April 28, 2009

A New Map for Social System Theory

I would like to start overviewing the world of social system theory.

In my view, the theory can provide a new fundamental framework to understand the principle of collaboration, however it is almost unknown among the researchers of collaboration studies. It is not only because the theory is proposed in a discipline of sociology but also because the theory is quite difficult to understand.

But don't be afraid. I've drawn a map to walk around much easier!
So, let's start with my map.

Social system theory, which I want to take, was proposed by Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998), a German sociologist. Luhmann suggested a new framework for considering a society as an "autopoietic system" in his book Soziale Systeme (1984). English translation of this book was published under the title of Social Systems from Stanford University Press in 1995.
* Niklas Luhmann, Social Systems, Translated by John Bednarz, Jr. with Dirk Baecker, Stanford University Press, 1995

The theory design by Luhmann is highly abstract and complex. Although some sociologists criticize this abstract and complex theorization, we should know the abstraction is caused just by strictly employing a system theory and the complexity is caused by applying lots of concepts that related one another. This abstraction and complexity is unavoidable and necessary for the breakthrough to the situation in which "Sociology is stuck in a theory crisis" (Luhmann 1984/1995, p.xlv).

Luhmann himself confess "This is not easy book" and metaphorically "Thus the theory's design resembles a labyrinth more than freeway off into the sunset."(ibid, p.lii). In fact, it is quite tough to read a whole book. Especially, in most cases, you will be confused in the first several chapters, which introduce the fundamental concepts of system theory such as "system", "environment", "selection", "function", "autopoiesis", "operation", "meaning", and "dimension". These chapters are indeed great literature as a general system theory, but it is easy for readers who seek a sociological theory to lose their way.

So I want to choose the different path from Luhmann's. It must be permissible in light of Luhmann's accounts; "The sequence of chapters chosen for this book is surely not the only one possible"(ibid, p.lii) and then "The theory could have been presented in a different sequence"(ibid, p.li).

In my strategy, the first step is grasping Luhmann's viewpoint about society, and next is understanding communication. Well, then we'll take the first steps.

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