The social theory of a sustainable, collaborative learning society is founded on a strong theoretical basis, which is the subject matter of this part of the writing. The underlying theories will be unfolded step by step, each step resulting in clarifying aspects of a fundamental principle. These fundamentals taken together underpin the social theory. Some theories are hard to digest. In particular, George Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form (LoF) is discussed, which is a mathematical and philosophical work describing the very principles of mathematics and human cognition. LoF provided the basis for the social theory of Luhmann, which is highly influential but also not easy to comprehend. The theories are explained in such a way that the fundamentals for the social theory of a sustainable, collaborative learning society are justified. Readers with limited or no theoretical inclinations may just assume the validness of these fundamentals by taking the explanations for granted. However, much effort has been put into the explanation of the theories to make it worthwhile to dig deeper to gain deep insights. Again, it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but give it a try.

The foundation for the social theory is structured according to the scheme shown below.

Foundation for the social theory.jpg

Systems thinking and cybernetics provide the foundation for the social theory to reason about wicked problems systematically. Together they form an interdisciplinary field, incorporating ideas from philosophy, mathematics, physics, sociology, biology, and many more, to develop an overarching theory to understand complex phenomena from different perspectives. Systems thinking is about understanding the whole through its parts. However, the parts cannot be understood without the context of the whole. Cybernetics is the art of steering, navigating or governing a system. First-order cybernetics introduced the concepts of feedback, in particular negative feedback to control that a desired outcome is reached and maintained.

Systems thinking and first-order cybernetics shared originally the same ideas. The two branches then departed in two separate tracks having a distinct interpretation of the system concept. Systems thinking further developed into soft systems thinking and critical systems thinking, whereas first-order cybernetics evolved in second-order cybernetics. Second-order cybernetics introduced the observer as part of the system. Spencer-Brown’s LoF gave a decisive thrust to second-order cybernetics consolidating Maturana’s and Varela’s concept of self-producing systems and Luhmann’s social theory.

Remarkably, there is hardly any cross-fertilization between these two branches, which is regrettable because both strands of systems thinking have developed valuable ideas and methods. With the Expertise Management Methodology (EMM), having the Expertise Management ontology (EMont) as its core, the two strands are brought together. This gives a rich and open methodological framework in which theories and concepts can be embedded, like the aforementioned systems approaches and cybernetics, but also human behavior models and identity theory. And these are all foundational for the social theory of a sustainable, collaborative learning society.