The Herd Moves? Emergence and Self-Organization in Collective Actors

52 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2006

See all articles by Martin Beckenkamp

Martin Beckenkamp

Max Planck Society for the Advancement of the Sciences - Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods

Date Written: July 2006


The puzzle about collective actors is in the focus of this contribution. The first section enters into the question of the adequateness and inadequateness of reductionist explanations for the description of entities. The considerations in this part do not draw on systems and hence not on principles of self-organisation, because this concept necessitates a systemic view. In other words, the first section discusses reductionism and holism on a very general level. The scope of these arguments goes far beyond self-organising systems. Pragmatically, these arguments will be discussed within the domain of corporative actors.

Emergence is a concept embedded in system theory. Therefore, in the second part the previous general considerations about holism are integrated with respect to the concept emergence. In order to close the argument by exactly characterising self-organising systems and giving the conceptual link between self-organisation and emergence - which is done in the section four - the third section generally conceptualises systems. This conceptualisation is independent of whether these systems are self-organising or not. Feedback loops are specified as an essential component of systems. They establish the essential precondition of system-theoretic models where causes may also be effects and vice versa. System-theory is essential for dynamic models like ecological models and network thinking.

In the fourth part mathematical chaos-theory bridges the gap between the presentation of systems in general and the constricted consideration of self-organising systems. The capability to behave or react chaotically is a necessary precondition of self-organisation. Nevertheless, there are striking differences in the answers given from theories of self-organisation in biology, economics or sociology on the question What makes the whole more than the sum of its parts? The fracture seems particularly salient at the borderline between formal-mathematical sciences like natural sciences including economy and other social sciences like sociology, for instance in the understanding and conceptualisation of chaos or complexity. Sometimes it creates the impression that originally well defined concepts from mathematics and natural science are metaphorically used in social sciences. This is a further reason why this paper concentrates on conceptualisations of self-organisation from natural sciences.

The fifth part integrates the arguments from a system-theoretic point of view given in the three previous sections with respect to collective and corporative actors. Due to his prominence all five sections sometimes deal with the sociological system theory by Niklas Luhmann, especially in those parts with rigorous and important differences between his conception and the view given in this text. Despite Luhmann's undoubted prominence in sociology, the present text strives for a more analytical and formal understanding of social systems and tries to find a base for another methodological approach.

Suggested Citation

Beckenkamp, Martin, The Herd Moves? Emergence and Self-Organization in Collective Actors (July 2006). MPI Collective Goods Preprint No. 2006/14. Available at SSRN: or

Martin Beckenkamp (Contact Author)

Max Planck Society for the Advancement of the Sciences - Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods ( email )

Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 10
D-53113 Bonn, DE

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