Selvreferentielle systemer og kommunikative netværk
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Self-referential systems and communicative networks

The theme of the workshop is communication and the forming and management of organisations in a society characterised by networks. Organizing in the industrial society has been well described, whereas organizing in the information society, often broadly characterised as network formation, has not yet been successfully described. The strength of the suggested theme is the opportunity to create sociological and interdisciplinary analyses within the framework of system theory, across empirical fields and facultary standing points. The idea of the theme is thus, firstly, further development of system theory, in order to acquire better and more adequate concepts for handling specific empirical fields, and secondly, to make a connection with the international development of the theoretical understanding of phenomena such as management, reform, and change.

That which, within system research, is called self-reference and autopoiesis, simultaneously marks the limits of steering, be they aesthetic limits, limits of learning, juridical limits, military limits, religious limits, environmental limits etc. all depending on the research theme, as uncovered by Niklas Luhmann in a number of works. The basic idea is that the autonomy of, for instance, the theatre differs from that of war, not only in terms of parameters such as financing and juridical resources, but the question is whether the arts of theatre and war, respectively, are completely separate, since both systems handle networks of communication, hybrid forms of cooperation, design, marketing, organisation, contingency? Other phenomena might be taken as objects of analysis, for instance the network organisation of agriculture, of a school class, a sport, a festival, or a political system. The question is whether autopoietic self-organisation can be created on network premises, or whether autopoiesis will be eroded? The workshop is open for investigations of all these limits of steering.


Mette Kronbæk: TBA


Gorm Harste: The Long and (not so) Winding Road of Systems Theory

Albeit the normal history of systems theory begins around the Second World War and ends with Niklas Luhmann, the paper presents this “beginning” in perspective of a much longer history that tracks the roots back to the secularisations of theological corporal thought in an early modern history from Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes and Samuel Pufendorff to Leibniz, d’Holbach and especially Kant. The second take-off evolves with the transformation of neo-kantianism during the First World War and follows a track from Ernst Cassirer and to the huge number of German scholars that fled to United States after 1933. Modern systems theory was born in this combination of reconstructed advanced Kantianism with American pragmatism and positivism. At the same time, it displaced attention from philosophy into different sciences and empirical as well as theoretical social research. With von Glasersfeld, Watzlawick’s, von Foerster’s, Maturana’s and especially Luhmann’s reconstruction of theory of self-referential systems, the self-description of systems theory reestablishes its interpretation of communication, forms and systems in direct connection to the classics themes and their culmination in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement (1790).


Gorm Harste, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University.



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Revised 2012.01.15