This paper analyzes the causes and motives for the transition to a communication-based theory of social systems in the late work of Niklas Luhmann. In the first part of this paper, I present a brief sketch of advances in the field of cybernetics and systems research. I give special attention to some basic concepts introduced by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela: autopoiesis, organizational closure and enaction. In the second part, I discuss how these ideas may contribute to a ‘conceptual revolution’ in the social and behavioral sciences. In the late work of Niklas Luhmann, attempts to incorporate the idea of autopoiesis in his own social theory resulted in the preference for a communication-based, instead of an action-based, theory of social systems. Moreover, given the current transition to the information age or the knowledge society, it can also be argued that structural changes in society nowadays favor the rise of a communication-based theory of social systems.