CFP | Luhmann Conference 2022 | Scientific communication. Observed with social system theory

Call for papers to the Luhmann Conference 2022 on “Scientific communication. Observed with social system theory”

Venue: Inter-University Centre (IUC), Dubrovnik, Croatia

Address: Don Frana Bulicá 4, 20000 Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dates: 13-16 September 2022


Science is a dynamic social system. New scientific topics and fields emerge from the system’s continuous observations of society, its environment, and science itself. Reflection on scientific communication as both self- and hetero-referential is thus essential to science and to the reproduction of its code, true/false. But science is by no means unchallenged as thesystem devoted to truth. During the COVID-19 crisis, science has seen its monopoly on the definition of truth being disputed, as various claims on the reliability and trustworthiness of, for example, COVID-19 vaccines have been discussed in public debates defined by power struggles over ‘the truth’ and the use labels such as ‘fake news’ as a strategy for epistemic discreditation. At the same time, political actors have as often repurposed scientific knowledge for the legitimation of drastic political decisions as they have changed them. Moreover, political decision-makers have presumed to judge what science is and is not, thus causing symptoms of a great irritation of the scientific by the political function system. The COVID-19 pandemic thereby illustrates a broader trend to substantial challenges or outright dismissals of scientific truths, thus seemingly turning them into a matter of opinion.

But this is not the only challenge science faces today. Throughout the world, an increasing commodification or financialization of science is affecting not only employment prospects, but also personal and institutional research agendas and publication strategies. At the same time, topics such as climate crises, social inequality, gender, identity, and race have made some scholars pursue goals that rather appear political than scientific. A growing proportion of ostensibly scientific communication is thus undertaken with motives other than purely scientific ones. Should science embrace these tendencies and become activist like some scholars seem to argue with regard to these issues? Or should researchers strive at abstaining from any form of non-scientific communication? What about the role and prospects of the not always peaceful co-existence of science and other function systems in institutions of higher education?  

Against the backdrop of these and similar questions, science is forced to reflect upon the criteria applied in defining what can or must be observed as true or false knowledge. A central part of scientific communication is therefore constituted theoretical and methodological challenges. Does the digitalization of society pose new ontological and epistemological challenges or opportunities to science? Does the possibility of working with ‘big data’-size survey dataset provide new grounds for knowledge and hence new philosophical issues? Or can these new forms of data easily be handled within existing theoretical and methodological positions?

The role of institutions of higher education, too, is changing in the 21th century. Shall universities continue to pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge, or is it only fair to accept that those who pay for research have some form of influence on the topics and scope of the agendas? Is science a public or private good? Can the truth established by scholars only be challenge by other scholars following the century-old tradition of exchanging opinions via scientific publications? Or should scholars accept that established knowledge and dogmas may also be challenged in the mass-media?

The Luhmann Conference organizing committee calls for contributions that analyze, discuss, or identify the above and further past, present, and futures challenges to science. The conference is open for theoretical and empirical studies in all fields, disciplines, and branches of science. Contributions are welcome that apply, compare, or combine social systems theory or functional analyses to or with other theories or methodologies such as those developed by Foucault, Bourdieu, Deleuze, discourse analysts, or critical theorists. 


Abstracts of 400–800 words should be sent to the conference organizers by 15 June 2022. Full papers should be circulated prior to the conference.


  • Lars Clausen, UCL University College, Denmark, and Next Society Institute, Lithuania*
  • Gorm Harste, Aarhus University, Denmark
  • Klaus Laursen, Aarhus University, Denmark, and Next Society Institute, Lithuania*
  • Steffen Roth, La Rochelle Business School, France, and Next Society Institute, Lithuania
  • Kresimir Zazar, University of Zagreb, Croatia, and Next Society Institute, Lithuania*

*Corresponding convenors

Background literature

Social Systems theory after Luhmann

Systems theory has had a tremendous impact in social science since the 1950s. During the last decades, however, systems theory has been completely transformed not least by German sociologist Niklas Luhmann’s system theory and its tremendous impact on social studies. Luhmann’s Grand Theory got its final shape with his masterpiece Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft in 1997. The English translation of the book was published by Stanford University Press as Theory of Society, Vols. 1 and 2, in 2012 and 2013, respectively. 

Although Luhmann’s general theory has earned itself a reputation of being very abstract and alien empirical worlds, these claims are currently being relativized by an ever-stronger strong momentum for applied social systems theory in the tradition of Niklas Luhmann. This trend is evidenced t in his seminal publication Theory of Society. Luhmann’s systems theory is more an abductive applied theory than a deductively developed theory. Yet it seems that its very abstract character has a fruitful effect. 

Previous Luhmann Conferences resulted in publications such as  

  • Febbrajo A. and Harste G. (Eds.). Law and Intersystemic Communication. Understanding ‘Structural Coupling’.London: Ashgate 2013
  • Roth S., Laursen K., and Harste G. (in press). Moral communication. Observed with social systems theory. Special Issue of Kybernetes.
  • Roth S., Heidingsfelder M., Clausen L., and Laursen K. (2021). George Spencer Brown’s “Design with the NOR”. With related essays, Bingley: Emerald.

Organizational background

Annual conferences on applications of Niklas Luhmann’s system theory have been held in cities such Munich, Copenhagen, Tromsö, Stuttgart, Montreal, Boston, London, or Stockholm. Translations of Luhmann’s books are still more numerous, introductions and theoretical contributions are flourishing. The same is true for empirical studies applying system theory for comparative studies, case studies, historical analyses, or to professional fields. 

Current debates take place on the following Facebook groups and websites:


In the 1980s, Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht and Ludwig Pfeiffer co-organised a number of great conferences at the Inter-University Centre of Post-Graduate Studies (IUC) in Dubrovnik in the former Yugoslavia, now Croatia. Starting in 1981, Luhmann attended several of these conferences. Conference proceedings were published in a series of five rather big volumes at the important Suhrkamp Verlag (Der Diskurs der Literatur- und Sprachhistorie, 1983; Epochenschwellen und Epochenstrukturen im Diskurs der Literatur- und Sprachhistorie, 1985; Stil, 1986; Materialität der Kommunikation, 1988, Paradoxien, Dissonanzen, Zusammenbrüche, 1991). Quite a number of those studies were dedicated to semantic history and to a system theory of art. 

Unfortunately, the IUC was shelled in 1991, and for some years the conferences could not take place. Today, the IUC has been completely restored both physically and in spirit. 

Practical information 

The conference fee is 100 euro, which is paid cash upon arrival. 

The IUC is located in the vicinity of the famous medieval city of Dubrovnik. Accommodation is available in one of the many Dubrovnik hotels (Hotel Imperial is the closest to the IUC, but rather expensive. Hotel Lero is more affordable and located about 1½ kilometers (1 mile) from the IUC. Another popular form is one of the many private accommodations (Room or “Sobe”) which are relatively cheap and can be found everywhere. Do make sure to book well in advance to get the best price. The IUC also provides affordable but limited accommodation in the building itself. 

All meals are taken at restaurants and cafés in town, as the conference fee does not include any meals. 

The Dubrovnik airport is situated about 20 kilometers south of Dubrovnik and connected to the town by regular shuttle busses. Travel by car and ferryboat is somewhat more complicated, though beautiful.

The weather in September is normally sunny and 20-30 C, though rain is not impossible.

4 thoughts on “CFP | Luhmann Conference 2022 | Scientific communication. Observed with social system theory

  1. Please register my paper Normative Observation? Revisiting Teubner’s Legal Epistemology (provisional title) for the Luhmann Conference 2022 on “Scientific communication. Observed with social system theory” at the Inter-University Centre (IUC), Dubrovnik, 13-16 September 2022

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