Volume 10 · Number 2 · Pages 169–176
The Autopoiesis of Social Systems and its Criticisms

Hugo Cadenas & Marcelo Arnold-Cathalifaud

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Context: Although the theory of autopoietic systems was originally formulated to explain the phenomenon of life from an operational and temporal perspective, sociologist Niklas Luhmann incorporated it later within his theory of social systems. Due to this adoption, there have been several discussions regarding the applicability of this concept beyond its biological origins. Problem: This article addresses the conception of Luhman’s autopoietic social systems, and confronts this vision with criticism both of the original authors of the concept of autopoiesis and of other social theorists in order to elucidate the main problems of this debate and its possible solutions. Method: The objectives of the article are reached by means of a theoretical reconstruction of the main issues of the debate on the concept of autopoiesis. The main method used for the research is the use of documentary sources to discuss the arguments. Results: We claim that it is justified to extend the concept of autopoiesis from its biological origin to other disciplines, and to develop its interdisciplinary character, following the spirit of systems theory and constructivism. Implications: Our results are useful for promoting the development of new interdisciplinary research in the field of systems theory and constructivism. Important changes to practice should be made, namely, the development of new research methods, new concepts and perspectives. Constructivist content: The concept of autopoiesis is one of the fundamental concepts of the constructivist epistemology. The discussion proposes a radical understanding of this concept in order to realize all its explanatory potential.

Key words: Biological autopoiesis, social autopoiesis, systems theory, Niklas Luhmann.


Cadenas H. & Arnold-Cathalifaud M. (2015) The autopoiesis of social systems and its criticisms. Constructivist Foundations 10(2): 169–176. http://constructivist.info/10/2/169

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