Signifying failures: A discourse theoretical reading of Niklas Luhmann's systems theory

                         Staheli, Urs; PhD

                         UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX (UNITED KINGDOM), 1998


                         This study reads Niklas Luhmann's systems theory from the perspective of deconstructive discourse
                         theory (Derrida, Laclau). Focusing on how systems theory deals with failures within the meaningful
                         reproduction of autopoietically closed social systems, the thesis examines strategies of containment that
                         delimit the range of failures. The specific handling of what deconstruction theorizes as the impossibility of
                         full meaning is discussed in respect to systems theory's conception of meaning. The thesis traces
                         systems theory's exclusion of failure at different instances: the theorisation of the environment of
                         systems, the exclusion of non-meaning, the separation of meaning from language, the blind connectivity
                         of communication, and the repeatability of forms. However, it is also argued that failures of signification
                         re-occur in concepts such as the blind spot and the unmarked state, the confusion of signs, the
                         disturbance (Irritation) of systems, and rupture of meaning within communication (Fuchs), as well as a
                         rhetorical grafting of identitary repetition. The analysis of semantics problematizes its status and argues
                         that semantics provides the terrain for a politics of deparadoxization. Drawing from Laclau's theory of
                         hegemony, this concept offers a supplement to systems theory in conceptualizing the antangonistic
                         articulation of paradoxical undecidabilities. In contrast to the routines of the political system, the politics of
                         deparadoxization is not linked to a particular system. Rather, it parasitically inhibits systems by providing a
                         temporary overcoding that promises an imaginary identity, best exemplified by the 'suction of integration'
                         which the form of antagonism generates.


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