Cristiano Rodrigues’s Paper Proposal

Capoeira – a playful illustration of how to live in cybernetics.

This paper offers a discussion on the theme ‘Living in Cybernetics’ by means of a comparison between Capoeira (a Brazilian kind of martial art and dance) and Second Order Cybernetics. The background against which we would like to put this comparison is the crescent wave of fundamentalism of all sorts (religious, political, sexist, etc) that shows that we still find difficult to live cibernetically, i.e., with an openness to the unpredictable and the unknown of the other.

Capoeira is a popular element of Brazilian culture that is a mixture of fight, dance, and game. It was created by the African slaves during Brazilian colonial era. The performative event of capoeira is called roda (circle). Basically, it is consisted of a group of people in a circular formation playing original instruments (berimbau) and singing, while at the center two individuals dance/fight at the sound and rhythm dictated by the others. Based on a set of minimum rules, the roda of capoeira may be viewed as a kind of self-organized system, where the decision on who goes playing at the center and for how long is autonomously decided by the players and the ‘observers’ in an apparently unarticulated way. The roda is shared by all of those who play and observe. So, people in the roda can be either potential players waiting for their opportunity, or non-initiated people just observing. Everyone has the possibility to go into action (to play) and to observe the impact of his own action in the roda. Thus, to play means to perceive and recognise these potential opportunities to introduce his/her own “strategy”, and then, to open it to approach the other player. So, players and observers are mutually interchangeable entities. Unlikely most martial arts, capoeira doesn’t have a win or lose goal, on the contrary, the player’s aim is to keep the game going on by composing a dialogue with the body movements of his or her ‘opponent’. People from different ages, gender, and skills can play against each other and there is no distinction between rehearsal and public performance, as learning happens in the action itself. So, we can say that the structure of capoeira is relational and topological and its aesthetic is based on its performativity.

From the description above we can see that the idea of circularity and other cybernetic principles are of paramount importance to the existence of capoeira. It is not only used literally, as the practice of capoeira happens in a ‘circle’, but it is the basis of the whole development of its performance. If von Foerster liked to compare Cybernetics to a dance, capoeira is a very good illustration of what type of dance it should be. As a fight/dance where players just keep a continuous dialogue with the opponent, it is very similar to Glasersfeld definition of cybernetics as “the art of creating equilibrium in a world of possibilities and constraints.” Using a conversational mode, capoeira is played under “the principle of interpretation and viable fit” (Glasersfeld) and is a good example of a dialogue in living action In this sense, if coupled with a cybernetic framing of its principles, capoeira can be an inspiring indication of how to deal with asymmetry in institutional systems without resorting to hierarchy to keep the system functioning. Educational systems, for instance, could deal with learning beyond the the traditional hierarchical relation between master/pupil.

If Cybernetics was developed in response to the observation of circular causal processes, what we are proposing is that by looking at capoeira recursively under a cybernetic light may help us to enhance our prospect of ‘living in cybernetics’ as capoeira adds to Cybernetics the idea that play and its inherent uncertainty can be the ultimate foundation for intention and action.

Cybernetic traditions:

  • 3) Experimental epistemology; constructivism; philosophy of science
  • 5) Education and conversation

2 thoughts on “Cristiano Rodrigues’s Paper Proposal

  1. Tom Scholte

    I’m surprised you didn’t identify the Art tradition of cybernetics. I think it would be great for our papers to be part of the same session!

  2. Ranulph Glanville

    I like the analogy you propose, but I’d like to know where we go with it. I am convinced you can make the analogy stick. But apart from the important matter of pattern making, I would like to know what capoeira offers cybernetics: you hint that it’s to do with intention and action, but what do you mean and how will it work?


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