Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Third Cybernetic Revolution: Beyond Open to Dialogic System Theories

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Third Cybernetic Revolution: Beyond Open to Dialogic System Theories

Article excerpt


We question Systems Theory by adopting a Bakhtinian dialogism approach. We argue that a dialogism approach gets us beyond first order cybernetic (control) and second order (open) system thinking to a third order cybernetics (multi-dialogisms). We believe third order cybernetic theory is an extension of Bakhtin's work. We explore how dialogue is not equivalent to polyphonic dialogism; the later does not assume being in same time and space, as in some meeting. Further, we look at three other dialogisms (stylistic, chronotopic, & architectonic). Multi-dialogisms raise questions for dialog, learning, and appreciative inquiry approaches. We conclude with insights on how dialogism is already a part of organization practice, and ways to enhance dialogic competence.

Key Words:

Dialogism system theory, third cybernetics, storytelling


We begin with what Mikhail Bakhtin (1981: 25, 14, 273) calls a dialogized story. According to Holquist (1990: 15), "dialogism" is a word Bakhtin never used; instead Bakhtin (1981) used "dialogicality" (here we use them interchangeably). Dialogicality (or dialogism) predates Derrida's difference and decentered discourse. Dialogism overcomes binary opposition of signifier/signified, text/context, self/other, etc, in order to look at an Einsteinian version of relativity. In terms of the dialogized manner of story, the implication is that each story is in motion, relative to meaning between bodies (physical, political, social, bodies of ideas, etc.), and to another telling (see Holquist, 1990: 20-21).

Our purpose is to problematize monolanguage model of system theory, to re-think and re-evaluate it so that we can move beyond open system theory, and beyond organic theories, such as population ecology (where competition is presumed). We offer a dialogism model to reinvent system theory, to move it beyond economist Kenneth Boulding's (1956) level 4 and 5, into more dialogic arenas. We also extend Bakhtin's (1973, 1981, 1984) work on dialogism by extending his language theory to a theory of dialogic systematicity of organizations.

The article is organized in four parts. Part one summarizes what we are proposing as third order cybernetics, and puts it into relationship to first and second order cybernetics. In part two, we point out shortcomings in general systems theory (GST) and develop our interdisciplinary dialogic model. In part three, we develop a dialogic system theory for organization studies that extends from Bakhtin's work, and in part four, we explain some ironical situations that are prevailing in our contestedglobalized world at organizational level as well as at country level because of lack of dialogism. Dialogic System Theory is presented as an alternative.

Part I: Third Order Cybernetics

Bakhtin dialogicality theory problematizes Shannon and Weaver (1949) information processing theory (sender-receiver-feedback loop) that has been in vogue since its inclusion in von Bertallanfy (1956) "general system theory." Dialogism creates a case for "third cybernetic revolution" (Boje & Baskin, 2005; Boje, 2005a, 2006). The 1st cybernetic revolution was mechanistic, cybernetics of deviationcounteraction. In Bakhtin's term this is only part of heteroglossia, the centripetal forces (or deviation-counteracting forces) of language, including story/narrative. The 2nd cybernetic revolution occurs with open system theory of deviation-amplification, known as Law of Requisite Variety: it takes more variety in organization to process the variety in the environment. Bakhtin's heteroglossia theory, we think treats an open system as one where centripetal forces become opposed by centrifugal (i.e., deviation-amplification) forces of language (Boje, 2006, chap 2).

Third cybernetics takes us beyond open system theory (level 4) in Boulding's (1956) nine orders of complexity model. The lower order system levels include: 1. …

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