How do systems — systems sciences, systems thinking, systems practice — fit into the way that individuals and social groups behave? The connections between the development of general systems theory and interdisciplinary work stretches back into the mid-20th century. In the Science of Synthesis, Debora Hammond traced the history of researchers bridging over disciplinary boundaries.
Early in the fall of 1954, four of the distinguished CASBS [Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences] fellows — Bertalanffy, Boulding, Gerard, and Rapoport — sat together at lunch discussing their mutual interest in theoretical frameworks relevant to the study of different kinds of systems, including physical, technological, biological, social, and symbolic systems. According to Boulding, someone suggested they form a society to foster interdisciplinary research on a general theory of complex systems, and thus the idea for the Society for General Systems Research (SGSR) was born. [Hammond 2003, p. 9]
Initiated by a grant from the Ford Foundation in 1954, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences continues today, having joined Stanford University in 2008. The luminaries founding the Society for General Systems Research — Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Kenneth Boulding, Ralph Gerard and Anatol Rapoport — continue to be held in high regard today, in the International Society for the Systems Sciences (as the society was renamed in 1998).
The CASBS ties surfaced during the research leading to the report “John Bowlby – Rediscovering a systems scientist“, authored by Gary Metcalf. On a visit to the Bowlby archives in the Wellcome Library in London, I served as a research assistant to Gary. One artifact that we uncovered was the list of CASBS fellows for the 1957-58 years, with blue pen and red pencil markups by Bowlby. Over 50 years later, many of those fellows have become prominent public figures, famous in a variety of ways. Here’s my transcription of that original document. In the case some of the names seem only vaguely familiar, I’ve appended a column on biographical sources as a reference.
<< begin paste >>
202 Junipero Serra Boulevard, Stanford, California
8 p.m. Wed – 23rd
(check) SEARS – UL1-1679
(check) TYLER – DA6-3633
|Study||(handwritten, blue pen)||Name||(handwritten, red pencil)||University|
|15||ABELSON, Robert P.||(red tick)||Yale – Psychology||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|18||(check, circle)||ALBERT, Ethel M.||(red tick)||Harvard – Philosophy, Anthropology||[works on philpapers.org]|
|9||ANDERSON, T. W.||(red tick)||Columbia – Mathematics – Statistics||[web page at Stanford Department of Statistics]|
|25||(check, circle)||BARKER, Roger G.||(red tick)||Kansas – Psychology||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|37||(check, x)||BEACH, Frank A.||(red tick)||Yale – Psychology||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|48||BEN-DAVID, Joseph||(red tick)||Hebrew – Sociology||[life history on churchofhumanism.org]|
|22||BOWLBY, John, M.D.||Tavistock Clinic – Psychiatry||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|30||(check)||BRINTON, Crane||Harvard – History||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|33||BURKE, Kenneth||(red tick)||Bennington – Literature||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|4||(check, circle)||CLAUSEN, John A.||(red tick)||National Institute of Mental Health – Sociology||[obituary on berkeley.edu]|
|19||CUNLIFFE, Marcus||Manchester – History||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|6||CURRIE, Brainerd||Chicago – Law||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|39||(check)||DAHRENDORF, Ralf||Saarlandes – Sociology||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|46||(check)||EASTON, David||(red tick)||Chicago – Political Science||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|7||EULAU, Heinz||Antioch – Political Science||[obituary on stanford.edu]|
|51||FRIEDMAN, Milton||Chicago – Economics||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|41||GINSBURG, Benson E.||(red tick)||Chicago – Biology||[biography at uconn.edu]|
|43||GLOCK, Charles Y.||Columbia – Sociology||[entry on Encyclopedia of Religion and Society at hartsem.edu]|
|34||GOODENOUGH, Ward||Pennsylvania – Anthropology||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|38||GOTTSCHALK, Louis||Chicago – History||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|31||GROSS, Neal||Harvard – Sociology||[entry on Wikipedia under Communication Theory/Diffusion of Innovations]|
|20||(check)||HAMBURG, David A., M.D.||National Institute of Mental Health – Psychiatry||[web page at harvard.edu]|
|3||HANSEN, Borge||Stockholm – Sociology||(misspelled from Hanssen, Börje) [anthropologist / ethologist cited in 2006 article by Mats Hellspong (in Swedish)]|
|52||(check)||HEINICKE, Christoph M.||Tavistock Clinic – Psychology||[web page at ucla.edu]|
|32||HYMES, Dell H.||Harvard – Anthropology||[entry at Wikipedia]|
|14||JONES, Howard M.||Harvard – Literature||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|45||LANDES, David S.||Columbia – History||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|35||(check, circle)||LEIGHTON, Alexander, M.D.||(red tick)||Cornell – Anthropology||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|17||LEWIS, Clarence I. (struck through, red pencil)||(red tick)||Harvard – Philosophy||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|5||(x)||LIPPETT, Ronald||(red tick)||Michigan – Psychology||(misspelled from Lippitt, Ronald)
[cofounder of NTL, entry on Wikipedia] [biography on supplement.de]
|49||MANDELBAUM, David G.||(red tick)||California – Anthropology||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|MORRIS, Clarence||(red tick)||Pennsylvania – Law
(To arrive Feb. 1, 1958)
|[portrait at Penn Law Gallery] [cited on Chinese Law entry on Wikipedia]|
|10||NEWMAN, Frank C.||California – Law||[In Memoriam 1996, on California Digital Library]|
|36||PARSON, Talcott||(red tick)||Harvard – Sociology||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|8||POOL, Ithiel de Sola||(red tick)||Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Poli. Science||[entry on Wikipedia]|
|1||QUARRINGTON, Bruce||(red tick)||Toronto – Psychology||cited in [Canadian Psychiatric Association Bulletin, 2000]|
|42||REDER, Melvin W.||Stanford – Economics||essays in honor in [Journal of Labor Economics, 1984]|
|44||RIEFF, Philip||(red tick)||Brandeis – Sociology||[entry in Wikipedia]|
|24||SAVAGE, Charles, M.D.||(red tick)||National Institute of Mental Health – Psychiatry||[death notice in Washington Post, 2007]|
|50||SHANNON, Claude||Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Mathematics||[entry in Wikipedia]|
|11||SIEGEL, Sidney||(red tick)||Pennsylvania State – Psychology||[entry in Wikipedia]|
|40||(check)||SINGER, Sidney||(red tick)||Chicago – Philosophy, Anthropology||[1963 book on Google]|
|21||SOLOW, Robert M.||Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Economics||[entry in Wikipedia]|
|47||STERN, Fritz||Columbia – History||[entry in Wikipedia]|
|12||(check)||STEVENSON, Charles L.||Michigan – Philosophy||[entry in Wikipedia]|
|13||STIGLER, George J.||Columbia – Economics||[entry in Wikipedia]|
|16||SWANSON, Guy. E.||(red tick)||Michigan – Sociology||[University of California, In Memoriam, 1995]|
|23||TUKEY, John W.||(red tick)||Princeton – Mathematics||[entry in Wikipedia]|
|2||WAGLEY, Charles||Columbia – Anthropology||[entry in Wikipedia]|
<< end paste >>
It’s a mystery as to what the checks, circles and ticks by John Bowlby meant.
30th October, 1957
My dear Jock, [….]
A main reason for tackling the theory first is the climate of the Center (intellectual climate) and the phase through which it is going. Inevitably, as is now obvious, the first phase is one of mutual exploration and to converse intelligently with people means reading at least some of their written work. [….]
The seminars are also part of this process. Each meets every week or two for a two hour seminar. I am going to four which means about three afternoon meetings a week. Much of it is getting each other to present his own work. In Child Development Ronald Lippitt is presenting and I may follow with the ‘Child’s Tie’. In Mental Health David Hamburg has presented his stuff on stress and we have had guest artists in Konrad Lorenz and now Gregory Bateson. In Role Analysis we had an empirical study by Neal Gross of Harvard and now theory from Talcott Parsons. The seminar which I initiated on Conflict and its Regulation is more problem centred. Ralf Dahrendorf from Saarbrucken has started the ball rolling and proceedings are lively. The seminar began over coffee where he and I discovered that we each held the view that conflict is inevitable and ever present and that is the issue is how you cope with it, an outlook not uncommon in London psycho-analytic circles but foreign to many.
30th November, 1957
My Dear Dugmore, […]
I can’t say I have run to any exciting new ideas. In a way I am reluctant to admit this since I’m not sure whether its a reflection on me or others. I have enjoyed talks with Frank Beach but I’ve learnt little from him I had not learn from Konrad Lorenz or Robert Hinde. Similarly on the psycho-analytic front. Perhaps I will come across more when I start visiting places in the Spring.
The most original work I have run into is by Gregory Bateson and his research group at the local V.A. mental hospital. They have a very interesting way of conceptualizing and recording social interaction — taking account of gesture, tone of voice as well as verbal contact — and are applying it to the study of parent-child interaction. At present they are mostly concerned with adult schizophrenic patients and their families, but it could equally be applied to young children. A book in which Frieda Fromm-Reichman collaborated when she was here a couple of years ago is due to be published shortly and should be interesting. Incidentally, a member of Bateson’s research unit, Dr. Don Jackson, a young psychiatrist and psycho-analyst, will be in London in May, and R.T.C. might come to invite him to give a staff talk. Let me know.
The two fellows to whom I have most warmed personally are David Hamburg and David Easton. David Hamburg is the young psycho-analyst who is due to take up a senior post at Bethesda in the New Year and whose psychosomatic research appears to be of very high quality. David Easton is a political scientist from Chicago, though a Canadian and lives near by. We often walk to and from the Centre together and seem to find much in common. I know less about his work but his approach to social problems gives me confidence. [….]
18th Jan. 1958
My dear Jock, [….]
The social atmosphere at the centrer could not be more agreeable. There are now a score or more of fellows whom I know reasonably well and am on very cordial terms with. As time passes personalities and their professional competencies stand out in stronger and stronger relief. In general people seem to be running true to the picture one formed of them early on, though there have been some ups and downs. Probably the most original mind is Benson GINSBURG, an unimpressive looking little man of 32 from Chicago, whose ideas on genetic basis of behaviour excite me greatly. I’ll try to tell you more about them sometime. Meanwhile, he is my selection as the future Nobel Prizewinner of the group. I hope to get together with him more often after Easter when I plan to start work on stress.
Another whom I like very much and whose work I admire is David EASTON, a political scientist aged 42 also from Chicago. He is approaching political systems in terms of General Systems Theory and his work might interest Eric and Herbst. He and his family are close neighbours and we see a lot of them.
A third whom I have probably have note mentioned before is a Berkeley lawyer, Frank NEWMAN. He has been coming to the Conflict Seminar and reads a paper there next week. He is interested in law as a socio-political instrument and, to our mutual surprise, we find we have much thinking in common about the Regulation of Conflict.
One of the more entertaining artifacts was a letter from one of the economists (Stigler?), who asked to be excused from a meeting with Bowlby, so that he would be free to play a “laissez-faire” tennis match against Milton Friedman.
Systems theory represents a system of ideas developed over long periods of times within individuals in interactions with others. Taking an approach of history of science is a good way of understanding the development of such knowledge.
Hammond, Debora. 2003. The science of synthesis: exploring the social implications of general systems theory. University Press of Colorado. http://books.google.com/books?id=skSMuZycpTwC.
daviding August 22nd, 2011