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Radical Constructivism and Radical Constructedness: Luhmann’s Sociology of Semantics, Organizations, and Self-Organization

Loet Leydesdorff

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Context: Using radical constructivism, society can be considered from the perspective of asking the question, “Who conceives of society?” In Luhmann’s social systems theory, this question itself is considered as a construct of the communication among reflexive agents. Problem: Structuration of expectations by codes operating in interhuman communications positions both communicators and communications in a multi-dimensional space in which their relations can be provided with meaning at the supra-individual level. The codes can be functionally different and symbolically generalized. Method: More than Luhmann, I focus on the hypothetical status of the communication of meaning and the uncertainty involved. Meaning can be communicated because of reflexivity in interhuman communications; meaning cannot be observed. Results: The communication (and reflexive translation) of denotations between semantic domains can generate “horizons of meaning” as reflexive orders that remain structurally coupled to individual minds. This elusive order contains a trade-off between “organization” at interfaces integrating (differently coded) expectations at each moment of time, and the potential of further differentiation among symbolically generalized codes of communication in a “self-organization” over time. Implications: One can model the coding in the communication of meaning as latent variables (eigenvectors) that evolve as an implication of the interacting intentions and expectations. The structure of expectations can be visualized (at each moment) and animated (over time) using semantic maps. The self-organizing horizons of meaning operate in a multidimensional space different from the network topology, and at another pace, since meaning is provided to events from the perspective of hindsight. Constructivist content: This perspective of the radical constructedness of social reality transforms the status of agency and organization in sociological theorizing from a source of change to a resource of communicative competencies and reflexive performativity.

Key words: Constructivism, sociology, Luhmann, supra-individual, self-organization, intentionality.


Leydesdorff L. (2012) Radical constructivism and radical constructedness: Luhmann’s sociology of semantics, organizations, and self-organization. Constructivist Foundations 8(1): 85-92. http://constructivist.info/8/1/085

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