A Dooyeweerdian Critique of Systems Thinking ~ Festschrift for Dr. Sytse Strijbos

Systems thinking has developed over the decades, into several streams, which seem to operate in parallel with little dialogue between them. Each stresses different theoretical issues or problems but, in addressing them, other deeper problems are revealed that are often ignored. This essay briefly reviews three of the streams with the theoretical issues they tackle, and some of the deeper problems. To address these deeper problems, and also to facilitate dialogue between the streams, Dooyeweerd’s philosophy is employed to reintepret the theoretical issues in new ways, in which meaning is central. This initial proposal calls for further research.

In its various forms, systems theory has been employed as a framework for understanding many issues, most related to the relationship between entities and environment. Systems thinking has developed over the decades, into several streams, each of which stresses different theoretical issues: holism, the system, its parts and its environment, and societal systems. As such, each stream throws up new problems, some of which are ignored, (“elephants in the room”). (The use of the word ‘system’ as in ‘systematic’ is not considered here.)

Sytse Strijbos (2010) sought to bring together systems thinking with Dooyeweerdian thinking, especially discussing how systems thinking may be interdisciplinary and bringing in a concern with normativity that most systems thought lacks. However, there has been no systematic consideration of how Dooyeweerdian thinking can dialogue with systems thinking in each of its forms.

This article explores the contribution that Dooyeweerd’s (1955) ideas can make more generally to addressing such problems, including his law-oriented view of subject and object, his idea of irreducibly distinct aspects, and his presupposition that meaningfulness, rather than existence, is the foundation. First, issues that are important in several systems discourses are identified, along with problems. Then these are discussed in the light of Dooyeweerdian thought.

Systems Thinking in its Varied Forms
For convenience of discussion, systems thinking is separated into three streams, which stress different major issues, and each of which contains several discourses. The discourses overlap and some discuss issues from other streams. A number of critical questions or problems will be raised as the discussion proceeds. Read more

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Reason, Faith And Practice In Our Common Home, South Africa ~ Festschrift for Dr. Sytse Strijbos

“No one can be clever and ecstatic at the same time.” – Sir A Quiller-Couch

Three elements of the overall theme, Reason, Faith, and the idea of Our Common Home are found in different cultural constructions or formations in the South African context. These formations have often combined or interacted with destructive results, and have at other times formed constructive, life-giving combinations.

Firstly, a few examples will be given of specific cultural formations and combinations of these themes. That will be followed by reflection on how we can arrive at constructive, life-giving combinations of these formations, with a practical example from the African context of what could be done. There are more factors that could be included in the mix that are not considered here.

The view of reason and “our common home” in the Verligte Beweging among Afrikaners
In the 1970’s and the 1980’s there was a movement in the Afrikaner-establishment that was called the Verligte Beweging, the Enlightened Movement, that reminds one of the Aufklärung in Europe. The leading figure of this movement was Willem de Klerk, a theologian and journalist and the brother of FW de Klerk, the leader of the National Party (NP). FW de Klerk was the person who, as president of the white minority government, officially declared that the policy of apartheid would be replaced by a full democracy, in a historic speech on 2 February 1990.

In a book about his brother FW that was published in 1991, Willem de Klerk stated that the basic concept of the Enlightened Movement was togetherness (gesamentlikheid), based on reason as the natural law of the human soul. He quoted the historian Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly (1984): “Rejection of reason is the prime characteristic of folly…. When desire disagrees with the judgement of reason, there is a disease of the soul. And when the soul is opposed to knowledge or opinion or reason, which are her natural laws, that I call folly….” (De Klerk, 1991 pp. 130, 144-145).

Togetherness was seen as the opposite pole of separateness (apartheid), which was not rejected out of hand, sometimes for strategic reasons and sometimes, it seems, as a matter of principle. The idea was to find a balance between togetherness with other cultural groups and maintaining an own identity. Willem de Klerk described how this movement convinced the Afrikaner in general, and FW himself, to move their policy from the one pole (separateness) closer to the other (togetherness), and to leave apartheid behind. In his conclusion he talked of FW’s conversion to the idea of togetherness based on reason (1991, pp. 145-146). This thought construction became dominant in Afrikaner circles at the time, and when it combined with the drive for reconciliation of leaders like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, a peaceful transition to democracy in a deeply divided country became possible, which led to a lot of optimism. This was a noteworthy contribution!

Twenty-five years later this optimism is under a lot of pressure, but it is still alive. The question is if it was, and is, sufficient to put all one’s confidence in reason as answer to all the movements of the human spirit in this turbulent country. Read more

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Three Secular Seductions: One nation, One government, One science ~ Festschrift for Dr. Sytse Strijbos

Is evidence-based politics [i] an idea a monolithic view of society? In one version of such a monolithic view, it is (a) the government that directs a society within (b) the boundaries of a nation-state, giving much credit to (c) the ‘oracles’ of science in the process to take its policy decisions.
In this essay I try to clarify why this monolithic view of society is dangerously flawed. Part of the reasoning below will be a description of

1)  pluralities that are real, but obscured within a seemingly monolithic view of a government, a nation-state and/or science.
2) a religious or pseudo-religious status that willingly or unwillingly can be assigned to (a) the role of a government, (b) a nation-state and its boundaries; and/or (c) an evidence-based approach of political decision-making. The focus of this essay will be on the latter (c), which usually implicates an appeal to science. However, from the outset it must be clear that this essay is not a plea for fact free politics. On the contrary, the careful, methodical or scientific, academically embedded search for relevant information is recognized as an asset. Dangerous effects of the evidence-based approach are related to the supposed status of the academic expert and its possible anti-democratic or other restrictive effects.

Although applicable within the wider context of North-Atlantic (‘Western’) culture, Sytse Strijbos’ homeland, the Netherlands, is the assumed political context for the contentions that follow. Specifically, at the end of this essay (section 6.2) I will refer to a recent report published – in Dutch – by the Council for Public Health and Society in the Netherlands. In this report the approach of evidence-based practices in health care is criticized and at least relativized. This report is important because the government – every government – has a responsibility for public health and its funding.

Disclosive Systems Thinking, to which the name of Sytse Strijbos adheres firmly, represents an interdisciplinary and pluralistic, multi-aspectual approach to societal issues. Because of its pluralistic nature it provides several clues to dissect monolithic views. Specific philosophical sources fuelled this pluralistic look and feel of Disclosive Systems Thinking. These sources will be used to guide this dissection of ‘one nation, one government, one science’ into its constituents and to understand clashes both between these three domains and within each of them. These clashes can be multicultural tensions, parliamentary debates or deadlocks, or scientists disagreeing because of conflicting paradigms. The selection of these three seductive domains out of many more domains (money, music, drugs, …) is guided by the current popularity of evidence-based politics [ii] and its context: ‘evidence’ is expected from science; ‘politics’ is expected from the government; and a national government, to which I restrict myself here, assumes a nation state as context for its policies. Read more

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Celebration of Sytse Strijbos’ Academic Achievements ~ Festschrift for Dr. Sytse Strijbos

This remark is in honour of Professor Emeritus Sytse Strijbos. His work for the Centre for Philosophy, Technology and Social Systems (CPTS), which later evolved into the International Institute for Development and Ethics (IIDE) has been highly important for me as a PhD student, and later, for my professional career and guidance of own PhD students. The common denomination in our work relates to our interest in Systems Thinking and Herman Dooyeweerd’s philosophy.

We met the first time more than 20 years ago, at the Free University of Amsterdam where Sytse had organized a one-day seminar. This was the beginning to our annual conferences, which included researchers and PhD students from Sweden, The Netherlands, UK, and later, South Africa. The conferences were held at Sytse’s home town in Maarssden, at an old house which used to be a convent. We conveniently stayed in the same building as where the conferences were held and the nuns, who now had moved to a newer convent, provided full time lodging for us. The surroundings of this venue were beautiful and inspirational for many interesting conversations.

In preparation for each conference, the participants shared their draft papers before hand so that others could reflect on the content and prepare comments and questions. The presentations were given lengthy time to allow for comprehensive reviews. After each presentation, when Sytse’s lead the discussion, he divided into: first, Questions/Comments for clarification; second, Questions/Comments for critique. This division was very helpful for me as a student. If it was a question for clarification, I needed to be more clear in my explanation; if it was a question for critique, I needed to reflect on my standpoint and provide better arguments (or abandon). What was also very helpful, a few days after each presentation and discussion, each presenter had to reflect on what was brought about and give feedback on what they intended to act on. In that way, the others got recognition of what had been influential for further development of the work and how they might have contributed to this. Read more

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Information About The IIDE Annual Working Conferences

As an essential for the execution of its research, the IIDE sustains an international North-South network of senior academic researchers and their PhD students who are affiliated with different universities and institutions in the Netherlands, UK, Sweden, and South Africa. [Note: This North-South network, formerly named the Centre for Philosophy, Technology and Social systems (CPTS), operates since 2010 within the organisational framework of the IIDE]

One of its activities is the organisation of Annual Working Conferences (AWC) at the beautiful venue of the Emmaus Priorij at the river Vecht in Maarssen, near Utrecht, Netherlands. At these week-long events in April or May, participants present papers on their current research, receive comprehensive critical mentoring, and respond with ideas on how their research will be continued.

The formula of these AWC’s has proved very successful in generating a flow of high quality papers, informing PhD research, and sharpening up ideas on a wide range of issues. The research of the past has resulted, amongst other things, in a series of Proceedings. The papers that are accepted have been sent out for a peer review. The title of each volume is borrowed from a Discussion paper which aims to foster the ongoing reflection at the AWC’s on the mission of the IIDE and its broad research agenda.

The following Proceedings have been published since 2002:

(2002) On the Connections Between Philosophy, Technology and Systems Sciences, edited by Johannes D. Bijkerk, Jan van der Stoep, Sytse Strijbos. Amersfoort: CPTS. ISBN 90-807718-1-3.
(2003) Towards a New Interdisciplinarity, edited by Rob A. Nijhoff, Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn, Anita Mirijamdotter, Sytse Strijbos. Amersfoort: CPTS. ISBN 90-807718-2-1
(2004) Interdisciplinarity and the Integration of Knowledge, edited by Marc J. de Vries, Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn, Sytse Strijbos. Amersfoort: CPTS. ISBN 90-807718-3-X
(2005) Towards Humane Leadership, edited by Albert Helberg, Jan van der Stoep, Sytse Strijbos. Amersfoort: CPTS. ISBN-10: 90-807718-4-8 and ISBN-13: 978-90-807718-4-0
(2006) Integrating Visions of Technology, edited by Andrew Basden, Anita Mirijamdotter, Sytse Strijbos. Maarssen: CPTS. ISBN-10: 90-807718-5-6 and ISBN-13: 978-90-807718-5-7
(2007/2008) The Problem of System Improvement, edited by Andrew Basden, Darek Eriksson, Sytse Strijbos. Maarssen: CPTS. ISBN 978-90-807718-6-4
(2009) Systems Thinking and Philosophy as Interdisciplinarity, edited by Andrew Basden, Leenta Grobler, Darek Eriksson. Maarssen: CPTS. ISBN 978-90-807718-6-4
(2010) Interdisciplinary Research for Practices of Social Change, edited by Roelien Goede, Leenta Grobler, Darek Haftor. Maarssen: CPTS. ISBN 978-90-807718-8-8
(2011) Re-Integrating Technology and Economy in Human Life and Society, Volume 1, edited by Lucius Botes, Roel Jongeneel, Sytse Strijbos, Maarssen: IIDE. ISBN 978-90-361-0285-8
(2011) Re-Integrating Technology and Economy in Human Life and Society, Volume 2, edited by Christine G. van Burken and Darek Haftor, Maarssen: IIDE. ISBN 978-90-361-0287-2
(2012) The Role of Education in Economy and Society, edited by Lindile L. Ndabeni, Darek M. Haftor, Sytse Strijbos, Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers. ISBN ISBN 978-90-361-0322-0
(2014) Social Change in Our Technology-Based World, edited by Mark Rathbone, Fabian von Schéele & Sytse Strijbos, Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers. ISBN 978-90-361-0420-3.

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The International Institute For Development And Ethics

IIDEThe International Institute For Development And Ethics (IIDE) is an innovative institute that stimulates collaboration between the North and the South in study and action in ethical development, locally and globally. Since 2004 the IIDE has been represented in Africa and Europe by two mutually dependent entities. They operate as an intermediary between universities and the broader society by creating linkages and alliances between different universities and between universities and external parties. It aims to add value for all parties in relation to content and finance, realised through:
* initiating and supporting social entrepreneurial approaches in development;
* research; and
* teaching and training.

It is the mission of the IIDE to serve society by bridging the proverbial gap between theory and practice, between university and society. Being aware that effective development is unthinkable without both practical and scientific expertise, the IIDE brings together practitioners and academics in order to utilise good practices from both environments.
Although the IIDE is a fully independent organisation without ties to any religious denomination, it takes Christian principles and values as its primary source of guidance and reference. As such, its views on Christian social responsibility lead the way to its vision, its mission and the concrete services and products it wishes to render for the benefit of society.

Contact information is available at www.iide-online.org

Now online:
Proceedings of the 19th Annual Working Conference of the IIDE – 6 – 9 May 2014 – Mark Rathbone, Fabian von Schéele & Sytse Strijbos (Editors)
Work in Progress:
Proceedings of the 17th Annual Working Conference of the IIDE Vol. I – May 2011 – Lucius Botes, Roel Jongeneel & Sytse Strijbos (Editors)
Proceedings of the 17th Annual Working Conference of the IIDE Vol. II – May 2011 – Christine G. van Burken & Darek M. Haftor (Editors)
Read more

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