Approach «Operative Constructivism»

Operative Constructivism by sociologist N. Luhmann shares the epistemological agnosticism of an unknown reality (sensu Ernst von Glasersfeld), the autopoietic organization of systems (sensu Humberto R. Maturana) and the concept of second-order observation (sensu Heinz von Foerster and Ranulph Glanville). However, the integration of constructivist epistemology and constructivist logic into his theory of social systems challenges constructivist approaches: Luhmann insists on the social and systemic character of the observer (as an observing system) and disclaims the concept of an observer as a subject. He suspects that an observer regarded as a subject ends in a traditional philosophical subjectivism, which is just the opposite of objectivism and which ontologizes the observing subject. Instead, the difference between observing system and observed environment is meant to prevent from epistemological one-sidedness and from unintended ontologization. In contrast to Maturana’s limitation to living systems, Luhmann extends the concept of autopoiesis to the domain of social systems: The fundamental entities are not molecules but rather communications such that a social system is essentially an autopoietic network of communications. This violates the original definition of autopoiesis because in contrast to molecules, which reproduce themselves without exogenous help, communications need human beings in order to be brought into existence.
Cite this definition as: Scholl A. (2020) Operative Constructivism. Constructivist E-Paper Archive. Version of 8 August 2020. Available at

Publications Found: 117 · Show All Abstracts

Arinin E., Lyutaeva M. & Markova N. (2022) Аутопойезис религии как социальной субсистемы: Рецепция идей Н. Лумана российскими исследователями религии [Autopoiesis of religion as a social subsystem: Reception of N. Luhmann’s ideas by Russian researchers of religion]. Религиоведение 1: 72–81.
Arnoldi J. (2001) Niklas Luhmann: An introduction. Theory, Culture & Society 18(1): 1–13. Fulltext at
Baecker D. (1999) Gypsy reason: Niklas Luhmann’s sociological enlightenment. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 6(3): 5–19. Fulltext at
Baecker D. (2001) Why systems?. Theory, Culture & Society 18(1): 59–74. Fulltext at
Bailey K. D. (1997) The autopoiesis of social systems: Assessing Luhmann’s theory of self-reference. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 14(2): 83–84.
Bakken T., Hernes T. & Wiik E. (2009) Innovation and organization: An overview from the perspective of Luhmann’s autopoiesis. In: Magalhães R. & Sanchez R. (eds.) Autopoiesis in organization theory and practice. Emerald, Bingley UK: 69–88. Fulltext at
Balsemão Pires E. (2010) Polycontextural ontology and Luhmann’s concept of world. In: Balsemão Pires E., Nonnenmacher B. & Stülpnagel S. (eds.) Relations of the self. Coimbra University Press, Coimbra: 35–55. Fulltext at
Balsemão Pires E. (2011) A individuação da sociedade moderna (The individuation of modern society). Coimbra University Press, Coimbra. Fulltext at
Balsemão Pires E. (2013) The epistemological meaning of Luhmann's critique of classical ontology. Systema: Connecting Matter, Life, Culture and Technology 1(1): 5–20. Fulltext at
Bańkowski Z. (1994) How does it feel to be on your own? The person in the sight of autopoiesis. Ratio Juris 7(2): 254–266. Fulltext at
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