Part 5 – Fundamentals of (Social) Complexity: The “System/Environment” Distinction | Peter Bormann | (Social) Complexity | October 2023



As we saw in a previous Medium post, there are: some non-essentialist approaches This can be used to replace essentialist conceptual strategies regarding complexity features.

One non-essentialist approach that is important in our context is: couple

  • Distinction (Synonymous in this Medium post with: difference)-Howbase Questions (How, that is, by what distinctions does something like, say, function XY be created?)


  • Equivalent functional observation schema If different functionally equivalent solutions are related to your problem [see Knudsen, M. (2010), Surprised by Method — Functional Method and Systems Theory, in: Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 11(3), Art. 12; Luhmann, N. (1995), Social Systems, Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press].

as a result, List of complexity characteristics Emergence, nonlinearity, etc. — Previously interpreted as necessary For abstract complex systems and their empirical manifestations, converted into open-ended lists of distinction and problem-based questions — Or, simply put: Create a public list of features as problem concepts.

One of the key features I want to highlight in this Medium post is: formation and maintenance (social) of a complex system. So the question is:

I’m going to write some Medium articles, so

  • The idea of ​​systems as distinctions.
  • Conceptualization of social aspects.
  • Various (social) systems.

I would like to share some tips here.

whole/part This is a distinction that may be specified. system. However, this is a very traditional distinction that can be traced back to ancient Greece. [see σύστημα (sústēma) in Wiktionary] leads directly to container perspective This is inappropriate for complex systems, especially social ones.


good, That’s how the human brain and body work. hyper complex it isour hearts and social systemssuch as families, organizations, society, etc. directly address such overwhelming cellular and neural complexity..
For more information, see my recent Medium post on WAITS Software-und Prozessberatungsgesellsch. mbH: Fundamentals of Complexity — Part III: Increasing Socio-Evolutionary Complexity.

This is also Western perspective of nested containersconsiders humans to be more than just things. Indivisible containers (individual),but also, part of another container family, organization, society, etc. completely outdated.

Image illustrating the concept of nested containers (individuals as containers seen as part of society and as part of an organization/family).
Image illustrating the concept of nested containers (individuals as containers as part of an organization/family viewed as part of society) (Bing Image Creator, October 17, 2023)

That said, this ancient distinction is useful in certain fields, especially technical context!However, that frequently replaced According to two further contemporary distinctions in complexity research:


Guiding differences System/Environment Conceptualizing complex (social) systems requires asking several important questions.

Question 1: System configuration

  • How are complex (social) systems created? Discriminate From that environment?
  • Alternatively, to include observers explicitly:
    which one explanation mechanism Can language-based observers explain the formation of discipline-specific, concrete, complex (social) systems?

Question 2: Determining and maintaining boundaries

  • How can boundaries be determined?

Given the abstract concept of boundaries, that is, the concept of the difference between system and environment, it is not possible to decide whether boundaries belong to the system or to the environment. If we look at it logically, the difference itself is that he is something third. However, if we include the question of different degrees of complexity as an aid to interpretation, we can associate boundaries with features that stabilize this different degree, and only the system, not the environment, can develop strategies to do so. is. From a systems perspective, they are “self-generated boundaries”: membranes, skins, walls and doors, boundary columns and contact points. [see Luhmann, N. (1995), Social Systems, Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, p. 29]

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