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An Introduction to Luhmann's Sociology of Communication Systems:
The Self-Organization of the Knowledge-Based Society

“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. Students are asked to read additionally: Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, The Tree of Knowledge (Boston: New Science Library, 1984). This book is available also in a Dutch translation (De Boom van de Kennis. Amsterdam: Uitg. Contact, 1989).

1. Introduction, April 8 (click on the respective headings for more background information)

2. The Network as the System of Reference, April 15

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

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

* 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.

3. The Evolution of Complex Systems, April 22

* 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.

* 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.

Please, read during this week additionally: Humberto Maturana & Francisco Varela, The Tree of Knowledge (Boston: New Science Library). [The Dutch edition is entitled De Boom van de Kennis.]

 4. The Specification of the Communication System, April 29


* 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.


* 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.

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


* Loet Leydesdorff, Luhmann's Sociological Theory: Its Operationalization and Future Perspectives, Social Science Information 35(2), (1996) 283-306


Formulate during this week a one page outline for a final paper! Read the Maturana & Varela book if you haven't done that yet.

5. The Specification of the Social System, May 6  

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

* 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).

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

6. Functional Differentiation and the Construction of Modernity, May 13


* 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.”]

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

7. The Transformation of Society, May 20

* Niklas Luhmannn (1982). Love as Passion, Chapter 2: “Love as a Generalized Symbolic Medium of Communiction,” 3: “The Evolution of Communicative Capacities,” and  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.

8. The Epistemological Consequences of Constructivism, May 27

* 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.

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

* 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).

9. Consequences of Self-Organization Theory, June 3

* 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.

10. The Research Programme, June 10

* 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.

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

11. The study of knowledge-based systems, June 17

* 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.

* 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.]

12. Implications and further perspectives, June 24

* 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.

* Discussion of student papers, further perspective, and evaluation of this course