Theories of Difference: Redescribing the Descriptions of Modernity ( Cultural Memory in the Present)

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The essays in this volume by Germany's leading social theorist of the late twentieth century formulate what he considered to be the preconditions for an adequate theory of modern society.

The first two essays deal with the modern European philosophical and scientific tradition, notably the ogy of Edmund Husserl. The next four essays concern the crucial notion of observation as defined by Luhmann. They examine the history of paradox as a logical problem and as a historically conditioned feature of rhetoric; deconstruct the thinking of Jacques Derrida, especially his language-centered allegiances; discuss the usefulness of Spencer Brown's Laws of Form; and assess the consequences of observation and paradox for epistemology.

The following essays present Luhmann's theory of communication and his articulation of the difference between thought and communication, a difference that makes clear one of Luhmann's most radical and controversial theses, that the individual not only does not form the basic element of society but is excluded from it altogether, situated instead in the environment of the social system. The book concludes with a polemic against the critical thought of the Frankfurt School of postwar German social thought.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Luhmann’s thought has become more and more influential internationally as one of the very rare examples of the ability of social theory to enlarge its theoretical resources and thereby gain a new grasp of significant empirical phenomena. This book presents Luhmann as a thinker who advances existing difference theories by combining them with systems theory.”—Dirk Baecker, University of Witten/Herdecke
A substantial introduction by William Rasch (whose affiliation is not stated) precedes a collection of nine essays by Niklas Luhman, who was professor emeritus at the U. of Bielefeld and Germany's leading social theorist of the late 20th century. The essays are grouped in sections on Husserl, science, modernity; paradox and observation; and communication. A final "coda" essay, under the heading "Not in Frankfurt," is titled "I See Something You Don't See." Translations are by Joseph O'Neil, Elliott Schreiber, Kerstin Behnke, and William Whobrey. Indexing is by name only. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804741231
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2002
  • Series: Cultural Memory in the Present Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Niklas Luhmann was Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Bielefeld. Stanford has published five other of his books, most recently The Reality of the Mass Media (2000)

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Self-Positing Society 1
Pt. I Husserl, Science, Modernity
1 The Modern Sciences and Phenomenology 33
2 The Modernity of Science 61
Pt. II Paradox and Observation
3 The Paradox of Observing Systems 79
4 Deconstruction as Second-Order Observing 94
5 Identity - What or How? 113
6 The Cognitive Program of Constructivism and the Reality That Remains Unknown 128
Pt. III Communication
7 What Is Communication? 155
8 How Can the Mind Participate in Communication? 169
Pt. IV Coda: "Not in Frankfurt"
9 I See Something You Don't See 187
Notes 197
Works Cited 213
Index 225
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