Peter Sachs Collopy
History of Cybernetics Bibliography
This is a bibliography of historical and sociological works on cybernetics, a science of “control and communication in the animal and the machine” which flourished from World War II into the 1970s.
If you’ve come here after asking yourself (or Google) what cybernetics is, I recommend starting with Bernard Geoghegan and Benjamin Peters’ entry “Cybernetics,” from the International Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy, and Geoffrey Bowker’s “How to Be Universal: Some Cybernetic Strategies, 1943–70.” Ronald Kline’s The Cybernetics Moment is the synthetic history the field has been waiting for. William Aspray’s “The Scientific Conceptualization of Information: A Survey” places cybernetics in the context of developments in computing and information theory, while Peter Galison’s “The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision” is a classic account of the field’s military origins. The texts listed below survey the many forms cybernetics took in the decades that followed.
This bibliography is limited in three ways: It includes only books and articles which focus on cybernetics rather than the related histories of cyborgs and information theory; it includes only texts in English, though there are also substantial French and German literatures on the subject; and it excludes articles and dissertations that have been superseded by books by the same authors. Within these limitations, I welcome references to additional books and articles. I last updated this list on May 15, 2018.
The Big Picture (but mostly Anglo-American)
- Michael Apter, “Cybernetics: A Case Study of a Scientific Subject-Complex,” in The Sociology of Science, edited by Paul Halmos (University of Keele, 1972).
- Robert Lilienfeld, The Rise of Systems Theory: An Ideological Analysis (Wiley, 1978).
- Geoffrey Bowker, “How to Be Universal: Some Cybernetic Strategies, 1943–70,” Social Studies of Science 23 (1993).
- Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (University of Chicago Press, 1999).
- Charles François, “Systemics and Cybernetics in a Historical Perspective,” Systems Research and Behavioral Science 16 (1999).
- Debora Hammond, The Science of Synthesis: Exploring the Social Implications of General Systems Theory (University Press of Colorado, 2003).
- Peter Krieg, “The Human Face of Cybernetics: Heinz von Foerster and the History of a Movement That Failed,” Kybernetes 34 (2005).
- Stuart Umpleby, “A History of the Cybernetics Movement in the United States,” Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 91 (2005).
- Geoffrey Bowker, “The Empty Archive: Cybernetics and the 1960s,” in Memory Practices in the Sciences (MIT Press, 2006).
- Bernard Geoghegan, “The Historiographic Conceptualization of Information: A Critical Survey,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 30 (2008).
- John Johnston, The Allure of Machinic Life: Cybernetics, Artificial Life, and the New AI (MIT Press, 2008).
- Orit Halpern, “Cybernetic Sense,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 37 (2012).
- Orit Halpern, Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945 (Duke University Press, 2014).
- Ronald Kline, The Cybernetics Moment; or, Why We Call Our Age the Information Age (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015).
- Claus Pias, “The Age of Cybernetics,” in Cybernetics: The Macy Conferences, 1946–1954; The Complete Transactions (diaphanes, 2016).
- Thomas Rid, Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History (Norton, 2016).
- Bernard Geoghegan and Benjamin Peters, “Cybernetics,” International Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy (2016).
- Otto Mayr, The Origins of Feedback Control (MIT Press, 1970).
- William Aspray, “The Scientific Conceptualization of Information: A Survey,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 7 (1985).
- Peter Galison, “The Americanization of Unity,” Daedalus 127 (1998).
- David Mindell, Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).
- Steve Heims, John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener: From Mathematics to the Technologies of Life and Death (MIT Press, 1982).
- Pesi Masani, Norbert Wiener, 1894–1964 (Birkhauser, 1990).
- Peter Galison, “The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision,” Critical Inquiry 21 (1994).
- Felix Geyer and Johannes van der Zouwen, “Norbert Wiener and the Social Sciences,” Kybernetes 23 (1994).
- David Jerison and Daniel Stroock, “Norbert Wiener,” The Legacy of Norbert Wiener: A Centennial Symposium (1997).
- Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, Dark Hero of the Information Age: In Search of Norbert Wiener, the Father of Cybernetics (Basic Books, 2004).
- Mara Mills, “On Disability and Cybernetics: Helen Keller, Norbert Wiener, and the Hearing Glove,” differences 22 (2011).
- Benjamin Peters, “Toward a Genealogy of a Cold War Communication Science: The Strange Loops of Leo and Norbert Wiener,” Russian Journal of Communication 5 (2013).
Soviet and Comparative Studies
- David Holloway, “Innovation in Science—The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union,” Science Studies 4 (1974).
- Peter Elias, “The Rise and Fall of Cybernetics in the US and the USSR,” The Legacy of Norbert Wiener: A Centennial Symposium (1997).
- Slava Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics (MIT Press, 2002).
- David Mindell, Jérôme Segal, and Slava Gerovitch, “From Communications Engineering to Communications Science: Cybernetics and Information Theory in the United States, France, and the Soviet Union,” in Science and Ideology: A Comparative History, edited by Mark Walker (Routledge, 2003).
- Benjamin Peters, “Betrothal and Betrayal: The Soviet Translation of Norbert Wiener’s Early Cybernetics,” International Journal of Communications 2 (2008).
- Benjamin Peters, How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet (MIT Press, 2016).
- Donna Haraway, “The Biological Enterprise: Sex, Mind, and Profit from Human Engineering to Sociobiology,” Radical History Review no. 20 (1979).
- Donna Haraway, “The High Cost of Information in Post World War II Evolutionary Biology: Ergonomics, Semiotics, and the Sociobiology of Communications Systems,” Philosophical Forum 13 (1981–2).
- Donna Haraway, “Signs of Dominance: From a Physiology to a Cybernetics of Primate Society, C.R. Carpenter, 1930–1970,” in Studies in History of Biology 6, edited by William Coleman and Camille Limoges (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983).
- Donna Haraway, “A Semiotics of the Naturalistic Field, from C.R. Carpenter to S.A. Altmann, 1930–55,” in Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (Routledge, 1989).
- Evelyn Fox Keller, “The Body of a New Machine: Situating the Organism between Telegraphs and Computers,” in Refiguring Life: Metaphors of Twentieth-Century Biology (Columbia University Press, 1995).
- Lily Kay, Who Wrote the Book of Life? A History of the Genetic Code (Stanford University Press, 2000).
- Evelyn Fox Keller, “Taming the Cybernetic Metaphor” in Making Sense of Life: Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors, and Machines (Harvard University Press, 2002).
- Warwick Anderson and Ian MacKay, “The Science of Self,” in Intolerant Bodies: A Short History of Autoimmunity (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014).
- Peter Taylor, “Technocratic Optimism, H.T. Odum, and the Partial Transformation of Ecological Metaphor after World War II,” Journal of the History of Biology 21 (1988).
- Sharon Kingsland, “Defining the Ecosystem,” in The Evolution of American Ecology, 1890–2000 (John Hopkins University Press, 2005).
- William Bryant, Whole System, Whole Earth: The Convergence of Technology and Ecology in Twentieth-Century American Culture (doctoral dissertation, University of Iowa, 2006).
- Bruce Clarke, “Neocybernetics of Gaia: The Emergence of Second-Order Gaia Theory,” in Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change, Biodepletion, and Earth Ethics in an Age of Crisis, edited by Eileen Crist and H. Bruce Rinker (MIT Press, 2010).
- Nancy Slack, “Good Friends: Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson” in G. Evelyn Hutchinson and the Invention of Modern Ecology (Yale University Press, 2010).
- Steve Heims, Constructing a Social Science for Postwar America: The Cybernetics Group, 1946–1953 (MIT Press, 1991).
- George Richardson, Feedback Thought in Social Science and Systems Theory (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991).
- Esther-Mirjam Sent, “Herbert A. Simon as a Cyborg Scientist,” Perspectives on Science 8 (2000).
- Philip Mirowski, Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science (Cambridge University Press, 2001).
- Hunter Crowther-Heyck, Herbert A. Simon: The Bounds of Reason in Modern America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).
- Hunter Heyck, Age of System: Understanding the Development of Modern Social Science (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015).
- David Lipset, Gregory Bateson: The Legacy of a Scientist (Prentice Hall, 1980).
- John Tresch, “Heredity is an Open System: Gregory Bateson as Descendant and Ancestor,” Anthropology Today 14 (1998).
- Leone Montagnini, “Looking for ‘Scientific’ Social Science: The Macy Conferences on Cybernetics in Bateson’s Itinerary,” Kybernetes 36 (2007).
- Erik Peterson, Finding Mind, Form, Organism, and Person in a Reductionist Age: The Challenge of Gregory Bateson and C. H. Waddington to Biological and Anthropological Orthodoxy, 1924–1980 (doctoral dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 2010).
- Orit Halpern, “Schizophrenic Techniques: Cybernetics, the Human Sciences, and the Double Bind,” S&F Online 10 (2012).
- Anthony Chaney, Runaway: Gregory Bateson, the Double Bind, and the Rise of Ecological Consciousness (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).
Sciences of Mind
- Geir Kirkebøen, “From a Naked Emperor to Just Clothes: The Rise and Fall of Cybernetic Family Therapy,” Social Science Information 34 (1995).
- James Anderson and Edward Rosenfeld, Talking Nets: An Oral History of Neural Networks (MIT Press, 1998).
- Jean-Pierre Dupuy, The Mechanization of the Mind: The Origins of Cognitive Science, translated by M. B. DeBevoise (Princeton University Press, 2000).
- Roberto Cordeschi, The Discovery of the Artificial: Behavior, Mind and Machines Before and Beyond Cybernetics (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002).
- Tara Abraham, “From Theory to Data: Representing Neurons in the 1940s,” Biology and Philosophy 18 (2003).
- Tara Abraham, “Cybernetics and Theoretical Approaches in 20th-Century Brain and Behavior Sciences,” Biological Theory 1 (2006).
- Andrew Pickering, The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future (University of Chicago Press, 2010).
- Rebecca Lemov, “Running Amok in Labyrinthine Systems: The Cyber-Behaviorist Origins of Soft Torture,” Limn 1 (2011).
- Deborah Weinstein, “‘Systems Everywhere’: Schizophrenia, Cybernetics, and the Double Bind,” in The Pathological Family: Postwar America and the Rise of Family Therapy (Cornell University Press, 2013).
- John Shiga, “Of Other Networks: Closed-World and Green-World Networks in the Work of John C. Lilly,” Amodern 2 (2013).
- Bernard Geoghegan, “The Family as Machine: Film, Infrastructure, and Cybernetic Kinship in Suburban America,” Grey Room 66 (2017).
Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts
- Michael Arbib, “Warren McCulloch’s Search for the Logic of the Nervous System,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 43 (2000).
- Neil Smalheiser, “Walter Pitts,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 43 (2000).
- Lily Kay, “From Logical Neurons to Poetic Embodiments of Mind: Warren S. McCulloch’s Project in Neuroscience,” Science in Context 14 (2001).
- Tara Abraham, “Integrating Mind and Brain: Warren S. McCulloch, Cerebral Localization, and Experimental Epistemology,” Endeavour 27 (2003).
- Kenneth Aizawa, “Warren McCulloch’s Turn to Cybernetics: What Walter Pitts Contributed,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 37 (2012).
- Phil Husbands and Owen Holland, “Warren McCulloch and the British Cyberneticians,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 37 (2012).
- Alan Collins, “An Asymmetric Relationship: The Spirit of Kenneth Craik and the Work of Warren McCulloch,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 37 (2012).
- Tara Abraham, Rebel Genius: Warren S. McCulloch’s Transdisciplinary Life in Science (MIT Press, 2016).
Politics and Planning
- Paul Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (MIT Press, 1996).
- Jennifer Light, From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
- Jennifer Light, “Taking Games Seriously,” Technology and Culture 49 (2008).
- Antoine Bousquet, “Cyberneticizing the American War Machine: Science and Computers in the Cold War,” Cold War History 8 (2008).
- Brian Holmes, Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society (Van Abbemuseum, 2009).
- Matthew Ferish, “The Cybernetic Continent: North America as Defense Laboratory,” in The Contours of America’s Cold War (University of Minnesota Press, 2010).
- Eden Medina, Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile (MIT Press, 2011).
- Bernard Geoghegan, The Cybernetic Apparatus: Media, Liberalism, and the Reform of the Human Sciences (doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University, 2012).
- John Duda, “Cybernetics, Anarchism and Self-Organisation,” Anarchist Studies 21 (2013).
Art, Sound, and Popular Culture
- Ron Eglash, “Cybernetics in American Youth Subculture,” Cultural Studies 12 (1998).
- Mary Louise Lobsinger, “Cybernetic Theory and the Architecture of Performance: Cedric Price’s Fun Palace,” in Anxious Modernisms: Experimentation in Postwar Architectural Culture (Canadian Center for Architecture, 2000).
- Edward Shanken, “Cybernetics and Art: Cultural Convergence in the 1960s,” in From Energy to Information, edited by Bruce Clarke and Linda Henderson (Stanford University Press, 2002).
- Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (University of Chicago Press, 2006).
- Maria Fernandez, “Gordon Pask: Cybernetic Polymath,” Leonardo 41 (2008).
- Maria Fernandez, “Detached from HiStory: Jasia Reichardt and Cybernetic Serendipity,” Art Journal 67 (2008).
- Christina Dunbar-Hester, “Listening to Cybernetics: Music, Machines, and Nervous Systems, 1950–1980,” Science, Technology, & Human Values 35 (2010).
- Bruce Clarke, “From Information to Cognition: The Systems Counterculture, Heinz von Foerster’s Pedagogy, and Second-Order Cybernetics,” Constructivist Foundations 7 (2012).
- Jonathan Sterne, “Nature Builds No Telephones” and “Perceptual Coding and the Domestication of Noise,” in MP3: The Meaning of a Format (2013).
- Etienne Benson, “Environment between System and Nature: Alan Sonfist and the Art of the Cybernetic Environment,” communication +1 3 (2014).
Film and Video
- David Joselit, Feedback: Television against Democracy (MIT Press, 2007).
- William Kaizen, “Steps to an Ecology of Communication: Radical Software, Dan Graham, and the Legacy of Gregory Bateson,” Art Journal 67 (2008).
- Zabet Patterson, “From the Gun Controller to the Mandala: The Cybernetic Cinema of John and James Whitney,” Grey Room no. 36 (2009).
- Andrew Syder, “Shaken Out of the Ruts of Ordinary Perception”: Vision, Culture and Technology in the Psychedelic Sixties (doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California, 2009).
- Kris Paulsen, “Half Inch Revolution: The Guerilla Video Tape Network,” Amodern 2 (2013).
- Carolyn Kane, “The Tragedy of Radical Subjectivity: From Radical Software to Proprietary Subjects,” Leonardo 47, no. 5 (2014).
- Peter Sachs Collopy, The Revolution Will Be Videotaped: Making a Technology of Consciousness in the Long 1960s (doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2015).
- Céline Lafontaine, “The Cybernetic Matrix of ‘French Theory,’” Theory, Culture & Society 24 (2007).
- Lydia Liu, “The Cybernetic Unconscious: Rethinking Lacan, Poe, and French Theory,” Critical Inquiry 36 (2010).
- Bernard Geoghegan, “From Information Theory to French Theory: Jakobson, Lévi-Strauss, and the Cybernetic Apparatus,” Critical Inquiry 38 (2011).