Monday, August 07, 2017

European Society for Ecological Economics 2017 keynotes

I attended the ESEE  conference in a very warm Budapest from 20-23rd June.  The conference keynotes have been put up on Youtube here.

It was good to be back in touch with the issues and discourses of Ecological Economics after a gap of some years. That said I did not find the discussions particularly innovative - they seem to have stalled perhaps too much in articulating and rearticulating how and why they differ from orthodox economics?

The Proceedings are available.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Peter Reason's review of 'Defiant Earth' (Clive Hamilton)

Peter provides a comprehensive and insightful review of Clive's book. He says:

"... I was pleased to have the opportunity to hear Clive Hamilton speak at the University of Bristol in the spring of 2017. Hamilton, an Australian ‘public intellectual’, Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Stuart University in Canberra, has been central to the debate about the nature, meaning and implications of the Anthropocene, writing a series of books that have both stimulated and infuriated readers. He describes this latest book as ‘groping toward understanding what it means… to have arrived at this point in history’."

Look here on 'Governing in the Anthropocene' for other sources and material relevant to this discussion.

Governing 'three climate shifts'

A compelling article from Thomas Friedman outlining the systemic complexity that has to be faced:

" I have a simple view of governing today: We are in the middle of not one but three climate changes at once to which government must help citizens respond — and Donald Trump doesn’t have a clue and China does.

Here is what I mean: We are in the middle of a change in the climate of the climate. We are going from “later” to “now.” In the past you could fix any climate/environmental problem later or now. But today later is officially over. Later will be too late. At some point, the deforestation of the Amazon is not reversible.

We are the middle of a change in the “climate” of globalization. We are going from an interconnected world to an interdependent one, and in such a world your friends can hurt you faster than your enemies: Think what happens if Mexico’s economy fails. And your rivals’ falling becomes more dangerous than your rivals’ rising: We will be hurt a lot more by China’s economy tanking than its putting tanks on islands in the South China Sea.

And lastly we’re in the middle of a change in the “climate” of technology. We’re moving into a world where machines and software can analyze (see patterns that were always hidden before); optimize (tell a plane which altitude to fly each mile to get the best fuel efficiency); prophesize (tell you when your elevator will break and fix it before it does); customize (tailor any product or service for you alone)  and digitize and automate just about any job. This is transforming every industry."

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

CJC Special Issue: 'on the margins of cybernetics'

I am pleased to be able to share the announcment from the editors of this special issue of the Canadian Journal of Communication in which David Russell and I have a paper. They write: 

"We are very pleased to announce that our CJC issue on the margins of cybernetics is now out and online! We wish to thank everyone of you for your continuous effort and support throughout the editing process. We believe that the issue altogether makes a very strong and original contribution to the field and it wouldn’t be so without you." 

In their editorial  Philippe Theophanidis (York University, Glendon Campus), Ghislain Thibault (Université de Montréal) and Dominique Trudel (Concordia University) say:

"This special issue of the Canadian Journal of Communication (CJC) explores some of the connections between cybernetics and diverse fields of study: communication studies, media theory, philosophy, agriculture, and architecture. When putting it together, we intended to explore how the heritage of cybernetics has been put to work following the field’s relative decline."...... 

"Despite this less than favourable context, some scholars who had engaged with cybernetics continued to put its concepts to work, and recursively applied cybernetics principles to cybernetics itself. Their work, beginning in the 1970s, was labelled “second-order cybernetics” (Clarke & Hansen, 2009). Similar to those scholars who continued to apply cybernetics principles, we continue to believe that this field has value to communication studies."...

"Exploring the margins of something so profoundly marginal as cybernetics was both a challenge and a provocation for the authors who responded to our invitation. It was a productive challenge, because the margins came to mean different things for different authors. For some, the exploration of the margins meant bringing light, syntagmatically, to certain facets of cybernetics that have been neglected (Sheryl N. Hamilton), or to some of the intellectual movements overshadowed by the momentous visibility of cybernetics (GhislainThibault and Mark Hayward). For others who approached the issue paradigmatically, the margins constituted a space where a common set of ideas was meeting, emerging, telescoping, or transmuting. Whether these ideas shared by both cybernetics and other fields of research emerged independently (John Bonnett) or were direct loans (Jan Müggenburg), their commonality speaks of changing epistemic moments. Finally, three authors explore the importation, adaptation, and distortion of cybernetic metaphors, models, and concepts by other disciplines. In the cases explored here, the marginal nature of these loans, whether in architecture (Marion Roussel) or agriculture (David Russell and Ray Ison), was at odds with the established canons of strong disciplinary fields.".....

"David Russell and Ray Ison offer some insights into the challenge of implementing research informed by second-order cybernetics. The authors look back on thirty years of collaborative research, which they pursued in rural research and development as well as therapeutic praxis. Borrowing from the work of Gregory Bateson and Humberto Maturana, they show both the potential and the difficulty of applying a cybernetic framework in order to foster change in the relationship between actors and their environment (be it grazing animals in western New South Wales, Australia, or a patient in the context of a specific therapy).

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Rivers as persons

You may be interested in a Podcast released today by the University of Melbourne’s ‘Up Close’, with Erin O’Donnell (Melbourne Law School) and Julia Talbot-Jones (ANU).



Monday, June 05, 2017

13th European Farming Systems Symposium - Greece, July 2018


First Announcement
We are very pleased to announce that the 13th European Farming Systems Symposium (www.ifsa2018.gr) will take place at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (Chania, Greece, see www.maich.gr) from Sunday 1 – Thursday 5 July 2018. Attached please find the themes and the call for abstracts of IFSA2018.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Is medicine at last taking systems thinking seriously?

At the 2017 WOSC Congress in Rome there was a great keynote talk by Christian Pristipino who  is an interventional cardiologist living in Rome where he has worked in a public hospital since 2000. He is the Founding President of the Italian Association for Systems Medicine and Healthcare (ASSIMSS) and he is the chairman of several official consensus and position papers from scientific cardiologic societies at the national and European level. He is also the co-editor of a book on systems approaches in ischemic heart disease entitled: “Psychotherapy for ischemic heart disease. An evidence-based clinical approach”. 

Christian has also founded in 2013 the first hospital center for personalized and systems medicine at San Filippo Neri Hospital in Rome, Italy.  He has collaborated with the Italian Systems Society (AIRS) in congresses, publications and research since 2013.

 His talk was entitled "From precision medicine to systems medicine: clinical and social implications"

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What social purpose do newspapers fulfil?

I have long argued that the institutional arrangements associated with the ownership of the Guardian/Observer is the key mechanism that enables it to publish relatively fearlessly.  It is not the plaything of ruthless rich or ideologically warped individuals or narrow self serving interest groups.  In a world in which there is increasing manipulation of the news, including processes associated with elective democracy, it is time to consider what institutional forms media companies should take?  Are they merely elements of laissez faire capitalism or, in granting them a social licence to operate, should we citizens demand more?  Questions such as these require urgent consideration in the light of recent actions by The New York Times:

"Amidst backlash and subscription cancellations for hiring extreme climate science denier, Bret Stephens, the New York Times offered a stunning defense: There are “millions of people who agree with him.”

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Joe Earle: Assessment forces economists to fit in or get out

I am reprising this article by Joe Earle here because of its significance to how economics is perceived, politicised and defended. It is a useful reminder for me as I also prepare to attend the European Society for Ecological Economics Conference in Budapest in June where I will contribute to a session "Towards an Ecological Economics of Water". 
 
"Evaluation has allowed a small group of mainstream researchers to define what constitutes good economics. The result is intellectual stagnation, says Joe Earle.


In the 1970s, the University of Manchester’s economics department housed many ways of thinking. There were econometricians and neoclassical micro and macroeconomists, but also post-Keynesians, feminists and others.

By the time I arrived in Manchester as an undergraduate in 2011, out of a department of more than 50 academics, only a few did research outside the mainstream. One was on a short-term, teaching-only contract that was not renewed. Another taught history of economic thought. When he fell ill, nobody was willing or able to teach the course, so it was cancelled for my year.

In the interim, says Diane Elson, a pioneer in feminist economics now at the University of Essex, there developed an “implicit agreement” that it would be best for everyone if non-mainstream economists moved on. Elson has served on the UN Committee for Development Policy, and now chairs the UK’s Women’s Budget Group, which analyses the gender implications of economic policy.
Another former member of Manchester’s economics department says he was told he would “wither on the vine” if he stayed.

Has neoclassical economics, then, shown that it is the single right way to understand the economy? Not if the past decade of crisis is any guide. In fact, the homogenisation of Manchester’s economics department has been driven by successive rounds of research evaluation.

Before the Research Assessment Exercise, reports in the university’s archives focused on the pressures of increasing student numbers and savings targets. Post-RAE, one report reads: “1996 was dominated by the RAE; the preparation, the waiting and the result, which was a 4 [out of 5]...sights have to be set higher for the next round.”

A priori, there’s no reason why such a goal should trigger an intellectual narrowing. But the early RAE panels—appointed by the Royal Economic Society—were overwhelmingly comprised of established neoclassicists with little knowledge of other traditions. In effect, the RAE allowed a small group of mainstream economists to decide—in private—how to define economics.

Once the cycle began, university management had to reshape their economics departments to maintain funding and prestige. Institutions began to use journal ranking lists, none of which the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) endorses, to inform their research strategy and hiring.

Neoclassical journals dominate these lists: Keele University’s influential list, for example, ranks no non-mainstream journals as 4* and only a few as 3*. As early as 1994 the University of Manchester was advertising in The Guardian for “mainstream economists” who could boost their research profile.

As economists learn that success comes from a certain type of paper in a top mainstream journal, each assessment becomes more skewed than the last. In REF 2014, many assessors were editors of major neoclassical journals and none were recognised non-mainstream economists.

In that assessment, 27.7 per cent of the research submitted to the economics sub-panel was rated as 4*, and 48.9 per cent as 3*. These were the highest scores in Panel C which, broadly, covers the social sciences.

One possibility is that economists are smarter than their colleagues in neighbouring disciplines. Another, I would argue more convincing, interpretation is that the “extreme selectivity” of submissions, to quote the economics sub-panel’s report, shows that universities have a particularly clear idea of what constitutes ‘excellent’ research in economics.

As James Johnston and Alan Reeves point out, fewer universities are submitting to the economics sub-panel with each assessment. Those that do are highly selective, reducing numbers of staff and outputs submitted still further.

Many economists with research interests outside neoclassical economics have moved into business schools; others, including Elson, are in sociology departments. In REF 2014, 1,361 outputs submitted to the business unit of assessment were cross-referred to the economics subpanel, as the business panel felt it lacked the expertise to assess them. This amounts to over a third of submissions to the economics unit of assessment. In 15 universities, 10 or more outputs took this route, suggesting the presence of whole shadow economics departments.

Exiling economists to other departments narrows the boundaries of what is considered to be credible economics, damaging our ability to address economic and social challenges. It also increases the distance between outsiders and insiders, allowing the mainstream to create an increasingly stagnant intellectual environment.

Academic freedom is meant to allow for new viewpoints and the testing of received wisdom. In economics, this has become incompatible with success in the REF. HEFCE has a duty to reform the system before REF 2021."

Joe Earle is coauthor of Econocracy: The perils of leaving economics to the experts (Manchester University Press) and a trustee of the Rethinking Economics network.

Source:  Research Professional

Sunday, March 26, 2017

ISSS Vienna July 9th -14th 2017

European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Research Avantgarde
ISSS2017 takes place in Vienna!

In cooperation with the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (BCSSS) invites you to the 61st Annual World Conference in Vienna.

Date: 9th to 14th July 2017
Venue: Vienna University of Economics and Business

Don't miss your EARLY BIRD REGISTRATION!

CALL FOR PAPERS is open NOW!



ISSS2017 VIENNA CONFERENCE NEWS

A GREAT START TO #ISSS2017 Vienna!
We have many developments in the pipeline for the International Society for the System Sciences in 2017 and we hope that you will join us in building the success of the conference and society!

The Bertalanffy Centre for the Study of Systems Science (BCSSS) and our conference partners from International Universities, Business Associations and Federal Ministries from Austria are working with the ISSS team to achieve 2017 ISSS President Ockie Bosch's vision to introduce 'SYSTEMS  THINKING FOR EVERYONE'.

Stefan Blachfellner, ISSS Vice President & BCSSS Director, and his team have connected the ISSS to INDUSTRY and GOVERNMENT for excellent plenaries to address the current leading topics in practice and academia and providing the opportunity for the Systems Community to offer accessible and practical SYSTEMIC SOLUTIONS.


There will be a PhD training program as in previous years.  More NEWS to follow.

EARLY BIRD REGISTRATION

Register until 15th MAY 2017 and get your Early Bird Discount!

REGISTER here!

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS, PAPERS, POSTERS, WORKSHOPS

Call is open!
Win the ISSS Student Award!

The overarching mission is FROM SCIENCE TO SYSTEMIC SOLUTIONS: SYSTEMS THINKING FOR EVERYONE with key themes to be addressed being:
  • Government & Governance
  • Economy
  • Health
  • Eco-Systems
  • Innovation and Development
CALL Details please find here!
DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS of Papers, Workshops and Posters need to be received by 1st June 2017 for inclusion in the printed programme.

DEADLINE FOR BEST STUDENT FULL PAPERS must be submitted by 8th June 2017.

Student full papers are eligible for ISSS AWARDS.

For PEER REVIEW student full papers must be received by 8th June 2017.

WINNERS will receive their Student Award  during the Conference Opening Ceremony
on 9th July 2017 at the Vienna Festival Hall of the Vienna Town Hall.

KEEP UP TO DATE!

Connect with ISSS2017 Vienna via our website as well as our social media channels facebook and twitter delivering videos, images and links before and during the World Conference.

We are looking forward to see you soon in Vienna!

Stefan Blachfellner
Managing Director Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science

Mag. Tess Marja Werner
Project Management & Curator emcsr avantgarde

Saturday, March 11, 2017

New title from the 2016 Linz, 'Systems Conversation'




 “Systems Literacy” the  Proceedings of the IFSR Conversation 2016 (Linz 3.-8 April 2016) are available!
The 100-page volume contains a detailed record of the Conversation: 24 systems practitioners from 12 countries discussed face-to-face for 5 days various issues of “Systems Literacy", i.e.  the role of systems and their models for humans and society. Divided in 3 teams the topics were:
 * Exploring Transdisciplinarity using Hierarchy Theory, Boulding's Skeleton of Science, and General Systems Theory
* Unity in Diversity - Making the Implicit Explicit
* Exploring the Relationship of Systems Research to Systems Literacy.
The volume contains  6 overview papers,  3 team reports, and a description of the IFSR.
Published by Book-on-Demand,  Germany  (www.BoD.de)  as hard-copy and e-book it is internationally available from many online bookshops (e.g. Amazon).

The price for the hard-copy edition  is 14€  (16,50$). For the e-book the discount price until April 2017 is 0,99 € (1,07$),   5,49 € (6,47 $) afterwards.
The full bibliographical information is:
Edson, M., Metcalf, G., Tuddenham, P., and Chroust, G. editors:  Systems Literacy - Proceedings of the Eighteenth IFSR Conversation 2016, SEA-SR  47. Books on Demand, Norderstedt, Germany, Feb. 2017.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Beyond Resilience: Case Studies

A new report to be aware of.   But just what do they mean by 'beyond resilience'?  It is hard to discern an answer from the descriptor on the download page:

"The case studies presented in this document illustrate some of the core challenges and opportunities inherent in developing resilient urban water management systems. While most work on urban water management focuses on the role played by government and quasi-government organizations (such as utilities, flood control and drainage organizations, and municipal governments), in many locations markets and actors at the household and community levels operate and manage core parts of the urban water system. Each set of actors plays a different role and each has different strengths and limitations in relation to the other actors and the overall functioning of the urban water system. Building the resilience of urban water systems in the face of climate, rapid urbanization and other stresses requires, we argue, a deep understanding and appreciation of these roles and their limitations. In addition it is important to understand the inherent synergies, conflicts and functional gaps created by the interaction between different actors."

In the report the claim is made that:
 "...there are three major challenges to improving urban water management and building resilience:
• increasing recognition of the roles played by different actors and the incentives driving the actions they take;
• developing policy and other mechanisms to coordinate and mediate these roles; and
• identifying innovative mechanisms for addressing critical water management needs that fall outside the incentives and capacities of urban actors"

Somehow these seem rather obvious if one starts out and continues systemically!

The Capitalocene

Benjamin Kunkel, in the London Review of Books, reviews three titles concerned with the Anthropocene; the review demands attention.

Useful background is provided.  Whilst critically informed Kunkel clearly appreciates the main narratives arising from the three books:"the vogue for the Anthropocene makes sense" he says:  "It expresses, first, an awareness that environmental change of the most durable significance is taking place as we speak, with unaccustomed speed. (Little besides a giant asteroid or a nuclear war could alter the surface of the earth faster and more completely.) Second, the Anthropocene gathers all disparate environmental issues under a single heading, from global warming down to the emissions of a trash incinerator in a poor neighbourhood of Birmingham; it takes in the sixth extinction as a whole as well as the starvation of sea lions off California, as fishermen with bills to pay deplete the stocks of sardine on which the sea lions depend. 

In short, the Anthropocene condenses ‘into a single word’, as Davies says, ‘a gripping and intuitive story about human influences on the planet’."

These conslusions are similar to those reached in an event I organised  in Hanover during 2015 to explore the issues of 'Governing in the Anthropocene' the details from which can be found here.

Kunkel draws on American writer and professor of law Jedediah Purdy who said: ‘The Anthropocene has to be named before people can try to take responsibility for it’.  He goes on to say:

"The ecological reality, once acknowledged, can become a political imperative, leading to collective environmental decision-making where for now there is only collective vulnerability to ecological change as a consequence of collective inertia. 

Purdy contemplates ‘the ideal of Anthropocene democracy’: ‘Self-aware, collective engagement with the question of what kinds of landscapes, what kind of atmosphere and climate, and what kind of world-shaping habitation to pursue would all be parts of the repertoire of self-governance.’"

These claims have great resonance with our decision at the Open University in the mid-1990s to create a new post-graduate programme in Environmental Decision Making (EDM) with the concerns expressed by Purdy as central elements. Unfortunately, under the influence of dubious marketing advice, the EDM programme was later renamed as an Environmental Management programme; this in one fell, conservative, swoop, took atttention away from our human responsibilties in decision making that systemically accounts for the environment, to a frame-maintaining concern for an independent external environment that has to be managed.  Fortunately some of the good teaching material remains in the new degree despite the rebranding.

As was clear from our 'Governing in the Anthropocene' event in Hannover, not all agree that the term Anthropocene is the right one:

"Two of the most formidable contributions so far to the literature of the Anthropocene come from authors who reject the term. Jason Moore in Capitalism in the Web of Life and Andreas Malm in Fossil Capital have overlapping criticisms of what Moore calls ‘the Anthropocene argument’. Its defect, as Moore sees it, is to present humanity as a ‘homogeneous acting unit’, when in fact human beings are never to be found in a generic state. They exist only in particular historical forms of society, defined by distinct regimes of social property relations that imply different dispositions towards ‘extra-human nature’."

In an attempt to diffuse what could become a distracting debate I proposed that we should resort to metaphor theory to consider the various new names (neologisms) being offered.  For example some of the naming proposals include:

"Moore proposes that the Anthropocene be renamed the ‘Capitalocene’, since ‘the rise of capitalism after 1450 marked a turning point in the history of humanity’s relation with the rest of nature, greater than any watershed since the rise of agriculture.’"

As I have posted before, Richard Norgaard who has similarly worked in this intellectual territory for some time, favours the term 'econocene' which, unlike the 'capitalocene', starts much later - just after world war two and the rise of  a particular form of capitalism.

Writing last year in relation to metaphor theory, and paraphrasing George Lakoff,  I said: 

" All thinking and talking involves ‘‘framing.’’ And since frames come with metaphors, or metaphor clusters, with revealing and concealing features as well as theoretical entailments, a single word typically activates not only its defining frame, but also much of the systemic set of relations its defining frame is in".  

My proposal is to accept the creativity that comes with different naming attempts, but to do so whilst taking responsibility for their revealing and concealing features as metaphors, and to appreciate their theoretical entailments. The last thing we want is a time-wasting contest over names:  but the creativity that goes with scholarship associated with bringing forth new names is to be welcomed as long as it does not curtail meaningful, transformative understandings and practices that lead to effective actions.  Our challenge is in 'governing' in this period new in human history (in that it has dramatically new features including, now, our awareness that we as a species are a 'force of nature' affecting whole earth dynamics). 

Exploring the theoretical entailments of the three authors' naming commitments is something Kunkel does well in his review.  He argues that: "neither Capitalism in the Web of Life nor Fossil Capital is a work of political strategy, and Moore and Malm both refrain from arguing what each assumes: namely, that a new and better ecological regime can come about in the 21st century."   In the world with Donald Trump and backsliding in the UK, Australia and some other nations this is unfortunate.

Unfortunately there is little new in the review as to what purposeful responses to the naming of the Anthropocene are systemicaly desirable and culturally feasible.

What is so special about the water-energy-food nexus?

In an article with this title Dennis Wichelns describes connections across policy domains as being helpful, but also argues that 'the focus on water, energy and food is discretionary and limiting'.

In a similar vein I have argued for some time that the shift to so-called nexus thinking is conceptually and methodologically vacuous - we would be much better to refocus on, and reinvest in, systems thinking in practice.

A refreshing take on 'big data'

"In the 19th century, changes in knowledge were facilitated not only by large quantities of new information pouring in from around the world but by shifts in the production, processing and analysis of that information. Hamish Robertson and Joanne Travaglia trace the connections between the 19th century data revolution and the present day one, outlining the implications this may have for the politics of big data in contemporary society. Two centuries after the first big data revolution, many of the problems and their solutions persist down to the present era."

Sir Ken Robinson – Learning [Re]imagined

Interview with Sir Ken Robinson that was recorded as part of the Learning {Re}imagined book where he discusses educational technology, creativity, assessment and the future of learning (15 minutes).

Factory Outlet: George Monbiot's controversial column on schooling

Great article by George asking all the right sorts of question. 

"In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines?

Children learn best when teaching aligns with their natural exuberance, energy and curiosity. So why are they dragooned into rows and made to sit still while they are stuffed with facts?

We succeed in adulthood through collaboration. So why is collaboration in tests and exams called cheating?"

Diversifying delivery in higher education? Great question

It is a pity about the use of the term 'delivery' in this headline, just as it is bad news for the HE sector that Sir Michael Barber is the government’s preferred candidate to be Chair of the Office for Students. Recalling his Blair years, The Guardian in 2011 noted:
 
"The columnist Simon Jenkins called him "a control freak's control freak", while the Mail's Quentin Letts compared him to the speaking clock. When he gave PowerPoint presentations on "delivery" before Blair's monthly press conferences – described by one Downing Street official as "excellent punishment for the hacks" – one journalist muttered "bullshit, bullshit, bullshit" throughout."
 
However the " Higher Education Commission’s fifth inquiry [is], investigating this growing diversity of higher education provision in the UK, assessing the distinctiveness of alternative models of provision, and considering whether this variety in the sector’s offer is effectively responding to the needs of students. The Higher Education Commission is an independent body made up of leaders from the education sector, the business community and the three major political parties."

Given how inadequate the curent government's thinking and actions are w.r.t the HE sector it is to be hoped  this inquiry offers some fresh thinking and incentives for action.