CFP | ISTC 2019 | Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy in the 21st Century

Call for papers to the 18th International Social Theory Consortium conference ISTC 2019 on “Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy in the 21st Century: System as the future of modern society?”


  • Harry F. Dahms, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, USA*
  • Steffen Roth, La Rochelle Business School, France, and Kazimieras Simonavicius University in Vilnius, Lithuania*
  • Ilaria Riccioni, Free University of Bolzano, Italy
  • Frank Welz, University of Innsbruck, Austria
  • Kresimir Zazar, University of Zagreb, Croatia

Date: 5-7 June 2019

Venue: Inter-University Center Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik, Croatia

To submit your abstract (300-1000 words), paper, and/or session proposal, please create an account here. Deadline: 25 March 2019.

The submission site also will function as the means to register for the conference. The registration window will open April 1. We are planning to send out acceptance notifications at that time as well.

The theme of this year’s conference pertains to affinities and complementarities between systems theory and critical theory for purposes of analyzing modern societies in the twenty-first century as social systems whose stability, functioning and future increasingly is in doubt.  Conventionally, critical theory and systems theory have been regarded and treated as mutually exclusive treatments and modes of analyzing of societies undergoing transitions from premodern to postmodern conditions.  Yet, as suggested – for instance – by Adorno’s extensive reliance on the concept of “system” in many of his writings, or by undeniable parallels between the modes of theorizing pursued by Niklas Luhmann (in terms of his critique of sociology as the social science of modern society) and by Moishe Postone (in terms of his critique of traditionally Marxist critiques of capitalism), there is an affinity between systems theory and critical theory that deserves to be explored, not least as it is undeniable that modern societies resemble “non-human”, heteronomous systems to a growing extent, as opposed to forms of social organization that emanate from and reflect modes of interaction, sociality and (non-regressive) forms of solidarity between humans as social beings.  This affinity is evidenced in an expanding related literature, especially in Germany, but also in research agendas that are being pursued by scholars in other countries, such as Australia and Brazil.

By contrast, in the U.S., despite the erstwhile influence and prominence of Talcott Parsons, and the growing recognition of the contributions of Niklas Luhmann, systems theory has remained marginal in recent decades.  Critical theory, as it took shape as “critical theory” in the United States during the 1930s (despite its origins in Germany during the 1920s), and in the aftermath of Habermas’s reconfiguration of this tradition’s research program, has been more prominent than systems theory, but still is far from penetrating and influencing mainstream approaches to research in the social sciences and humanities in a discernible fashion.  In fact, the latter have become increasingly ahistorical, as well as oblivious to distinctive features of American society among modern industrialized societies, and thus more or less complicit in the accelerating erosion of modernity (as exemplified in material democratic values and principles, an emphasis on progressive education, constructive perspectives in the future as qualitatively superior to the past and present, etc.), in favor of promoting formal processes of modernization according under the aegis of neoliberalism.  Meanwhile, in the UK, both critical theory and systems theory have been tolerated, but also regarded as of minor (or no) use for illuminating the condition of modern societies in the early twenty-first century.  The result has been an ability to acknowledge and confront what has been called the dark (or darker) side of modernity in ways that would translate into sociological practice and theory.

The full CFP is available for download here or at the ISTC website.

The ISTC continues its tradition of OPENNESS to papers on all topics that fall under the heading of social theory, broadly conceived, and encourages submissions in all areas and traditions of social theorizing.

Participants are furthermore kindly invited to consider combined participations in precedent and subsequent events @Inter-University Center Dubrovnik such as the conference on Political communication: Observed with Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory (29-31 May 2019) and the Paper Development Workshop on “NOR. Reverse engineering the Laws of Form” (3-4 June 2019).

Examples of Literature Relating to ISTC 2019:

  • Stefan Breuer, “Adorno, Luhmann: Konvergenzen und Divergenzen von Kritischer Theorie und Systemtheorie,“ Leviathan (1987) 15 (1) 91-125.
  • William Rasch, “Theories of Complexity, Complexities of Theory: Habermas, Luhmann, and the Study of Social Systems,” German Studies Review 14 (1) (Feb., 1991), pp. 65-83.
  • Harro Müller and Larson Powell, “Luhmann’s Systems Theory as a Theory of Modernity,” New German Critique, No. 61, Special Issue on Niklas Luhmann (Winter, 1994), pp.39-54.
  • Gerhard Wagner, “Am Ende der systemtheoretischen Soziologie: Niklas Luhmann und die Dialektik,” Zeitschrift für Soziologie 23 (4) (August 1994), pp. 275-291.
  • Eva Knodt, “Toward a Non-Foundationalist Epistemology: The Habermas/Luhmann Controversy Revisited,” New German Critique, No. 61, Special Issue on Niklas Luhmann (Winter, 1994), pp.77-100.
  • Frank Welz, “Das Rechtsverständnis in der Systemtheorie Niklas Luhmanns,” Moral und Recht im Diskurs der Moderne: Zur Legitimation gesellschaftlicher Ordnung (2001), ed. Guenter Dux and Frank Welz (pp.381-397).
  • Uta Gerhardt, “Worlds Come Apart: Systems Theory versus Critical Theory. Drama in the History of Sociology in the Twentieth Century,”  The American Sociologist 33 (2) (Summer, 2002), pp. 5-39.
  • Elke Wagner, “Gesellschaftskritik und soziologische Aufklärung: Konvergenzen und Divergenzen zwischen Adorno und Luhmann,“ Berliner Journal für Soziologie (2005) 15 (1) 37–54.
  • John Rundell, “Modernity, Contingency, Dissonance:  Luhmann contra Adorno, Adorno contra Luhmann,” in Moderne begreifen:  Zur Paradoxie eines sozio-aesthetischen Deutungsmusters (2007), eds. Christine Magerski, Robert Savage, Christine Weller.
  • Sunnie Lee Watson and William R. Watson, “Critical, Emancipatory, and Pluralistic Research for Education: A Review of Critical Systems Theory,” Journal of Thought 46 (3-4) (Fall-Winter 2011), pp. 63-77.
  • Michael Thompson, “Talcott Parsons and the Logic of Critical Social Theory” Situations 4 (2) (2012): 141-168.
  • Smail Rapic, Subjektive Freiheit und Soziales System:  Positionen der kritischen Gesellschaftstheorie von Rousseau bis zur Habermas/Luhmann-Kontroverse (Alber) (2012).
  • Urs Stäheli, “The Hegemony of Meaning: Is There an Exit to Meaning in Niklas Luhmann’s Systems Theory?” Revue Internationale de Philosophie 66 (259) (1), NIKLAS LUHMANN (2012), pp. 105-122.
  • Marc Amstutz und Andreas Fischer-Lescano (eds.), Kritische Systemtheorie: Zur Evolution einer normativen Theorie (2013).
  • Nicklas Baschek, “»Engagement ist Mangel an Talent.« Zur Entkernung der Kritik in der Kritischen Systemtheorie und dem Postfundamentalismus,” Leviathan 42 (4) (2014), pp. 494-507.
  • Laurindo Dias Minhoto and Guilherme Gonçalves (ed.), Systems Theory and Social Critique:  A Special Issue of Tempo Social (2015) — with contributions by the Minhoto and Gonçalves, Brunkhorst, Fischer-Lescano, Moeller, Teubner, Waizbort, and others.
  • Kolja Möller und Jasmin Siri (eds.), Systemtheorie und Gesellschaftskritik: Perspectiven der Kritischen Systemtheorie (2016).
  • Steffen Roth, Growth and function. A viral research program for next organisations, International Journal of Technology Management 72 (4) (2016), pp. 269-309.
  • Laurindo Dias Minhoto, “Notes on Luhmann, Adorno, and the critique of neoliberalism,” Thesis Eleven (2017), 143(1) 56–69.
  • Hans-Georg Moeller and Mario Wenning (eds.), Contemporary Perspectives on Critical Theory and Social Systems Theory, Special Issue of Thesis Eleven (2017) — with contributions by Jurgen Habermas, Agnes Heller, Elena Esposito, Hans-Georg Moeller, Alexei Procyshyn and others.
  • Ilaria Riccioni, Society as a collective body. Styles of embodiment in the arts as symptoms of social change, in Scarinzi A. (ed.) Recasting Aesthetic Experience: Emotions and the “Continuity Principle” (2018).
  • Harry F. Dahms, “Critical Theory Derailed: Paradigm Fetishism and Critical Liberalism in Honneth (and Habermas),” in Volker Schmitz (ed.), Axel Honneth and the Future of Critical Theory (2018)
  • Ilaria Riccioni, Art, Capitalist Markets and Society. Insights and Reflections on Contemporary Art, in Art and the Challenge of Markets(2018), Vol. 2, Chapter 4, eds. Victoria D. Alexander, S. Hägg, S. Häyrynen and E. Sevänen (London, Springer Nature; Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Steffen Roth (in press), Heal the world. A solution-focused systems therapy approach to environmental problems, Journal of Cleaner Production (in press)

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