[Air-l] Re: Company vs. Community

Phillip Thurtle thurtle at u.washington.edu
Tue Dec 18 17:42:07 PST 2001

Christian Nelson wrote:

> I.e., Luhmen is yet another social scientist who portrays societies as
> monoliths. While there may be sociological reasons for such notions, there
> certainly aren't empirical ones.

I hesitate to correct this misconception because I don't want to appear to
uncritically endorse Luhmann's social theories (which I find flawed but
useful for formulating empirical studies), but I think it would be a big
mistake to let this misconception stand.

Leaving aside the simple distinction between "theory" and "empiricism", I
am still trying to understand how someone can characterize Luhmann as
portraying society as "monolithic"!

Perhaps we are thinking about different social theorists (I have never
heard of a social theorist with the name spelled as Luhmen)?  Are you
thinking about the same thinker who first became known in the English
speaking world for his critique of Habermas' notion of the public sphere
as too unified in conception? (And isn't this similar to the critique you
just leveled against "Luhmen"?)

Is this the same thinker who published an early work entitled _The
Differentiation of Society_, whose primary thesis is that we have to
conceive of social theories that take into account the functional
differentiation of society?

Is this the same thinker that subsequently published the book _Ecological
Communications_ that tried to show how similar discourses could "resonate"
(thus showing marked similarity without exactly copying) in different
disciplines _because_ of the different dynamics of these disciplines?

The reason why this is so important for the discussion at hand, however,
is that Luhmann gives one the ability to look at how associations of
individuals use discourse about "community" to construct a community by
making the distinction about what belongs inside and what belongs outside
of the community.  Often current discussions of community need to portray
large business as "outside" of communal discourse in order to construct a
more "human" centered notion of community in technological environments.

The implication is that we need to be self-reflexive in our use of
communities and pay attention to whose thoughts are not allowed within the
"textual gates" of discourse that communities use to place themselves
within larger social environments.

If you want to see how people have used Luhmann's work in empirical
studies I suggest you quickly peruse _Problems of Form_ ed. by Dirk
Baecker.  Also, Luhmann applies his own analysis to mass media in _The
Reality of Mass Media_.

Phillip Thurtle

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