1.      Introduction, February 2006


I. The Self-Organization of Communication Networks


Society can be considered as a network of communications that is carried by actors at the nodes (Luhmann 1984). The actors are reflexive and thereby introduce recursive loops in the network. A communication network is expected to self-organize its functions like a neural network, but at another (that is, societal) level of inter-human communications.

The self-organization of a social network of communications can be understood by using, for example, Kuhn’s concept of a paradigm. The paradigm develops a specific medium of communication: one can only be a member of the community by communicating using the code. The emerging code of the medium delineates at a supra-individual level which communications are relevant and which are not. The paradigm performs an evolutionary “life-cycle.” (See for a further introduction “Is Society a Self-Organizing System?Journal for Social and Evolutionary Systems 16 (1993) 331-349.) 


II. The Application to the Dynamics of Science and Society


The dynamics of cultural evolution are in important respects different from biological evolution. The reflexive turn in post-modern discourse analysis and the sociology of scientific knowledge enables us to specify the dynamics of inter-human communication in terms of self-organization theory. In this course, we read classic texts (e.g. written by Humberto Maturana, Niklas Luhmann, Herbert Simon, Jürgen Habermas, Jean-François Lyotard) which have developed the semantics for understanding cultural evolution in terms of the interactions of science, technology, and society. A knowledge-based system thus potentially emerges.


III. Research Perspectives


We will discuss ongoing research in science & technology dynamics, communication studies, and social theory. The format of this part is a colloquium. Students are invited to present their own research project (if available). 



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2. The Network as the System of Reference, 16 February 2006

“Whatever we know about society, or indeed about the world in which we live, we know through the mass media. This is true not only of our knowledge of society and history but also of our knowledge of nature. What we know about the stratosphere is the same as what Plato knows about Atlantis: we’ve heard tell of it. Or, as Horatio puts it: ‘So we have heard, and do in part believe it.’ ”

Thus, Niklas Lumann begins the introduction to his systems-theoretical framework in The Reality of the Mass Media. We read Chapters 1 to 4 (pp. 1-24) as a compact introduction into his theory sociological theory of communication. These chapters have the following titles: “Differentiation as a Doubling of Reality”, “Self-reference and Other-reference.” “Coding,” “System-specific universalism.” These first chapters are theoretical, whereas the rest of the study focuses more specifically on the mass media and their content.

Questions are raised which are central to this course, for example, epistemological questions: How is one able to learn if we are caught in a web of discourses from which we are epistemologically not able to escape? What is the status of coding and of empirical information for updating these networks? How can quality of the communication be controlled?

* Niklas Luhmann, The Reality of the Mass Media (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), pp. 1-24.

The most widely known defense of Luhmann’s claim about communication as the meaning-providing operator of the social system is perhaps the following text:


* Niklas Luhmann (2002). “What is Communication?” in: William Rasch (Ed.), Theories of Distinction: Redescribing the Description of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 155-168. (This text was originally published with the title “Was ist Kommunikation?” in: Soziologische Aufklärung 6, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1995, pp. 113-124.)


The third text of this week by Axel Paul introduces the philosophical background of Luhmann’s work. Additionally, it provides an introduction into the notion of intersubjectivity (“double contingency”) as a basic operation of the social system generating and reproducing meaning:


* Axel T. Paul (2001). “Organizing Husserl: On the phenomenological foundations of Luhmann’s systems theory,” Journal of Classical Sociology, 1(3), 371-394.


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3. The Specification of Communication Systems, 23 February 2006

Before we turn in the next meeting to the foundations of the self-organization model in evolutionary theorizing, let us first address in this chapter why it is important to use Luhmann’s model of the self-organization of meaning in communications for the study of social phenomena. What is the specific substance of this communication and therefore the differentia specifica of sociological theorizing (different, for example, from biological theorizing)? In this text Luhmann provides us with an overview of self-organization theory. He clarifies his sociological contribution in relation to the biological model of Maturana and Varela. (We read a texts of Maturana for next week.) The network of social communications is specified as the appropriate system of reference for sociological theorizing and research. This network operates by communicating meaning in a mode different from the construction of meaning by an individual. The specific domain for sociological theory can thus be specified.

* Niklas Luhmann, “The autopoiesis of social systems.” Pp. 172-92 in: F. Geyer and J. van der Zouwen (eds.), Sociocybernetic Paradoxes (London: Sage, 1986).

The discussion raises the question of the position of the “subject” in sociology. In his preface to the English edition of Social Systems--which we shall read in a later stage of this course--Luhmann discussed this issue in relation to issues in traditional philosophy (Kant). In the third text of this week, I point to the relation with the constructivist tradition in the sociology of science.

“Paradigms” can be considered as examples of systems of communication that are highly codified and therefore able to determine at the supra-individual level what can be considered as a competent contribution and what not. The code can be used to delineate between members of the scientific community, that is, at the level of social structure. This perspective implies the thesis of functional differentiation. Markets can be considered as another subsystem with a different code (e.g., prices) which provides specific meaning to the transactions. (In economic theory, this principle of self-organization is also called “the invisible hand.”) Like the sciences and other social coordination mechanisms, markets operate globally, but among the many possible meanings (or prices) one is selected locally.

From a very different perspective, the conclusion to consider “meaning” and the dynamics of meaning as the operators of social interactions was drawn in the tradition of American pragmatism and symbolic interactionism. Alfred Schütz has been a founding father of this latter tradition. The relation runs through Husserl’s notion that meaning refers to a horizon of other possible meanings (see the text of Paul for last week). We have to return to this later issue, but let us first use a more concretely formulated text in order to grasp the idea.

* Alfred Schütz (1951). “Making Music Together: A study in social relationship.” Social Research 18(1), 76-97.


Another text entitled “On the scientific context of the concept of communication” focuses on Luhmann’s communication-theoretical point. The perspectives of communication theory, systems theory, and evolution theory are analytically to be distinguished, but they provide a different focus to the analysis. Networks of inter-human communication can be evolve with a dynamics different from natural evolution--because the events are provided with meaning--but yet in a systemic mode.


* Niklas Luhmann (1996). “On the scientific context of the concept of communication,” Social Science Information 35(2), 257-267.


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4. Autopoiesis: the model of self-organization, March 2

In this chapter, we turn to the model of “autopoiesis”. “Autopoiesis” is the word for “self-organization” in classical Greek. This concept is explained in the chapter from Paul Cillier’s (1998) book entitled Complexity and Postmodernism. This chapter provides an introduction to the concept of “self-organization” as used in the natural and the biological sciences, but from a social science perspective. However, the author does not extend the notion of self-organization to the level of social relations among human beings. This is done most explicitly by Luhmann and in the second text of this week which takes a focus on the role of language and its self-organizing potentials for how we are able to perceive “reality”.

* Paul Cillier (1998). “Self-Organization in Complex Systems,” Complexity and Postmodernism. London, etc.: Routledge, pp. 112-140.

The text of Maturana may facilitate the transition to the perspective of Luhmann and Simon because the issue of language (as an enrichment and as a constraint) is further developed. We return to the issue of reflexivity at the level of the social system more specifically in later weeks.

* Humberto R. Maturana, “The Nature of the Laws of Nature,” Systems Research and Behavioural Science 17 (2000), 459-468.

* As a third text of this week, I propose to read Maturana and Varela’s (1984) popular version of the theory of “autopoiesis” called: The Tree of Knowledge (Boston: New Science Library, 1984). This book is also available in a Dutch translation (De Boom van de Kennis). The latter version is beautifully illustrated. The book reads easily.


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5. The Complex Systems Model of Organization and Self-organization, March 9

The first text of this week was written by Herbert Simon (Noble Price laureate for Economics). The author is well known for his ground-breaking work in “artificial intelligence.” The paper summarizes Simon’s insights in the organization of complex systems. The model of “hierarchical nesting of operations” is explained. Note that this model was not further developed (by Simon) for self-organizing or living systems, but for artificial (i.e., fixed and artificially engineered) systems. While one can expect an artificial system to break down by wear and tear, the dynamics of a self-organizing system along the time axis are more complex.

* Herbert A. Simon, “The Organization of Complex Systems,” in: Howard H. Pattee (ed.), Hierarchy Theory. The Challenge of Complex Systems (New York: George Braziller, 1973), pp. 1-27.

The second reading of this week is the originally programmatic text of Luhmann in which he specified his research program in 1978 (1982 for the English translation). Among other things, Luhmann formulates at p. 261:

                “No matter how abstractly formulated are a general theory of systems, a general theory of evolution and a general theory of communication, all three theoretical components are necessary for the specifically sociological theory of society. They are mutually interdependent. (...) The decisive questions now become: How are these various theories related to one another? What unifies them? How must a theory that integrates them be constructed?”


* Niklas Luhmann (1982). “Systems Theory, Evolution Theory, and Communication Theory,” in: The Differentiation of Society, translated by Stephen Holmes and Charles Larmore. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 255-270.


In a final text of this week, I add my proposal for the sociological operationalization of combining these three (or more) perspectives on communication systems which evolve. I use notions from Shannon’s (1948) mathematical theory of communication, but the latter have been developed into non-linear dynamics of communication in the meantime.

* Loet Leydesdorff, “The Non-linear Dynamics of Sociological Reflections,” International Sociology 12 (1997) 25-45.

I propose to consider Luhmann’s theory that communication can be considered as the substance of social systems as a potentially fruitful hypothesis (that is, an analytical expectation). This substance is not given, but it remains constructed. Communications cannot be observed, but they can be measured when the system of communication can be specified. Furthermore, the communication can be expected to be differentiated; differently codified communications can systematically disturb one another. This drives the communication system into a complex configuration. The text illustrates this point for the empirical case of reflections in sociological discourses.


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6. The Specification of the Social System, March 9

The first text provides the locus classicus of Habermas’ critique of Luhmann’s theory of self-organizing social systems. Habermas suggests that Luhmann has replaced metaphysics with a meta-biology. The discussion is thorough and condensed.

* Jürgen Habermas, “Excursus on Luhmann’s Appropriation of the Philosophy of the Subject through Systems Theory.” Pp. 368-85 in: The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures (Cambridge MA: MIT, 1987).

In the second of this week’s readings, Luhmann addresses (partly in response to Habermas’ critique) to the issue of the position of the “subject” and of agency in sociological theorizing. The thesis is that the semantics of an independent subject was historically shaped in order to make it possible to tolerate modernization processes emotionally. One can, for example, think of the ‘human rights’ issue: the system needs to guarantee a specific position of the subject as a condition for the subjects’ compliance in the further development of the social system. Without this differentiation and guarantee the development of the social system might not have been possible as a process of civilization.

* Niklas Luhmann, Preface to the English edition (1995) of Social Systems (“On the Concepts “Subject” and “Action”.”) (Stanford CA: Stanford Univ. Press): xxxvii-lii.

However, abandoning the subject as the unit of analysis and reducing the organizational structure of society to its retention mechanism places severe limitations on the role of deliberate agency and policy making. The focus on the issue of power is provided in the third text of this week:

* Niklas Luhmann (1997). “Limits of Steering,” Theory, Culture, & Society 14(1), 41-57.


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7. The Epistemological Construction of Modernity, March 16

The evolutionary sequence of segmentation, stratification, and (functional) differentiation has been identified in sociology (since Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer) with tribal societies, high cultures, and modern society, respectively. The transition to modernity is associated with the individualistic revolutions of the 16th and 17th century, including the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution. What has happened during this transition in evolutionary terms?

Heidegger’s lecture about Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, published under the title What is a Thing? provides us with a philosophical reflection about the fundamental nature of the transition to modernity. The mediaeval and antique ways to approach Nature are elaborated in relation to the development of the notion of “reflexivity.” How can the Cartesian Cogito both lead the research program and redefine the position of the subject?

* Martin Heidegger, What is a thing? (Chicago: Regnery, 1967) pp. 64-108 [pp. 49-83 in: Die Frage nach dem Ding (Tübingen: Mohr, 1962): “Die neuzeitliche mathematische Naturwissenschaft und die Entstehung einer Kritik der reinen Vernunft.”]

Studying the transition to modernity may remain incomplete without adding the transition to “post-modernity.” Precisely on our subject, Lyotard argues that a new monad (with its own logos or rationality) is increasingly shaped by the technology of communication among human beings. This monad can be considered as the carrier of the transformation of society by the techno-sciences.

* Jean-François Lyotard (1986). “Logos and Techne, or Telegraphy, in The Inhuman. Standford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 47-57.


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8. Functional Differentiation, March 30

* Erkki Sevänen, “Art as an Autopoietic Sub-System of Modern Society,” Theory, Culture & Society 18(1) (2001) 75-103.

A stream of critique on Luhmann’s theory by sociologists focuses on the notion of “differentiation” versus “integration” or “interpenetration of subsystems.” Sevänen provides a recent summary of the relevant positions and tries to elaborate for the case of a sociology of art. From the Introduction to this special issue of Theory, Culture & Society (at p. 11), by Jakob Arnoldi:

“Luhmann’s notion of differentiation is the main topic of Erkki Sevänen’s article. Sevänen uses the first half of his article to discuss and criticize the general implications of Luhmann’s theory of functional differentiation. He argues that Luhmann’s combination of autopoiesis and codified communication leads to a much too rigid notion of functional differentiation. What is lacking, Sevanen argues, is the ability to take into account different forms of de-differentiation. Sevanen makes this argument partly by drawing on the work of Richard Münch and his neo-functionalist theory. Another basis for Sevänen’s argument is various forms of postmodern theories, which stress the fusion of aesthetics and economics, the symbolic and the material, high and low culture, etc. Sevänen asks how one can maintain a notion of system closure if these diagnoses are correct.

These questions lead Sevanen to Luhmann’s sociology of art. Art is, for Luhmann, one of the function systems which observes and communicates according to a specific code that consequently renders it autopoiesis (not autonomy!). Sevänen primarily grounds his critique of Luhmann’s theory of art on examples of social phenomena that transgress the boundaries between the art system and other social spheres of society. However, there is also another aspect of Luhmann’s sociology of art that Sevänen finds dubious, namely that Luhmann’s theory of art is formalistic. According to this author, such a line of thinking is first of all problematic as works of art in the 20th century have lost their formal characteristics (insofar as they ever had any). Furthermore, this approach leaves no room for considerations of how the question of what (good) art is, is constantly negotiated and subject of power struggles between various actors, of whom the dominant are left with the discursive power to construct the ‘essence’ of ‘true art’.”

In the second text, we turn to the issue what it means for the reflection when reflection is socially organized within the (emerging) system of knowledge production and control. This system can become reflexive about its own contingency.

* Niklas Luhmann, “The Modernity of Science,” in: William Rasch (Ed.), Theories of Distinction: Redescribing the Description of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002, pp. 61-78.

Note the transition to a combination of the postmodern and the scientific position in the final paragraph (at pp. 74f.) when Luhmann argues reflexively:

“A reflection upon this situation does not have to result in “nihilism,” for such a conclusion would make sense only within an ontological frame of reference that presupposes the distinction between being and nonbeing. Nor are we dealing with a variation of the religious tradition that seeks support in the invisible in order to lament in turn the loss of this possibility today using the semantics of the invisible. Carrying along ultimate symbols [Letzsymbole] such as indescribability, invisibility, and latency only reflects the contingency of the employment of all distinctions. The soundness of this reflection, however, arises—and this can still be ascertained by this reflection—from a form of social differentiation that no longer allows for any binding, authoritative representation of the world in the world or of society within society.”


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9. The Historical Transformation of Society, April 6

All areas of society have to be reorganized when the mode of evolutionary development changes historically. Thus, when the new (social) system had been established, the transformation of the other sub-systems into the new mode of production of social relations, that is, in terms of functionality, had still to be organized. This development is thoroughly reflected by Marx in the first chapter of The Communist Manifesto. Marx describes the transformation of the modern (bourgeois) society as he witnessed it in the middle of the 19th century.

* Karl Marx (1848), The Communist Manifesto, Chapter I: “Bourgeois and Proletarians” (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), pp. 78-94.

While Marx focused on the social realization of industrial capitalism in the 19th century, the focus on the 18th century--which among others is taken by Foucault and by Luhmann (in other articles)--teaches us that first the relevant semantics had to be developed. Foucault (1984), for example, used the notion of “noso-politics” for indicating this process. This concept implicates the lead of knowledge and rationality in the political transformation of society.

The first text of this week provides three chapters from the theoretical introduction to Luhmann’s (1982) empirical study entitled Love as Passion. In these chapters Luhmann provides materials in order to support his argument that after the transformation of society during the century of religious wars between 1550 and 1650, the semantics were further developed in the period 1650-1750 so that the modernization process could be pursued at the level of the social structure. (The French court provided a niche for developing these semantics.) The modernization thus led to the ideas of the American and French revolutions. Note the relation between the development at the semantic level (within the communication) and at the level of social structure. The latter depends on the former, and the former depends on the evolution of communicative competencies by the communication carriers.

* Niklas Luhmannn (1982). Love as Passion, Chapter 2: “Love as a Generalized Symbolic Medium of Communiction,” 3: “The Evolution of Communicative Capacities,” and 4: “The Evolution of the Semantics of Love” (pp. 19-47).

Rationalization and functional differentiation have a psychological price for the subjects carrying the developments. The establishment of the new system can be considered as an acculturation, but the emerging culture requires acquiring a new discipline among the carrying subjects. Remember that the new system was based on reflexivity. The reflexivity has to be developed into a communicative competence by further controlling the emotional layer. This is reflected by Weinstein and Platt in the chapter which I propose to read as a third text for today.

* Fred Weinstein and Gerald M. Platt, “Universal Reactions to Modernization,” Chapter 7 in: The Wish to Be Free (Glencoe Ill.: Free Press, 1969), pp. 197-226.


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10. The Epistemological Consequences of Constructivism, April 13

The communication of reflexivity was characterized by Weinstein & Platt as an “internal revolution” which can historically be located around the turn of the 19th century. It can be associated with the emergence of psycho-analysis, new forms of literary expression (Proust), and the proliferation of disciplinary perspectives in the social sciences. The unity of the Newtonian science is broken when evolutionary sciences like biology emerge. Furthermore, in the industrial research laboratory science is “wedded to the useful arts” in the search for profits.

What then is specific of scientific communication? The demarcation question (of scientific communication as distinguishable from other communication) became central in the philosophy of science of the first half of the 20th century. Popper’s distinction between a “context of discovery” and a “context of justification” is supported by Merton’s “institutional imperatives of science.” From this perspective, the functional differentiation of science and the institution seem to coincide in one-to-one relations. The relation between the institutional layer and the specific functions carried by institutions is considered as a degree of freedom in the model of a Triple Helix of university-industry-government relations or in the discussions about “mode 2.”

Because of time constraints and the choice of focus on the epistemological dimension, I propose to move directly to the post-modern crisis of the world picture which prevailed in Merton’s functional structuralisms. In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Kuhn argued that paradigms are exhibiting evolutionary patterns of development at the supra-individual level. The supra-individual level is both social (e.g., the scientific community) and cognitive (e.g., textbooks, disciplinary matrix).

The constructivist perspective has been elaborated by notably Latour and Callon into the so-called “sociology of translation.” The crucial question in this sociology is not whether science should be explained in terms of social and/or cognitive variables, but how science is able to transform both nature and culture. In science studies, the sociology of translation has stimulated the transition from “social constructivism” to “radical constructivism.”

* Bruno Latour, “One more turn after the social turn ...,” in: Ernan McMullin (ed.), The social dimensions of science (Notre Dame, Ind.: Notre Dame Press, 1992), pp. 272-94.

In this text, Latour reflects on the epistemology underlying this turn to radical constructivism. A space is spanned for the reflection in which different perspectives can be defined and entertained. Haraway argues that the choice of a perspective is the strength of the feminist and post-modernist position.

* Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14 (1988) 575-99.

The issue of the positional bias of the embedded observer raises the question of the number of possible observation points, and thus of a theory of observation. Remember that “observing the observer” or, in other words, a theory of observation was Maturana’s starting point, but this position was characterized in one of the previous readings as insufficiently reflexive for the sociological domain, since it remained meta-biological. Should we move to a “double hermeneutics” in the understanding of social reality? How is the position of a participant-observer different from that of an external observer in terms of relevant discourses (communication systems)? Which reality is then to be studied in terms of what? Has an independent definition of “reality” remained meaningful?

* Niklas Luhmann, “The Cognitive Program of Constructivism and a Reality that Remains Unknown,” pp. 64-85 in: Wolfgang Krohn, Günter Küppers and Helga Nowotny (eds.), Selforganization. The Portrait of a Scientific Revolution (Dordrecht, etc.: Kluwer, 1990).

This article radicalizes the constructivist programme of observing the observers (“translators”) within an actor network. It elaborates on the epistemological consequences from the perspective of self-organization theory. The sociologist is able to contribute (“infrareflexively”) by clarifying “hyperreflixively” one’s position with reference to the observations. How does this communication relate to a “reality that remains unknown.” Has “reality” to be assumed as an orthogonal dimension with which one is sometimes (perhaps?) able to interact?

The substance remains constructed as an external referent (an expectation?). Furthermore, the communication can be expected to be differentiated and the differently codified communications can then systematically disturb one another because of the different definitions of what is “essential” and what is not. This drives the communication system into an ever more complex configuration. In an interview Luhmann once used the metaphor of society embedded in a flywheel of communication.


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11. Consequences of Self-organization Theory, April 20

* Niklas Luhmann, “How Can the Mind Participate in Communication?” in: William Rasch (Ed.), Theories of Distinction: Redescribing the Description of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002, pp. 169-184.

Without an emphasis on reflexivity the paradigm of self-organization easily degenerates into a biological metaphor. The network of inter-human communications nor its codifications are directly observable, but they can be perceived reflexively and then be specified as expectations. This sociological theory guides us in the specification, but the subject of study tends to become highly abstract. Can parallel and distributed processing provide us with a model for understanding the operation of the social system in terms of algorithms?

The comparison of society with the model of a neural network was made above in several papers. As different from the psychological level, the nodes are not brain cells, but human agents in the sociological models. The theoretical consequences of the extension of the metaphor to the level of social systems are further discussed in the second article of this week. Some problems for the operationalization in research designs and for the measurement can be specified.

* Loet Leydesdorff, “Structure”/”Action” Contingencies and the Model of Parallel Distributed Processing,” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 23 (1993) 47-77.

How is the codification in the network by further rounds of reflection then leading also to new ideas and what is the epistemological status of these ideas? These issues have been raised in the philosophical tradition of critical realism. In his book The Possibility of Naturalism (1989), Roy Bhaskar argued from a Marxist background:

“Now I am going to argue that this definition of the social is radically misconceived. Sociology is not concerned, as such, with the large-scale, mass or group behaviour (conceived as the behaviour of large numbers, masses or groups of individuals). Rather it is concerned, at least paradigmatically, with the persistent relations between individuals (and groups), and with the relations between these relations (and between such relations and nature and the products of such relations). In the simplest case its subject-matter may be exemplified by such relations as between capitalist and worker, MP and constituent, student and teacher, husband and wife. Such relations are general and relatively enduring, but they do not involve collective or mass behaviour as such in the way in which a strike or a demonstration does (though of course they may help to explain the latter). Mass behaviour is an interesting social-psychological phenomenon, but it is not the subject-matter of sociology.”

Note a quotation to Marx’s (1858) Grundrisse (at p. 176):

“Die Gesellschaft besteht nicht aus Individuen, sondern drückt die Summe der Beziehungen, Verhältnisse aus, worin diese Individuen zueinander stehen. Als ob einer sagen wollte: Vom Standpunkt der Gesellschaft aus existieren Sklaven und citizens nicht: sind beide Menschen. Vielmehr sind sie das außer der Gesellschaft. Sklav sein und citizen sein, sind gesellschaftliche Bestimmungen, Beziehungen der Menschen A und B. Der Mensch A is als solcher nicht Sklav. Sklav ist er in und durch der Gesellschaft.”

(“The society consists not of individuals, but expresses the sum of the relations, conditions, where these individuals stand to each other. As if one wanted to say: From the perspective of society slaves do not exist and citizens: they are both humans. Rather they exist as humans outside the society. Being slave and citizen, is based on social regulations, relations of humans A and B. Human being A is as such not a slave. One is slave in and by the society.”)

We read the following text of this author as an introduction to his philosophy of science:

* Roy Bhaskar, “On the Ontological Status of Ideas,” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 27(3) (1997) 139-147.

Roy Bhaskar represents “critical realism” in the philosophy of science. His position is that reality should be so defined as to include ideas. Social reality can then be considered as an order of expectations. Note the correspondence with Maturana’s text. How do the two levels (“natural reality” and “critical reality”) interact? Is the “hard reality” of natural systems only environment for the social system?


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12. The Research Programme, April 27

The issue of the positional bias of the embedded observer raised the question of the number of possible observation points, and thus of the possibility of a second-order theory of observation. Remember that “observing the observer” or, in other words, a theory of observation was both Maturana’s and Luhmann’s starting point, but this position was characterized in one of the previous readings (Habermas) as insufficient for the sociological domain, since it remained meta-biological. Should we move to a “double hermeneutics” in the understanding of social reality? Why limit it to two (“double”)? Which reality is to be studied in terms of what?

* Niklas Luhmann (2000). “Why does Society Describe Itself as Postmodern?” in: William Rasch and Cary Wolfe (Eds.), Observing Complexity: Systems Theory and Postmodernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 35-50.

* William Rasch (2000), “Introduction: Paradise Lost, Modernity Regained,” Modernity: The Paradoxes of Differentiation. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 1-28.

William Rasch places the discussion in the philosophical discourse about the dialectics of enlightenment and post-modernity.

In the final text of this week we return to the issue of the construction of public opinion as a function of the political subsystem. We have began to address this issue in the readings for the first week, but now the apparatus is provided to consider public opinion as the representation within the political subsystem (functional) of society as the global system, but from a specific perspective. Luhmann compares “public opinion” in this article also with the market as the representation of the global system within the economy as a function system; firms would provide the institutional layer.

* Niklas Luhmann (1990). “Societal Complexity and Public Opinion,” pp. 203-218 in: Political Theory in the Welfare State. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter. [Translated by John Bednarz Jr. from: Politische Theorie im Wohlfahrtsstaat. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1987.]

It may be helpful to repeat that two kinds of integration are distinguished: “social integration” which fails to be existent because of the ongoing processes of functional differentiation at the level of society, and what is sometimes called “systems integration” at the level of “interaction” (i.e., face-to-face communication), “organization” (e.g., in terms of membership), and at the level of society.


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13. The study of knowledge-based systems, May 4

The relations with a sociology in which the actors are considered as parallel and distributed processors that communicate at the network level remain metaphorical as long as the dynamics of the relevant network system are not substantively specified. In his paper entitled “A Simulation of the Structure of Academic Science” Nigel Gilbert elaborates such a specification into a computer simulation model. The paper is typical for the modelling efforts which are ongoing in this research tradition.

* Nigel Gilbert, “A Simulation of the Structure of Academic Science,” Sociological Research Online 2, no. 2 (1997).
<http://www.socresonline.org.uk/socresonl ine/2/2/3.html>.

Yuko Fujigaki applies autopoietic systems theory to scientific knowledge by specifying the modus operandi of the scientific production system, that is, the recursive specification of differences and the subsequent codification of the boundaries through the process of lock-in. She shows how citation fullfils both these function in the knowledge production process when the latter is conceptualized at the level of scientific communications.

* Yuko Fujigaki, “Filling the gap between discussions on science and scientists’ everyday activities: applying the autopoiesis system theory to scientific knowledge, Social Science Information 37 (1), (1998) 5-22.

Meaning can be communicated in addition to — and on top of — underlying processes of the information exchange. Meaning is provided to observations from the perspective of hindsight, while information processing follows the time axis. Simulations of anticipatory systems enable us to show how an observer can be generated within an information process, and how expectations can also be exchanged. Cellular automata will be used for the visualization. The exchange of observations among observers generates (a) uncertainty about the delineations in the observed system at each moment in time and (b) uncertainty about the dynamics of the interaction over time.

* Loet Leydesdorff, Anticipatory Systems and the Processing of Meaning: A Simulation Inspired by Luhmann's Theory of Social Systems. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, Vol. 8, No. 2, Paper 7, at http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/8/2/7.html..


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14. Implications and further perspectives, May 11

What does functional differentiation mean for the communication, for the subjects involved, for the perspective of future developments at the level of society? These questions raise policy issues which have been discussed in earlier meetings, but to which we have to return after having specified the model. Luhmann’s text focusses on “exclusion” that seems a counterpart of “selection”.

* Niklas Luhmann, “Globalization or World Society: How to Conceive of Modern Society?” Intern. Review of Sociology 7 (1997, nr. 1), 67-79.

The next paper provides my reflection on the debate between Luhmann, Habermas, Giddens, and Maturana. I have been fascinated by the Luhmann/Habermas debate of the 1970s, but, in my opinion, the discussion of Habermas’ critique of Luhmann’s meta-biological theorizing (Maturana) has greatly enriched the opposition.

* Loet Leydesdorff, Luhmann, Habermas, and the Theory of Communication, Systems Research and Behavioral Science 17(3) (2000) 273-288.


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15. Discussion of student papers, further perspective, and evaluation of this course

* Loet Leydesdorff (in preparation), “Scientific Communication and Cognitive Codification: Social Systems Theory and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge,” European Journal of Social Theory (forthcoming).