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The Systems Approach and Its Enemies | C. West Churchman | 1979

West Churchman (1913-2004) was a Ph.D. supervisor to some luminaries in the systems sciences, including  Russell L. Ackoff, Ian Mitroff, Harold G. Nelson and Werner Ulrich.  Churchman’s 1979 book, The Systems Approach and Its Enemies, is unfortunately out of print, and is only readable on the web if you already have the text to search on.  Here, some excerpts will be surfaced that may encourage readers to seek a copy in a local library.

Preface

[….] This book is just another step in the search for the meaning of generality, in this case a general design of social systems.

There are lots of themes that can be used to describe this search. Perhaps the best one is the discovery that the usual dichotomy of x or not x never seems to display the general, because neither of the above is always so prominent an aspect of the general social system. Thus there is an immense part of social systems reality that is none of the following popular dichotomies in the current literature: rational-irrational, objective-subjective, hierarchical-nonhierarchical, teleological-ateleological, deductive-nondeductive reasoning (for example, inductive or dialectical), ineffable-effable.

In the text I have used the word enemy to connote this immense land of social systems that has remained largely unexplored by “hard” systems analysts, who thereby reveal a distinct softness of living by avoiding the dangers of exploring unmapped lands.  [p. xi]

01 On Systems and Their Design

This first chapter is intended to show that the proper design is not a simple matter of fixing up some messes within the system.… Read more (in a new tab)

West Churchman (1913-2004) was a Ph.D. supervisor to some luminaries in the systems sciences, including  Russell L. Ackoff, Ian Mitroff, Harold G. Nelson and Werner Ulrich.  Churchman’s 1979 book, The Systems Approach and Its Enemies, is unfortunately out of print, and is only readable on the web if you already have the text to search on.  Here, some excerpts will be surfaced that may encourage readers to seek a copy in a local library.

Preface

[….] This book is just another step in the search for the meaning of generality, in this case a general design of social systems.

There are lots of themes that can be used to describe this search. Perhaps the best one is the discovery that the usual dichotomy of x or not x never seems to display the general, because neither of the above is always so prominent an aspect of the general social system. Thus there is an immense part of social systems reality that is none of the following popular dichotomies in the current literature: rational-irrational, objective-subjective, hierarchical-nonhierarchical, teleological-ateleological, deductive-nondeductive reasoning (for example, inductive or dialectical), ineffable-effable.

In the text I have used the word enemy to connote this immense land of social systems that has remained largely unexplored by “hard” systems analysts, who thereby reveal a distinct softness of living by avoiding the dangers of exploring unmapped lands.  [p. xi]

01 On Systems and Their Design

This first chapter is intended to show that the proper design is not a simple matter of fixing up some messes within the system.… Read more (in a new tab)

Christopher Alexander, Horst Rittel, C. West Churchman

At U.C. Berkeley in the 1960s, Christopher Alexander, Horst Rittel and C. West Churchman could have had lunch together.  While disciplinary thinking might lead novices to focus only on each of pattern language, wicked problems and the systems approach, there are ties (as well as domain-specific distinctions) between the schools.

West Churchman joined Berkeley in 1957, and initiated master’s and doctoral programs in operations research at the School of Business Administration.   From 1964 to 1970, Churchman was associate director and research philosopher at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, directing its social sciences program.  After his retirement in 1981, Churchman taught in the Peace and Conflict Studies program for 13 years.

Horst Rittel came to the Berkeley College of Environmental Design in 1963, the same year that dean William Wurster recruited Christopher Alexander.  In 1973, Rittel split his time between Berkeley and the architecture faculty at the University of Stuttgart, where he founded the Institut für Grundlagen der Planung.

Christopher Alexander became a cofounder of the Center for Environmental Structure at Berkeley in 1967, gradually moving outside of the university by 2000.

The tie between Churchman and Rittel are well-documented, in a 1967 article in Management Science.

Professor Horst Rittel of the University of California Architecture Department has suggested in a recent seminar that the term “wicked problem” refer to that class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing.

Read more (in a new tab)

At U.C. Berkeley in the 1960s, Christopher Alexander, Horst Rittel and C. West Churchman could have had lunch together.  While disciplinary thinking might lead novices to focus only on each of pattern language, wicked problems and the systems approach, there are ties (as well as domain-specific distinctions) between the schools.

West Churchman joined Berkeley in 1957, and initiated master’s and doctoral programs in operations research at the School of Business Administration.   From 1964 to 1970, Churchman was associate director and research philosopher at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, directing its social sciences program.  After his retirement in 1981, Churchman taught in the Peace and Conflict Studies program for 13 years.

Horst Rittel came to the Berkeley College of Environmental Design in 1963, the same year that dean William Wurster recruited Christopher Alexander.  In 1973, Rittel split his time between Berkeley and the architecture faculty at the University of Stuttgart, where he founded the Institut für Grundlagen der Planung.

Christopher Alexander became a cofounder of the Center for Environmental Structure at Berkeley in 1967, gradually moving outside of the university by 2000.

The tie between Churchman and Rittel are well-documented, in a 1967 article in Management Science.

Professor Horst Rittel of the University of California Architecture Department has suggested in a recent seminar that the term “wicked problem” refer to that class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing.

Read more (in a new tab)
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