Co-operation and Self-Organization

  • Christian Fuchs Institute for Design and Technology Assessment, Vienna University of Technology
Keywords: co-operation, social self-organization, social information, society, re-creativity


Co-operation has its specific meanings in physical (dissipative), biological (autopoietic) and social (re-creative) systems. On upper hierarchical systemic levels there are additional, emergent properties of co-operation, co-operation evolves dialectically. The focus of this paper is human cooperation. Social systems permanently reproduce themselves in a loop that mutually connects social structures and actors. Social structures enable and constrain actions, they are medium and outcome of social actions. This reflexive process is termed re-creation and describes the process of social selforganization. Co-operation in a very weak sense means coaction and takes place permanently in re-creative systems: two or more actors act together in a co-ordinated manner so that a new emergent property emerges. Co-action involves the formation of forces, environment and sense (dispositions, decisions, definitions). Mechanistic approaches conceive coaction in terms of rational planning, consciousness, intention, predictability, and necessity. Holistic approaches conceive coaction in terms of spontaneity, unconscious and unintended actions, non-predictability, chance. Dialectic approaches conceive co-action in terms of a unity of rational planning and spontaneous emergence, a unity of conscious and unconscious aspects and consequences, and a unity of necessity and chance. Co-operation in a strong sense that is employed in this paper means that actors work together, create a new emergent reality, have shared goals, all benefit from co-operating, can reach their goals in joint effort more quickly and more efficiently than on an individual basis, make concerted use of existing structures in order to produce new structures, learn from each other mutually, are interconnected in a social network, and are mutually dependent and responsible. There is a lack of cooperation, self-determination, inclusion and direct democracy in modern society due to its antagonistic structures. This today culminates in global problems such as the ecological crisis, high risk technologies, poverty, unemployment, wars, armed conflicts, terrorism, etc. In order to solve these problems our social systems need re-design in terms of ecological sustainability, alliance technology, participatory economy, participatory democracy, and participatory culture. Participation is an integrated notion that is based on co-operation, selfdetermination, and inclusion in multiple dimensions. A system can be considered as participatory if power in the system is distributed in such a way that all members and concerned individuals can own the system co-operatively and can produce, decide and live in the system co-operatively. Participation is frequently understood in the very narrow sense of concerned people taking somehow part in decision processes. Such an understanding is limited to the political dimension and says nothing about the scope and dimension of participation. There are several dimensions of participation in a social system or in society: producing, owning, consuming (economic dimension), deciding, goal-setting, evaluating (political dimension), forming knowledge/norms/values/images/visions, communicating, networking, self-realizing (cultural dimension). Participation in each of these ten dimensions can be low, medium or high/full. The participation matrix describes the degree of participation in an organization/society with the help of the three dimensions of economy, politics and culture and an analysis of the scope of participation (economic, political, cultural).