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Structural coupling








Encyclopedia Autopoietica
International Encyclopedia of Systems & Cybernetics


Principia Cybernetica (web)

no def.

Encyclopedia Autopoietica

Structural coupling is the term for structure-determined (and structure- determining) engagement of a given unity with either its environment or another unity. The process of engagement which effects a "...history or recurrent interactions leading to the structural congruence between two (or more) systems" (Maturana & Varela, 1987, p. 75). It is ‘...a historical process leading to the spatio-temporal coincidence between the changes of state..’ (Maturana, 1975, p. 321) in the participants. As such, structural coupling has connotations of both coordination and co-evolution.

During the course of structural coupling, each participating system is, with respect to the other(s), a source (and a target) of perturbations. Phrased in a slightly different way, the participating systems reciprocally serve as sources of compensable perturbations for each other. These are ‘compensable’ in the senses that (a) there is a range of ‘compensation’ bounded by the limit beyond which each system ceases to be a functional whole and (b) each iteration of the reciprocal interaction is affected by the one(s) before. The structurally-coupled systems ‘will have an interlocked history of structural transformations, selecting each other’s trajectories.’ (varela, 1979, pp. 48-49)

Structural coupling, then, is the process through which structurally-determined transformations in each of two or more systemic unities induces (for each) a trajectory of reciprocally-triggered change. This makes structural coupling one of the most critical constructs in autopoietic theory. This is particularly true when approaching the phenomenological aspects of the theory. For example, structural coupling is the foundation for Maturana’s account of linguistic interaction as ‘languaging’ (Maturana, 1978)

The key reference points on the subject of structural coupling are: Maturana (1975, pp.322-326; 1981, pp. 23-29); Maturana & Varela (1980, pp. 78-82; pp. 98-99); 1987, pp. 75-80); and Varela (1979, pp. 32-33); p. 48ff.).


International Encyclopedia of Systems & Cybernetics

Reciprocal structural modifications in two autopoietic systems, whose interactions are recursive or very stable and which disturb each other (W. KARGL, 1991, p. 585).

This concept corresponds to systemic familiar theraphy, but could have applications in the case of economic or social systems, and even possibly in physics (binary stars systems).