Understanding the World as a Heterogeneous Whole: Insights into Systems from Work on Irrigation

Uphoff, N. (1996) Understanding the World as a Heterogeneous Whole: Insights into Systems from Work on Irrigation. Systems Research, 13 (1). pp. 3-12.

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Both social systems and physical systems are complex enough that they are usually considered separately. This article deals with their connectedness in both operational and analytical terms. It starts with the transformation of an irrigation system in Sri Lanka, where the social system and the physical system obviously and necessarily interacted. This particular system was much deteriorated in both social and physical terms over the past 30 years. Even so, production and cooperation were increased there much more rapidly than anyone anticipated. The author found the prevailing concepts and explanations offered by contemporary social science inadequate to account for this change. This was due in large part to their being influenced by images of reality from classical 18th century (Newtonian) physics. The social dynamics and outcomes observed can be better understood by drawing, mutatis mutandis, on ideas put forward in emergent theories of physical science in this century-relativity, quantum and chaos theories, and now also complexity theory. There is enough similarity between physical and social phenomena and relationships that social systems can be illuminated by considering how ‘post-Newtonian’ physical sciences conceive and understand their subject matter. This means taking less mechanistic and deterministic views of social realities, focusing more on their contingence than on their essences.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: social systems; physical systems; open systems; irrigation systems; relativity theory; quantum theory; chaos theory; complexity theory
Author Affiliation: Cornell University, lthaca, NY 14853, USA
Subjects: Social Sciences
Divisions: General
Depositing User: Mr Siva Shankar
Date Deposited: 14 Mar 2014 10:32
Last Modified: 14 Mar 2014 10:32
URI: http://eprints.icrisat.ac.in/id/eprint/12885

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