Niklas Luhmann neosystemic theory and the notion of communicative autopoiesis in organizational studies. In recent years, scholars from post-structuralist social philosophy have debated aspects related to self-referential possibilities of communication and language. Nowadays, there are several theoretical viewpoints converging at a constructivist, systemic and ecological self-definition. The idea of communicative autopoiesis is proposed in this article as a possible alternative to the autopoietic limitations in observing organizations. The self-referential system theory of Niklas Luhmann, or the General Theory of Social Systems, is a significant contribution to sociology and other areas of knowledge, such as law, administration and organizational theory. This school of thought has influenced the debate in sociological theory and in organizational studies in German speaking countries, and has been disseminated in different cultures, particularly in some Latin American countries.
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Niklas Luhmann neosystemic theory and the notion of communicative autopoiesis in organizational studies. In recent years, scholars from post-structuralist social philosophy have debated aspects related to self-referential possibilities of communication and language. Nowadays, there are several theoretical viewpoints converging at a constructivist, systemic and ecological self-definition.
The idea of communicative autopoiesis is proposed in this article as a possible alternative to the autopoietic limitations in observing organizations. The self-referential system theory of Niklas Luhmann, or the General Theory of Social Systems, is a significant contribution to sociology and other areas of knowledge, such as law, administration and organizational theory. This school of thought has influenced the debate in sociological theory and in organizational studies in German speaking countries, and has been disseminated in different cultures, particularly in some Latin American countries.
The current situation of research on conceptual-theoretical debate has been rather precarious and this is due to several potential causes related to groups of power who influence the decisions on recruitment of professors and on lines of research in academia. In the s a new post-structuralism philosophical line of thought emerged, and the changes in comparison to structuralism have been in constant analysis WILLIAMS, However, some scholars argue that this line of thought, from a normative point of view, should be referred to as post-modernist.
It is evident that there is a need for dialogue involving the social philosophers, who - based on a series of radical theoretical-constructivist assumptions - somehow agree with the post-structuralism postulates.
It is important to note the analysis and debate around the central concepts of the theory of Pierre Bourdieu. Despite this apparent epistemological relativism, with contributions from the critical management studies, the functionalist approaches have shown preference CABRAL, , p. This supremacy of functionalism does not present theoretical homogeneity.
Instead, multiple theories emerge allowing new paths to be explored. In this context, this article presents analysis and a research focused on the advancement of organizational social studies using the neo-system perspective, with the following objectives:. In order to carry out comparative analysis between the different perspectives and theoretical and conceptual lines of thought, it is necessary to describe the rules to be adopted.
According to Popper a theory is valid as it can be compared with other theories. Niklas Luhmann argues that a theory is valid depending on its dynamism and on the possibility to be instrument of self-observation allowing self-referentiality. Before beginning an analytical reflection on the concepts, we have considered it is important to show briefly what is understood by: 1 social and philosophical post-structuralism ; 2 organizational studies ; and 3 self-referential systemic contributions.
Post-structuralism involves words or terms to define a philosophical movement emerged in the s and 70s, a period of disillusion and rejection of values and traditions of the bourgeois society and the rise of feminism, which includes areas as broad as philosophy, history and literature.
This period should be carefully analyzed under theoretical and pragmatic aspects. A series of difficulties are created when attributing different meanings to these terms or when associating them to post-modernism, labelling philosophers and thinkers, even though they have rejected and always denied such denominations.
More difficulties surge when placing post-structuralism at the same time as post-modernism, a line of thought that has always addressed the organizational studies in a peripheral or even pejoratively way.
Organizational theory and the management and organization studies have incorporated notions and ideas coming from the self-referential systems theory when dealing with organizational systems that aim to take problems and social studies as object of studies. It is difficult to establish or speak of continuity in the social systems theory of Luhmann, as well as to relate to a program of systemic investigation that we define as theoretical project of self-referential systems.
The attempts to transfer or use the concepts of the self-referential system theory with recent post-structuralist contributions of the Actor -Network Theory ANT are still scarce. In social reading, since post-structuralism, ANT represented by social philosophers such as Bruno Latour and Michael Callon, provides a series of conceptual and analytical instruments for the study of society and organizations. Despite certain coincidences in some concepts and notions in theoretical points of view of Niklas Luhmann and Harrison White, the initial assumption between both authors originates from opposite epistemological points of view.
Even though these ideas and notions originate from mathematics and physics, their application in the field of social sciences has been significant, especially among French and British anthropologists and sociologists. It is well-known the fact that Luhmann offers answers for ambiguities of the classic sociology from the description and definition of a center where humans and their actions are the point of reference, independent of their environment.
This has increased the rhythm of the factorial theories in comparison to the systemic ones and placed the theory as an unsolved problem. This achievement raised suspicion regarding humanist, dialectic or phenomenological traditions of traditional sociology. This lack of dialogue and collective debate during those decades are not just a problem of the complexity, lack of tradition and rupture between the systems theory and the classic sociology theory, but the context itself of theoretical debate has not offered greater possibilities.
This situation is not only conditioned by external factors, but inherent to existing controversies 3 between orthodox and heterodox scholars of the self-referential systems theory. When it comes to the theory and concepts proposed by Luhmann, it is impossible to talk about homogeneity or acritical continuity.
In the case of the autopoiesis concept, attempts surge to overcome its original semantic biology to analyze the possibilities that the concept may expand itself to its self-referential operations based in communications, whether linguistic or contextual, emanated from a conscience. Last but not least, it is important to question if Luhmann himself, in his last works, could foresee the enormous development of new technologies of communication, their impact on society, and thus, the possibility of being distant from the guiding principle of functional differentiation of current and future society.
The attempts to attribute the observer an ontological status by placing them outside the systemic logic or assigning an indexical logic to the system understood here, as a method to use the indexical logic in a different order that we consider right , based on ethnomethodology, has not provided a very clear response of integration between ego and alter ego. In other words, the subjectivity and the conscience, in communication with other self-referential subjectivity, has not been successful to make the theory of systems adopt it in its operations.
Due to the relative limitations to subjectivity or human action before the system non-ontological logic, in the last few years are recurrent the observations that propose the inclusion of subjectivity through the idea of resilience.
However, the option of placing an observer outside the self- referential logic systems is a simplistic attempt to manifest a subjectivity before a systemic description, expressing two logics of thought without a theoretical base to sustain them. Several studies have been attempting to establish a theoretical line directed and focused around researches seeking answers for functional structuralism.
The proposal for establishing a dialogue between the theory of self- referential systems and analytical philosophy or logical positivism, through observation of the language structure, as proposed by Wittgenstein, is an attempt to give answers to the philosophy of language, and more specifically, to the linguistics, what has been initiated by Richard Rorty.
Both scholars question the phenomenological transcendental subject and start from the idea that the description of the experience through interpretation is not merely an indirect description. Wittgenstein offers a different conception when presents the subject implicated with the language and synthetizes the transcendental solipsism with the empirical realism and the assumptions of the existence of other minds. This option is sustained in an ingenuous realism that reflects the subjacent reality as an aggregate of ideological representations created by the mind through purely economic relations and existing structures in a society inspired in some neo-Marxist currents FISCHER-LESCANO, Niklas Luhmann makes a transition from the theory of open systems to the autopoietic systems or self-referential , trying to understand how a system could maintain its limits considering the dependency of communicative reproduction with the environment.
Despite this theoretical advance, there is a new problem originated from self-reproduction of the systems in question, such as self referentiality and the sense or possibility of existence of a conscience that transmits such sense - considering that at the moment the central questions in organizational studies are focused on: how can we understand nowadays changing organizations? How can we live with them? Willke, continuing the wok on the self-referential theory of Luhmann, challenges the possibility of applying and assuming in the organizations the concept of operational closure operativer Geschlossenheit.
A different step of the theory of social systems forms or includes the existence of an observer with a vision of the worlds formed by their experiences and interactions. The contextual systemic orientation proposed by Helmut Willke is a benchmark that permits the coordination of society.
The intervention operationalizes and coordinates it, being the result of various strategies that permit observation and relations between systems.
The orientation makes reference to the benchmark of general conditions whereby the systems establish coordination, while intervention is supported by a strategic emphasis that tries to answer the questions in a tangible way of operating the systems.
In the light of these arguments, the conscience is not understood as a substance, but as a specific operation of psychic systems.
The idea of assuming the autopoietic operations of psychic systems with the inclusion of the conscience is attributed mainly to psychology TEIXEIRA, and the proposal of semantic and self-referential operation of psychic systems.
The organizational perspective has also been enriched with the incorporation of notions and concepts of self-referentiality, self-maintenance, circulation, individuality, and maintenance of identity and the proposal to establish a conceptual comparison and extrapolate the theoretical similitudes between autopoiesis, the Theory Based on Data, and the concept of self. The results from this proposal are manifested in a series of arguments that support the parallel process of individual and organizational learning in the context of growth and change in the organizations MAVRINAC, An important field has been the studies and observations in the area of administration public and private , the management and theory of organizations, while in sociology, the Theory of Self-Organization TSO has achieved decisive influence.
Chart 2 shows a synthesis of relevance from systemic theoretical contributions and post-structuralism for the organizational theories and points of view that directly entail the role and function of organizations with the idea of formation of current society.
Following the arguments of Niklas Luhmann, it is possible to say that highly differentiated societies are formed by numerous types of organizations, in such a way that they form the social dominant form whereby the activities are developed. The social systems correspond to systems that operate in an autopoietic way, based on communication, and Luhmann distinguishes three levels of these systems: functional systems, interaction systems and organizational systems or organizations.
The organizational and interaction systems, both originate from the social complexity of present-day societies and correspond to the set of systems of interaction, guiding communication for a specific end.
Before describing these concepts, it is necessary to make a brief definition of the organizations as described by Niklas Luhmann. The notion of self-reference Luhmann refers to Selbsreferentielle Systeme is in the same operational plane as the descriptions of self-organization and autopoiesis 4. The process and operations are independent of the external observation of the system. The concept of self-referentiality comes from the theory of communication and from semiotics, and it refers to how a system operates when it comes to the reproduction of a system unit, which enables contact with the environment LUHMANN, ; ; ; ; The ideas of self-reference and autopoiesis mean assuming in the system a series of structures, components, processes and operations, that are interwoven in a logic of production and cyclical and recursive operation.
An autopoietic organization may be defined as a network of productions of components that act simultaneously according to the following conditions: 1 they participate in a recursive way in the same network of reproductions of their components; 2 they form a network of production and operations as a unit in the space where the components exist. It is through organizations that the social systems work, operate and start mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion in society. According to Niklas Luhmann and scholars orthodox and heterodox , decisions on communications happening in the organizations, form their constitutive operations, considering that these operations allow to define their objectives and targets, as well as the criteria of belonging for their eventual members and configurations of their environment.
Niklas Luhmann states that autopoiesis refers to all operations and structures that occur in the system, while the idea of self-reference refers to the formation of structures inside the system NAFARRATE, The concept of self-reference comes directly from the theory of communication and mechanisms of reflexivity of meta-communication; it also forms the nucleus of the systems to be formed by communications, as well as referring to how a system operates in relation to its environment.
Therefore, the autopoietic systemic hypothesis starts from the assumption that the actions of the organizations have not been previously determined by the environment, but, initially, by a precise internal logic SCHIMANK, In the perspective of the social systems theory and the idea of self-reference, it is recognized that the organizations have a systemic intelligence, therefore, a management of organizational knowledge.
Based on this line of argument, the organization is understood as a system formed by its history, system of rules, processes of management and forms of transaction WILLKE, The closing is done through the reflexive circularity, in other words, by its capacity structurally assured of the elements for self-reproduction. The systemic operations of self-regulation, self-referentiality and self-organization are necessary requisites for the creation of autonomous systems, and also conditions for the survival of the organizations.
Self-reference refers to the operation where the system directs its activities towards itself its structure , allowing observing the environment and, therefore, making distinctions to select what is not in its structural capacity. When operating the system in a self-referential way, the system may choose two possible alternatives.
The first consists in assuming several functions with the respective structure and promoting policies regardless of the environment. The second alternative consists in observing the environment in spite of the structuring actions taken, because these structuring actions are manifested in actions and proposals whose affectivity may be analyzed empirically.
In the case of public organizations and in public administration, as a set of institutions and organizations, it represents a field or system that allows observing theoretical assumptions exposed, when forming their own structures regardless of the environment. At the same time, the system observes the environment in order to prove the effectivity of several measures, among them the bureaucracy as one of the classic operations of the administrative system.
For a systemic constructionist: the notion of communicative autopoiesis as operation of the conscience. The terms surge in a recurrent way based on the operation of systems, therefore, in a secondary way in the systemic operations LUHMANN, ; To Niklas Luhmann, reflection occurs the moment the system coincides with the reference and self-reference, while reflectivity appears as a set of operations that the systems promote to select their own resources.
It is a matter of self-observation to achieve the systems guiding themselves, differing from the environment. The set of operations requires rationality and excludes the unforeseen. A system is self-referent when the elements integrate as operational units, that is, when the relations of these elements reproduce in order to achieve their self-constitutions. The operation of the system determination has a number of expectations. Is it possible that there is an action and corresponding expectations without a previous meaning?
Or without a meaning and expectations? Or without a person responsible for giving this action a meaning? It is evident that, in the observations of this article, the concept of operational closure has been a source of controversies.
This article raises the study of the organization based on a double differentiation that is operationalized at two levels simultaneously among the systems communications and the subjective communications, the latter, by the language. The subjective communications are not done among dehumanized subjects or things, but between human beings in the physical sense, with capacity to think and with conscience. The same self-referential concepts are applied to these subjects, although considered the autopoiesis of the conscience.
To Niklas Luhmann, a system is self-referential when the elements that form it are integrated in operational units LUHMANN, , that is, in operations where the possibilities or points of view also permit comparison.
He entered the Gymnasium Johanneum at Luneburg in During a sabbatical in , he went to Harvard , where he met and studied under Talcott Parsons , then the world's most influential social systems theorist. In later years, Luhmann dismissed Parsons' theory, developing a rival approach of his own. He continued to publish after his retirement, when he finally found the time to complete his magnum opus, Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft literally, "The Society of Society" , which was published in , and translated subsequently in English, under the title "Theory of Society" volume I in and volume II in This work described segmented societies where territory is a dividing line. Luhmann wrote prolifically, with more than 70 books and nearly scholarly articles published on a variety of subjects, including law, economy, politics, art, religion, ecology, mass media, and love. While his theories have yet to make a major mark in American sociology, his theory is currently well known and popular in German sociology,  and has also been rather intensively received in Japan and Eastern Europe, including Russia.