Publication 3360

Noe E. & Alrøe H. F. (2006) Combining Luhmann and Actor-Network Theory to See Farm Enterprises as Self-organizing Systems. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 13(1): 34–48. Fulltext at
From a rural, sociological point of view no social theories have so far been able to grasp the ontological complexity and special character of a farm enterprise as an entity in a really satisfying way. The contention of this paper is that a combination of Luhmann’s theory of social systems and the actor-network theory (ANT) of Latour, Callon, and Law offers a new and radical framework for understanding a farm as a self-organizing, heterogeneous system. Luhmann’s theory offers an approach to understand a farm as a self-organizing system (operating in meaning) that must produce and reproduce itself through demarcation from the surrounding world by selection of meaning. The meaning of the system is expressed through the goals, values, and logic of the farming processes. This theory is, however, less useful when studying the heterogeneous character of a farm as a mixture of biology, sociology, technology, and economy. ANT offers an approach to focus on the heterogeneous network of interactions of human and non-human actors, such as knowledge, technology, money, farmland, animals, plants, etcetera, and how these interactions depend on both the quality of the actors and the network context of interaction. But the theory is weak when it comes to explaining the self-organizing character of a farm enterprise. Using Peirce’s general semiotics as a platform, the two theories in combination open a new and radical framework for multidisciplinary studies of farm enterprises that may serve as a platform for communication between the different disciplines and approaches.



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