You are here

Conference Series on Social Catalysis: proposed


Conference Series on Social Catalysis
Details of nature of conference
Concept or the programme outline of the conference
Summary of organization of report
Preliminary draft outline of programme items of the proposed conference

[Parts: Next | Last | All]

A first set of notes (1 to 5) was prepared on behalf of Mankind 2000 and discussed in Paris on in January 1974. The enclosed notes (6 to 8) represent the revision of the concept (under its provisional title) as presented. Notes 4 and 5 remain basically unchanged, and are included herewith. The notes were sent to the members of Mankind 2000 for comments and suggestions. A further meeting to consider these revised proposals was scheduled. Earlier suggestions to use the term "social engineering" had been rejected. The conference was to be organized by the Société Internationale des Conseillers de Synthèse (Paris).
Concept of the theme of the proposed conference
Details of nature of conference
Concept or the programme outline of the conference
Summary of organization of report
1. Summary article or papers: Dimensions of social catalysis
2. Summary article or papers: Mapping and tracking complex psychological structures.
3. Approaches to social catalysis.
-- 3.1. Conceptual structures and processes
-- 3.2. Information systems
-- 3.3. Social organizations and administrative structures
-- 3.4. Building and urban complexes
-- 3.5. Energy, water, transport and communication technologies
Preliminary draft outline of programme items of the proposed conference
1. Dimensions of social catalysis and social engineering
2. Mapping and tracking complex psychosocial structures, together with reference to supportive technologies
3. Approaches to social catalysis and social engineering and the supportive technologies required
-- 3.1 Conceptual structures and processes
-- 3.2 Information  systems
-- 3.3    Social organizations and administrative structures
-- 3.4 Building and urban complexes
-- 3.5. Energy, water, transport and communication technologies
4. Interaction between approaches
-- 4.1  Complementarity of unrelated project based on different approaches
-- 4.2    Systematic interaction between different approaches  within  the framework of a single project
-- 4.3    Possibilities of substituting one approach for  another

Concept of the theme of the proposed conference

1. It was agreed that the conference should address itself to those constructive approaches to social change which ware:

1.1. Non-directive: Namely forms of change which arenot originated as central directives to be implemented locally. 1.2. Non-manipulative: Namely forms of change which can be facilitated and encouraged rather than having to be imposed with some ulterior motive, whether beneficial or not. 1.3. Non-deterministic: Namely forms of change which are open-ended rather than involving the creation of a closed system. 1.4. Non-technocratic: Namely forcis of change which are particularly oriented to person-oriented rathen than system-oriented technology. Such technology should enable the person to grow in new ways natural to himself rather than require that he adapt to sophisticated i and elegant conceptions of how he should behave.

2. "Social engineering": After careful consideration of the conference title, it was agreed that "social engineering" although useful in that it implied a step-by-step methodical approach to social construction, had an unfortunate history which associated it with many of the points identified above as undesirable. The term "social construction" was held to be not sufficiently explicit.

A general discussion suggested that using an "engineering" model always implied an engineer and raised the question of intentions. There was also a 19th century connotation to this model (an "Eiffel tower" approach to social development). Other models which seemed more appropriate ware the chemical, the biological, and possibly the electronic.

2.1. The action and result oriented connotationsof "social engineering" are valuable. The implication that it la possible to identify, examine and restructure social relationships in a precise way, perhaps reminisof civil engineering, is refreshing. 2.2. The social engineering approach has a history however. It is closely related to the efforts to apply systems analysis to social problems. This approach was for example advocated in 1965 in Olaf Helmer's Rand Corporation report on "Social Technology". 2.3. This system application has not matched up to expectations in the USA. There is little evidence there of unambiguous successful application to social problems. Massive programs in which attempts to use it have been made have been judged failures (e.g. poverty, no baserenewal, Creek tourist industry, the Camelot project). 2.4. The usb of the systems concept, as advocated by the Rand Corporation, to solve social problems has also suffered fro" the errors and failures in the use of this concept in Vietnam. Much use was made of it there to investigate and "stabilize" the rural social system. 2.5. Such "failures" of the systems application should however be carefully interpreted. Some have been due to
  • use by groups wishing to advance their special interests - use of the technique as a scapegoat in political, manoeuvres
  • use of the technique to symbolize a directive, manipulative mode of thought.
2.6. The question is therefore how best to conceive of a social engineering approach which would not lay itself open to criticism of the above type. This is essential if Mankind 2000 is to be able to associate itself with any such project 2.7. The main weaknesses perceived in the approach by its opponents are, summarizing :
Directive features: It is important to draw attention to means of setting in motion social engineering projects of a non-directive decentralized or participative nature, Manipulative features: It is important to draw attention to those approaches to social engineering which are facultative rather than manipulative, whether or not the so-called manipulation is beneficial. Deterministic features: Any centralized plan must of necessity envisage a clearly determined end. In the case of some social problems the deterministic aspect of the approach way antagonize where an open-ended approach might encourage support. Social engineering should be equally applicable to closed and open systems. Technocratic features: The technocratic emphasis requiring dependence on high technology and highly specialized and esoteric quantitative skills should be counterbalanced by the presence of social engineering approaches which are more person oriented and only dependent on a low-level technology.

3. "Social catalysis": The biological and electronic models did not suggest any useful torn. The chemical model suggested "social catalysis". This suggest the notions of :

3.1. A passive agent facilitating changes inherent in the environment with which it is in contact. The agent does not itself deriveany inherent bonefit from the change which it makes possible. The agent, as opposed to the engineer, makes possible but is not manipulating to his own ends. Clearly the social catalyst must be designed, but its use is limited to facilitating. This constraint is a safeguard which may constitute the boot that society can do at the montent - in the spheres where any form of social reconstruction is being conceived. 3.2. Energizing role. The catalyst modifiesthe energy requirement to accomplish someend. It doesthiswithout supplying energy but just from the way it is constructed and the way it operates It erodes barriersto change. 3.3. Synthesis. By choosing a chemical model, the notion of synthesis is suggested. Catalysts are mainly used to achieve different forms of chemical synthesis. This is the notion of building up, building more complex, and achieving some measure of synergy. 3.4. Precision. The notion of objective rigour is retained, but mitigated by the notion that a given catalyst facilitates a wide variety of change.

To counterbalance to any possible interpretation of social engineering as directive, manipulative, deterministic or technocratic, it was suggested that the name of the conference should be modified to "social catalysis and social engineering". Social catalysis implies acceleration or facilitation of ongoing social processes. This may be used to achieve formation of beneficial relationships whore social engineering would be unacceptable. Social catalysis is therefore the chemical and biological (or possibly micro-level) complement to the social materials (or possibly macro-level) orientation of social engineering. The emphasis in both social engineering and social catalysis is on identifying key relationships and processes and determining where such relationships are lacking or inadequate, or where the processes are insufficient in terms of the requirement. Both are concerned with complex systems in which simplifying assumptions are dangerous. The meeting programme should therefore identify different types or levels of relationship susceptible to catalytic or engineering intervention. These might include :
  • attitude, belief or conceptual systems
  • information systems
  • organizational systems
  • social products or artifacts
  • building or urban complexes

4. No final decision was taken on the conference title. It was felt that other views should be obtained, in the light of the above suggestions.

5. The emphasis of the conference should be on bringing together people who are concertino with the conception and implementation of practical projects for social change rather than models or explanations of processes.

6. The focus of papers should be on the design of "devices" which would catalyse or result in social change. The concern of the conference should be with how to select or, if necessary create, thenecessary device to meet the constraints of aparticular type of social change.

7. The concern should be primarily with devices which can be made availableto berun by acommunity of users for their own benefit, rather than devices which when implemented have to be run as a system by aclosed group of exports.

8. The conference programme attempts to bridge a wide range of approaches to social change. If successful, the interaction between normally antagonistic schools of thought would be vary valuable. If, for practical reasons, the range of topics is too great, any cuts should not be based on eliminating schools of thought or approaches but rather in the manner in which the conference time is used. Manypapers could be presented very briefly rathen than at lenght, to permitthe major portion of time to be devoted to discussion. General review papers could be commissioned for some areas.

9. The report of the conference should be seen as a major item -- a device which itself should give rise to social change. This concern should be to havepapers which supply "blueprints" for practical projects which could be implemented in many countries, possibly after adaptation.

[Parts: Next | Last | All]