The Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science presents a corner stone of its research agenda with the recently published Special Issue of Systema: General Systems Transdisciplinarity, guest edited by Debora Hammond (Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Hutchins School of Liberal Studies, Sonoma State University, California, USA; Past President, International Society for the Systems Sciences 2006).

Systema Journal

The collection of papers lays out a comprehensive framework for a research agenda to establish a fully developed general theory of systems, which would serve as a foundation for a more fully integrated transdisciplinary systems field. It is an ambitious project, very carefully and clearly articulated, which the authors understand as embodying the motivating purpose behind the original founding in 1954 of the Society for General Systems Research (SGSR), renamed the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) in 1988, writes Debora Hammond in her editorial.

In the first paper “Manifesto for General Systems Transdisciplinarity” the authors describe their collaborative efforts as “rekindling the vision of the founders of the ISSS (Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Kenneth Boulding, Ralph Gerard, and Anatol Rapoport) for establishing a transdiscipline grounded in a general systems theory” articulating a conceptual roadmap and identifying General Systemology as a branch within the systems field as a whole (labeled “Systemology”, as suggested by Russ Ackoff).

One of the most intriguing dimensions of this collaborative work is the articulation of a generic model of a discipline, which the authors present in the second paper on “A Typology for the Systems Field“, mapping the systems domain in terms of its practices, theories and philosophies.
Extrapolating from this basic structure, the authors articulate a systems model of disciplinary structure that would apply to all disciplinary inquiry. They suggest that a discipline is a kind of system, characterized by a form of action informed by a worldview and generating a body of knowledge, in a particular area of interest. Thus they derive their Activity-Knowledge-Guidance (AKG) Model of a Discipline:

  • Activity Scope: including exploration, development and application
  • Knowledge Base: including data, theories, and methodologies
  • Guidance Framework: including domain view, worldviews, and terminology

The following four papers develop specific aspects of this project. In the third paper “The Scope and Range of General Systems Transdisciplinarity” the authors explore the nature, scope, value and potential of transdisciplinarity in general, and General Systems Transdisciplinarity (GSTD) in particular, clarifying the distinctions between different kinds of disciplinarity, such as multi-disciplinarity, inter-disciplinarity, etc.

In line with von Bertalanffy’s original description of general system theory as comprising “universal principles applying to systems in general,” the fourth paper on “The Synergy between General Systems Theory and the General Systems Worldview” suggests that a comprehensive description of the general systems worldview would aid in the discovery of the general systems principles called for by von Bertalanffy.

The fifth paper, “In Search of GST,” describes a general theory as “an interlocking array of general principles, models and theories”, and explores the nature and structure of general theories informing other sciences, such as atomic theory in Chemistry or evolution and natural selection in Biology.

Building on this foundation, the final paper in the series lays out “A Research Agenda for General Systems Transdisciplinary“. Noting the diversity of perspectives and methodologies that currently characterize the systems field, suggesting that it “cannot become an established academic discipline without developing a unifying framework grounded in a general theory of systems.” Achieving these ends would enhance the “prospect of the systems field making a significant contribution to solving the serious systemic challenges facing present-day socio-ecological systems”

Debora Hammond concludes her editorial with an outlook on the upcoming further projects the Bertalanffy Center is involved in or partners with, “The impressive synthesis represented in this collection through the collaborative efforts of the authors can be seen as part of the resurgence in appreciation for the value of a systems orientation in confronting the challenges of our time. There are a number of related projects that testify to this renewed interest. For example, another research team that met at the 2014 IFSR Conversation in Austria focused on the topic of “Systems Research,” collaboratively writing A Guide to Systems Research: Philosophy, Processes and Practice, released in July of 2016 by Springer. Other current projects include initiatives to strengthen the theoretical foundations of Systems Engineering, to promote Systems Literacy, and to develop general tools for applying systems thinking in practice. The Manifesto for General Systems Transdisciplinarity provides a timely and enormously valuable roadmap for integrating the disparate systems field and enhancing its effectiveness in the world.”

The Special Issue was co-authored by:

  • David Rousseau (Director, Centre for Systems Philosophy, Surrey, UK; Visiting Research Fellow, Centre for Systems Studies, Business School, University of Hull, UK; Member of Scientific Council, Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science, Vienna, Austria)
  • Jennifer Wilby (Senior Visiting Fellow, Centre for Systems Studies, University of Hull, UK; Academician, International Academy for Systems and Cybernetic Sciences, Vienna, Austria; Vice President, International Society for the Systems Sciences; Vice President, International Federation for Systems Research; Member of Scientific Council, Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science, Vienna, Austria)
  • Julie Billingham (Scientific Advisor, Centre for Systems Philosophy, Surrey, UK; Industry Principal, Business Strategy and Programs, Demandware Inc., Boston USA)
  • Stefan Blachfellner (Managing Director, Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science, Vienna, Austria; Managing Director, European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Research, Vienna, Austria; Past Vice President, International Federation for Systems Research, Vienna, Austria 2012 – 2016; Special Advisor of the European Commission, Brussels, Belgium)

The team work of the Bertalanffy Centers Research Group Systems Science and Philosophy will continue and will be published in a forthcoming book on “General Systemology. Transdisciplinarity for Discovery, Insight, and Innovation” by Springer in 2017 in the Series “Translational Systems Sciences” (Editors-in-chief: Kijima, Kyoichi, Deguchi, Hiroshi; Series Editors: Takahashi, S., Kita, H., Kaneda, T., Tokuyasu, A., Hioki, K., Aruka, Y., Bausch, K., Spohrer, J., Hofkirchner, W., Pourdehnad, J., Jackson, M.C., Metcalf, G.S.)