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The Self-Organization of Knowledge-Based Communication:
An introduction to Luhmann’s social systems theory

“My argument is: it is not human beings who can communicate,
rather, only communication can communicate.”

Texts (for making one's own photocopies) will be made available.

1. Introduction, February 9  (click on the respective headings for more background information)

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

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

* 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.


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

3. The Specification of the Communication System, February 23  

* Niklas Luhmann (1986). “The autopoiesis of social systems.” Pp. 172-192 in: F. Geyer and J. van der Zouwen (eds.), Sociocybernetic Paradoxes. London: Sage.

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


* Loet Leydesdorff (1993). ‘Why the Statement "Plasma-membrane Transport is Rate-limiting for its Metabolism in Rat-liver Parenchymal Cells" Cannot Meet the Public,’ Public Understanding of Science 2, 351-364.

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

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

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

As the 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 book reads easily.

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

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

* 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.

* Loet Leydesdorff (1997). "The Non-linear Dynamics of Sociological Reflections," International Sociology 12(1), 25-45.

Formulate during this week a one page outline for a paper!

6. The Specification of the Social System, March 16  

* 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).

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

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

7. The Epistimological Construction of Modernity, March 23  

* 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.”]


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


8. Functional Differentiation, March 30

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

* Niklas Luhmann, “The Modernity of Science,” in: William Rasch (Ed.), Theories of Distinction: Redescribing the Description of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002, pp. 61-75.


* Loet Leydesdorff (1994). “Uncertainty and the Communication of Time,” Systems Research 11(4), 31-51  

9. The Historical Transformation of Society, April 6

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

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

* 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.

10. The Epistemological Consequences of Constructivism, April 13

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

* 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).

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

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.

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

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

12. The Research Programme, April 27

* 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.

* 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.]

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

* Nigel Gilbert (1997). “A Simulation of the Structure of Academic Science,” Sociological Research Online 2(2), <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/socresonline/2/2/3.html >.

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

* 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..

14. Implications and further perspectives, May 11

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

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

15. Discussion of student papers, further perspective, and evaluation of this course, May 18.

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

(On May 25 the university is closed because of Ascension Day.)