Approach «Operative Constructivism»

Operative Constructivism by sociologist N. Luhmann shares the epistemological agnosticism of an unknown reality (sensu Ernst von Glasersfeld), the autopoietic organization of systems (sensu Humberto R. Maturana) and the concept of second-order observation (sensu Heinz von Foerster and Ranulph Glanville). However, the integration of constructivist epistemology and constructivist logic into his theory of social systems challenges constructivist approaches: Luhmann insists on the social and systemic character of the observer (as an observing system) and disclaims the concept of an observer as a subject. He suspects that an observer regarded as a subject ends in a traditional philosophical subjectivism, which is just the opposite of objectivism and which ontologizes the observing subject. Instead, the difference between observing system and observed environment is meant to prevent from epistemological one-sidedness and from unintended ontologization. In contrast to Maturana’s limitation to living systems, Luhmann extends the concept of autopoiesis to the domain of social systems: The fundamental entities are not molecules but rather communications such that a social system is essentially an autopoietic network of communications. This violates the original definition of autopoiesis because in contrast to molecules, which reproduce themselves without exogenous help, communications need human beings in order to be brought into existence.
Cite this definition as: Scholl A. (2015) Operative Constructivism. Constructivist E-Paper Archive. Version of 5 December 2015. Available at

Publications Found: 735 · Show All Abstracts

Accame F. (2007) Ernst von Glasersfeld and the Italian Operative School. Constructivist Foundations 2(2-3): 18–24. Fulltext at
Alhadeff-Jones M. (2013) Complexity, methodology and method: Crafting a critical process of research. Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education 10(1/2): 19–44. Fulltext at
Allen J. W. P. & Bickhard M. H. (2011) Emergent constructivism. Child Development Perspectives 5(3): 164–165.
Alrøe H. F. & Noe E. (2012) Observing Environments. Constructivist Foundations 8(1): 39–52. Fulltext at
Alrøe H. F. & Noe E. (2014) Second-Order Science of Interdisciplinary Research: A Polyocular Framework for Wicked Problems. Constructivist Foundations 10(1): 65–76. Fulltext at
Anderson J. R., Reder L. M. & Simon H. A. (1998) Radical constructivism and cognitive psychology. Brookings Papers on Education Policy 1: 227–278. Fulltext at
Aufenvenne P., Egner H. & Elverfeldt K. (2014) On Climate Change Research, the Crisis of Science and Second-order Science. Constructivist Foundations 10(1): 120–129. Fulltext at
Avenier M. J. & Parmentier Cajaiba A. (2012) The dialogical model: Developing academic knowledge for and from practice. European Management Review 9(4): 199–212.
Bańkowski Z. (1994) How does it feel to be on your own? The person in the sight of autopoiesis. Ratio Juris 7(2): 254–266. Fulltext at
Baecker D. (1999) Gypsy reason: Niklas Luhmann’s sociological enlightenment. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 6(3): 5–19. Fulltext at
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