The role of hierarchy in self-organizing systems

W. Ollfen, van, A.G.L. Romme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


This paper discusses the role of hierarchy in human systems. Two kinds of self-organizing processes are distinguished: conservative and dissipative self-organization. The former leads to rather stable, specialistic systems, whereas the latter leads to continuously changing generalistic systems. When conservative and dissipative self-organization are combined, autonomous self-organization emerges. Autonomous self-organization, characterized by intertemporal stability, appears to be fundamental to human organizations. In the context of autonomous self-organization, the traditional concept of hierarchy as a chain of command is replaced by hierarchy as a vertical sequence based on different degrees of abstraction. Moreover, a simple model shows that autonomous self-organization requires large human systems to use a variety of information processing systems, including administrative hierarchy. The model suggests hierarchy is one instrument for variety reduction amid several others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-206
JournalHuman Systems Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1995


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