Are social systems autopoietic? If they are, in what way are they? What are the particular processes at work in social systems as autopoietic systems? The purpose of this paper is not to reengage the debate on whether social systems are or are not autopoietic. The paper will rather put forward two suppositions and work from there. First, the paper contends that social systems are autopoietic. As such the key question to understand becomes the unity of social autopoesis – which leads to the second supposition. The paper supposes that the path to understanding the unity of autopoiesis in social systems is through language. The paper argues that the expressive view of language is primordial, and that the designative role of language presupposes the former. The paper argues that, from an expressive point of view, the Wittgensteinian notion of form of life, and the Heideggerian notion of world, are important focal points for understanding social systems as autopoietic. The paper presents an account of social autopoiesis based on the dialectical interpenetration of self and other in and through language. When we find ourselves in the world, in a form of life, we find ourselves already in language–a set of already there socially significant linguistic distinctions, which we implicitly draw upon as part of saying something that matters, in that particular form of life. We share a world in as much as we share a language. Language is the common unity of our community. However, in speaking, in a community, I also take hold of my own existence. As a speaking-subject “I” express myself as a significant “other,” an-other that matters. Through language self and community interpenetrate each other in a fused horizon of significance. It is the conservation of this existential dialectic between same and other, community and self, they and me, in and through language–or rather as language–that is the autopoietic dynamic of social system. To understand social autopoiesis we have to understand language.
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