Niklas Luhmann

Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998) is regarded as one of the pioneers of the social sciences in the 20th century and the most significant German-speaking proponent of sociological systems theory and sociocybernetics.

How did Luhmann's career unfold? Get to know more about him and his life in the following article.

I. Niklas Luhmann biography

It is well known that Luhmann tried to create a sociological model that could encompass every facet of modern society. Particularly in Germany, where it rivals Jürgen Habermas' dominance of the social sciences, his work has a tremendous impact.

Who is Niklas Luhmann?

1. Who is Niklas Luhmann?

In Lüneburg, Germany, Luhmann was conceived into the family of a brewery proprietor. When he was 16 years old, he was formally drafted into the air force in 1944. Luhmann was held captive in America from September 1944; his treatment there later seemed to him to be "not according to the rules of international conventions, to say the least." In 1944, Luhmann enrolled in the NSDAP. His membership is still a contentious topic of debate among historians. Luhmann dated his NSDAP membership application to 1944 and added the caveat that he had never received a membership number to the "Questionnaire for Political Examination ''.

From 1946 to 1949, Luhmann attended Freiburg to study law. An internship in Lüneburg followed this up until 1953. He worked as an administrative civil servant in Lüneburg from 1954 to 1962. From 1954 to 1955, he served as the President's assistant at the Lüneburg Higher Administrative Court. In 1955, he was deputed to the Lower Saxony Ministry of Culture. Luhmann was given a scholarship to attend Harvard University in 1960–1961. There he encountered Talcott Parsons, a sociologist, and his theory of structure-functional systems.

2. Niklas Luhmann early career 

He worked at the University of Münster in Dortmund from 1962 to 1965 after serving as a lecturer at the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer. In the year 1966, Luhmann earned his doctorate in social sciences. With the book "Funktionen und Folgen formaler Organisation," which was already published in 1964, he received his doctorate five months later with Dieter Claessens and Heinz Hartmann. Luhmann's hiring at the University of Bielefeld in 1968 not only made him the institution's first professor but also gave him the opportunity to play a key role in establishing the first sociology department in the German-speaking world. He conducted research and taught here up until his retirement in 1993.

Luhmann was primarily interested in how society functions, as is clear from the title of his most famous work, the monumental Soziale Systeme: Grundriß einer allgemeinen Theorie C, which was later translated as Social Systems. As opposed to being a rigid structuralist, as the idea of systems theory might suggest, Luhmann was especially interested in understanding how society adapts and responds to risk and catastrophe. Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela's seminal book Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, which introduced the concept of autopoiesis, or the self-creating system, was a significant influence on Luhmann's work.

3. Niklas Luhmann Contribution

By developing a shared language and extending the scope of modern social theory to include the conflicts and paradoxes of contemporary global society in our century, Luhmann's work opened the door for sociology to engage in productive discussions with the dynamic field of complexity sciences. 

Despite the fact that Luhmann made numerous contributions to theoretical sociology, philosophy, political science, economics, the arts, education, and science, among other fields, it is fair to say that his greatest, most thorough contribution was made to the field of law—or, to use Luhmann's terminology, the field of the law of society.

II. Niklas Luhmann Major Works

1. Theory of Society

When the newly established Faculty of Sociology at Bielefeld University was asked to report on the research projects its professors were working on, Luhmann remarked that his response was "Theory of society; duration: 30 years; costs: none." Luhmann always maintained a healthy dose of irony despite the breadth and complexity of his theory, which almost feels like a self-contained universe of Hegelian proportions. His theory is radically post-metaphysical and radically constructivist, both of which reflect his inspiration from the Spencer Brownian Calculus of Forms. Although it is undoubtedly not a theory of the "anything goes" variety, which Luhmann described in his farewell lecture at the University of Bielefeld as a "concept for contingency without practice," it is an open body of theory in the same way that it is a theory that can be used as a theoretical toolbox.

Politics is an important feature of society. As one of society's function systems, the political system is the subject of Luhmann's posthumously released book, Die Politik der Gesellschaft, which is about individual function systems. This in and of itself sends a message: according to Luhmann's theory, politics is just one of many functional systems that make up society. The ability it gives society to make legally binding decisions does not place it in some sort of superior or central position to other functional systems. The concepts of functional differentiation and operative closure of function systems would be incompatible with such a viewpoint. This indicates that Luhmann's theory is not political theory even though it is a theory about politics. Political theory, in Luhmann's view, is a method of self-reflexive description of and of the political system itself.

A general and thorough theory of society that claims equal validity in the scientific investigation of social microsystems like romantic relationships and macrosystems like the legal system and politics is the life's work of Ludwig von Hummann. The premise of his theory is based on the fact that communication is the foundation of his system theory and that communication structures are largely similar across social systems. Radical constructivism in sociology can be seen as continuing in Luhmann's systems theory.

2. Autopoietic Systems

The general theory of society offered by Luhmann's systems theory is meant to take the place of the epistemic inheritance that sociology typically assumes. For Luhmann, it is impossible to adequately describe modern society using concepts like subject and object, material and ideal, being and non-being, which are based on ontological substance and are derived from philosophy, law, and religion. The theory is a wholly constructed structure. Autopoiesis lacks a historical origin and does not require one because it did not start all of a sudden. 

The project as a whole is paradoxical from a logical standpoint because it attempts to create a framework for universal observation while also taking into account the impossibility of such observation.It makes the claim that this is the best way to observe society; in fact, the ability to describe itself through systems theory is itself an autological achievement of the evolution of science. However, it does not assert that this is how society "really" is; the ontological status of the modern world is overwhelming complexity, or noise. 

There is no Archimedean point in contemporary society because all observations are subject to disagreement, all agreements are acknowledged to be tentative and subject to change, and time itself is an open horizon that extends infinitely into the risky, uncertain future and an infinitely explorable past. However, it is still possible to have rational conversations about the world. The social systems theory is able to account for that ongoing accomplishment. 

An autopoietic system generates its own internal and external conditions while also producing itself. As a result, systems always operate in an "environment". The environment is created from within as a result of observing and simplifying its surroundings, rather than being the ontic "real." As a result, a system's "environment" is dependent upon its ability to sense and observe rather than existing prior to the system. The line separating a system from its surroundings is ultimately decided by the system and may shift with each operation. As a result, a system can only observe its environment through self-reference and cannot interact with it directly. Systems only use their own operative codes, programs, and memory when they operate in "operational closure." 

Autopoiesis is notoriously referred to as a "post-human" social theory because there are no people involved. This is only partially true. The theory is anti-Aristotelian, but in addition to social systems, it also takes into account autopoietic living systems. We are made up of all three types of systems at any given time: a conscious mind, a living, breathing body, and a variety of socially defined subject positions like son, daughter, worker, voter, student, customer, owner, etc. The systems depend on one another. The systems depend on one another. Each can influence the others in different ways, but for any task to be completed, they all need to be coordinated to varying degrees. Only communication, however, is social. It serves as the medium through which social systems generate themselves, define their surroundings, and set the parameters for future behavior. Nothing more or less than the communications created by social systems constitutes society. Communication underpins society.

III. Niklas Luhmann Awards

The Nachlassedition views itself as a sociological investigation into the composition and origins of one of the last sociological "grand theories." At the same time, it lays the groundwork for the creation of an infrastructure based on science that future interdisciplinary and increasingly global research on and with Luhmann's theory can draw from. To achieve this, a publicly available information portal will be created, offering an approachable presentation of all academically significant elements of Luhmann's legacy. The portal also provides a thorough bibliography, audio and video documents, and additional information about the piece of work and its author. 

The scholarly legacy of Niklas Luhmann stands as an exceptionally well-suited example of the corresponding preparation of complex fields of information with regard to the complementarity between a largely network-organized stock of material and its implementation as a technical hypertext system. This is especially true of the card index, which will be transcribed, scientifically indexed, transferred into a database that has been edited for usability, and linked with the other texts from the estate that will also be indexed and published in a work-historical edition. A multi-volume print publication of the bequeathed writings will also be done as part of the project, with a focus on social theory, phenomenological sociology, political science and administration/organization, sociology of education, and the lectures.

Niklas Luhmann Awards

IV. Niklas Luhmann Books

Luhmann developed into one of the most prolific and original sociological theorists in the world by primarily working independently. His writings, which were generally written in a dense and academic style, drew from a variety of fields, including philosophy, linguistics, and information science. They discussed a wide range of topics, such as politics and religion, love and law, as well as education and the environment. Because of their thorough knowledge of Western thought, Luhmann's writings were frequently regarded by traditional sociological standards as being unusually complex and abstract. However, by taking into account the fundamental themes and techniques that unified Luhmann's work and gave it a sense of systematic coherence, this complexity and abstractness can be diminished. 

The fundamental notion of a "system," which denoted any entity choosing from among the options present in its environment in order to become less complex and more stable than its environment, served as the ideal starting point. This phrase can be used to describe anything from big organizations to quick conversations.

V. Niklas Luhmann Quotes

1. “Humans cannot communicate; not even their brains can communicate; not even their conscious minds can communicate. Only communication can communicate.”

2. “Reality is what one does not perceive when one perceives it.”

3. “The work of art is an ostentatiously improbable occurrence.”

4. “Communication is improbable.”

5. “Since it has no boundaries, the world is not a system.”

6. “What are we to do with what we have written down? Certainly at first, we will produce mostly garbage. But we have been educated to expect something useful from our activities, and soon lose confidence if nothing useful seems to result. We should therefore reflect on whether and how we arrange our notes so they are available for later access.”


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