2001: Networks as Living Tissue

PhD Thesis, Wageningen University. Uilenreef Publisher, ’s Hertogenbosch.
Book, thesis. Dutch language, extended summary in English (18 pages).
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Networks as Living Tissue (PhD Thesis Summary)

This thesis explores the theory of Living Networks. The theoretical starting point is the concept of "knowledge", which means different things in different paradigms. However, the existing paradigms offer inadequate answers to the challenges facing policy makers and many others today.

The holistic view on human networks offers a new perspective. Here, knowledge is the ability to respond effectively to changing conditions. It consists of all the elements that enable people to connect and respond to each other and their environment.

If we can assume that human networks behave like living organisms, many processes of knowledge development are in fact built in and occur at a subconscious level. The steering mechanisms to keep networks healthy are also built in. These are manifested when actors take leadership and do what needs to done to make networks healthy at three levels: the individual (core), horizontal and vertical.

The story of the Dutch agricultural sector in the post-war period is used to explore the theory of Living Networks. The agricultural extension service, which was a government agency until 1990, played a pivotal role in keeping the system connected.

The theory sheds new light on how the agricultural sector became so innovative and successful in the sixties and seventies, and why it was so hard to find solutions when things went wrong in the eighties and nineties. The concept of the Free Actor was introduced here, along with early versions of the Circle of Coherence and the Triangle of Change .