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.


Differentiation of Society
Luhmann, N. 2(1) The Canadian Journal of Sociology (1977) 29

Recent developments in systems theory have replaced the paradigm of the whole and its parts with the paradigm of system and environment. System differentiation, therefore, has to be conceived as the reduplication of the difference between system and environment within systems. Differentiation is the reflexive form of system building.
    In the special case of the society as the encompassing social system, this approach makes it possible (1) to analyse different types of differentiation (i.e. segmentation, stratification, and functional differentiation) within a common conceptual framework, (2) to elaborate on internal problems of differentiated societies, basing the autonomy of subsystems on the multiplication of system references for functional orientation, performance, and reflexion, and (3) to prepare the theoretical integration of systems theory and the theory of evolution.


System as Difference
Luhmann, N. 13(1) Organization (2006) 37

This is an edited and translated transcript of a lecture by Niklas Luhmann in which he outlined the foundation of his systems theory based on the notion of difference and distinction. After a brief introduction to early theories of distinction, the central ideas of Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form as the most radical form of differential thinking are presented. For Luhmann’s systems theory, this has four important consequences. First, the system is the difference between system and environment. Second, the system can be defined through a single mode of operation. Third, every (social) system observes internally (i.e. within the system) its own system/environment distinction; there is a re-entry of the system/environment distinction into the system. Fourth, every social theory is part of the social domain and as such part of what it describes.


Beyond Barbarism

Luhmann, N. 14 Soziale Systeme (2008) 38

The author treats the question of »barbarism« in the modern world as a question of the relationship between semantics and social structure. The antique Greek distinction between »Hellenes« and »Barbarians« represents the general, asymmetrical schema of »inclusion« and »exclusion« that is characteristic societies marked by stratification. Modern, functional differentiated society eliminates this distinction in the name of a full inclusion of all. Yet this total inclusion reveals itself to be the mere self-description of modernity, for in truth complete exclusion from all function systems of society exist without disrupting the stability of society as a whole. The author concludes that a type of inclusion / exclusion super-coding may become the operating distinction of world society in this century.