Social system

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Social system is a central concept of sociological systems theory that draws a line between the ecosystem , the biological organism , the psychological system and the technical system . They all form the environment of social systems. The minimum requirement for a social system is the interaction of at least two personal systems or role actors ( actors ).

The approaches of Parsons and Luhmann

There is a controversy within sociological systems theory about the structural elements of which social systems are made up. According to Talcott Parsons it is actions , with Niklas Luhmann it is processes of communication that constitute social systems. Communication is also an act (e.g. speech acts) and on the surface this seems to be an argument about words. In fact, the choice of the basic term has theoretical and empirical consequences.

The concept of society as an example

In his theory of evolution, Parsons postulates the emergence of a system of modern societies , while Luhmann uses the term world society in his systems theory .

The action theory frame of reference allows sociologists to order a variety of contemporary societies from a single functional point of view. Each of the societies analyzed in this way has a specific cultural tradition , is regionally delimited from other societies and is characterized by a specific normative social structure that shapes their values , institutions and roles . The culture of modernity unites a variety of, for example, American, English, French, German or Japanese development paths and contributions. The precursors of human social systems are primates that are already structured. Social systems are therefore not the result of rational human decisions, but correspond to their innate behavioral disposition.

Communication theorists , on the other hand, focus solely on what is being communicated. It does not matter whether there is information, communication, understanding or misunderstanding in a company or in the church. The distinctions that are important for the global society system (for example center / periphery , interaction / organization , stratification / functional differentiation ) are created every day all over the world at every moment through and in communication.

"Communication" is what Luhmann calls the operation that creates and maintains social systems. A communication follows on from previous connectable communications, continues it and is therefore always a connectable prerequisite for subsequent communications. No communication leaves the social system that is formed by it. There is therefore a clear difference to the transmission model of communication. In contrast to this, it is about a self-referential process of generating communication through communication.

Luhmann's research program therefore aimed at the search for " evolutionary achievements" that enable global communication or help facilitate and bundle it. In addition to the distribution media of print , radio , television and computers , these also include the “ symbolically generalized communication media ”, the most important of which are love , money , truth and power .

Social system and individual

For Luhmann, the inner environment of a social system includes the psyche of the individuals involved. Georg Simmel , however, already pointed to the “living in” of society in the individual who lives “inside” and “outside” at the same time. The inside partially eludes access through communication. The individual is “with certain aspects not an element of society”. This aspect, e.g. B. the emotionally deeply anchored individual religious convictions, Simmel calls the “extra-social being” of the individual.

Culture and society

For the systemic theory of action, the concept of culture is a necessary component of its frame of reference. Communications and actions are embedded in a normative fabric that is supposed to guarantee the likelihood of understanding between actors . The concept of system is inextricably linked with the idea of social order : every action that is meaningfully oriented towards the normative horizon of society contributes to the stabilization of the social system.

From the point of view of systemic communication theory, the cultural concept lacks analytical selectivity. Its representatives are only interested in communicative events that can analytically be broken down into the three concepts of information , communication and understanding . According to this approach, the social system of society is not derived from a normative pre-understanding, but appears as an always improbable, precarious structure. Communicative misunderstandings and mistransferences appear far more likely than actions that create understanding.

Jay Wright Forrester considers three counterintuitive properties to be important in social systems: the causes of the causes are often very distant in space and time, the identification of leverage points, and opposing short-term and long-term consequences.

Political system

Legal system

See also

  • Management (planning, organization, leadership and control)
  • Kaizen (Japanese philosophy of life and work as the pursuit of constant improvement)


  • Niklas Luhmann : Social Systems . Frankfurt 1984.
  • Niklas Luhmann: The Society of Society. 2 volumes. Frankfurt 1997.
  • Richard Münch : The culture of modernity. 2 volumes. Frankfurt 1986.
  • Talcott Parsons : The System of Modern Societies. New York 1970.
  • Talcott Parsons: Social Systems and the Evolution of Action Theory. New York 1977.
  • Talcott Parsons: Action Theory and the Human Condition. New York 1978.
  • Journal of Social Systems . Lucius & Lucius (every six months).

Individual evidence

  1. Niklas Luhmann , Dirk Baecker (Ed.): Introduction to Systems Theory. Auer systems, Heidelberg 2002, p. 78; C. Baraldi, G. Corsi, E. Esposito: GLU. Glossary on Niklas Luhmann's theory of social systems. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1997, pp. 123 ff., 142-143 and 176-177.
  2. Niklas Luhmann, Dirk Baecker (Ed.): Introduction to Systems Theory. Auer systems, Heidelberg 2002, p. 288 ff .; Niklas Luhmann: Social Systems. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1984, pp. 193-194.
  3. ^ Niklas Luhmann: The science of society. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1990, p. 24.
  4. Georg Simmel: Basic questions of sociology: the individual and society. GJ Göschen'sche Verlagshandlung Berlin and Leipzig 1917.
  5. Georg Simmel: The individual law: Philosophical excursions. Edited and introduced by Michael Landmann. New edition 1987, p. 283 f.
  6. ^ Jay Wright Forrester : Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems. In: Technology Review. Volume 73, No. 3, 1971, pp. 52-68: Chapter 6.