Grounding Sociology in Cybernetics

XVth ISA World Congress of Sociology 2002, Research Committee on Sociocybernetics Presentation Paper

24 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2002

See all articles by Shann Turnbull

Shann Turnbull

International Institute for Self-Governance; Sustainable Money Working Group; New Garden City Alliance

Date Written: August 1, 2002


This paper uses Transaction Byte Analysis (TBA) as developed by the author to ground sociology in cybernetics. Bytes provide a universal unit of social analysis. No relationship or organisation can exist without some sort of communication that can be measured in bytes. The transmission or storage of bytes involves physical changes in materials or in energy states subject to scientific laws. Information overload and bounded rationality can be explained by the physiological and neurological limits on the ability of individuals to receive, store, process or communicate bytes and so information, knowledge and wisdom. Cybernetic laws of requisite variety in communications, control and decision-making provide additional criteria for evaluating and/or designing social systems and organisations with unreliable components.

The power of TBA is illustrated by showing how the nested network of firms around the town of Mondragon in Spain follows the strategies used in nature to create and manage complexity through simple components. Individuals, firms, groups of firms, and the whole network are shown to be a hierarchy of holons or 'viable systems' described as a 'holarchy'. A hypothesis of TBA is that evolution developed contrary characteristics in social animals to economise bytes for their self-regulation. Unlike many other organisational theories, TBA accepts that individuals can be either, or both, trusting/suspicious, cooperative/competitive and/or altruistic/selfish. TBA is compared with the Transaction Cost Economics paradigm, which it subsumes to allow any type of institution to be investigated to provide the foundations for a 'science of organisation'.

Keywords: Cybernetics, Holons, Mondragon, Requisite variety, Science of organisation, Self-regulation, Social architecture, Tensegrity, Theory of the firm, Transaction byte analysis, Transaction

JEL Classification: A14, B49, D00, L00

Suggested Citation

Turnbull, Shann, Grounding Sociology in Cybernetics (August 1, 2002). XVth ISA World Congress of Sociology 2002, Research Committee on Sociocybernetics Presentation Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Shann Turnbull (Contact Author)

International Institute for Self-Governance ( email )

PO Box 266 Woollahra
Cell: +61418222378
Sydney, New South Wales 1350
+61293278487 (Phone)
+61280655905 (Fax)

SKYPE: shann.turnbull

Sustainable Money Working Group ( email )

Holyoake House
Hanover Street
Manchester, M60 0AS
United Kingdom

New Garden City Alliance ( email )

113 Guinness Court
London, UK, SE1 3TA
United Kingdom
+44 207 378 1902 (Phone)


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics