9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN29 Social Theory

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 Contemporary Social Theory: From Phenomenology to Systems Theory Building AA, AA.329

Psyche as the supplement of Luhmann┬┤s social systems theory

Since the invention of sociology in the end of the 19th century the question how to describe the relation between individuals und society has been one of the central themes of social theory. Luhmann?s theory of social systems has found a very specific answer to this problem in a fundamental differentiation between social and psychic systems. His theoretical description of social systems is based on the exclusion of people, individuals or humans. The sphere of the social is understood as a concatenation of communications which is capable to reproduce itself by its own operations in a self-continuing way. Adopting Maturana and Varelas term, this has been conceptualised as the autopoiesis of social systems.
Within this theoretical paradigm, the reference to the psychic has been constructed by the model of structural coupling. The way social systems process their autopoiesis has to fit to environmental conditions. The primary relevant environments of social systems are psychic systems, but there are no direct links between social and psychic processes. Social and psychic operations don't interact in any way. In Luhmann's social systems theory this theoretical figure has the function to open up a possibility of theoretical construction which excludes the psychic and allows a concentration on the description of the social as a sphere of pure social processes.
This paper makes a suggestion for a wider conceptualisation of psychic systems and their function in social systems theory. Based on the interpretation of Spencer Browns concept of form in Luhmann's late theory and its functional correspondence to deconstruction, the concepts of structural coupling and psychic system are understood as supplements in social systems theory. They provoke further extrapolation and elaboration. The autopoiesis of psychic systems can be conceived as concatenation of experience. This opens antagonistic perspectives of social systems observing their structural coupling with psychic systems, and psychic systems observing their structural coupling with social systems. This leads to a new systems theoretical understanding of the psychic experience of social conditions, as well as to new perspectives on some specialized types of social systems like education, therapy, and arts.