Current Project (An Overview): “Temporal and Conceptual Logics of Structure-Determined Systems”

By Robert Drury King

One of my recent projects entails examining the systems-theoretical notion of time—in the context of the human experience of time—as it is given in the system of capital, with a mind to alternative forms of societal reproduction (e.g., pre-capitalist social formations).  Thus, I address the temporal (but also spatial) logic(s) of the capital system and its precursors in order to specifically define capital as an autonomous social system.  Here I am also concerned to identify the type of autonomy, which I consider as a form of agency, one can assign to capital in order to approach questions about the dynamics of the system of capital.  But this question of course also fundamentally bears on the relation between the system of capital and the temporality of human being, also defined systemically.

To define the human (a topic recently thematized by a program at the National Humanities Center at Research Triangle Park[1]), I draw on the framework of epistemological constructivism (vis-à-vis autopoietic systems theory and sociological systems theory).[2]  On these systems theories, the human experience of time is a matter of the structural-determination of human being, in virtue of its biological history (a human will not experience time in the same way as an insect or a plant will and yet each, in virtue of its biological structure, will be given a set of historical and physical constraints that determine its capacities to experience and process time).  While temporality is structurally determined by human biological structure, human biological structure changes in relation to the environments in which it is embedded.  Humans construct an experience of time, but they do so only in relation to environments, e.g., social systems (the system of capital vs. feudal system vs. hunter-gatherer systems of society).  Because time is a historical, bio-structural construction, it is subject to the influence (external triggers) of other systems in its environment, even if this influence is rarely linear and direct (which is why traditional causal and chronological conceptions of time are notoriously inadequate).  Thus, I describe the conceptual frameworks of these systems-theoretical points before positing determinate relations between human and social systems.

I view social systems, and the system of capital in particular, as structurally-determined beings as well (these systems possess unique varieties of social structure and agency, which must be analyzed as such).  I lay out the structure of capital in order to speak to the ways in which the human experience of time is affected by, and must respond to, the system of capital in terms of its global, structural crisis.[3]  Thus, I argue that our re-conceptualizations of time must respond to problems specific to capital (as a global system in a time of structural (and no longer cyclical) crisis, a bifurcation point in its structural, systemic, historical trajectory).[4]

I state what I take these problems to be (e.g., a degradation of the dimension of historical time-consciousness across an axis of capital expansion and scarcity-creating conditions; exploitation of human labor and biological reproduction through the constraints of capital accumulation, on labor-time; superimposition of temporality of capital on temporal relations between human and “natural” rhythms), and I specify solutions to these problems, premised on systemic-sustainability, again, through the systems-theoretical lenses.

Arguments I need to offer in support of this project:

  1. That there is a system of capital, defined by structural objects, processes, and parameters.  (See other Current Project)
  2. That the system of capital, in its reproduction and if it is to reproduce, takes the form of some kind of reproductive circuit. But what systems-theoretical tradition—i.e., cybernetics, autopoiesis, dissipative systems theory, etc.—best conceptualizes or models this circuit (sic) of reproduction?
  3. That one can distinguish fruitfully between systems traditions (Here I am currently developing a project under review at Routledge).  Nb., a couple of my published and forthcoming articles specify this argument as a deeper project which calls upon the demand for a drawing of neater conceptual distinctions in the Western philosophical tradition.
  4. That the logics of space and time I propose get at what a system is.  (See other Current Projects)

Robert Drury King
Heathwood Institute
Sierra Nevada College
Centre Leo Apostel, Free University Brussels


[2] Here, broadly speaking, I draw on the work of Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, Niklas Luhmann, Robert Biel, and, to a lesser extent, Ilya Prigogine, Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari.  What draws Maturana and Varela together with Luhmann is a theorization of autopoietic systems, while Biel, beginning with Prigogine, and Deleuze and Guattari, taken together at least, pursue questions with closer family resemblance to the literature on dissipative systems.  In his own works, Guattari also pursued questions in autopoietic systems, including providing some fascinating commentary on the work of Francisco Varela.

[3] Here I draw mainly on the work of Istvan Meszaros and the tradition of political economy and its critique.

[4] I am fond of the formulation of this topic as it is given by Immanuel Wallerstein and the world-systems analysis tradition and specifically, its use of dynamic and dissipative systems theory in order to state the systemic behavior of the system of capital.

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Robert Drury King

Robert Drury King

Robert Drury King writes in the fields of recent European philosophy, systems theory (with particular interests in dissipative systems, constructivist epistemology, and autopoiesis) and Marxism, viewed minimally as systemic and structural critique at the intersections of theory and activism. All of Robert’s research revolves around the goals of identifying the kinds of systems that define the core social, ecological, economic, and political problems of contemporary life and of determining the ways in which we, as one species among many others, ought to work towards constructing novel forms of sustainable social life, broadly construed. Robert views the project of a critical theory to be the one in which any such determination of novel forms of social life would proceed from the ground of a presuppositionless thought, geared towards a systemic critique of the ideologies that attract the decisions and actions of our daily life toward non-novel and non-sustainable ends. Robert is highly influenced by Hegelian dialectics, Frankfurt School critical theory, French post-structuralist theory, including especially the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, the Marxism of István Mészáros, and a range of systems theories from cybernetics to autopoiesis, the biology of cognition, and the recent thinking of the entropy of the system of capital through the theoretical framework of dissipative systems, such as is being pioneered by Robert Biel.