Cybernetics and human knowing vol:14 issue:2-3 pages:67-84
This article tries to counter Niklas Luhmann's outspoken theoretical scepticism about the notion of culture. In the first part, it is argued that Luhmann devised at least three culture-related concepts: memory, semantics or semantic structures, and knowledge. After a short presentation of Luhmann's explicit considerations on the notion of culture, these conceptual equivalents are briefly clarified and discussed. In the second section, the interrelationships between Luhmann's culture-related notions are analyzed. More particularly, it is shown that they all point to the double process of condensation and confirmation of meaning or Sinn (in the phenomenological sense). Within communicative or social systems, this process explains the unintended production of what Luhmann terms meaning kernels, symbolic generalizations, schemes or identities. As Luhmann himself admits, communication cannot do without symbolic generalizations or meaning-identities. This necessitates a re-evaluation of the notion of culture from a systems theoretical point of view. The closing section offers a first step in this direction. It is argued that condensed and therefore typified forms or meaning-identities can be regarded as the elements of culture considered as a medium. According to this view, culture is a more specific articulation of the overall medium of meaning or Sinn and has a temporal, factual and social dimension. The primary function of the medium of culture is to ensure the structural coupling between social and psychic systems. Social systems therefore presuppose that condensed forms, or cultural elements, are always already known by all participating psychic systems. In order to underline this assumptive nature, the author proposes the notion of operative fiction.