A Relational Framework for Sustainability Science


  • John Kineman University of Colorado, Boulder


general system theory, relational complexity, R-theory, whole systems, sustainability


Since publication of a synthesis of Robert Rosen's relational theory in 2011, called R-thoery, considerable progress has been made in defining a general system framework that is both causally based and subject to analysis using category theory. This framework is based on hypothesized natural closure of Aristotle's four causes and implicit fifth level unity or organization of causal relations. The framework is based on holon relations described in the earlier work. In this paper I outline various representations of that framework showing that it is general to many known and practiced systems frameworks for understanding or managing complexity. These examples range from modern applications to anchient history. Based on these comparisons I propose that the causal structure of the R-theory holon does indeed represent a "General System Theory" as initially sought by Ludvig von Bertalanffy and implicitly in the work of Robert Rosen. I also suggest that it may be usefully applied in the emerging discipline of "Sustainability Science" which is seeking such a framework for integrating models of human and natural systems.

Author Biography

John Kineman, University of Colorado, Boulder

Senior Research Scientist; Graduate Teaching Faculty



How to Cite

Kineman, J. (2015). A Relational Framework for Sustainability Science. Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2014 United States, 1(1). Retrieved from https://journals.isss.org/index.php/proceedings58th/article/view/2348