Critical Systems Thinking for Citizens

  • Werner Ulrich

Abstract

If Critical Systems Thinking is to contribute to enlightened societal practice, e.g., with respect to the pressing environmental and social issues of our time, it should be accessible not only to well-trained decision makers and academics but also to a majority of citizens. This implies a need for pragmatizing critical systems ideas in such a way that they can be owned by citizens. The point of “Critical Systems Thinking for Citizens” is thus not that critical systems practitioners (or researchers) are meant to take an advocacy stance in favor of certain groups of citizens but rather that citizens themselves ought to be able to apply basic critical systems ideas on their own behalf. Unless the pragmatization of critical systems ideas is to have ultimately self-defeating elitist implications, the goal of pragmatizing Critical Systems Thinking for Citizens must be Critical Systems Thinking by citizens. In this short essay I argue that Critical Systems Thinking indeed has a potential to give new meaning to the concept of citizenship; it might enable all of us to become more responsible citizens. My question is, how can we harvest this potential? I propose that the way in which we seek to answer this question might constitute an important test for the methodological viability and validity of Critical Systems Thinking.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Barbalet, J. M. (1988). Citizenship: Rights, struggle and class inequality. Milton Keynes, England: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Checkland, P. B. (1978). The origins and nature of ‘hard’ systems thinking. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis, 5(2), 99–110.Google Scholar
  3. Checkland, P. B. (1992). Systems and scholarship: The need to do better. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 43, 1023–1030.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dávila, J. (1993). Foucault’s interpretive analytics of power. Systems Practice, 6, 383–405.Google Scholar
  5. Flood, R. L. (1990). Liberating systems theory. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  6. Flood, R. L. (1995). Solving problem solving. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  7. Flood, R. L., & Romm, N. R. A. (1995). Enhancing the process of methodology choice in total systems intervention (TSI) and improving chances of tackling coercion. Systems Practice, 8, 377–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Foucault, M. (1984). Polemics, politics, and problemizations. An interview with Michel Foucault. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The Foucault reader. New York: Pantheon. Reprinted by Penguin Books, London, 1991 (here pp. 381–390).Google Scholar
  9. Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action. Boston: Beacon Press. (German original 1981)Google Scholar
  10. Ivanov, K. (1991). Critical systems thinking and information technology: Some summary reflections, doubts, and hopes through critical thinking critically considered, and through hypersystems. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis, 18, 39–55.Google Scholar
  11. Jackson, M. C. (1991). Systems methodology for the management sciences. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  12. Marshall, T. H. (1950). Citizenship and social class and other essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Midgley, G. M. (1992). The sacred and profane in critical systems thinking. Systems Practice, 5, 5–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Midgley, G. M. (1995). What is this thing called critical systems thinking? In K. Ellis, A. Gregory, B. R. Mears-Young, & G. Ragsdell (Eds.), Critical issues in systems theory and practice (pp. 61–71). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  15. Midgley, G. M. (1996). Dealing with coercion: Critical systems heuristics and beyond. Systems Practice, 9 (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  16. Peirce, C. S. (1878). How to make our ideas clear. In C. Hartshorne & P. Weiss (Eds.), Collected papers, Vol. V. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2nd ed. 1960.Google Scholar
  17. Romm, N. (1994). Continuing tensions between soft systems methodology and critical systems heuristics. Research memorandum, 5, Centre for Systems Studies, University of Hull, Hull.Google Scholar
  18. Romm, N. (1995a). Knowing as intervention: Reflections on the application of systems ideas. Systems Practice, 8, 137–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Romm, N. (1995b). Some anomalies in Ulrich’s critical inquiry and problem-solving approach. In K. Ellis, A. Gregory, B. R. Mears-Young, & G. Ragsdell (Eds.), Critical issues in systems theory and practice (pp. 503–509). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  20. Schecter, D. (1991). Critical systems thinking in the 1980s: A connective summary. In R. L. Flood & M. C. Jackson (Eds.), Critical systems thinking: Directed readings (pp. 213–227). New York: Wiley, 1991.Google Scholar
  21. Ulrich, W. (1983). Critical heuristics of social planning: A new approach to practical philosophy. Bern: Haupt. Paperback ed. New York: Wiley, 1994.Google Scholar
  22. Ulrich, W. (1984). Management oder die Kunst, Entscheidungen zu treffen, die andere betreffen. Die Unternehmung, 38, 326–346.Google Scholar
  23. Ulrich, W. (1987). Critical heuristics of social systems design. European Journal of Operational Research, 31, 276–283. (Previously circulated as Working Paper, 10, Department of Management Systems and Sciences, University of Hull, Hull, England, March 1986.) Reprinted in M. C. Jackson, P. A. Keys & S. A. Cropper (Eds.), Operational research and the social sciences (pp. 79–87). New York: Plenum Press, 1989. Also in R. L. Flood & M. C. Jackson (Eds.), Critical systems thinking: Directed readings (pp. 103–115). New York: Wiley, 1991.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ulrich, W. (1988a). Systems thinking, systems practice, and practical philosophy: A program of research. Systems Practice, 1, 137–163. Reprinted in R. L. Flood & M. C. Jackson (Eds.), Critical systems thinking: Directed readings (pp. 245–268). New York: Wiley, 1991.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ulrich, W. (1988b). Churchman’s “process of unfolding”-Its significance for policy analysis and evaluation. Systems Practice, 1, 415–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ulrich, W. (1989). Liberating systems theory: Four key strategies. In P. J. Ledington (Ed.), Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) in Edinburgh, Scotland, 2–7 July 1989, Vol. II (pp. 252–262). Louisville, KY: ISSS.Google Scholar
  27. Ulrich, W. (1990). Critical systems thinking and ethics. In B. H. Banathy & B. A. Banathy (Eds.), Towards a just society for future generations, Proceedings of the 34th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) in Portland, Oregon, 8-13 July 1990, Vol. I (pp. 52–75). Ponoma, CA: ISSS.Google Scholar
  28. Ulrich, W. (1993). Some difficulties of ecological thinking, considered from a critical systems perspective: A plea for critical holism. Systems Practice, 6, 583–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ulrich, W. (1994). Can we secure future-responsive management through systems thinking and design? Interfaces, 24(4), 26–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ulrich, W. (1995). Critical systems thinking for citizens: A research proposal. Research memorandum, 10, Centre for Systems Studies, University of Hull, Hull, England, November 28, 1995.Google Scholar
  31. Ulrich, W. (1996a). Review of Solving Problem Solving by Robert L. Flood. Systems Practice, 9 (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  32. Ulrich, W. (1996b). A primer to Critical Systems Heuristics for action researchers. Hull, England: Centre for Systems Studies, University of Hull, March 31, 1996.Google Scholar
  33. Ulrich, W. (1997). Critical systems discourse, emancipation, and the public sphere, (to be published).Google Scholar
  34. Valero-Silva, N. (1995). A reflection on the work of Michel Foucault and its implications for critical systems thinking. In B. Bergvall-Kåreborn, (Ed.), Systems thinking, government policy and decision making, Proceedings of the 39th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences in Amsterdam, July 1995, ISSS, Louisville, KY, pp. 950–958.Google Scholar
  35. Valero-Silva, N. (1996). A Foucauldian reflection on Critical Systems Thinking. In R. L. Flood, & N. R. A. Romm, (Eds.), Critical systems thinking: Current research and practice, New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  36. Wilmott, H. (1989). OR as a problem situation: From soft systems methodology to critical science. In M. C. Jackson, P. A. Keys, & S. A. Cropper (Eds.), Operational research and the social sciences (pp. 65–78). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Werner Ulrich
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Systems StudiesUniversity of HullHullEngland
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of FribourgSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations