ISBN 0-8126-9598-4$39.95 paper
From Souls to Systems
Volume 3 in the Ideas Explained™ series
What are systems? What is society? What happens to human beings in a hypermodern world? This book is an introduction to Niklas Luhmann's social system theory which explains specific functions like economy and mass media from a cybernetic perspective. Integrating various schools of thought including sociology, philosophy and biology, Luhmann Explained results in an overall analysis of quot;world society." Special attention is given to the present-day relevance of Luhmann's theory with respect to globalization, electronic mass media, ethics, and new forms of protest.
From the introduction:
"Niklas Luhmann’s theory of social systems is discomforting to many and irritating to some. In a society that puts so much emphasis on the individual and defines itself as 'civil,' Luhmann’s basic claim that, in fact, society does not consist of human beings can be seen as shocking, as going against common sense, or as absurd. The present book is an attempt to counter such reactions and to show that, quite to the contrary, Luhmann’s theory is not at all at odds with our social reality—particularly in North America—but rather, in my view, the best theoretical description of it that is presently available. I will explain Luhmann’s functionalist model of society in detail in the main body of this book, but I would like to address the issue of Luhmann’s 'scandalous' anti-humanism right away. Yes, social systems theory denies the 'human being' a central role in society, but this is not because of a lack of respect for humans, their bodies, their feelings, their rights, and their values; it is rather because of the insight that the human being is, in reality, such a complex assemblage that it cannot be adequately understood in terms of a single concept. Human reality is too complex to be subsumed under the single heading of the 'human being.' Luhmann’s theory should be read, I believe, not as a denial of human experience, but as an attempt to sort out and do justice to the extreme multiplicity, or, to put it more dramatically, the existential division of such experiences. In a certain sense, the project of modernity can be described as the attempt to re-unite the Cartesian subject that was split into mind and body with the help of an overarching humanism. Luhmann gives up this attempt and rather tries to grant all the different dimensions of bodily life, of conscious experience, of communicative practice their own right of existence."