Bowers considers that an onto-epistemological paradigm advantages a unique world outlook which assumes distinctive approaches to shared universal concepts. Within a paradigm, points of view about the world’s constitution and its structure are compatible ontologically. Its values, concerns, conventions and assumptions, ‘truths’ and traditions of working in the world are also generally shared epistemologically.

The positivist, functionalist or structural-functionalist systems paradigm is the world of modern science and social science. It is a world of certainty, of logical proofs and deductions, reproducibly verifiable facts and hypotheses, exact measurements, objective observation, of unbiased and universal truths.

The interpretivist systems paradigm points out that each of us sees the world differently, subjectively, and each of us knows or understands it in their own way. This paradigm is concerned with and cares about reconciling issues of individuality and personal differences in a social world. It accepts that we disagree and are unpredictable. Reasoning is more often inductive and situated.

The postmodernist-poststructuralist systems paradigm acknowledges the limitations of human understanding. It appreciates a world of unfathomable depth and inter-active dimensionality; considers events which are sometimes fleetingly transient, spontaneous or non-rational; the true nature of the world thwarts our attempts to ‘know’ it. The world we do ‘know’ and the values we hold are socially constructed, it says, and they are relative. Reliant upon our constructions in human-language, ignorances and biases are unavoidable. We must, therefore, reflexively question the very bases of our assumptions. This paradigm exposes us to our limitations and can and should engender transparency, humility and open-mindedness.

The critical-emancipatory, or simply ‘critical’, systems paradigm can be characterized by its three commitments, or themes for debate: critical reflection; pluralism; and emancipation, or just improvement. The critical systems thinking paradigm has liberated us from the one-size-fits-all, ‘hard’, positivist approach to everything for all occasions, or what from a larger perspective has been called imperialist or isolationist practices by Midgley (1992). The word ‘critical’ itself signifies an ethical commitment to critical reflexivity; that is, to self-critical, self-reflection and ideological critique (Gregory, 1992). To these ends, the philosophy charges us with taking responsibility for our action (or inaction).

What is difficult to formulate is a logically coherent framework which can properly ground and inform multiparadigmatic multimethodological approaches to practice.

The design of narrative environments seeks to be open to multiparadigmatic multimethodological approaches to practice.


Bowers, T. D. (2014) ‘Developments in critical systems theory: on paradigms and incommensurability’, Proceedings of the 58th Meeting of ISSS, Washington DC, USA, July 2014. Available at: (Accessed: 26 February 2016).