Modelling The World : The Social Constructions Of Systems Analysts

Bloomfield, Brian Peter (1984). Modelling The World : The Social Constructions Of Systems Analysts. PhD thesis The Open University.



This dissertation is concerned with a case study of system dynamics, a well-known simulation modelling methodology, and its implicit theory of social system behaviour. System dynamics is policy oriented and is directed towards the control and management of social systems. It originally evolved in the context of military systems and then the application of systems engineering to the problems of corporate management, but was later expanded to tackle the problems of urban decay, population growth, and environmental collapse. It is therefore now aimed at large scale social engineering.

The aim of the dissertation is to take tools drawn largely from the sociology of knowledge in order t o provide a perspective on the development of this particular strand of the systems movement. We investigate the status of system dynamics as a cultural artefact which is both a product of social structures and a resource for mediating and reinforcing such structures. The dissertation is addressed to the systems community, but must also meet the academic standards of the sociology of knowledge.

There are seven chapters. The first two deal with the background to system dynamics and with methodological aspects of the perspective adopted in our approach. The following two chapters examine system dynamics as a social construction: firstly, with special emphasis on the social development of the cultural context in which it evolved; and secondly, on the social experience and cosmology of the System Dynamics Group at MIT. The next two chapters deal with the social effects of system dynamics, particularly its role as a 'binding agent' in negotiating social consensus. The seventh and final chapter discusses our conclusions.

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