RC51 Newsletter

IN MEMORIAM: Felix Geyer, 1933-2020

By Bernd R. Hornung on behalf of the RC51 Board

We report with sadness the death of Felix Geyer who died at the age of 87 on August 23rd, 2020 after a long and colorful life as a scientist travelling the world.

Much more a friend than a colleague to most of his worldwide companions in science, Felix was a sociologist with a passion for systems and cybernetics along with a strong compassion and deep sympathy for his fellow humans. To his friends and colleagues, he was connected by his numerous activities and, once the internet appeared, by tirelessly sending and answering e-mails. He did not get too tired to answer and resolve all the big and little problems people from around the globe cared to bring to him about the conferences he organized, or any other questions related to scientific life.

The science he devoted his life to was systems and cybernetics, applied to the social sciences, in particular to sociology, which was his own original field. No wonder that the result was “Sociocybernetics”, a term he coined together with his close friend and colleague Hans van der Zouwen and a journalist. It first entered the world of science as title of a two-volume book which was published in 1978. From there it was still a long way to what is nowadays the Research Committee 51 (RC51) on Sociocybernetics of the International Sociological Association (ISA).

Felix was an important teacher of sociocybernetics. Not by academic lecturing at a university, but by organizing numerous conferences and session-streams about systems and cybernetics, later “Sociocybernetics”, where he not only taught us through his presentations and written articles, but also by insisting on and promoting the high quality of presentations and papers. This is something RC51 continues to do, not least by awarding once a year the “Walter Buckley Award” for didactically good presentations. Once in a while, however, I remember him saying: “And now we have to sit through another boring session!”

For me and some others involved in organizing scientific events and holding together scientific groups he was maybe even more important for sharing his skills and knowledge of organizing. Felix was an excellent, careful, and thorough organizer, even up to meticulously caring about the last details. It worked well! The results were enjoyable, and it was a pleasure to cooperate with him. During my time as president of RC51, Felix became my best friend in science.

We met for the first time at the International Congress of Cybernetics and Systems of the WOSC – World Organization of Systems and Cybernetics in Mexico City in August 1981. At that time, I was a doctoral student of Niklas Luhmann, who said to me “There are two Dutch guys organizing a conference in Mexico, why don´t you go?” I went, and the two Dutch guys were Felix Geyer and Hans van der Zouwen. A close relation with Felix began at the memorable Bucharest Congress of 1996 of the WOSC. The social science section organized by Felix was a preparation for establishing ISA RC51 on Sociocybernetics later on at the ISA World Congress of Sociology in Montreal in 1998. There he asked me whether I would be willing to serve as president of RC51, he being the secretary. In the end, titles did not matter. We were running RC51 as a team of peers, and both of us enjoyed it very much.

Also, after retiring in 1998 from his work at SISWO, the Interuniversity Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Amsterdam, Felix kept close contact with “his” RC51, until age and health conditions made it difficult. The last one of the yearly RC51 conferences in which Felix still participated was held in Mexico City in 2008.

My last meeting with Felix must have been in summer or fall 2010, when I made a short visit to his home at Laren near Amsterdam, being on a trip in The Netherlands. Although he had been an enthusiastic communicator and e-mail writer during his active life, Felix spent his last years very much in retreat at his home.

Born on October 14th, 1933, near Amsterdam, the Amsterdam region had remained his home base for his worldwide activities. Felix had studied first geology and then sociology at the University of Amsterdam from 1951-1961. In 1980 he received his PhD with a thesis about “Alienation Theories, A General Systems Approach”. Here he connected sociology to system theory by treating a classical sociological topic, which at the same time fitted with the humanist and emancipatory intentions of the fathers of systems theory and cybernetics.

After a few years of work in the private sector Felix joined SISWO in 1968, where he became head of the methodology section. He held this position until his retirement in October 1998. From SISWO as his home base Felix became one of the co-founders of the Dutch Systems Group in 1970. He also served as Executive Secretary of ISA. from January 1983 until January 1987.

Felix was also closely connected to the WOSC and organized social science resp. sociocybernetics sections at the triannual WOSC congresses in Amsterdam (1978), Mexico City (1981), Paris (1984), London (1987), New York (1990), and Bucharest (1996), where in a way the story of ISA-RC51 began.

So, after all, we have to say farewell to a good friend who loved life and its pleasures, and who always eager and willing to contribute to the good life of his fellow humans whatever he could. In this sense, Felix Geyer stands in a row with the fathers of systems and cybernetics, and we from RC51 feel obliged to honor and safeguard this heritage and to contribute what we can to a decent future for humankind and this planet.

A detailed CV of Felix can be found in the Internet: http://www.unizar.es/sociocybernetics/chen/felix/

Marburg, Beginning of September 2020

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