Monthly Archives: February 2016

Structural Coupling

The concept of autopoiesis in itself cannot explain a system’s persistence over time. Autopoiesis happens in a moment; it is an event that passes away as soon as it occurs and must be replaced with another operation. But in order for … Continue reading

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Political Legitimacy

The political scientist Chris Thornhill (2008), drawing on Luhmann’s work, argues that modern states gained legitimacy by limiting their own reach to what they could realistically control. The 18th-century state began by separating from the church, the press, etc. By putting … Continue reading

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Autopoietic Political Parties

From a systems theoretical view, it’s interesting what has happened to the Republican Party recently. Political parties are autopoietic systems; like all autopoietic systems, they produce themselves by drawing boundaries between themselves and their environments. The raison d’être of any … Continue reading

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Draw a Distinction!

Luhmannian systems theory, as distinguished from the systems theory of the 1950s-60s, begins with the injunction to “draw a distinction.” Luhmann, following George Spencer-Brown, takes this injunction as his point of departure. In systems theory, the first distinction drawn is … Continue reading

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Social Order?

If we agree that societies are not grounded in basic norms or shared values–or that there is no meta-level that can influence the system–and we still feel the need for a theory of society, we need to ask how social … Continue reading

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Norms and Shared Values

As for the second epistemological obstacle to an adequate theory of society, we cannot consistently argue that societies are constituted, integrated, or coordinated by shared opinions, values or purposes because human beings (along with their values, opinions, goals, affects, etc.) … Continue reading

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A Theory of Society

Luhmann speaks of four “epistemological obstacles . . . to be found in the prevailing understanding of society in the form of four interconnected, mutually reinforcing assumptions: (1) that society consists of actual people and relations between people ( 2 … Continue reading

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