Gradual Differentiation and Justifiable Cognizance: Adjusting the Notion of Functional Differentiation

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 15 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Isabel KUSCHE, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Denmark
A central point of Luhmann’s theory of society is the importance of functional differentiation as the defining feature of modern (world) society. The notion of function systems is very helpful in this regard and it has allowed an advancement of the theory of society in many respects. Nevertheless there are also some limitations in using Luhmann’s systems theory in this context. I would like to point out two major difficulties. First, the concept of autopoiesis, which is attractive from the point of view of theoretical generalization, becomes a hindrance when the aim is to account for the empirical variety of world society. The notion of autopoiesis makes it difficult to think of differentiation as a gradual concept, which is however necessary in order to understand the outcome of worldwide differentiation processes. A return to earlier versions of Luhmann’s theory that did without autopoiesis may be the remedy in this regard. Second, Luhmann’s theory lacks sensitivity when it comes to actual new societal developments such as the internet. Consequences – for example with regard to copyright and property regimes – are not just a matter of the operation of different function systems, but the cognizance of the latter is not yet routinized. Therefore, questions of worth and justification are especially relevant in such context, but ignored by Luhmann’s theory. I propose that Boltanski’s and Thévenot’s work on conventions of justification may be used in order to address this blind spot of the theory.