The phenomenology of sociocracy

Phenomenology is a philosophy, an academic discipline, and a practiced research methodology. It arose from a group of continental philosophers in the early 1900s with Edmund Husserl and has developed into a qualitative research methodology. Unlike other research methodologies, our sense experience, intuition, and feelings do not need to be disregarded. The key is to notice without attachment, and discern the difference between thoughts, feelings, and direct experience.

Sociocracy is a governance method based on consent decision-making and cybernetic principles. Sociocracy was developed during the 1970s by Gerard Endenburg. Endenburg is a Dutch entrepreneur and electrical engineer. His first book on sociocracy was published in Dutch in 1981 and in English in 1988. The book contains two examples to illustrate the feedback control loop, or circle process, in cybernetics. The first example is riding a bicycle,1 and the second is a central heating system.2

The basic rules, or principles, in sociocracy are discussed in detail in relation to these two examples. The major conclusion drawn is that there is one operating limit which can never come under discussion, and that is the equivalence in the decision-making.3 An important distinction is that this equivalence in the decision-making only applies to deciding the operating limits, or thresholds, of the system components. This is why the first principle in sociocracy only governs policy decision-making.

Gerard Endenburg acknowledges that the operating limits in riding a bicycle are not the same kind of limits as those within which a thermostat in a heating system is allowed to function, but he still thinks that they indicate constraints within which control may be exercised.4 He is aware that riding a bicycle is far more complex in reality than his simple example might suggest.5 Endenburg also acknowledges that people are not system components,6 but he doesn’t distinguish between machines and organisms in his reasoning.7 The way of seeing in sociocracy is the engineer’s. The operating idea is cybernetics.

With a phenomenological approach, Gerard Endenburg would have set aside his engineering preconceptions and assumptions, and explored the phenomenon of riding a bicycle in terms of itself. He would have reflected on his experiences to search for intrinsic patterns and qualities, and, with them, gained a deeper understanding. For example, he might have noticed that some operating limits are authentic, while others are counterfeit.8,9,10,11

Authentic operating limits are, in this case, determined by the bicyclist’s need to keep the balance while riding the bicycle.12 An example of a counterfeit operating limit could be to be forbidden to cross a white line on the road. It would be counterfeit because the bicyclist would still cross the line, if needed, to keep the balance.13 However, sometimes not crossing the line could be authentic, for example, if it would be better to fall than to be killed by a car.14 The point is that people decide themselves what is authentic, or not, depending on the situation.15 And people don’t obey counterfeit operating limits, or rules, unless they are forced to do so.16 This means that equivalence is applicable to all decision-making. The operating limit on sociocracy itself is that people are autonomic.17,18

Notes:
1 Gerard Endenburg, Sociocracy: The organization of decision-making, (Eburon, 1998), pp. 16—19, 23, 33—37, 223—224.
2 Ibid., pp. 19—23, 30, 36, 40.
3 Ibid., p. 23.
4 Ibid. pp. 23, 30.
5 Ibid., p. 16.
6 Ibid., p. 39.
7 Ibid.
8 The idea behind authentic versus counterfeit operating limits is inspired by Henri Bortoft who distinguished between authentic versus counterfeit wholes. See for example Emma Kidd, First Steps to Seeing: A Path Towards Living Attentively, (Floris Books, 2015), pp. 90—95.
9 See also Simon Robinson & Maria Moraes Robinson, Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, (Floris Books, 2014), pp. 51f & 150.
10 The notion of authentic and counterfeit is also connected to the phenomenological idea of belonging together. Note especially that there is a feedback loop in that the way in which the belonging together is developed helps to inform the system, and when the system is created it can also help to better see the belonging together. Ibid., pp. 150—153.
11 The belonging together emerges from the phenomenon itself. See Emma Kidd, First Steps to Seeing: A Path Towards Living Attentively, (Floris Books, 2015), pp. 70, 132.
12 Authentic operating limits naturally belong together with the situation, in this case with the bicyclist’s balancing act.
13 Counterfeit operating limits are artificially forced to belong together with the situation.
14 Note that there is a feedback loop between the operating limit(s) and the situation.
15 It’s important to understand the situation and let it control the actions. See Frederick S. Perls, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, (Bantam Books, 1969), p. 20.
16 External control, even internalized, interferes with the healthy working of the organism. Ibid.
17 Organisms are autonomic, while machines are allonomic. Organisms come into being as a whole entity and grow into maturity as a whole entity unlike machines that are assembled piece by piece by some other. See Norm Hirst, Towards a science of life as creative organisms, Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 4, No 1-2 (2008).
18 According to Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, we can never direct a living system; we can only disturb it. Furthermore, a living system has the autonomy to decide what to notice and what will disturb it. See Fritjof Capra & Pier Luigi Luisi, The Systems View of Life: A Unified Vision, 4th printing, (Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 256.

Related book reviews:
Book Review: Sociocracy by Gerard Endenburg
Book Review: First Steps to Seeing by Emma Kidd
Book Review: Holonomics by Simon Robinson & Maria Moraes Robinson

Related posts:
The big misconception in sociocracy
Fritz Perls on control
What if control is inappropriate?
Machines are allonomic, living organisms are autonomic
Autognomics: Radical Self-Knowing
Self-organization is the real operating system
Emergence is simply what life does
Empowerment is a red herring
Pre-conditions for self-organization
What if the organization is a living system?

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