Operative Constructivism by sociologist Niklas Luhmann shares the epistemological agnosticism of an unknown reality (sensu Ernst von Glasersfeld), the autopoietic organization of systems (sensu Humberto R. Maturana) and the concept of second-order observation (sensu Heinz von Foerster and Ranulph Glanville). However, the integration of constructivist epistemology and constructivist logic into his theory of social systems challenges constructivist approaches: Luhmann insists on the social and systemic character of the observer (as an observing system) and disclaims the concept of an observer as a subject. He suspects that an observer regarded as a subject ends in a traditional philosophical subjectivism, which is just the opposite of objectivism and which ontologizes the observing subject. Instead, the difference between observing system and observed environment is meant to prevent from epistemological one-sidedness and from unintended ontologization. In contrast to Maturana’s limitation to living systems, Luhmann extends the concept of autopoiesis to the domain of social systems: The fundamental entities are not molecules but rather communications such that a social system is essentially an autopoietic network of communications. This violates the original definition of autopoiesis because in contrast to molecules, which reproduce themselves without exogenous help, communications need human beings in order to be brought into existence.
- Version 1, Armin Scholl, 1 February 2019
Related publications (2)
Becerra G. (2014) El “constructivismo operativo” de Luhmann. Una caracterización relacional con el constructivismo de inspiración piagetiana y el constructivismo radical. Enfoques 26(2): 29–54. https://cepa.info/4527
Qvortrup L. (2007) Luhmann Applied to the Knowledge Society: Religion as Fourth-Order Knowledge. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 14(2–3): 11–27. https://cepa.info/3294