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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/5474

Title: Human social groups: A cybernetic account of stability and instability
Authors: Robinson, MJ
Advisors: Pask, G
Keywords: Informal human groups
GROUP-1 computer simulation
Human group size
Human group activity
Publication Date: 1977
Abstract: The aims of the research were: i) to show that some informal htiman groups are stable; ii) to discover the processes underlying this stability. A third, implicit, aim was the adaptation of cybernetic methodology to small group studies. It was felt that a systems approach would provide a formal, but flexible analytic tool appropriate to the richness and complexity of the phenomenon. Various explanatory hypotheses were constructed, all of which took the variables 'size' and 'level of activity' as the objects of any stabilising process. The hypotheses were tested by laboratory experiment, by longtidudinal, participant-observer studies of natural groups, and by a computer simulation (GROUP-1) that mapped assumptions onto historical data. It was found that when 'size' and 'activity' were maintained within specified limits, this was a consequence of a series of stabilising processes. Once a group became stable, two major sources of disruption were identified, both originating outside the group. These were an external block on activity, or a sudden influx of new members. In the absence of disruption, stability was manifested in the following way. An increase in group size towards its upper boundary triggered a series of repercussions that 'encouraged' members to leave. A decrease triggered a similar and opposite effect. The group's 'level of activity' was shielded from the effects of size change by a series of buffer mechanisms, and so maintained its own independent equilibrium. These quasi-mechanical processes were facilitated by a set of beliefs and techniques (the group's knowledge of how and why to pursue its aims), but the persistence of these beliefs and techniques were themselves dependent on the operation of the stabilising processes. It was concluded that viable groups were constituted as irreductable cybernetic wholes. All processes, physical and informational, supported, but were dependent on, all other process.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and awarded by Brunel University.
URI: http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/5474
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