Chair of Sociological Theory

Profile and contents

Auguste Comte, who gave sociology its name, expected it to be nothing less than a "endgültige Wissenschaft": "die Auflösung unserer intellektuellen Anarchie, der wahren Hauptquelle der sittlichen und sodann der politischen Anarchie" (Soziologie 1842/1923, p.3). The reference problem of this ultimate discipline were "Ordnung" - a term he sees as the problem of society and its organization, and which he transforms into the differentiation between "l´ordre" and "le progrès". Again and again a "verhängnisvolle Tendenz zur Auflösung" and a no less fatal tendency to the "Befestigung der Ordnung" cross each other (l.c., p. 6 and 7). Sociology itself is what makes head against this fatality.

When Georg Simmel - a tough half century later - carries out a new "Ortsbestimmung" of this discipline and its reference problem, he suggests to abstain from such fatalistic "Größenwahn" (cf. Soziologie, 1908/1992, p. 9 and 31). He sticks to the problem of order, but does not see society as a notoriously crumbling organization, but as a "Meer" of interwoven relationships between individuals (l.c., p.14). Beyond their always fluid environment we cannot know anything about these individuals. The problem of sociology is thus not the consolidation of social banks, but the question, "wie Gesellschaft möglich ist" when it consists of elements which it cannot discipline and which it cannot be sure of (cf. l.c. p. 42 ff.)

About Talcott Parsons & Niklas Luhmann

Sociological theory

Some decades later, Talcott Parsons studied intentionally in Europe to learn to understand this insecurity as an inventory problem. He translates the problem of order into the differentiation between structure and process which he calls the "`structural-functional´ level of analysis" and expands under the name of social system (The Social System, 1951, p. vii). This quite simply means relationally linked, contextualized actions. "The problem of order" expressly stays an organizational problem, especially when binding decisions regarding scarce goods or controversial aims have to be made in social relationships (l.c., p. 71, cf. ch. iii). The fatal complementarity of "Auflösung" and "Befestigung" as designed by Comte is thus replaced by the very future-oriented complementarity of action and decision, of "Öffnung" and "Schließung". Sociology, so Parsons, is "analyzing the organization and dynamics of complex social systems" (l.c., p. 73).

But as late as the 1960s, Niklas Luhmann notices that, considering a hardly noticeable "Einheit des Fachs", sociology is "ziemlich undiszipliniert" (Soziologische Aufklärung 1, 1970, p. 113). His suggestion is to give up both Comte´s preference for dissolution-resistant order and Parsons´s preference for structural inventory, and instead to observe "die Gesamtheit der möglichen Ereignisse" in the context of the differentiation between "System und Welt" (l.c., p. 115). The possibility of social order remains the reference problem of sociology, which it analyzes under the name of the system regarding the possibility of society and the possibility of organization. But now it develops this problem area in the form of two key concepts: contingency and complexity.


Courses in spring 2020:

  • History of sociology
  • Organisation and network theory
  • Celebration and celebrating (together with Joachim Landkammer)
  • Victory and defeat (sociological perspective in the Zeppelin Project)


Lehmann, Maren
Lehmann, Maren Prof Dr phil habil
Phone:+49 7541 6009-1362
Room:FAB 3 | 1.39


Staab, Anna
Staab, Anna
Phone:+49 7541 6009-1358
Room:FAB 3 | 1.33
Time to decide

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