Autopoiesis

A selection of Niklas Luhmann’s articles published in English and loosely arranged into categories. Where no abstract is provided the first paragraph is given instead.

Autopoiesis refers to the self-referential organisation and self-reproduction of operationally closed systems that remain open to environmental stimuli.

 

Operational Closure and Structural Coupling: The Differentiation of the Legal System
Luhmann, N. 13 Cardozo Law Review (1991-1992) 1419

Mainstream systems theory conceives of systems as “open systems” feeding upon exchanges with their environment. These exchanges can be structured and limited to the needs of the system by restricting it to “inputs” and “outputs.” This concept of open systems has been the answer, first from biologists and then from sociologists, to the laws of thermodynamics and to the probability of decay in the sense of vanishing differences. The problem was how to avoid this probability-that is, how to reverse this tendency towards entropy- and above all, how to explain a world which is obviously able to build up order and to maintain negentropy. Since thermodynamic law presupposes closed systems, open systems seemed to be the solution. However, an annoying question remains: What is a system? Or more to the point: How does a system operate so that it can be called an “open system”? Or, if a system depends upon its environment, what prevents a growing confusion between system and environment and, again, thermodynamic decay?

 

Membership and Motives in Social Systems
Luhmann, N. 13(3) Systems Research (1996) 341

In a lecture Heinz von Foerster gave at the University of Bielefeld he confirmed that communication is a recursive process. That means, it can produce its components only by reference to past and future events of the same kind. We shall call this operational closure. The paper explores some consequences of recursivity and closure for a general theory of social systems, for organizations and for the economic systems.

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