An RC51 Conference in the Time of Pandemic

By Manuel Meza Cuervo

2020 will be remembered as the year of the pandemic; 2020 will be remembered as the year that challenged the social systems, the economic systems, and governments around the world. But most importantly, it will be remembered as the year that reminded this generation that one of the essential values of humankind is its resiliency.

This has been a year of many firsts. And for the first time, the RC51 decided to have an online conference.

The RC51 Annual Conference, set to take place in Porto Alegre 2020 World Forum, was put off due to the pandemic. In the two months after the postponement announcement, the RC51 board organized it virtually instead, taking advantage of modern communication technology. Two committees were formed: a scientific one, in charge of choosing the papers, and an organising one, responsible for promoting the conference and handling all the technical and administrative arrangements.

Some of us had some experience managing communication technologies such as Zoom and Google Hangouts; they are easy to handle, and almost all of the global academic community is familiarized with them. The real challenge was to design the conference so that we could feel close to each other despite the technological barrier. To achieve this connection, we prioritized the discussion over the exposition time in three sessions for three days.

We asked our participants to send us a five-minute video where they presented their work in addition to their papers. That allowed us to spread their contributions through our social media. We had never done this before. This idea came to life to overcome the pandemic challenges, and I hope this practice continues in the following conferences.

For the organizing committee, holding an annual conference was not enough. We wanted to tap the full potential of technology, so we decided to have the two first sessions in the usual format (splitting time between the presentation and Q&A) while having a third one as an experimental and collaborative open session. In the last session, we discussed the core concepts and methodologies of Sociocybernetics using a collaborative tool called IdeaBoardz.

With over thirty people in each session and 15 papers presented from 11 countries, the first RC51 Virtual Conference was a success. We also had a great experience connecting, collaborating, and working on a virtual board with stickers.

The pandemic gave us a challenge as a research committee and showed us a new way to stay in touch. Of course, nothing is comparable to the live experience, but with the XXI century technology, we now have a powerful tool to find new ways to connect despite the challenges that may arise.

A report on the intriguing experimental session

By Luciano Gallón

It was around last May that Patricia, our RC51 president, ask the RC51 board for ideas on a RC51 2020 conference after the postponement of the ISA Forum because of the pandemic. It was a provocative and interesting challenge because of the restrictions but also an opportunity for creating new ways for participation for member and non-members.

After some really key experiences working with documents about a “credo” or a “manifesto” of a field of knowledge, I shared with the board a proposal for carrying out an experiment on collaborative writing of a very simple but relevant document for our sociocybernetics field. It should be a very simple experiment, easy, and take little time. In the end we would have a two to three pages document with a set of ideas about the present, practice, future of, and vision for, sociocybernetics.

After a couple of board meetings, we as a team came out with the decision of holding a collaborative experiment with the purpose of writing a “Sociocybernetics Manifesto”. The other possibility was writing a “credo for sociocybernetics” but this was well discarded with solid arguments.

So, during June and July, detailed planning began with the challenge of setting up an experimental and collaborative session, two hours maximum, open to all participants, both members and non-members. Through an online collaborative debate process, the goal was to produce a short reference document about sociocybernetics as a paradigmatic framework: a Sociocybernetics Manifesto.

We held the experimental session on the third day of the online RC51 2020 Conference, July 16th. The core ideas the participants shared came from these three aspects of sociocybernetics:

  • Intentions: What one has in mind as a purpose or goal to do or bring about with sociocybernetics (what for?)
  • Motives: Something (such as a need or desire) that causes you to act based on sociocybernetics: (why?)
  • Views: A mode or manner of looking at or regarding sociocybernetics (what?)

For me, as the experiment moderator, this was a wonderful experience. Seeing the way everybody was following the instructions, well, almost everybody, and how the flow of ideas started to increase with a lot of insights on sociocybernetics, was evidence of a useful way of creating value for RC51.

In the end we got 86 points about the three aspects: 34 Intentions, 30 Motives and 22 Views. So, at first, it looks like answering What for? is easier than What? We also got 294 votes for the different points.

What is next? The experiment has not ended yet. We have the following plan ahead: September: document what was done and the result as it is; October: debugging work; November: a new on-line session with guests to do a second round of review and consolidation; and, finally, December: publication of the manifesto.

I will conclude this report by remembering Felix Geyer. I had the opportunity to meet him in person during the RC51 2007 Conference in Murcia. I learned from him some key answers to the question What is sociocybernetics? Following Felix’s insights, I invite all the participants in the manifesto session to share your ideas about the evidence, or not, of the presence of these concepts during the “intriguing experimental session: Self-reference, Self-steering, Self-organization, Auto-catalysis and Cross-catalysis and Autopoiesis.

Please feel free to share with me your ideas over Thank you again for your support and participation.

16th International Conference of Sociocybernetics

By Mark Belitsky

On July 14-16, 2020 I attended the International Conference of Sociocybernetics for the first time.  In reflecting upon the RC51 conference, which was dedicated to the Pandemic Era, I was very impressed at how well the participants from varying cultural and institutional backgrounds managed to work together to offer new perspectives and innovative ideas to address the ongoing global health crisis. But what impressed me the most as a newcomer was the way in which the participants were able to balance the humanistic and systems perspectives in their search for answers.

Systems perspective in sociology is sometimes criticized for not being humanistic enough but what the critics overlook, or perhaps do not want to admit, is that the humanistic perspective is also an evolutionary product. Evolution has given humanity incredible abilities to build but also to destroy, both of which giving rise to almost unlimited ambitions. A developed society cannot exist without high regard for humanistic values which promote social stability and human development. The participants in the conference have demonstrated a deep understanding of both seemingly conflicting perspectives and managed to offer views reflecting a balanced approach to the pandemic crisis.  

I would also like to use this opportunity to reiterate some of the points made at the conference when I presented an example illustrating key concepts of the Functional Theory of Social Systems to highlight some important conclusions.

I used a hypothetical situation in which a person buys a house and several weeks later discovers that there is a chemical factory nearby occasionally producing an unpleasant and potentially harmful odor. The intent here is to analyze the Soft Forces (SFs) involved in the decision of whether to stay in the house or sell it. A social system is formed here between the person and the house with multiple positive (attracting) and negative (repelling) SFs. This example demonstrates how SFs of different origins interact on a level playing field and shows that the SF functions as a common denominator in the decision-making process.

The positive SFs here are:

  1. Architectural beauty of the house, origin – sensory perception (visual).
  2. Low interest rate bank loan, origin – Functional Idea.
  3. Low property taxes, origin – Functional Idea.

The negative SFs here are:

  1. Factory odor, origin – sensory perception (sense of smell).
  2. Fear that the odor is harmful to health, origin – instinct of self-preservation.
  3. Not enough bedrooms for all children in the family, origin – physical reality.

Dynamic psychological forces (SFs) are formed in the subconscious based on the above factors, which are being constantly reevaluated producing an “oscillating” effect not unlike atoms in a molecule. Resulting positive and negative SF vectors are also formed which are the sums of individual SFs. The final decision is made based on the magnitude or “pull” of the resulting SF vectors. 

It is worth noting that there exists a phenomenon of SF “hardening” with time, which is to say that the longer a SF exists, the stronger its corresponding vector becomes. It is what we call in cultural terms, “forming a habit” or “getting used to” something.

This seemingly simple mechanism can explain the formation and disappearance of social systems and constitutes the basis for decision-making.


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.