Society

Social Systems (1996)

A major challenge confronting contemporary theory is to overcome its fixation on written narratives and the culture of print. In this presentation of a general theory of systems, Germany’s most prominent and controversial social thinker sets out a contribution to sociology that reworks our understanding of meaning and communication.
    Luhmann concedes that there is no longer a binding representation of society within society, but refuses to describe this situation as a loss of legitimation or a crisis of representation. Instead, he proposes that we search for new ways of coping with the enforced selectivity that marks any self-description under the conditions of functionally differentiated modern society. For Luhmann, the end of metanarratives does not mean the end of theory, but a challenge to theory, an invitation to open itself to theoretical developments in a number of disciplines that, for quite some time, have been successfully working with cybernetic models that no longer require the fiction of the external observer.
    Social Systems provides the foundation for a theory of modern society that would be congruent with this new understanding of the world. One of the most important contributions to social theory of recent decades, it has implications for many disciplines beyond sociology.

Social Systems presents Luhmann’s startling vision of society as a self-producing or autopoietic system of communications. . . . Theories of self-reference are the way forward now in a host of disciplines—the hard sciences, law, literature, psychology, and philosophy. Luhmann’s reproduction within sociology of the new systems theory of self-reference vastly enriches our understanding of the possibilities of systems theory for other disciplines.” —Arthur J. Jacobsen, Yeshiva University

 

Theory of Society, Volume 1 (2012)

This first volume of Niklas Luhmann’s two-part final work was initially published in German in 1997. The culmination of his thirty-year theoretical project to reconceptualize sociology, it offers a comprehensive description of modern society on a scale not attempted since Talcott Parsons. Beginning with an account of the fluidity of meaning and the accordingly high improbability of successful communication, Luhmann analyzes a range of communicative media, including language, writing, the printing press, and electronic media as well as “success media,” such as money, power, truth, and love, all of which structure this fluidity and make communication possible. An investigation into the ways in which social systems produce and reproduce themselves, the book asks what gives rise to functionally differentiated social systems, how they evolve, and how social movements, organizations, and patterns of interaction emerge. The advent of the computer and its networks, which trigger potentially far-reaching processes of restructuring, receive particular attention. A concluding chapter on the semantics of modern society’s self-description bids farewell to the outdated theoretical approaches of “old Europe,” that is, to ontological, holistic, ethical, and critical interpretations of society, and argues that concepts such as “the nation,” “the subject,” and “postmodernity” are vastly overrated. In their stead, “society”—long considered a suspicious term by sociologists, one open to all kinds of reification—is defined in purely operational terms. It is the always uncertain answer to the question of what comes next in all areas of communication.

“Luhmann’s understanding of society offers critical theology an insightful account of how original sin manifests itself in North Atlantic societies today . . . [I]t is insightful regarding how the particular logics of social systems constrain the views and actions of people involved in them. . . [B]y attending to how social systems function and have become globalized, Luhmann’s thoery helps uncover possibilities for collective solidarity.” —Don Schweitzer, The Ecumenist

“This work builds on and refines [Luhmann’s earlier studies], constructing a relativistic theory that challenges classical sociological theories of action, meaning, and the subject.” — C. T. Loader, CHOICE

“One of the masterpieces of social theory written after World War II.” —Axel Honneth, Columbia University

“Niklas Luhmann’s membership in the canon of genuinely original and comprehensive social theorists is radiantly evident. Together with that of Simmel, Durkheim, Weber, Mead, and Parsons, his work stands as one of the monumental achievements of twentieth-century sociology. With the English publication of Theory of Society, Luhmann’s magnum opus is finally available to a global readership. Students who master its supple conceptuality will find it indispensable in understanding the complexity and dynamism of the contemporary world.” —David Wellbery, University of Chicago

 

Theory of Society, Volume 2 (2013)

This second volume of Niklas Luhmann’s two-part final work was first published in German in 1997. The culmination of his thirty-year theoretical project to reconceptualize sociology, it offers a comprehensive description of modern society. Beginning with an account of the fluidity of meaning and the accordingly high improbability of successful communication, Luhmann analyzes a range of communicative media, including language, writing, the printing press, and electronic media, as well as “success media,” such as money, power, truth, and love, all of which structure this fluidity and make communication possible. The book asks what gives rise to functionally differentiated social systems, how they evolve, and how social movements, organizations, and patterns of interaction emerge. The advent of the computer and its networks, which triggered potentially far-reaching processes of restructuring, receives particular attention. A concluding chapter on the semantics of modern society’s self-description bids farewell to the outdated theoretical approaches of “old Europe”—that is, to ontological, holistic, ethical, and critical interpretations of society—and argues that concepts such as “the nation,” “the subject,” and “postmodernity” are vastly overrated. In their stead, “society”—long considered a suspicious term by sociologists, one open to all kinds of reification—is defined in purely operational terms. It is the always uncertain answer to the question of what comes next in all areas of communication.

“One of the masterpieces of social theory written after World War II.” —Axel Honneth, Columbia University

“Niklas Luhmann’s membership in the canon of genuinely original and comprehensive social theorists is radiantly evident. Together with that of Simmel, Durkheim, Weber, Mead, and Parsons, his work stands as one of the monumental achievements of twentieth-century sociology. With the English publication of Theory of Society, Luhmann’s magnum opus is finally available to a global readership. Students who master its supple conceptuality will find it indispensable in understanding the complexity and dynamism of the contemporary world.” —David Wellbery, University of Chicago

 

Risk: A Sociological Theory (1993)

A great deal of attention has been devoted to risk research. Sociologists in general have limited themselves to varying recognitions of a society at risk and have traced out the paths to disaster. The detailed research has yet to be undertaken. In Risk, now available in paperback, Niklas Luhmann develops a theoretical program for such research. His premise is that the concept of risk projects essential aspects of our description of the future onto the present. Risk is conceived as the possibility of triggering unexpected, unlikely, and detrimental consequences by means of a decision attributable to a decision maker.
    Luhmann shows how strongly and how differently the separate segments of modern society, such as politics, law, science, and the economy, react to the hazardous situations to which they are exposed. Luhmann’s thesis is that the gap has been increasing between those who participate in decisions and those who are excluded from the decision-making process, but who nevertheless have to bear the consequences of decisions taken. It is a classic exploration of risk that will be valued by those interested in technology, communication, sociology, politics and scientific research.
    This new edition of Risk includes an outstanding essay on the enormous importance of Niklas Luhmann in contemporary social theory. The authors explain not only why he has been all but ignored in the English-speaking world, but the lasting importance of Luhmann in developing a genuinely innovative vision of the component of modern society. Stehr and Bechmann show how the author of Risk is a universal scholar located within the context of the Enlightenment and European sociology and philosophy.

“Luhmann develops a general theory of risk in modern societies, beginning with a geometry of precise definitions that differentiates risk from danger and that views risk from the perspective of a self-conscious actor who attributes calculable outcomes to a projected future… Luhmann’s essay will encourage continued theoretical reflection and provide the impetus for a more theoretically informed research agenda pertaining to risk and modernity. Advanced undergraduate; graduate; faculty.” —J. H. Rubin, Choice

 

Ecological Communication (1989)

Niklas Luhmann is widely recognized as one of the most original thinkers in the social sciences today. This major new work further develops the theories of the author by offering a challenging analysis of the relationship between society and the environment.
Luhmann extends the concept of “ecology” to refer to any analysis that looks at connections between social systems and the surrounding environment. He traces the development of the notion of “environment” from the medieval idea—which encompasses both human and natural systems—to our modern definition, which separates social systems from the external environment.
    In Luhmann’s thought, human beings form part of the environment, while social systems consist only of communications. Utilizing this distinctive theoretical perspective, Luhmann presents a comprehensive catalog of society’s reactions to environmental problems. He investigates the spheres of the economy, law, science, politics, religion, and education to show how these areas relate to environmental issues.
    Ecological Communication is an important work that critically examines claims central to our society—claims to modernity and rationality. It will be of great importance to scholars and students in sociology, political science, philosophy, anthropology, and law.

   

The Differentiation of Society (1982)
I
1. Durheim on Morality and the Division of Labour
2. Ends, Domination, and System
3. Talcott Parsons: The Future of a Theory
II
4. Interaction, Organisation and Society
5.Positive Law and Ideology
6. The Autonomy of the Legal System
7. Politics as a Social System
8. The Political Code
9. The Economy as a Social System
III
10. The Differentiation of Society
11. Systems Theory, Evolution Theory, and Communication Theory
12. The Future Cannot Begin
13. World-Time and System History
14. The Self-Thematization of Society

 

Trust and Power (1979)
Trust
1. Defining the Problem: Social Complexity
2. States and Events
3. Familiarity and Trust
4. Trust as a Reduction of Complexity
5. Overdrawn Information and the Possibilities for Sanction
6. Personal Trust
7. Communication Media and System Trust
8. The Tactical Conception: Trust as Opportunity and as Constraint
9. Trust in Trust
10 Trust and Distrust
11. Readiness to Trust
12. The Rationality of Trust and Distrust
Power
1. Power as Communication Medium
2. The Role of Action
3. Code Functions
4. Power and Physical Coercion
5. The World of Everyday Life and Techniques
6. The Generalisation of Influence
7. The Risks of Power
8. The Relevance of Power to Society
9. Organised Power

 

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