Publication 930

Halsall F. (2012) Niklas Luhmann and the body: Irritating social systems. The New Bioethics 18(1): 4–20. Fulltext at
For Niklas Luhmann the body seems to almost disappear in modernity. Modern society, he argues, is a system comprised of a number of operatively closed and functionally distinct sub-systems such as economics, science, law, the mass media and so on. Each system is autonomous and observes the world in its own terms via its internal communications. Thus, Luhmann’s sociology is generally characterized as a post-human one. That is, one in which the basic unit of both social agency and sociological analysis is not the embodied human subject but rather instances of impersonal communication. This article offers a challenge to this by arguing that the body still has a significant function in Luhmann’s account of social systems. My claim is that the body has the ability to migrate between different systems and, thus, has a transcendent status in social systems. That is, the body can migrate between social systems and, in Luhmann’s terms, irritate them in significant ways. Relevance: It offers an account and critique of the radical constructivism of Luhmann’s systems theoretical account of social systems by looking at the place of the body in it.


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