Democratic state, capitalist society, or dysfunctional differentiation?
in Critical theory and sociological theory
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Contemporary societies around the globe are characterised by the difficulties and discoveries inherent in trying to co-ordinate the functions of discrete social systems, each of which is steered by a unique code. Social systems have been in existence as long as there have been human societies. They have been managed, to greater and lesser extents, by a wide variety of power structures operative within diverse forms of statehood. Politically constituted modern states had to perform and continue to perform this immense task of co-ordinating social systems. Governments and state ministries have tended to try to do so without paying sufficient attention to the details of systemic coding or historical patterns of inter-systemic communication, thereby mismanaging the processes involved in many cases. States are still desperately trying to channel systems on the basis of strategic decisions stemming from informal assemblies of ministerial elites, consultancy firms, lobbies, and what in effect amount to different kinds of private clients. These are usually vantage points with little theoretical or social proximity to the specific systems in question, thus reinforcing the patterns of governance that misdirect systems whilst simultaneously coercively integrating citizens. Individual systems cannot significantly enhance their respective capacities for self-steering without knowledge about the functioning of neighbouring systems. Critical Theory and Sociological Theory investigates the extent to which this particular knowledge process is changing, and if systems increasingly require the input of citizens capable of thinking and acting more flexibly than binary codes permit. Therein lies the epistemological and political significance of the distinction between mediated unity and mediated non-identity. Adorno’s dictum that ‘the critique of knowledge is social critique and vice versa’ can be fruitfully elaborated today with this in mind.

Critical theory and sociological theory

On late modernity and social statehood


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