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Functional SystemsNiklas LuhmannSystem Theory

Functional Systems

This term emerges from sociology (N. Luhmann) and fundamentally helps in the description of the modern world. Until the 17th century Society was organised by the fact that it had regulated affiliations and clear stratifications, usually by birth right: nobility, clergy, peasants, knights, trader’s guilds, craftsmen organised in associations and many more. This ensured stability; inequality was a part of the natural order (and was compensated for in paradise).

In order to deal with the complexity of the world, modern society organises itself completely differently. It operates with ‘functional systems’ or societal tasks, which have their own and very different order. There is regulation of

  • the political system, where binding decisions are made by means of temporary power
  • the scientific system where truth is guaranteed and further developed
  • the economic system where scarcity is adjusted for with the help of monetary payments
  • the judicial system where different interests are brought to secure conflict resolutions

The same applies to mass media, education, intimate relationships, art, religion, health and sport.

This viewpoint has far-reaching consequences. One of the most important is that in society there is no longer a central authority (king), which can be the point of contact for concerns, which affect all functional systems and all people (including, for example, ecological questions). Therefore, to what extent society needs a further, fundamental change in its constitution, and how this might look, in order to do justice to the present-day challenges, must be considered an open question.