Niklas Luhmann died in November 1998. He had been elaborating his theory of the society for more than thirty years which has been well received in many quarters of society in the modern world. Yet somehow we are only now beginning to read him when he is no longer there to be asked. And we are beginning to discuss his work although we cannot invite him to lecture us anymore. The following article takes up Luhmann’s very recent small and comprehensive book on Husserl and places him, as he did himself, in a tradition of “enlightenment” which aims for a self-critical constitution of reason.
The aim of this paper is to present synthetically the central concepts and fundamental laws of Niklas Luhmann’s “Theory of Autopoietic Social Systems” and “Theory of Functional Social-Autopoietic Systems.” To do this we outline the conceptualization of notions like time, communications, observations, elements, relationships, complexity, connection, operation, environment, function, code, program, generalized symbolic media and their interrelationships and place within the laws of the theory. The guiding questions of this paper are: What entities do Luhmannian theory tell us about? How do these entities behave within the laws of the theory? And finally, the practical evaluation over the aims and goals of Luhmann’s theoretical program:, for which purposes? Relevance: The document presents, in a clear way, the central concepts of Luhmann’s theory of autopoiesis and its relevance to the study of social phenomena.
The attempt to define living systems in terms of goal, purpose, function, etc. runs into serious conceptual difficulties. The theoretical biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela realized that any such attempt cannot capture what is distinctive about them: their autonomy and unity. Goal, purpose, etc. always define the system in terms of something extrinsic, whereas living systems are unique because they maintain their unitary continuity of pattern despite the ceaseless turnover of their components. So, system-closure is a prerequisite of their adequate conceptual comprehension. Maturana and Varela themselves found that system-closure pertains exclusively to their organization, i.e. the set of relations among system-components which unify them. For living systems this comprises the relation between the system-components and the processes which they undergo. This relation is self-referential because it is closed, i.e. it essentially (re)produces itself. \\While this model worked very well in the biological domain, attempts to extend it to the social domain met with serious conceptual obstacles. The reason for this is that Maturana did not make a consistent enough application of it. He understood the components of social systems biologically (individuals, persons, etc.) and the relations between them socially (language). This inconsistency ruptured the system’s organizational closure. Consequently organizational closure (autopoiesis) can be maintained only when both the components of social systems and their processes are of the same type: social. This interpretation can be found in the work of Niklas Luhmann who recognizes that the components of social systems are not persons, individuals, actors or subjects but communicative actions themselves. This preserves the organizational closure of the system and permits the concept of autopoiesis to be used as a powerful instrument of social analysis.
Context: Both Luhmann and Pask have developed detailed theories of social systems that include accounts of the role of learning. Problem: Rather than see the theories as competing, we believe it is worthwhile to seek ways in which a useful synthesis of the two approaches may be developed. Method: We compare the two approaches by identifying key similarities and differences. Results: We show it is possible to make useful mappings between key concepts in the two theories. Implications: We believe it is worthwhile for social scientists to be familiar with the two theories and that it is not a case of “either/or,” rather, it is a case of “both/and.”
This article addresses the problem of the differentiation of a law system, based on a systemic analysis of the process in Chile. Since this is a reflection of a more formal character, many of the conditions discussed here may be found in other Latin American countries, even though the analysis is exemplified by the Chilean case. The article presents the central concepts of the theory of differentiation, discusses the problem of the autonomy of law as a condition of differentiation and presents trends, problems and semantics of the process in Chile. The article concludes with reflections on Latin America. Relevance: The article analyses the path of social differentiation of the legal system in Chile from the perspective of Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory.
This text presents the problem of social inequality in the context of social systems theory. We support the thesis that the problem of equality/inequality cannot be treated as a remnant from previous forms of differentiation, but as a part of modern society. We present first the central concepts that frame the theoretical reflections, the criticism of this position, some conceptual clarifications needed and finally, some ways of refocusing the problem and a research program for the inequality of society. Relevance: The paper focuses on the concept of “inequality” from the perspective of Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory.
Context: Although the theory of autopoietic systems was originally formulated to explain the phenomenon of life from an operational and temporal perspective, sociologist Niklas Luhmann incorporated it later within his theory of social systems. Due to this adoption, there have been several discussions regarding the applicability of this concept beyond its biological origins. Problem: This article addresses the conception of Luhman’s autopoietic social systems, and confronts this vision with criticism both of the original authors of the concept of autopoiesis and of other social theorists in order to elucidate the main problems of this debate and its possible solutions. Method: The objectives of the article are reached by means of a theoretical reconstruction of the main issues of the debate on the concept of autopoiesis. The main method used for the research is the use of documentary sources to discuss the arguments. Results: We claim that it is justified to extend the concept of autopoiesis from its biological origin to other disciplines, and to develop its interdisciplinary character, following the spirit of systems theory and constructivism. Implications: Our results are useful for promoting the development of new interdisciplinary research in the field of systems theory and constructivism. Important changes to practice should be made, namely, the development of new research methods, new concepts and perspectives. Constructivist content: The concept of autopoiesis is one of the fundamental concepts of the constructivist epistemology. The discussion proposes a radical understanding of this concept in order to realize all its explanatory potential.
Problem: How can radical constructivism gain wider recognition and acceptance? Method: Based on informal direct observation of other social and intellectual movements, the social and psychological dynamics and organizational imperatives of radical constructivism as an intellectual movement are discussed. Results: Various means of structuring the movement in order to gain wider acceptance are proposed. Implications: We hope that the paper has value in helping the radical constructivism movement evaluate where it has been and where it might go in terms of wider social recognition and acceptance.
Problem: The question of the moral and social effects of non-dualism has not yet been clarified to the necessary extent. The relation of truth claims, power and violence has been simplified; critical questions of non-dualist practises have not yet been addressed. Approach: By discussing relevant philosophy and political theory, this paper draws the attention of non-realists towards the issues of power, conflict and discourse rules and asks to rethink the issue of the pragmatic justification of non-realist epistemology. Findings: (1) Constructivists, as well as the non-dualist Josef Mitterer, are critical of the discursive effects of truth claims. Yet, neither constructivism nor non-dualism solve the power issues that are ascribed to realism by constructivists and dualism by Mitterer. Even if participants abstained from truth claims in discourses, many of the power issues would still be prevalent. (2) The question arises of whether a practical difference between non-dualism and dualism exists. (3) There is a tendency in constructivist and non-dualist theory to regard any form of influence on others as illegitimate. This tendency is not sound. Instead, the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate power is necessary in non-dualism as well. Implications: Constructivist and non-dualist theory need to scrutinise statements about the moral implications of the respective theories and to emphasise power issues not solely by extrapolating from epistemology, but by acknowledging the social dynamics of discourses and conflicts. Non-dualist social scientists could contribute to the discussion through empirical analyses of the effects of the use and the debunking of truth claims.
An important shift is taking place in social cognition research, away from a focus on the individual mind and toward embodied and participatory aspects of social understanding. Empirical results already imply that social cognition is not reducible to the workings of individual cognitive mechanisms. To galvanize this interactive turn, we provide an operational definition of social interaction and distinguish the different explanatory roles – contextual, enabling and constitutive – it can play in social cognition. We show that interactive processes are more than a context for social cognition: they can complement and even replace individual mechanisms. This new explanatory power of social interaction can push the field forward by expanding the possibilities of scientific explanation beyond the individual.