Publication 6271

Sevänen E. (2001) Art as an autopoietic sub-system of modern society: A critical analysis of the concepts of art and autopoietic systems in Luhmann’s late production. Theory, Culture & Society 18(1): 75–103. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/6271
This article is concerned with Niklas Luhmann’s theory of art which he formulated in the 1990s, based on his general theory of autopoietic systems. This theory regards modern society as a functionally differentiated formation whose sub-systems operate according to their inner principles of communication. According to this, the domain of art can also be seen as an operationally closed and self-referential communicative system. The basic problem in these notions lies in the way in which their description of the relationships existing between different systems is only in very narrow terms. Consequently they partially ignore the present process of de-differentiation which has noticeably changed the status of art in society. Instead, Luhmann’s ideas expressly emphasize that functional differentiation is an ongoing process. In order to describe the process of de-differentiation, social theory does not need to abandon the concept of autopoiesis, but it does need to understand social systems as interlaced formations which, to an increasing extent, contain common normative and organizational constituents. Because social systems are not altogether self-referential formations, the concept of autopoiesis can describe them only in part. This particular concept of system has been developed in particular by Richard Münch, and as such it forms a productive alternative to the theory of autopoietic social systems.

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