This second volume of Niklas Luhmann's two-part final work was first published in German in 1997. The culmination of his thirty-year theoretical project to reconceptualize sociology, it offers a comprehensive description of modern society. Beginning with an account of the fluidity of meaning and the accordingly high improbability of successful communication, Luhmann analyzes a range of communicative media, including language, writing, the printing press, and electronic media, as well as "success media," such as money, power, truth, and love, all of which structure this fluidity and make communication possible. The book asks what gives rise to functionally differentiated social systems, how they evolve, and how social movements, organizations, and patterns of interaction emerge. The advent of the computer and its networks, which triggered potentially far-reaching processes of restructuring, receives particular attention. A concluding chapter on the semantics of modern society's self-description bids farewell to the outdated theoretical approaches of "old Europe"—that is, to ontological, holistic, ethical, and critical interpretations of society—and argues that concepts such as "the nation," "the subject," and "postmodernity" are vastly overrated. In their stead, "society"—long considered a suspicious term by sociologists, one open to all kinds of reification—is defined in purely operational terms. It is the always uncertain answer to the question of what comes next in all areas of communication.
About the author
Niklas Luhmann (1927–1998), Professor of Sociology at the University of Bielefeld, was one of the most eminent social theorists of the last decades of the twentieth century. Stanford University Press has published a number of his books in English, most recently A Systems Theory of Religion (2012) and the first volume of Theory of Society (2012).
"One of the masterpieces of social theory written after World War II."
—Axel Honneth, Columbia University
"Niklas Luhmann's membership in the canon of genuinely original and comprehensive social theorists is radiantly evident. Together with that of Simmel, Durkheim, Weber, Mead, and Parsons, his work stands as one of the monumental achievements of twentieth-century sociology. With the English publication of Theory of Society, Luhmann's magnum opus is finally available to a global readership. Students who master its supple conceptuality will find it indispensable in understanding the complexity and dynamism of the contemporary world."
—David Wellbery, University of Chicago