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Cybernetics, management, organization

Event type

Event location
Leuphana University, Lüneburg



… each kind of society corresponds to a particular kind of machine – with simple mechanical machines corresponding to sovereign societies, thermodynamic machines to disciplinary societies, cybernetic machines and computers to control societies. (Deleuze, Control and becoming)

… as a technologically mediated module circulating within the organizational complex, the organization man should be understood as one of many “cyborgs” (or cybernetic organisms) produced by postwar technocracy. (Martin, The organizational complex)

Contemporary organization theory has engaged surprisingly little with cybernetics. This is despite a shared history of influential figures such as Herbert Simon or Stafford Beer, and the popularity of cybernetic concepts such as recursion, feedback, bounded rationality, requisite variety, self-organization, and so on. Yet, as Martin’s quote suggests, has organization man not been a cyborg for a long time? Partly this disregard may be accounted for by the way in which the seminal work of Gibson Burrell and Gareth Morgan relegated cybernetics to the ‘functionalist paradigm’ and thereby rendered it extremely unattractive to those interested in ‘radical humanist’ or other critiques of organization theory (see Morgan, 1980). Meanwhile particularly Beer’s (1959) ‘viable systems model’ spurred an applied organization theory (e.g. Flood & Jackson, 1988), most prominently in the cybernetic school of management developed at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland (e.g. Malik, 1984).

Today’s ubiquity of digital, networked media precipitates a return of the hopes and fears associated with cybernetics, as the cybernetic dream of total and systematic control appears closer to realization than perhaps ever before. Where Deleuze sounds dystopian in noting that ‘cybernetic machines and computers’ correspond to ‘control societies’, he also notes that ‘machines don’t explain anything, you have to analyze the collective arrangements of which the machines are just one component’ (1995: 175). Media theory has for a long time been attuned to cybernetics as key for an understanding of our technological and cultural history (Hayles, 1999; Pias, 2003; Hagner & Hörl, 2008) and therefore offers itself for such an analysis. The cybernetic inheritance has here been variably reappraised as allowing for ‘sketches of another future’ (Pickering, 2010), as a new technology of government which must be fought and defeated (Tiqqun, 2001) or as a system for enabling worker participation and decentralized control (Medina, 2011).

The aim of this workshop is to bring together organization and media theory to discuss cybernetics as a potential horizon of organization, focusing specifically on the history of organizational cybernetics with reference to Herbert Simon and the St. Gallen school, as well as the organization of social movements in control societies.






Armin Beverungen (Lüneburg): ‘Introduction: Cybernetics as Horizon of Contemporary Organization Theory?’


Claus Pias (Lüneburg): ‘What Problems do Problem Solvers Solve? Herbert Simon and Cybernetics’


Timon Beyes (Copenhagen/Lüneburg): ‘Cybernetics, Management, Organization: The Case of St. Gallen’




Carolin Wiedemann (Hamburg): ‘Affects, Codes, Anonymous: Subversion in Control Society’


Thomas Swann (Leicester): ‘Anarchism, Uprisings and Organizational Cybernetics’

Organization and Contact

This ephemera-workshop is hosted by the Digital Cultures Research Lab (DCRL) at the Centre for Digital Cultures (CDC), Leuphana University. It is organised by Armin Beverungen and Birke Otto. To participate please let Armin (armin.beverungen [at] know that you would like to join. The venue is located at Sülztorstr. 21-25 (2nd floor, entrance to left of building), 21335 Lüneburg.



Beer, S. (1959) Cybernetics and management. London: English Universities Press.

Deleuze, G. (1995) ‘Control and becoming (Interview with A. Negri)’, in Negotiations. New York: Columbia University Press.

Flood, R. L. & M. C. Jackson (1988) ‘Cybernetics and organization theory: a critical review’, Cybernetics and Systems, 19(1): 13-33.

Hayles, C. (1999) How we became posthuman. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Hagner, M. and E. Hörl (eds.) (2008) Die Transformation des Humanen: Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte der Kybernetik. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Malik, F. (1984) Strategie des Managements komplexer Systeme. Bern: Haupt.

Martin, R. (2003) The organizational complex: architecture, media, and corporate space. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Medina, E. (2011) Cybernetic revolutionaries: technology and politics in Allende’s Chile. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Morgan, G. (1980) ‘Paradigms, metaphors, and puzzle solving in organization theory’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 25(4): 605-622.

Pias, C. (ed.) (2003) Cybernetics | Kybernetik. The Macy conferences 1946-1953 (2 volumes). Zürich: diaphanes.

Pickering, A. (2010) The cybernetic brain: sketches of another future. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tiqqun (2001) ‘L’hypothèse cybernétique’, Tiqqun 2