Structural Determinism and the Pursuit of Conservation and Boundaries

by Augusto Cuginotti


Took me some time to read the most recent work of Maturana (co-authored with Ximena Dávila) and their biological-cultural matrix of human existence. I was relating the definitions, old and new, to the process of enabling system innovations.

In a recent conversation I was explaining my way of looking to social-cultural principles that creates a system co-designed by a specific community – the importance of creating the space to explore what is needed to remain as the system organization while the structure changes.

The organization of a system – according to Maturana et al – is the condition for its existence, what makes the ‘compound unity’ be conserved through time while structural changes happen. Structural it’s defined by the components of a system and the relationship between them.

The ‘compound unit’ is what we’ve been calling a system here – a distinguished unit defined by an observer. The conservation of the system occurs spontaneously and we distinguish the system as one because of this power of conservation. What is the organization of the social and cultural tissue in a community? How is this different from the present structure it holds and the hopes of structural change people have?

If we build on the concept of structural determinism  – that says that whatever happens to the system is a result of its present structure and determined by it – the definition of principles as boundaries to support our planning could match the understanding of what happens to the system that is fundamental to its conservation while structural changes happen. More, when talking about boundaries, it would make much more sense to look at what needs to be conserved in a system’s organization than what needs to be changed.

Interesting things to look at regarding Maturana’s work and definitions:

Autopoiesis, Culture, and Society by Humberto Mariotti

Metadesign by Humberto Maturana

Autopoiesis, Structural Coupling and Cognition by Humberto Maturana