Inter-University Centre Dubrovnik

An independent international centre for advanced studies


Niklas Luhmann’s Theory of Self-Referential Systems.Theoretical and Empirical Research
14 Sep 2009 - 18 Sep 2009
Conference directors :
Barry Gibson , University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
Roar Hagen , UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Norway
Gorm Harste , Aarhus University, Denmark
Anna Henckel , University of Witten/Herdecke, Germany
Niels Aakerström Andersen , Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Mathias Albert , University of Chicago, United States
Jens Rasmussen , Aarhus University, Denmark
Conference description:

Call for papers

Applied system theory

Niklas Luhmann’s theory of self-referential systems:

Theoretical and empirical research

Place: International University Centre (IUC), Dubrovnik, Croatia

Address: Don Frana Bulicá 4

HR – 20000 Dubrovnik, Croatia

Time: September the 14st – 18th, 2009


System theory has had a tremendous impact in social science since the 1950’ies. During the last decades, however, system theory has been completely transformed. Especially the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann’s system theory has transformed social theory and studies. Luhmann’s “Grand Theory” got its final form with his principal work Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft 1 – 2 in 1997, though additional books, articles and interviews have been published. Whatever one thinks about the exact form of his analysis, sociological theory has to a great or at least some extent been transformed by the “Luhmann effect”.

Although Luhmann’s general theory is very abstract and distanced whenever he does not enter his own analyses of semantic differentiations, there is a strong drive towards analyses of empirical studies that use Luhmann’s insights. The seemingly very abstract character apparently has a fruitful effect. What is often seen as normal and natural objects are observed as evolutionary improbable, and new questions can be posed as to how they emerge, how they are codified, which forms their communication get etc. Thus, in fact, system theory in the Luhmann tradition is always theory in use; it is grounded in empirical studies.

As the theory is empirically open, new semantics, different codes, and changing forms turn out to change and develop structures at higher levels. The questions of the conference might be: Which forms do codes have if subjected to semantic change, and how do codes get resistant forms. Analyses of semantics, of forms, of codes, of systems of differentiations, of structural couplings between different subsystems are to be discussed. All kinds of matters from pedagogic, art and religion to social research, organisation, law, politics and international conflicts are subjects for systemic studies.

The conference will continue this ongoing work and gather scholars who work with methodological clarifications as well as empirical studies. Studies comparing system analysis with other forms of analysis are welcome (Foucauldian, Bourdieuian or analysis of discourse and discourse-ethics).

The language will be English (in a special afternoon session there is room for papers written in German, though be aware that not everyone understand German, comments might still be held in English).

One of the aims of the conference is to discuss possible contributions to a Handbook of Applied System Theory – using Niklas Luhmann’s theory in empirical research. All participants will receive writing indications for such a handbook. Contributions to the conference could be elaborated as contributions to such a handbook. Though other contributions are welcome.

Deadline for papers to the programme is September 5th, 2009. In order to prepare the programme etc. short abstracts, however, should be sent to the programme coordinator (Gorm Harste, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, Denmark, not later than August 1st. We will prefer if short indications about subjects for the handbook are received before May the 15th. It is not obligatory to send an abstract, neither to present a paper, in order to participate in the conference; however in any case, you’re requested to send a mail well before September 1st 2009 to announce your participation. Though, of course, in case of too many subscriptions, priority is given to those who present papers.

Organisational background

Every second year conferences about the use of Luhmann’s system theory have been held in Munich, Copenhagen, Tromsö, Stuttgart. Here, especially links between Bielefeld-Berlin-Copenhagen has strengthened the network. The Scandinavian and British internetwork has developed fruitful discussions in which German and Dutch scholars have also contributed and a number of more local conferences have taken place. Translations of Luhmann’s books are still more numerous, introductions and theoretical contributions are flourishing. The same seems to be the case with empirical studies applying system theory in comparative studies, case-studies, historical studies or in concrete practice. Increasing groups of scholars in France, Italy and United States have participated. Some of the current debates take place at the following web-sites:

( ( ).

In the 1980s, Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht and Ludwig Pfeiffer organised a number of great conferences at the Inter-University Centre of post-graduate studies (IUC) in Dubrovnik in the former Yugoslavia, now Croatia. Since 1981 Luhmann attended these conferences. Unfortunately, the Centre was bombarded in 1991 and for some years the conferences could not take place. The contributions from those conferences 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 semantic history and contributions to a system theory of art.

Today, the Centre has been completely restored as well as its spirit. The centre has nice internet facilities and a number of rooms for study and possibilities for a accommodation. See . The centre only demands a fee of 35 Euro (2006) from each participant.

The Centre is located very close to the famous medieval city of Dubrovnik, i.e. about 300 meters in the direction North-West. You can find accommodation in one of the many hotels in Dubrovnik (Hotel Imperial is the closest to the centre, but expensive, Hotel Lero is cheaper, and about 1½ kilometre from the Centre) or in one of the extremely many private accommodations (Room or “Sobe”) which are very cheep and can be found everywhere (you can also find them on homepages). When the airport bus stops, people will come and offer you private accommodation. The IUC also provides cheap accommodation in the building itself. Restaurants and cafés are everywhere. The weather in September: normally sunny and about 25 C° though rain is not impossible.

The Dubrovnik airport is situated about 20 kilometres South of Dubrovnik. Travel by car and ferryboat is somewhat more complicated, though beautiful.

Course directors:

Gorm Harste (Aarhus University), []

Roar Hagen (Tromsö University) [];

Barry Gibson (Sheffield University) []

Anna Henkel (Universität Witten/Herdecke) []

Niels Aakerström Andersen (Copenhagen Business School) []

Mathias Albert (Bielefeld) []

Jens Rasmussen (Copenhagen DPU) []

Programme (“final”)

Meeting place: Sunday 13 September at 7 pm at Restaurant Orhan in the little harbour just outside the main gate west tof the Old Town (

All official meetings take place at the InterUniversity Centre, Frana Bulica 4 (the room number is announced at the entrance of the Building);;

Coffee, tea etc is served in the café in the IUC (in the court) and in the café at the entrance. Meals will be taken in town.

Fee: 40 Euros per participant for the whole week.

Programme Coordinator: Gorm Harste, Section leader, Department of Political Science

Aarhus University; Denmark;

Phone ++45 89 42 12 93

Fax: ++45 86 13 98 39

Mobil phone: ++ 45 60 89 46 68


Most presenters have 60 minutes at their disposal including discussion, i.e. for example a 30 minutes presentation and a 30 minutes discussion. Some have asked for less. If two persons make one presentation you will have 75 minutes at your disposal.

There are 26 presentations and about 35 persons at the conference.

A few remarks about your presentation shall be made here.

• Preferably, you should send your paper by e-mail some days before the conference. If not, please bring some copies with you. There are only very few copy facilities at the IUC.

• Be aware that most participants do not have time to read 26 long papers before the conference

• Prepare your presentation so that it is neither too long nor too short in order to get to the central points. Mark eventually central points in a short draft, hand out or overhead.

• Take notice that the conference does not so much concern the empirical substance of your presentation, but more the way you use system analysis to open up the empirical problems you deal with. Below are a few hints you could choose to include in your discussion:

- i.e. functional analysis, semantic analysis, differentiation analysis, coupling analysis, code and form analysis, evolution analysis, risk analysis etc.

- How do your analysis construct its object of analysis: how is it delimited? Is there already an ongoing debate about it outside system theory? Or inside system theory? Does the object describe it self and its own limitations, codes, forms, semantics, system/environment?

- Do you or could you compare with other analyses using system theory?

- Would you call your research deductive, abductive or inductive?

- Is it general theory applied or grounded theory that leads to general propositions in your analysis?

- Can you present such an analysis to people who do not know much about recent system theory (here the public knows about it, but are your analyses forever closed for say Foucauldians, Bourdieuians or main stream political scientists, lawyers, psychologists, historians, sociologists?)

- Even more classical: Do you make description, re-description (of self-descriptions), explanation, interpretation, understanding, narration (Weber: Erklären, Verstehen, Deuten, Darstellen)?

- How does it differ from other well-known important but different analyses (Weberian, Foucauldian, Bourdieuian or what ever)?

- Thus, put some of such problems up for discussion and at least: deal a bit with them in your presentation (if not also in a paper)

Monday September 14th.

9.00: Introductory Remarks: Theme and Practical Information

Presentation of participants

Methodology, philosophy of science and constructivism

10.00 –11.00:

Roar Hagen (Tromsø; From epistemological to methodological constructivism

11.15 – 12.15:

Maria Appel Nissen (Aalborg; Functional analysis/ The operative construction of functional analysis


15.00 – 16.00:

Anton Schütz (Birkbek College London; How ‘a-genealogical’ are Luhmann’s theories of social autopoiesis and societal modernity ? Evaluating the long history of non-political paradigms in Alteuropa

Functional analysis

16.15 – 17.00:

Janek Szatkowski (Aarhus;

Challenging Dramaturgy

17.00 – 17.45

Thomas Rosendal Nielsen, (Aarhus:

Interactivity as autopoietic system

− A heuristic model for the analysis of interactive dramaturgies

18.00 – 19.00:

Giulia Bryson ( Justice as ‘contingence-formular’: Luhmann’s gift to the legal system

Tuesday 15th

9.00 – 10.00

Alberto Febbrajo (Macerata; Legal Systems in Transition: An Autopoietic Perspective

10.15 – 11.15

Katayoun Baghai (McGill University Montreal; Law, Communication and the Right of Privacy in the United States

Analyses of structural couplings

11.30 – 12.45

David Schiff, Richard Nobles (Queen Mary School of Law; University of London;;

Structural coupling between the systems of law and the media: the example of conviction.


15.30 – 16.30

Julien Broquet (Amiens;

Taking full advantage of Niklas Luhmann's conceptual apparatus?

Governance at the stake of a three-way differentiation.

16.45 – 17.45

John Paterson (Aberdeen;

Functional Differentiation, Financial Engineering and Regulatory Dilemmas

18.00 – 19.00

Edgar Everardo Guerra Blanco (Bielefeld; Protest communication: Mobilization and political conflict in Mexico (2006-2008): The constitution of a protest system

Wednesday 16th

9.00 – 10.15

Hugo Fjelsted Alrøe; Egon Noe (Aarhus; ;

Heterogeneous systems – multifunctionality and multidisciplinary research

Organisation analyses

10.30 – 11.45

Morten Knudsen, Holger Højlund (CBS, Copenhagen;;

Between inclusion and closure of welfare organizations

12.00 – 13.00

Anna Henkel, (Universität Witten/Herdecke; The organisation of pharmaceutical communication

Lunch, Excursions etc

16.45 – 17.45

Victoria v. Groddeck München;

The paradox of values in organizational practice as certain uncertainties

18.00 – 19.00

Jan Inge Jönhill (Örebro & Södertörn;

Observing Cultural Diversity and the Form of Diversity Management

Thursday 17th

Semantic History and Evolution

9.00 – 10.00

Franz Kasper Krönig (Köln;

Sketches of an 2nd order aesthetics

10.15 – 11.15

Gorm Harste (Aarhus;

Studying macro phenomena: The big, large and huge case of state building as system formation

11.30 – 12.30

Michael Hutter (Berlin TUB;

The co-evolution of economy and art. Reports from two empirical studies


Semantic Analyses

15.30 – 16.30

Lars Clausen: (Aarhus, DPU;

Reading Complexity and Complex Reading

16.45 – 17.30

Jan Fleck (Hamburg;

Beyond the Binary Code: System Theoretical Thought on the Role of Rumours as Empirical Observable Elements of the WWW

17.45 – 18.45

Florian Süsseguth (München;

Surmounting the semantics of reality

Friday 18th

9.00 – 10.00

Shih-Chang Chen (Bielefeld;

An Observation on the Modern Logic System in China

Welfare and risk analyses

10.15 – 11.15

Vibeke Klitgaard (Lund;

Second order – external - observation of the first order constructs and self-description of the psychiatric system

11.30 – 12.30

Pernille Almlund (Roskilde; ):

Negotiating climate and COP meetings

Concluding remarks, proposals for further activities, handbook etc. End of conference


Mail addresses (be aware that not all persons on this list will attend the conference; but some attend without presenting a paper;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; ;;;;;;;;;;;;; ;;;;;;;;;

Attached documents
Structural coupling between the system of law and the media