Our group concentrates on the general topics of ideal spaces and related, on that of artificial natures. At a first glance, both these notions seem a bit exotic if not purely academic, to say the least. But they aren’t. Particularly our Western culture dealt with both of them since long, in theoretical as well as practical terms, and entire worlds had been created taking them as guidelines; again, too in quite practical terms by moulding our concrete environments we recently are living.
An ideal space is a space that on the one hand, is a space imagined (from the Greek eidos, and idea); it is a space we conceive and plan, putting it into real life then. Modernity for instance is full of such spaces, from early infrastructural networks to recent digital spaces.

On the other hand, an ideal space is a space perfected, a one laid down according to optimized rules, ranging from ideal cities, ideal states and other classical utopias to recent approaches to construct new ‘ideal’ spaces for new communities based on the Internet. The classical trope of the ideal space is utopia, the desire for erecting an environment where humans can live together in new ways, for realizing their positive potentials and by that, to become “really human”. One can easily see that when discussing about ideal spaces we inevitably tackle another topic, that of an (assumed) human condition, or conditio humana. And related, the whole history of ideas referring to both, the ‘ideal’ space to be constructed and the ‘human condition’ it shall serve for.

The notion of an artificial nature too has a long history, inside the general terms of understanding and world conception of our Western culture. That is expanding worldwide since about 200 years, influencing the other cultural spheres which existed before as autochthonous entities. The idea of an artificial nature strongly relates to that of an ideal space, first and foremost in a utopian dimension. A natural environment is a one that is (a), common for human beings to live in - it became ‘natural’ since it became the ‘normal’ environment for them, on a daily basis; and (b), it is conceived as an environment that is suited for human beings. From the idea’s beginning, the basic hope was to create such an environment for humans that is more ‘natural’ than (original) nature can ever be. It started with the classical concept of the garden or park, the altera natura of Cicero, and evolved rapidly in modern times, from Garden Cities to Internet communities.

Aligned to an artificial nature are myths of a primarily monotheist, Christian heritage – the paradise, first of all, but also the hope for redemption and the myth of a fundamental dichotomy between nature and culture. These mythic ideas appeared in disguised forms of manifold appearances since the era of Enlightenment, and very urging again in the era of Modernity. In postmodern and recent times, they underwent a revival under the aegis of postmodernist modernization and its related concepts like actor-network theory, part-time utopias of the most diverse kinds, and the like. And, combined with a prominent myth of the New Age up to now, that of a makeable world – the conviction that we are able to create our own natural environment, preferably as a second paradise – the ideas about an artificial nature found their most prominent mythos: the one of management. According to a myth of a makeable world, it is the belief that everything can be managed, i.e. transformed into an artificial nature, from infrastructure to entire ecosystems.

Probably since the onset of civilization as a sedentary way of life, but for sure since Modernity we all live in managed spaces, irrespective if we know about that or not. Particularly in the utopian discussion, the topic of management has been grossly underestimated. Such spaces became our real artificial nature, and at the same time, as do the other types of spaces outlined here, they reveal a lot about our basic conceptions and the assumptions underlying them. To turn the world into a bad place is a question of management – to make it to a better place also. Inter alias, management is a technique, a set of means to achieve something. And related to the topic of a conditio humana, the question is what has to be achieved, and why. In large parts, in particular under recent conditions of a so-called neoliberal world, management might be an issue of technique – but it also rests in convictions, basic assumptions, a cultural memory. It rests in values, in one word, and these values, made explicit or existing just as an unthought known, determine what is managed in which ways. Therefore, we cannot speak about spaces without speaking of management: the attempt to develop, maintain and control an artificial order. Which is neither the order of nature nor that of a ‘natural’ behaviour of human beings. But an order made, planned according to some guidelines. And creating a truly second or ‘artificial’ nature as an embracing environment for humans, from early Sumerian city states to Internet networks.

At least for human spaces, the notion of space relates to the one of morphology, or gestalt. When speaking about space, no matter the kind, we speak about the conception of entities which are wholes, gestalten, and not just some agglomerations of fragments or singular elements. The modern very idea of a system already refers to it, as does the one of a network (that superseded the ‘system’ as a culturally valid lead metaphor). Gestalt relates to the perception of spaces (also to ideal ones achieved and maintained by management), and we can change the spaces we live in only if we first fully perceive and comprehend them, as space. Out of this, the issue of immersive environments became a crucial one in our research, next to the histories of ideas leading to all those spaces outlined so far. But gestalt is not confined to static structures. Also processes can be expressed as gestalt, i.e. in terms of a morphology. Morphology is more than just a pattern. It might be that every gestalt is a pattern, too, but not every pattern is a gestalt. For instance, the virtually endless pattern of a ribbon is just a pattern, it lacks gestalt in the true sense: a confinement, also in spatial terms. To express processes as gestalten, to compare their morphologies with the aim of managing them better could become a very fruitful research area. To understand complexity in new ways of epistemology.

So far, the overview of our major domains of research. Which are outlined in more detail, of course, in the respective pages of our website. And which are in a process of constant change, since research is an open process.

We invite you to participate.

Morphology and Gestalt issues:

  • Gestalt as a morphology: classical (‘static’) aspect of gestalt

  • How it articulates in spatial conceptions

  • Which were the original ideas about it, and why (history of ideas, start)

  • How it changed during time/was abandoned as an explicit guideline for molding spaces (history of ideas)

  • Express space as gestalt

  • How these gestalten can be experienced/changed/adapted

  • Why it is important, for making human habitats

 Gestalt as process: non-classical (‘dynamic’) aspect of gestalt:

  • Express processes as morphologies, not only static structures

  • System dynamics research (Stuart Kauffman, other system theorists) about dynamics and different forms of teleology → revitalize/sharpen idea of teleonomy

  • History of ideas: how processes = dynamics have been comprehended, and why

 Cross-cultural studies:

  • How processes are understood today, and why?

  • Difference between mere pattern and true morphology = process as gestalt

  • What we gain by depicting processes as gestalt

  • How to depict problem situations as dynamic morphologies, with the possibility to dive into/change these “amoeboid” = changing spaces. Idea: a problem situation is expressed as a space = a morphological setting – how it changes, due to what: external and internal dynamics. We depict this problem situation as an immersive environment

Ideal Spaces:

  • Comprise spaces imagined, as well as spaces perfected in a utopian sense

Artificial Natures:

  • On the one hand, compare spaces as environments which became “natural” to humans but which aren’t. On the other, spaces which try to copy nature, with the aim of becoming more natural than nature could ever be (the altera natura-idea in Western culture)

Managed Spaces:

(A), Mythology of Management

A series of scholars were involved in this topic already (e.g. Yannis Gabriel, Martin Bowles), but despite this, it would deserve far more investigation – last but not least according to own experiences in diverse management contexts.

You can re-think management, its basic assumptions and underlying rules of conduct only if you understand these very basic assumptions – which are of a quasi-mythological nature, finally, resting upon certain central beliefs (you may call them myths of management) about the human nature and out of this, the relevant world. These are assumptions embedded in a larger cultural context of self-understanding, rationality and the (assumed) nature of organizations, a context with a long occidental tradition out of which they emerged.

It is not the time to go deeper into this context – just to refer to classical works of scholars as Pribram, Weber, Sombart, Schumpeter – but its result, those assumptions, need to be understood in order to understand what management at all means; in peculiar when looking at its recent outcomes on a global scale.

Proposed topics inside (A):

  • major traits of recent management understanding, and central beliefs they rest upon

  • justifications/argumentations of what a:

    • recent "proper" management is

    • what the relevant world of a "proper" organization/ways of organizing is

and why both have to be so – it is about those beliefs and their justification by an assumed 'nature' of the 'relevant' world management is confronted with

  • critical asessment of those justifications, and through that, of the beliefs they rest upon

  • assessment of the major instruments of implementation (e.g., value chain) and the relevant worlds generated by them

  • discussing alternatives to such a mainstream understanding of management

(B), Management and Space

Topic (B) interrelates with (A) in that a relevant world is created, resting on the assumptions tackled in (A); or posed even shorter, as a metaphor and basic process alike: the myth creates the reality suited to it, and this very reality justifies the myth in question.

At the top of such a self-referential, quasi-autopoietical system, new hybrid spaces of various kinds emerged, them the product as well as the subject of intensified management; see for instance all the Google-, Facebook- etc. discussions. Brought to its point: a certain way of management, based on a certain understanding – topic (A) – generates its relevant worlds, expressed as certain kinds of spatiality – topic (B) – or more precise, spatialities since we are living in a multiverse of such spaces today, not only in management. Related to the latter aspect, the human condition becomes affected, first of all by so-called mmis (man/machine interfaces) which begun to become marketed at full speed quite recently.

⇒ to realize the connection between the topics (A) and (B) could be a major benefit of this approach because such a connection hasn't been clearly elaborated so far.

The relations between a prevailing mode of (global) management and the globalization and formatting of spaces hasn't been investigated deeply so far, and surely deserves closest attention, in particular since it is technologically assisted in high, and increasing, degree. All in all, in the relationships between management and space a kind of 'cybernetics of augmentation' is taking place, with one factor assisting the other.   

Proposed topics inside (B):

  • managing space and time – what it concretely means to just manage them?

  • which systems of 'relevant worlds' are generated by it

  • which technological sets assist/enhance such processes – and understandings, see (A)

  • which new realities/hybrid spaces are generated, with

  • a special focus on mmis

  • what this all means for the classical occidental topic of a conditio humana?

© 2016 Ulrich Gehmann All Rights Reserved