2.8. Tetrasociology and sociocybernetics: towards a comparison of the key concepts
Bernd Hornung, Germany; Bernard Scott, UK; Leo Semashko, Russia
Sociocybernetics and tetrasociology are interdisciplinary and multi-dimensional sociological theories rooted in several humanitarian disciplines: philosophy, sociology, psychology, political science, etc. Tetrasociology and sociocybernetics have a common theoretical platform -- the systems approach and sociological theory. Based on these, we shall tackle the question of a comparison of sociocybernetics and tetrasociology with the purpose of development and mutual enrichment of these disciplines within the framework of theoretical sociology. Interdisciplinary comparison and research are some of the most important trends in the development of general sociological theory, to which any of its sub-fields can make a contribution. In our brief review we limit ourselves to the two sub-fields mentioned, which differ both in their theoretical foundations and by how long each of them has been around. However, both approaches were brought to life in the context of the informational revolution and globalization, as a response to modern challenges. Now a brief definition of these disciplines is due.
Tetrasociology, or a sociology approaching society and individuals as four-dimensional systems, has been elaborated, using some ideas derived from Western sociology, by L.M.Semashko in Russia in the course of 25 years. However, it was not before 2002 that tetrasociology had come to the attention of Western scholars, when a book about it was first published in English [] and presented at the XVth World Congress of Sociology, which took place in Australia in July, 2002.
Sociocybernetics and its direct predecessors, in contrast to tetrasociology, have been developed by Western academics over the past 50 years, enjoying a high renown and having spawned hundreds of scholarly works. In order to compare tetrasociology and sociocybernetics, we will briefly overview their respective systems of concepts and chart methods for drawing the parallels.
Sociocybernetics is closely connected with systems approach. But historically, Systems Theory and Cybernetics developed in different contexts. Wiener (1948) first distinguished Cybernetics as a new discipline, the science of control and communication in the animal and the machine, following the successes of mathematicians, engineers and biologists who, in an interdisciplinary exchange, shed light on the nature of purposive, goal-seeking behaviour in natural and man-made complex systems. The phenomenon of negative feedback, involving a circularity of causation, was recognised as a universal feature of such systems, found in the workings of the humble thermostat and in the complex homeostatic processes that maintain the fabric and stability of living systems.
A general theory of systems was independently proposed by Von Bertalanffy (1950). As a Biologist, Von Bertalanffy and others (notably Weiss) emphasised the »holistic” nature of the organisation of living systems, captured in the Aristotellian aphorism that »the whole is more than the sum of its parts”. Von Bertalanffy is responsible for the distinction between »open” and »closed” systems. In his original definition, the distinction made was in terms of the exchange of matter and energy between the system and its environment. An open system persists as an organisation whilst engaging in such exchanges. A closed system is adiabatically sealed from its environment. In its isolation, it is subject to the second law of thermodynamics: over time its order (organisation) decreases and its disorder (entropy) increases. According to this definition, a candle flame and a living organism are open systems.
The contribution of Cybernetics was to make a clear distinction between matter and energy, on the one hand, and information and control on the other. A candle flame and a living organism are indeed both energetically open systems but the latter has the additional property of defining its own boundaries. It is self‑organising. From the outset, key thinkers recognised that, underlying the relative differences in emphasis, there is a fundamental unity of interest between Cybernetics and Systems Theory. As Ashby (1956) phrased it, both are primarily concerned with systems that are “open to energy and closed to information and controls”. An “informationally closed” system adapts to environmental disturbances. In doing so, it can be said to become more informed of its environment. From the perspective of an external observer, certain of its matter‑energy exchange may be seen as carriers of information. The system may be coupled by information exchange with other systems. In this restricted sense, the system, as part of a larger system, is informationally open. What remains intrinsic to it, despite changes due to adaptation, learning, maturation and evolution, is the basic circularity of its organisation: it consists of processes that produce structures that embody those processes.
For the moment, it is sufficient to note that in such a system, the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. A disturbance in a part of the system will necessarily affect all other parts of the system. From this brief discussion, it should be clear that “Systems Theory” and “Cybernetics” may be used interchangeably as labels for the emerging science that studies the organisation of complex systems. We have a preference for the term Cybernetics because of its historic connection with the need to understand cognition and purpose. Ashby [], for example, is always at pains to make clear the role played by the observer’s own purposes and interests in determining how a system is to be defined, described and explained [].
Sociocybernetics defined. We define sociocybernetics as «Systems Science in Sociology». Systems science, because sociocybernetics is not limited to theory but also includes application, empirical research, methodology, and axiology (i.e. ethics and value research) []. In sociology, as it deals with sociological theory proper, thus excluding in a first approach the other social sciences like psychology, anthropology, political science, etc. However, it is certainly expandable to the other social sciences. Furthermore, in an attempt to look at sociology from basic concepts, the present discussion focuses on First Order Cybernetics rather than on the further complications of Second Order Cybernetics.
Systems Science, or more precisely First Order Cybernetics, can be understood according to Wiener´s definition [] as the science of «steering and control in the animal and the machine», including human beings and natural «machines». The construction of sociology from cybernetics can be based on the fundamental idea elaborated elsewhere [] that the world consists at an elementary level of events or processes which are of two kinds, i.e. energetical/material and informational, an idea found (without theoretical justification though) already in the simulation studies of Jay W. Forrester.
Basic concepts of First Order Cybernetics. on this background a series of basic cybernetic or systems theoretical concepts is relevant, starting with feedback or circular causality as the basic cybernetic process. The closing of a causal chain provides the basic mechanism for positive (deviation amplification) and negative (deviation reduction) feedback loops. This both at the level of matter/energy, and at the level of information flows or combinations of both. If some kind of measuring device, a so-called comparator (which can be a mechanical device like the flyer in an old steam engine), is added to a negative feedback loop, controlled feedback becomes possible keeping a process close to an average or ideal state. It is control (or feedBACK), if the deviation to be reduced is measured after the event, it becomes steering (or feedFORWARD) if the deviation is anticipated and counter-action induced already before the event (like in driving a car around a curve). More complex set-ups of circular causality are reflexivity, self-reference, self-organization, and autopoiesis.
Regular patterns of such (and other) basic processes can be interpreted as structures, because they are stable over time. In particular so-called micro-processes, in the natural sciences as well as in social systems according to Herbert Simon [], often constitute structures at a higher level. Dynamic systems consequently can be conceived as consisting of a combination of processes and structures. If these are functionally interdependent, functionally cooperating, and, at least to some extent, closed off from the environment by a boundary, such a conglomeration of components, i.e. structures and processes, can be considered a system, i.e. «A system is a whole consisting of interdependent parts» [].
A system, according to Laszlo [], is characterized by four key properties: (1) Wholeness implying a system boundary, (2) positive feedback loops, (3) negative feedback loops, and (4) a systems hierarchy, i.e. usually a system can be considered as a subsystem of a higher level system (supra-system) and as being composed in its turn of sub-systems and sub-sub-systems etc., as far as the research purpose requires such a differentiation. These basic characteristics of systems according to Laszlo, include two process and two structural properties. The most simple and general functional model of such an open system is the input-output model consisting of an input mechanism, a transducer transforming inputs into outputs and an output mechanism. At the information level the basic scheme is the same, but the transducer is usually called the processor and a memory is added. The input mechanism is called a perceptor and the output mechanism an effector. Looking at the basic modelling components of the early simulation models of Forrester [], we might as well add a «memory» or rather a storage unit for «stocks» to the basic material-level input-output model.
Hence with the same basic building blocks it is possible to conceptualize both matter/energy systems (material systems) and information resp. information processing systems (IPS) [], whereby information processing systems are in fact always combinations of material processes and structures and information processes and structures. The latter are not possible without a material substrate, a «medium», although it is in many cases possible to abstract from the material basis. Thus it is possible to construct theoretically a coherent cybernetic world of systems and information processing systems which might after all be used to model and analyze even information society.
On the side of sociology proper concepts of sociology and sociocybernetics, the “socio-” part of sociocybernetics, the situation is much less clear, as so far sociology is characterized by a pluralism of more or less partial and incomplete theories [] along with a number of, more or less historical, attempts at «grand theory» covering the whole. The most recent one of the latter is doubtlessly the work of Niklas Luhmann []. Nonetheless, looking at the field of sociology at large, few efforts are visible towards what might be called a «systematic sociology» [].
A kind of empirical attempt in this direction was presented by Korte and his collaborators who published a series of four books in German intending to cover the field of sociology as introductory texts. The first volume presents a series of basic concepts of sociology which are «empirical» in the sense that the authors looked at the body of literature of sociology, and in particular at the «classics», to identify the basic concepts of sociology.
Both in the case of sociology and in the case of sociocybernetics «basic» or «main» concepts are not concepts on which most or even all sociologists respectively sociocyberneticians would agree upon, but just concepts being considered as main concepts by the respective authors on the basis of their knowledge of literature and on the basis of their own theoretical frameworks. This may be somewhat different in the case of tetrasociology, as the author who developed this theoretical approach speaks for himself in the present paper.
According to Korte and his collaborators there are 28 main concepts of sociology []. The table below catalogs the concepts of sociology, sociocybernetics, and tetrasociology, respectively.
Table 1: Main Concepts of Sociology, Sociocybernetics, and Tetrasociology
Main Concepts of Sociology
According to Korte et al.
Concepts of Sociocybernetics
(in comparison with 1st column)
Concepts of Tetrasociology
(in comparison with 1st column)
2) Social Action
2) Social Action, Interaction, Communication
2) Reproductive Employment of the People
3) Orientors, Norms, Basic Orientors, Values
3) Information, Culture
-- see 3)
--- see 3)
4) Meaning, Knowledge
--- see 3)
5) Socialization, Education, Learning
4) Social Sphere, People Reproduction
6) Psychological System, Personality
5) People, Individual, Person
7) Individual, Actor System
--- see 5)
6) Sphere Identity
--- see 5)
12) Deviant Behavior
13) Social Group
9) Social Group
7) Sphere Classes and Groups
8) Organization, Orgsphere, Order
--- see 8)
12) Power, Force/Violence
--- see 8)
-- see 12)
--- see 8)
18) (Legitimate) Rule
13) (Legitimate) Rule
--- see 8)
19) Social Constraints
14) Social Constraints
--- see 8)
20) Social Inequality
9) Social Inequality
-- see 15)
-- see 15)
-- see 15)
7) Sphere Classes and Groups
24) Social Stratification and Status
15) Social Stratification/ Status, Class, Estate, Caste
10) Social Stratification
--- see 3)
18) Development & Evolution, Social Change
12) Development, Social Genetics
28) Social Structure
19) Social Structure & Process
13) Sphere Structure
Not all «main concepts» of sociology have correspondences among the main concepts of sociocybernetics and the main concepts of tetrasociology. There remain empty categories. on the other hand, both sociocybernetics and tetrasociology include a number of main concepts which are not to be found among the concepts of sociology. Therefore complete lists of the main concepts both of sociocybernetics and of tetrasociology are presented before continuing on some more aspects of comparison.
Table 2: Main Concepts of Sociocybernetics Grouped
The first concept in each line is the «main concept» followed in some cases by variations or closely related concepts. The numbering is sequential, the numbers behind some of the concepts refer to the respective number in the previous table.
I Epistemology, Philosophy of Science, Meta-Level
V Empirical Research
1) Sociocybernetics (1)
3) Process, Flows (18)
4) Structure (19)
6) Causality (circular)
7) Function, Purpose
9) Information (incl. data)
II Theory and Axiology
Cultural and Psychological Concepts - Information Structure
12) Culture (17)
13) Symbols, Symbol Systems
14) Orientors, Norms, Basic Orientors, Values (3)
15) Meaning, Knowledge (4)
16) Institution (10)
17) Socialization, Education (5)
19) (Ego-)Identity (8)
20) Psychological System, Personality, Individual, Subject (6)
21) Lifestyle, Habitus
Information Processing Concepts - Information Process
22) Emotional System, Feelings
23) Cognition, Perception, Cognitive System
25) Decision-making, incl. Evaluation
Action Concepts - Process
26) Action, Interaction, Behavior (2)
27) Communication, Message
28) Mobility (16)
29) Cooperation, Consensus, Consent
Social Units - Structural Components
31) Social System, Controlled System, Uncontrolled System (Eco-System Type)
32) Actor System
34) Individual (7)
35) Interaction System
36) Group (9)
37) Organization (11)
39) Societal System, Society
Forces and Power - Process
40) Steering and Control
41) Power, Force/Violence, Attractor (12)
42) (Legitimate) Rule (13)
Social (Macro-) Structure and Dynamics - Structure & Process
44) Social Structure and Social Process (19)
45) Constraints (14)
46) Stratification, Status, Class, Estate, Caste (15)
47) Hierarchization, System Hierarchy, Control Hierarchy, Micro-, Meso-, Macro-Level
49) Functional Differentiation and Subsystems, Social Spheres
50) Development, Evolution, Social Change (18)
Specific Sociocybernetic Concepts - Structure and Process
54) Feedback/Feedforward (pos./neg.)
56) Requisite Variety
57) Self-Organization, Autopoiesis, Self-Reference
58) Observation, Observer
61) Emergence, Synergy
62) Stabilization, Homeostasis/Morphostasis/Morphogenesis
Table 3: Main Concepts of Tetrasociology Grouped
5)Reproductive Employment (2), Sphere Classes of Population (7), Social Energy
6)Social Resources (Resources of Reproduction)
7)Social Processes (Processes of Reproduction)
8)Social Structures (Structures of Reproduction, Spheres of Reproduction and Employment) (13)
9)Social States, Development, Evolution (States of Reproduction) (12)
10)Social Space-Time, Social World, Society, The Social
11)People, Individual, Person (5)
12)Information, Culture (3)
13)Organization, Orgsphere, Order (8)
14)Things (Social Matter)
19)Social (Humanitarian) Sphere of Reproduction (Sociosphere)
20)Informational (Cultural, Spiritual) Sphere of Reproduction (Infosphere)
21)Organizational (Political, Managerial) Sphere of Reproduction (Orgsphere)
22)Technical (Material, Economical) Sphere of Reproduction (Technosphere)
23) Prosperity (12)
27) Social (Humanitarian) Class of Population (Socioclass)
28)Informational Class of Population (Infoclass)
29)Organizational Class of Population (Orgclass)
30)Technical Class of Population (Technoclass)
Table 3.1: Main Concepts of Tetrasociology Grouped
SOCIAL SPACE - TIME (SOCIAL WORLD, SOCIETY, THE SOCIAL)
S P H E R E
C L A S S E S OF THE P O P U L A T I O N
CLASS (Teacher, doctors, social workers; not working ….)
CLASS (Scientific, artists, journalists, engineers, programmers …)
CLASS (Politics, lawyers, military men, managers, financiers …)
CLASS (Working class, peasants / farmers)
Note: Reproductive employment of the people coincides with the contents of the sphere classes. Therefore the given concepts are identical and considered as one concept, though they differ as a subject (sphere classes) and its intrinsic quality (reproductive employment), which is not separated from it. In total the 26 main tetrasociology’s concepts are reflected in the table, except for meta-concepts. All other tetrasociological concepts are derived from them.
Table 4: Main Concepts of Sociology Grouped
(according to Korte et al.)
2) Social action
10) Habitus (or Culture)
12) Deviant behavior
13) Social Group
Forces and Power
18) (Legitimate) Rule
24) Social stratification and status
Social (Macro-) Structures and Processes
19) Social constraints
20) Social inequality
28) Social structure
A brief review like this one is not intended for a detailed comparison of the conceptual frameworks of sociology, sociocybernetics, and tetrasociology. The purpose of this overview is limited to demonstrating the very complex, interdisciplinary problem of comparison of the concepts systems to provide a first idea of how sociological, sociocybernetic, and Tetrasociological concepts and theories relate to each other. Cataloging and grouping the main concepts of these different theoretical approaches, we create the preconditions necessary for more thorough and detailed comparisons. In the following will point to certain aspects of interdisciplinary analysis of the problem of drawing parallels between the concepts analyzed will be pointed out.
First, the theories appear to share some concepts, their meaning being nearly identical: individuum/personality, culture/information, organization/institution, social structure, groups/classes, action/process, development. Each of the theories considers these concepts as pivotal. The three theoretical approaches investigated seem to have a core of similar key concepts. Other concepts, either diverging or intersecting, form the distinctive character of each approach. Thus, the main problem in drawing parallels is to determine which concepts are common or shared. This is the corner-stone of such comparisons. If there are no common concepts, then there is not much point in a comparison.
Second, sociology and sociocybernetics, as disciplines with a long history, are approached from standpoints of those scholars who are being quoted. This means that other authors may have a different interpretation of these disciplines. As for tetrasociology, because it is new, it is presented in the version of its founder, which does not rule out the possibility of different interpretations in the future.
Third, sociology, as the older and more fundamental discipline, serves as the common ground for comparing sociocybernetics and tetrasociology as particular theoretical approaches and new trends developing in sociology, albeit with integrationist, interdisciplinary and systemic ambitions.
Fourth, such a term as "main concept" turns out to be very dubious and vague. What are the criteria to determine what concepts are to be considered "main" in an academic discipline? There can be a multitude of such criteria. Every discipline identifies its own set of "main" concepts, and they are different in psychology, economics, philosophy, etc. Moreover, what is considered to be «main» by an author also depends to some extent on the kinds of problems he is interested in and which he wants to deal with by using theoretical concepts. The problem influences which concepts are most useful and which ones are irrelevant. Also, the "main" concepts of a discipline can be identified with regard to different levels of abstraction (e.g. systems or people) or different levels of aggregation (e.g. individual or society). The existence of a large number of the criteria for identifying "main" concepts makes the task difficult. In our context, the "main" concepts are identified from the viewpoints of some authors representing the respective approaches and as a result of their self-evaluation and self-examination.
Fifth, the grouping of concepts, too, proceeds along different lines and on different foundations. The problem of comparing tetrasociology and sociocybernetics with regard to groups of concepts calls for an extensive separate analysis. In most general terms, the main distinction between sociocybernetics and tetrasociology lies in the following concepts: In sociocybernetics, the central concepts are structure, process, information, organization, feedforward and feedback.
Tetrasociology's central concepts are resources, processes and spheres of reproduction, reproductive
employment (employment sphere classes).
Determining to what degree these concepts are (in)compatible is one of the major issues of this comparative analysis.
Sixth, it is obvious that each system of concepts is limited. Hence they complement each other to some extent. But the question of how, to what degree, and in what respect this is the case is very complex and calls for a separate study.
To conclude, sociocybernetics and tetrasociology have many common theoretical foundations: Sociology, systems approach, multi-dimensionality, interdisciplinarity, etc. However, they also have conspicuous differences. These differences, while conducive to mutual enrichment in some instances, in others give rise to contradictions. Contradictions are normal in any science's evolution, including the social sciences. They are a big stimulus for the progress both of sociocybernetics and tetrasociology, including a possible future synthesis generating a new paradigm. Comparing scientific approaches and disciplines is a very difficult task, but formulating and tackling this problem, although being but one step in the development of social sciences, is conducive to a rise of new, productive ideas.
Dr Bernd R.Hornung
Philipps-University Marburg, Germany
President, Research Committee 51
(on Sociocybernetics) of the International Sociological Association
Dr Bernard Scott,
Cranfield University, Royal Military College of Science, UK
Board Member, Research Committee 51
(on Sociocybernetics) of the International Sociological Association
) Semashko, Leo. Tetrasociology, Responses to Challenges, Technical University, St. Petersburg, 2002.
) Ashby, W.R.. Introduction to Cybernetics, New York: Wiley, 1956
) Scott, Bernard. (2000). “Cybernetic explanation and development”, Kybernetes, 29, 7/8, pp. 966-994
) Cf. GEYER, Felix; VAN DIJKUM, Cor (eds.): Newsletter 7, ISA - International Sociological Association, Research Committee 51 on Sociocybernetics (RC 51), in: Journal of Sociocybernetics, vol. 4, no. 1 January 1999, contributions pp. 11-28; available at http://www.unizar.es/sociocybernetics.
) WIENER, Norbert: Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass. 1994.
) Cf. HORNUNG, Bernd R.: Sociocultural Evolution, Towards the Merging of Material and Informational Evolution, in: ASSOCIATION INTERNATIONALE DE CYBERNETIQUE (AIC) (ed.): 14th International Congress on Cybernetics, Namur (Belgium), August 21st-25th 1995, Proceedings, pp. 867-872, AIC, Namur 1995; HORNUNG, Bernd R.: Towards a Sociology of Process and Information, Information, Communication, Knowledge, and Action in a Constructivist Approach, Paper presented at the 3rd International Conference on Sociocybernetics, Leon, Mexico, June 24th - July 1st, 2001, unpublished conference paper, 2001; HORNUNG, Bernd R.: EMERGENCE - A Key Concept for Sociocybernetic Theory of Information Society, Paper presented at the 15th World Congress of Sociology, Brisbane, July 8-13, 2002, RC51 on Sociocybernetics, Session 13, unpublished conference paper, 2002.
) SIMON, Herbert A.: La science des systèmes, Science de l'artificiel, Orig.: The Sciences of the Artificial, Epi s.a. éditeurs, Paris 1974.
) A description of the entire systems paradigm is given in HORNUNG, Bernd R.: Grundlagen einer problemfunktionalistischen Systemtheorie gesellschaftlicher Entwicklung, (Foundations of a Problem-functionalist Systems Theory of Development), Verlag Peter Lang, Bern, Frankfurt/M., New York, Paris, Wien 1988, pp. 33-39; HORNUNG, Bernd R.: Sociocultural Evolution, op. cit.
) LASZLO, Ervin: Introduction to Systems Philosophy, Toward a New Paradigm of Contemporary Thought, Harper & Row, New York, London 1973, pp. 36-47.
) FORRESTER, Jay W.: Grundsätze einer Systemtheorie, Orig.: Principles of Systems, Th. Gabler, (Wright Allen Press), Wiesbaden, (Cambridge Mass.) 1972 (1968).
) Cf. MILLER, James G.: Living Systems, McGraw Hill, New York 1978.
 Scott, B. (2001). "Cybernetics and the Social Sciences", Systems Research, 18, pp. 411-420.
) E.g. LUHMANN, Niklas: Social Systems, Stanford University Press, Stanford 1995.
) one of these is SIEBEL, Wiegand: Einführung in die systematische Soziologie, (Introduction to Systematic Sociology), Verlag C.H. Beck, München 1984.
) KORTE, Hermann; SCHÄFERS, Bernhard (eds.): Einführung in Hauptbegriffe der Soziologie, (Introduction to Main Concepts of Sociology), Einführungskurs Soziologie, Bd. I, 5. Aufl., UTB, Bd., 8063, Leske + Budrich, Leverkusen, Opladen 2000, pp. 7, 9.
) A similar system of 26 sociological concepts in the form of a web was created by Bernard Phillips in the framework of his Web Approach: PHILLIPS, Bernard: Beyond Sociology's Tower of Babel, Reconstructing the Scientific Method, Aldine de Gruyter, Hawthorne, NY, 2001, p. 27, figures 1-3, p. 24. The inclusion of this in the present comparison of systems of sociological concepts would be very interesting and productive for further development of the respective theories but it would require a much more encompassing analysis.