Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

2019 Edition
| Editors: Jay L. Lebow, Anthony L. Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Second-Order Cybernetics in Family Systems Theory

  • Miranda Smith
  • Eli KaramEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_308

Name of Concept

Second Order Cybernetics in Family Systems Theory


Cybernetics of Cybernetics*; New Cybernetics


Second-order cybernetics (also known as the Cybernetics of Cybernetics* and the New Cybernetics*) is a philosophy of communication and growth that acknowledges the recursive nature of relationships and interpersonal influence (Atkinson and Heath 1990). Second-order cybernetics holds that those who observe systems, such as family therapists, cannot be separated from the systems with which they observe and are thus constantly helping to shape reality for all members.

Theoretical Context for Concept

Second-order cybernetics considers (rather than ignores) the observer, studying observing as opposed to observed systems. A consequence is that all knowledge is seen as dependent on the observer involvement. The observer contributes and, since it is impossible to access what we observe without being an observer, that which is observed is unclear. Is there an...

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  1. Atkinson, B. J., & Heath, A. W. (1990). Further thoughts on second-order family therapy: This time it’s personal. Family Process, 29, 145–155.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. Hoffman, L. (1985). Beyond power and control: Toward a “second order” family systems therapy. Family Systems Medicine, 3(4), 381–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Howe, R., & von Foerster, H. (1974). Cybernetics at Illinois. Forum, 6, 15–17.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Douglas C. Breunlin
    • 1
  1. 1.The Family InstituteNorthwestern UniversityChicagoUSA