Society as system and its ecological environment. A study in sociological systems theory of Niklas Luhmann

                         Jonhill, Jan Inge; FilDr

                         LUNDS UNIVERSITET (SWEDEN), 1997

                         SOCIOLOGY, THEORY AND METHODS (0344); ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES (0768)

                         This thesis is divided into two main parts. The first is an expose of Niklas Luhmann's comprehensive
                         sociological systems theory, including the basic tenets of the theory, its historical development and
                         central concepts, and discussions. Systems theory is a theory about the distinction between system and
                         environment. One can discern three primary levels of analysis: the general theory of self-referential and
                         autopoietic systems; the theory of social systems as communication systems; and the theory of society
                         as a separate social system. One of Luhmann's many challenging thesis is that the sociologist primarily is
                         an observer of observations; another that social systems operate as autopoietic systems, i.e. as
                         operatively closed, but cognitively open systems. The theory of society comprises of four parts: the
                         theory of communication media (including the symbolic generalized communication media), of evolution,
                         of differentiation and of society's self-description. According to the theory of differentiation, the systems
                         of economy, politics, law, science, etc., are operating as function systems in the system of society. One
                         conclusion is that modern society stands before the risk that the difference between inclusion and
                         exclusion, or being in or out of the system of society, becomes a meta-code which governs the survival
                         opportunities for more and more people. The second part is a systems theoretical analysis of the
                         environmental problems, thereby showing the relevance of systems theory in understanding a
                         contemporary sociological issue. The analysis is carried out around three theses: (1) Society can only
                         relate and react to the environmental problem through communication; (2) Modern society is, to a high
                         degree, dependent upon technology. Therefore, it is exposed to risks. Risk should be seen mainly not
                         as contrary to security, but as a distinction between danger and risk; (3) Functional differentiation causes
                         great difficulties in attempting to solve environmental problems. However, this insight brings, as is
                         shown, the only key to solutions. The environmental issue makes more urgent not only the development
                         of 'environmental sociology', but first and foremost a general theory of society.


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