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excerpts from:
Anthony Wilden, 1972[1980]: System and Structure: Essays in communication and exchange

“The reader will already have noted that, if there is one constantly recurring question for a critical and ecosystemic viewpoint, it is the real and material question of context. Obviously, the academic discourse, as well as the dissenting academic discourse, has signification only in terms of the real context in which it occurs. As has been pointed out, the systemic characteristics of this context, with its recognized and unrecognized codings of goals, are ultimately dependent on particular types of socioeconomic organization in history.

“One hypothesis of these essays is that the assumption or goal of ‘pure’ knowledge is an outworn rationalization. ALL KNOWLEDGE is INSTRUMENTAL. In the terms of modem communications theory, information (coded variety) is everywhere, but knowledge can occur only within the ecosystemic context of a goalseeking adaptive system peopled by goalseeking required to ask how the knowledge has been coded and filtered; and what it is being used for, and for whom.” xxix

“Thus one of the contexts of knowledge is the temporal context: past, present, and future. But the ideology of pure or objective knowledge to which the academic is expected to owe allegiance – besides protecting teachers and researchers from questions about the actual use value of their work – cannot deal adequately with time and place. It is an absolutist, non-contextual, non-temporal morality akin to that of a fundamentalist religion.
This is a fundamentalism that depends first on the misconstruction of closure and context; second on the correlative lack of understanding that contexts have levels; and third or on its inability to deal with the real questions of logical typing in biological and social systems….

“For example, the necessary abstraction of a system from its context in order that it may be studied – which should of course be accompanied by an overt attempt to avoid decontextualization by understanding the potentially paradoxical effects of such an abstraction – is quite commonly used, implicitly, to justify the pretended and actual abstraction or isolation of researchers from THEIR many contexts: from their socioeconomic status in a heterarchy of academic privilege, for example; from their actual functions in a system of liberal indoctrination; and from their spoken and unspoken commitments to ideological and political views – all of which the student may expect to find in one t in transformation or another in their work and in their teaching.” xxx

“Moreover, besides its historically peculiar attempts at closure from its real context and indeed from and between many of its own parts, the scientific discourse appears to have been composed by the inhabitants of Flatland (Abbott, 1884). We know that the discourse displays a dogged incapacity to deal adequately with system-environment relations (both practical and theoretical), even when they are considered on a single plane. But this incapacity becomes almost insignificant when understood within the context of the extraordinary ingenuity with which the scientific discourse persistently fails to recognize the realities of LEVELS OF RELATION and of RELATIONS BETWEEN LEVELS in open systems, in their environments, and, above all, between system and environment.” xxxiii

” The basic model used by the social-contract systems theorists, however, obscured by their reaction to the Newtonian atomism of ‘The whole is the sum of its parts’ by the less overt atomism of what is sometimes mistaken for holism, the dictum that ‘The whole is MORE than the SUM of its parts’, it still confers on the parts an ontological over their relations. The revised dictum is thus a form of PSEUDOHOLISM.
…..Thus, apart from considering the boundary relationship represented as existing between system and environment as such, one key characteristic we should look at is the representation of the boundaries – and KINDS of boundary – said to exist between the various subsystems within the whole…” xxxix

“What I am arguing, then, is that from two directions, as it were –
from the projection of the Imaginary status of the ‘self into
everyday life’ and from the projection of the private-property
relations of the dominant mode of production under capitalism
(private property being quite distinct from the PERSONAL property
with which it is often ideologically confused), from the projection
of these novel relations of possession and production into the domain
of biology and psychology – there arises in the scientific discourse
a complex network of confused relations which by successive
abstraction from the Real comes to masquerade in academia and in
business as ‘systems theory’, as the theory of ‘interpersonal
communication’, as ‘environmental’ as ‘administrative communications
theory’ (or management by outright manipulation), or indeed as any
number of other profitable or even pathological modes of translating
an original alienation of the person into the production and
reproduction of the self as a commodity. xlii

“That the boundary between you and me might actually be distinct from both of us together, and not the double edge of the private property of our selves, for example; or that this boundary we share with others might also be the actual locus of all communication and exchange between us – such co-dependency in the Real seems not even to modem systems philosophy. Boundaries, far from being barriers, are the locus of relations for open systems in reality; and it is our relation to these boundaries, including our discovery of them and their discovery of us, which surely makes us what we become.” xlii

“For, where Relativity tells us that all physical standpoints for observation are ultimately equivalent (equally valued), and where Indeterminacy tells us that at a certain level all such observations become equivalent (equally indeterminate) – both of which are
clearly true – the liberal aspects of the dominant ideology, in one of its classic contradictions, tell us that all ideas and therefore all punctuations, are equal in value – which is manifestly false.” xlvii-xlviii

‘If the general contentions of this brief outline and analysis are accepted, then, since there is no demonstrable long-range survival value in the ‘pure’ knowledge, in the so-called ‘advance of science’, or in the so-called ‘civilized thought’ of the academic discourse, we might well ask ourselves what the function of the ‘unit of knowledge’ in the particular kind of bourgeois kinship system represented by the university can possibly be.
The answer is not far to seek. The function of the circulation of the ‘unit’ of knowledge in the academic discourse seems to be primarily that of maintaining the homeostasis of the relationships of the academic establishment. As anybody who has attended more than one academic symposium or read more than one or two scholarly journals must surely recognize, the supreme value of remaining silent when you have nothing relevant to say is not a recognized academic virtue. Somebody suggested a few years ago that the first requirement for the receipt of the Ph.D. should be a promise not to publish anything for at least ten years. But NOT to publish or perish is unthinkable in an industry whose product is ‘knowledge’. All the corporate necessities of production for the sake of accumulation under the constraints of competition would have to be rejected. Without such growth and accumulation, it is unlikely that the corporation would continue profitably to survive.” xlix

” In retrospect, it seems clear that the so-called ‘knowledge explosion’ of the past thirty years or so has little to do with knowledge as such. It has primarily to do with knowledge as a commodity produced by the ‘knowledge industry’ (dark Kerr). And like every other form of industrial production in North America today, its most significant side-effect is pollution: the pollution of minds. This explosion is an ‘information explosion’ only in the sense that the contemporary organization of the academic establishment depends upon everyone finding SOME-THING to exchange and communicate in order to obtain funds and to maintain and reproduce the system.
This communication of units of information would be perfectly rational if the university really were the ‘primitive society with ownership in common’ that its fantasies describe it to be. In reality, however, the communication processes of contemporary academia seem to serve explicitly or implicitly to deny or disavow the progressive alienation of the faculty member – and of most of the students – from any relation significantly resembling the real life of the rest of humanity, who are less privileged in terms of leisure, status, caste, and class.
Where once one might have tried to say that the work of the ‘intellectual’ or the ‘artist’ is essentially creative and unalienated, the logistics of the university’s lines of production have demonstrated that its workers are alienated laborers also (if more in the spiritual than in the material sense). Whereas workers are alienated in the classic sense because they do not fully share in the fruits of their labor, academicians are alienated because their labor is, so often, quite fruitless. Academic products – books, papers, ‘communications’, footnotes, courses – thus become the objects of Imaginary production and exchange.
The alienation of the relationships between people which this process implies is indeed a mirror, as it were, of the impotence of the academic compared with the ruthless inefficiency of the university machinery. In this context, the question of whether the units of knowledge have demonstrable use value in their exchanges becomes less and less significant. These units nevertheless express a predominant exchange value; and in this sense they are indeed useful – as currency. Unfortunately this currency was devalued by the inflation of knowledge long ago.
The system of the academic exchange e of knowledge does of course have a practical function: like the ‘primitive’ system, it is highly redundant and resistant to noise. But the collective injunction of reciprocal exchange in a ‘primitive’ and non-commoditized society – for which the environment is
the world of nature and other similarly organized groups, and in which there is ‘room to move’ both spatially and temporally – performs a symbiotic and rational function. In contrast, the existence of such an anomaly in industrialized capitalist civilization (state or private) simply contributes to the long-range instability of the system it continues to serve.
In more recent years, however, academia has been constrained, mostly by economic realities, to recognize some aspects of its anomalous situation. Research must be more ‘applied’, we hear, teaching more oriented to the ‘community’, textbooks more ‘relevant’ to ‘public service’. In form and in apparent goals such reforms sound most welcome. It is only when one examines the content of what actually happens as a result – the expansion of pseudoliberating and social control programs, such as ‘organization theory’, courses in ‘How to Communicate’, and criminology, for example that one realizes that academia has once again been enlisted, along with other parts of the media – those that have been advertising a Depression for the last few years, for instance, judging by the quantity and indeed the quality of their mass-produced and computerized fantasies academia has been enlisted in the latest of our social counter-insurgency programs: Attitude Change by Behavior Manipulation.” L – Li

“The result of the dominance of the Imaginary relation in our present world is that, not just for philosophical idealists and for mechanical materialists, but also for every one of us constrained by the structure of capitalism to offer control over the expression of our creativity as a commodity in the market-place, the Imaginary becomes the Real.

“The question of developing and teaching an academic discourse of a higher logical type than that to which we are all presently subjected returns us to the point at which we began: the question of context. In an ecosystemic perspective, the position of higher logical type is simply that which is most capable of dealing with the most context and levels of context, and that which is most capable of understanding how methodological closures – like that of logical typing itself – inevitably generate paradox. It is also that position which can explain its own relationship to the context it is in. In addition, therefore, to the traditional and relatively static logical position dependent on principles of non-contradiction and identity (the analytic epistemology) which will work INSIDE a given dimension of the system one has isolated, there is a purely epistemological requirement for a logic of a higher type, a dynamic logic SUBSUMING the first, and one which will work WHEN ONE TRIES TO CROSS THE SPATIAL, COMMUNICATIONAL, ORGANIZATIONAL, OR TEMPORAL BOUNDARIES SET UP BY CLOSURE. Such a logic Will subsume the Godelian paradoxes of analytical logic by a process of metacommunication: it is the dialectical logic, not of Hegel, but of Marx.” Lix

Moreover, psychoanalysis is a socioeconomic privilege restricted to people with the money and the leisure to indulge themselves. The question of the ‘cure’ is in any case entirely debatable, and we well know that psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy in general have always been vehicles of the values of the status quo (with the extraordinary exception of Wilhelm Reich, whose theories unfortunately never matched the high level of his social commitment). And since most of us can learn to live with our hang-ups, whereas it is highly unlikely we can ever learn to live with the alienating effects of our one-dimensional, technological society, why bother with psychoanalysis at all? No one seeking a truly critical perspective would attempt to build a theory of man-and-womankind ‘ primarily on human psychology in any case, because the ‘scientific discourse of psychology is designed to deny or to omit economic content in which psychological factors come to play their part.

I shall try to show later that the axiomatic closure of most psycho analysis from that context in all its plenitude – and, I believe, in its primacy – generates purely LOGICAL problems in the theory, problems that it is not logically equipped to overcome. Thus, what appears in Bateson’s logicomathematical theory of the ‘double bind’ (Chapter V) as an OSCILLATION, necessarily appears in psychoanalysis under one form or another of a theory of REPETITION. Lacan, for instance, has appealed to Kierkegaard (Repetition, 1843) to buttress his interpretation of Freud, and yet if one looks closely at Kierkegaard’s writings, especially his Either/Or, also published in 1843, one discovers that the whole theory depends upon Kierkegaard’s inability to transcend, either logically or existentially, the paradoxical injunctions (double binds) he receives from his familial and social environment. Consequently he is condemned to oscillate interminably between an ‘either’ and an ‘or’. What appears in Bateson’s theory as a necessary response to injunctions emanating from relationships of POWER and DOMINATION in the social order, usually appears in psychoanalysis, and specifically in Lacan, as the ‘compulsion to repeat’. In this way, either the responsibility is thrown back onto the individual (via the ‘instincts’ or some other metaphor for these biomechanistic constructs), or else, as in Lacan, it is subtly transformed into a form of the ‘natural order of things’, via the paradoxes that language creates in the human condition.

Unlike the double-bind theory, both views assume a homogeneity in society which simply isn’t there, and both serve as rationalizations of domination. By refusing to deal with the relationship between power, knowledge, and oppression, they fail to see the difference, in society, between what Marcuse termed ‘repression’ and ‘surplus-repression’…. For is important. Few American theorists, for example, would seriously consider the travail of the American minorities in their struggle for elementary socioeconomic rights, simply in the terms of a ‘compulsion to repeat’ a revolt against the father (or the mother).

Humpty Dumptyism

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“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”
(Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)

…pondering the proliferation of words which mean so many more different things than they used to.

Behaving Responsibly


Halliday (1987: 136):

From now on, the human sciences have to assume at least an equal responsibility in establishing the foundations of knowledge. Their coat-tailing days are over. But if so, our practitioners will surely have to learn to behave responsibly, instead of squandering themselves in the wasteful struggle for originality in which everyone else must be deconstructed so that each can leave his (or her) mark. We have to build on our predecessors and move forward, instead of constantly staying behind where they were in order to trample them underfoot.

Modelling The Semantic System


Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 604)

But in modelling the semantic system we face a choice: namely, how far “above” the grammar we should try to push it.  Since the decision has to be made with reference to the grammar, this is equivalent to asking how abstract the theoretical constructs are going to be.  We have chosen to locate ourselves at a low point on the scale of abstraction, keeping the semantics and the grammar always within hailing distance.  There were various reasons for this.  First, we wanted to show the grammar at work in construing experience; since we are proposing this as an alternative to cognitive theories, with an “ideation base” rather than a “knowledge base”, we need to posit categories such that their construal in the lexicogrammar is explicit.  Secondly, we wanted to present the grammar as “natural”, not arbitrary; this is an essential aspect of the evolution of language from a primary semiotic such as that of human infants.  Thirdly, we wanted to explain the vast expansion of the meaning potential that takes place through grammatical metaphor; this depends on the initial congruence between grammatical and semantic categories.

But in any case, it is not really possible to produce a more abstract model of semantics until the less abstract model has been developed first.  One has to be able to renew connection with the grammar.

Lexicogrammar And Semantics

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Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 26):

Thus when we move from the lexicogrammar into the semantics, as we are doing here, we are not simply relabelling everything in a new terminological guise.  We shall stress the fundamental relationship between (say) clause complex in the grammar and sequence in the semantics, precisely because the two originate as one: a theory of the logical relationships between processes.

Essentialism Vs Population Thinking

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Western thinking for more than two thousand years after Plato was dominated by essentialism.  It was not until the nineteenth century that a new and different way of thinking about nature began to spread, so-called population thinking.  What is population thinking and how does it differ from essentialism?  Population thinkers stress the uniqueness of everything in the organic world.  What is important to them is the individual, not the type.  They emphasise that every individual in a sexually reproducing species is uniquely different from all others, with much individuality even existing in uniparentally reproducing ones.  There is no ‘typical’ individual, and mean values are abstractions.  Much of what in the past has been designated in biology as ‘classes’ are populations consisting of unique individuals.

Ernst Mayr ‘The Growth Of Biological Thought

The Human Individual: Organism, Person, Meaner

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Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 610):

The human individual is at once a biological “individual”, a social “individual”, and a socio–semiotic “individual”:

as a biological “individual”, s/he is an organism, born into a biological population as a member of the human species.

as a social “individual”, s/he is a person, born into a social group as a member of society.  “Person” is a complex construct; it can be characterised as a constellation of social rôles or personæ entering into social networks …

as a socio–semiotic “individual”, s/he is a meaner, born into a meaning group as a member of a speech community.  Meaner is also a complex construct. …

These different levels of individuality map onto one other: a meaner is a person, and a person is a biological organism.  But the mappings are complex; and at each level an individual lives in different environments — in different networks of relations.

Academic Persona Types?

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Throughout this long deveopment, from 600 BC to the present day, philosophers have been divided into those who wished to tighten social bonds and those who wished to relax them.  With this difference, others have been associated.  
The disciplinarians have advocated some system of dogma, either old or new, and have therefore been compelled to be, in greater or lesser degree, hostile to science, since their dogmas could not be proved empirically.  They have almost invariably taught that happiness is not the good, but that ‘nobility’ or ‘heroism’ is to be preferred.  They have had a sympathy with irrational parts of human nature, since they have felt reason to be inimical to social cohesion.  
The libertarians, on the other hand, with the exception of the extreme anarchists, have tended to be scientific, utilitarian, rationalistic, hostile to violent passion, and enemies of all the more profound forms of religion.  
This conflict existed in Greece before the rise of we recognise as philosophy, and is already quite explicit in the earliest Greek thought.  In changing forms, it has persisted down to the present day, and no doubt will persist for many ages to come.

 — Bertrand Russell ‘The History Of Western Philosophy’ (pp21-2)

individual/community quotes


4 thinkers, all men, who at different times have said almost the same things in different ways.

it’s not likely that V read any of the others, although L probably has. R&B, however, definitely did not read any of the other two. V’s was also in translation.
the meta-discursive meanings these guys were making then, were instances of different meaning “systems”, despite their being at another level instances of the same grammatical system, and dare i say, registers (this also despite the differences in orientation: the first uses a personal orientation (1st person), the second a third person orientation (it), and the third uses an inclusive ‘we’ orientation. at the same time, field may be considered similar due to repeated references to ‘individual’, and other lexical items in a sort of meronymic relation to ‘community’ [social, group]).

in view the differences in time of publication, and only one definite ‘cross-pollination’ of cultural (?) meanings, can we consider these quotation fragments as either ‘specimens’ (instruments) or ‘artefacts’ (objects) (in the halliday& matthiessen 2004 sense)? because they are not whole texts, and because they are not the subject of analysis at the grammatical level, perhaps – in this instance of their use – they should not be classed as specimens (of the language as system) – but artefacts…representative pieces of a larger puzzle? that larger puzzle, the way that meaning can be viewed, where it resides, how it comes about, how to think about meaning-making. and in this case, the mediating individual body is not viewed as the receptacle of meaning, rather the locus.

‘in this instance of their use’, the quotations are being used (by me) to highlight similarities in meta-meanings, through instances far removed in time and space. i’m always telling my students to only use quotations to illustrate or support their argument, not to make it for them. so, either i am not making an argument, or i am being hypocritical here and now.

Instead of talking about meaning-making as something that is done by minds, I prefer to talk about it as a social practice in a community. It is a kind of doing that is done in ways that are characteristic of a community, and its occurrence is part of what binds the community together and helps to constitute it as a community. In this sense we can speak of a community, not as a collection of interacting individuals, but as a system of interdependent social practices: a system of doings, rather than a system of doers. These social meaning-making practices are also material processes that bind the community together as a physical ecosystem.

[Lemke 1995: 9-10]

In point of fact, the speech act, or more accurately, its product-the utterance-cannot under any circumstances be considered an individual phenomenon in the precise meaning of the word and cannot be explained in terms of individual psychological or psychophysiological conditions of the speaker. The utterance is a social phenomenon.

[Volosinov 1973: 82]

At the group level, in addition to the verbal and non verbal processes,
present at the interpersonal level, we meet with new types of symbolization not ordinarily regarded as such. The patterns of the organization of the group leave traces in the participating individuals.
However, inasmuch as these individuals do not act as stations of origin or destination of messages, but often as channels only, codification at this level requires intactness in the organization as a whole. The group in action possesses the information, not the individual.

[Ruesch & Bateson 1951: 284]

validity depends on belief

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The relation between information and value becomes still more evident when we consider the asking of questions and other forms of seeking information. We may compare the seeking of information with the seeking of values. In the seeking of values it is clear that what happens is that a man sets out to “trick” the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He endeavours to interfere with the “natural” or random course of events, so that some otherwise improbable outcome will be achieved. For his breakfast, he achieves and arrangement of bacon and eggs, side by side, upon a plate; and in achieving this improbability he is aided by other men who will sort out the appropriate pigs is some distant market and interfere with the natural juxtaposition of hens and eggs…[..]..Briefly, in value seeking he is achieving a coincidence or congruence between something in his head – an idea of what breakfast should be – and something external, an actual arrangement of eggs and bacon..[..]..In contrast, when he is seeking information, he is again trying to achieve a congruence between “something in his head” and the external world; but now he attempts to do this by altering what is in his head.

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