Context: The problems that are most in need of interdisciplinary collaboration are “wicked problems,” such as food crises, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development, with many relevant aspects, disagreement on what the problem is, and contradicting solutions. Such complex problems both require and challenge interdisciplinarity. Problem: The conventional methods of interdisciplinary research fall short in the case of wicked problems because they remain first-order science. Our aim is to present workable methods and research designs for doing second-order science in domains where there are many different scientific knowledges on any complex problem. Method: We synthesize and elaborate a framework for second-order science in interdisciplinary research based on a number of earlier publications, experiences from large interdisciplinary research projects, and a perspectivist theory of science. Results: The second-order polyocular framework for interdisciplinary research is characterized by five principles. Second-order science of interdisciplinary research must: 1. draw on the observations of first-order perspectives, 2. address a shared dynamical object, 3. establish a shared problem, 4. rely on first-order perspectives to see themselves as perspectives, and 5. be based on other rules than first-order research. Implications: The perspectivist insights of second-order science provide a new way of understanding interdisciplinary research that leads to new polyocular methods and research designs. It also points to more reflexive ways of dealing with scientific expertise in democratic processes. The main challenge is that this is a paradigmatic shift, which demands that the involved disciplines, at least to some degree, subscribe to a perspectivist view. Constructivist content: Our perspectivist approach to science is based on the second-order cybernetics and systems theories of von Foerster, Maruyama, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, coupled with embodied theories of cognition and semiotics as a general theory of meaning from von Uexküll and Peirce.
The paper compares social systems theory and social network theory in terms of what it is they respectively seek to elucidate. Whereas systems theory focuses on problems of difference and reproduction, network theory deals with problems of identity and control, the former privileging communication and the latter action. To understand their different foci, it may help to keep in mind that systems theory is a child of computing’s formative years, whereas the more recent success of network theory, despite its roots in a far older tradition, accompanies the advent of the Internet. The paper goes on to compare the two theories with respect to questions of mathematical modeling, culture, and self-reference, which interestingly are closely related. It proposes a mathematical modeling of culture, which uses Spencer-Brown’s notion of form to combine variables of communication, consciousness, and life into one network relying on three systems capable of reproducing themselves. The paper is relevant for constructivist approaches because it shows how systems are constructed relying on networks within their own interpretation as culture.
Upshot: Are narratives systems on their own, or rather structures supporting and, if need be, subverting the reproduction of systems? Bruce Clarke inquires into the ability of social systems theory to help understand narratives - and comes across some “mysteries of cognition” concerning the questions of how systems emerge and which of them might be considered self-referential and autopoietic.
Gathering essays from a group of cultural and literary scholars, sociologists, and philosophers, Addressing Modernity reassesses the claims of American exceptionalism by setting them in the context of Luhmann’s conception of modernity, and explores how social systems theory can generate new perspectives on what has often been described as the first thoroughly modern nation. As a study of American society and culture from a Luhmannian vantage point, the book is of interest to scholars from both American Studies and social systems theory in general.
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 article addresses the relationship between structuralism, especially the anthropological version of the latter in Levi-Strauss, and the theory of social systems of Luhmann. The analysis is done through two hypotheses guiding the development of the text. It reviews the historical background relating structuralism with systems theory and discusses the fundamental concepts that appear in this relationship. Luhmann’s systems thinking is then contrasted, focusing on some of its central concepts, with the structuralist perspective of Lévi-Strauss. The paper concludes with a review of the hypotheses presented and comprehensive reflections about the perspective of social systems. Relevance: The paper focusses on the relationships between anthropological structuralism and cybernetics and 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.
Emergence and Embodiment focuses on cybernetic developments that stem from the second-order turn in the 1970s, when the cyberneticist Heinz von Foerster catalyzed new thinking about the cognitive implications of self-referential systems. The collection opens with an interview with von Foerster and includes essays by Varela and Luhmann. It engages with Maturana and Varela’s creation of the concept of autopoiesis, Varela’s later work on neurophenomenology, and Luhmann’s adaptations of autopoiesis to social systems theory. Taken together, these essays illuminate the shared commitments uniting the broader discourse of neocybernetics.
This essay intends to recover human agency from holistic, abstract, even oppressive conceptions of social organization, common in the social sciences, social systems theory in particular. To do so, I am taking the use of language as simultaneously accompanying the performance of and constructing reality (my version of social constructivism). The essay starts with a definition of human agency in terms of its linguistic manifestation. It then sketches several leading conceptions of social organization, their metaphorical origin and entailments. Finally, it contextualizes the use of these metaphors in conversation, which leads to the main thesis of this essay that the reconstitutability of networks of conversation precedes all other criteria of the viability of organizational forms. The paper transcends the traditional second-order cybernetic preoccupation with individual cognition – observation and description – into the social domain of participation
I elaborate on the tension between Luhmann’s social systems theory and Habermas’ theory of communicative action, and argue that this tension can be resolved by focusing on language as the interhuman medium of the communication that enables us to develop symbolically generalized media of communication such as truth, love, power, etc. Following Luhmann, the layers of self-organization among the differently codified subsystems of communication versus organization of meaning at contingent interfaces can be distinguished analytically as compatible yet empirically researchable alternatives to Habermas’ distinction between “system” and “lifeworld.” Mediation by a facilitator can then be considered as a special case of organizing historically contingent translations among the evolutionarily developing fluxes of intentions and expectations. Accordingly, I suggest modifying Giddens’ terminology to “a theory of the structuration of expectations.”