The Self-Organization of the Cultural Subsystem of Modern Society

40 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2004

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper


This paper tries to link self-organization theory and Cultural Studies. Its approach can be described as a dialectical Cultural Materialism that integrates aspects from semiotics and systems theory in order to describe culture as an integrative, dynamic, complex, evolving system. Subjective theories conceive culture as opinion, ideas, beliefs, a state of mind of human beings, objective theories consider it as symbolic content stored in objects of the human being's environment or as collective ideas and world-views and a totality of collective meaningful practices in society, dualistic theories consider it as having independent subjective and objective forms. Culture is a social process that produces common meanings that signify certain entities in a self-organizing system, this process is based on a mutual productive relationship between the subjective culture of a human being (his ideas, norms, values, beliefs) and objective cultural structures (meaningful cultural artefacts with symbolic content, and collective norms, ideas, values, rules, traditions, world-views (Weltanschauung) ethics, morals).

Knowledge is a threefold dynamic social process of cognition, communication, and co-operation, an active productive relationship between knowledgeable human beings. Collective norms, values, rules, world-views, traditions, morals, and ethics as well as cultural products store knowledge about the social world and reduce the complexity of the social world, they are objective cultural knowledge. Objective cultural knowledge and subjective cultural knowledge (individual ideas) produce each other mutually.

All social realities are interpreted in cultural processes by which they gain certain meanings. Hence the cultural subsystem is related to and structurally coupled to all other subsystems of society. Peircian semiotics enables us to interpret signification as a dialectical social process, in contrast to deterministic (Adorno, Horkheimer) and indeterministic (Baudrillard, Luhmann) assumptions a dialectical concept of meaning production argues that each social reality allows different meanings and that material and symbolic social struggles constitute antagonistic relationships between different meanings that can be dominant, negotiated, or oppositional in nature. Such a view can be elaborated based on the works of Pierre Bourdieu and representatives of British Cultural Studies such as Stuart Hall. The fact that the production of meaning is social and contested means that the relationship of object and meaning is not linear, but complex and nonlinear. Due to the influence of social struggle and social conditions each object of social reality has a conditioned variety/plurality of meanings.

Culture is a relatively autonomous system that is in constant interaction with the other subsystems of society. The superstructure is a complex, nonlinear creative reflection of the base, the base is a complex, nonlinear creative reflection of the superstructure.

Cultural development is based on a dialectic of enculturation and deculturation, continuity and variation. Fundamental cultural change is the result of class struggles that aim at the accumulation of economic, political, and cultural capital. Cultural development is related to the whole capital structure and the related whole ways of struggle of modern society. Symbolic capital accumulation is an active ideological process of struggle that determines dominant meanings and social groups.

Keywords: Culture, self-organization, emergence, cultural studies, dialectical cultural materialism, semiotics, capitalism

JEL Classification: Z00, Z10, M14, D29, D73, L19, L23, L39

Suggested Citation

Fuchs, Christian, The Self-Organization of the Cultural Subsystem of Modern Society. Available at SSRN: or

Christian Fuchs (Contact Author)

University of Salzburg ( email )

A-5020 Salzburg

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics