Niklas Luhmann

Niklas Luhmann

Niklas Luhmann

Niklas Luhmann

Synopsis

Niklas Luhmann offers an accessible introduction to one of the most important sociologists of our time. It presents the key concepts within Luhmann's multifaceted theory of modern society, and compares them with the work of other key social theorists such as Jürgen Habermas, Michel Foucault, and Zygmunt Bauman.

The book pays particular attention to introducing and discussing Luhmann's original sociological systems theory. It presents a thorough investigation into the different phases of his oeuvre, through which both the shifting emphases as well as the continuities in his thinking are shown. The primary focus of this text is Luhmann's theory of modern society as being differentiated into a plethora of 'function systems' - such as politics, law, and economy - which operate according to their own distinct logics and which cannot interfere with one another. For Luhmann, this functional differentiation works as a bulwark against totalitarian rule, and as such is a key foundation of modern democracy. Furthermore, the book critically examines the implications of this functional differentiation for inclusion and exclusion dynamics, as well as for the understanding of power and politics.

This is a key text for both undergraduate and postgraduate students of areas including contemporary social theory, political sociology, and sociology.

Excerpt

Is it possible to grasp the complexity of the entire social world? How to account for phenomena ranging from the politics of climate change to the ways we address our beloved ones? Is it feasible within one single sociological framework to conceive of anything from modern science and economy to exclusion patterns in Brazilian favelas, and from legal decisions to the way artists communicate? While many would find such a challenge too big, the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann did not find it insurmountable. He developed an exceptionally sophisticated theory of society which was based on a simple severance, namely the distinction between a system and its environment. On the basis of this fundamental separation he set out to seize the complexity of the world, a venture he pursued in around 75 books and 500 articles.

Luhmann worked as a sociologist at Bielefeld University, Germany, where he was appointed professor in 1969 when the university had just been established. With a population today of around 330,000 people and located some 400 kilometres west of Berlin, Bielefeld does not occupy a central place in the German social and political landscape. Yet ever since its inauguration the city’s university has created a very stimulating environment for sociological thought, which has attracted a number of prominent sociologists. For example, Nobert Elias was visiting professor at the university’s sociological faculty for several years. Likewise, Karin Knorr Cetina was professor at Bielefeld University for almost two decades. It was within this intellectually inspiring environment that Luhmann developed his grand sociological project.

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