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Encyclopedia > Niklas Luhmann

Niklas Luhmann (December 8, 1927 - November 6, 1998) was a German sociologist, administration expert, and social systems theorist, as well as one the most prominent modern day thinkers in the sociological systems theory. December 8 is the 342nd day (343rd in leap years) of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ... 1927 (MCMXXVII) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display full calendar). ... November 6 is the 310th day of the year (311th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar, with 55 days remaining. ... 1998 (MCMXCVIII) was a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar, and was designated the International Year of the Ocean [1]. // Coated in ice, power and telephone lines sag and often break, resulting in power outages. ... Sociology is the study of the social lives of humans, groups and societies. ... Social structure (also referred to as a social system) is a system in which people forming the society are organized by a patterns of prelationships. ...

Contents

Biography

Luhmann was born in Lüneburg, Germany, where his father's family had been running a brewery for several generations. After graduating from the Johanneum school in 1943, he was conscripted as a Luftwaffenhelfer in World War II and served for two years until, at the age of 17, he was taken prisoner of war by American troops in 1945. After the war Luhmann studied law at the University of Freiburg from 1946 to 1949, when he obtained a Dr. jur. degree, and then began a career in Lüneburg's public administration. During a sabbatical in 1961, he went to Harvard, where he met and studied under Talcott Parsons, then the world's most influential social systems theorist. In later years, Luhmann dismissed Parsons' theory, developing a rival approach of his own. Leaving the civil service in 1962, he lectured at the national Deutsche Hochschule für Verwaltungswissenschaften (University for Administrative Sciences) in Speyer, Germany, until 1965, when he was offered a position at the Sozialforschungsstelle (Social Research Centre) of the University of Münster, led by Helmut Schelsky. 1965/66 he studied one semester of sociology at the University of Münster. Two earlier books were retroactively accepted as a PhD thesis and habilitation at the University of Münster in 1966, qualifying him for a university professorship. In 1968/1969, he briefly served as a lecturer at Theodor Adorno's former chair at the University of Frankfurt, being appointed full professor of sociology at the then new-founded University of Bielefeld, Germany (until 1993). He continued to publish after his retirement, when he finally found the time to complete his magnum opus, Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft ("The Society of Society"), which appeared in 1997. Lüneburg (English: Lunenburg) is a city in Lower Saxony, Germany, about 50km southeast of Hamburg. ... The entrance of a brewery. ... Luftwaffenhelfer and Flakhelfer are terms commonly used for German students deployed as child soldiers during World War 2. ... Combatants Allied powers: China France Great Britain Soviet Union United States and others Axis powers: Germany Italy Japan and others Commanders Chiang Kai-shek Charles de Gaulle Winston Churchill Joseph Stalin Franklin Roosevelt Adolf Hitler Benito Mussolini Hideki Tōjō Casualties Military dead: 17,000,000 Civilian dead: 33,000... Geneva Convention definition A prisoner of war (POW) is a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine who is imprisoned by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict. ... Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg (German Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg ) was founded 1457 in Freiburg by the Habsburgs. ... Aquatint of a Doctor in Divinity at the University of Oxford, in the scarlet and black academic robes corresponding to his position. ... 1961 (MCMLXI) was a common year starting on Sunday (the link is to a full 1961 calendar). ... Harvard University is a private university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and a member of the Ivy League. ... Talcott Parsons (December 13, 1902–May 8, 1979) was for many years the best-known sociologist in the United States, and indeed one of the best-known in the world. ... Speyer (English formerly Spires) is a city in Germany (Rhineland-Palatinate) with approx. ... The University of Münster (German Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, WWU) is a public university located in the city of Münster, North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany. ... Helmut Schelsky, (b. ... Habilitation is the highest academic degree a person can achieve by his/her own pursuit. ... 1966 (MCMLXVI) was a common year starting on Saturday (the link is to a full 1966 calendar). ... 1968 (MCMLXVIII) was a leap year starting on Monday. ... For the Stargate SG-1 episode, see 1969 (Stargate SG-1). ... Max Horkheimer (front left), Theodor Adorno (front right), and Jürgen Habermas in the background, right, in 1965 at Heidelberg. ... University of Frankfurt may refer to two (or three) German universities: the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main (Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main) in Frankfurt am Main the European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) (Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)) in Frankfurt (Oder), or its historical predecessor... Bielefeld University (German: Universität Bielefeld) is a university in Bielefeld, Germany. ... 1993 (MCMXCIII) was a common year starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar and marked the Beginning of the International Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination (1993-2003). ...


Works

Luhmann wrote prolifically, with more than three dozen books published on a variety of subjects, including law, economy, politics, art, religion, ecology, mass media, and love. While his theories have yet to make much of a mark in American sociology, his theory is currently dominant in German sociology, and has also been rather intensively received in Japan and Eastern Europe, including Russia. His relatively low profile elsewhere is partly due to the fact that translating his work is a difficult task, since his writing presents a challenge even to readers of German, including many sociologists.


Luhmann is probably best-known to North Americans for his debate with the critical theorist Jürgen Habermas over the potential of social systems theory. Like his one-time mentor Talcott Parsons, Luhmann is an advocate of the "grand theory," aiming to address any aspect of social life within a universal theoretical framework - of which the diversity of subjects he wrote about is an indication. Luhmann's theory is generally considered highly abstract, and his publications are difficult to read. This fact, along with the somewhat elitist behaviour of some of his disciples and the supposed political conservatism implicit in his theory, has made Luhmann a controversial figure in sociology. A major critique of Luhmann is found in Piyush Mathur's detailed exegesis of one of Luhmann's treatises in an American journal (See "Neither Cited nor Foundational: Niklas Luhmann's Ecological Communication", The Communication Review, 8: 329–362, 2005; for a more general critique see e.g. Alex Viskovatoff's "Foundations of Niklas Luhmann's Theory of Social Systems", Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 29:4, 481-516, 1999). Luhmann himself described his theory as "labyrinth-like" or "non-linear," and claimed he was deliberately keeping his prose enigmatic to prevent it from being understood "too quickly," which would only produce simplistic misunderstandings.[citation needed] In the humanities and social sciences, critical theory has two quite different meanings with different origins and histories, one originating in social theory and the other in literary criticism. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... Talcott Parsons (December 13, 1902–May 8, 1979) was for many years the best-known sociologist in the United States, and indeed one of the best-known in the world. ...


Theory

The core element of Luhmann's theory is communication. Social systems are systems of communication, and society is the most encompassing social system. Being the social system that comprises all (and only) communication, today's society is a world society. A system is defined by a boundary between itself and its environment, dividing it from an infinitely complex, or (colloquially) chaotic, exterior. The interior of the system is thus a zone of reduced complexity: Communication within a system operates by selecting only a limited amount of all information available outside. This process is also called "reduction of complexity." The criterion according to which information is selected and processed is meaning (in German, Sinn). Both social systems and psychical or personal systems (see below for an explanation of this distinction) operate by processing meaning. Look up Communication in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... System (from Latin systēma, in turn from Greek sustēma) is a set of entities, real or abstract, comprising a whole where each component interacts with or is related to at least one other component. ...


Furthermore, each system has a distinctive identity that is constantly reproduced in its communication and depends on what is considered meaningful and what is not. If a system fails to maintain that identity, it ceases to exist as a system and dissolves back into the environment it emerged from. Luhmann called this process of reproduction from elements previously filtered from an over-complex environment autopoiesis (pronounced "auto-poy-E-sis"; literally: self-creation), using a term coined in cognitive biology by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. Social systems are autopoietically closed in that they use and rely on resources from their environment; yet those resources do not become part of the systems' operation. Both thought and digestion are important preconditions for communication, but neither appears in communication as such. Look up Autopoiesis in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Humberto Maturana (born September 14, 1928 in Santiago) is a Chilean biologist whose work crosses over into philosophy and cognitive science. ... Francisco Varela (Santiago, September 7, 1946 – May 28, 2001, Paris) was a Chilean biologist and philosopher who, together with his teacher Humberto Maturana, is best known for introducing the concept of autopoiesis to biology. ...


Luhmann likens the operation of autopoiesis (the filtering and processing of information from the environment) to a program, making a series of logical distinctions (in German,Unterscheidungen). Here, Luhmann refers to the British mathematician G. Spencer-Brown's logic of distinctions that Maturana and Varela had earlier identified as a model for the functioning of any cognitive process. The supreme criterion guiding the "self-creation" of any given system is a defining binary code. The influence of Spencer-Brown's book, "Laws of Form," on Luhmann cannot be overestimated. A program or programme (in management) has at least two senses: A collection of projects that is directed toward a common goal. ... George Spencer-Brown is described in [1] as a mathematician, consulting engineer, psychologist, educational consultant and practitioner, consulting psychotherapist, author, and poet. He is best known for his 1969 book Laws of Form. ... The term binary code can mean several different things: There are a variety of different methods of coding numbers or symbols into strings of bits, including fixed-length binary numbers, prefix codes such as Huffman code, and other arithmetic coding. ... The book Laws of Form (hereinafter abbreviated LoF), by G. Spencer-Brown, describes three distinct logical systems: The primary arithmetic (described in Chapter 4), which can be interpreted as Boolean arithmetic; The primary algebra (Chapter 6), which can be interpreted via two-element Boolean algebra (hereinafter abbreviated 2), Boolean logic...


Although Luhmann first developed his understanding of social systems theory under Parsons' influence, he soon moved away from the Parsonian concept. The most important difference is that Parsons used systems as a merely analytic tool to understand certain processes going on in society; Luhmann, in contrast, treats his vision of systems ontologically, saying that "systems exist." Another difference is that Parsons asks how certain subsystems contribute to the functioning of overall society. Luhmann starts with the differentiation of the systems themselves out of a nondescript environment. He does observe how certain systems fulfill functions that contribute to "society" as a whole, but this is happening more or less by chance, without an overarching vision of society. Finally, the systems' autopoietic closure is another fundamental difference from Parsons' concept. Each system works strictly according to its very own code and has no understanding at all for the way other systems perceive their environment. For example, the economy is all about money, so there is no independent role in the economic system for extraneous aspects such as morals.


One seemingly peculiar, but within the overall framework strictly logical, axiom of Luhmann's theory is the human being's position outside any social system. Consisting of "pure communication," any social system requires human consciousnesses (personal or psychical systems) as an obviously necessary, but nevertheless environmental resource. In Luhmann's terms, human beings are neither part of society nor of any specific systems, just as they are not part of a conversation. Luhmann himself once said concisely that he was "not interested in people."


Luhmann was devoted to the ideal of non-normative science introduced to sociology in the early 20th century by Max Weber and later re-defined and defended against its critics by Karl Popper. However, in an academic environment that never strictly separated descriptive and normative theories of society, Luhmann's "anti-humanistic" sociology has widely attracted criticism from "emancipatory" scientists, including, most famously, Jürgen Habermas. For other persons named Max Weber, see Max Weber (disambiguation). ... Sir Karl Raimund Popper, CH, FRS, FBA, (July 28, 1902 – September 17, 1994), was an Austrian born naturalized British[1] philosopher and a professor at the London School of Economics. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ...


Luhmann reception

Luhmann's systems theory is being applied worldwide by sociologists such as Gunther Teubner (Germany), Dirk Baecker (Germany), Susanne Holmström (Denmark), Ole Bjerg (Denmark), Niels Åkerstrøm Andersen (Denmark), Jan-Inge Jönhill (Sweden), Lars Qvortrup (Denmark), Inger-Johanne Sand (Norway), Urs Stäheli (Switzerland), Ole Thyssen (Denmark), Øjvind Larsen (Denmark), Jens Rasmussen (Denmark), Helmut Willke (Germany), Artan Muhaxhiri (Kosovo), Almiro Petry (Brazil), Gabriel Cohn (Brazil), Celso Fernandes Campilongo (Brazil), Marcelo Neves (Brazil) and Peter Beyer (Canada). It is often being used in analyses dealing with CSR, organisational legitimacy, governance structures as well as with sociology of law and of course general sociology. Susanne Holmström (b. ... Ole Thyssen (born November 3, 1944) is a Danish philosopher and sociologist. ... Helmut Willke is a German sociologist who writes studies about the new society. ... Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an expression used to describe what some see as a company’s obligation to be sensitive to the needs of all of the stakeholders in its business operations. ... The word legitimacy comes from the Latin word legitimare and it has two uses: Legitimacy (political science) is variously defined, but refers in general to the peoples acceptance of a law, ruling, or a regime itself as valid. ... Governance is that separate process or certain part of management or leadership processes that makes decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance. ... An approach to law stressing the actual social effects of legal institutions, doctrines, and practices and vice versa. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ...


Miscellaneous

Luhmann also appears as a character in Paul Wühr's work of literature Das falsche Buch (ISBN 3-446-13846-3), together with - among others - Ulrich Sonnemann, Johann Georg Hamann and Richard Buckminster Fuller. Paul Wühr (born July 10, 1927 in Munich) is a German experimental author, generally considered to be one of the most important in the second half of the 20th century. ... Das falsche Buch (ISBN 3446138463) is a 1983 German novel by Paul Wühr. ... Johann Georg Hamann Johann Georg Hamann (August 27, 1730 - June 21, 1788) was an important philosopher of the German (Counter-)Enlightenment and Sturm und Drang movement. ... Richard Buckminster Bucky Fuller (July 12, 1895 - July 1, 1983) was an American visionary, designer, architect, inventor, and writer. ...


Luhmann owned a pub ("Pons") in his native town of Lüneburg. Lüneburg (English: Lunenburg) is a city in Lower Saxony, Germany, about 50km southeast of Hamburg. ...


Main works

  • 1982: Liebe als Passion: Zur Codierung von Intimität (Trans. 1984 Love as Passion)
  • 1984: Soziale Systeme / Social Systems
  • 1988 - 1997: A book series: Die ... der Gesellschaft (The ... of Society, e.g. Politics, Religion, Science, ...)
  • 1995 Social systems. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA
  • 1997: Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft (The Society of Society)
  • 2000 Art as a Social System. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA (translation of Die Kunst der Gesellschaft (1995))

1982 (MCMLXXXII) was a common year starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar. ... 1984 (MCMLXXXIV) was a leap year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar. ... 1984 (MCMLXXXIV) was a leap year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar. ... 1988 (MCMLXXXVIII) was a leap year starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar. ... 1997 (MCMXCVII) was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar. ... 1995 (MCMXCV) was a common year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar. ... 1997 (MCMXCVII) was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar. ... 2000 (MM) was a leap year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar. ...

Articles

  • 2006 System as Difference. Organization, Volume 13 (1) (January 2006), pp. 37-57

For the Manfred Mann album, see 2006 (album). ...

External links

  • soziale-systeme.de: German webpage with texts, events and bibliographies concerning Niklas Luhmann's systems theory.
  • system-thinking.de: A mindmap presenting selected links on Luhmann
  • sociocybernetics mailing list: mailing list concerning Niklas Luhmann's theoretical work

  Results from FactBites:
 
Niklas Luhmann - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1361 words)
Luhmann is probably best-known to North Americans for his debate with the critical theorist Jürgen Habermas over the potential of social systems theory.
Luhmann himself described his theory as "labyrinth-like" or "non-linear", and claimed he was deliberately keeping his prose enigmatic to prevent it from being understood "too quickly", which would only produce simplistic misunderstandings.
Luhmann was devoted to the ideal of non-normative science introduced to sociology in the early 20th century by Max Weber and later re-defined and defended against its critics by Karl Popper.
Radical Philosophy - print friendly (717 words)
Niklas Luhmann, who died in 1998 (see Obituary in RP 94), is not widely discussed by social and cultural theorists outside Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Scandinavia and Italy.
Luhmann's argument, however, is that his critics are wrong: this theory is not another attempt at a nerdy putsch by technocratic imperialists, but an investigation of communication rather than agents and actions.
Luhmann's sense of `the social system' - and certainly of art as a social system* - is explained at a high level of abstraction in sometimes relentlessly technical language.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

COMMENTARY     

Effi Lambropoulou
30th June 2010
RE: Luhmann reception
Since you have found representatives from Kosovo, have you ever thought to find some from Italy or Greece perhaps, and not only sociologists, but also psychologists, jurists et al in times long before being Luhmann trendy?
Thanks

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