music stars, religious leaders…?

Commoning in a hybrid community

October 10, 2014

Reflecting on some of the discussion about blogging in our class, and reading through the module guide made me aware that we need to actually work together to understand what “working together” is all about. i.e. we need to shirk for it to work. As we only have a limited amount of time together as a face-to-face group, our contact through the WordPress site means that we will actually be developing a hybrid community (Mitchell 1998). How we function in this respect will have a big impact on our learning and consequently our grades. We can turn to Brown et al. (2006) for guidance in turning our community into a goal directed virtual team. While some of what Brown discusses is notrelevant to our circumstances (eg hiring), other aspects are important.

A key aspect is that we all need to introduce ourselves, which is pretty much what has already done. So I shall follow suit.

In 2013 I completed a BA in Social Enterprise at UEL and in February I started an MSC in ICT and Development of which this module is a part. I think this may lead me to adopting a somewhat different approach to other people doing this module. I also currently work Wikimedia UK, the UK based charity that supports Wikipedia. I have been involved with WIkipedia for over ten years. I am particularly excited about taking this module because it will deepen my knowledge of certain key practices that projects like Wikipedia exemplify. One of these is “Commons-based peer production” a term coined by Yochai Benkler (Benkler 2002) to describe activity which fell outside the framework of transaction costs theory which was developed by Chicago School Economist Ronald Coase back in the thirties (Coase 1937).

However, I have also been influenced by Ivan Illich’s ‘vernacular values‘ (Illich 1980):

“We need a simple adjective to name those acts of competence, lust, or concern that we want to defend from measurement or manipulation by Chicago Boys and Socialist Commissars.”

I have gone into great depth about this in an article Wikipedia – A Vernacular Encyclopedia, which draws on the experience of Alexander Bogdanov and Proletkult following the Bolshevik coup on October 1917. I see Bogdanov’s “Techtology” as a precursor of cybernetics and I am interested in how these theoretical approaches can enrich our understanding of Sustainability and the Commons in the twenty first century.

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Benkler Y. (2002) Coase’s Penguin or Linux and The nature of the firm 112 YALE L.J. 369 (2002), PDF.

Brown M.K., Huettner B., and James-Tanny C. (2006) Managing Virtual Teams: Getting the Most from Wikis, Blogs, and Other Collaborative Tools Pleno Texas, Wordware Publishing

Coase R. (1937) ‘The nature of the firm’ Economica, 9 (1937), pp. 386–405

Illich I. (1980) ‘Vernacular Values’ published in CoEvolution Quarterly
Mitchell, W. J. (1999).’The city of bits hypothesis’
High Technology And Low-income Communities: Prospects for the Positive Use of Advanced Information Technology”, Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press


In the quest for Social Justice for Africa and the African Diaspora ‘Development’ Model

October 4, 2014

As a United Kingdom based African Diasporan engaging in International Development, I am delighted to be a 2014/15 MSc NGO and Development Management student at the University of East London. The journey that has led me to undertake this task has been as exciting as it has been fraught with uncertainty.

I am here in the quest for Social Justice for Africa and the African Diaspora ‘Development’ model. Gaining a thorough understanding of how to effect ‘good change’ (Chambers 1997) in development for Africa, particularly in my own country Zambia (yes I am home biased!), is essential if I am to accomplish my quest successfully.

As a child growing up in Zambia, my first real awareness of the international development discourse was during the Ethiopian famine. Images of emaciated people, children in particular, and the prodigious efforts and support that the rest of the world made to alleviate the situation were all imprinted on my young impressionable mind. However, I soon realised that a myriad of development issues were also present right there in my own country.

Social Justice

“Social justice defined as equality of opportunities for well-being, both within and among generations of people, can be seen as having at least three aspects: economic, social, and environmental. Only development that manages to balance these three groups of objectives can be sustained for long……Conversely, ignoring one of the aspects can threaten economic growth as well as the entire development process.”

Soubbotina, 2004, p.10

Whereas our increasing significance as African Diaspora development actors, contributing to Africa’s sustainable, social and economic development, has steadily gained momentum, we remain an untapped resource with the potential of being the catalyst that will bring about the required traction to tip Africa’s future over this current development impasse.

“With great power there must also come – great responsibility!” Stan Lee. Therefore, with all this power that we hold, what trajectory will we lead the African development discourse? What ideologies and theories will we espouse to and/or develop? In particular, how will my “diaspora activism” contribute effectively to enhancing the attainment of social justice for Africa? These questions, and more, are what I am hoping the MSc will assist me to answer.