Taylor and the Geopolitic Systems Model

Geopolitics as a discipline tries to explain the influence of geographical factors behind sociocultural organization and politics. Many models have been conceptualized within the area. One of the least specialized and easiest to understand was introduced by Alastair Taylor, a professor of geography and political science at Queen’s University in Canada (Taylor 1973).

The model has two parts: the levels of organization and the regulating mechanisms. It was designed mainly to explain the quantum leaps of social development in human history by correlating specific levels of societal and political organization with different stages of environmental control.

The first part of the model includes the following phenomena.

  • the systemic levels of sociocultural organization
  • processes demonstrating self-stabilization within a given level of organization and integration
  • systemic transformation resulting in a sociocultural quantum leap across an environmental frontier

Five levels of organization, defined by the main man/ environment relationships, are shown in Figure 3.12.

Interpreted horizontally, each column denotes exchange between the physical environmental factors and the control of the same through technology, science, transportation, communication and government.

Vertically, the five main levels of environmental control are presented as a geometrical sequence: point, line, plane, volume, as the control capabilities grow. All these levels are integrative or recursive, that is, they build upon each previous lower level. As time passes, an increased complexity and heterogeneity takes place. Interpreted as a matrix, the model provides a time/space grid, giving societal/ environment quantization when examined vertically and stabilization when examined horizontally.

The quantization takes place at a very slow rate on the lowest, foodgathering level and gains speed as passes through the different levels.

The stabilization shifts from reactive — adaptive to active — manipulative as it progresses through the different levels. Negative feedback ensuring overall stability is created by the social institutions and predominant general morality. Science and technology have a central role in creating the mechanism of positive feedback.

The second part of the model shows the importance of both positive and negative feedback processes and the interplay between them on all levels of sociocultural organization. The following phenomena  are shown in Figure 3.13.

  • biospheric and sociocultural inputs from the total environment
  • the functioning of the existing system as a converter with numerous subsystems
  • the regulation of the system’s social and material output through negative and positive feedback

From the model it is possible to see how material and societal technique interaction results in systemic self-stabilization or transformation. In the model, self-stabilization is denoted as Cybernetics I and transformation as Cybernetics II.

A major systemic transformation always implies an increase in information gathering, converted into knowledge and raising the total amount of system negentropy. Thereby the system’s control capability expands, making it possible to cross existing borders with its output and rise to a new level of societal organization. Taylor has defined this kind of positive feedback as follows: ‘Quantization occurs when deviation is amplified to the point where no deviation-correcting mechanism can prevent the rupturing of the basic systemic framework, that is, when the latter can no longer contain and channel the energies and thrust which have been generated.’ Examples of selfstabilization with negative feedback can be detected in mature sub- hominid societies where the struggle for life is fully operative and the prevailing technique exercises maximal environmental control.

Transformation with positive feedback works in two ways: as self- organization and development and as systemic change with environmental quantization. An example of the first can be Eskimo societies showing an extensive command of available technique and environmental potential in the far North. By exploiting fire and usable tools like microliths they entered into a vital low-energy symbiosis with their extreme environment. Limits for such an existence given by way of negative feedback soon established societal stabilization on the SI level.

Systemic transformation through access to less sophisticated tools in another environment can be seen in Mesolithic Asia. The use of stone sickles for harvesting, the domestication of wheat and barley and the taming of livestock created the ‘neolithic revolution’ on level S2. Here arose a new overall control, habitat patterns and social organization, with in turn a better division of labour, increased food supply, that is, the basis for a larger population.

A more dramatic quantum leap in connection with a new technique and favourable environment can be found in ancient China and Egypt. A food surplus and better societal organization opened the way for the ‘urban revolution’ on level S3. This is characterized by the rise of towns, refined administration, the division of population into classes, etc. These earliest civilizations, localized along rivers, could control and cultivate a whole valley and develop hydraulic technology. The city state was born.

An alternative way to visualize and interpret Taylor’s model  is shown in Figure 3.14. Here the five levels are shown as growing territories, connected to the development of human civilization.

Figure 3.14 The emergence of geopolitical systems.

Source: Skyttner Lars (2006), General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice, Wspc, 2nd Edition.

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