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Rerum cognoscere causas: part II - opportunities generated by the agency/structure debate and suggestions for clarifying the social theoretic position of system dynamics

By David C. Lane


This is the second half of a two-part paper dealing with the social theoretic assumptions underlying system dynamics. In the first half it was concluded that analysing system dynamics using traditional, paradigm-based social theories is highly problematic. An innovative and potentially fruitful resolution is now proposed to these problems. In the first section it is argued that in order to find an appropriate social theoretic home for system dynamics it is necessary to look to a key exchange in contemporary social science: the agency/structure debate. This debate aims to move beyond both the theories based only on the actions of individual human agents, and those theories that emphasise only structural influences. Emerging from this debate are various theories that instead aim to unite the human agent view of the social realm with views that concentrate solely on system structure. It is argued that system dynamics is best viewed as being implicitly grounded in such theories. The main conclusion is therefore that system dynamics can contribute to an important part of social thinking by providing a formal approach for explicating social mechanisms. This conclusion is of general significance for system dynamics. However, the over-arching aim of the two-part paper is to increase the understanding of system dynamics in related disciplines. Four suggestions are therefore offered for how the system dynamics method might be extended further into the social sciences. It is argued that, presented in the right way, the formal yet contingent feedback causality thinking of system dynamics should diffuse widely in the social sciences and make a distinctive and important contribution to them. Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas Happy is he who comes to know the causes of things Virgil - Georgics, Book II, line 490. 29 BC

Topics: Q Science (General)
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Year: 2001
DOI identifier: 10.1002/sdr.221
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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