Contingency and Complexity in the Social
Theory of Niklas Luhmann
Wallace H. Provost Jr.
Provost, Wallace H. Jr. "Contingency and Complexity in the Social Theory of Niklas Luhmann" in International Journal of General Systems, Vol 11 no 4, 1985
|Niklas Luhmann has provided a view of social theory from the perspective of contemporary
systems theory which highlights a large number of social mechanisms that tend to be overlooked
in the more traditional approaches. Using a complex hierarchical approach to social structure I
demonstrate the kinds of social change which Luhmann brings out in a way that avoids his own
functionalist teleology while at the same time emphasizes his unique description of the role of
contingency in the evolution of social systems.
Finally, from Luhmann's approach toward social theory I suggest a theory of development and change in social structures which is unique to the level of complexity where social activities are found. This theory depicts the emergence and development of a self-reflective contingent structure as a threshold condition which produces a set of properties not available to systems of lower complexity and which increases the variety available to the system through structural reformulation in the face of environmental change. I show this structure as an emergent property of the interactions of human beings with the capability of individual self-reflection. Individuals, unwittingly or not, who become become its architects and therefore ultimately responsible for its success or failure.