Observed with Sociological Systems Theory

17 – 22 September 2012   print this page

Conference organizers:

Gorm Harste, Aarhus University, Denmark

Julien Broquet, Université de Picardie Jules Verne, France

Conference description:


Systems theory has had a tremendous impact in social science since the 1950s. During the last decades, however, systems theory has been completely transformed. Especially the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory has transformed social theory and studies. Luhmann’s “Grand Theory” got its final form with his principal work Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft 1 – 2 in 1997, though additional books, articles and interviews have been published. Whatever one thinks about the exact form of his analysis, sociological theory has been transformed by the “Luhmann effect”.

Although Luhmann’s general theory is very abstract and distanced whenever he does not enter his own analyses of semantic differentiations, there is a strong drive towards analyses of empirical studies that use Luhmann’s insights. The very abstract character of the general theory apparently has a fruitful effect. What is often seen as normal and natural objects are observed as improbable, and new questions can be posed as to how they emerge, how they are codified, which forms their communication get etc. In fact, Luhmann’s theory about modern society and its emergence is quite a grounded theory based on extensive studies of social semantics in history as well as in an impressive scale of disciplines. All kinds of matters from pedagogic, art and religion to social research, organisation, law, politics and international conflicts are subjects for system research strategies.

As the theory is empirically open, new semantics, different codes, and changing forms turn out to change and develop structures at higher levels. The social dimensions of communication as well as structural couplings in-between differentiated material dimensions have often been addressed. This conference will try to address the empirical use of luhmannian systems theory with a certain focus on time-dimensions. One aspect is the speed of societal forms, their acceleration or deceleration. Another is the analysis of past, present and future including the themes of risk and trust. Very important in Luhmann’s approach is the synchronisation of forms and systems. Topics for the conference include themes as diverse as decisions of decisions, credit and credibility as well, moral will-binding, nova and innovation, involution and evolution, form and reform, constitution and revolution aesthetic fashion, shifts of paradigm, or acceleration and slow down in wars. We invite you to look at your field of study under the angle of the temporal dimension and discuss it with your fellow colleagues.

The conference has been hold three times before in Dubrovnik, in 2007, 2009 and 2011 and will continue this ongoing work and gather scholars who work with methodological clarifications as well as empirical studies. Studies comparing system analysis with other forms of analysis are welcome (Foucauldian, Bourdieuian or analysis of discourse and discourse-ethics).

The language will be English. The form is that of work-shops.

The theme: The temporal dimension

The aim of the conference is to take a methodological stance on the theme of temporalities as a broad range of research from micro to macro, from art to law, ecology or organisation etc. Various disciplines seem to be interested in this subject as well as methodological devices about what to do. The analysis of temporal dimensions is a fruitful meeting point for a wide range of scholars from various disciplines.

Temporal studies normally concern two levels of analyses

• subjectively experienced time

• objectively measured time

However with Luhmann’s temporal theory the present time is simultaneously subjective and objective.

Hence a number of overall themes emerge:

• How do different functional systems operate with time-bindings and time-horizons?

• How do risks operate as observations of futures from present situations?

• What is change and how does change changes?

• What was the future?

• What are stress, speed, acceleration and slow-down, distress and deceleration? And how do such modalities operate in different functional systems, organisational systems, interaction systems and networks?

• What does it imply to synchronise and establish structural couplings between opposed temporalities

Empirical research

• Many researchers work with a more or less implicit or explicit time-dimension in their research. We urge you to focus on it. What does it mean theoretically? What are the empirical findings?


Abstracts for papers shall be submitted not later than June the 15th, 2012.

Course directors:

Gorm Harste (Aarhus University) [gha@ps.au.dk]; phone ++45 87 16 55 93

Julien Broquet (Université de Picardie) [julien.broquet@u-picardie.fr]

Organisational background

Every year international conferences about the use of Luhmann’s system theory have been held in Munich, Copenhagen, Tromsö, Luzern, Luxembourg, Stuttgart, Berlin, Montreal. The Scandinavian and British internetwork has developed fruitful discussions, in which German and Dutch scholars have also contributed and French, US, Italian and Canadian researchers begin to participate as well. 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. Increasing groups of scholars in France, Italy and United States have participated. Some of the current debates take place at the following web-sites:

(http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/luhmann_danish/) (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sociocybernetics/ ).

In the 1980s, Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht and Ludwig Pfeiffer organised a number of great conferences at the Inter-University Centre of post-graduate studies (IUC) in Dubrovnik in the former Yugoslavia, now Croatia. Since 1981 Luhmann attended these conferences. Unfortunately, the Centre was bombarded in 1991 and for some years the conferences could not take place. The contributions from those conferences were published in a series of five rather big volumes at the important Suhrkamp Verlag (Der Diskurs der Literatur- und Sprachhistorie, 1983; Epochenschwellen und Epochenstrukturen im Diskurs der Literatur- und Sprachhistorie, 1985; Stil, 1986; Materialität der Kommunikation, 1988, Paradoxien, Dissonanzen, Zusammenbrüche, 1991). Quite a number of those studies were dedicated semantic history and contributions to a system theory of art.

Today, the Centre has been completely restored as well as its spirit. The centre has nice internet facilities and a number of rooms for study and possibilities for a accommodation. See www.iuc.hr . The centre only demands a fee of 40 Euro from each participant.

The Centre is located very close to the famous late medieval city of Dubrovnik, i.e. about 300 meters in the direction North-West to the central medieval gate. You can find accommodation in one of the many hotels in Dubrovnik (Hotel Imperial is the closest to the centre, but expensive, Hotel Lero is cheaper, and about 1½ kilometre from the Centre; the hotels have reduced prices for IUC participants). Or you can stay in one of the extremely many private accommodations (Room or “Sobe”) which are very cheep and can be found everywhere. When the airport bus stops, people will come and offer you private accommodation. The IUC also provides cheap accommodation in the building itself. Restaurants and cafés are everywhere. The weather in April: normally sunny and 15-25 C° though rain is not impossible.

The Dubrovnik airport at Cavtat is situated about 20 kilometres South of Dubrovnik. Travel by car and ferryboat is somewhat more complicated, though beautiful.

Programme offer 2 ECTS points without paper/presentation

Programme offer 5 ECTS points with paper/presentationn

Conference lecturers:

Vibeke Klitgaard, Lund University, Denmark

Gorm Harste, Aarhus University, Denmark

Hugo Fjelsted Alroe, Aarhus University, Denmark

Egon Noe, Aarhus University, Denmark

Julien Broquet, Université de Picardie Jules Verne, France

Esteban Kaipl, University of Luxembourg , France

Kjetil Anzgar Jakobsen, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany

Lars Clausen, University College Hillebaelt, Denmark

Azita Afsar, University of Oslo, Norway

Bernhard Freyer, Univesitat für Bodenkultur, Wien, Austria

Klaus Laursen, Aarhus University, Denmark

Lionel Eduardo Lewkow, Buenos Aires University, Argentina

Work Schedule:

Monday September the 17th – the day for media

9.15: Introductory Remarks: Theme and Practical Information

Presentation of participants

10.00 Gorm Harste:

A short introduction to the theme of temporalities in NiklasLuhmann’s research

10. 45 Klaus Damman (Bielefeld;klaus.dammann@uni-bielefeld.de)

Predecessor Selection in Social Sciences Biographies: How do theyconstructdiscontinuity /continuity?

12.00 Kjetil Jakobsen (Berlin;jakobsek@cms.hu-berlin.de)

Temporality of media discourse


16.30 Jesper Tække (Aarhus University)

Communicative self-synchronization and media - a social evolutionary perspective

17.45 CsabaSzalo (University of Brno; szalo@fss.muni.cz)

Luhmann and Mass-media

19.00 Dinner in town

Tuesday the 18th – the day for life

9.00 Fuellsack, Manfred (manfred.fuellsack@uni-graz.at)

The Growth-Paradox.Experiments with computational evolution of Anticipatory Systems.

10.15 EgonNoe and Hugo F. Alrøe, (Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University); Hugo.Alroe@agrsci.dk; Egon.Noe@agrsci.dk;

Time and innovation in bioenergy

11.30 Bernhard Freyer (Bernhard.Freyer@boku.ac.at, University of natural Resources and Life Sciences, BOKU, Vienna)

When Luhmann converts to Organic Farming – some preliminary reflections


16.30 Julien Broquet (julien.broquet@u-picardie.fr; University ofPicardie; Amiens)

Esteban Kaipl (universityof Luxembourg; kaiplesteban@hotmail.com)

tebanKaipl Couplingandtemporality in Europe: Time unevenEuropeanizationandthecrisis

17.45 AzitaAfsar, (Department of Education, University of Oslo; azita.afsar@ped.uio.no)

Curriculum vitae as an inclusion strategy in a global society?

19.00 Dinner in town 

Wednesday the 19th– the day for war and time for peace

9.00 VibekeKlitgaard (Copenhagen/Lund University),

Elements for an Organizational Analysis of Two Centers of Community Psychiatry.

10.15 Lars Clausen, lcla@ucsyd.dk

Wars of forms: temporal challenges to the continental concept of ”empire” and the rise of the German nation (1848-1863)

11.30 Gorm Harste (Aarhus University)

Temporalities of War Systems


16.30 Klaus Brond Laursen (Aarhus University)

The Future of Wars: The challenge of private military security companies

17.45 Lionel Lewkow (Buenos Aires; llewkow@yahoo.com.ar)

Temporality and Pre-reflective Self-reference: Luhmann´s Interpretation of Husserl´s Theory of Time

Dinner in town 

Thursday the 20th - Time for law

9.00 Leandro Aramburu (Zaragoza); leandroaramburu@gmail.com

José María Moreno-Jiménez (Zaragoza); moreno@unizar.es

Why citizens do not participate in public decision making? A socio-cybernetic approach for understanding the results of a case-study

10.15 LashaBregvadze (Institute of State and Law; Tbilisi State University; Georgia; lbregvadze@isl.ge; lasha.bregvadze@tsu.ge

Timing Law: Temporal Dimensions of Legal Evolution

11.30 Alberto Febbrajo (Macerata University, febbrajo@unimc.it)

Time and Institutions, The case of the University


19.00 Dinner in town

Friday the 21st

9.00 TBA

10.15 TBA