Towards a De-Ontologized Notion of Society

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:30
Location: Hörsaal 15 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Till JANSEN, University of Witten/Herdecke, Germany
One of Niklas Luhmanns´ main theoretical aims was to build a de-ontologized theory. However, the very core of his theoretical design, the famous assumption that there are systems made at the beginning of “Social Systems”, proofed to be the root for such an ontology of the social: His theory of society proposes a clear-cut set of systems that are thought of as existing, having structures, containing center and periphery. Luhmann ends up with a theory that in a certain way is the opposite of the theoretical design he aimed at. His later preference for other theoretical foundations (e.g. George Spencer-Brown, Gotthard Günther) can be regarded as a response to the shortcomings of his initial concept of social systems. However, his theorizing never fully left the solid ground of this very concept.

This raises the question for a new foundation of a theory of society that offers a higher degree of de-ontologized thinking. I would like to propose strengthening Günthers notion of polycontexturality that has been partly adopted by Luhmann, who is using it as a description for functional differentiation. Drawing from the idealist tradition (Fichte & Hegel), Günther formalizes social relations. Instead of assuming an ontologically fixed entity as social or psychic systems, he starts with the immediacy of being and reflexivity that does not have to be given a fixed ontological place but is thought of as logical area (contexture). Starting from this purely formal concept he develops a theory of multiple reflexive positions that link up to what he calls compound-contextures. From this perspective a theory of society would be less clear-cut and much more dynamic. The ontology of a society consisting of orderly function systems would give way to a vibrating notion of interlinked, ontologically not defined reflexive spheres.