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The word sociocracy is derived from the Latin and Greek words socius (companion) and kratein (to govern). It is English for the word sociocratie, coined in 1851 by Auguste Comte, a French positivist philosopher (who also came up with the word sociology) and later used by the US sociologist Lester Frank Ward in a paper he wrote for the Penn Monthly in 1881 and later still by Dutchman Kees Boeke, who applied the concept to education.
Ward later expanded on the concept in his books Dynamic Sociology (1883) and The Psychic Factors of Civilization (1892). Ward, although rarely studied today, was very influential in his time and had a worldwide reputation as a groundbreaking sociologist. He believed that a highly educated public was essential if a country was to be governed effectively, and he foresaw a time when the emotional and partisan nature of present day politics would yield to a much more effective, dispassionate and scientifically-based discussion of issues and problems. Democracy would thus eventually evolve into a more advanced form of government, sociocracy.
Dutchman Kees Boeke updated and greatly expanded on Ward's ideas in the mid-20th century. Boeke saw sociocracy (in Dutch: Sociocratie) as a form of government or management that presumes equality of individuals and is based on consent. This equality is not expressed with the 'one man one vote' law of democracy, but in the principle that a decision can only be taken if none of those present have an overbearing argumented objection against it.
Sociocracy gives the majority less power and the individual more power in group decision-making than democracy. Therefore, ideologically, it was seen by its founders as the next step after democracy. A requirement of consensus would make it susceptible to political paralysis (unless applied to small, homogeneous groups). One person can block any decision with a firm reasoned objection. To lessen this problem, one does not ask if everyone agrees, but if anyone objects (which creates a psychological barrier). And in some forms of sociocracy a mere disapproval of the motion does not suffice. One has to come up with a cogent argument. Thus, it is not based on consensus but on consent, meaning that not all participants need to be in agreement.
To apply sociocracy in larger groups a system of delegation is needed in which a group chooses representatives who take the decisions for them on a higher level. Kees Boeke introduced the terms 'naasthoger' and 'naastlager', with the word 'naast', meaning 'next', referring to the fact that a higher level is not superior to a lower level. A 'naasthoger' ('nexthigher') level policymaking organ within the sociocratic organisation is not allowed to impose its policies on 'naastlager' ('nextlower') policymaking circles.
Gerard Endenburg expanded on Boeke's work in the 1970s in his electrotechnical company. This resulted in a formal organisational method named the Sociocratische KringorganisatieMethode (Sociocratic Circle organisation Method). This method is applied in some companies in the Netherlands and other countries. An example of such an organisation is BOS (Boeddhistische Omroep Stichting - Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation) in the Netherlands.
A similar method is used at Rainbow Gatherings, where, if someone wants a decision made, that person announces that publicly, so anyone can participate in the discussion. Only those who sit through the entire discussion (and can thus be said to be fully informed) can partake in the final decision. Because these discussions can take many hours (in order to achieve consensus), only those who are sufficiently interested will participate. Thus, no one needs to be principally excluded, not even children (they normally wouldn't be able to sit through it) and thus this is a very extreme form of democracy.
- Anarchist law
- Consensus democracy
- Consensus decision-making
- Polycentric law
- Endenburg, Gerard (1998). Sociocracy: The organization of decision-making, Eburon. ISBN 9051666055.
- Sociocracy: Democracy as it might be by Kees Boeke (1945)
- Robin Good on Sociocracy
- Motivating Workers By Giving Them a Vote
- Lessons from Semco on Structure, Growth and Change "Today's Semco doesn't have a traditional management hierarchy or typical organizational chart, or even a matrix or lattice management structure. The company is effectively made up of autonomous, democratically run units."
- Sociocratie van Kees Boeke (Dutch)
- Eltink Procesbegeleiding en Sociocratie (Dutch)nl:sociocratie
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