Between Media System and Sociological Empiricism: Toward a Critical Theory of Society

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Giorgio PORCELLI, University of Trieste, Italy
In 1985 Wolf Lepenies published: Between Literature and Science. The Rise of Sociology. In this essay, the author wrote about the emergence of sociology as autonomous science of the study of society. This path was not overwhelming. The nascent discipline had to be affirmed with respect to two main competitors in the field of social analysis. On the one hand there was the social novel, on the other hand, the positivist reductionism. By the end of the nineteenth century, the struggle was won by guaranteeing sociology a vital space in the scientific and academic domains. This paper intends to propose a possible analogy with the present state of the discipline. In the last phase of his scientific production, Luhmann discussed the contemporary crisis that afflicts sociological analysis. The theory of society has to face a new challenge that comes this time from the media system. We live everyday life immersed in a web of media descriptions of social reality. These descriptions enjoy a much more powerful impact than the sociological empiricism characterizing most social researches. Such investigations just tend to systematize and analyze the representations of social reality produced by the media system. According to Luhmann, this trajectory would condemn sociology to a subordinate role if it did not even represent the symptom of its irreversible crisis. Luhmann therefore suggests an exit strategy from this crisis. It would only be possible if sociological analysis turns into a theory of society capable of a critical dimension. The criticism proposed by Luhmann refers to the etymological meaning of krisis that is to make distinctions. Only a theory of society that is turning into a description of re-descriptions could therefore find an effective way to maintain its own independent way of competing with the media system.