Using The Term Organism

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The term “organism” is used in biology, medicine and human sciences to refer to a single living being as well as to an entire separable interplay of organs. In such an understanding an organism is an individualized natural being (plant, animal, human being), which as such shows the phenomena of life, especially metabolism, growth and reproduction. (see Anthrowiki)

The late spiritual scientist and founder of modern anthroposophy Dr. Rudolf Steiner described social life as a social organism. Today such use has to be, however, critical viewed. The German term “Volksorganismus” was used in the times after Steiner, with the intention of distinguishing a people from others. In addition to the intention of exclusion, such a nationalist tendency also allows the population (each individual human being) to be subordinated as a cell’ to the organism at large.

However, such use completely denies the fact that a people cannot be a distinct entity (unlike the human, animal or plant organism, which is separated from the environment through the skin and forms an individual unit). Unlike a human body, albeit growing, yet only slightly varying in shape (for example, female of male bodies), a people can change . Hunters and collectors become sedentary.

In social work, the established term of community is used to designate ‘social organisms’. A community refers to organized forms of human living together that go beyond the family (e.g. a neighbourhood, village, city, bioregion, or country). This concept takes in account for a community to carry something unique in itself, or as Aristotle acknowledges the sum (community or society) represents more than just the total of its parts (human beings).

Whereas the late Margaret Thatcher reduced society to merely men and women – which enabled her to cutback society according to her neo-liberal image of the human being – Aristotle recognizes a surplus – one could say peculiarities – as the “sum” (the interplay of the individual members) ). In community development it is therefore essential to strive to grasp these peculiarities when a future-oriented and thus sustainable design is aimed for.