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Blurring definitions

July 14th, 2011 · No Comments

Most of us probably grew up in educational cultures where sorting opposing terms could be done cleanly with a T-chart. Maybe with a Venn if there were shades of grey. A Venn diagram detailing black and white would have us grasping for straws, finally writing “they are both considered colours” (knowing that white is not) and “they both work in totality” (white reflects all; black absorbs all).

Not here.

Initially ready to contrast allopoiesis and autopoiesis as they apply to this being but not that creation, I instead found myself ready to challenge the concept of exclusively defining beings as either allopoietic or autopoietic. Just in time, Murphie and Potts (2003) moved from defining to applying, quoting Guattari: “there is always a relation between [autopoiesis and allopoiesis], and … most assemblages contain both” (p. 197).

We can separate these opposites by definition, but not in application.

Regarding signs that mean and signs that operate, again, the presentation of the distinction suggests there is a dividing line that separates the two. Defining operational signs as those that make us do and meaningful signs as those that make us think, in application I cannot think of one that makes me do without also making me think, and vice versa. A sign operates in a particular way because it has meaning. If it is more concrete than this, then I clearly still require assistance, but I see here another blur of intended contrasts.

The blurs continue as the concept of ecology expands metaphorically from its origins of being a way of seeing systems within the natural environment to a way of seeing ourselves and our social systems. In line with the themes of complexity and chaos, ecology becomes difficult to isolate within tight boundaries as diversity within one layer is bound to connect to another layer with or without notice: how do we examine one individual (taking the second ecology) without gradually morphing across ecologies, considering alliances, relationships, the socius (the third ecology), or the natural environment in which that individual sits (the first ecology) (Murphie & Potts, 2003, p. 199).

A similar trend occurs with the third nature. It is not a linear pattern of progression where we might be tempted to think of the third nature as the next step. The natures interact and always have. Wherever we now have the second nature (essentially anything “we” have been a part of) we will also find the third (communicative media – whatever the technology of the time is/was for this); even as we work with the first (agriculture), communicative technologies influence eg: our knowledge of how-to. (Murphie & Potts, 2003, p. 200)

Public and private space – and our sense of the two – are also blurring.

What I am enjoying about these in particular is the thematic connection throughout and how it is coming together, threading together all the little pétit narratives to reveal the overarching pattern amidst the appearance of complexity, if not chaos.

As we ‘unfold’ the learning, it all folds back into itself to reveal the whole.

It’s kind of like watching “Happy Feet”: it starts with a picture from outer space, moves into the detail of the Antarctica, moves through a variety of issues requiring attention, then zooms back out for the greater global… no, universal picture. And it all comes down to “how do we want to live our lives?”


Murphie, A. and Potts, J. (2003). Culture & Technology. New York, NY; Palgrave Macmillian.

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