April 19, 2005

subsystem / ecosystem dialectic

Jim,

I am finally "really" reading your paper on "The Geometry of Family Theory." I have a question about your fundamental dialectical principle that involves "the relationship between a system and its environment, through which each is consituted as both a subsystem and an ecosystem" (p. 5). You may recall that I was going to use Evangelical couples as my subject for creating a model. Well, I've altered that a bit. I want to consider interracial families, specifically, and I've broadened the institution to the Christian church in America, specifically churches that are identified as multiracial (this is more researchable & definitive; plus, I've found a typology of 4 different types of multiracial churches). Anyway, my challenge is trying to see both family and church as both subsystem and ecosystem to each other...

So, here's how I'm thinking about this. I can easily imagine the family acting as a subsystem within the church, which acts as an ecosystem. However, the reverse side of the dialectical takes a little more thought (and a rum 'n coke, actually). I was envisioning this family sitting at home talking about how they feel accepted and included in their church. Insofar as they belong to a church, they would be influenced by the "group definition," i.e. values, norms, shared meanings, etc. And as they evaluate their experience, they are interacting with symbols which carry meaning for them. These symbols didn't emerge exclusively from inside each family member. They are, in fact, "emergent properties of wholes, not attributable to individuals alone" and as each person reflectively evaluates their experience, their reflection is "mediated by an internalized notion of groups" (Hanson, 1995, p. 41). Therefore, the family acts as the ecosystem in this other side of the dialectic and the church--in this family conversation--serves as a subsystem which interacts within each person to influence their self-reflection. The dialectic switches back and forth, depending on where the focus is, which aligns with the idea of dynamic boundaries.

Well? Am I close to the holy grail? I think I feel a light bulb starting to flicker...it began when I reflected on what Weeks meant by an "intersystems" approach, since both family and church are systems, but ever-evolving kinds of systems that interact upon (or transact) each other.

JIM'S COMMENTS

You're on the right track, I believe. In my view, "ecological dialectics" (or "dialectical ecology," if you prefer) reminds us of infinite multi-dimensionality rather than the more traditional linear dialectic (eg, Hegel's thesis/antithesis, etc.) Transactions are simplest and clearest between "near" or "adjoining" systems; however, GST, Gaia, etc. remind us that EVERYTHING is interconnected and multicausal. Thus, in principle, any given system can be endlessly explicated because it is infinitely interconnected with other systems that are infinitely interconnected, etc. etc. Practically speaking, to prevent overwhelming complexity we are forced to simplify--or "model"--a given part of a vast ecosystem. Therefore, to understand even a simplified model we should not lose track of the fact that, while we are designating something a "system" to be understood, we are actually studying a subsystem/ecosystem dialectic--which every system is. This, in turn, has methodological implications, the most important of which is: Work from the "top" (ecosystem) "down" (subsystem), because understanding the whole will be necessary to understand the parts. There are other corollary principles, but I won't go into those here. Hopefully, this clarifies the motivation and thinking behind my "Geometry of Systems" article, ie. three dimensional spherical modeling more closely approximates the "reality" of complex systems than two-dimensional "wiring diagrams" and X/Y axes graphs. I hope this helps rather than obfuscates.


Posted by gschache at 4:32 PM

April 4, 2005

Riegel's work on dialectics & cog development

I'm fascinated by something I found in Weeks' article that proposes an "intersystems" type of "metatheoretical approach to integrating individual and systemic formulations of human development. He quotes Klaus Riegel (1973) who invested himself in "dialectical operations and cognitive development" (p. 6). Riegel had a theory that humans develop in four different dimensions or levels. They include the following:

1. Inner-biological
2. Individual-psychological
3. Cultural-sociological
4. Outer-physical

He theorizes that development is more fluid when 2 or more of these areas are in synch with one another. That's an easy assertion, but I like the antithesis of this theory. He says that "Crises and developmental leaps occur when there is asynchronization between or among dimensions" (p.7). This is akin to the literature on spiritual transformation in individuals which points to crises or upheaval as an opportunity for a fundamental shift in one's paradigm. Of course, Riegel is pointing out the obvious and maybe missing the importance of the variety of contexts that the above levels are impacted by (I should read more Brofenbrenner and Hanson for more on that). Yet, something about this idea of these levels being asynchronized seems tolerable with dialectics. That is, a dialectical approach would hold the truths of all of these levels in tension, even when--and especially when--they seem contradictory.

Again, now, the challenge will be what this looks like in a model.

Eh?

JIM'S COMMENTS

See my earlier comments about Erik Erikson. His widely recognized life cycle development model is firmly rooted in dialectics, and he notes that developmental "crises" are necessary and inevitable (he defines "crisis" as "a turning poing in development, one way or the other,"). And each of his "stages" is a life cycle balance, e.g. "trust vs. mistrust," "autonomy vs. shame/doubt," etc. In my view, Erikson's developmental scheme is one of the most comprehensive yet detailed systemic models ever devised (based, interestingly enough, on the work of Freud). It has both theoretical elegance and practical utility.

Posted by gschache at 11:47 PM