Diagrams of Feedback: Behaviorism, Programmed Instruction and Cybernetic Planning

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review


Behaviorism, systems theory, and cybernetics are central hallmarks of post-World War II social and behavioral sciences. One of the central nodal points in such discourses is the concept of feedback. It refers to a sequence of actors or functions linked together with flow of information. In the feedback structure, each operation affects and provides information for the next, until it finally closes in on itself to form a loop. The uses of the concept of feedback were a global phenomenon during the twentieth century, often traversing cultural and political boundaries in both sides of the Iron Curtain. It became a widespread way of imagining controlled spaces where information could be systematically produced, distributed and used.

Using Finnish educational research in the 1960s and 1970s as a case, this chapter examines feedback more specifically as a diagram – a general blueprint for organizing, speaking of, and observing behavior that can operate in a host of different educational time-spaces. As a diagram, feedback incorporates teaching machines and programmed instruction as well as discourses on educational reforms. As such, this chapter highlights, first, that a diagram of feedback assumes a haunting presence in observing and speaking about teaching and learning. Second, the diagram both sustains and overcomes ontological distinctions between animals, humans, material objects, and technology. Third, the diagram operates topologically, i.e. it forms its own distances and parallels relatively independent of external coordinates to make subjects, objects and spaces that count as ‘Finnish’ pupils, classrooms, and an education system.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe International Emergence of Educational Sciences in the Post-World War Two Years
Subtitle of host publicationQuantification, Visualization, and Making Kinds of People
EditorsThomas Popkewitz, Daniel Pettersson, Kai-Jung Hsiao
ISBN (Print)9780367182793
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2020
Publication typeA3 Part of a book or another research book

Publication series

NameRoutledge Research in International and Comparative Education

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 3

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