P. 1
Viable Boundary Critique

Viable Boundary Critique

|Views: 36|Likes:
Published by myolles
Issue-based problem situations can often be seen as conflicts that must be managed or resolved. Boundary critique theory, developed by Midgley as part of critical systems thinking, can be used to model conflicts. However, its utility can be enhanced when it is linked to the cybernetic theory of viable systems, thus creating viable boundary critique analysis. Boundary critique can provide an ethical analysis that can explore the meanings and processes associated with conflicts. Viable boundary critique enables differentiable social pluralities to be better explored, and provides a broader space for the consideration of political and ideological attributes of conflict that develops beyond Midgley's ethical analysis. It also provides for a new way of defining and measuring power. It also provides for new ways of defining and measuring power. A number of characteristics of boundary critique are considered in the context of a case study relating to the recent Liverpool dock strike.
Issue-based problem situations can often be seen as conflicts that must be managed or resolved. Boundary critique theory, developed by Midgley as part of critical systems thinking, can be used to model conflicts. However, its utility can be enhanced when it is linked to the cybernetic theory of viable systems, thus creating viable boundary critique analysis. Boundary critique can provide an ethical analysis that can explore the meanings and processes associated with conflicts. Viable boundary critique enables differentiable social pluralities to be better explored, and provides a broader space for the consideration of political and ideological attributes of conflict that develops beyond Midgley's ethical analysis. It also provides for a new way of defining and measuring power. It also provides for new ways of defining and measuring power. A number of characteristics of boundary critique are considered in the context of a case study relating to the recent Liverpool dock strike.

More info:

Published by: myolles on Jun 15, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less





Viable Boundary Critique

Maurice Yolles Liverpool Business School, John Moores University, Journal of Operational Research Society. 2001, January, 51,1-12 Abstract: Issue-based problem situations can often be seen as conflicts that must be managed or resolved. Boundary critique theory, developed by Midgley as part of critical systems thinking, can be used to model conflicts. However, its utility can be enhanced when it is linked to the cybernetic theory of viable systems, thus creating viable boundary critique analysis. Boundary critique can provide an ethical analysis that can explore the meanings and processes associated with conflicts. Viable boundary critique enables differentiable social pluralities to be better explored, and provides a broader space for the consideration of political and ideological attributes of conflict that develops beyond Midgley's ethical analysis. It also provides for a new way of defining and measuring power. It also provides for new ways of defining and measuring power. A number of characteristics of boundary critique are considered in the context of a case study relating to the recent Liverpool dock strike. Keywords: Boundary critique, critical systems thinking, cybernetics, viable systems, conflict The Purpose of the Paper Many issue-based complex problem situations that arise between individuals or groups of actors in organisations are addressed through consensus approaches like Soft Systems Methodology1,2 or Organisational Development1,3. There is an argument that consensus approaches are a fiction that actually involves attitude or position engineering. An alternative to consensus is to view situations in terms of socially plural conflict suprasystems of autonomous actors. Attempts may then be made to manage or resolve them. Boundary critique analysis enables us to do this. In pursuing this view, this paper will link Midgley's theory of boundary critique with viable systems theory to form what we shall call viable boundary critique. In doing this, new boundary critique theory will result that is able to explore the conflict process of most issue-based problem situations. Boundary critique is concerned with issues and the boundaries that differentiate their elements. Boundaries define what is part of the system of consideration, and the choice of a boundary has consequences for analysis. Alter a given boundary, and the nature of an analysis will change. Given that a plurality of boundaries exists, then the boundary critique problem as it is currently represented4, is that of exploring the selection of boundaries. This reflects on what information should be considered appropriate to an analysis. However, this process is conditioned by attributes like ethics4. If a social plurality of autonomous actors (each with their own perceptions and purposes) exist in a suprasystem within which they interact, the boundary problem can generate ethical tensions. The tensions can be elaborated into conflicts, which occurs because the differences embedded in the distinct choice of boundaries are contested. Here we are referring to realistic conflicts, that is those in which struggles occur against collective opponents for the acquisition of scarce values5 (that is those values that relate to the domination of a given boundary). In the formative work of Midgley4, plural boundaries are embedded one within another. Viable boundary critique enables the boundary critique model to be extended to intersecting boundaries representing more complex situations, and provides for a fuller cognitive, ideological, ethical and behavioural analysis. Conflicts can normally be expressed in terms of ideologi1

cal and ethical tensions, and so viable boundary critique always has the possibility of being used in situation analysis. Core to the approach is the notion of marginalisation, which leads to a new definition of power, and a novel way of measuring it. The ideas embedded in the theory of viable boundary critique will be explored in a case study concerning the recent Liverpool dock strike. Viability Systems Theory Viable systems theory is implicitly concerned with complexity. It derives from a base of work by Beer6 and Schwarz7, and Yolles1 has developed the form in which we are interested. It is part of management systems - explaining how organisations, seen as (social) purposeful adaptive activity systems, are able to survive. Such organisations, when described in terms of their externally related activities, are called actors. A viable organisation is able to support adaptability and change while maintaining stability in its behaviour. In particular an organisation is viable if it can maintain stable states of behaviour as it adapts to perturbations from its environment. This environment can be differentiated into a suprasystem of interacting autonomous/independent actors, and the environment of the suprasystem. The nature of actor independence is a matter of practical requirement that enables, for instance, data about a given actor to be collected without conceptually complicating it with data from other organisations. The question of whether one organisation in a suprasystem of them is indeed autonomous, is one of estimating its degree of interactivity with the other organisations. It is ultimately axiomatic, and perspective driven. It is possible to model any coherent social organisation as a viable system. Such an organisation is able to survive, and in doing so can respond to expected or unforeseen changes. Such a system can generate sufficient variety through self-organisation to deal with that variety that affects it from its environment (called requisite variety). Conflict and cooperation condition variety. Cooperation is essential for the creation of variety and therefore viability, while conflict can compromise it. Cooperative approaches can lead to more stable and harmonious relational processes and thus a more directed future. Conflicts are related to tensions8,9. Tension is an inherent and essential feature of complex adaptive systems and provides the ‘go’ of the system and the ‘force’ behind its ability to change10. However, a high level of tension (reducible through homeostasis6) stresses and overloads actors. When tensions are elaborated through the contesting of differences, conflict ensues. Viable systems theory encompasses the notions of paradigm incommensurability1,11 that has importance in the critical systems theory associated with the mixing of methods12. Therefore, central to it is the notion of worldview, a literal translation from the German weltanschauung13. Weltanschauungen are relative to the institutions that individuals are attached to in a given society, and they change as the institutional realities change14. More recently15 it has taken on the meaning of a view or perspective of the “real” world that is determined by cultural and other attributes of the viewers. They may be individual, or shared by a group of people. In group weltanschauung, individuals each retain their own realities while using common models to share meaning. They have boundaries created by a belief system that supports the assumptions, concepts and ideas of the viewholders. Weltanschauung may be seen as a worldview of an individual or a shared worldview of a group that is more or less visible to its viewholders, but not to others who are not viewholders. It is seen by some to be something that is personal (to the individual or group) and indescribable, 2

informal, and not visible to others. With peer group support weltanschauung can become formalised through language, enabling a set of explicit statements (propositions and their corollaries) to be made about their beliefs and knowledge. In this form, it can become a paradigm when supported by a peer group. Paradigms maintain a set of explicit statements about their embedded beliefs and other attributes that enable everything that might be expressed about the worldview, to be expressed. They are thus more or less transparent to others who are not viewholders. The formalisation process uses language that (more or less) enables everything that must be expressed, to be expressed, in a self-consistent way. The idea of a worldview1 is that it is: a generator of knowledge; culture centred; has cognitive organisation (beliefs, values, and attitudes) that are its attributes; has normative and cognitive control of behaviour (or action) that can be differentiated from each other; and has a cognitive space of concepts, knowledge and meaning that is strongly linked to culture. The interrelationship between the two forms of worldview (weltanschauung and paradigm) is illustrated in figure 11, where they have been collected together into a cognitive domain. These have been differentiated from the behavioural domain within which resides the perceived behavioural world. In order to distinguish between these two domains and the transformations that occur between them, we have also introduced the organising domain. This has also been called a transmogrifying domain because it represents organising transformations that are subject to surprises. The behavioural and cognitive domains are analytically and empirically independent. The former is composed of structures and actions that define the behavioural world, and these have been created within a frame of reference formulated within the cognitive domain. We perceive the behavioural world through our cognitive models as we interact with it through them. It is through the process of cognitive formalisation that weltanschauung becomes manifested as a paradigm that itself changes through a process of cognitive challenge. The behavioural world is represented within the paradigm in a way that conforms to its belief system.
Organising domain Behavioural domain representation Paradigm (formal world view)

Behavioural world

organisation of intervention interpretation

development/ learning

formation/ consolidation

Cognitive domain

Weltanschauung (informal world view) reflection/creation

Figure 1: Tridomain model defining relationship between types of worldview and behaviour Therefore, the cognitive basis of the paradigm is applid to the perceived behavioural world according to some formalised regime that involves a transforming organising process. This effectively defines logical relationships that become manifested as structures with associated 3

behaviour in the behavioural world. Weltanschauungen and paradigms are connected through cognitive development. The relationship between weltanschauung and the real world is empirical and explains how individuals become involved in perceived behavioural world creation. Empirical explanations are based on the observation of behaviour. The very idea of there being an organising process is a consequence of the notion of purposefulness, and results in purposeful (teleological16) behaviour. Purposeful behaviour is said to occur because of cognitive purposes that direct the actions of individuals and groups in a given situation17,18. It is worldview determined, and can be expressed in terms of a behavioural mission and goals. The cognitive domain is formed from worldviews and their interaction. Indeed, this concept is quite close to the meaning framework that Habermas16 refers to as lifeworld in his theory of communicative action. Lifeworld defines patterns of social semantic communications as a whole. It can enable the achievement of mutual understanding by those involved who wish to negotiate a mutual understanding through the creation of a common definition of an interpreted action situation. Indeed, the cognitive domain can be thought of as a window on the lifeworld. We have indicated that organising converts from the cognitive world to that of the manifest behavioural world, and it may be subject to perturbations from the environment. If the manifest world is seen to be composed of individuals that create organisations with form and behaviour, then manifest behaviour is sensitive to the composition of individuals that defines a possibly innumerable number of situations over time. The composition of individuals who make up a situation will potentially influence the nature of that organising. An actor that participates in a suprasystem is itself a system in the traditional metaphorical sense2,1. It operates in the behavioural domain, and its cognitive domain can be seen as a metasystem6 (the “cognitive consciousness” of the system) from which decisions come, and has embedded within it a paradigm(s) that maintains cognitive knowledge. The behavioural domain displays manifest behaviour associated with the social forms that are manifested. The two domains are linked through the organising domain that entails self-organisation that is associated with logical and cybernetic processes, and facilitates strategy with information as a commodity. In contrast, the behavioural domain is one of purposeful activity or behaviour, occurring by means of energy. Each of the domains provide emergent concepts that enable the complexities of a social system to be diminished19. These concepts are referred to as cognitive properties (table 1). The first of these is the notion of interests20. Human beings possess two basic cognitive interests21 in acquiring knowledge: a technical interest relates to the human endeavour referred to as work, and a practical interest for interaction. Another cognitive interest is critical deconstraining that results in the human endeavour emancipation, seen to many to be pivotal to work and interaction because power relations may “distort” both mutual understandings and work. What constitutes emancipation derives from an ideological context. Distinct from critical systems thinking, we argue that in many systems there are “degrees of emancipation” that result from the application of politics and ideologies to cognitive interests. Thus for instance, there may be more structural violence1 for “blacks” than “whites” in UK society22, implying less emancipation for the former. The notion of emancipation has relevance from the proposition deriving from viable systems theory: that a viable organisation best survives in a complex world by generating that “requisite” variety that enables a system to respond to perturbing environmental variety. Ultimately, the individual within the organisation creates requisite variety. The most effective long 4

term way to enabling this is to facilitate the development of individual potential within the organisation. The idea of liberating potential is more primary than emancipation, is tied to the cognitive domain, and will become manifested through organising processes as a degree of emancipation.
Technical Work. This enables people to achieve goals and generate material well-being. It involves technical ability to undertake action in the environment, and the ability to make prediction and establish control. Empirical analytical sciences, concerned the with technical control of objectified processes. Practical Interaction. This requires that people as individuals and groups in a social system gain and develop the possibilities of an understanding of each others subjective views. It is consistent with a practical interest in mutual understanding that can address disagreements, which can be a threat to the social form of life Historical hermeneutic sciences, relating to practical interest. They can provide understanding of intersubjective life, and aim at maintaining and improving mutual understanding between people. Critical deconstraining Emancipation. This enables people to: (i) liberate themselves from the constraints imposed by power structures (ii) learn through precipitation in social and political processes to control their own destinies.

Cognitive interests

Knowledge type

Critical sciences, which recognise the limitations and dangers of inappropriately applied empirical analytical and historical hermeneutic sciences. The attempt to synthesise and systemise them to enable people to reflect on situations and liberate themselves from domination by existing power structures and processes.

Table 1: Relationship between human cognitive interests, purpose, and influences Paradigms and their (systemic) behavioural manifestations may be validly used in a complementary way when viewed in terms of cognitive interests21. This work has been used in relation to the mixing of methods, but it is also valid in other areas of manifest behaviour (e.g. in terms of the theory of organisational joint ventures23). While paradigms guide knowledge production and therefore determine knowledge type, patterns of behaviour should be seen to serve cognitive interests. Most approaches would seem to follow this distinction. Two other emergent cognitive properties are purpose and influence1. While cognitive interests should rather be seen as assigned to the behavioural domain, cognitive purposes are associated with the organising domain. The other cognitive property relates to the cognitive domain. Cognitive influence operates through the commodity of knowledge, and it presupposes that every coherent social organisation can be defined in terms of it cultural, political and social components. Cognitive influence works through a process of knowledge creation24, an example of which is explored through a process of knowledge migration23,25. This is a process of individual and group knowledge creation, which occurs through social semantic communications. Each component is fundamental to all social organisations. The cultural component has a cognitive organisation that is part of worldview, and when people perform social roles, they do so 5

through the veil of their belief systems that, like the other components, may leave local knowledge residues during semantic communications. The political component is concerned with polity (condition of order), and as such has an interest in attributes that condition the social component and its situations. It involves the creation of power placed at the disposal of some social roles, the use of which is also worldview determined. When conditions (of order) affect the social component and become issues, political processes are used to address them. Thus for instance, when an intention exists to resolve a conflict situation, the resolution involves a political process1. The social dimension is composed of a substructure and a superstructure. The former is concerned with the nature of an organisation that relates to such things as purposes, modes and means of activity (like service or production), and the social contexts that are responsible for it. It is thus concerned with the technical aspects of the organisation, including methods, operations, practices and technologies, and the way these are used. Superstructure is concerned with the form of the organisation. It can include formal and informal structures (e.g., role relationships) and their associated processes, and the behaviours of individuals (e.g., management style), groups, and the organisation as a whole within its environment. Our viable system tridomain model should be seen as a development of Beer’s conceptualisations from which comes the viable system model (VSM), and which defines only a system (the behavioural domain), and a metasystem (a version of the cognitive domain). The explicit cybernetic and implicit rational attributes of Beer’s model are separated out, and populate the organising domain. In addition, many of the social or humanistic features that are implicitly or explicitly built into the VSM are also explicitly expressible in our viable systems theory through the cognitive properties. This enables the sort of argument that is often levelled against VSM to be addressed. We cite for example the comment of Checkland26 that VSM misses the human meaning aspects of individuals, or the suggestion by Ulrich27 that tools of inquiry should have an ethical dimension that is not apparent in VSM. Thus, our viable system approach can incorporate1 all of the features and practices of VSM, while having to deal with fewer arguments against its abilities. This does not mean that the case study that we shall come to will be of the VSM type, but it could link with such a study. The core tridomain model of our viable systems theory that emerges through figure 1 and table 1 should be seen as central to a development of the boundary critique problem that we shall explore below. Boundary Critique and Conflict Manifestation A currently emerging theory of boundary critique has been developed by Midgley28 and Midgley et al5 that can be embedded in our viable systems models. It has roots in the work of Churchman29, in which he was attempting to find ways of “improving” problem situations. For him, defining improvement to a problem situation is a systems problem, and involves boundaries that should be decided about. The boundaries constrain what should be taken into account in a situation. Making decisions about which boundary to accept in an analysis is therefore crucial, and this involves maximising the information that reflects on this. Change the boundary that defines the system, and you are likely to change the nature or meaning of a given analysis. In a development of these ideas, Ulrich27 questioned how inquirers could rationally define their boundaries. Rational inquiry is essential in that assumptions held by all stakeholders in a situation should necessarily be seen as potentially valid. Together with this, a sufficient condition is that the inquiry process that enables analysis to occur has boundaries that should enhance the ability for boundary critique. Boundaries are created through the values, ethics and knowledge 6

of viewholders, and debating the boundaries can thus been seen to be in part an ethical process. In identifying a boundary, ethical tensions develop than can easily be elaborated as conflict30. Every suprasystem that has associated with it a “cognitive consciousness” also has a morality. In its analytical form, this morality is called ethics31. Mackie32 defines ethics as “the general theory of right and wrong in choices and actions, and of what is good or bad in dispositions and interpersonal relations and ways of living. It thus comes under the scope of politics.”32. It can also be seen as the totality of conditions for deciding the bestowal of esteem or disdain31. Associated with this is ritual, having a form of behaviour independent of context, and involving stereotypical elements having symbolic expression of wider social concerns33,34. It enables us to assign sacredness and profanity to objects of attention that results from ethical tension, and will involve some form of marginalisation5. If no consensual boundary can be agreed upon, then one boundary is made dominant through the elaboration of these tensions, when the ethical differences become contested and a conflict process ensues. It is through boundary domination that the marginal region is made sacred or profane. This process is symbolically expressed as ritual that helps support the system as a whole. Two further considerations may be noted now: (a) the marginal area is likely to be subject to change within and between actor systems as the nature of the issue based suprasystem changes over time, and this will affect the meaning of the conflict for each actor, (b) there is likely to be a loss in behavioural potential for at least one actor in the developing conflict that may have impact on beliefs about what is scared or profane; this loss will affect variety generation. To appreciate this, consider now the description of a boundary critique situation (figure 2) as a development of the model offered by Midgley4. We can suppose that two actors A1 and A2 each with their own (incommensurable) worldviews have each individually generated a bounded model of the behavioural world B1 and B2. We are now likely to find that we are faced with a bounded (though changing) suprasystem. Here, the two actors experience ethical tensions due to their ethical differences, as indicated by the different boundaries that they create over a given issue. The boundaries intersect because the worldviews that generate them are incommensurable. This means that elements that are considered to be issue-dependent are differentiated from each actor. This is already broader than Midgley’s ethics based model that incorporates one boundary within the other. We can now bring ideology into the framework. When the ideologically/ethically-conditioned differences are contested, conflict develops. In Figure 2 we are supposing that the actor A2 is dominated by A1, so that the boundary B2 contains marginalised elements. Other forms of domination may occur, and the degree of marginalisation that can be achieved in a situation may be seen as a measure of the power of an actor. Indeed, power can be defined as the ability to marginalise, and boundary critique can be seen as a political process. If it is possible to find a way of assigning measures to the marginalised region, then this provides us with the possibility of measuring power. The political dimension of delineating degrees of marginalisation is, in terms of Habermas16, a political boundary problem. In ideological/ethical contexts, it is also a political boundary critique problem.


B ou n d a r y B 2 belon g in g to a ctor A 2 S u p r a system A 2 d om in a tes A 1 r esu ltin g in em bed d in g a ctor s A 1 th e m a r g in a lised elem en ts a n d A 2 w ith bou n d a r ies B1, B2

E lem en ts w ith in B 2

B ou n d a r y B 1 belon g in g to a ctor A 1

E lem en ts com m on to a ctor s A 1 a n d A 2

Figure 2: Likely form for boundaries associated with actors A1 and A2 in boundary critique The boundaries in Figure 2 are arrived at from a decision process that is cognitive process derived. They are defined through a socially implementable model. This is consistent with the view of Luhmann, who tells us that “...the boundaries of social systems fall within the consciousness of psychic systems. Consciousness intervenes and thereby acquires the possibility of drawing boundaries for social systems precisely because these boundaries are not, at the same time, boundaries of consciousness.”31. Now, a boundary can be defined by a frame of reference1. This distinguishes between distinct objects of attention that are associated with the frame of reference, and those that are not. Thus, a topological differentiation is created that is manifested as a boundary. This leads us to the consideration that Figure 2 is a manifestation of a cognitive interaction that also resides in the cognitive domain. It will therefore be subject to an organising process that will itself have a behavioural manifestation, as explored in Figure 1 and Table 1 (and that results from an interpolated recursion of the tridomain model). Figure 2 can thus be seen as a “domain local” manifestation of a cognitive process, and is directly associated with a set of interacting worldviews that results in shared knowledge and meaning. This can now be embedded in our tridomain viable systems model (Figure 1) that results in Figure 3, and that could be referred to as the viable boundary critique model. Here, the actors in a suprasystem generate perspectives from their worldviews, and operate by using locally generated knowledge. Some of the knowledge has occurred through experience, but much has come through migration from other worldviews via social, cultural, and political cognitive influences, as common cognitive models develop. Actors are also subject to a thinking process that is effected by the migrated knowledges, and resulting changes in cognitive organisation. It ultimately determines how interaction occurs, and how rationalities are defined. Migrating knowledges also affect polity, determined partly by how we think about the constraints on group and individual freedoms, and how collective actors organise and behave. As illustrated in table 1, from its cognitive purpose it ultimately has impact on their related ideology that embeds the ethics that are of particular interest to Midgley. Further, from cognitive interest it impacts on the degree of emancipation that they have, and the degree that they are prepared to offer others. This knowledge has formed our social perspectives, and contributed towards establishing our social forms that relate to our intentions and behaviours.


Conflict m anifestation through sym bolic expression in ritual

Behavioural dom ain

Conflict process A2 cognitive purposes associated with B2 A1 cognitive purposes associated with B1 Organising dom ain

Contested differences

Cognitive dom ain Boundary B1 of actor A1 Boundary B2 of actor A2 Possible m arginal region

Figure 3: Differences are contested, conflict processes invoked, conflict is manifested Ideas are transformed into action within the organising domain through information. It is here that worldview differences are contested. The contesting process defines a cognitive purpose that will be directly responsible for the manifestation of conflict. In so doing, intention is realised through the creation and strategic pursuit of goals and aims that may change over time, and this enables actors through control and communications processes to redirect their futures. The strategic process derives from a relational logic that is connected to actor rationality. This will likely be different for each of the actors in a suprasystem that are involved in contesting differences. As part of this, each actor will pursue its own missions, goals, and aims. This results in an organisation of thought and action that ultimately determines the behavioural possibilities of the actors. All this is conditioned by ideology that acts as a filter for information9, and that can be created or driven through political cognitive influences. This intellectual framework enables policy makers to interpret the behavioural world politically. It involves ethical orientations that form a centre for systemic interests, and provides an image of the future that enables action through politically correct strategic policy. It also gives a politically correct view of the stages of historical development, in respect of interaction with the external environment. It is also of interest to note that marginalisation can now become a political process. With marginalisation, one actor is able to drive the suprasystem towards a particular topological view over and above other such views. We have already indicated that ability to marginalise is a form of power. Another consideration of the process of marginalisation is that it impacts on the potential of the actors within the situation. Thus, it may increase the potential of one actor and reduce the potential of another. Potential cannot be aggregated as a linear zero sum, and the uncompensated loss of potential in any actor can be seen to be a disadvantage to the variety generation within the suprasystem, possibly affecting its viability. Potential can be enhanced through cooperative processes. All situations have the possibility of cooperative attributes that can be expressed in terms of cognitive properties. This is explained briefly in Table 2.


Cognitive purpose

Cybernetical Intention. This is through the creation and strategic pursuit of goals and aims that may change over time, enables people through control and communications processes to redirect their futures. The science of control and communications. It has associated with it goals that derive from a belief system and knowledge; knowledge of group norms and standards enable the organising nature of cybernetic processes to be defined or redefined.

Knowledge Type

Rational Logico-relational. Enables missions, goals, and aims to be defined, and approached through planning. It involves logical, relational, and rational abilities to organise thought and action and thus to define sets of possible systemic and behaviour possibilities. The science of reasoning. Logical processes derive from a belief and conceptual system that give rise to a propositional basis. It involves specialist type of knowledge that comes from a penchant that ultimately determines cognitive purposes.

Ideological Manner of thinking. An intellectual framework through which policy makers observe and interpret reality that has a politically correct ethical and moral orientation, provides an image of the future that enables action through politically correct strategic policy, and gives a politically correct view of stages of historical development in respect of interaction with the external environment. The science of ideas. It is an organisation of beliefs and attitudes (religious, political or philosophical in nature) that is more or less institutionalised or shared with others. It provides a total system of thought, emotion and attitude to the world and is reflected in any organising process. It refers to any conception of the world that goes beyond the ability of formal validation.

Table 2: Cooperative attributes of viable systems can be expressed in terms of cognitive properties Many of the ideas developed here will be now applied to the complex Liverpool dock strike situation. The case is an unmistakable conflict situation that has arisen between autonomous actors in a suprasystem. Consistent with the notions of the viable boundary critique model, the study will begin by examining the relative perspectives of each principle actor that indicates the boundaries and their ideological/ethical implications. The two worldviews associated with each of the principle actors derive from very different belief systems. Both these, and worldview incommesurability will be explored, following on from which ranked expectations will be produced that we hold are ideologically conditioned. Finally, the interests and purposes of each actor are both considered that could contribute to the search for an intervention strategy. The Case Study: The Liverpool Dock Strike The post-hoc case analysis on the 3 year Liverpool Dock strike that derives from Yolles1 began in 1995. The complex case centres on the principal actors: Mersey Docks & Harbour Co. (MDHC) and a group of 329 dismissed dock worker employees (DDW). Secondary actors are Peat Marwick (KMPG) - financial consultants to MDHC, Drake International - a dock worker employment agency, and the Dock Workers Union TWGU. Issue Related Frames or Reference In order to identify a context for the frames of reference it will be useful to identify the suprasystem and its potential for viability. The suprasystem consists of the two primary interacting actors MDHC and DDW. It may be argued that two perspectives operate here. The DDW want 10

the situation to be resolved under conditions that include re-integration into the workforce, while the MDHC wish resolution through the elimination of the DDW. This could mean that neither want the suprasystem to be maintained because this implies that the conflict dynamic will survive. However, the nature of the situation is slightly more complicated than this. MDHC itself exists as a collection of actors that includes the TWGU, individual dockers, and controversially the DDW. Whatever the outcome of the situation, the operational capability of the MDHC will be affected through the generation of myth that results from supposed purposes, interests, and influences. This will be with the organisation for a long time as it attempts to develop cooperative strategies with its work force, and its long term variety generation and thus viability will be affected. Let us now consider the frames of reference for MDHC and DDW. We are aware that issue boundaries are created through a frame of reference that identifies a topological differentiation. An appreciation of the frame of reference will enable us to identify the boundary in terms of issue elements. The two views that relate to the respective frames of reference are given in figures 4 and 5 as influence diagrams.
In ter n a tion a l su p p or t sm a ll ba n d of D D W w ith ow n a g en d a M a ss m ed ia sen sitivity p oor D D W lea d er sh ip DDW TW GU M DHC In ter n a tion a l bod ies DDW p u blicity

on e sid ed M D H C com p r om ise

u n officia l str ik e a ction

Figure 4: MDHC perception of the influences on the situation and participating actors
e m p lo y m e n t o f c a s u a l la b o u r M DHC d o w n s iz i n g p o li c y DDW M DHC M DHC d e u n i o n is in g p o l ic y G overn m en t a tt itu d e D rake I n te r n a tio n a l TW GU M a s s m e d ia d i s i n te r e s t a n ti - u n io n le g is la t io n T o r s id e D is m i s s a l N a ti o n a l & I n te r n a tio n a l su p p ort

KMOG P e a t M a r w ic k G o v e r n m e n t

P o li tic a l p o r t a c ti o n s o f M D H C

M D H C & K M P G P eat M a r w i c k p r o fite e r i n g

N a t io n a l a n d in t e r n a t io n a l s o lid a r ity

Figure 5: DDW perception of the participating actors and influences on the situation 11

The diagrams show actor view commonalties and distinctions (table 3). The distinctions arise because incommensurable elements exist within the belief systems of each actor. Few commensurable elements exist that are able to form a basis for the creation of a common boundary between the two actors. This is not surprising because the ideological and ethical bases for their frames of reference are so dissimilar. They also represent a basis for the elaboration of the resulting tensions leading to conflict.
Attributes Rights MDHC DDW Primary issue related incongruent beliefs Have the right to choose who, how, when Have the right to expect a guarantee of emand why they employ in their company. ployment in the industry they have cultivated MDHC should have a multi-skilled com- For MDHC a casualisation of all Dock Lapetitive Dock Labour Scheme. bour is the ultimate scheme of things. Secondary issue related incongruent beliefs Belief that local bad leadership has caused Disappointed that local union leadership has the on-going conflict. not been supported nationally Beliefs about contested difference in cognitive purpose - goals MDHC see their gesture of a financial set- Offers of financial settlements are attempts tlement as fair since no legal commitment to divide the solidarity of the strikers and binds them to any offer. 'sell-out' their right to re-instatement. MDHC say there that the demonstrations Dismissed dock workers continue to display by DDW has almost disappeared from the solidarity and demonstrate at Seaforth Docks in the Port. Docks on Merseyside. Beliefs about conflicting cognitive interests - work and interaction Safety record has improved during dispute Replacement casual labour has increased to be one of the best in UK Ports. accident rate at Port of Liverpool Financial Consultants KMPG Peat Mar- KMPG Peat Marwick in conjunction with wick provide sound business advice. MDHC share dubious business transactions The Port is operating successfully and The dismissed workers have succeeded in achieving record cargo tonnage movements affecting a boycott of MDHC and the Port of and high customer satisfaction. Liverpool resulting in loss of income and contracts to MDHC.

MDHC Dock labour hiring Leadership

MDHC goal

Success of DDW goal

Safety MDHC business practice Business success in face of conflict

Table 3: Distinctions and commonalties between the two principle actors If one of the two primary actors has more power than the other, then that actor will be able to marginalise transparently the element incommensurables of the other actor. One might expect that an evaluation of this ability should be possible through an examination of appropriate media. The most obvious media is the mass media, which was very quite over the whole extended issue, indicating that there were no issue elements on the side of the DDW that were of sufficient public interest. The DDW wanted media coverage, and it may be the case that one difficulty with their position is that their set of element incommensurables were too computationally complex and symbolically traditional. For many issues it is the mass media that tell us what is of public interest. Because we live in an oligarchy, this frequently informs national interest. What constitutes public interest in the end relates to the ability of the media to promote their organs of communication, and some of this can be interpreted in terms of the steering media of financial profitability or power16. These steering media tend to denude the interactive conflict process of meaning, and thus cannot be relied upon to represent anything but a partial representation of the situation.


The tensions in the suprasystem arose because of what the DDW considered to be dismissals that were politically motivated, and it is without doubt that the DDW frame of reference also had an ideological slant. Indeed, since ideology acts as a filter for information7, it is clear that MDHC’s stand was also ideological. The elaboration of the tensions during the organising process by the DDW manifested itself as direct picketing action and active soliciting of national and international opinion. It may be that these operate as traditional ritual that is not informed by the effectiveness of action against MDMC, and we note that ritual actions have no adaptive function16. We should also consider another fact here. The DDW members were experiencing hardship because of a shortage of money. Their ideological purposes are expressed as goals in table 4, and it seems to be the case that the DDW could only profit from a meaningful interaction with MDHC. If the political purposes of MDHC were to profit them in terms of some steering media (e.g., financially), and if the conflict process offered an enabling mechanism for this, then no encouragement existed for them to make the interaction meaningful. If the DDW could have turned this around, they would have either to have taken actions that could endanger MDHC financial returns (or power), or find something that was more important, like stability in its operations. The DDW attempted action on both of these fronts. Their actions to have MDHC internationally boycotted were not very successful, at least according to the view of the company. DDW efforts to gain TWGU support that could destabilise MDHC operations were not fruitful either. The Belief System If the two actors each have different perspectives, then this comes from different incommensurable paradigms. It is this that will be the cause of the formulation of distinct and contested cognitive purposes that results in the conflict. We can try to illustrate this. Each principle actor has a paradigm that maintains distinct beliefs embedded in respective belief system bounds. One way of ameliorating the situation is to make the paradigms commensurable. This option is highly unlikely because of the way that people become constrained by the boundaries of the paradigms with which they associate themselves. An “accommodation” is a more likely outcome that reduces the behavioural potential of at least one of the actors. In table 4 two incongruent primary issue related beliefs have been identified: one concerning worker’s rights, and one about labour hiring. A secondary incongruent issue related belief is listed about leadership. In the same table we also identify two beliefs about contested cognitive purpose differences, and three beliefs about conflictual cognitive interests of the principle actors. These may be posturing beliefs, but they are public and one can surmise that they are being used to validate and therefore maintain actor positions.


Actor Attributes Cognitive interest needs Cognitive purpose goal options

DDW Long term settlement Opportunities for employment Relief of individual hardship Reintroduction of the National Dock Labour Scheme Support plan for a workers cooperative. Accept existing offer Pull out of negotiations

DDW Rank 1 2 3 1 2 3 4

MDHC Normalisation of business: (i) processes (ii) opportunities (iii) workforce balance Reinstate DDW: (i) directly (ii) through Drake International Support reintroduction of the National Dock Labour Scheme Increase % DDW job offers Introduce labour pool with DDW employment possibilities Pull out of negotiations

MDHC Rank 1 2 3 5 3 6 1 2 4

Table 4: Belief based worldview incommensurability of principle actors that establishes and drives the conflict Transmogrifying the Bounded Issue Elements The beliefs shown in table 4 manifest ideological/ethical expression that condition the expected ranked actor outcomes in table 5. It would have been useful for purposes of conflict resolution to have explicitly defined these elements, but this is not available. An ideology/ethics analysis would be essential if changing expectations are to be facilitated. Other conditioning elements that might most usefully be explored here are the cybernetic and rational attributes (table 1). In table 5 we see that the cognitive interest needs of the situation relate to the requirements of each actor to enable work and interaction to be normalised. While these define the overall outcomes, they are qualified by the cognitive purpose “goal option possibilities”, as ranked in table 5. The preference rankings represent a set of primary data collected in the original study, but not deeply analysed. Diminishing any of these ranked options in a passively or actively violent way will reduce the potential of each actor, thus ultimately influencing the suprasystem viability. We have already indicated that it seems likely that this is what MDHC would like, since then the suprasystem would reduce from the two actor system to a one actor system (MDHC) and the conflict would vanish. We have also indicated that the legacy could provide the basis for myth that will affect long term MDHC viability. Diminishing any goal option possibilities in a nonviolent way through cooperation is likely not to have this affect because there will be agreed compensations for DDW that will also settle into myth. The selection of goals that can qualify the normalisation of work now becomes a boundary selection process in the organising domain in which some marginalisation may occur. That is, preferred options may be lost.


Actor Attributes Cognitive Interest Needs Cognitive purpose Goal Options

DDW Long term settlement Opportunities for employment Relief of individual hardship Reintroduction of the National Dock Labour Scheme Support plan for a workers cooperative. Accept existing offer Pull out of negotiations

DDW Rank 1 2 3 1 2 3 4

MDHC Normalisation of business: (i) processes (ii) opportunities (iii) workforce balance Reinstate DDW: (i) directly (ii) through Drake International Support reintroduction of the National Dock Labour Scheme Increase % DDW job offers Introduce labour pool with DDW employment possibilities Pull out of negotiations

MDHC Rank 1 2 3 5 3 6 1 2 4

Table 5: Comparative Actor Tableau Indicating “Preferred Actor Rankings” for Possible Outcomes, as indicated by representatives of each side. We can now call on our model given in Figure 3. The element incommensurables of table 3 are transmogrified (transformed subject to chaotic surprises that will influence outcomes) into a set of cognitive purposes. These have been preference ranked (table 5), and can now be seen as organising and political issue elements that define the differences in purpose that are contested through elaboration of the ideological/ethical tensions. These are represented by the peaks seen in the organising domain of Figure 3. Consider now the preference rankings. An outcome or settlement to the problem situation that differs from a priority ranking for one or other actor constitutes a process of marginalisation for the actor concerned. This is a direct (though likely not linear or unperturbed) mapping of the marginalisation that has occurred in the cognitive domain. The ability of one actor to marginalise the issue elements of the other can also be used retrospectively as a measure of power, though such a measure has not been attempted. Having said this, the marginalisation may not be recognised by the actors themselves. This is because a settlement might occur, for instance, in which the meaning of “opportunities for employment” or “workforce balance” may change. Conditioning the Conflict In table 6 we explore how the cognitive properties briefly explored in table 2 condition the conflict.


Characteristics Cognitive Interests

Cognitive Purposes

Cognitive Influence

Explanation The actors have been unable to work and interact with each other without the threat of passive or active violence. In particular, interactivity between the two actors was extremely problematic. Emancipatory interests are evident by the DDW since they contribute to the dismantling of the (DDW argued structurally violent) impositions of MDHC. It could also be argued that the MDHC were involved in an attempt to liberate their operations from its workforce. However, this proposition may be contentious if we consider the role of steering media. If it was true, then it may also be that the emancipatory interests of each actor was a further cause for conflict. Thus, we would have not only an ethical conflict, but an emancipatory one too. Strategic aims and objectives of actors are not compatible. The ideological and ethical issues were not all transparent. Communications were problematic, and the development of joint plans was therefore not possible. Political processes were evident within both actor systems in the way that they responded to approaches or possible deals. In the end, MDHC seemed able to demonstrate their power over DDW by their marginalisation of DDW issues. No knowledge migration between the actor paradigms occurred. This meant that ultimately the development of a shared world view and knowledge commonalties was not possible. As a result, no cooperative behaviour emerged. Indeed, both actors maintained their polar stands without compromise. The boundaries were therefore impenetrable, since no successful mediation occurred that could contribute to an alteration of the frames of reference of the two actors. The lack of mass media interest by implication marginalised the issue elements of the DDW, which was made profane by the MDHC.

Table 6: Cognitive properties that condition the boundary analyse problem for cooperation Comment on how cognitive properties can condition the conflict has also been made by one of the referees of this paper. It begins by considering the political interests of the dockers: “My guess is that their [the DDW] wish to re-establish a right to work was also motivated by a wider critique of capitalist labour relations. Thus, it could be argued that they use the power of reflective consciousness to link their struggle into wider ideological concerns. It is also uncertain, but probable, that the key players in the company also had a political agenda: a belief that capitalist organisation is the most efficient and effective available. If so, then their [MDHC] desire to resist a right to work might also have been motivated by the power of reflective consciousness to link their battle into a wider political agenda. The fact that it is more difficult to ascertain whether the participants in the dispute pursued emancipatory interests in addition to technical and practical interests should not result in abandonment of the classification of “emancipatory interest”. On the contrary, my guess is that this motivation remained hidden because of the cultural tendency in modern western societies to suppress emancipatory reason (or regard it with suspicion) in favour of technical and/or practical reason. Therefore, there is all the more reason to surface this, albeit with an acknowledgement that you can only make an informed guess at the participants’ emancipatory motivations.”


In response, it might be added that it is clear that the DDW wanted to re-assign to themselves potential within the suprasystem through re-integration into the workforce under certain conditions. We have already argued that such potential generation can be manifested as a degree of emancipatory interest. The argument offered also implicitly supports the need for a full attribute analysis from table 1. The Settlement The DDW found that continuation of the conflict was too difficult, especially without crucial support from other organisations like their union. The stresses they had to deal with because of the continuing actions were too much, and the DDW attribute the death of three of their number to this. As a result, a settlement was agreed in 1998. The terms of the settlement were based on up to £28,000 redundancy payment for all ex Mersey Docks men, though around 80 DDWs were excluded from this. Limited redundancy payments was made to approximately 2/3 of the sacked dockers. In addition, a number of jobs were offered to the DDW in the port. Pension entitlements are still in discussion for the majority of dockers. In exploring the outcome in terms of power position, from table 4 we can distinguish between the two dimensions of cognitive interest needs and cognitive purpose goal options. With respect to the former, and purely from the ranked schedules, DDW have accepted a long term settlement satisfying their highest ranked option. It also satisfies the top rank for MDHC. Marginalisation at this level will evidence cognitive domination of one actor over the other. There is no evidence that cognitive marginalisation has occurred. Rather we surmise that the conflict ceased for reasons that relate to cognitive purpose and cognitive interest. It is in these domains that are considered the social, economic and domestic pressures that the DDW were under in the face of an apparently solitary stand, and the pressures facing the MDHC. In the case of cognitive purpose options, it would seem that the DDW achieved their third rank option while the MDHC more than achieved their highest ranking option. While we have indicated that we shall not attempt to undertake a measure of power in this study, it is tempting to initialise one. If one uses the ranking outcome as a possible measure, then we could propose that the ratio of ranked outcomes represents the relative power of each actor. Thus, the power balance for the MDHC compared to the DDW is 3:1 since the outcome for DDW was its third option, while that for the MDHC was its first option. Conclusion The case study is an unmistakable conflict situation that has arisen between autonomous actors interacting in a suprasystem. However, the same techniques could be used to explore a problem situation in, say, an organisation in which the autonomous actors and definable suprasystem is not so apparent. The use of methods that suppose consensus often also suppose that different worldviews can in some way be submerged and ignored. Unfortunately, they may later reemerge and ignite. Instead, conflict management or resolution approaches might be usefully applied that can explicitly expose the nature of the problem. The boundary critique ideas of Midgley, linked with viable systems ideas, provide a new and powerful way of exploring problem situations explicitly as ideologically/ethically conditioned conflicts. All (realistic) conflicts can be expressed in terms of ideological/ethical tensions that 17

have been elaborated into conflict processes. Viable boundary critique provides a useful way of exploring the emergence of boundaries in such conflict situations. In viable boundary critique, three analytically and empirically independent domain exist, each of which have cognitive properties. In the behavioural domain, we can explore the cognitive interests that are associated with work and interaction. Critical deconstraining is often seen in terms of providing emancipation to actors for the benefit of the suprasystem. In our view, this is really better explored in terms of potential development that relates fundamentally to the notion of viability. It is possible to have degrees of emancipation that constrain a suprasystem, while still finding ways of developing the potential of actors. The organising domain has properties that relate to intention through cybernetic processes, logico-relational attributes that define actor rationality, and manner of thinking that involves ideology and ethical processes. It is in the cognitive domain that meaning associated with boundary critique can be immediately explored, in particular by initially examining the frames of reference of all the actors involved in the conflictual suprasystem. The issue elements that are of interest in the suprasystem of actors can now be topologically differentiated into distinct regions, from which boundaries emerge. Differentiated boundary definition is a function of worldview incomensurability. Elements that are commensurable across worldview regions represent the shared perspective of the actors, while elements of incommensurable regions define what may become marginalised elements. Viable boundary critique theory explains how marginalisation appears as a difference in cognitive purpose that is contested. Contestation can be conditioned by cooperation. Interestingly, the boundary critique approach provides the possibility of exploring the power relationship between the different actors, by retrospectively examining the actuality of issue element marginalisation. While we may talk of power having the ability to create marginalised regions of elements, we can obversely define power as the ability to marginalise. This offers the potential for examining situations in terms of power through marginalisation, leading to measures of power deriving from measurements of marginalisation. One approach to this could be using actor preference rankings in comparison to situation outcomes. In the end, the mission associated with a viable systems theory that incorporates boundary critique is to explore the way in which the potentials of actors in a suprasystem are influenced. These potentials provide the source for the creation of variety that is indispensable for viability. In conflict resolution situations, one approach is therefore to seek ways by which individual potentials can be developed, thereby enabling the actors to decontest their differences, and to thus increase the possibility of suprasystem viability. A referee has asked a pertinent question of the author: 'As a consultant, how could I make use of the content of this paper to improve the value that I can add for my clients?' In answer, the paper deals with social pluralities, and does not assume consensus (that is in any case a tenuous concept). By their very nature, social pluralities mean multiple worldviews that will always be in some way and to some degree incommensurable. Using the viable boundary critique approach to explore situations as though they are conflicts can therefore provide a route to new intervention approaches. References 18

1 2 3 4 5 6


8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Yolles, M.I., 1999 (Dec.), Management Systems: A viable Systems Approach. Financial Times Pitman, London. Checkland, P.B., Scholes,J., 1990, Soft Systems Methodology in Action. John Wiley & Son, Chichester. Harrison, M.I., 1994, Diagnosing Organisations. Applied Social Science Methods Series Vol. 8. Sage Publications, London Midgley, G., Munlo, I., Brown, M., 1998, The Theory and Practice of Boundary Critique: developing housing services for older people. J. Op. Res. Soc. 49,5,467-478. Coser, L., A., 1956, The Functions of Social Conflict. Free Press of Glencoe, New York., p48-55 Beer, S., 1959, Cybernetics and Management. English Universities Press; 1975, Platform for Change. Wiley; 1979. The Heart of Enterprise. Wiley; 1981, Brain of the Firm. 2nd ed. Wiley, New York; 1985. Diagnosing the System for Organisations. Wiley Schwarz, E., 1994 (April), A Metamodel to Interpret the Emergence, Evolution and Functioning of Viable Natural Systems. Presented at the European Meeting on Cybernetics and Systems Research, Vienna, and in Trappl, R., (ed.), 1994, Cybernetics and Systems ‘94, World Scientific, Singapore, pp1579-1586 Crawley, J., 1992, Conflict: Managing to Make a Difference. Nicholas Brealey Publishing Ltd., London Crick, B., 1962, In Defence of Politics. Widenfield and Nicolson, London. Holsti, K.J., 1967, International Politics, a Framework for Analysis. Prentice Hall Buckley, W., 1968, Modern Systems Research for the Behavioural Scientist: a Sourcebook. Adline Publishing, Chicago Kuhn, S.T., 1970, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, Chicago Midgley, G., 1997, Mixing Methods: Developing Systemic Intervention. In Mingers J., Gill, A. (Eds.), Multimethodology, pp. 249-290, Wiley, Chichester, UK. Mannheim, K., 1964, Wissenssoziologie. Nenwied/Rhein, Luchterhand Berger, P., Luckman, T., 1966. The Social Construction of Reality. Penguin Yolles, M.I., 1996 (Oct), Critical Systems Thinking, Paradigms, and the Modelling Space. System Practice, 9(3). Habermas, J., 1987, The Theory of Communicative Action Vol. 2, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK Allport, G.W., 1961, Pattern and Growth in Personality. Holt, Rinehart & Winston. p224 Ackoff, R.L., 1981, Creating the Corporate Future, Wiley, New York. Cohen, J., Stewart, I., 1994, The Collapse of Chaos: discovering simplicity in a complex world. Viking, London Habermas, J., 1970, Knowledge and interest in: Sociological Theory and Philosophical Analysis, pp36-54, (Emmet, D., MacIntyre, A., eds), MacMillan, London Jackson, M.C., 1992, Systems Methodologies for the Management Sciences. Plenum, New York Yolles,M., Pirani, M., 1992, "Ethnic Pay Differentials". New Community, October, 19,1,31-42 Yolles, M.I., 1999, Towards a Viable Systems Theory of Joint Ventures, Systemist, , 21,2,63-80 19

24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33

Nonaka, I., Takeuchi, H., 1995, The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. Oxford University Press, New York Yolles, M.I. 2000, Organisations, Complexity, and Viable Knowledge Management. Kybernetes, pending (March/April issue). Checkland, P., 1980, Are Organisations Machines?, Futures 12:421. Ulrich, W., 1981, A critique of pure cybernetic reason: The Chilean experience with cybernetics, J. Appl. Sys. Anal. 8:33. Midgley, G., 1992, The Sacred and Profane in Critical Systems Thinking, Systems Practice 5: 5-16. Churchman, C.W. 1970, Operations Research as a Profession. Mngmt Sci. 17:B37B53. Yolles, M.I. 1999, Management Systems, Conflict, and the Changing Roles of the Military, J. Conflict Processes Luhmann, N., 1995, Social Systems, Stanford University Press, California. Translated from the German edition on 1984. Mackie, J.L., 1977, Ethics, Inventing Right and Wrong, Penguin Books, London Douglas, M., 1966, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. Ark, London. Leach , E., 1976, Culture and Communication: The Logic by which Symbols are Connected. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


You're Reading a Free Preview

/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->