Michael Rempel (Department of Sociology, University of Chicago)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Publication date: 1 April 1996


Although Niklas Luhmann refrains from an explicit treatment of power as a force of social constraint, I propose that, if partially reconstructed, his Systems Theory can illuminate the subject considerably. I show this by distinguishing between five elements in Luhmann's treatment of each of the following six social subsystems: the economy, politics, law, science, religion and education. The five subsystem elements are: (1) a binary code, (2) a basis of authority, (3) a language of social communication, (4) a generalized medium of communication, and (5) a social function. Whereas Luhmann assumes that each subsystem approximates autopoiesis, or self‐contained internal operation and autonomy, I assume the pervasiveness of interpenetration, whereby operations is one subsystem nonetheless affect operations in others. Subsequently, I juxtapose the reconstructed systems‐theoretic framework developed in the first half of the paper with Michel Foucault's power/knowledge framework. I conclude that the use of a reconstructed systems‐theoretic approach, based loosely on Luhmann's original theory, could greatly illuminate the specifics of power/knowledge in modern societies, to an even greater extent than Foucault does himself.


Rempel, M. (1996), "SYSTEMS THEORY AND POWER/KNOWLEDGE:", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 58-90.

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Copyright © 1996, MCB UP Limited

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