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Introduction to Systems Theory

ISBN: 978-0-7456-4571-1
300 pages
December 2012, Polity
Introduction to Systems Theory (0745645712) cover image

Niklas Luhmann ranks as one of the most important sociologists and social theorists of the twentieth century. Through his many books he developed a highly original form of systems theory that has been hugely influential in a wide variety of disciplines.

In Introduction to Systems Theory, Luhmann explains the key ideas of general and sociological systems theory and supplies a wealth of examples to illustrate his approach. The book offers a wide range of concepts and theorems that can be applied to politics and the economy, religion and science, art and education, organization and the family. Moreover, Luhmann’s ideas address important contemporary issues in such diverse fields as cognitive science, ecology, and the study of social movements.

This book provides all the necessary resources for readers to work through the foundations of systems theory – no other work by Luhmann is as clear and accessible as this. There is also much here that will be of great interest to more advanced scholars and practitioners in sociology and the social sciences.

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Translators Note and Acknowledgements
System-Autopoiesis-Form: An Introduction to Luhmann's 'Introduction to Systems Theory'
Editor's Preface to the German Edition

I. Sociology and Systems Theory
  1. The Functionalism of System Maintenance
  2. Parsons

II. General Systems Theory
  1. The Theory of Open Systems
  2. System as Difference (Formal Analysis)
  3. Operational Closure
  4. Self-Organization, Autopoiesis
  5. Structural Coupling
  6. Observing
  7. Re-entry
  8. Complexity
  9. The Idea of Rationality

III. Time

IV. Meaning

V. Psychic and Social Systems
  1. Problems of "Action Theory"
  2. Two Modes of Operation of Autopoiesis

VI. Communication as a Self-Observing Operation

VII. Double Contingency, Structure, Conflict

Suggested Further Readings

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Niklas Luhmann was professor of sociology at the University of Bielefeld.
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  • Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998) ranks as one of the most important sociologists and social theorists of the 20th century.
  • In recent years, Luhmann's systems theory has gained resonance in a wide variety of disciplines.
  • This book offers precise conceptual analyses and a wealth of examples to clarify the theoretical foundations of general and sociological systems theory.
  • Offers a wide range of concepts and theorems that pertain equally to politics and the economy, religion and science, art and education, the family and personal life.
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'These lectures, published here in English for the first time, show Luhmann at the height of his powers. They offer a unique insight into the engine room of arguably the world's most famous systems theorist. It is indeed a brilliant mind that is at work here; very few other social scientists would be able to perform at such a level. Particularly for students and readers who are not familiar with Luhmann's style of thought, this is an ideal introduction to systems theory by the man himself.'
Andreas Hess, University College Dublin

'Niklas Luhmann is the closest the social sciences have come, in a long time, to an actual thinker. This book is an indispensable introduction to Luhmann’s unique version of systems theory and required reading to all concerned about theoretical sociology. It offers a rare glimpse into the experimental workings of an extraordinary sociological mind at work.'
Stephan Fuchs, University of Virginia

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