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A Social Mess Matrix

November 9, 2012

It might be worthwhile, wouldn’t it, to try to capture all possible states assumed by the social within a four-by-three matrix distinguishing the metadomains Nature, Culture, Society, and Technology within the distinction of three indicators of human access to these domains, as there are action, event, and value:

The interesting thing about this is that you do not know what you do as long as you have no clue about the order of the axes. They seem to be chosen in an ad hoc manner which is not bad in itself, it might even be revealing, but which lacks analytical understanding. It is another way to move within a labyrinth.

The advantage of Talcott Parsons’ AGIL-scheme is that its two axes are chosen and determined deliberately, the one distinguishing internal and external orientation of action, the other instrumental and consummatory aspects of the same action. One might argue about Parsons’ choice but at least it is analytically explained:

In contrast to Parsons both Niklas Luhmann and Harrison C. White offer their first hints at how they are going to schematize their inquiries into the social without making the axes explicit. Luhmann starts with general systems theory and offers his theory of social systems as a special case:

And White starts by considering floating populations flocking to either networks, styles, or institutions and adds the hypothesis that populations only risk a footing of their identities where switchings remain possible, thus calling for high contingency, high ambiguity, or high ambage, never accepting any kind of univocal fixing:

Ok, Luhmann gives another scheme as well which makes explicit the possible order of the chapters of a book on social systems which he was going to write. But this is given only as an appendix to his 1979 paper on “Incomprehensible Science” (Soziologische Aufklärung, vol. 3):

Finally, in a talk George Giorgidze and Henrik Nilsson offer the following scheme of their “future work” on functional hybrid modeling, doing away with any axes by closing the cycle and distinguishing signal, coding, and event:

Somehow we will have to go on from here — and to get back to these different schemes of possible paths.

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