Outlines of a critical theory of social systems

The research paper Social relations: building on Ludwig von Bertalanffy, just published in Systems Research and Behavioral Science, gives an impression of how the General System Theory intended by Bertalanffy can be interpreted in a realist and critical sociological perspective. Wolfgang Hofkirchner is the author. The abstract is here:

Ludwig von Bertalanffy did not leave us a legacy of a social systems theory. Nonetheless, reconstructing his general approach to systems provides us with several ideas on how to build a theory of social systems. The concept of social relations easily connects to Bertalanffy’s concept of relations of organization. His way of thinking underlines that social relations, as any relations of organization, are unobservables that long for theoretical means of understanding. His conception of the world would assign social relations a special place in a hierarchy of processes internal to a social system—they represent the whole of the system that nonetheless emerges from the interaction of the actors as parts thereof. Last but not least, his world view would orient us towards an organization of social systems in which the dialectic of social relations and actors balances unity and diversity as an Ought. These three main ideas of Bertalanffy offer system theoretical pillars that can inspire current social theory.

The paper is open access. Click here.

The paper is part of the Special Issue: Ludwig von Bertalanffy: legacies, traces, reverberations and amplifications. Commemorating the man and the work 50 years after ‘General System Theory’.

See here the full contents of the special issue.


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