Social Organizations as Reconstitutable Networks of Conversations

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This essay intends to recover human agency from holistic, abstract, even oppressive conceptions of social organization, common in the social sciences, social systems theory in particular. To do so, I am taking the use of language as simultaneously accompanying the performance of and constructing reality (my version of social constructivism). The essay starts with a definition of human agency in terms of its linguistic manifestation. It then sketches several leading conceptions of social organization, their metaphorical origin and entailments. Finally, it contextualizes the use of these metaphors in conversation, which leads to the main thesis of this essay that the reconstitutability of networks of conversation precedes all other criteria of the viability of organizational forms. The paper transcends the traditional second-order cybernetic preoccupation with individual cognition - observation and description--into the social domain of participation.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Gregory Bateson Professor for Cybernetics, Language, and Culture, The Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. ., Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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