Modern Society - a Complex, Evolutionary, Self-Organising, Antagonistic System

INTAS Project "Human Strategies in Complexity" Research Paper

43 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2003

Date Written: November 30, 2002


The aim of this paper is to outline some foundational aspects of a theory of self-organising social change. Synchronous social self-organisation is based on a contradiction between structures and actors that produces emergent results. The cycle of expanded reproduction of capital outlined by Marx can be interpreted as economic type of autopoiesis or self-reproduction. Aspects of Marxist crisis theory can be incorporated consistently into the framework of a theory of social self-organisation. Capitalism is a complex, evolutionary, antagonistic system that is shaped by a dialectic of chance and necessity: In diachronic social self-organisation of capitalism, the evolving economic, political and cultural antagonisms as objective conditions of existence again and again result in phases of crisis and instability where the future development of the system is highly undetermined. The objective structures condition a field of possibilities, it is not pre-determined which alternative will be taken. In such phases of crisis and bifurcation, agency and human intervention play an important role in order to increase the possibility that a certain desirable alternative will be taken. Certainty can't be achieved, but agency also is not made impossible by the principles of self-organising social change. The whole movement of social self-organisation is based on a dialectic relationship of chance and necessity. Regulation theory sees the development of system shaped by a dialectic of chance and necessity as well as by a dialectic of generality and specificity in the same manner as self-Organisation Theory. Mechanistic, reductionistic, economistic and deterministic arguments that have been characteristic for traditional crisis theories are avoided, a crisis of society is not reduced to economic factors and to a single economic antagonism. Regulation theory rather considers besides economical also political and ideological factors as relatively autonomous ones that influence crises of society. An unity of a regime of accumulation and a mode of regulation that is characteristic for a specific mode of development that is shaped by a specific structure of antagonisms is assumed. There are distinct parallels between the regulation approach and self-organisation theory, but the relationship between general and specific categories as well as between chance and necessity is still largely unsettled in the regulation approach (as well as in systems theory). It seems that the regulation school assumes a development of capitalism that is largely shaped by random evolution of antagonistic structures that is not dialectically related to general categories and antagonisms. Nonetheless regulation theory gives us a detailed analysis of Fordism, its crisis and Postfordism as well as a very useful model of the development of society. Hence my own approach is partly based on this theory.

Keywords: self-organisation, self-organization, autopoiesis, capitalism, society, political economy, Marx, Marxism

JEL Classification: P1, A14, B14, B51

Suggested Citation

Fuchs, Christian, Modern Society - a Complex, Evolutionary, Self-Organising, Antagonistic System (November 30, 2002). INTAS Project "Human Strategies in Complexity" Research Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Christian Fuchs (Contact Author)

University of Salzburg ( email )

A-5020 Salzburg

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