The Complexity–Sustainability Trade-Off in Niklas Luhmann's Social Systems Theory
Version of Record online: 14 OCT 2012
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Systems Research and Behavioral Science
Volume 31, Issue 1, pages 14–22, January/February 2014
How to Cite
Valentinov, V. (2014), The Complexity–Sustainability Trade-Off in Niklas Luhmann's Social Systems Theory. Syst. Res., 31: 14–22. doi: 10.1002/sres.2146
- Issue online: 23 JAN 2014
- Version of Record online: 14 OCT 2012
- Manuscript Accepted: 12 SEP 2012
- Manuscript Revised: 17 AUG 2012
- Manuscript Received: 22 JUN 2012
This paper explores the way the idea of sustainability is linked to categories traditionally examined by the general systems theory—the categories of system, environment, and complexity. Toward this end, the paper builds upon the social systems theory of Niklas Luhmann to explain the nature of the trade-off between complexity and sustainability. Exemplified by Luhmann's theory of ecological communication, the trade-off emerges because the growing systemic complexity entails the increasing risk that systems develop insensitivity to those environmental conditions on which they critically depend. The key implication of the trade-off is that it may be rational for social systems to withdraw their internal complexity to maintain their sustainability in a given environment. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.