April 27, 2009

Society as Nexus of Communication

I would like to start overviewing the social system theory 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 was published as Social Systems from Stanford University Press in 1995.

The novel point of his suggestion is that the element of the society is communication, not human, actor nor action. In the social system theory, a society is regarded as a system which reproduces communication by communication. In other words, which I prefer, a society is nexus of communication. Since the viewpoint may look not so strange at a glance, and it is difficult to understand the novelty. So I shall explain it by comparing some viewpoints which we are familiar with.

In a naive viewpoint, a society is regarded as the group of people. For example, Oxford Dictionary of Sociology begins their explanation of the term "society" with this kind of naive viewpoint as follows;
Generally, a group of people who share a common culture, occupy a particular territorial area, and feel themselves to constitute a unified and distinct entity.
*from John Scott and Gordon Marshall (eds.), Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd edition revised, Oxford University Press, 2009
Of course, this viewpoint is rather daily-use than sociological definition. On the other hand, the typical viewpoint in sociology seems to be that society is regarded as relations or a structure among actors.

This viewpoint is necessary to understand the freedom and autonomy of individuals, otherwise the individuals must lose the freedom and autonomy if the individuals would be just parts of the society.

Based on this framework, Luhmann built a general theory of society and had applied the theory into a wide variety of social phenomena, including economy, law, politics, art, religion, education, science, mess media, family, and so on.

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