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Modernist and postmodernist metaphors of the


policy process: Control and stability vs. chaos
and reflexive understanding
ARTICLE in POLICY SCIENCES NOVEMBER 1992
Impact Factor: 2.28 DOI: 10.1007/BF00138019

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Laurent Dobuzinskis
Simon Fraser University
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Modernist and Postmodernist Metaphors of the Policy Process: Control and Stability vs. Chaos
and Reflexive Understanding
Author(s): Laurent Dobuzinskis
Source: Policy Sciences, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Nov., 1992), pp. 355-380
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4532268 .
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356
evaluation. More theoretical but still policy-relevantfields of inquiry,includingpublic administration,politicalscience and sociology,have also been
influencedby cyberneticsand systemstheoryin varyingdegrees.But over the
years,as the theoreticalquestionsaddressedby systemstheoristschanged,the
metaphorsthey have craftedhave become more diverseand more difficultto
reconcile.1(Not all systems theorists would be content to describe their
models simply as metaphors,2but one can assume that they must at least be
metaphorsin the strongsense definedabove.)
In fact, we have reached the point now where fundamentaldivergences
exist. To put it succinctly,there are two conflictingsystems-theoreticvisions,
althoughthey are not alwaysrecognizedas such. On the one hand, there are
models that emphasize stability,control, and/or homeostasis,in the context
of a deterministicuniverse.In otherwords,an assortmentof concepts expressing the typically modern3 idea that knowledge is power - the power to
impose a preconceived(i.e., 'rational')order on nature and society. On the
other hand, there are models that emphasizeevolutionarydynamics,chaotic
fluctuation,autonomyand spontaneousadjustmentsin the context of a more
or less explicitlynon-deterministicuniverse,itself made up of culturallyand
individuallyconstructedworlds.While the elementsof the former,top-down,
approachesare well known to policy scientists,the more open-endedaspects
of the latterhaveonly begunto receivemore attention.4
This paradigmaticshift signals a move awayfrom technocraticcertainties
and a recognitionthat societal actorsat everylevel have importantinsightsto
contributeto the policy process.The new metaphorsare postmodernat least
in the sense that they point to the paradoxical,i.e., 'tangled'or 'nested'
character of the hierarchical relationships that develop between policy
analystsand policy-makers,on the one hand,and a multitudeof social agents
or groups,on the other.Postmodernismturnsradicalor Cartesiandoubtback
upon itself,5insisting that reason itself is dependent on the very processes
which it is supposed to judge, such as social practicesand linguisticconventions. To illustratethis circularity,it would seem that state elites often end up
claimingexpertisein relationto the very same policy areasand societal problems that new social movements (e.g., environmentalism)seek to define in
reactionagainstthe traditionaldiscourseof power.Thus the new dynamicsof
agenda-settingpolitics is typicallyunstableand unpredictable.We need new
conceptsto makesense of it.
Systems-theoreticmodels, of course, are not the only kind of metaphor
used by policy analysts. There are two reasons why this paper focuses
primarilyon these models and not on others. The first is that these models
havehad a particularlyforcefulimpacton policy analysis,even if theirimpact
on the social sciences in generalhas been more limited.Indeed,the literature
on systemsanalysis,rationalplanningand control managementis too extensive to be comprehensivelysurveyedhere. The second reason is that a comparisonbetween first and second generationsystems-theoreticmodels leads
one to addressproblemsthat resonatein interestingwayswith the questions

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357
posed, and the divergentanswerssuggested,by severalother approaches,e.g.,
market-orientedmodels in the 'Austrian'tradition,hermeneuticalmethods,
Habermasiancritical theory, and even deconstructionism.It is almost as if
most contemporarymethodologicaldebates and reflectionswere concerned
with differentaspects of the same problematique:What are the promisesand
pitfalls attendantto the abandonmentof positivist certaintiesand the new
post-positivistpreoccupationwith the social constructionof public management and policy problems?6
The firstsection brieflysketchesout systemsmodels builtupon the notions
of correctivefeedback, control, and rational planning.The second section
examinesalternativemethodologiesthatview homeostaticstrategiesas being
dysfunctionalin complex open systemscapable of restructuringtheir operations. The thirdsection deals with the emergenceof a more radicalcritiqueof
earliercyberneticmodels and the articulationof a new systemsmetaphorin
which control is an altogetherdispensableconcept. In the final section, the
question of whether there are merits in retainingsome elements of the first
metaphoris discussed:How far can we, and should we, venturebeyond the
horizonset by models emphasizingcontroland rationalplanning?
Control:A contestablemetaphor
The term 'control'conveysmanydifferentideas and images.The connotation
I attachto this termhere is the notion of guidanceor steeringfor the purpose
of achievingintendedconditionsor reachinga desiredgoal. A more technical
definition would consist in equatingcontrol with operations that maintain
specific parameters(e.g., temperature,altitude, etc.) at a pre-set value, or
optimize these parametersunder a given set of constraints.Cybernetics,
whichwas definedin 1948 by NorbertWieneras 'the science of communication and control in the animaland the machine,'demonstratesthat purposefulness can be accountedfor by formalmodels in which correctivefeedback
loops have been built. Controls,then, are hierarchicallystructuredinformation processing operations which result in correctiveaction undertakenfor
the purpose of reducingthe perceiveddisparitybetween actual and desired
performance.In the words of Miller, Galanterand Pribram,Action is inibetweenthe state of the organismand the statethat
tiatedby an "incongruity"
is being tested for, and the action persistsuntil the incongruity(i.e., the proximal stimulus)is removed'(1960: p. 26). Therefore,control subsystemsinclude mechanismsfor obtaininginformation(i.e.,sensors),for comparingit to
pre-set norms (i.e., comparators),and for effectingthe requiredadjustments
(i.e.,effectors).
In order to remove any ambiguity,a semantic obstacle must be cleared
away.Controland 'regulation'are often used interchangeablyin the literature
on publicpolicy.For example,most authors(and the media)writeindifferently about price controls,rent controls or pollutioncontrols,on the one hand,

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358
and about economic regulationor environmentalregulation,on the other
hand. 'Regulation,'as in these examples, refers perhapsto controls that are
broaderin scope, but thatis not a veryclear-cutdistinction.By contrast,from
the standpointof engineering,there exists a significantdifference between
'control'and 'regulation.'The former refers to the operations of an identifiable controllingdevice which is not part of the structureit controls (e.g., a
thermostatmonitoringthe temperatureof a gas or fluid). The latter,often
describedas 'dynamicregulation,'appliesto a rangeof interactionsinternalto
a system and by means of which that systemsmanagesto reach certaingoal
states. This is vaguely analogous to the concept of diffused 'social control'
found in the sociologicalliterature.In this section, I am concerned only with
metaphorsbased upon the concept of controlin the engineeringsense.
Approximatelyfrom the late 1950s to the early 1970s, cyberneticmodels
in terms of informationflows, negative feedback loops and controls were
appliedfrequentlyto a broadrangeof problemsin a varietyof disciplines.At
the most elementarylevel of analysis,models of complex organizations(e.g.,
large corporations,governmentagencies, internationalorganizations)have
been worked out on the general assumptionthat the art of managementis
above all a capacityto handle informationeffectively.The very first models
were derivedfroma techniqueknownas OperationsResearch(Churchmanet
al., 1957). In a more metaphoricaland less mechanisticvein, StaffordBeer
wrote a series of seminal books on this topic (1959, 1966, 1981; see also
Clemson, 1984). Many other authors have applied systems-theoreticand
cyberneticconcepts to organizationtheory, using either 'soft' that is more
self-consciously metaphorical(e.g., Checkland, 1981), or 'hard,'i.e., more
positivistic,approaches(e.g., Churchman,1968; Cleland and King, 1968);
Coyle, 1978; Forrester,1961, 1968; Singleton,1974;Wilson, 1990). Typically
(especiallyin the 'harder'versions),an organizationis desribed as a system
under the control of a decision center that defines strategiesand targets;
searches for optimal means of reaching them by evaluatingthe available
options on the basis of rigorous scientific analyses;and initiates corrective
actionswhen necessary.
From systems management,these ideas spread to public policy. Sectoral
planningbecame a fashionableconcept for a shortwhile as the PlanningProgramming and Budgeting System was implemented, first in the U.S.
Departmentof Defense, and then in manyjurisdictionthroughoutthe world.
Here again one can discern the model of a controller,usually identified as
being a 'decision-maker'or a 'policy-maker,'
planninga policy course on the
basis of sophisticated analyses of the cost-effectiveness ratio attached to
various options (e.g., Quade and Boucher, 1969; Hovey, 1968; De Greene,
1973). Buildingon these experimentsas well as on the success of Keynesian
macro-economic management,the conception of a 'rational'approach to
policy formulation(e.g., Quade, 1982) seemed for a while on the way to displace the 'incremental'approach defended, for example, by Lindblom.
Withoutfear of being contradicted,Amitai Etzioni could write in 1968 that

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359
'Westernnations have gained confidence in their capacityto control societal
processes with the wide use of Keynesianand other controls for preventing
wild inflations and deep depressions and for spurringeconomic growth'
(1968: p. 10).
The social and intellectualcontext withinwhichthese ideas gainedground
was markedby the realizationthat industrializednations were experiencing
what Donal Schonhas called 'the loss of the stablestate'(1971: pp. 9-30). Increasingsocietal complexityand acceleratingtechnologicalchangeare trends
that are impossible to ignore. The hope that sophisticated analyticaland
managerialtechniquescould be instrumentalin bringingback a measure of
stabilityplayeda part in the generalizedacceptanceof control theory and of
its applications.It is indeed difficultto think of other explanationsfor statements such as:'theproblemsof hierarchicalorganizationsare of universaland
fundamentalsignificance,and ... we must learnmuchmore abouttheirorigin
and evolutionif we are to claimany abilityto rationallycontrolthe complexities of survivalwhich we now face' (Pattee, 1973: pp. xi-xii); or '[thesystems
approachis] an intellectualdisciplinefor mobilizingscience and technology
to attack complex ... problems in an objective, logical, complete and thoroughlyprofessionalway'(Ramo, 1969; pp. v-vi). Significantly,Ramo went as
far as claimingthat the systemsapproachwas no less than 'a cure for chaos'
(1969: p. x).
The models and approachesto whichI havejust alludedare markedlyless
populartoday,but the overallsystemof beliefs and attitudesfrom whichthey
originatedstillpermeatesocial and politicalinstitutions(Hawkesworth,1988:
pp. 14-20). Cyberneticmetaphorsand the ideal of findingscientificsolutions
to social problemshave turnedinto clich6s,yet they continue to underliethe
thinkingof many 'experts'and managersin public or privateorganizations.
Most elected officialsand the publicat large,on the other hand,havebecome
considerablymore sceptical.The basic tenet of this enduringpositivisticand
technocraticoutlook is a convictionthat
just as the natural sciences have provided men with a certain kind of
knowledge by which they can control their naturalenvironment,thereby
makingit more hospitable and productive,so also the knowledgegained
from social science will enable men to control their social environment,
thereby making it more harmoniousand congruent with the needs and
wantsof its members(Fay,1976: p. 19, cited in Healy, 1986: p. 383).7
Of course, the notion that centralistplanningis a progressivetrendwas never
sharedby the entire communityof politicaleconomists and policy observers
(for a critiqueof planning,see Hayek, 1944, 1982; Wildavsky,1973). During
the last 10 to 15 years, however,the criticalattackshave become more systematic and insistent.A loud chorus of disparatevoices can be heard raging
againstthe excesses of the administrativestate,the ineptitudeof 'experts,'and
the pretensesof the social sciences.But these voices speakin severaltongues.

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360
Some preachin the languageof ideology.Others use a more epistemological
or methodologicaldiscourse.
On the ideologicalfront, a resoundingbacklashagainstthe administrative
state occurred during the 1980s in many countries, after years of steady
growthin the size and functiionsof the public sector.Deregulation,contracting out and privatizationhave been the buzz words of the last few years
throughoutthe industrializedword (not to mention,of course,the even more
dramatictransformationstakingplace in much of what used to be the Communisticbloc). The so-called Reaganrevolutionbest illustratesthis phenomenon. It was orchestratedby a multitudeof think tanks,manyof which were
new on the scene, and given credibilityby a bevy of inventiveand entrepreneurialeconomistswho successfullypopularizedat least one of the tenets of
public choice theory,namely,that the state cannot be disinterestedand efficient regulator(i.e.,'controller'in termsof the cyberneticmetaphor).According to the new public wisdom, governmentofficialsare essentiallymotivated
by the prospect of achievingprivate gains and enter for that purpose into
variousarrangementswith special interestgroupspursuingnarrowobjectives
at the expense of the public at large. Consequently,market-orientedpolicy
options are preferableto existingor contemplatedstatecontrols.Whetherthe
actualchangesthat resultedfrom all that sound and furywere substantialand
reallydeserveto be regardedas a revolutionis a moot point.8All the same, it
is clear that the image of the reformiststate as a benevolentagent of social
change,workingin more or less close cooperationwith technocraticbusiness
elites, has been severelytarnished.
Conceptual,methodologicaland epistemologicalshiftshavetakenplace in
many disciplines,and not just in political economy where, evidently,public
choice theory has had a considerableimpact in recent years.The interdisciplinarysearch (both within and without the systems-theoretictradition)for
alternativesto the hierarchicalcontrol model has been motivatedby two distinct criticismsof its shortcomings.Some critiquesare aimed primarilyat the
insufficientlyexamined relationshipbetween control and social or political
power.Otheranalysesare more concernedwith the inadequacyof the knowledge base whichplannersare supposed to have access to, and, more generally, with the indeterminacyand paradoxicalnature of societal interactions.
Severalauthorshavepursuedthese two lines of attacksimultaneously.
In a controlledsystem,the effectorsblindlycarryout the commandsthey
receive from the controller.However,in spite of Karl Deutsch's efforts to
describe governmentagencies as self-guidedmissiles (1966: pp. 183, 187),
the metaphorbreaksdown as soon as it is applied to social systems (Glanville, 1987). Human agents are capable of subvertingthe instructionsthey
receivefromtheirhierarchicalsuperiors(Dobuzinskis,1987:pp. 39-45). The
critique of the command-and-controlapproachto policy-makinghas been
expressed in ways that reflect differentideological understandingsof power
relations in society. On the political 'right' advocates of market-oriented
policy approaches(amongwhom most public choice theoristscan be found)

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361
haveattackedsocietalplanningand governmentmanagementof the economy
because of (what they perceive as) the inherentlycoercive nature of such
projects.9On the 'left, criticswho are close to CriticalTheory or Foucault
argue that the proper alternativeto the elitist command-and-controlmodel
should take the form of a more participatorydemocracy(Dryzek, 1989; Pal,
1990;Torgerson,1986; Jackson,1991).1'
Turningnow to the critiqueof the scientificstatusof the policy sciences, it
is not difficultto glean a rich harvestof commentarieson the failureof these
disciplinesto secure a solid and 'objective'basis for themselves.These criticisms echo the broaderpostmodernistchallengeto the Cartesianuniversalist
paradigm.The assaultagainstobjectivismin policy analysishas been directed
against three targets:the facts/values dichotomy;the insufficientattention
paid to the uncertaintysurrounding,and multi-dimensionalityof, policy
issues;and the cognitivelimitationsof individualanalysts.
The fallacy involvedin the idea that the factualand normativeaspects of
policy questions can be neatly separated is now acknowledged by most
theoristsand even by a growingnumberof practitioners.Whetherthis awareness and a willingnessto makeone'svaluecommitmentsmoreexplicitis sufficient to extirpatethe analystfrom the contradictionsof positivismis open to
question- such grudgingmoves are probablybetter interpretedas attempts
to replacenaive positivismby a more sophisticatedneo-positivism(Hawkesworth, 1988: pp. 57-67).
Even more disastrousfor the controlmodel of policy-makingis the observationthat if societal realitycan be easily apprehendedby policy analystsand
fitted into deterministicschemata,there is no need for planningor control:
social dynamics will simply follow its naturalcourse. Inversely,if societal
realities are complex, ambiguousand multi-dimensional,then planningor
control become futile exercises (Masuch, 1986). Having recognized this
problem, several authors have noted, and in some cases contributedto, a
trend toward interpretivestrategies - strategies that obviously would no
longer lend credence to technocraticpractices (Feldman, 1989; Forrester,
1989; Jennings, 1983, 1987; Kelly, 1986, 1988, Gregwareand Kelly, 1990;
Healy, 1986). As for the practitioners,they have not alwaysfully endorsed
this trend.Some concede, however,that theirexpertiseis a kind of 'knowingin-practice'(Schon, 1983: p. viii) rather than the mastery of an objective
science. And even if they did not acknowledgeit - indeed many resist it
because such an admissiondirectlythreatenstheirprofessionalprestige- the
informedpublicseems to haverealizedmorefullynow the extentto whichthe
thinkingof expertsis 'impaired,'to use Lindblom'sterm(1990), by all sortsof
biases.
In brief, the control model is now largelydiscredited.Thus one might be
tempted to ask: Why flog a dead horse? But it is not quite dead yet. The
problem is that we still lack metaphorsthat could providecoherence to the
discoursesof public choice theoristsceptical of governmentintervention;of
criticaltheoristssensitive to the excessive weight of hierarchiesand bureau-

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362
cracies;and of postmodernisttheoristsfascinatedwith the collapse of all and
every credible epistemologicalfoundationsupon which the scholarlypolicy
sciences, or analysescarriedout routinelyin governmentdepartments,think
tanks,and institutionalizedpressuregroups,could be grounded.('Coherence'
here is not meant to imply a leveling of all differencesbut a clearer understanding of what these differences are about, and of how they can be
addressedin a meaningfulway by all partiesin the debate.)In the following
sections, I attemptto evaluateconcepts and imagesdrawnfrom recentscientific theories in terms of their potential contributionto the articulationof
researchdesigns that mightfacilitatecommunicationsamong these disparate
schools of thought,and perhapseven beyond the confines contrivedby the
latter.
The new science of chaos and the paradoxesof order'farfromequilibrium'
Exclusive preoccupation with negative (i.e., corrective) feedback and the
restoration of steady state conditions has often prevented analysts from
looking beyond short term variationsin the performanceof a predetermined
task. The paradoxis that, in the long run, everythingelse in a system has to
change - in ways that are not alwaysanticipatedor necessarilybenign - if
some aspect of it must by all means be maintainedconstant; e.g., in the
deterioratingphysiologyof the drug addict,the only thingthat remainsconstant over time is the continuousabsorptionof toxic substances(Dell, 1982:
p. 28). It is becomingincreasinglydifficultto retainsuch a limitingperspective
when dealingwith complex social systems.There is a nascentconsensus that
irreversiblechanges are occurring at an accelerating pace in the socioeconomic and politicalstructureswe have inheritedfrom the post-warera, as
well as in our relationshipwith the biosphere.At the very least, simulation
models and other less formal representationsof complex policy problems
should pay equal attention to positive (i.e., deviation amplifying)feedback
loops as they do to negativefeedback loops (Maruyama,1968). But policy
analysts in search of novel ways of attackingthis puzzling combinationof
forces pulling a system in several directions at once can also look toward
more radicaland originalmetaphorsupon whichto base theiranalyses.
Ilya Prigogine'sthermodynamicsof open systemsin 'farfrom equilibrium
conditions'(also called 'dissipativestructures'),the mathematicsof non-linear
dynamicsystems,and parallelresearchesinto the logic of chaoticphenomena
in a varietyof domains,e.g.,fromweatherpatternsto the stock market,are all
parts of a new paradigmin which empirical,mathematical,epistemological
and metaphoricalconcepts are combinedin intriguingways.1These theoretical innovationshaveenabledresearchersto studyproblemsthatuntilrecently
had been largelyignored or simplifiedbeyond recognitionbecause they involve fuzzy definitions,complexand unpredictablerelationships,and random
variations.While a detailed analysisof the content of these theories would

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363
take us too far awayfrom our topic, three essentialcharacteristicsneed to be
underlined.First,these models are concernedwith phenomemathatare highly dependenton intitialconditions.Very slightchangesin these initialconditions producecompletelydifferentsystemsover time. In other words,thereis
no such thing as a ceterisparibusor context-independentsituation.Second,
these phenomena are dynamic.Equilibriumsituationsare only temporary,
and are subject to destabilizingfluctuations.While the occurrenceof these
fluctuationor'catastrophes'can be predicted- hence the phrase'deterministic chaos' - their outcome is not knowablea priori.What can be said, however, is that in moving away from the equilibriumpoint, a system reaches
some 'bifurcations'along an evolutionarypathway.Often,these crucialtransitions resultin the emergenceof new and more adaptivestructures.As one of
the pioneersof the thermodynamicsof open systemsputs it,'non-equilibrium
systemsachieve some kind of autonomyand freedomwhich means that they
become "creative,"
generatingstructureand complexity.The price we pay for
is
a
of "predictability"'
loss
this, however,
(Allen, 1988: p. 102). Finally,these
are
characterized
their
In contrastto the (Newphenomena
by
irreversibility.
tonian) control paradigm,the new paradigmis concerned with transformations thatcannotbe reversed.
The implicationsof this paradigmaticvision for the modeling of social
problemsin general,and for policy analysisin particular,areverychallenging.
The attentionpaid to uniqueinitialconditionsand to the 'non-average'characteristicsof complex systems should serve to remindanalyststhat individuals and extraordinaryeventsalmostalwaysinfluencethe outcome of a policy
(Kiel, 1991:p. 436). Admittedly,this is not a new insight.MichelCrozierand
ErhardFriedberg,for example,have persuasivelyarguedthat organizational
change should not be analyzed separatelyfrom the opportunisticstrategies
pursued by individual actors (1980). What the metaphor of order from
chaotic disorderprovides is a techniquefor studyingthese interactionsas a
well definedproblem.
The indeterminacyof social systemsis a matterof almostdailyexperience.
Professionalforecasts often turn out to be wrong because they extrapolate
trends that are continuallyshiftingor, in the vocabularyof the Prigoginean
model, 'bifurcating.'In particular,when groups that have suffered from
variousforms of exclusionfor a long time finallysucceed in movingcloser to
power centers, sudden reversalsof long establishedpolicies or new departures can be observed.The civil rights movementof the early 1960s in the
United Statesor the sudden move after 1989 of nativerightsto the top of the
agenda of constitutionalreform in Canada'2come to mind in this respect.
Even in the absenceof such upheavals,it is becomingmore and more evident
that 'interdependenceimplies that whateverpolicies are adopted, both positive and negativeexternalitiesare likelyto occur'(Brewer,1975: p. 207), and
this can only add to the complexityand fluidityof policy-makingin the postindustrialage. So much so that, as Donald Schon has noted, 'i]t has become
commonplace for managers to speak of the "turbulent"environmentsin

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364
which problems do not lend themselves to the techniques of benefit-cost
analysisor to probabilisticreasoning'(Schon, 1983: p. 239).
Perhapsthe most profoundinsight that policy analystscan gain from the
study of non-equilibriumsystems is that social dynamics is no more (and
probablyeven less) reversiblethan thermodynamics.A planner'stime runs
backward,in a sense, from rationally determined objectives back to the
present,as if the social fabric could be folded and unfolded effortlessly.But
just as entropymoves in only one direction,historicalprocessesfollow a oneway path that generally deviates from the pre-determinedend-states for
whichplannersaim.'3
Explicit applicationsof chaos theory to policy analysisare still relatively
uncommon. One reason might be that most social scientists and policy
analystsare more familiarwith linear than with non-linearmodels. But this
limitatioinis alreadybeing overcomein a numberof fields. Urbangeography
provided a fertile groundfor the first experimentswith this approach(Kiel,
1991: p. 434; Allen, 1981, 1982; Dyke, 1989: ch. 9). In more recentyears,a
broader range of problems has been addressed, from the managementof
fisheries(Allen and McGlade, 1986) to financialmarketsand businesscycles
(Brock, 1988) to the modelingof the globaleconomy (Holland, 1988), and so
on.'4 Economists seem to have taken the lead in this respect;some of them
are alreadyengaged in the process of developingand testing their own generalizedtheories of chaotic economic processes (e.g., Baumoland Benhabib,
1989; Mirowski,1990; Brockand Baek, 1991).
While it would be difficult- indeed probablyimpossible- to tag an ideological label on these innovativetechnical developments, some libertarian
economists have given them an interestingideological 'spin.'It is certainly
temptingto drawparallelsbetweenthe metaphorsof orderfromchaoticfluctuations and dynamic self-organization,on the one hand, and 'Austrian
economics,' on the other hand. James Buchananand Viktor Vanberg,for
example,have found in chaos theory a valuablesource of argumentsin support of laissez-faire(1991). The neo-classical critique of socialist planning
and control can only suggestthat these interventionistpracticeswill resultin
dysfunctionalallocations of resources.FriedrichHayek and Israel Kirzner,
however,have argued that the effects of these practices will be even more
devastatingbecause the marketis not only an allocativeprocess, but also an
irreplaceable creative process. According to Buchanan and Vanberg, a

descriptionof marketmechanismsas instancesof self-organizingdissipative


structures,which is indeed not an inadequatemetaphor,'5adds considerable
strengthto this (typically'Austrian')argument.In a similarvein, Don Lavoie
sees in the 'new science'the promiseof a new synthesisof the humanisticand
scientifictraditions.Humanemancipation(which Lavoie interpretsin terms
of the emancipationfrom Big Government)and structuralconstraintsare
reconciledin the idea of spontaneouslyself-organizingorder in natureand in
socio-economic realm (1989). Other interpretations,however,are plausible.
Some authorsdiscerna potentialfor more intelligentplanningin the concept

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365
of bifurcation:insteadof attemptingin vain to steer societal relationshipson a
more or less continuousbasis, policy-makerscould - and should - limittheir
interventionsto those situationswhere a radicalbreak in existingpatternsis
on the vergeof happeningin orderto avoidthe least desirablescenarios,i.e., a
suddenregressionto a less adaptiveor sustainablesystemicstate (e.g.,Laszlo,
1987:chs. 7, 9).
There are two ways of revealing,and actingupon, the limitationsinherent
in any givenparadigmaticperspective.One is to build an antitheticalperspective; the other is to move beyond the horizon set by the problem which is
common to both the originalparadigmand its alternative.The models discussed above are example of the first strategy:in reactionto the notions of
stability,equilibriumand control, they emphasize disequilibriumand spontaneous self-organization.The models to which I now turn reflecta different
interpretationof the controlparadigm:they treatit as irrelevant.
Autonomyand reflexiveunderstanding
Havingarguedpreviouslythat cyberneticsdoes not yield an adequateimage
of social institutionsand structures,it mayseem incongruousto returnnow to
this paradigm.Criticscould arguethatit is not the place in whichto searchfor
alternativesto the lingeringpositivism and technocraticbiases inherent in
much of contemporarypolicy analysis.But 'second order' cybernetics,also
knownas 'the cyberneticsof cybernetics,'has progressedfar awayfrom early
preoccupationswith feedbackcontrolleddevices. In fact, it proposes a radically differentarrayof concepts for analyzingthe production,reproduction
and evolution of living and social systems.Self-referenceoccupies a central
place in this new conceptualarsenal.
As in the case of the familiarvisual experimentin which the background
suddenlymoves to the foregroundand vice-versa,revealinga hiddenimage,a
Gestaltshifthas to take place beforeone can graspthe implicationof this perspective. The question of the origin of controllinghierarchicalmechanisms
has so far been hidden in the background,as it were. It is this questionthat
models concerned with processes of self-production (i.e., 'autopoiesis'),
autonomousdevelopmentand identityformationare addressing.
We are dealinghere with a class of systemswhose only structuralreference
is to themselves.They are the product of their own productions.The controllingmechanismsan externalobservermight discern within such systems
may appearto be the source of structuredrelationshipsand internalstability,
but these controllingmechanismsare dependent for their existence and renewalon the outcomes of theiroperations.Whatwe encounterhere is a situation that can be describedas 'organizational(or operational)closure'(Verela,
1979). While an organizationallyclosed system is not isolated from the outside world, and does in fact exchange energy inputs and outputs with its
environment,it is closed in the crucialsense that its existence as a coherent
unityhas no originother thanthe processesthatdefine it in the firstplace.

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Livingsystems- e.g., a unicellularorganism- are archetypicalautopoietic
systems.Providedthatthey haveaccess to sourcesof energy(light,food, etc.),
livingorganismsmaintaintheir integrity,their self-referentialidentityas selfsustainingand self-reproducingstructuresin a numberof ways and at different levels of complexity.First,at the most elementarylevel, the physiologyof
life is a cyclicalproductionof a system'scomponentsby its own components.
In a sense, livingsystemsare controlledby somethingthatis (metaphorically)
called a geneticcode. But the geneticprogramhas the peculiaritythatit needs
its own products to be executed: 'every step of DNA maintenance and
transcriptionis mediated by proteins, which is precisely what is encoded'
(Dupuy and Varela, 1992: p. 4). Similarly,it might appear to an external
observer that a living organism'scognitive functions react to information
received from outside sources and that this informationis fed into control
centers (e.g., the nervous system).But all sense experiencesare equallyselfreferential:the organism'knows'nothingother thanits internalstates and the
mannerin which they are influencedand occasionallymore or less severely
perturbedby externalforces.All perceptionsare in-formedby the organism's
own attributes.The autopoieticmodel standsin sharpcontrastwith the computer-as-brainmodel of cognition.(It is closer to the reversemetaphorof the
which has receivedmuch attentionlately in the
computer-as-neural-network
Artificial Intelligence community.)From the standpoint of organizational
closure, the brain does not contain representationsof the external world
against which incoming (pre-formed)informationcan be matched.Rather,
the nervoussystemis constantlyengagedin the process of preservingits own
coherence.
Can the concept of autopoiesisor self-productionbe used to describesystems other than livingsystems?Enthusiasmfor this model mustbe tempered
by a realizationthat the notion of (self-)productionin a societal context is
ambiguous. Francisco Varela who, together with Humberto Maturana,
pioneered this approachhimself warnedagainstthe prematureextension of
the concept of autopoiesisper se to societal systems.He advocatesthe use of
a less specific concept at that level, namely'autonomy'(beingdefinedhere as
the consequenceof organizationalclosure).Maturana,on the other hand,has
been less intransigentin this respect. In any case, severalsocial theoristsor
policy analystshave adopted this metaphorand have used it to investigate
strategicplanningin organizations,the centralityof communicationprocesses
in the structuringof societal order,the autonomyof law and legalinstitutions,
and marketsand economic life, among other topics (e.g., Beer, 1980; Broekstra, 1991a, 1991b; Dupuy, 1989; Heller, 1988; Luhmann, 1990; Morgan,
1986; Teubner, 1988). While this new approachis still unknown to many
policy analysts,it already has generated some measure of controversyand
debate (e.g.,Zolo, 1991).
Before I take a more detailed look at the implicationsof the autopoietic
model for the policy sciences, a briefexegesisof its fundamentalassumptions
is in order.Accordingto FrederickSteier,control,properlyunderstood,is a

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367
propertyof a system in its entirety.There are no 'controlling'or 'controlled'
parts in a complex, autonomous, self-organizingsystem. 'Cybernetically
seeing (sic),' therefore, 'no things get "controlled."'He adds: 'The term
is a more modest and apt descriptorof what cyberneticians
"understanding"
are engagedin';but he judiciouslyobservesthat understandingshould not be
defined as a processbearingon somethingwhollyexternalto it. He concludes
that cybernetics is best characterizedas 'the art and science of reflexive
understanding'(Steier,1988: p. 8).
Thus Maturanaasks:if control means steering,what is it that the skipper
does when he or she steers a ship?We usuallythinkof the skipper'sjob at the
helm as that of controllingthe course of the ship. Maturanacontends, however, that the 'phenomenon of control exists only in the discourse of the
observeras a metaphorof what the skipperdoes, not as a featureof how the
course of the ship is constituted as the ship moves under the skipper.'A
descriptionof the situationin a mannerthatis more consistentwith the actual
experienceof the skipperwould stressthatwhatthe latterdoes is 'to makehis
or her understanding'of the situation- as it is constitutedby himself,or herself, and by the ship, the winds, the currents,etc. - 'part of the domain of
interactionsof the ship, thus makingthe drift of the ship contingent'to that
veryunderstanding(Maturana,1988: p. 7).
From the standpointof organizationalclosure, the cognitivefunctionsof a
self-organizingsystemare not specific to a controllingsub-systemwhichsupposedly receivesunmediatedinformationfrom its environment.The environment does not specifychangesin the system;thatis, a systemdoes not receive
datafromthe externalworldwhichwould then be matchedagainstan optimal
representationof that environmentand acted upon in order to correct any
perceived discrepancy.'Informationdoesn't exist "out there,"waitingto be
picked up' (Luhmann,1990: p. 4). The system as a whole preservesits internal coherence by integratingwhateverchangesare caused by externalinfluences into the overall patterns it itself has established as the basis for its
autonomy.Simplyby beingitself,but also in the processof learningfromexperience,an autopoieticsystem'bringsforth a world'withinwhichit acts as the
centralpointof reference(MaturanaandVarela,1987:p. 26). It knowsno other
world.The startlingconclusionone can drawfromthisinsightis that'a system's
interactionwith its "environment"is really a reflection and part of its own
organization. ... Its environment is ... a part of itself' (Morgan, 1986: p. 236).

Complex autonomous systems define common cognitive domains, i.e.,


shared constructionsof their mutualworlds, by enteringinto manifoldrelations with other systems.The architectsof the theory of autopoiesisrefer to
this phenomenon as 'structuralcoupling' (Maturanaand Varela, 1987: pp.
75-80, 244-250). As opportunitiesfor structuralcouplingincrease,we find
more and more levels of realitynested withineach other,includinglanguage
as far as societal systems are concerned. When the linguisticdimension is
introduced,the metaphorof on-going conversationsbranchingoff in unexpected directionssuggestsitself as a much more appropriatecharacterization

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368
of interactionsamong societal actors and groups than that of information
processing.It is importantto stress that individualactors who constitutethe
nodes in these communicativenetworks exercise some measure of choice,
and thus power,over their lives. Social realityis constructedand regenerated
in the veryprocessof its beinganalyzedand arguedabout.
A shiftfrom a controlperspectiveto one that posits the autonomyof social
systems has significantmethodologicalconsequences for private or public
sector management(includingpolicy implementation)and policy formulation/development.As far as managementand policy implementationare concerned, organizationalclosure remindsus that institutionscreate their own
norms. Analysts who have realized the significanceof this premise can no
longer take rationalityas a given.They must seek to understandthe contingent and immanentrationalitiesof the organizationswith whichthey are concerned.
While their membersdo not alwaysrealize it, 'organizationsinteractwith
projectionsof themselves'(Morgan,1986: p. 241). Thatis, organizationsconstruct images of the situations facing them which are shaped by both the
societal culturewithin which they happen to operate, and by the subculture
which is peculiarto the organizationitself. Examplesof these organizational
culturesinclude the open, innovationoriented managementstyle of Hewlett
Packard,the quasi-militarystyle of the CanadianPost Office, or the technocratic and 'can-do'style of the Army Corps of Engineers.This kind of selfcenterednessis unavoidable.To the extent that it allows the organizationto
exist at all, it is a positivefactor.But it can also be source of weaknessinsofar
as it createsa tendencyto inertia.Under those circumstances,the adoptionof
new managerialor strategicobjectivesis likely to be resisteduntil finally,in
some kind of a quantumjump, the organizationadopts a new image of itself
and begins to experimentwith new ways of runningits affairs (Broekstra,
1991a:p. 123).
An organizationallyclosed, self-organizing,system is not unableto reflect
upon the adequacyof its identityand the coherence of its actions over time.
This is preciselywhy we can speak of reflexiveunderstandingto characterize
the new cybernetics'view of what earliercyberneticmodels tried to express
throughthe concept of control.But the essentialdifferenceis thatthe analytical process, itself only an aspect of the decision-makingprocess, now enters
into the definition of the problem under study.As G. Probst puts it, 'The
manageris part of the managerialsystem;he is introducinghimself to the
organizationaldesign and control'(Probst,1984: p. 131).When management
recognizesthat knowledgeof the situationat hand requires,in part,a form of
introspection,then the 'organizationcan explore possible identitiesand the
conditionsunderwhichthey can be realized'(Morgan,1986: p. 245). Administrativereorganizationsoften are the chosen means of renewingan agency's
identity.As S. Maynard-Moodyand D. Stull note in the conclusion of their
study of the 1983 reorganizationof the Kansas Departmentof Health and
Environment, 'reorganizationscommunicate to policy implementers the

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369
changingstatusof differentgroupsand assumptionsabout theirwork'(1987:
p. 263). By bringingup to the surfacethese importantbut somewhathidden
symbolic dimensions, the organizationalclosure model makes it clear that
policy changes are often better understood as shifts in the implementation
processratherthanas changesin the actualcontentof programs.
Policy developmentis anotherexampleof reflexiveunderstandingeven if it
is usuallydescribedas a problem-solvingexerciseguidedby rationalconsiderations.An approachbased on the premisesoutlinedabovewouldunderline
the extent to which the institutions,groups and social systems with which
analysts concerned belong to a universe shaped in large measure by
autonomouscommunicationnetworks.This autonomyis a necessarycondition for the possibilityof analysisin the firstplace, but is also the very reason
why new policies are developed in order to bring about changesthat reflect
new interpretationsof the effects of these autonomousnetworksover time. In
other words, organizationalclosure points towardmethodologicalprescriptions rathersimilarto hermeneutics.But does it contributeconceptionsthat
were not alreadyimplicitin the interpretivistmethods advocatedby several
policy studies scholars (e.g., Healy, 1986; Jennings,1987)? The answercan
only be tentativeinsofaras organizationalclosureis an approachthatis stillin
its early stage of development. At the very least, organizationalclosure
stronglysuggeststhat the paradoxesof self-referenceof the kind frequently
encounteredby policy analystsare not an aberrationtypicalof insufficiently
developed methods of social analysiswhich might finally be resolved when
the policy sciences will have fulfilled their promise;they are, rather,manifestationsof a more universalcognitivestrategyinherentin all systems(e.g.,
living systems, social systems, etc.) which establishcommunciationlinkages
amongthemselves.In contrastto the hermeneuticaltraditionwhichoften had
overemphasizedthe differences between the social and natural worlds,'6
organizationalclosure suggeststhat constructivismis relevantto the articulation of all forms of knowledge,from basic sense perceptionto fundamental
theoreticalresearchto social practice.
A growingnumberof authorsnow believe that policy analysisis essentially
a process of interpretation,argumentationand refutationin a social context.
To some extent, the interpretationof events and data by policy analystsis
unconsciousand reflectsbuilt-inbiases (Lindblom,1990). To some extent,it
is inevitable,even deliberate:analyststake into account currentpolicies and
programs,the relativepoliticalweightof competinginterests,the expectations
of theirhierarchicalsuperiorsand of elected officials,and/or discountinformationthey cannot reconcilewith their understandingof what is relevantto
the problemat hand (Feldman,1989). However,policy analystsoften practice
interpretationas MoliereMonsieurJourdainspoke prose withoutknowingit.
As MarthaFeldmanpoints out, policy analystswork in an institutionalcontext that limitstheir abilityto take a criticallook at their own contributionin
isolation from what other actors in the system do; furthermore,they do not
exercisecontrolover the uses to whichtheirresearchare put (1989: pp. 145146).

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370
However,withoutriskingto usurpthe prerogativesof theirclients of political masters, policy analysts could find in the metaphor of organizational
closure a useful tool for better articulatingthe dilemmas experienced by
policy-'makers'who sense that they are not 'in control' of situationswhere
autonomous social subsystems are emerging or where existing ones show
signs of becoming increasingly resilient to attempts at controlling 'from
above.'Analystswhose own preferencesor those of theirclients or hierarchical superiorscome closer to the 'progressive'pole of the ideological continuum could emphasizethe relationshipsbetween self-organization,interpretative approachesand policies aimed at empoweringcitizens and communities through initiatives such as community-basedeconomic development
planning. Linkages of this sort have indeed been explored in the policy
studies literature(Jennings,1983; Healy, 1986; Bobrow and Dryzek, 1987;
Dryzek, 1989).17 Moreover,even governmentsthat do not subscribe to a
'progressive'ideology are moving towardparticipatorydemocraticsolutions
in certainpolicy areas,most notablypolicies directedtowardnativegroupsor
'nations'(e.g., Alaska natives [Dryzek, 1989] or Canada aboriginalpeoples
who, in 1992, came very close to achievingconstitutionalrecognitionof their
'inherentrightto self-government'and will probablymakefurthergainsin the
foreseeablefuture).
Self-organizationthrough organizationalclosure can also serve to recast
traditionallyconservative themes like economic laissez-faire and judicial
restraintin a slightly different light, thus yielding new insights. Economic
policy analystscan find in the Austrian'traditionof economic theorizinga
rich source of ideas that could be creativelycombined with the paradigmof
organizationalclosure in ways that may speak to the imaginationof policymakersand the attentivepublic.(At the same time, an emphasison the metaphorical nature of these argumentscould be instrumentalin smoothingout
some of the dogmaticasperitiesof market-orientedeconomic policy recommendations.)The benefits that could be derivedfrom an articulationof such
models would include a better understandingof the implicationsof the complexityof contemporaryeconomic systems.The pioneeringworksof the late
F. A. Hayek,who was keenly interestedin theoreticalresearchon self-organization (Hayek,1988: p. 9), offer interestingclues to thateffect.His arguments
about the obstacles standing in the way of economic planning on a comprehensiveor even on a sectoralbasis are well knownand need not occupyus
here. The importantunderlyingidea that analystscould use to capturethe
imaginationof their clients or hierarchicalsuperiorsis that the economy is a
complex self-organizingsystem that cannot be known from an outside that
does not exist - it mustbe exploredfromwithin,as it were.Competitionplays
a crucialrole in that respect:it is, as Hayekpoints out, 'a discoveryprocedure'
(1979: pp. 67-70).
The question of the autonomy of law warrantsa few more explanations.
Centralto Hayek'sapproachis the distinctionbetween 'law,'as a system of
rules possessingan inherentlogic, and 'legislation,'i.e., 'the deliberatemaking

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371
of law' (1979: p. 72). Law is the product of social evolution;it was never
'invented.'Now 'grownlaw, to continueto use Hayek'sterms,needs to be corrected periodicallyby legislation (1979: p. 88). However,when legislators
resort extensivelyto social legislationto achieve policy goals that bear little
relationshipto the evolutionarylogic of the legal system itself (and of jurisprudencein particular),and is aided in thatpursuitby powerfulbureaucracies
exercisingconsiderablelegislativepowerby means of regulatoryinstruments,
a delicate balanceis broken.The law'sinherentcoherenceis destroyed.(It is
not difficultto discern here an echo of the earlierdebate about the flaws of
the 'control'model.) Of course, this thesis which is conventionallyknown as
legal formalism,is not sharedby all legal scholars.Indeed, it has been under
severeattacks,both fromthe 'right'by the law and economicsmovement,and
from the 'left'by the CriticalLegal Studiesmovement.But recentlythe thesis
that law is best understood as an internallycoherent phenomenon has received renewed attention, in particularon the part of scholars who make
explicit use of the conceptual framework associated with the theory of
autopoietic systems (Teubner,1983; 1987, ed.).18They too see a risk in the
continualinvasionof the autonomous,organizationallyclosed domainof law
by legislation.
While some of the theoreticalargumentsthat enter into these discussions
borderon the esoteric and need not concernus here, they attestto the fecundity of the metaphorof organizationalclosurein dealingwiththe multifaceted
problemsfaced by the interventionistwelfarestate in the late twentiethcentury.It provides a set of concepts and representationsthat could unify the
specific concerns of analysts attemptingto evaluate the merits of various
governinginstrumentsfor influencingor communicatingwith societal structuresthat,like ethnic or local communities,marketeconomies, and legal systems, havedevelopedtheirown internalcoherence.
Beyondcontrol?
I have attemptedso far to draw attentionto the wide range of applications,
from managementand organizationtheory to policy analysis,and from economics to law whichcan be givento post-positivistmetaphoricalperspectives
which transcend the cybernetic control model. Policy scientists should be
advised, however,againstjettisoningmodels derived from traditionalinterpretationsof cybernetic principles.And this is true in spite of the serious
flaws which were mentioned earlier,and in spite of the obviously superior
heuristicvalue of the alternativemetaphors.I see at least two reasons for
retainingsome elements of the modernistmetaphorof control. The first is
merelyan intuitionthat needs to be furtherexplored;the second is based on
more rationaland empiricalconsiderations.Both have in common that they
supportthe complementarityprinciple,i.e., the notion that it is not advisable
to lean too heavilyon any single theoreticalfoundation,at least with respect
to complex systems.

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372
The intuitivereason is that the dynamicand evolutionarymodels alluded
to above form only one componentof a new synthesisin the naturalsciences
from which meaningfulparallelswith the policy sciences can be derived.The
other component which social scientists and policy analystsmight use as a
source of equally challengingand suggestivemetaphorsis quantumphysics
(Yates,1987; Becker,1991). One of the buildingblocks of quantumphysicsis
preciselythe complementarityprinciple.As Sam Overmannotes, 'Exclusivity
is simply not a viable logic in contemporarypublic policy and the modern
democratic state' (1991: p. 155). That is due in large measureto the interpenetrating of values and rational considerations in policy analysis.
Moreover,in highly pluralistic'postmodern'societies, there is no firm consensus on most of the salientissues. Even apparentlyirreconcilablepositions
such as external controls and the spontaneous emergence of order from
withincomplex systemsmustbe examinedas partsof a broaderfield of relationships,just as physicistscan hold on to both the particleand waveexplanations of the natureof light.Thereis room for a thirdposition thatemphasizes
dialogue and dualities(Braten,1986). It is all the more necessaryto thinkin
terms of complementaritiessince there are, in fact, severaldefinitionsof the
notion of cyberneticcontrol (or of complex systems,for that matter[Flood,
1990: pp. 148-155]). Althoughthe standardversion(describedpreviously)is
the best known, less mechanicistversions can also be found. In William
Powers'psycho-behavioralworks, for example, one can discern an echo of
the idea of organizationalclosure:for Powers control systems control their
own inputs, that is the signals they generate in response to environmental
changes, but not the externalvariablesdirectly.Thus, in human organisms
action and perceptionare part of a closed control loop. Metaphorically,it is
also possible to speak of communicationsloops in societal systemswherethe
message and its content, the source and the destination,are interdependent
(Powers, 1973, 1989; McPhail, 1991). Or, accordingto George Richardson
(1991), the methodologyof systemdynamicshas found answersto the limitations inherentin traditionalcyberneticconcepts.
The other reason has to do with the dangerinherentin any kind of metaphorical discourse.In order to avoid Whitehead's'falacyof misplaced concreteness,'analysts should be preparedto use a variety of complementary
approaches.Repeated comparisonsamong alternativemodels are means of
guarding oneself against the illusion that one's preferred methodological
option is not only more adequate than others but is actually an accurate
representationof realityitself.Even if it servesno other purposethanbeing a
convenient, albeit uninspiring counterpoint, control theory adds to our
understandingof the depth, but also of the limitations,of self-organization
theory.19In any case, common sense suggeststhat some socio-economic or
political contexts are more appropriatelyconceived in terms of self-organizing structures than others. We owe to Hayek an insightful distinction
between 'spontaneous orders' and 'organizations'(1973: pp. 46-52). The
former,which can be describedin terms of the models previouslydiscussed,

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373
are typicallymultifunctionalsystems that do not serve any specific purpose;
the latter,by contrast,have been designed to performdesignatedfunctions
and to serve specific purposes. Therefore,contraryto spontaneous orders,
they can be theoreticallyanalyzedand managedin practiceby meansof command-and-controlmodels. Corporationsand governmentsare examples of
functionallyspecific organizations.Markets and the law, as well as science
and liberal democracy (DiZerega, 1989), are spontaneous orders (other
exampleswould includea varietyof social institutions,fromfamiliesto ethnic
communities).But this distinctionshould not be taken too literally.As we
have seen, and as GarethMorganhas convincinglyargued(1986: pp. 233272), at least some types of organizationscan advantageouslybe conceivedas
autopoietic systems. Consideringthat policy-makingis like a seamless web
extending from policy implementationand micro-level decision-makingto
policy developmenton a societal scale, it would be inappropriateto draw a
sharp line between strictlymechanicalorganizationsand open-ended spontaneous orders.By the same token, it probablymakeslittle practicalsense to
startfrom the metaphorsemphasizingspontaneouslyself-organizingsystems
in dealingwith law enforcement,correctionalinstitutionsand other problem
situationswhere the use of coercive power is of centralimportance.Even in
increasinglycomplex societies,there still are some policy areaswherea traditionalcontrolperspectiveis not altogetherirrelevant.Ockham'srazorcertainly belongsto the policy analyst'sbag of tools!
Moreover,complex, self-organizingsystemssometimesproduce externalities thatpublicofficialsmust attemptto controlauthoritatively,
if for no other
reason thanpublic opinion expects immediateaction,even if from a theoretical standpoint more indirect, non-hierarchical,participatoryor marketoriented approachescould be shown to produce better results in the long
term.Industrialpollutionis probablythe best examplein this regard.Besides,
democratic, decentralized institutionalalternativesto bureaucraticheavyhandedness may themselves suffer from certain types of social pathologies
thatneed to be correctedfrom'above.'As David Bayleynotes,
Peer pressuremay be both more intense and more extensivethan those of
the state.Neitherdoes a distributionof sanctioningin favorof intermediate
groups automaticallyenhance freedom, for such groups may be as cruel,
capriciousand exploitativeas sanctionersat any other level (Bayley,1985:
p. 91).

And just as insidiousforms of social control can emergethe communitiesof


various kinds, 'free'marketsare not completely immune to coercive power
relations,as Lindblom(1977) has ratherconvincinglyargued.So, in the end,
thereis a limitbeyond whichthe perspectiveopened up by the metaphorsdiscussed earlier cease to be illuminating.In other words, policies such as deregulation,decentralizationand community empowermentcan themselves
produce perverse effects. What these limits are cannot be assessed solely

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374
throughrationalanalyticalmethodologies,however.They can be determined
only througha genuinelypoliticalprocess.20
Conclusion
While the complexityof most contemporarypolicy issues perplexestheorists
and practitionersalike, the discourse of policy analysis still fails to reflect
these preoccupationsadequately.Too often it conveys the image of policy'makers'firmlyin control of their environments.But this image is becoming
less and less credible.
I have suggested that recent theoreticaldevelopmentsin scientific disciplines thatare concernedwith complexsystemslend themselvesto the articulationof powerfulalternativemetaphors.Suchmetaphorsare used alreadyby
a growingnumberof social scientistsand policy analysts,but more often than
not the originalityof the paradigmaticperspectiveinherentin these works is
obscuredby highlytechnicalmethodologies(especiallyin the case of applications of chaos theory) or by a seemingly esoteric vocabulary.While some
analystsmight benefit from investingin the masteryof these techniques,the
realmeritsof these new approachesis thatthey suggestwaysof tyingtogether
a wide rangeof disparateideas on how to deal with problemsituationswhere
there is insufficientknowledge about cause and effect relations,and where
societal actors are capable of acting in unpredictableways. Some of these
ideas are inspiredby the theory of participatorydemocracy;other reflect a
strongpreferencefor market-orientedsolutions.These divergentorientations
cannot, and indeed need not, be mergedinto a single perspective.However,
the metaphors outlined in this paper offer clues on how such normative
choices can be translated into consistent problem definitions and policy
options which can generateinterestand supportfrom the growingranks of
politicalactorswho distrusttechnocraticdiscourse.
At the same time, there are reasonsfor continuingto employ the language
of feedbackcontrolin specificcircumstances.Partlybecausethereare no universally applicable paradigmsin the social sciences: for post-positiviststo
argue otherwise would be to fall back into positivism!And partly because
theremaynot alwaysexist politicallyfeasiblealternativesto coercivecontrols.
To conclude, the search for an illuminatingmetaphor applicable to the
managementof large organizationor to policy formulationhas been greatly
facilitatedin recent years by new perspectiveson complexityin the natural
sciences.The typicallymodernistnotion of correctivecontrolassociatedwith
a somewhatnaive or scientisticbelief in the potentialcapacityof the policy
sciencies to identify the correct path towardwell defined societal goals has
given way to more self-referentialand relativisticperspectives.The uses to
which these postmodernmetaphorscan be put will depend on a varietyof
contingent social and political factors; but whether they are fitted into a
participationistor libertarianframework,the resultwill in both cases mean a

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375
loss of power and influenceon the part of professionalexperts.Their knowledge base will increasinglybe challengedby a multiplicityof stakeholders
formingcomplex and shiftingnetworks.This is not to say, however,that all
traditionalmanagerialstructuresand policy instrumentswill cease to be relevant.But policy makerswill be judgedon theirabilityto articulateimagesand
symbols around which creativeresponses from these interlockingnetworks
can coalesce ratherthanon theircompetencein providing'solutions'to problems thatwill remainfrustratinglydifficultto define precisely.
Notes
1. On the history of, and diversity of approaches within, systems theory, see Flood (1990: ch. 6).
2. For a discussion of the difference between metaphorical and more engineering-oriented
uses of the concept of feedback, for example, see Richardson (1991: pp. x, 92-168).
3. I use here the term 'modern' in a very broad sense to refer to the worldview first articulated
by Bacon and Descartes, which remained dominant until the early decades of the 20th
century. Its central tenet is the capacity of human reason, aided by empirical observation,
to establish a basis for intersubjective agreement concerning the universal laws governing
objective reality.
4. On the difference between 'katascopic, i.e., from the top down, and the 'anascopic,' i.e.,
from the bottom up, approaches, see Geyer and van der Zouwen (1986: p. 3).
5. If the modern age was Cartesian, the postmodern age is Nietzschean. The literature on
postmodernism is too extensive to be summarized here, but any definition of the scope and
meaning of postmodernism should begin with a mention of the works of Jacques Derrida,
Michel Foucault, Ihab Hassan, Frederic Jameson, and Jean-Francois Lyotard; the parallels
and differences between the literary postmodernism of these authors and the scientific
theories from which the metaphors discussed in this paper are drawn are analyzed by
Alexander J. Argyros (1991) and J.-P. Dupuy and F Varela (1992).
6. I am grateful to my colleage Michael Howlett for having brought to my attention the extent
to which the sociology of public policy-making has become central to the concerns of so
many apparently unrelated schools of thought.
7. See also Berman (1990). Actually, the rapid development of computer technology and the
broadening range of its applications from financial service to the delivery of social assistance, from opinion research and marketing to political campaigning, from health management to policing, etc., have produced a control technology that transcends the distinction
between the natural sciences and the social/policy sciences.
8. For the view that, in practice, deregulation did not go very far in the United States, see
Lemak (1985), Daneke (1985), Hughes (1991). Besides, economic development initiatives
have been actively pursued at the state level in recent years, in apparent contradiction with
the trend observed at the federal level (Brace and Mucciaroni, 1990). On the other hand,
in countries where formerly publicly owned and now privatized corporations used to
occupy a much larger and central place in the economic and social life than in the United
States, e.g., Great Britain, Canada, France, the impact of the 1980s might well be deeper
and longer lasting.
9. The 'right' has also denounced the inordinate and illegitimate (or so we are told) influence
acquired during the 1960s and 1970s by a New Class of social scientists, bureaucrats and
public interest group activists (Goldwin, ed., 1980).
10. Not all critics of the mechanistic control model who have addressed the question of power
relationships in organizations and/or in socio-political institutions can be easily fitted on
the left-right continuum; this is notably the case with Gareth Morgan (1986: ch. 9) and
Geoffrey Vickers (1965, 1983).

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376
11. See Prigogineand Stengers(1984), Nicolis and Prigogine(1989), Gleick (1987), Gao and
Charlwood(1991). All scientificparadigms,includingthe Newtonianparadigm,are the
productof a combinationof ideas that belong to differentrealms.But whatis noteworthy
aboutthe new paradigmis the self-consciousmannerin whichit has been constructedand
defendedas a philosophicalvision, and not merelyas a set of isolatedtheories,e.g., Prigogine and Stengers(1984).
12. Admittedly,the proposed constitutionalreformwas defeatedin a nationalreferendumin
1992, but the issue of nativerightsremainshighlyvisible.
13. The (re-)discoveryof the directionalityof social interactionshas implicationsalso for the
(outdated) Newtonian perspective of non-interventionistneo-classical economics. The
concepts of long term equilibriumdevelopedby Alfred Marshalland, even more systematically,by Leon Walrasnow more thanever appearsto havebeen a misguidedmetaphor.
Since the 1970s, economists are paying more attentionto phenomenathat make more
sense when envisionedfrom the perspectiveof irreversibility.
Examplesinclude rigidities
and lags,sometimesreferredto as cases of 'hysteresis,whichis actuallyan electromagnetic
metaphor,e.g., the 'stagflation'of the late 1970s when inflation persisted even though
unemploymentwas rising;the limitsto growth,or at least to lineargrowth,due to environmental constraints;and the role of informationin investmentdecisions as new technologiescome on streamcreatingunforeseenopportunitycosts andtherebycomplexifying
the criterionof utilitymaximization(Boyer et al., 1991: pp. 18-19). These new perspectives can only be strengthenedand refinedby the searchfor new models that build on the
progress already achieved in the natural sciences on the subject of non-equilibrium
systems(Dosi and Metcalfe,1991).
14. A bibliographicalsearchof recent articleson chaos and economics producedmore than
forty titles. Not all of them,of course,use 'chaos'in the technicalsense that this termhas
acquiredwithinchaos theory,but many(morethancan be cited here)do in fact applythat
methodology.
15. See also Pullen(1988).
16. This contrastmay no longerbe very sharpconsideringthat some advocatesof hermeneutics have recentlydemonstratedthat this methodis not specific to the humanitiesand the
social sciences,as earlyproponentsof hermeneuticalmethodsof analysisinsistedwas the
case (e.g.,Heelan, 1983).
17. While I agree with Feldman'scriticismof Dryzek'sgoals of turningpolicy analystsinto
(self-appointed)social critics (Feldman,1989: p. 145), policy analystswho are employed
by social democraticgovernmentsface a set of incentivessuch that an emphasison empowermentand decentralizationmight matchtheir political masters'currentdisillusionmentwithdirectstateinterventions.
18. Weinrib(1988) defends a not unsimilarposition but without alludingto autopoiesis or
self-organization.
19. This is a precautionthat the proponentsof the theoryof autopoiesis,and H. Maturanain
particular,have failed to observe.While these authorspropose a constructivisttheory of
cognition,they paradoxicallytreatself-referenceas a fundamentaltruth,or as an objective
structureof reality(e.g.,Dell, 1982: 39; for a contraryview see Zolo, 1990).
20. Of course,the politicalprocessitself entailsa constantuse of rhetoricalpracticesand symbolic exchanges,and so does its interpretation.Some would see here a sort of infinite
regress, and it must be admitted that this possibility exists. Nevertheless,democratic
politicsis a far more open and complexprocessthanthe analyticalprocessand, at leastin
this respect, stands in some sort of hierarchicalrelationto it. Thus when certainissues
move to the center of the political arena they can be settled in a more real sense than
throughthe analyticalprocess.

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377
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