Jenõ Bango

Role and Function of Regional Differences in the World Society from the Point of View of Modern Luhmannian Systems Theory. (“Socio-region” as proposed correction)


„Every historical period needs a narrative that defines its past in terms of the present, and suggests a future that is fundamentally different, and typically „even better“, than contemporary time. For this reason, there is always an eschatology, not merely an epistemology, in theorizing about social change“. (Alexander, Jeffrey 2000, 127)





In this paper the four terms listed in the title aim to define: role, function, differences and region in order to show how the Luhmannian modern systems theory consider these and, eventually, what corrections or completions should be made. I would like to introduce in the discussion a “new” difference of centre and periphery. Region can be considered as a synthesis of global and local forms of a world society.


Before starting with the analysis I would like to present my own concept – a hypothetical pre-study („Vorstudie”), a pre-theory of regionalization, which I attempted to elaborate in my book. (Auf dem Weg zur postglobalen Gesellschaft. Verlorenes Zentrum, abgebaute Peripherie, „erfundene” Region / Engl.: „Towards a post-global society. Lost centre, demolished periphery, „invented” region”/ Berlin, Duncker&Humblot, 1998). I would like to summarise my concepts in a few sentences.


The problem of centre and periphery was in sociology, up to now, not sufficiently discussed. In the sociological systems theory also little attention had been paid to this – because, as so many observers noted, - a functionally differentiated, global world society has no centres and, correspondingly, no peripheries. But slowly a post-global society emerges from the ground of the differences between centre and periphery and “invents” the region – a construction intended to give preferences to the social aspect rather than the political and economical. Terms like centre, periphery and region and their importance must be analysed along the lines of transdisciplinarity; (for example biology, cosmology, geography, theology, political science). In sociology I have undertaken a “semantic research” generally, and especially in the modern, Luhmannian systems theory, in the autopoiesis and in constructivism, to see where the dialectical and differential aspects of problem appears in new contours. This applies ultimately to the regionalization of the social; i.e. the socio-region. In the sense of the systems theory, the socio-region has three interpretations: it is a non-topographical “mind-region”, as well as a new form of communication within the group of social systems and lastly, it is a new system of function (subsystem) of the globalised society. As such, it is structurally coupled with economics and politics and pretend to be autopoietic, thanks to its new symbolic generalised medium of communication (share and intervene like a proto-social communication). I have set up the following thesis: We are heading for a post-global society, which is a polycentric, socio-regional, networked and evolutionary new type of society. It loses the hierarchical centre, dismantles the disadvantaged periphery and invents the socio-region, enabling social inclusion.


1. Role


The classic sociological definition of role states that the particular group or culture usually defines the expected behaviour of an individual in a group. Expectation will be fulfilled in the future and that could constitute a surprise or a disappointment.


The role-concept means an attitude of expectation legitimated through a status. The individual plays the role society expects of him – in a countermove he becomes a status. In this context, the literature talks about central and peripheral roles, hierarchical and asymmetric roles, as well as inter- and intra role-conflicts (Wiswede 1977). In a centralised society there are frequent conflicts of role, because the expectation of the centre is strongly formalised (for example professional roles). The concept of the role-set signals the possibility to the individual allowing him to assume several roles (Merton 1957).


Luhmannian sociology talks about the role as being a bundle of expectations or a selection of perceptions pertaining to persons. Role is more of a micro-sociological term. In this sense, the expectations of the world society vis-à-vis a region could be interpreted per analogy only figuratively – because roles are attached to persons, to individuals. For Luhmann, society consists not of man (persons, individuals) but of communications. The role of subsystems – and the region, as we will see, a subsystem of the world society – is essentially a communicative one.


If we regard the functional difference of social systems here as a „role” preparing function for the solution of problems not yet existing (Krause 1996, 143), then the pre-adaptive advance must be important for a region, because it defines how to arrange the symbolic generalised mediums of communication and the structural coupling between systems.


The role of the region in the world society consists, in the first place, of underlying functional diversities and differences and not in the practice of uniform conformity with the world society. The submission of the region to the global world system is fatal and must be solved by cooperation on different levels, such as economic, cultural, judicial, etc. In the second place, the role of the region is to assume a kind of „supra-territoriality” (Scholte 2000), similarly to the globalised world, but in transparency and in a small dimension, a “social space” without fixed topographic boundaries.


2. Function


If a part of system “plays” a role for the whole system, then it would be better to denominate this as a function. Function is the type or types of action of which a structure is distinctively capable. The functional value of a class or group may be determined by its specific contribution to the general social processes (Fairchild 1961).


Function is an ambiguous term in sociology. It means, for example, a position within a social organisation, signifying a task or duty, and is regarded as an objective effect of a fact. Furthermore, function is regarded in classical sociology as a performance, contribution or consequence of actions performed by members of the society. We can speak here – as in all other micro-sociological terms – about central and peripheral functions. Individuals can have central functions, if they contribute to the welfare of the society, provided their performance do not target egoistic aims.


From a structure-functionalist point of view, functions are social processes of interdependent parts within a system of actions; they are observable consequences designed to promote the adaptation to an established system (Merton 1960).


In the systems theory, function is a performance of a system or features of a system adopted from parts of a particular system or other systems and contribute to the maintenance of parts of a particular system or other systems.


Luhmann derived the term “function” from the concept of “purpose” and introduced a new concept of contingence. This stems from the logic of his non-normative theoretical interpretation. Functional equivalence is the key term in Luhmannian sociology. Function is being used as a regulative scheme of sense and organisation of equivalent performances in the field of comparison (Luhmann 1970, 14)


Following Luhmann, we can describe the region as a variable in the field of specific communication within a global society, the equivalent of a province, state or city. This provides only a possibility for the understanding of the functionally differentiated modern world society. Functions are always a synthesis of a set of possibilities. Region, as a synthesis from local and global (in other words, from periphery and centre) fulfils the function of communication over social inclusion. It is a medium for the realisation of concrete inclusion; it is a transparent relationship from the social point of view. Region is not an economic or a political concept despite the widely used expressions like economical (Wirtschaftsregion) or political region. Economy has a function similar to that of a master of material scarcity and operates through the medium of money and politics, as well as take, (or make) decisions through the medium of power.


3. Forms of differentiation


Social differences or divisions are: a) role-differences (status-differences), b) strata-differences (historically cast, “estate” and class differences), c) functional differences, d) centre-periphery differences and, e) regional differences. It means that differentiation is a general phenomenon of a given society. Division of labour is a durkheimian concept – self divided into mechanical and organic parts.


Social differentiation by Luhmann takes on varying forms. The theories of differentiation follow an evolutionary growth: role-differences become system-differences. I consider the role-differences to be incomplete because they are based upon a historical type of society resulting from the division of labour – first the man/woman (gender), followed by young/old (aging) and ultimately by work-divisions. All these historical forms are, nevertheless, “caught up” today in a „higher” mode of differentiation. Until 1977, in his scripts, Luhmann applied a three-levelled distinction. First he analysed the archaic society, then described the society of „high cultures” and last, the modern society. Some of his interpreters (e.g. Kiss 1990) redefined local archaic systems, regionalized higher cultures, and identified modern society with world society. Since 1980 Luhmann has used a new three-levelled differentiation, which is more complete – this is a system-differentiation. The structure of society will identify trough the building of a system within a system. The systems theoretical standpoint would solidify, because now the basic distinction system/environment in the description of the society takes an eminent role. 1) Segment differentiation means the division of the society in similar subsystems like families, villages or tribes. 2) Stratified differentiation means the division of the society in unequal strata. The societal communication makes a distinction up/down. 3) Functional differentiation means the division of the society in unequal subsystems – they are a whole, a result of an intern system-differentiation. The modern global society is no more a centralistic, hierarchical unity; it has no centre but – does it have peripheries? Luhmann affirms: the modern society is primarily functionally differenced (Luhmann 1997) Systems of functions fulfil each one of all-societal functions and structure their communication according to certain binary codes (right/wrong in justice, immanence /transcendence in religion, pay/not pay in the economy). The program of function-systems is an operative opening to the world. That is the theory of differentiation from Luhmann summed up in a few words.


Subliminal (in the shadow) is, for our hypothesis very important, two-levelled differentiation that is, centre/periphery. Luhmann accorded scarcely any attention to this differentiation. For him, it is only a modification in segmented and stratified societies and could play in the evolution only a secondary role. (Luhmann 1998, 663-678). In principle, he emphasised the spatial aspects, the country/town differences or the centre/periphery differences in great powers like ancient China or Egypt. He sees the problem merely in a historical and geographical context.


I think the time has come to actualise this differentiation. Especially when discussing the global word society we cannot neglect the problem, although the enquiries and studies concerning the question of centre and periphery are rather meagre. I mention only the well-known authors: Eisenstadt (1968), with an enquiry about imperial centres, Shils (1961) with a valuable definition of centre, Jessop (1956) with the thesis of central values and the exchange between centre and periphery. Well-known is Wallerstein’s (1991) thesis of semi-peripheries in the economy – almost unknown is the book of Geser (1983) about the variations of centre. I am referring to the centre/periphery distinction, which is not a problem only for the developing countries, but also for the whole modern world where it exists side-by-side (or may be overlapping each other) segments, stratifications and functional-differentiations. The emphasis lies, without doubt, on functionality.


In the following table I would like to present a list of some hypothetical characteristics of centre and periphery and add to them those of the region.


Table I. Semantic-systemic characteristics of centres,
peripheries and regions


                              centres                  peripheries                  regions

form                       hierarchy                heterarchy           holarchy / polyarchy
system                    order                      subordination                 new-order
action                     tradition                  innovation            synthesis of trad. + innov.
movement               centripetal               centrifugal            circular
tendency                 unify                       separate              mediate
operation                indifference             ignorance             fraternity
experience              disappointment       surprise               synthesis of disapp. + surp.
behaviour               tediousness             irony                    synthesis of ted. + irony
think                       tautology                paradox               synthesis of taut. + p



In the table I have summarized some supposed properties and characteristics. There are well-meant generalities to improbably reduced complexities. They should be intentionally provocative. Let us assume for example that: centre is a source of disappointment perceived by the periphery and perhaps by the centre itself as well. However this doesn’t mean that some surprises in the centre couldn’t exist. And vice versa, the periphery considers itself not always to be in the position to like a surprise, while the centre does not always perceive it as being a surprise. Exceptions to the rules are always permitted. Reasonably, we cannot hope in the centre that fewer disappointments and more surprises come into existence, although such hopes may be for „modern” centres legitimated (for example centres of art, science etc.), but we would like only to underline a principle of constitution for centres: centres were (and are) hierarchically organized, giving orders, have a traditional behaviour, move rather centripetally (s. table above!) it seams to be improbable that centre sees itself as a surprise and to be seen from the side of the periphery as surprise. A perception of disappointment from both sides is more probable. The principle of function for the centre is a procedure, and this is a chain of tautology, disappointment and tediousness. The periphery operates with spontaneity and that means surprise, irony and paradox.


The region must realize the synthesis between disappointment and surprise, tediousness and irony, tautology and paradox.


We can speak about region if treated by indifference from the centre and a non-observation of the periphery. Such a break in observation leads back to perception. In this case, we are confronted with a new duel – i.e. global versus local. In the global system of world society such out-differenced functional systems of communication exists, they realise the unity of difference global/local – we call these region-systems – or systems of socio-region. This is neologism to underline the importance of “social” in a global society. In comparison with other out-differenced systems of functions like politics, religion, economy, the most important fact here, is the proto-sociality operating with the distinction of share and retain.


One can speak of “constructed evolution” – this is not a planned evolution. Luhmann himself preferred to use the term “evolution” (unusual and risky in sociology,) because of its Darwinist background (Stichweh, 2001, 28), instead of development. “Constructed” means that risks are also constructed with it. In the future there may be emergencies that contain surprises but also disappointments. We can say paradoxically: the functionalised and regionalized global society may present surprising disappointments and disappointing surprises. In such a way the viability of the region system can be secured. The constructed social evolution is a „touch-at-the head-evolution” in which the possibilities, their own possibilities also constructed. Luhmann affirms: evolution is a planned selection that means a structural self-selection. He admits the existence of partially planned evolution.(Luhmann, 1991)


The following picture attempts to trace the development of the society in evolutionary „three stages”. The road guides us from an authoritarian and hierarchical picture of centre, through a modern, democratic egalitarian centre-form, to a pluralistic and regionalized picture of the centre of the post-modern and post-global epoch. We observe the gradual disappearance of the centre, as top and middle of the society, consequently, there will be the peripheries transforming into autonomous regions with regionally limited centres. From an established set of orders will transform into a system of controlled control and at the end into an informative network. The three “plates” in the picture may exist side by side in today’s world society. There are still structures in a given society, which are hierarchical and authoritarian. We also find democratic egalitarian structures that are still authoritarian, hierarchical, but at the same time are also pluralistic and regional partial-structures.


It might become obvious from this picture, that the mechanical world-conception dominating the authoritarian-hierarchic conception of centre, and partly, also the modern „technolatric” idea – now, in the post-modern, abandons its position in favour of the organic world-conception. In the post-global period the mechanically suggested linear way of order and control will disappear and instead, a biologically suggested circular and networked (according to Kleve (2000) the “rhisomatic” tissue of communications and relations will become considerable. The „leader science” in the modern period was still dominated by technique – in the post-modern and post-global undoubtedly biology will assume this function.

The third plate has the heading „polycentrism”. The centres are smaller within each networked socio-regions and these give neither orders, nor practise hierarchical controls. Their role focuses on coordination and management of sharing and mediation. The punctured circle symbolises the fluent border, or in other words, a time-space oscillated dynamic evolution. Socio-region is a synthesis of communication (mediation) and action (sharing) and this must happen as a process of evolution in space and time. Temporality and spatiality mean that these two dimension are self-selected and not allopoietic i.e., arranged from the outside. The boundaries are fluent, again and again anew themselves, do not separate but connect and share. It depends on how partnership (sharing) or intervention (mediation) dominates; the socio-region arranges a flexible boundary of neighbourhoods, quarters, municipalities, cities, provinces or states.


It is a question (system-theoretically considered) of crossing from a marked to a non-marked side in the distinctions of space/spaceless by the socio-region (Spencer Brown 1969). Spatiality returns (makes a “re-entry”) on a new, emergent level in the operation of observation and forms in the unity of differences – a paradoxical unity. The „returned” or “back-fetched” centres in the socio-regions signal only the internal complexity of systems. Instead of emerging as a hierarchical top, they represent genuine „flat hierarchies” with a consultative and contacting character.



Similarities within the law of “three-stage“ from August Comte cannot be excluded. Nevertheless, this does not reflect a modern version of a theological, metaphysical and the positivist epoch. Varying interpretations are allowed.


I would like to mention three of them here.


1)      From the epistemological point of view we can speak of perception-society in the antique, observation-society in the modern and now in the post-modern world society, of a society of observation of observation (reflectivity). Former societies were not able to observe themselves – this was a task for philosophers, theologians and other scientists. Only sociology observed society – but reflectivity demands that the observer observes himself. The sociologist is a part of society – nobody can observe from the “outside” and at the same time remain objective. Self-reflectivity is a law of post-modern society.


2)      If we consider the theory of action (Parsons 1963), then we see that at the first level there is an absolutely “sacral“ centre, a respected hierarchy and authority (deference), at the second we find a democratic centre, calling for imitation from the periphery (reference) and at the third level we find pluralism in the global unity, each region having its separate centre (difference).


3)      We can also visualise at every development-level an emerging and out-differencing function-system, which marks the whole society. It can be argued that the antique had been dominated by politics; the modern by world economics and the post-modern and post-global epochs brings in the social element where the multi-centralist and regionalist form becomes dominant.


As a hypothesis, I would like to affirm that the world society develops through phases starting from the centre/periphery phase over global/local phase and ending in multi-central/regional phase. Apostrophising Heinz von Foerster (1993) “ethical imperative” in the third phase emerges as a new regionalist imperative: decentralise the hierarchical centre, multiply the centres, accomplish de-peripherization and achieve the regionalization of the global.


4. Region as a social system


Naturally, we are interested in the terms in use, concerning the region. Three such terms present themselves for analysis: regionality, regionalism and regionalization. Regionality seems to bee the static and institutionalistic side, an all-embracing phenomenon of future world society. Regionalism seems to be – especially in the militant form – an “ideology” that may be benevolent (Heraud 1994, Heineken 1992), but also with restrictions, short-sightedness and the adherence to tradition. At worst, ideologised regionalism could be equated with cultural racism, ethnic separation and hostility towards foreigners. The likelihood remains that regionalism – like all “isms” – could be classified as one of the “great narrations” (Lyotard 1979). Regionalization, however, should be a characteristic on all levels of the post-global world society; a dynamic, circular and autopoietic process. I prefer to opt for the term regionalization instead of regionalism.


The region conditions world society as a system. Conditioning is a selective liaison between elements, because in a complex system like the world society, not all the elements are able to form relations to all other elements, and it follows therefore that it should become a premise for the construction of every system. (Krause 1996) Systems are not only relations between elements, but also a relational relation between elements.


I propose a neologism, a new expression: regiobalization. This means a regionalized global world society – instead of „glocalization“ (invented by Robertson 1992), which express the local versus global aspects of the world society. Globalisation is more like an economic process (Schimany – Seifert 1997). Regiobalization is a simultaneous process, which proceeds from globalisation and regionalization. It will realise itself in the frame of the socio-region based on balance and compromise. The socio-region selects the offer presented by the global, utilises its medial and information network, looks after the regional differences and does not care for global unity. The function of sharing and intervention serves only to achieve social inclusion – it is its specific program.


If we accept that the region is a social system, then we must examine the Luhmannian concept and building of systems generally. The following scheme is to be found in the book „Social Systems” (1984) page 16. I intend to add my own contribution to this scheme. Luhmann divides the systems first in four groups: machines, psychical systems, social systems, and organisms. Let us examine the subdivision of the last:



social systems

                     interaction                               organization                                 society
                    (presence)                             (membership)                            (attainment)

                                            Partnership                              Intervention
                                             (to share)                               (to mediate)

(new social system of socio-region)

We can see, that for the system of interaction the presence (not necessary a face-to-face presence) is an essential condition, for the system of organisation membership is essential with the possibilities of entry and exit and for the system of society (now global or world society) the all-embracing communicative attainment is a the main condition.

This is a genial Luhmannian construction of the reduction of systems complexities, but in several aspects it is too narrow. We don’t find here, for example, the concept of the group. A first correction of the Luhmannian typology – i.e. an introduction of group system as an autonomous level of social system between interaction and organization – had been undertaken by several authors (Neidhard 1983, Tyrell 1983, Pokol 2001). The distance between presence (a superficial encounter) and membership (a goal oriented organisation) is too great – there is place for a new partial social system. The distance between organization and society is also great – it missing the connecting link. Willke (1994) seems to have opted for the existence of a managerial and therapy-guided intervention-system. On close scrutiny we discover here the difference between centre and periphery. If the society is a “centre” then organisations are its peripheries. In the same interpretation the interactions can be regarded as peripheries of organizations. I wonder where one should look for the genuine “social” in the social systems typology? The social for me is not the presence, not the membership and not attainment alone, – but also sharing and mediating as vital characteristics of two new „part-systems” one is partnership and the other is intervention. If we combine the two in a unique social system and call this a socio-region, then we won’t see the social as something peripheral or centralistic, but identify purely the social and the region. My definition of social: (Bango 2001, 110) „The social is a constructed reality of partnership and intervention with a function of sharing and mediation on the regional level in a global society.” Sharing and mediating are symbolic generalised media of communication; they guide action and event.

Neither the presence (interaction system) or membership, nor attainment alone can be the basis for the new „double-system”. Partnership is system-type between interaction and organization – it takes over the role of intimacy, the touch from presence and rationality, the distance from membership – without the emotionality of interaction and the rational calculus of organization. Help and exchange are the two eminent characteristics of the system of partnership. The small group, the peer group, the neighbourhood, little local communities are the ideal terrain for partnership. They are participants and joint partners of common actions – they take part and give part – practice social exchange. The terms in use, like friendship, party, participation, solidarity could on the whole be interpreted and conceived as a secondary codification of the system of partnership. It must now be proved that the system of partnership is a transition from interaction to organization.

Systems of intervention take place between system of organization and system of society. They have a specific functionality. I argue that: society as a global-system of communicative attainment cannot be built up only on membership i.e. on organisation. Attainment – for example the Internet – could be unorganised, decentralised, as occurrence happens. There exists an invisible span between individual and global, between local and global and they can “deceive” the established organisations (state, church, association) but also jump over subsystems like the economy, culture, politics or science, as well as use specific mechanism of selection in order to reduce global complexities. Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from “civil society” serve us with good examples. Intervention-systems are systems of interest and relationships arise due to historic, ethnic, linguistic and geographic resemblance, - they mediate between systems of organisation and world society - and for this reason have their own identity. A good mediator is neutral (thus neither centre, nor periphery), meets both sides, observes the observer and observes himself, as well as how he observes. He constructs his identity due to the fact that he makes new syntheses of new communications and actions from indifference and ignorance, from disappointment and surprise, from boredom and irony. The new type of regional-communication is improbable, but possible. In other words the function of the intervention-system as socio-region consists of forming, - out of improbable communication and action (sharing and mediating) - probable ones. People to move, motivate others to share, exchange and practice solidarity and partnership can be realised only in a system, where not only trust, but trustworthiness are the rule. For this function world society is too large and gigantic – theoretically everybody could be reached but practically only selective attainment – with the mediation of systems of intervention – is possible. Socio-regions try to reduce an improbable „global partnership” into a practicable „regional partnership”. Subsystems (like economy) try to solve „specialised global-problems” (energy, money) – socio-regions on the other hand solve „globalised special-problems” (environment, social cohabitation).


5. Region as a functional subsystem


Under region as generally understood, some spatial unities of many settlements distinguish themselves from a historic growing consciousness of membership of their inhabitants. The Council of Europe gives the definition in 1978: „A region is first of all a human community firmly bonded (verbunden) to the countryside, and marked with the harmony of history, geography and economy that allows the inhabitants to act in unity by pursuing common targets and interests (Reimann 1992, 248)


Socio-region is a new social system of function, a subsystem like religion, economy, right, politics etc. As a new social-system it consists of partnership and intervention. This affirmation must be proven. We must clarify, if logically possible, – also in the sense of Luhmannian systems theory – that the same system of “socio-region” can be at the same time considered 1) as a basic social system – like interaction, organisation and society 2) and as a functionally subsystem such as politics, economy, religion, science etc. Luhmann himself didn’t exclude the evolution of other function-systems (Luhmann 1997) – but he refused categorically the acceptance of a fourth social system (for example “group” as a definition, or my proposition about partnership and intervention). A first step to prove my tenet can be made by using a comparison. Let’s take the two most important function-systems in the global world and compare it to my new function-system. I am reluctant to mention a specific institution at the bottom of the table II – modern social work are in agreement to some aspects of the above-mentioned characteristics – but it is certainly not identical with the socio-region. In the discipline there exists a theoretical discussion about the question: whether social work is an autonomous function-system, a subsidiary one, or only a „secondary primary-system” (Merten 2000).


Table II. Characteristic of function-systems in comparison


                                    economy                  politics                           socio-region

    medium:                  money                       power                             relationship
    code:                        pay/not pay               government/                     share/keep
                                                                     opposition                       mediate/divide
    function:                  mastering                   decision                           makes social
                                    material                     making                            inclusion
                                    scarcity                      and taking                        possible
    performance:           satisfy                        realises                            exchange and
                                    needs                        decisions                         managing
    program:                 set up                        realise                              synthesis of
                                    a budget                    party program                  global and local
    institution:               firm                           party                               ?[1]



Similarities between social work and socio-region can nevertheless exist if we analyse the „secondary function”. It means, that social work is demanded when a primary function-system – such as the economy or education cannot help the individuals – for example in the case of unemployment or educational problems. In similar cases can the socio-region fulfil tasks or solve problems, which the local or global systems are unable to fulfil or solve.


Socio-region-systems are radical implementations (embeddedness) of the social in the post-global world society. They are ultimately equivalent to other function-systems in a frame that only function as a middle measure. Region is small, but not too small (more than a family) – it is big, but not too big (fewer than a state).


The four quotations below illustrate the opinion of experts concerning the role of the region, “social boundaries”, the symbiotic relationship and the importance of global networking.


“The more the world becomes small, the better, and the longing of people for native place and security will be greater. Only the regions are able to fulfil this longing. Only a Europe of re­gions is a Europe, which does not take but gives peoples home.” (Vysonzil/Stangler 1996, 7).


„Globalisation, we can safely say, is such a process of intensity and dynamism of a social process in the context of world society, that neither spatiality nor social boundaries exclude. On the contrary it directly provokes” (Nassehi 1998).


„The global could only develop if it goes into a symbiotic relationship with local, regional and national cultures” (Münch 1997, 15)


„Regions, cities and communities become in the new area of global networking not only by accepting new chances for autonomous shaping of their living-space, but they will in fact practice constraint to achieve it.” (Münch 1998, 411)


6. Challenge, Chance and Problems


The socio-region seams to be a challenge, a chance and a problem for the globalised society.


The most important challenges that faced the world in the last century were associated with globalisation, the increasing interconnectedness of people and places through converging processes of economic, and political, as well as cultural change.


Many observers argue that globalisation is the most fundamental reorganization of the planet’s socio-economic structure since the Industrial Revolution.


We hope that regionalization will be the challenge in the twenty-first century. An instrument of this process could be the socio-region with the character of „deterritorialization”. That is the best chance to save the global, i.e. to convert global abstract values into regional practical actions. The crisis of the global world society was manifested through „anti-globalisation” movements. The „civil society” should prosper in the socio-region, precisely because that is the only environment that offers all the chances for leaving the periphery, and it escapes incorporation in the state-centre. The “nation-state” should convert into a “region-state” before it develops itself into an autonomous „post-governmental” socially guided form of communicational entity.


Many problems remain to be solved. Inter- and intra-regional conflicts can degenerate into a “war of regional cultures”, the functionally differenced society can become a new “segment-society”, multi-centrism may be too weak to resist a pressure from powerful regions (westernisation, Americanisation). The new world is not a world without problems and conflicts, but these should be identified on other levels.


I would add a last theoretical remark concerning the Luhmannian systems theory. Luhmann has a particular connection to space, landscape, place and generally to spatiality. He elaborated a modern theory of time, because he thought the term of time was in sociology not analysed enough. The three dimensions in the Luhmannian systems theory are: matter, time and social dimension. Some of his critics affirm: Luhmann had an ambiguous relation to spatiality – see Stichweh (1998) and Filippov. (2000) The latter argued that the concept of „space” is suppressed in the collected works of Luhmann – it is in contrast to time, and it is not present. „Space has no place of its own in the luhmannian theory”. (Weber 1998, 222) The „fourth dimension” is lacking.


The Luhmannian systems theory has an ambivalent position to space. On the one hand the global world society is without space and is non-central – on the other hand space is social and geographical. For this to make sense, it is absolutely essential to understand the role of the region, which is a constituent and inherent element of world society.


7. Final summarising remarks


For me Luhmann´s systems theory serves as a starting-point to elaborate my own theory of socio-region. Luhmann´s theory of social systems is extremely rich and complex. I will present an attempt to apply this theory to issues of regionalization. I Would like to highlight three basic tenets of Luhmann´s theory in order to put my theory in perspective.


1) His theory of society as evolutionary model of societal differentiation has three different forms of differentiation: a) segmental differentiation, it means a division of society into basically similar tribal systems without internal division of labour, b) stratified differentiation of society a hierarchical structure, with a clear center and top c) finally functionally differentiated society, which historically evolved around the 17th and 18th century. The distinction between center and periphery in society, so important in world systems theory by Wallerstein, for Luhmann a key feature of stratified societies; center/periphery does not acquire that status in archaic, tribal societies, and in modern, functionally differentiated society.


2.) The modern society is composed of functionally differentiated systems like economics, politics, law, religion etc., specialized on one function according to one medium and one code. Every single system reconstructs its environment internally according to its individual code and its resp. programs. See “Ecological Communication” as an example for the selectivity of systems with regard to their natural environment, or Luhmann´s analyses of systems like law, politics, economics and science with regard to other functionally differentiated systems with again are part of a systems´s environment.


3.) Functionally differentiated systems (as composants of society) are not the only kind of social system, two other layers of systems exist, i.e. systems of interaction and organizational systems, while other systems (organism, machinery ad psychic systems) are part of social systems´environments.


Luhmann´s systems theory is a rich and complex architecture, however by some seen as conceptually too rigid and narrow, therefore attempts to extend Luhmann´s conceptual frame and here is where my theory – among others – comes in. With regard to the three features outlined above:


1) Center/periphery in Niklas Luhmann is a key feature of  historical stratified societies (empires). He gives less attention to center/periphery in analysis of modern, functionally differentiated society.


2) With regard to society, is this all to societal subsystems? For example, vivid discussion some years ago on technology. Technology as a “boundary object” between funczionally differentiated systems or technology as a functionally differentiated system on its own terms (function, code, etc.,) ? Clearly beyond Luhmann because machinery by definition makes part of the environment of social systems. The same with “space”, “territoriality” and “regions” i.e. the key terms of my own theory. Not prominent terms in systems theory, open question whether and how they could be integrated into social systems theory: Region as functionally differentiated system (Bango 2003)  or as “intra-societal environments” (Kuhm 2001)?


3) The same holds true for the three layers of social systems: society (not unity, but as being composed of very different functional systems without integration at higher level), organizations and systems of interactions also her: is that all? Aren’t there social systems in between these levels? For example “groups” or “social movements” between interaction systems and organizations? Or “institutions” as social systems between organizations and society? And what about  “networks” which are emphasized so much in recent sociology? Networks could also be conceptualised as being in between different layers of social systems. On the one hand, those networks resembling groups or more locally or regionally social movements as in between interaction and organizations. On the other hand, those larger world-wide operating and boundary-spanning networks, which neither form an organization nor could be seen as following the codes and programs of functionally differentiated systems.  The new social system of “socio-regions” forms not only a functionally differentiated system, but also a new social system in between interaction and organization, and in between organization and society.



Comments from Prof. George Krücken, University of Bielefeld


For Bango Luhmann´s systems theory serves as a starting-point. Luhmann´s theory of social systems is extremely rich and complex. Before I will present Bango´s very interesting attempt to apply this theory to issues of regionalization, I would like ti highlight three basic tenets of Luhmann´s theory (also central in Bango´s paper) in order to put the paper in perspective.


Theory of society as evolutionary model of societal differentiation, three different forms of differentiation: from 1. segmental differentiation (division of society into basically similar tribal systems without internal division of labor), to 2. stratified differentiation of society (hierarchical structure, with a clear center and top); finally 3. functional differentiated society, which historically evolved around the 17th and 18th century (structural features of contemporary society, more later). Important here: the distinction between center and periphery in society, so important in world systems theory by Wallerstein, for Luhmann a key feature of stratified societies; center/periphery  does not aquire theat status in archaic, tribal societies, and in modern, functionally differentiated society.


Modern society as composed of functionalla differentiated systems like economics, politics, law, religion etc., specialized onone function according to one medium and one code, every single system reconstructs its environment internaly according to its individual code and its resp. programs (see “Ecological Communication” as an example for the selectivity of systems with regard to their natural environment; or Luhmann´s analyses of systems like law, politics, economics and science with regard to other functionally differentiated systems, with again are part of a system´s environment).


Functionally differentiated systems are not the only kind of social system; two other layers os systems exist, i.e. systems of interaction an organizational systems (quote p. 12); while other systems (organism, machinery and psychic systems) are part of social systems´environments.


In sum: Rich and complex architecture, however by some seen as conceptually too rigid and narrow: therefore attempts to extend Luhmann´s conceptual frame; and gere is where Bango (among others) comes in. With regrad to the three features otlined above: A) center/periphery in Niklas Luhmann as a key feature of stratified societies, less attention given to center/periphery in analysis of modern, functionally differentiated society; here some attempts to emphasize that difference stronger in theorizing; see Bango´s paper (p.9). B) With regard to society, is this all to societal subsystems? For example, vivid discussion seme years ago on technology. Technology as a “boundary object” (Susan Leigh Star) between functionally differentiated systems or technology as a functional differentiated system on its own terms (function, code etc)?Clearly beyond Luhmann because machinery by definition part of the environment of social systems. The same with “space”, “territoriality” and “regions”, i.e. the key terms of this conference. Not prominent terms in systems theory; open question wether and how they could be integrated into social systems theory: regions as functionally differentiated systems (Bango) or as “intra societal” environments” (Kuhm)? C) The same holds true for the three layers of social systems: society (not unity, but as being composed of very different functional systems without integration at higher level), organizations and systems of interction, also her is that all; Aren´t there social systems in between these levels? For example “groups” od “social movements” between interaction systems and organizations? And what about “networks” wich are emphasized so much in recent sociology? Networks could also been conceptualized as being in betweendifferent layers of social systems. On the one hand, those networks resembling groups or more locally or regionally social movements as in between interaction and organizations. On the other hand, those larger world-wide operating an boundary-spanning networks, which neither from an organization nor could be seen as following the codes and programs of functionallydifferentiated systems. Here again: Bango´s new social systems of socioregions, not only as a functionally differentiated system (see transparency, table 2, p.14) but also as new social system in between interaction and organization and organization and society (see transparency, p.11, quote p.13.


What does this mean? What is socioregion as a functionally differentiated system (at the level of society), and what is socioregion as a new social system (in between the three layers of social systems)?


This is an interesting and original concept. It contributes heavily to this conference, and we could try to make this contribution even more explicit. Bango´s concept, thought, is not easily compatible with Luhmann´s theory. Therefore, we could also focus more on the theoretical underpinning and implications of Bangoá paper.


I´d like to add a third point for discussion: namely the relation of the paper to the debate on “communitarism” in the social sciences and the underlying normative positions. The general thrust of Bango´s paper, though in more abstract term of systems theory, reminded me a lot of Amitai Etzioni´s contributions in particular. Very obvious at the the end of the paper (p.15) , where regionalization seems to be the right way of centextualizing globalized society. Etzioni vould speek of the necessity of community building as a response to individualized society (“individualization” as another key subject in much recent sociology, worthwhile to explore links to issues of globalization). Both authors take a strong normative position in favor of smaler units as complementary to macro-social structure. Perhaps also this normative stance which Bango deliberately takes and which parallels Etzioni´s approach is worthwile to discuss here


/Workshop “Regionalism and Regionalisation in World Society”, Bielefeld, 30 November – 2 Devcember 2001)





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[1] The first and second columns from Krause, Detlef (1996): Luhmann-Lexikon, Stuttgart, 37.p. – the third from me B.J.

2005/2. szám tartalomjegyzéke