Preprint Essay Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Systems Theory and Intercultural Communication: Methods for Heuristic Model Design

Version 1 : Received: 7 September 2023 / Approved: 11 September 2023 / Online: 12 September 2023 (04:23:37 CEST)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Genest, S. Systems Theory and Intercultural Communication: Methods for Heuristic Model Design. Humans 2023, 3, 299-318. Genest, S. Systems Theory and Intercultural Communication: Methods for Heuristic Model Design. Humans 2023, 3, 299-318.


This article focuses on methods for designing heuristic models within the paradigm of systems theory and in the disciplinary context of intercultural communication. The main question arises from the striking observation that the common language is insufficient to develop knowledge about human communication, especially when many factors of complexity (such as ambiguity, paradoxes, or uncertainty) are involved in the composition of an abstract research object. This epistemological, theoretical, and methodological problematic is one of the main challenges to the scientificity of anthropological theories and concepts on culture. Moreover, these questions lie at the heart of research in intercultural communication. Authors and theorists in the complexity sciences have already stressed the need, in such case, to think in terms of models or semiotic representations, since these tools of thought can mediate much more effectively than unformalized language between the heterogeneous set of perceptions arising from the field of experience, on the one hand, and the philosophical principles that organize speculative thought, on the other. This sets the scene for a reflection on the need to master the theory of heuristic models when it comes to developing scientific knowledge in the field of intercultural communication. In this essay, my first aim is to make explicit the conditions likely to ensure the heuristic value of a model, while my second aim is to clarify the operational function and required level of abstraction of certain terms such as concepts, categories, headings, models, systems, or theories that are among the most commonly used by academics in their descriptive accounts or explanatory hypotheses. To achieve this second objective, I propose to create cognitive meta-categories to identify the three (nominal, cardinal or ordinal) roles of words in the reference grids we use to classify our ideas, and to specify how to use these meta-categories in the construction of our heuristic models. Alongside the theoretical presentation, examples of application are provided, almost all of which are drawn from my own research into the increased cultural vigilance of the majority population in Quebec since the reasonable accommodation crisis in this French-speaking province of Canada. The typology I propose will perhaps help to avoid the confusions regularly committed by authors who attribute only cosmetic functions to words that nevertheless have a highly heuristic value, and who forget to consider the logical leaps of their theoretical thinking in the construction of heuristic models.


heuristic model; system; complexity; method; intercultural communication studies; gregory bateson; anthropology; informational realism; Quebec


Social Sciences, Anthropology

Comments (0)

We encourage comments and feedback from a broad range of readers. See criteria for comments and our Diversity statement.

Leave a public comment
Send a private comment to the author(s)
* All users must log in before leaving a comment
Views 0
Downloads 0
Comments 0
Metrics 0

Notify me about updates to this article or when a peer-reviewed version is published.
We use cookies on our website to ensure you get the best experience.
Read more about our cookies here.