Rubbish Theory, Michael Thompson, René Thom’s Catastrophe Theory applied to Social Sciences

I met Michael Thompson in 2007 at the London School of Economics. He intervened for a SOL – Europe organised meeting (Society for Organizational Learning), held at Complexity Group there, founded by Eve Mitleton-Kelly.

Since Michael ranks very high in my hall of Fame. I have a whole library with his and his Mentor’s and Friend’s books and articles. He became an intellectual companion, and a dear friend. On this site I often posted about his work and actions: just search for his name.

I probably read Rubbish Theory for the first time  5 or 6 Years ago. I was enthused since it applies René Thom’s non linear geometric method of modelling (Catastrophe Theory) to overcome the paradoxes, confusion and entrenched conservatism confronting the Social Sciences.

The genius of Michael lies precisely in using catastrophe theory to illuminate how something can behave in two different ways under the same constraints. This happens of course in physics. The physician is lucky however, since the phenomena he observes in his lab are very similar to those that occur outside. The social scientist has no such luck, and most of the time he resigns himself to accepting paradoxes.  Michael’s research shows the way out this predicament. Therefore we are faced with a breakthrough advance.

I know firsthand how Michael faced fierce opposition from the “establishment”. This happens to all  those who undertake to shake outdated and entrenched paradigms. It is also what brought us together and why I respect his determination and fully support  his fight to get his ideas listened and responded  to.

This reading left me way more flabbergasted than when I read it for the first time. I only now grasp the depth of his ideas. All the more remarkable that they were developed in the seventies. The book dates indeed from 1979.

In 2006 I only could buy the book second hand. I was looking to buy another copy (I love to share fundamental readings with like-minder persons, but I need to feel my precious books in my immediate vicinity).  To my amazement, I found 7 sellers only, and the unit prices started, second hand, at 250 € and reached 1300 € for a new copy.

Is this a sign that his ideas, at last, reach their public?  Future will say this.

This is important for me, after all, I am a Grandfather on a mission, deeply engaged in developing a new way of living together. Facing so many lock-ins at every institutional and decision-making level. My work consists of developed the promise of a Blue Economy.

At Zeri ( we have proven in more that 190 projects World-Wide the possibility of a new living together on this earth, without interfering with Nature’s inherent ability to sustain life,  if only we espoused new values and new ways of perceiving, thinking and doing. It allows to provide for the basic needs of everyone, with what is locally available. It requires to mobilize and develop  entrepreneurship of very small and small companies and initiatives from agriculture, industry and services. The aim is to grow an interdependent network of complementary and interdependent initiatives that forms a whole that is much bigger and more resilient that the sum of the parts. This requires a new ethic of collaboration.

Look at our cases 101 to 109 on the website

It requires also to develop new leadership and supporting role from the public sector  public to mobilize all segments of society to build a diverse, inclusive, plural, and engaged community.  I believe Michael and his fellow Socio-Cultural Viability theorists can greatly contribute to help bring this bring that about.


About charlesvanderhaegen

I am a grandfather of an immensely inspiring family, thanks to the most incredible wife. To satisfy my family's needs, I was for 30 years business entrepreneur, roller coasting between success and failure. 17 years ago I was forced to stop and reflect. I dug into theory and discovered the World out there, that my involvement in Business had kept hidden to me. I feared that I will not escape remaining amidst my trans-disciplinary quest forever, bouncing back and forth from action to theory, always puzzled by Europe's apparent incapacity to free itself from its Institutional/Technological Lock-ins. My horizon opened up when Gunter Pauly, my intimate friend of 35 years, asked me to join him and take charge ZERI's development in Europe. I am now fully engaged alongside Gunter Pauli in the and the @myblueeconomy Networks as CEO of ZERI.EU vzw (Non for Profit association)
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