Thoughts on Organization Theory

Emergence: Complexity and Organization, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Thoughts on Organization Theory


Anatol Rapoport 8t. William J. Horvath (with an introduction by Jeffrey Goldstein)

Originally published as Rapoport A. and Horvath, W.J. (1959). "Thoughts on organization theory,' General Systems, 4: 87-91. Reprinted with land permission.

Rapoport's Career

This introduction will focus on the first author, Anatol Rapoport, because of his outstanding role in the development of systems sciences plus the fact that not much could be found out about William J. Horvath although he co-wrote with Rapoport on more than one occasion and was an esteemed scientist in his own right. Trained as a musician, mathematician, biologist, as well as psychologist, Anatol Rapoport was one of the most seminal pioneers in modern systems theory (see, Anatol Raport, nd; and Anatol Rapoport (*1911), nd). In that capacity, he cofounded the Society for General Systems Research at Stanford University in the mid nineteen fifties (I've found both '54 and '56 as the dates of the founding) along with other systems thinking luminaries at the time such as Ludwig von Bertalannfy, Ralph Gerard, and Kenneth Boulding. This society was later renamed The International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) (Abraham, 2002; see also, Umpleby & Dent, 1999).

Born in 1911, Rapoport emigrated early from Russia to the United States, stopping along the way to study piano, composition, and conducting in Vienna. Eventually he settled at the University of Chicago where he received a Ph.D. under Nicholas Rashevsky who had almost single-handedly initiated the field of mathematical biology. Rashevsky had other students who went on to become preeminent in their fields, e.g., the very influential complexity-oriented biologist Robert Rosen.

Rapoport served during WWII in the US Army Air Corps. During his exceptionally long career, Rapoport was a professor at the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, and the University of Toronto where he had gone to protest the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War. He was also Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna until 1983. He authored many books and over 500 research papers. His main areas of interest were in game theory, particularly regarding the latter's application in studies of conflict, cooperation, and peace studies, as well as highly original research into social networks, stochastic models of contagion, and mathematical models of parasitism and symbiosis. He had a truly illustrious career, receiving numerous awards and honorary doctorates, and was the president of and on the boards of numerous associations and journals. Like so many others ofthe early systems thinkers, Rapoport was an authentic polymath, as at home in the abstract world of mathematical theorems, as in philosophy, social psychological experiments, computer simulations, music composition and conducting, as well as being totally engaged in the betterment of society and culture by promoting and initiating many vital currents in the study of peace.

Organized Complexity

Regarding Rapoport's and Horvath's paper in this Classic Paper Section of this issue of E.CO, it is first interesting to note that they quote Whitehead, in the latter role as a philosopher of science and metaphysician, in his call for new modes of thought which could break free ofthat type of analytical thinking circumscribed by placing physics as the prototype of how thinking ought to proceed. In particular, they followed Whitehead's case for an organismic approach in contrast to that type of analytical thinking which sought to grasp a "complexity" by examining its components alone, the idea being that because the parts were supposed to be simpler, an examination of these parts would more easily yield insight into the complexity. More specifically, Rapoport and Horvath point to that analytical method which believes it can comprehend a complexity by erecting a superimposition ofthe analytical knowledge ofthe parts, an explanatory strategy which has proved very fruitful in analyzing actual machines as superimposition of parts. …

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