Dror on Actors and the Capacity to Govern

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 09:15
Oral Presentation
Karl-Heinz SIMON, Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany
From the very beginning the role of the actor was an important concept in cybernetics. Whereas classical approaches, first-order cybernetics, kept up to externalize the actor, second-order cybernetics tries to include the actor into the (material or epistemic) feedback loops. In first-order cybernetics the definition and adjustment of goals in control behavior is not part of the control structure. Only the activities of an actor in changing the actuating variable (stellgröße) are included. Second-order cybernetics is based on a much broader picture of the interactions between problem, feedback loop, and goal-seeking processes. In social system theory the concept of the observer plays a similar role. Complexity is increased by introducing 2nd and 3rd order observers when trying to explain social situations.

The role of actors is an important issue in sustainability research and politics. Suggestions for agency alternate between appeal to individual, concerned people, and attempts to design new technical and social frameworks. Change agents, for example, are addressed as those to have the crucial influences on future strands of development. Up to now, these are conceptualized in a first-order mode, reflecting neither the origin of their ideas nor the function they have for adjusting social systems to changing framework conditions. A second-order perspective could contribute to approaching these questions in a wider perspective.

There is an important report, yet widely ignored, by Y Dror on the Capacity to Govern. Cybernetic theory and epistemology does not play an important role in his conceptions. However, it seems helpful to re-interpret some of his suggestions applying cybernetic concepts. Especially the differentiation of actors and their role in change processes will contribute to a better understanding of sustainability strategies.