Between Chaos and Entropy: Community of Inquiry from a Systems Perspective

  • Nadia Stoyanova Kennedy Stony Brook University
  • David Kennedy Montclair State University


This paper considers the psychosocial and cognitive dynamics of an educational community of inquiry as an inquiring system. It identifies seven characteristics of social systems dedicated to inquiry that are open (as opposed to “control” systems)—autopoiesis, teleology, feedback, noise, redundancy, ambiguous control, and system “event”—and traces their function in the ongoing reconstruction of argument that collective, dialogical inquiry entails. The paper also analyzes the process of group inquiry from a dialectical perspective, interpreting conceptual and argumentation system development as a continuously emergent process of reorganization, which makes its way through the ongoing resolution of the oppositions and contradictions it encounters, resulting in greater organizational complexity and clarity. Rather than maintaining homeostatic stability by rejecting or resisting noise, it develops through accepting and incorporating it in the interest of dialectical emergence. The role of a facilitator in such a system is to provide both positive and negative feedback, navigating between system entropy and system chaos. Finally, the autopoietic inquiring system is offered as one exemplar of the “ideal speech situation,” which requires that all its members have equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to system emergence, free from internal constraints or external coercion. This implies the need for a pedagogy that not only develops communicative competence, but which models a form of argumentation that understands itself as a collective project of ongoing reconstruction—with the major goal of agreement arrived at through open, free communication.

Author Biographies

Nadia Stoyanova Kennedy, Stony Brook University

Nadia Stoyanova Kennedy is Assistant Professor in Mathematics Education at Stony Brook University, USA.   Her chief research interest is in the development of curricula and methodologies for school age children that promote open inquiry in mathematics, and which incorporate themes in the philosophy of mathematics.


David Kennedy, Montclair State University

David Kennedy is Professor in the Department of Educational Foundations at Montclair State University, USA, and Fellow at the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children.  He is the author of three books and numerous journal articles in the fields of philosophy of childhood and community of philosophical inquiry.

Research Articles