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Rerum cognoscere causas: part I - How do the ideas of system dynamics relate to traditional social theories and the voluntarism/determinism debate?

By David C. Lane


This is the first half of a two-part paper which deals with the social theoretic assumptions underlying system dynamics. The motivation is that clarification in this area can help mainstream social scientists to understand how our field relates to their literature, methods and concerns. Part I has two main sections. The aim of the first is to answer the question: How do the ideas of system dynamics relate to traditional social theories? The theoretic assumptions of the field are seldom explicit but rather are implicit in its practice. The range of system dynamics practice is therefore considered and related to a framework - widely used in both operational research (OR) and systems science - that organises the assumptions behind traditional social theoretic paradigms. Distinct and surprisingly varied groupings of practice are identified, making it difficult to place system dynamics in any one paradigm with any certainty. The difficulties of establishing a social theoretic home for system dynamics are exemplified in the second main section. This is done by considering the question: Is system dynamics deterministic? An analysis shows that attempts to relate system dynamics to strict notions of voluntarism or determinism quickly indicate that the field does not fit with either pole of this dichotomous, and strictly paradigmatic, view. Part I therefore concludes that definitively placing system dynamics with respect to traditional social theories is highly problematic. The scene is therefore set for Part II of the paper, which proposes an innovative and potentially fruitful resolution to this problem

Topics: Q Science (General)
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Year: 2001
DOI identifier: 10.1002/sdr.209
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.lse.ac.uk:20848
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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