Autopoietic Organizations and Social Systems

  • John Mingers
Part of the Contemporary Systems Thinking book series (CST)


The concept of autopoiesis clearly was developed in order to explain the specific domain of physical, living systems. However, from the start it has been suggested that other types of entities, particularly human Organizations (“Organization” will refer to clubs, businesses, etc., while “organization” will mean Maturana’s and Varela’s term) and societies exhibit the same characteristics that autopoiesis explains in physical, living systems; namely, autonomy and the persistence and maintenance of identity despite wholesale changes of structure and turnover of components. Therefore, might they too be autopoietic? Various authors have considered this question, and Stafford Beer was characteristically enthusiastic in his Preface to “Autopoietic Systems” (1975, p. 70):

I ask for permission actively to enter this arena of discussion. ... For I am quite sure of the answer: yes, human societies are biological systems. ... any cohesive social institution is an autopoietic system—because it survives, because its methods of survival answer the autopoietic criteria, and because it may well change its entire appearance and its apparent purpose in the process. As examples I list: firms and industries, schools and universities, clinics and hospitals, professional bodies, departments of state and whole countries.


Social System Social Domain Structural Coupling Autopoietic System Organizational Closure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Mingers
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WarwickCoventryEngland, UK

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