Boundary critique

Look at a situation. You see one thing. I see another.

Each offers justification. Each can cite sources of legitimacy. Each is conditioned by social identities — of belonging to groups that tend to perceive particular issues in particular ways.

“Whenever we propose a problem definition or solution,” writes Werner Ulrich, “we cannot help but assert the relevance of some facts and norms as distinguished from others.”

Boundary critique is a process for, as Ulrich writes, removing “the mask of objectivity and rationality.” (See: A Brief Introduction to Critical Systems Heuristics — pdf.)

Computer scientist Steve Easterbrook offers a great example of boundary critique in the blog post, “Systems thinking and Genetically Modified food.”

Examining the debate over genetically modified foods, he finds the following systems — some complementing, some contending:

  • A system of scientists doing research
  • A system of research ethics and risk management
  • A system of ecosystems and contaminants that weaken them
  • A system of intellectual property rights and the corresponding privatization of public goods
  • An economic system in which investment in R&D is expected to boost the economy
  • A system of global food supply and demand
  • A system of potential threats to human health and well-being
  • A system of sustainable agriculture, with long time horizons
  • A system of protest groups

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