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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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Stephen Reyna

This article analyzes certain aspects of the work of Jonathan Friedman, especially as they are relevant to an "insurrection of subjugated knowledges" that Foucault imagined began in the 1960s. The article traces Friedman's critique of Marvin Harris's cultural materialism and of Edmund Leach's interpretation of highland Burma's socio-political systems. It discusses Friedman's pioneering development of global systems theory based on an integration of Marxist and Lévi-Straussian structuralism. Finally, it argues the insurrection that Foucault spoke of was febrile, and suggests how Friedman's work might be employed to help develop a fiercer struggle against subjugation.

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Christian Büscher and Aldo Mascareño

Historically, risk assessment and the concept of risk itself have been dominated by environmental, engineering, and economic sciences. Consequently, in analyzing risk production in modern cities, a rather technical view emerges on risks and urban dynamics. Though scientifically grounded and practically useful, this view fails to capture the social complexity of the city, its paradoxes and causalities. Elaborating on the hypothesis that the life-supporting mechanisms in modern cities are simultaneously life-endangering mechanisms, the article aims to develop a sociological framework to comprehend the dynamics of systematic risk production in the urban milieu. Methodologically, to illustrate the functioning of such mechanisms, we will use historical references and several empirical analyses related to urban research.

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Systematizing Democratic Systems Approaches

Seven Conceptual Building Blocks

Rikki Dean, Jonathan Rinne, and Brigitte Geissel

The notion that democracy is a system is ever present in democratic theory. However, what it means to think systemically about democracy (as opposed to what it means for a political system to be democratic) is under-elaborated. This article sets out a meta-level framework for thinking systemically about democracy, built upon seven conceptual building blocks, which we term (1) functions, (2) norms, (3) practices, (4) actors, (5) arenas, (6) levels, and (7) interactions. This enables us to systematically structure the debate on democratic systems, highlighting the commonalities and differences between systems approaches, their omissions, and the key questions that remain to be answered. It also enables us to push the debate forward both by demonstrating how a full consideration of all seven building blocks would address issues with existing approaches and by introducing new conceptual clarifications within those building blocks.

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Trust, Reflexivity and Dependence

A 'Social Systems Theory' Analysis in/of Medicine

Paul Ward

Given the centrality of 'trust' in both the Theory of Social Quality and as a central motif of life in late modernity, this paper focuses attention on public (mist)trust in social systems and the potential ramifications of engagement with medical services, in addition to feelings of social exclusion and disembeddedness. Using data from a qualitative study of lay perceptions of local primary health care services, the paper reveals the complex and often contradictory ways in which trust is won, developed and lost. In addition, mistrust in local general practitioners (GPs) was found to be a factor of mistrust in a variety of social systems, organisations and institutions of government, rather than solely related to mistrust of either the GPs or the medical system. Nevertheless, there was not a widespread abandonment of the use of GPs or Western medicine, which may partly be explained by the perceived dependence of these people these people on the medical system. Overall, generalised mistrust existed at both inter-personal and systems-based levels and was levied at a variety of social systems and institutions of governance – mistrust was a pervading dimension of life in this community.

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Observing Protest Organizations as Social Systems

The Popular Front Francisco Villa’s Media Diffusion Articulation of Political Subjectivities among Workers

Edgar Everardo Guerra Blanco

This article draws on social systems theory to explore a key phenomenon in social movements: organizations. The Frente Popular Francisco Villa (PFFV)—an organization related to the Urban Popular Movement in Mexico—is used as a case study. The research focuses on the internal dynamics that have steered this organization and propelled internal changes in some of its key aspects, especially media diffusion and propaganda strategy. Indeed, the media strategy employed by the organization have changed during the 30-yearhistory of the PFFV, not only on the basis of the programmatic goals and objectives of the organization, but also as a consequence of internal and external dynamics beyond the control of members and leaders. The main objectives of this analysis are threefold. First, I intend to uncover the main processes and structures that regulate the PFFV´s internal dynamic and changes over time. Second, I aim to analyze the relationships between these changes and the requirements of several organizations and actors in the environment of the PFFV. Finally, I aim to explore the impact of broader processes (such as the political system or the culture) on the organization's internal changes.

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Ronald Stade

to behaviorism, cybernetics, and systems theory more generally. The odd combination of peace politics and objectifying positivist science (see Stade 2005 ) gave birth to concepts like structural violence (that is, deprivation, repression, alienation

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Thomas D. Hall

. Literature on the impacts of the Tennessee Valley Authority might also present interesting comparisons A Place for World-Systems Analysis? In his review of social theory Islam makes good use of world-systems analysis, though he uses the older term “world-systems

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Social Quality

Regaining Political Economy

Peter Herrmann

. Although they are surely significant, they are nevertheless only relevant to explain what, in sociological systems theory, is “meaningless noise,” allowing the actual communication to emerge and to substantially develop (on the general aspects of noise and

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Teaching internationalisation?

Surveying the lack of pedagogical and theoretical diversity in American International Relations

Christopher R. Cook

economy is being taught from an interdisciplinary or foreign viewpoint that challenges rationalism. Marxism, World-systems theory and Dependency theory are featured in the readings and lectures but as straw men arguments for the success of the neoliberal