Breaking the Concept of Power (and Redescribing its Domain): Batesonian and Autopoietic Perspectives

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Abstract:

This paper is an exploration of a new cybernetic approach to 'power' which is developed in a dialectical fashion out of a respectful response to Gregory Bateson's famous distaste for and dismissal of the concept. Thus it begins with an evocation of Bateson's objections to 'power' as an explanatory principle. It continues by examining, point by point, a conference paper Bateson wrote late in his life in order to try to pick apart the concept and see what meat might be gleaned from its carcass. It then turns to my own attempt to use the autopoiesis theory of Maturana and Varela, and in counterpoint Bateson's theories of system and adaptation, to develop a new theory of what 'power' might mean, which I call the theory of 'power as relational asymmetry.' This theory is all too briefly then applied to ecology, animal behavior, and human social evolution. Some of its implications for contemporary approaches are touched upon. Finally the paper returns to Bateson and explores his ethical and epistemological objection to the putatively 'scientific' practice of the oversimplification of human motivation, and it observes that here may be found some of the roots of Bateson's dislike of the 'power' concept. Any cybernetic concept of the domain of 'power' should retain Bateson's motivational pluralism.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2006

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