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There are people in sociology who do good empirical work because they have good intuition and are keen observers. The majority, however, select their topics of interest within the framework of critical theory. Critical theory today has many offshoots, but its basic thrust remains much as Marx first formulated it, and is even more incorrect today.  I know of what I speak because I once held it in high regard and even taught it. No longer.


In the course of my work I came across another theoretical perspective, the systems theory developed by the now deceased sociologist Niklas Luhmann. This theory is extremely powerful and rich. With it sociology can finally claim its place as a true science and not be a substitute for theology or moral philosophy. It is a systems theory like no other, if only because a system is defined as the difference between itself and its environment. Its fundamental postulates put it on a par with biology, psychology, and physics. Applied to society, the theory comes up with startling insights. For one, sociology is not made up of people, but of ways of organizing difference. Applied to modern society, it affirms that its organizing principle is not domination but functional differentiation. Unlike critical theory, systems theory does not claim to know where society is heading, nor does it assign to history a purpose. Its task is to observe, and ours is to observe as best we can.

Most people do not understand that modern society no longer operates according to differences in status. Society is no longer a zero-sum game, but highly inclusive and complex. Sociologically it can be understood as a functionally differentiated society. No one area of society controls another. No one class dominates another. Indeed, classes have gone the way of the dodo bird. Of course there are differences, more than ever before, but differences do not mean structured inequality. Rather they point to a society where individuals struggle with freedom and choice, while social institutions also grapple with the problem of selection. All this is a game-changer, theoretically as well as existentially.

Luhmann wrote prolifically on so many subjects - law, art, love, risk, to name a few. His writing is often highly abstract, but once mastered it directs the student of society to research questions usually ignored and to insights as illuminating as they are contrary to what passes for wisdom in the field. Most sociologists and most students of sociology have either not heard of him or if they have, dismiss him with ideological disdain. This is a major mistake. Click on this link Understanding Modern Society: Why Luhmann Matters to see some examples of what we see about modern society when using his theory.

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