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Chapter Two: The Evolution of Societal Structures

Section 1: The Roots of the GS Framework


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 "Battle Drums on Mt. Jin" performed by the Academy of Chinese Performing Artists in 1996, starring Denise Hung, Joanna Chu, and Leslie Lan (shown). Video still taken during photoshoot.



The beginning of the twentieth century saw the beginning of a revolution whose major impact is yet to be felt. Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity marked the beginning of a new knowledge, not only of the physical world, but of ourselves as well. He destroyed the Newtonian notions of absolute time and space, and replaced them with corresponding notions that were relative to the observational method. This meant that the classical reductionist, mechanistic, positivist, and objectivist metaphysics had to be replaced. Physicists and others turned to study the nature of the human mind and knowledge. The epistemology that began to emerge rejected the centrality of the concept of substance and, instead, held that the essence of knowledge was structure.



More than coincidentally, the concept of "structure" and related notions such as "system', "form", "pattern", "organization" and "organism" began to pervade all the scientific disciplines. A number of scholars have identified structuralist principles common to the diverse disciplines. For example, Ludwig von Bertalanffy has devoted much of his life to abstracting such principles:



On a more general level, the "parallelisms of general cognitive principles in different fields was noted in the present volume in a number of instances. But if was not then foreseen that general systems theory would play an important role in modern orientations in geography or that it parallels French structuralism (e.g. Piaget, Levi-Strauss) and would exert considerable influence on American functionalism in sociology. (von Bertalanffy, p. xviii of "Preface to Revised Edition", General Systems Theory)



Since Einstein opened the question about the nature of knowledge, it is also no accident that the French structuralists mentioned by von Bertalanffy, two of the greatest thinkers of our time, have dedicated their lives to exploring the structure of the human mind. The anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss has studied the human mind through its manifestations in cultural products -- e.g. myths, kinship systems, social organizations, of diverse civilizations. Jean Piaget, who is called a "developmental psychologist" by those who do not understand his own more accurate label of "genetic epistemlogist", describes the qualitative changes in cognitive structures as they appear in individual human development



Piaget, partly because of the volume of his contribution (he has been publishing for 70 years, starting at age 10; his list of works is itself a book) must be considered the foremost architect of the framework adopted in this paper. Unfortunately, his term "structuralism" has a prior history that might be misleading. In addition, his framework is a synthesis of structuralism with what he calls "constructivism" because he is concerned with the genesis of structures. The term "genetic structuralism" seems to best capture Piaget's framework.



 The initials GS allow a convenient ambiguity --standing also for the General Systems framework of Bertalanffy. There is no problem with confusion since the frameworks are essentially isomorphic. "Indeed, all known structures -- from mathematical groups to kinship systems -- are, without exception, systems of transformation ' (Piaget, Structuralism, p. 11).







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