Communication (Luhmann)

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In the sociological systems theory according to Niklas Luhmann , the term communication describes an operation that creates and maintains social systems . This communication term describes something different from what is generally understood under “communication”. This applies in particular to the idea of communication as collective action and also to the description of communication as the transfer of information . At Luhmann, communication is a unit made up of information , communication and understanding . This unit creates a social system and maintains it as long as the communication remains connectable and further communications follow. The concept of communication is based on the thesis that the systems are operationally closed. Communication as a unit of three selections takes place simultaneously with, but operationally separate from, mental systems. Social and psychological systems are linked to one another through structural coupling .

Communication as an autopoietic operation

Living, psychological and social systems are viewed in the sociological systems theory according to Luhmann as autopoietic (self-producing) and operationally closed. The operational closure of the autopoietic operation “Thoughts” and “Communication” gives rise to social systems and at the same time psychological systems (consciousnesses) as environments of social systems.

“Operational closure” means that no operation can leave the system created by this operation. The operation that creates and maintains psychic systems (in the broad sense: consciousness) is called "thought". Thoughts connect to thoughts and in this way create the psychic system. No thought leaves the consciousness that it forms with. The operation that creates and maintains social systems is called "communication". Communications follow on from communications and in this way create the social system. No communication leaves the social system that is formed by it.

The demarcation from the transference model of communication is based on the thesis of operational cohesion.

Communication cannot arise in individual consciousnesses or be explained through consciousness operations. Luhmann puts it this way at one point: "All terms with which communication is described must therefore be removed from every psychological system reference and only related to the self-referential process of generating communication through communication."

Communication as a unit of information, communication and understanding

The triad of communication, information and understanding determine the communication process

Communication functions as a synthesis of three selections, as a unit of information , communication and understanding . It is a matter of selections from an indefinite number of possibilities: The fact that the information is communicated is a selection (another communication or no communication could also have happened); The information that arises in communication distinguishes this and excludes everything else at the moment of communication ; Understanding is a selection in the sense that it could also have been understood differently, and that thereby a certain possibility of connecting further communications is selected and others are excluded. The selection of a particular message that takes place on one page leads to a selection of a particular understanding on another page. For the communicating system, the two together result in information as a selective distinction between understanding and communication. There is little understood, and it is at the same time so different from the fact that this something communicated was. The communication operation thus leads to a more complex, self-stabilizing new overall situation on the basis of individual selections on two sides, which is seen as a new emergent system.

Communication is a unit that includes communication, information and understanding on several sides . Communication therefore begins logically with understanding and not, as is often assumed, with a message. That is why Luhmann in his explanations refers to the addressee of a message, through whose selection communication is created as a unit, as "Ego" and the communicator as "Alter". This understanding - as a selective actualization of a difference between communication and information - is something different from a psychological understanding. Understanding within the communication operation means: A message and information are differentiated and assigned. To understand does not mean to grasp the feelings, motivations, thoughts of the other.

With the three-way division, Luhmann refers to the three functions of the linguistic sign in Karl Bühler's Organon model and to the typology of speech acts in Austin and Searle . Luhmann relates what Bühler called the presentation function of language to the selectivity of information, the expressive function to the selection of the message and the appeal function to the expectation that people will understand and that further communications can follow ("the expectation of an acceptance selection") .

The communication operation has three characteristics: connection, selection, and error correction. The further examination, confirmation or correction of the communication operation can only be carried out through autopoietic communicative operations. On the one hand, communication stabilizes itself in the interplay of mutual expectations and, on the other hand, is continuously expanded through the possibilities of further references created in this way. It is threatened by inadequate, wrong, unwanted selections and, if it is successful, distinguishes itself from them.

As a unity of a difference - through the inclusion of the abstract concept of observation - communication becomes a self-observing operation for Luhmann.

Communication media to reduce improbability

From an evolutionary point of view, communication is unlikely to occur for Luhmann. The improbability of communication arises from a double contingency . Contingency means that something is possible but not necessary. Double contingency means that (a) there is contingency on both sides (b) with respect to one side and the other.

The improbability of the operation communication relates to the following:

  1. Understanding - the accomplishment of the unity of communication
  2. Reaching the addressee
  3. Success - acceptance and acceptance of the message, as well as the continuation of further communications

Society has put in place means to reduce the improbability: the media.

  1. The medium of language reduces the improbability of understanding.
  2. The media of dissemination reduce the improbability of reaching the addressee.
  3. Symbolically generalized communication media reduce the likelihood of success.

Individual evidence

  1. The environment of the system and the environment that an observer distinguishes from the system are not necessarily identical; Luhmann refers here to Jakob von Uexküll , cf. Introduction, p. 83.
  2. Cf. Baraldi, Claudio: GLU: Glossary on Niklas Luhmann's theory of social systems  / by Claudio Baraldi; Giancarlo Corsi; Elena Esposito. - 1st edition. - Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, ​​1997. (Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft; 1226), p. 195.
  3. See Introduction to Systems Theory (2002), p. 78; see. GLU, p. 123 ff; P. 142 f .; P. 176 f.
  4. Cf. Niklas Luhmann, Introduction to Systems Theory  / Niklas Luhmann. Dirk Baecker (ed.). - 1st edition - Heidelberg: Carl-Auer-Systeme-Verl., 2002, p. 288 ff .; Social Systems , 1984, p. 193 f.
  5. ^ Luhmann, Niklas: The science of society , Frankfurt am Main 1990, page 24
  6. ^ Social Systems , 1984, p. 203.
  7. Cf. Baraldi / Corsi / Esposito: GLU: Glossary on Niklas Luhmann's Theory of Social Systems , 1997, p. 89 f.
  8. Social Systems , 1984, p. 195 f.
  9. Niklas Luhmann, The Science of Society , 1990, page 25; Cf. Baraldi / Corsi / Esposito: GLU: Glossary on Niklas Luhmann's Theory of Social Systems , 1997, p. 90
  10. Social Systems , 1984, p. 196 f .; Introduction to Systems Theory , 2002, p. 292
  11. Luhmann sees information, communication and understanding as a “unit act” and thereby distinguishes himself from speech act theory and from the normativity and rationality of Habermas ; see. Introduction, p. 280 f; P. 293f.


Primary literature
  • Niklas Luhmann: Social Systems. Outline of a general theory (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 666). Emphasis. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2010, ISBN 978-3-518-28266-3 , p. 193 ff.
  • Niklas Luhmann: The society of society (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 1360). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1998, ISBN 3-518-28960-8 , p. 81 ff.
  • Niklas Luhmann, Dirk Baecker (Hrsg.): Introduction to systems theory. Carl-Auer-Systeme-Verlag, Heidelberg 2002, ISBN 3-89670-292-0 , p. 288 ff.
Secondary literature
  • Claudio Baraldi, Giancarlo Corsi, Elena Esposito : GLU. Glossary on Niklas Luhmann's theory of social systems (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 1226). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1997, ISBN 3-518-28826-1 , pp. 89-93.