A Systems Primer on Universities

Soziale Systeme: Zeitschrift für soziologische Theorie, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 356-367, 2010

14 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2011 Last revised: 16 Feb 2012

Date Written: January 24, 2011


Even social systems theory seems somewhat reluctant to call the university a system and treat it as such. Talcott Parsons and Gerald M. Platt called it a bank of intelligence and influence, Niklas Luhmann an organized institution, if not milieu, and Rudolf Stichweh a form, as if it defied any unit closure, let alone double closure concomitant with calling it a system. Even aspects of social system concerning communication within universities or individual and collective action are usually dealt with rather timidly. The main reference for the analysis of universities in social systems theory is the wider society, which defines what functions and structures a university may rely on when producing and reproducing itself. If this is a perfect example of systems theory as a theory of the production and reproduction of a system within an environment, focusing as much on the environment as on the system, there is nevertheless a certain lack when we look at the operation, regulation, autopoiesis, and possible complexity of the university in the terms for which systems theory is famous. How exactly are we to conceive of the self-reference and the other-reference of universities? What are we looking at if we consider the university an example of double closure like any other social system? Would we be able to spell out the complexity of the university depending on an appropriate notion of complexity?

Keywords: System, University

Suggested Citation

Baecker, Dirk, A Systems Primer on Universities (January 24, 2011). Soziale Systeme: Zeitschrift für soziologische Theorie, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 356-367, 2010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1865626 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1865626

Dirk Baecker (Contact Author)

Witten/Herdecke University ( email )


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