The Limits of Systems Theory
Department of Sociology Innsbruck University Innsbruck, Austria
Whereas seventy years ago Edmund Husserl worried about the "crisis of European sciences", in the era of globalization neither "European societies" nor European society but world-society offers the appropriate frame of analysis in the view of Niklas Luhmann´s systems theory. While both theories seem to be incompatible, I will compare both for analysing the limits of sociological systems theory.
In the 1990ies systems theory has become the most influential social theory in German sociology. While other approaches offer a few variables or some hypotheses on contemporary society that should be combined in an eclectic way, far beyond that Luhmann´s theory of self-referential, autopoietic social systems offers concepts and a frame to analyse an all-embracing "world-society" including several social subsystems. Where are the limits of this approach?
My presentation will go beyond Habermas´s well-known criticism that the out-of-date philosophy of the subject had been appropriated by systems theory. I will take a step forward and compare systems theory and phenomenology to show their structural affinity that will finally mark the limits of systems theory: (1) Both theories de-ontologize reality; both consider the world as horizon; (2) both do not ask the sociological questions on why and where but "how": they constitute phenomenologies of the presence; (3) finally, in the case of systems theory a poly-centric world of virtual realities is created that indicates the phenomenological limits of systems theory.