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

Nadia Stoyanova Kennedy, David Kennedy


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.

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