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Socio-Cybernetics and IR: On the Problem of Observing a Complexity

Wednesday 19 October 2016, 12.00PM

Speaker(s): Dr Alejandro Peña

This article engages with the inconsistent treatment of complexity in IR theorizing, where on the one hand, discourses about the complexity of international affairs and of the social whole have become pervasive across the field, and on the other, IR arguments repeatedly avoid complexity as a relevant category of analysis and theorization. The article situates this inconsistency in the historical difficulty IR theories have had, both in their neopositivist and critical variants, to explore the first and second-order implications of society operating as complex adaptive system; as a system that develops distinct internal structures to manage the complexity of its own observations. Building on the increasing attention given to Niklas Luhmann’s Social System Theory, this article draws on the notion of second-order cybernetics to elaborate some of the epistemological and normative implications of IR’s systemic ‘situatednes’ within a complex social whole, and of its position as both a differentiated sub-system of science and as (a structurally conditioned) observer of society’s complexity. In doing so, the article outlines a meta-theoretical argument that not only challenges the conventional ‘inside-outside’ distinctions regulating how IR observes international politics, but offers a pathway to reconcile (first-order) empiricist analyses about the complexity of world society – its processes, dynamics, and interdependences – with (second-order) reflexive and critical arguments concerned with how this society can, or should, be observed.

Location: Derwent College room D/N/104

Admission: All welcome