Niklas Luhmann


Risk: A Sociological Theory

A great deal of attention has been devoted to risk research. Theoretical sociology, however, has shown little interest in it. Sociologists in general have limited themselves to varying recognitions of a society at risk and have traced out the paths to disaster. The detailed research has yet to be undertaken. In Risk, now available in paperback, Niklas Luhmann develops a theoretical program for such research. His premise is that the concept of risk projects essential aspects of our description of the future onto the present. Risk is conceived as the possibility of triggering unexpected, unlikely, and detrimental consequences by means of a decision attributable to a decision maker. Luhmann shows how strongly and how differently the separate segments of modern society, such as politics, law, science, and the economy, react to the hazardous situations to which they are exposed. Luhmann’s thesis is that the gap has been increasing between those who participate in decisions and those who are excluded from the decision-making process, but who nevertheless have to bear the consequences of the decisions taken. This seminal book will be of interest to professionals and students in a variety of disciplines. It is a classic exploration of risk that will be valued by those interested in technology, communication, sociology, politics, and scientific research.

Social Systems

A major challenge confronting contemporary theory is to overcome its fixation on written narratives and the culture of print. In this presentation of a general theory of systems, Niklas Luhmann, Germany’s most prominent and controversial social thinker, sets out a contribution to sociology that reworks our understanding of meaning and communication. For Luhmann, the end of metanarratives does not mean the end of theory, but a challenge to theory, an invitation to open itself to theoretical developments in a number of disciplines that, for quite some time, have been successfully working with cybernetic models that no longer require the fiction of the external observer. He links social theory to recent theoretical developments in scientific disciplines as diverse as modern physics, information theory, general systems theory, neurophysiology, phenomenology, and cognitive science. One of the most important contributions to social theory of recent decades, it has implications for many disciplines beyond sociology.