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    © Fakultät für Soziologie

Research Project "Niklas Luhmann - Theory as Passion"

© Alexander Kluge/ Universität Bielefeld*

"Niklas Luhmann - Theory as Passion
Scientific indexing and edition of the estate"

of the Faculty of Sociology in conjunction with the Archive and Library of Bielefeld University and the Digital Humanities Department of Bergische Universität Wuppertal.

The Scientific Estate of Niklas Luhmann

Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998), who researched and taught at Bielefeld University from 1968 to 1993, is, along with Max Weber, the most famous and influential German sociologist of the 20th century. His social and societal theory, which he developed continuously over more than thirty years, is internationally outstanding and at best comparable with the social science theories of Jürgen Habermas, Pierre Bourdieu or Michel Foucault, but differs from them in its special theoretical and conceptual architecture, its claim to universality and its interdisciplinary connectivity. Luhmann's functionally oriented systems theory represents the most consistent attempt, on the basis of the philosophical tradition on the one hand and the reception of the most diverse concepts of the modern sciences on the other, to expand the boundaries of sociology in such a way that an appropriate description of modern society becomes possible. This research programme is documented in a singular publication output of nearly 600 publications, including over 40 monographs, on almost all areas of modern society.

Luhmann's extensive scientific estate, which Bielefeld University was able to acquire in 2011 with the support of the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation and the Donors' Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany, makes the author and his theoretical edifice visible on this side of his published works and is surpassed in its information content in the history of modern ideas only by the estate of Edmund Husserl. This insight value applies in particular to the centre of Luhmann's theoretical work, the note box ('Zettelkasten') comprising approximately 90,000 notes. These notes, written between 1951 and 1996, document Luhmann's theoretical development in a unique way, so that the collection can be understood as his intellectual autobiography. In addition, the card index has a specific organisational structure that not only made it an indispensable theory development and publication machine for Luhmann, but also makes it interesting in terms of the history of science. In addition, the estate includes almost 200 unpublished manuscripts, some of them of considerable size. In particular, the early texts from the 1950s and 1960s on state and administrative science topics and on a phenomenological sociology reveal the intellectual roots of Luhmann's theory, which have often been rather obscured in the published work. Moreover, the four extensive versions of the theory of society that Luhmann produced between 1965 and 1990 are outstanding and trace the development of Luhmann's cosmos of thought and concepts in an exemplary manner up to the version of 1997 that was actually published. The same applies to the extensive lecture notes on various topics in the estate, which not only reveal Luhmann as a didactician, but also illustrate his form of initial approach to new fields of research. The estate also contains Luhmann's library and correspondence.


The Project

The aim of the project is to secure, index, research and critically edit the scientific estate of Niklas Luhmann. To this end, the parts of the estate worthy of preservation (manuscripts, card index ('Zettelkasten'), correspondence, library, etc.) will first be archivally secured and the parts that are to be scientifically indexed will be digitised and made available for further processing. The subsequent critical edition aims to make Luhmann's estate as a document of intellectual history accessible to academic research and the interested public.

The Nachlassedition sees itself as sociological research into the structure and genesis of one of the last "grand theories" of sociology. At the same time, it forms the basis for the development of a science-based infrastructural service that interdisciplinary and increasingly international research on and with Luhmann's theory can draw on in the future. To this end, a generally and freely accessible information portal will be set up, providing a user-friendly presentation of all academically relevant components of Luhmann's legacy. In addition, the portal offers further information on the work and its author through the presentation of audio and video documents as well as a comprehensive bibliography.

With regard to the complementarity between a largely network-organised stock of material and its implementation as a technical hypertext system, the scholarly legacy of Niklas Luhmann represents an exceptionally well-suited example of the corresponding preparation of complex fields of information. This applies in particular to the card index, which will be transcribed, scientifically indexed, transferred into an edited, user-friendly database and linked with the other texts from the estate, which will be indexed and published in a work-historical edition. In addition, a multi-volume print publication of the bequeathed writings with a focus on social theory, phenomenological sociology, political science and administration/organisation, sociology of education and the lectures will be carried out as part of the project.


*The pixel portrait of Niklas Luhmann was created by Sebastian Zimmer (CCeH) using the software AndreaMosaic from the image of 1271 slips of paper from the 'Zettelkasten'.


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