Sociological Observations of the Third Sector Through Systems Theory: An Analytical Proposal

Original Paper

Abstract

In this article, I apply the contributions of Luhmannian systems theory to the analysis of the third sector, accepting, in realistic terms, the diagnosis of current societies as increasingly complex and the descriptions of third sector as hybrid. After identifying some of the main analytical elements and concepts, I propose applying it in two ways. First, with the illustration of organizations’ self-descriptions, I show how third sector organizations may be analyzed in light of the concepts of self-reference, reflexivity, and reflection to evidence both their operational closure and their structural couplings with other systems. Second, I refer to the self-descriptions of “sector” in terms of its self-reflection and semantics as different from other sectors and show that it is a paradoxical heterogeneous unity. I conclude by arguing for the usefulness of this analytical framework to understand contextually the meaning of the third sector in functionally differentiated societies.

Keywords

Third sector Third sector organizations Complexity Autopoietic systems Self-descriptions 

Résumé

Dans cet article, j’applique les contributions de la théorie des systèmes sociaux de Luhmann à l’analyse du troisième secteur, acceptant, en termes réalistes, le diagnostic de complexification des sociétés actuelles et les descriptions du troisième secteur comme hybride. Après avoir identifié certains des éléments et concepts analytiques principaux, je propose d’appliquer cette théorie de deux manières. D’une part, en m’aidant des descriptions faites d’elles-mêmes par les organisations du troisième secteur, je montre comment elles peuvent être analysées à la lumière des concepts d’autoréférence, de réflexivité et de réflexion pour mettre en évidence à la fois leur cloisonnement opérationnel et leurs liens structurels avec d’autres systèmes. D’autre part, je m’appuie sur les auto-descriptions du « secteur » , qui le présentent comme différent des autres secteurs en termes d’autoréflexion et de sémantique, pour démontrer qu’il s’agit d’une unité hétérogène paradoxale. Je conclus en soutenant l’utilité de ce cadre analytique pour comprendre dans le contexte la signification du troisième secteur dans des sociétés fonctionnellement différentiées.

Zusammenfassung

In der vorliegenden Abhandlung wende ich die Beiträge der luhmannischen Systemstheorie auf die Analyse des Dritten Sektors an, wobei ich, realistisch betrachtet, akzeptiere, dass gegenwärtige Gesellschaften als vermehrt komplex diagnostiziert werden und der Dritte Sektor als hybrid beschrieben wird. Nach der Identifizierung einiger der wichtigsten analytischen Elemente und Konzepte schlage ich eine Anwendung auf zwei Weisen vor. Zunächst zeige ich anhand der Illustration der Selbstbeschreibungen von Organisationen, wie die Organisationen des Dritten Sektors vor dem Hintergrund der Konzepte Selbstreferenz, Reflexivität und Reflexion analysiert werden können, um sowohl ihre operationale Geschlossenheit als auch ihre strukturellen Kopplungen mit anderen Systemen zu beweisen. Anschließend beziehe ich mich auf die Selbstbeschreibungen des Konzepts “Sektor” hinsichtlich der Selbstreflexion und Semantik als andersartig im Vergleich zu anderen Sektoren und lege dar, dass es sich um eine paradoxe heterogene Einheit handelt. Abschließend liefere ich Argumente für die Nützlichkeit dieses analytischen Rahmenwerks, um die Bedeutung des Dritten Sektors in funktionell unterschiedlichen Gesellschaften kontextabhängig zu verstehen.

Resumen

En el presente artículo, aplico las contribuciones de la teoría de sistemas de Luhmann al análisis del tercer sector, aceptando, en términos realistas, el diagnóstico de las sociedades actuales como crecientemente complejas y las descripciones del tercer sector como híbrido. Después de identificar algunos de los principales elementos y conceptos analíticos, propongo aplicarla de dos formas. En primer lugar, con la ilustración de autodescripciones de las organizaciones, muestro como las organizaciones del tercer sector pueden ser analizadas a la luz de los conceptos de autorreferencia, reflexividad y reflexión para evidenciar tanto su cierre operativo como sus acoplamientos estructurales con otros sistemas. En segundo lugar, me refiero a las autodescripciones del “sector” en términos de su autorreflexión y semántica como diferente de otros sectores y muestro que es una unidad heterogénea paradógica. Concluyo defendiendo la utilidad de este marco analítico para comprender contextualmente el significado del tercer sector en sociedades diferenciadas funcionalmente.

摘要

本文中,笔者应用鲁曼系统理论(Luhmannian systems theory)对于第三部门分析的贡献,并从现实角度出发,接受将当前社会诊断为日益复杂化的复合体以及将第三部门描述为混元体的观点。在确定了一些主要的分析元素与概念之后,笔者提出通过两个途径将其应用。第一,通过对组织的自我描述的阐释,笔者展示了如何根据自我指涉、自反性、反省等概念分析第三部门组织,以证明其系统的封闭(operational closure)及其与其他系统的结构耦合(structural couplings)。第二,笔者所指的“部门”的自我描述,是依据其不同于其他部门的自我反省与语义,并显示这是一个矛盾的异质性的统一体(paradoxical heterogeneous unity)。笔者支持该分析框架的有用性,以实现从整体环境上理解第三部门在功能差异化的社会中的意义。

要約

本論文では、ルヒマニアン(Luhmannian)のシステム理論の貢献を適用して、実質的に複雑化している現代社会の分析と混成化する第3セクターの説明について提案する。主要な分析要素と概念を特定した後、 2 つの適用方法を提案する。まず、組織における自己記述の説明を用いて、第3セクターが組織における運用の閉鎖と構造カップリングを証拠としてどのように反映させるかを分析する。第二に、「部門」における自己記述を参照して、逆説的な異種結束であることを示す。この分析フレームワークの有用性を主張して、機能分化した社会における第3セクターの意味を文脈的に理解することを結論付ける。

ملخص

في هذه المقالة، أنا طبقت مساهمات نظرية أنظمة (Luhmannian) لتحليل القطاع الثالث، لقبول، من حيث واقعية، تشخيص المجتمعات الحالية التي تزداد تعقيدا˝ ووصف القطاع الثالث كالهجين. بعد تحديد بعض العناصر والمفاهيم التحليلية الرئيسية، أقترح تطبيقه بطريقتين. الأولى، مع التوضيح للأوصاف الذاتية للمنظمات، أوضح كيف يمكن تحليل منظمات القطاع الثالث في ضوء المفاهيم المرجعية الذاتية، وإنعكاس الفعل المنعكس إلى أدلة كل من التشغيل المغلق وهيكلية وصلات مع النظم الأخرى. ثانيا˝، أود أن أشير إلى الوصف الذاتي “للقطاع” سواء من حيث التأمل الذاتي ودلالات مختلفة عن القطاعات الأخرى وتبين أنه وحدة متجانسة متناقضة. وأختتم بالقول لفائدة هذا الإطار التحليلي لفهم سياق معنى القطاع الثالث في المجتمعات المتباينة وظيفيا˝.

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Copyright information

© International Society for Third-Sector Research and The Johns Hopkins University 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Economics/Centre for Social StudiesUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal

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