[Air-l] Re: Company vs. Community

Christian Nelson cnelson at comm.umass.edu
Tue Dec 18 20:48:45 PST 2001

First, I have no idea why my fingers typed out "Luhmen," but of course I meant
Second, my characterization of Luhmann was based on and a direct response to
your characterization of Luhmann, though none of the reviews I've read nor any
of the parts of Luhmann's oeuvre I've skimmed seem to contradict your
characterization. In particular, you characterized Luhmann as claiming that "the
identity formation of a community is very much attached to how the community
sees itself in an environment and thus implicated in the belief systems held by
the community." Here, communities are presented as separately existing entities
that "see themselves" and "have belief systems"--that is, they are entities like
individual persons--entities which we generally regard as unitary even if we
also regard them as presenting situated selves ala Goffman. (After all, Goffman
invoked the concept of a "performer" behind a person's "character(s)" in _The
presentation of self_). As for Luhmann's departure from this characterization in
his works, and particularly in the ways mentioned, I cannot comment except to
say that Luhmann wouldn't be the first scholar to have contradicted him/herself.
Indeed, if I recall correctly, Murray Davis argues in "That's Classic!" (an
article to be found in the journal _Philosophy of the Social Sciences_) that
"classic" social scientific work is classic because, not in spite of, the fact
that it is characterized by ambiguity and contradiction.
Christian Nelson

Phillip Thurtle wrote:

> 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_.
> best-
> Phillip Thurtle
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