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Purpose, Meaning and Action:
Control Systems Theories in Sociology

From the introduction:

Control Systems Thinking in Sociological Theory

By Thomas J. Fararo and Kent McClelland, Palgrave Macmillan (2006)

Wiener’s control model in its original analogue or continuous-state version received its most detailed theoretical application in behavioral science through the work of William Powers. In particular, his book, Behavior: The Control of Perception, published in 1973, remains the most persuasive account of the explanatory power of the cybernetic control concept for behavioral science. Because it is the immediate cybernetic source for most of the research programs included in this volume, we will provide a detailed description of it.

Powers's unit of analysis is a human organism treated as a purposive entity. The fundamental principle is that behavior is the control of perception. In other words, individuals act so as to make their perceptions stay as near as possible to what Powers calls “reference signals.” Control is accomplished by a continual process of comparing one’s interpretations of perceptual information with one’s mental images or expectations. When perceptual images of current reality diverge from internal standards of what should be happening, an individual takes action to control his or her own perceptions by bringing reality, as perceived, back into line with his or her expectations and desires. Physical and verbal actions, then, result from people’s attempts to correct mismatches between what they perceive to be happening and what they want to happen.

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