Level
Introductory, no need to read the books in preparation
Language
English handout
For Whom
Anyone interested in systems ideas and contemporary societal challenges
By Whom
Philippe Vandenbroeck, shiftN

The Systems Library

Learning from past masters

Start early 2021

Systems thinking in some form or other is probably as old as humanity, but systems science came of age only after the Second World War. It has been a fascinating intellectual adventure that resulted in a powerful set of ideas. These ideas are shaping the way we address global challenges today. 

Sadly, much of what the most prominent systems thinkers wrote in the latter half of the twentieth century has found only a very limited audience. Arguably, some of these books put significant demands on readers (and readers’ wallets!) too. 

At shiftN we want to actively explore this intellectual legacy and make it accessible through focused introductions. We promise that anyone interested in systems ideas and contemporary societal challenges will benefit from these short and accessible introductions. 

A typical 2,5-hour evening session focuses on a single, classic systems book. We discuss key ideas, author’s biography and the book’s position within the broader systems thinking tradition. 

Over the years we hope to build up a rich library of systems literature, spanning the whole journey from early cybernetics to the latest ideas in systems ecology. 

In previous editions we discussed contributions by Gregory Bateson, Bela Banathy, Luc Hoebeke, Donald Schon, Stafford Beer, Herbert Simon and Timothy Allen. 

The selection for the 2021 edition zoom in on four works that mesh core systems ideas with an emphatic ‘anthropocenic’ flavour. In other words, these books foreground systems ideas that specifically illuminate the challenge of long-term viability of mankind on planet Earth. Important, however, remains the connection with a specific, classic systems lineage. 

The books:

R. Buckminster Fuller: Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, 1969
Michel Serres: The Natural Contract, 1990
Lance Gunderson and C.S. Holling: Panarchy. Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems, 2002
Ray Ison and Ed Straw: The Hidden Power of Systems Thinking. Governance in an Age of Climate Emergency, 2020

All sessions will be held online, from March until June 2021. Dates will be communicated soon.