Luhmann's theory of social systems develops from the perspective that the sociology of the Enlightenment has exhausted any hope of providing an adequate description of society. As a result of this conviction Luhmann productively draws from a range of disciplines in his search for alternative concepts. His approach is therefore not unified but rather contains several theory pieces that are deployed in many complex and dense descriptions of the systems and semantics of society. He utilises a communication theory concept of function, reversing the earlier structural functionalism of Parsons into a functional structuralist account of social differentiation. His analysis also draws on concepts like complexity, autopoiesis and selectivity. This talk will introduce the basic concepts of Luhmann's social systems theory with the aim of stimulating a discussion concerning the possible empirical applications of this approach.
Barry Gibson is a Senior Lecturer in Medical Sociology in the Department of Oral Health and Development at the University of Sheffield. His research includes drawing on Luhmann to make sense of communications about oral health. He has worked and continues to work on a series of methodological innovations whilst drawing on Luhmann's theory of social systems.