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From Organisms to World Society

Steps toward a Conceptual History of Systems Theory, 1880–1980

Julian Bauer

This article proposes to analyze the idea of organism and other closely related ideas (function, differentiation, etc.) using a combination of semantic fields analysis from conceptual history and the notion of boundary objects from the sociology of scientific knowledge. By tackling a wide range of source material, the article charts the nomadic existence of organism and opens up new vistas for an integrated history of the natural and human sciences. First, the boundaries are less clear-cut between disciplines like biology and sociology than previously believed. Second, a long and transdisciplinary tradition of talking about organismic and societal systems in highly functionalist terms comes into view. Third, the approach shows that conceptions of a world society in Niklas Luhmann's variant are not semantic innovations of the late twentieth century. Rather, their history can be traced back to organicist sociology and its forgotten pioneers, especially Albert Schäffle or Guillaume de Greef, during the last decades of the nineteenth century.

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Jan Ifversen

. Events must have a quality of being almost instantaneous and therefore carry their own temporal logic. We should therefore distinguish between those discontinuities, ruptures, or irritations that have sometimes been termed events in system theory, and the

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Timo Pankakoski and Antto Vihma

-twentieth-century systems theory, as did the concern with integration. Following Durkheim’s initiative and addressing its shortcomings explicitly, Talcott Parsons identified the differentiation of societal subsystems, such as economy, politics, or norm systems, as a key

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Christopher Howard and Wendelin Küpers

systems theory or complexity perspective, mobility is a dynamic event that is constituted by innumerable direct and indirect connections. 23 Any journey across the world, for instance, is made possible by and mobilized through flows of information and

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Stefan Nygård and Johan Strang

frameworks naturally affect how the predicament of being on the edge is analyzed. In world-systems theory, for instance, where the focus is on power and dominance, the peripheries are not seen so much as lagging behind as subordinated by the interests of the

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Distributional Concept Analysis

A Computational Model for History of Concepts

Peter De Bolla, Ewan Jones, Paul Nulty, Gabriel Recchia, and John Regan

Julian Bauer, “From ‘Organisms to World Society’: Steps toward a Conceptual History of Systems Theory, 1880–1980,” Contributions to the History of Concepts 9, no. 2 (2014): 51–72, here 54; José María Rosales, “Liberalism's Historical Diversity: A