International Institute for Innovation in Governance



The limits of transparency

The paper explores the implications of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory for the current debates on the nature of organizational transparency as an element of good governance. If transparency implies the exchange of information, then it may be taken, at a metaphorical level, to constitute a dimension of metabolism theorized by Bertalanffy’s open systems model. Yet, the model likewise lays bare some of the limits of transparency idea. Bertalanffy’s work on the nature of emergent properties, his critique of the stimulus–response scheme, and his perspectivistic account of the systemic perception of the environment all point in the direction of the impossibility of full transparency. Later systems‐theoretic work on operational closure and self‐referentiality has reinforced and even radicalized these insights, which are shown to resonate with some of the key arguments in the contemporary economics, sociology of knowledge, and business ethics.

Valentinov, V., Verschraegen, G., & Van Assche, K. (2019). The limits of transparency: A systems theory view. Systems Research and Behavioral Science.


A typology of material events

Many of contemporary issues, like urban development, climate change, biodiversity conservation, or food security, demand for interdisciplinary approaches that bring together scientist with different ideas about reality and the nature of knowledge. Whereas some focus on the material reality of our world, other focus on the social structures through which humans construct an understanding of that world. This paper presents a framework for going beyond the traditional dichotomy between discourse and materiality. Drawing on the work of one of the most influential sociologists, Niklas Luhmann, it explores the different ways in which materiality can relate to discursive dynamics. Five different events are distinguished: silent, whispering, vigorous, fading and deadly events. These events constitute the spectrum in which changes in the environment affect communication and action. This typology helps to better understand the diversity of societal responses to an ever changing environment.

Duineveld, M., Van Assche, K., & Beunen, R. (2017). Re-conceptualising political landscapes after the material turn: a typology of material events. Landscape Research, 1-10.

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