Difference (Luhmann)

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Difference in the sense of systems theory is a basic epistemological concept of the sociological systems theory of Niklas Luhmann . It denotes that something can be distinguished or separated from something else . For Luhmann ( 1984 ), for example, the distinction between one system and another or its environment was relevant. Furthermore, he differentiates between expectations and decisions - within a certain system there are expectations of his system members, in different systems the expectations of the individual are different and their decisions and behavior then take place in relational dependency (in between , and possibly also in counter-dependence to those or other system expectations).


The term “difference” is very abstract. It is based on the conviction that the things referred to, for example, with language do not have an essence that ensures their distinctiveness , but that every distinction must be introduced into the world. There is no fixed world that is independent of an observer as it is - but what 'there' is is what observers observe; that is, how observers differentiate. (Luhmann accordingly reads the beginning of the first account of creation in Genesis in such a way that it expresses that the world only comes into being through the first distinction between day and night; the person who learns to differentiate - evil and good - becomes from the Paradise expelled.) Luhmann invokes George Spencer-Brown and his distinction for this basic position , but he also takes up certain aspects of the considerations that Jacques Derrida develops on the expression différance .

Luhmann's exaggeration and specification of the concept corresponds to a constructivist description of the world. With a difference, you establish the possibility of access, so to speak. Thus the distinguishability of a flower is not given by anything essential about it; there is no such thing as the flower whose existence as such can impose itself on an observer; Even the fact that a person ultimately turns the sensory data into a flower into an object (and not only cannot distinguish the blossoms or the flower from the meadow) is by no means forced by anything. Accordingly, it cannot be justified or explained how a difference comes into the world; she emerges .

Difference, too, can only be understood as a difference, as a distinction between difference and identity . In the narrower sense, identity means that something is not differentiated from something else. It also describes the (at least briefly) fixing of something in order to make it accessible for further operations.

Difference is essentially equivalent to the systems-theoretical concept of distinction , but distinction accentuates the operation , while difference denotes the separation or separation itself. The term is similarly linked to the distinction between medium and form . A distinction can also be understood as a use of a form in the sense of the medium-form distinction; the difference, if one visualizes a form like George Spencer-Brown, can be understood as the dividing line.

Important differences for sociological systems theory are system / environment, experience / action, actuality / possibility ( meaning ).

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Thomas S. Gerstner: Coping with organizational transitions. From management to mastering. Wiesbaden 1995, p. 151 f.