Hybrids. Observed with Social Systems Theory
Venue: International University Centre (IUC), Dubrovnik, Croatia
Address: Don Frana Bulicá 4, HR-20000 Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dates: 15-18 May 2014
Social Systems theory after Luhmann
Systems theory has had a tremendous impact in social science since the 1950s. During the last decades, however, systems theory has been completely transformed. In particular, German sociologist Niklas Luhmann’s system theory has transformed social studies. Luhmann’s “Grand Theory” got its final form with his principal work Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft 1 – 2 (Social Theory Vol. 1-2, Stanford University Press 2013) in 1997, although additional books, articles and interviews have been published, including more than twenty books now in English. Whatever one thinks about the exact form of his analysis, sociological theory has to some extent been transformed by the “Luhmann effect”.
Although Luhmann’s general theory hitherto has seemed very abstract and distant, there is a strong drive towards analyses in empirical studies that make use of Luhmann’s insights. This is evident in his seminal publication Social Theory. Luhmann’s systems theory is more an abductive applied theory than a deductively developed theory. Yet it seems that its very abstract character has a fruitful effect.
The previous Dubrovnik conference in applied social systems theory concerned structural couplings between systems and resulted in the publication by Alberto Febbrajo and Gorm Harste (eds.). Law and Intersystemic Communication. Understanding ‘Structural Coupling’, London: Ashgate 2013.
The problem of hybrids
As systems theory is empirically open, new semantics, different codes, and changing forms turn out to change and develop structures at higher levels. A main topic in many studies is about the so-called structural couplings between differentiated systems. Yet the question of the present conference is: How do systems interfere with other systems and emerge as third forms that cannot be reduced to a combination of a few already well-established systems? Whereas Max Weber in his empirical research demonstrated that “material rationality” involved a complex range of meanings, to systems theory the concept of “hybridity” involve a lack of such steering capacities that could have reduced empirical realities to formal extensions of system codes. Hence hybrid forms involve a reflexivity of more than one functional system. They call for abductive research.
Papers should address questions of differences between systems, their structural couplings and emergent hybrids. Günther Teubner has forwarded the idea that new hybrids appear in international law. Others may study problems of health as lifestyle diseases that have to be observed according to medicine, sociology and cultural studies. Still others cope with failed states as hybrids between segmentary societies and modern functionally differentiated society; NGOs also seem to form such hybrids. A school class may be a hybrid when it concerns education, socialization and, for instance, health politics. All kinds of matters, from pedagogic, art and religion to social research, organisation, law, politics and international conflicts are subjects for systemic studies of hybrids. Such hybrids are not free of conflicts and risks. War veterans might become hybrids when they fall between functional systems. Hybrids may be unstable. Whereas the symbiosis between functional systems and specialized organizational systems seems to be quite clear and subject to studies across a great variety of disciplines, such organizational/functional answers are less obvious as they concern hybrids. Hybrids are a challenge to social theory as well as empirical studies; yet they are also occasions for posing new questions and for new developments in forms of knowledge.
The conference will approach hybrids from Luhmann’s theory of social systems and gather scholars who work with theoretical and methodological clarifications as well as empirical studies. Studies that compare system analysis with other forms of analysis are welcome (Foucauldian, Bourdieuian or analysis of discourse and discourse theory).
The conference language is English (papers in German are accepted since most participants read German but their presentation should be held in English).
Deadline for abstracts to the programme is March 20th, 2014. Short abstracts (10-20 lines) should be sent to the programme coordinator (Gorm Harste, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, Denmark, firstname.lastname@example.org). It is not obligatory to send an abstract, or to present a paper, in order to participate in the conference; however in any case, all participants are requested to send a mail well before May the 1st to announce their participation. A list of participants will be distributed and papers (or outlines of papers) should be sent to the coordinator and eventually to the distributed list no later than May 8th.
Every year conferences about the use of Luhmann’s system theory have been held in, for example, Munich, Copenhagen, Tromsö, Stuttgart, Montreal, Boston, London or Stockholm. The Scandinavian and British network has developed fruitful discussions to which German, French, Italian, Canadian and Dutch scholars have also contributed. Translations of Luhmann’s books are still more numerous, introductions and theoretical contributions are flourishing. The same seems to be the case with empirical studies applying system theory in comparative studies, case studies, historical studies or in concrete practice. Some of the current debates take place at the following websites:
Gorm Harste (Aarhus University), email@example.com
Julian Broquet (Amiens University), firstname.lastname@example.org