Social Theory of Luhmann

Niklas Luhmann was one of the most important social scientist of the 20th century. He was a very prolific writer and published numerous articles and books, which makes it hard to do justice to his many contributions. The book Social Systems (Soziale Systeme, Grundriss einer allgemeinen Theorie) (Niklas Luhmann, 1 januari 1995) is regarded as his magnum opus. Readers interested in Luhmann are referred to Niklas Luhmann (Christian Borch, 1 januari 2011) for a concise and gentle introduction. This is a good starting point to dig deeper in one of Luhmann’s more accessible works: Introduction to Systems Theory (Niklas Luhmann, 10 december 2012).

Social Systems starts with the statement: there are systems (Es gibt Systeme). This is a bold statement, and not everyone agrees. In Social Systems, he took the autopoietic turn by applying Muturama’s and Varela’s conception of living organisms as self-producing systems. However, they argued that living organisms have a clearly defined boundary, which cannot necessarily be said of social systems. There is a recurring pattern in Luhmann’s research. He took often ideas from others and stretched them to fit his own needs. With a less strict interpretation of self-production, it can be argued that the underlying structure of a society (e.g., rules, resources, positions, and practices) make human activity possible, and the other way round, human activities shape the underlying structure (see for instance Giddens (Anthony Giddens, 1 januari 1984). But we won’t split hairs here whether self-producing social systems exist in a pure form or not. The point is that Luhmann provides an encompassing theory of social systems that can be used to think deeply about the nature of societies irrespective of whether social systems really exist or not.

Lees hiervoor: Critical Systems Thinking
Lees hierna: The Autopoietic Turn