By Ilknur ONER, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Fırat University, Elazığ/Turkey
The COVID-19 pandemic poses a very complicated situation in the world. The board of RC51 overcame this difficulty by holding a traditional yearly conference in three days (July 14-17, 2020) online. The 16th International Conference of Sociocybernetics focused on “The Pandemic Era: Observations and Reflections from A Sociocybernetics Perspective.” The discussions revolved around the analysis of COVID-19 and its social effects from a sociocybernetics perspective. This conference was one of the pioneering virtual and online meetings of ISA as well by bridging the time gap of participants (70 people signed up) from different timezones and 24 countries (Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, Finland, India, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States) with very interactive participations taking around two and a half hours per day. Presentations and paper discussions were very interactive, inclusive of sincerity and exchange of knowledge in different languages. The usage of a new virtual technology was very useful for the manifesto. It was quickly adopted on the last day by the participants. The feedback from each session were precious. Technical virtual interruptions were eliminated. The conference program, abstracts, and videos were provided on the web page and virtual recordings were hosted on the YouTube channel of RC51.
O n the first day, Patricia Almaguer-Kalixto (president and conference chair) welcomed the participants to the conference with her speech. Then, Sari Hanafi-ISA President /AUB, Beirut, and Bernard Scott (UK-Former RC 51 President) gave opening words. Sari Hanafi addressed Post-COVID 19 sociology and the importance of the occurrence of this conference.
Bernard Scott mentioned, “Inaugural intervention on Sociocybernetics: Widening Systemic Perspective.”
On the first day, participants questioned sociocybernetics and its analytical usefulness.
Under the title of “How COVID-19 is making us think sociocybernetically” in his speech, Andrew Mitchell focused on how unnoticed social systems and organizations in normal times become visible during crises while trying to make sense of COVID-19 in the world both national and internationally. Importance of awareness of system/environment distinction, second-order, observation, contingency, and double contingency were emphasized. The complexity of the situation, multiple communications, and methodological modification necessities, broadening this approach and principles, were argued.
The second day discussions were on the second-order observations. Chaime Marcuello was chairing. Arguments were on observations and reflections of COVID-19 around the world by using sociocybernetics and system thinking.
Overall summary of the presentations can be as follows:
Patricia Eugenia Kalixto emphasized the usefulness and relevance of analytical frameworks, concepts of the sociocybernetics concerning emerging elements, holistic approach; differences of old and new approaches, and necessity of steering, adaptation, change, and movement in the times of COVID-19.
Chaime Mercuello-Servos developed three pillars metaphors: sextant, compass, and steering wheel. According to him, this allows us to build a conceptual structure to move on and reveals the importance of mapping the system. It is defined as “a declaration of intent which is not only what you want to do, but also what you want to be.” These were emphasized in relation to the expected-unexpected event situation, the fragility of global routines of globalization, and everyday life with the complexity of the COVID-19 situation.
Saburo Akahori focused on questioning the infection pathogen, a second-order assessment of society’s immune mechanisms, and as an observer, how society develops a cognitive framework for coping with the unknown threat. He emphasized the theory of media, the theory of observation to social system’s meaning, and its construction. He refered to terror, fear, societal evolution concepts, and avoidance as a blind spot for society during the current pandemic.
Mark Belitsky mentioned the functional theory of social systems. He referred to information system and evolution, functional idea (FI) and soft force (SF) and interactions and evolving and changing them by referring to emotions, consciousness, negative-positive sides, viability and superiority, degree of freedom of the systems.
Under the title of “Observing Danger and Risk Managing: COVID-19 as Case Study” Jorge Cardiel starts with distinguishing between danger and risk by referral to Luhman’s book and approach. Unverified status of the risk and other possible occurrences of the danger were discussed by example of SARS and COVID-19. In the process of COVID-19, how this revolved was argued by referral to ecology and technology.
Bernd Hornung although he had some technical problems during his presentation, focused on the pandemic as a crisis and “a Birfucation Point in the Evaluation of Modern Society.” He argued situations before and after lockdown by referring to protests and increasing awareness following lockdown. The restructuring to overcome problems was mentioned as a necessity. A new society, sustainable development, and the possibility of speeding up destruction of the planet to make up losses, breaking three vicious circles, and degrowth movement topics were mentioned.
Martina Raponi focused on “Noise as Acoustemological Device” by merging epistemology and acoustic through discussion of deafness and voice in artistic practice and the systemic complexity. Findings were from the children of deaf adults, and deaf cultures. Disruption, inclusivity stigma of handicapped were examined. This discussion is meaningful when we consider the earliest disaster sociology examinations concerning vulnerable groups.
Elisa Margarita Maas Moreno gave her presentation in Spanish, which I cannot evaluate due to the language barrier.
Katiuska King and Philipp Altmann gave their speech on the example of COVID-19, Ecuador, as imaginary differentiation. False reflection, official statistics and preliminary findings of ongoing study frame-up difficult ongoing situations with Luhmanian terms. Unclear relationship to observable reality approached as a product of imaginary differentiation. Functional differentiation in Latin America was mentioned by referral to informality and alopoiesis. Their inadequacy to explain the game of “as if” to define ongoing politics was another emphasis. They examine this game in the reality of a part of the population.
Sara Castiglioni focused on judiciary power and the game-changing role of the pandemic in Argentina’s case. Imposed innovative engines (use of technology, open data, customer focus), implementation of innovative processes, user-citizen experiences, transparency of the process and forcing resisted judiciary power and lawyers to change and implement the changes during the pandemic by dividing them into groups for the delivery of the justice service and protection of people’s rights and the benefit of the judiciary system were mentioned under the light of 33 interviews and 27 participatory observations.
Raija Koskinen examines the Finnish education system in COVID-19 springtime experiences to rediscover nature. Finnish cities were defined as close to nature, lake, and forests. Hovewer, the lockdowns of the current situation increase awareness of nature, ecosystem, and education. Koskinen exemplifies some research outcomes from the “Age of Ecological Crisis” published in 2018. The conclusion has been drawn on encouraging individuals and communities to take action for sustainable development to discover respect for nature.
Czeslaw Mesjasz approaches the pandemic as a social construct of the information society. He takes time phases and evaluation of the pandemic from the disease to pandemic and presents the difficulty of making long term predictions. Mesjasz indicates a large extent of the unprecedented phenomenon. He questioned the meaning of unprecedented by referring past pandemic experiences and comes out with an indication of influencing many factors. Biological information carrier has taken as a fundamental element as information affecting society. He reveals the importance of carrying on a deepened study to understand and discuss the situation further.
Juan Carlos Baron Pastor discusseed infodemic in the USA by the usage of sociocybernetic tools. He explores WHO’s term of infodemic in the critical sociocybernetics. Pastor comes up with the outcome that infodemic for enhancement is necessary to control social space and netizens. He discusses digital capitalism, surveillance capitalism, and reflection with a second-order observation about the complex phenomenon.
Jose A Amozumurrutia and Veronica Espinoza exemplify their studies from a segment of Mexico and on qualitative analysis of Twitter publications. The conservations have been taken as a base and recklessness, politics, uncertainty, solidarity, economy, health measures, and statistics were the main points by using the Adaptive System for the Social Analysis of Cognitive Trajectories (SIAST).
The third day focused on a manifesto for sociocybernetics. Luciano Gallon chaired the session successfully by including online selection and adding points, voting, and changing places of underlined topics in a manifesto. This process produced a short reference document of sociocybernetics principals, relevant for the analysis of sociological and interdisciplinary work in contemporary times.
The manifesto covers intentions, motives, and views of currently revised sociocybernetics understanding. It covers sociocybernetics evaluation pathways for future studies by concluding remarks. Important issues mentioned were approaches, theories, concepts, micro-mezo-macro levels, short, medium, long term evaluations, multidisciplinarity, methodological approaches, case studies, and merging points for the awareness of nature, ecology, and sustainability for the future studies.
These very fruitful discussions achieved their aims during the conference. It seems that following the conference, newly emerging arguments on theory, concepts, and results of ongoing studies will be followed at the social media level and other levels. The collaboration of the conference committee, scientific committee, the RC51 board, and ISA was very successful for their great effort to complete this virtual conference. However, there are many different points to discover on disaster issues and future collaborations with disaster sociology fields and others may emerge.