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Sustainable systems

Beth Dempster used the 'sympoiesis' (around 1995) for describing complex sustainable systems (ecosystems/human communities). In comparing it with the term autopoiesis she makes the following distinctions (c.f. Dempster, 2000):

  1. Whereas autopoietic systems have self-defined boundaries, sympoietic systems do not
  2. Whereas autopoietic systems are self-produced, sympoietic systems are collectively produced
  3. Whereas autopoietic systems are organizationally closed, sympoietic systems are organizationally ajar.

Sympoiesis within co-authorship

  • Nieuwenhuijze and Wood's, (2006) paper applies the term sympoiesis to co-editing in creative teams.
  • This implies the sharing of the creative act and also derives from previous work within systems theory.

Four key criteria for sympoiesis

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  1. When it is synergistic
    • - i.e. when the standard/quality/usefulness of the writing transcends what each co-author had previously achieved independently.
  2. When each co-author still recognises their individual influence
    • (e.g. when the outcome pleases each co-author).
  3. When others in the wider community or ecosystem recognise the outcome as having potential value.
  4. When the co-authorship process enhances team bonding and/or organisational consciousness

Why not just say "co-authorship"?

  • In a professional context such as publishing the term 'co-authorship' may simply mean the technical process of editing content that is already known, approved and, or extant.
  • In such cases the creative aspects of the task may be managed relatively impersonally on a managerial, hierarchical basis where there are editors and sub-editors etc..
  • However, where new insights or behavioural change is required (e.g. paradigm change) it may be necessary for authors to work more speculatively, creatively and holarchically.
  • This is likely to entail challenging some of the prevailing ‘realities’ and discourses held by the co-authors.
  • This can cause discomfort to one or more of the co-authors.
  • In some cases this process was socially uncomfortable, as it required both/all authors to challenge their own assumptions in addition to those of their partners.
  • In extreme cases it forced one or more collaborators to question their self-identity, especially when a new idea unexpectedly challenged axioms that underpinned their fundamental beliefs.
  • In our development of the process we found that it required a re-languaging process.

How useful is sympoiesis?

  • It may prove to be a synergistic engine of new knowledge or unforeseen opportunity.
  • This is because it harnesses the creativity of each author, coupled with their combined co-creativities
  • Sympoietic modes of co-authorship test the willingness of collaborators to change their roles and standpoints.
  • It may test the goodwill of co-authors and the resilience of their social relationships.
  • On the other hand it can also serve to build or strengthen trust and connectivity within teams or networks.
  • The following four criteria are offered as a checklist to guide the development of effective sympoiesis.

Some ecological parallels

It is useful to regard sympoiesis as a type of symbiosis (see, for example, Margulis, 1998) as both are special forms of synergy pertaining to living organisms. Scientists usually categorise the 'cost-benefits' using only five categories:

  1. Mutual - Relationship of different organisms or species, in which each individual benefits
  2. Commensal - Relationship of organisms or species in which one benefits without affecting the other
  3. Exploitative - Relationship in which the fitness of one organism is lowered by the presence of another
  4. Amensal - Relationship in which the product of one organism or species has a negative effect on another
  5. Neutral - Relationship in which the organisms or species interact but do not affect each other

These make for a rather imprecise and misleading mapping of how organisms interact because they reflect a concern that is more biological, than ecological. For example, the term 'exploitative' (3) would include both 'parasitic coupling' and 'predator-prey coupling within the same category. While the table (below) uses the 5 categories it also acknowledges benefits or disadvantages to the (ecological) neighbourhood that is affected by these couplings.

square-50cm-spacer.jpg + + + MutualEcosystem benefits / beneficial to both partners
square-50cm-spacer.jpg + + 0 CommensalEcosystem benefits / one partner benefits / no harm to the other.
square-50cm-spacer.jpg + + ExploitativeEcosystem benefits / one partner benefits at expense of other.
square-50cm-spacer.jpg + 0 AmensalEcosystem benefits / negative effect on one of the partners
square-50cm-spacer.jpg + CompetitiveEcosystem benefits / both partners suffer
square-50cm-spacer.jpg 0 + + square-50cm-spacer.jpg MutualNeutral to ecosystem / beneficial to both partners
square-50cm-spacer.jpg 0 + 0 CommensalNeutral to ecosystem / one partner benefits / no harm to the other.
square-50cm-spacer.jpg 0 + ExploitativeNeutral to ecosystem / one partner benefits at expense of other.
square-50cm-spacer.jpg 0 0 AmensalNeutral to ecosystem / negative effects on one of the partners
square-50cm-spacer.jpg 0 Competitive square-50cm-spacer.jpg Neutral to ecosystem / both partners suffer
square-50cm-spacer.jpg 0 0 0 NeutralNeutral to ecosystem / no benefits or difficulties for either partner.
square-50cm-spacer.jpg + + square-50cm-spacer.jpg MutualDamage to ecosystem / beneficial to both partners
square-50cm-spacer.jpg + 0 CommensalDamage to ecosystem / one partner benefits / no harm to the other.
square-50cm-spacer.jpg + ExploitativeDamage to ecosystem / one partner benefits at expense of other.
square-50cm-spacer.jpg 0 AmensalDamage to ecosystem / negative effects on one of the partners
square-50cm-spacer.jpg CompetitiveDamage to ecosystem / both partners suffer
square-50cm-spacer.jpg Including the Ecosystem when mapping cost/benefit for individual agents

Some books

  • Bateson, G. (1980). Mind and nature: A necessary unity. New York: Bantam Books.
  • Christensen, Clayton and Raynor, Michael (2003). The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Collett, K., Van den Berg, C. and Verster, B., 2020. Sympoiesis ‘becoming with and through each other’: Exploring collaborative writing as emergent academics. Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning, 8(SI), pp.168-185.
  • Cox, G., & Dayan, Z., (2005), Cox Review of Creativity in Business: building on the UK’s strengths, TSO: Norwich, Chapter 1.
  • Cunningham, J. B., & Lischeron, J. (1991). Defining entrepreneurship. Journal of small business management, 29(1), 45-61
  • Dawkins, R., “The Selfish Gene”, New York: Oxford University Press, 1976
  • Dempster, B., 2000, July. Sympoietic and autopoietic systems: A new distinction for self-organizing systems. In Proceedings of the World Congress of the Systems Sciences and ISSS (pp. 1-18). Toronto, Canada.
  • Haraway, D., 2019. It matters what stories tell stories; It matters whose stories tell stories. A/b: Auto/Biography Studies, 34(3), pp.565-575.
  • Koestler, A., (1967), The Ghost in the Machine, Penguin: London (reprint 1990).
  • Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M., (1980), Metaphors We Live By, University of Chicago: Chicago and London
  • Landry, C., (2000), The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators, Earthscan Ltd, UK & USA, ISBN-10: 1853836133, ISBN-13: 978-1853836138
  • Lovelock, J. (1979), Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, Oxford University Press: Oxford.
  • Margulis, L. (1998) Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution, Basic Books: New York.
  • Maturana, H., & Varela, F., (1980), ‘Autopoiesis and Cognition; the realisation of the Living’, in Boston Studies in Philosophy of Science, Reidel: Boston.
  • Nieuwenhuijze, O. and Wood, J., 2006. Synergy and Sympoiesis in the Writing of Joint Papers; anticipation with/in imagination. International Journal of Computing Anticipatory Systems, 10, pp.87-102.
  • Ponting, C., (1991), A Green History of the World, Penguin,
  • Rayner, A. (2012), NaturesScope?, O Books: Winchester, UK.
  • Simon, H., (1969), The Sciences of the Artificial, 3rd Edition, MIT Press: Cambridge, MA
  • Wackernagel, M. and Rees, W. E. (1996) Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers
  • Wood, J. (2007), Design for Micro-utopias; thinking beyond the possible, Ashgate: UK.
  • Wood, J. (2011), ‘Languaging Change from Within; can we metadesign biodiversity?’ in Journal of Science and Innovation, Volume 1, Number 3, October 2011, pp. 27-32