Release | Trends in functional differentiation

Trends in functional differentiation | Special Issue of Cybernetics and Human Knowing, Vol. 22 No. 4.

Guest Editor: Steffen Roth, ESC Rennes School of Business, France

Table of content

Steffen Roth: Foreword: Trends in Functional Differentiation


Steffen Roth and Anton Schütz: Ten Systems: Toward a Canon of Function Systems

There is no description of modernity without functional differentiation. The distinction of function systems such as economy, science, art, or religion, is a key to modernity. Modern science, however, applies and implies rather than studies functional differentiation without providing exact definitions of function systems or investigating how many of these systems actually exist. The present article addresses these two issues focusing on the second. Test criteria for the distinction between function systems and systems other than function systems are developed and used to decide whether family, love, morality, culture, social work, and some more, actually are function systems. Subsequently, the article presents a list of 10 function systems and their corresponding media, codes, and programs. A final section suggests that a disciplined approach to functional differentiation opens up a horizon for interfunctional comparative social research.

Claudia Ritzi and Matthias Lemke: Is There No Alternative? The Discursive Formation of Neoliberal Power

It is often stated in the literature that we are experiencing an age of neoliberal hegemony. Still, there are neither explanations for the rise of neoliberal power nor empirical data proving the alleged influence of economic rationales on our daily lives. Referring to Sheldon Wolin’s understanding of post-modern power and using innovative text-mining tools, the article seeks to explain the phenomenon of neoliberal power. First, the relevance of political discourses for the formation of post-modern power and neoliberalism is explained. Second, an analytical strategy for investigating the rise of neoliberalism is presented. Third, we investigate so-called TINA (There Is No Alternative) rhetoric in the German political discourse between 1947 and 2012. The results of this analysis show that neoliberal rhetoric does indeed play a role in contemporary media coverage, but its influence cannot be described as hegemonic because there is a lot of critical meta discourse regarding the potential impact of neoliberalism on society.

Maximilian Heimstädt: Societal Self-observation in the Time of Datafication: Interfunctional Analysis of the Chilean Open Data Web Portal

Datafication, the technological development that emerged out of computerization and global interconnectedness, has spawned new forms of societal self-observations. In the present article I turn to the example of Open Data web portals—specialized websites that make large amounts of governmental datasets publicly available—to show how they relate to the status quo of social research on functional differentiation. For my analysis of the Chilean Portal de Datos Públicos I developed a method to link metadata categories from the web portal to a hard-core list of ten function systems. My results confirm literature, which finds economized or politicized forms of societal self-description. Moreover the results are in line with studies that show the vanishing role of religion. Interestingly, my study finds health to be of high importance—I might even speak of a healthized self-observation—which I argue is at odds with a negligible representation of the function system sport within the self-observation. For future interfunctional social research in the time of datafication, I recommend sharpening the empirical approach by exploring emerging text-as-data methods.

Justine Grønbæk Pors: Is the System Badly Named? Noise as the Paradoxical Non-/foundation of Social Systems Theory

Through an analysis of the concept of noise, this paper argues that Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory is not only a theory built on binary oppositions such as system/environment, but also a theory full of paradoxical third things that challenges any idea of systems as stable, systematic entities. To revitalise the concept of noise I trace the concept back to the sources that Luhmann draws on, namely Heinz von Foerster and Henri Atlan. Moreover, I introduce Michel Serres’s theory of noise to emphasis that noise is not just an outside to orderly systems, but the unstable ground of always changing orders. Through this synthesis I conclude that systems should not be understood as predictable entities or identities with pre-given boundaries, but rather as autopoietic processes driven by indeterminacy and paradoxes.

Regular Features


Basarab Nicolescu: The Hidden Third as the Unifier of Natural and Spiritual Information

ASC Column

Pille Bunnell: Dancing with Ambiguity

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