Conference, Developments of Professions Observed with Niklas Luhmann’s Systems Theory

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Conference, Developments of Professions

Observed with Niklas Luhmann’s Systems Theory

18. – 22. September 2017, International University Centre (IUC), Dubrovnik, Croatia

Reframed to: 20/9 – 23/9

Abstracts Dubrovnik 2017

Niels Åkerstrøm Andersen; (Copenhagen Business School);

Potentialisation technologies as immune mechanisms


Today public managers celebrate ’the future of the future’, ‘anti-structures’ and ’liminality’ as zones of transformation. They encourage each other and their employees to ’expect the unexpected’ and to ’think the unthinkable’. Many new technologies emerge promising potentialisation of employees, welfare, organizations and citizens. Examples are steering Labs, future games, managerial performance arts, freedom letters, paradoxical orders, citizens in the centre, co-creation, and trust-based partnerships. In theories about autopoietical systems, immune mechanisms are seen as mechanisms protecting the operations of the system against its own structures. They un-relate the operations from the structures of the system. Immune mechanisms are always about autoimmunity. Taking up this notion, I will try to observe potentialisation and potentialisation technologies as types of immune mechanisms protecting the welfare state from itself. From within, potentialisation identifies structures as problematic by definition. Potentialisation sees itself as an anti-structure working for transformation. But if the immune mechanisms really work, then there is always a price to pay. Immune mechanisms cannot discriminate between structures, and they typically develop ignorant of the knowledge created by the system. By dissolving the certainty of expectations, by disconnecting operations from the network of expectations, technologies of potentialisation also risk harming the welfare systems. For example, by mobilizing contradictions between the future and the present, the value of past experience is at risk of being destroyed. And by insisting on resources for the single citizen, you run the risk of endangering the citizen's experience of legal rights and legal justice. In the end immune mechanisms put at risk the welfare systems they tried to protect in the first place.

Toni Pranić;; Faculty of Law Osijek, University J.J.Strossmayer

Evolutionary aspects of system differentiation – example of professions

This proposal tries to examine the professions as evolutionary parts of social systems in order to highlight somewhat overlooked mechanisms of system differentiation and conflicts. In systems theory professions are characterized as structural couplings, and while I don’t intend to dispute that assumption, it could be important to theoretically model them as emerging social systems. Since their rise and growth in modern society is largely connected with industrial revolution they represent new components of social systems. Can we therefore consider them as emerging social systems, that deal with reduction of complexity in their corresponding, self-referential manner? In this perspective, the professions deal with specific types of problems which stem from original system so the conflicts and communication problems between them are in innate. Newer forms of professions connected with organizational science together with new organizational structures represent increment in managing complexity across larger number of social systems. At the same time, IC technologies provide new possibilities for structural couplings and complexity reduction. Both processes represent not only environmental problem for professions, but they also pose internal problems. For instance, in academic profession there is a rift between those who value the autonomy and values of university as higher good and those who think that it should be more open to markets and business. Though these can be interpreted in terms of power or control, regarding the complexity we should emphasise their mutual dependence in process of differentiation while having in mind evolutionary principles of systems theory. In other words, when speaking of conflicts between systems and professions we should apply relevant system’s theory assumptions consistently.

Abbot, Andrew, 1988. The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labour, The University of Chicago Press.

Brigs, Asa, 2003. Socijalna povijest Engleske (Social History of England), Barbat.

Luhmann, Niklas, 2011. Društvo društva (Society of Society), Naklada Breza, 2011.

Luhmann, Niklas, 1990. The Paradox of System Differentiation and the Evolution of Society, In Alexander, J.C., (ed.) Differentiation Theory and Social Change: Comparative and Historical Perspectives .

Susskind, Daniel, Susskind, Richard, 2015. The future of Professions: How Technology will Transform the Work of Human Experts, Oxford University Press.


Jan I. Jönhill

Professionalization, de-professionalization and role function. The case of the academician


The notion of profession, defined as an occupation with specialized demands of university education and training, is assumed to be appropriate to describe various role functions in modern highly specialized work organizations. This holds as advanced qualifications and skills, or competences, from higher education are demanded in an increasing number of occupations. The academician as profession should be an interesting case to study. One facet of professionalization is the recruitment process. Does in the normal case only relevant criteria, i.e. merits or competences, account when a lecturer, associate professor or professor is recruited? Or does non-professional criteria like docility, personal acquaintances, ideology and so on, have a significant impact? Here, the profession of personnel work (HR) and the form of the management of the university appears to be conflicting academic work.

Another facet, connected to the previous one, is about the assessment of competences relevant to a certain profession. Academic work chiefly follows the humboldtian model of a mix of advanced teaching and researching. Connected to this are issues of role function. When we are included in the family as function system, every aspect of us as a person may be relevant, while in the work life many aspects must not. At the same time in most professions today general communicative qualifications and skills are (by managers) said to be as relevant as the specific ones needed for e.g. a social scientist. Among my questions are: How to distinguish characteristics of a profession and also processes of de-professionalization? And how to understand increased political and marked economic impact and steering on research (the implication of the author-pays model “open access”; the absence of running peer-review practices for many journals, etc.)? – The aim of my presentation is to discuss some issues of professionalization demonstrated mainly by the case of the academician and experiences from Sweden.

Steffen Roth (Rennes) TBA

Pernille Almlund, associate professor, Roskilde University,

The professions of doctors/physicians

A little more than ten years ago health-authorities launched the vaccine against human Papillomavirus (HPV) in Denmark. The vaccine has since then been on debate, the vaccine hesitancy has increased drastically and the coverage, among the young girls offered this vaccine, has fallen from 90% to 20%. A row of young girls has experienced serious side-effects of the vaccination, while health authorities underline that there is no evidence that the girls’ experiences are due to the vaccine. The health authorities communicate in this connection in accordance with the clear majority of medical scientists and medical practitioners in Denmark.

The profession of doctors is highly connected with medical science. We can say that they are intermingled since many medical practitioners have also been medical scientist and the profession is based on breakthroughs in science. One of these breakthroughs is the development of the first publicly known vaccine against smallpox in the year 1796. Since then there have been developed several vaccines against a variety of diseases, very often with the ambition to achieve herd immunity. Vaccine seems to be the answer to the question of prevention.

This project focuses on medical practitioners specifically and doctors in general. It is about how they do their profession and how they communicate about their profession and within their profession. It is an assumption that vaccine is an essential element in doctors understanding of own profession and perceived as one of the most important breakthroughs in medical science. Moreover, it is an assumption that vaccine is a core element in the conduct of this profession and therefore also in the communication with the patients. Therefore, the project focuses on vaccine as a case in order to investigate the profession of doctors.

In the debate about side-effects of the HPV-vaccine, doctors very often blame journalists and organizations in opposition to vaccines and vaccination for communicating a false and emotional picture in opposition to the evidence-based knowledge of science. With reference to Luhmann (2000), we can define these professions and the organization as social systems and say that these systems definitely disturb each other. These disturbances moreover promote conflicts between professions, but maybe an even stronger conflict between the profession of doctors and Danish citizen.

We cannot define Danish citizens as a system, but we can with Luhmann underline that everything which occur, is always part of a system, or more systems, and the environment of other systems (Luhmann, 2000 p. 220). Therefore, it is important to investigate whether this conflict between doctors and citizens is a conflict within the health system or between systems and in this case which systems? To follow this will also show how the profession of doctors perform.

Recently the debate has turned in to being a question of emotions and fake news versus rationality, and some key players among doctors acknowledge the necessity of communicating in an emotional way, because it is difficult to reach people with rationality (, 16th of August 20171). In that sense, the conflict develops and becomes more polarized, since the invention of fake news state citizens as irrational even stronger than earlier (Information, 4th og August 20172).

This study will be conducted as a qualitative study based on literature-study and interview with doctors and especially medical practitioners. Since this is a recently initiated project, the presentation will outline the theoretical frame and the empirical intentions and ask for comments on that. The interview with doctors will be conducted in autumn 2017.

Jan Winczorek, University of Warsaw,, +48-796518053

What is a paralegal?

Abstract of a paper to be delivered during the “Developments of Professions - Observed with Niklas Luhmann’s Systems Theory” meeting in Dubrovnik, September 18th – 22nd, 2017.

In the past decades legal professions have been under many pressures to adapt to economic, political and technological changes. While waning of the monopoly to provide advice and resolve disputes could have been observed in many jurisdictions, new professional groups have emerged. One of them are paralegals, who provide some legal service despite not having formal legal education. This group first appeared as a profession in its own right in the 1970s in the US to become staple element of legal service delivery in some countries.

As opposed to such professions as nurses and paramedics, who might be perceived as having an analogical position among the medical professionals as paralegals do in the legal world, paralegals remain under-theorized. This holds for both sociology of professions and sociology of law, even despite the historical importance of the interest in legal professions in the development of both fields.

These observations are the starting point for the proposed paper, which aims at delivering a preliminary theory of paralegals using conceptual tools of Luhmann's systems theory. Whilst professions have not been of focal interest to Luhmann, he formulated some observations on their nature which might shed light on the notable developments in the legal system.

It is first observed that consistently with Luhmann's theorizing, the function of paralegals is to work with individuals, bridging the gap between individual problems and technical legal knowledge – and that, crucially, up to the standard by far exceeding of what has been hitherto provided by the legal profession. It is stressed that one driving factor behind the emergence of paralegals has been the attempts to improve „access to justice”, based on an observation that common methods of service delivery are too standardised, too rigid and too far detached from individuals' needs and perceptions. This, again, is consistent with the observation that professions in general are plagued with problems of adequacy of technical knowledge for case-oriented practice.

In this vein, emergence of paralegals is conceptualized in the paper as an evolutionary result of reflexivity of the legal system, describing itself as providing formal equality, yet as inaccessible. This self description eventually leads to the paradox of unjust justice, which is (among other means) resolved by mobilization of

Theories are programmes. Prospects of professional theory production
Steffen Roth,; La Rochelle Business School, France, and Yerevan State University, Armenia.
Abstract: Systems Are Theory is the title a commendable article by Dirk Baecker recently published in Cybernetics and Human Knowing. Whereas there is doubt whether all systems are programmes, our article starts from the safe implication that theories are adequately defined as programmes of the function system science. If theories are programmes, however, then it is remarkable that, while the digital transformation of research methods is in full progress, most theorising is still performed in natural languages. Since this constellation is a challenge particularly for a theory-method such as social systems theory, our article explores options for digitally transformed theorising that may be consistently executed in programming languages and increasingly devoid of reference to natural language. 
Paper to the conference Developments of Professions Observed with Niklas Luhmann’s Systems Theory at the Inter University Center Dubrovnik, September 18-22, 2017.
Juha Koskela,; University of Rovanniemi
Identity Semantics of Public Sector Projects – Observing Observations of Project Managers


Project has become a prominent form of organizing many kinds of activities in the public sector. The common factor of public sector projects is that they are usually described as tools for creating something new, instigating and inspiring change as well as tapping into new knowledge about societal problems or answering different demands for development in the society. However, public sector projects are constantly criticized about their lack of concrete effects. This paper suggests a systems theoretical approach to understanding the possibilities and also the limits of projects organization in the public sector. The paper presents a semantic analysis of project manager interviews and analysis of project plans and reports. Based on the concepts of organizational identity and identity semantics this paper examines self-descriptions of project organizations using empirical cases of EU-funded development projects. The paper shows that project managers are often faced with conflicting expectations in fact, social and time dimensions with project logics and observed expectations of public sector organizations in their environment.

Lotte Junker Haarbo ,; Aalborg University

Programs and deviance in social pedagogy

Throughout the last ten years, evidence based programs have come to play a larger role in Danish social pedagogy. This paper arises from an interest regarding which developments, the presence of evidence-based programs can be said to have led to in social pedagogy. More specific, the paper addresses decision making in social pedagogical practice around one of these programs, namely Aggression Replacement Training (a.r.t. in short) (Gundersen, Olsen, & Finne, 2008). The implementation of a.r.t. in Danish social pedagogical organizations has been supported financially by the Danish state/political system in order to ensure transparency regarding both the financial and the social pedagogical perspective on treatment of antisocial behavior among adolescents.

The a.r.t. -manual offers a specific structure, described in detail, on what to do in each of the 30 sessions that the program consists of. Also, the program claims evidence that following the program will lead to aggressive behavior among the participating youths being replaced by pro-social behavior (Gundersen, Olsen, & Finne, 2008, s. 6).

In practice though, social pedagogues – no matter how loyal they wish to be to the program - deviate from the described structure (Harbo , 2013, Harbo, 2015). This paper present preliminary findings from an ongoing ph.d.-study which has a fundamental interest regarding WHY the deviations take place. With a Luhmann inspired form analysis (Andersen, 2009, s. 27ff), the paper suggests that social pedagogues actualize not only the a.r.t.-structure but a broad variety of meaning structures (Luhmann N. , 2000, s. 98ff), when deciding what to do in a given a.r.t.-session. In the paper, I will present some of these meaning structures.

Sanna Lassen –

The team coordinator role in Danish public schools - a version 2.0

For a number of years, research has focused on the importance of instructional leadership for public schools. This has led to the increased demand on leaders to work closer to the learning situation. However, instructional leadership is also regarded as a challenging new task, because it takes time from other tasks and requires new skills. To handle this challenge, an increasing number of schools organize themselves with formal resource professionals, expecting that instructional leadership tasks can be distributed to these employees (Robinson 2015; Harris 2012; UVM 2017). Instructional leadership thus involves not only school leaders, but also appointed employees who need to perform 'close-up leadership'. In fact, the responsibility and the initiative are more and more placed with the team coordinator. Thus, the role as a leader challenges the role as a teacher. Now the team coordinator must take part in the learning agenda at all organizational levels. In other words, they must learn not just to master day to day coordination and collegial topics, but also understand strategic and organizational issues (Andersen 2016). The paper argue that the team coordinator in order to approach these challenges must become a kind of transmitter, a resonant agent or the organizational hybrid between the profession and leadership who can link input from both sides creatively and create productive reflections for both employees and leaders. You can say that the team coordinator becomes a leader without leadership, a colleague without colleagues, a team member without a team and a professional without a profession (Lassen 2016). The team coordinator does not become an architect or a craftsman, but becomes the mediating party: the engineer who can see and understand the drawing while at the same time knowing what is possible to do in practice and according to the overall framework.

Morten Knudsen (CBS).

When professionalization means personalization

Morten Knudsen

Developments of Professions - Observed with Niklas Luhmann’s Systems Theory.

Dubrovnik 2017


‘Personal leadership’ is today a key-concept in the notions of the professionalization of management in the public sector. This is clear both in the semantics of policy papers on public management and in leadership development programmes/educations. The professional leader is today the personal leader. To be a professional leader today means to practice a ‘personal leadership’. ‘The personal’ is thus perceived as a core constituent of management as a profession today. While leadership studies traditionally focus on individual managers more critical discourse studies of leadership tend to operate with generalized subject positions. In order to get a better understanding of ‘the personal’ as a core constituent of professional management this paper aims at developing a third perspective taking it seriously that individual persons matter – as communicative and organizational entities. In order to qualify this perspective the paper presents Luhmann’s concepts of person and organization as a theoretical resource. We claim that Luhmann's concept of person makes it possible to analyse the relationship between persons, other decision premises, and decisions. The paper supplements the theoretical presentations with empirical observations from managers in health care organizations and comes up with five characteristics of the function of persons in communicatively constituted organizations. Based on this the paper discusses how the current emphasis on personal leadership can be understood as an answer to tensions in the steering of public organizations.

Markus Heidungsfelder (Habib University, Karachi, Pakistan,

Professionals, Amateurs, and Dilettantes: A Professional Look at the Observation of Amateurism in the 'Trump White House'

Abstract: The word profession in German does not simply refer to the specific job one holds, but rather an attitude, a confession, which is also found in our academic title: professor. It is an elusive ambiguity that we can best understand if we recognise that a profession is not a system. Some people are regarded as professional musicians, others as amateurs or even worse: as dilettantes. The amateur is the one who loves, the dilettante is the one who likes - but the professional is someone who knows 'how to do it'. One may think of the program of punk, which regarded love for music as much more important than technical proficiency and made it even possible to celebrate dilettantes as geniuses ("genial dilettantes") - in order to avoid the elitism of the so-called progressive rock music.

In our lecture, we will look at the question of professionalism, amateurism, and dilettantism with regard to the system of politics instead. First of all, we shall investigate what constitutes the skill or professionalism of a politician, to then devote ourselves to the question of why this professionalism is nowadays observed as being problematic. In the latter part, we will turn to the wide-ranging effects of this idea, which have manifested themselves in the presidency of Donald Trump. Observers - opponents as well as advocates - agree that Trump is not a professional politician. What are the consequences of making a political amateur or even a dilettante the leader not only of a political party, but of a whole nation? Can, in addition to the obvious structural losses - which dominate mass media in the form of the observation of 'chaos' and even 'dysfunctionality' - gains also be recorded? Or is the political profession, and the profession in general, "a solution which derives from older forms of society, and is only of limited help today" (Luhmann)?

Profession im Deutschen meint zunächst nicht einfach einen Berufsstand, sondern eine Einstellung, ein Bekenntnis, das sich auch in unserem Berufstitel findet: Professor. Es handelt sich um eine schwer zu fassende Undeutlichkeit, die wir uns am besten daran klarmachen können, dass eine Profession schlecht als System zu begreifen ist. Manche Leute gelten als professionelle Musiker, andere als Amateure oder schlimmer noch: als Dilettanten. Der Amateur ist derjenige, der liebt, Dilettant derjenige, der etwas gern hat - und der Profi ist jemand, der ‚es kann'. Man denke an das Programm des Punk, das innerhalb der Popmusik die Liebe zu dieser über das Können stellte und es möglich machte, Dilettanten als Genies („geniale Dilettanten“) zu feiern, um derart die als erstarrt begriffene und den eigenen Ursprüngen untreu gewordene (elitär-populäre) Musik zu erneuern. 

In unserem Vortrag wollen wir uns der Frage der Professionalität im Hinblick auf das System der Politik zuwenden und zunächst untersuchen, was das Können bzw. die Professionalität eines Politikers ausmacht, um uns anschließend der Frage zu widmen, warum diese Professionalität von weiten Teilen der heutigen Wählerschaft als problematisch beurteilt wird. In einem zweiten Teil wollen wir uns den weitflächigen Effekten dieser Einschätzung zuwenden, die auf besonders markante Weise im Wahlsieg Donald Trumps ihren Ausdruck fand. Beobachter - Gegner wie Befürworter - sind sich einig, dass es sich bei Trump nicht um einen professionellen Politiker handelt. Welche Folgen hat es, einen Amateur bzw. Dilettanten zum Anführer nicht nur von professionellen Politikern, sondern einer ganzen Nation zu machen? Lassen sich neben den offenkundigen - und die Medien beherrschenden - Strukturverlusten auch Gewinne verzeichnen? Sind Professionen womöglich nicht mehr als eine, wie Luhmann formuliert, „aus älteren Gesellschaftsformationen stammende, heute nur noch begrenzt hilfreiche Lösung“?

Paper for the conference Developments of Professions Observed with Niklas Luhmann’s Systems Theory at the Inter University Center Dubrovnik, September 18-22, 2017.

Jesper Tække; Lars Clausen

Professionalisation, de- and re-professionalisation in communication and mass media

This essay concerns a number of problems in relation to professional communication. The background are the changing circumstances and extreme phenomena like fake news, Donald Trump’s use of Twitter, his and many other politicians’ use of Facebook Live and also, for instance, the many hostile and irreconcilable debates on social media. The hypothesis is that we see a de-professionalization in communication patterns both regarding the political system and in the public sphere enabled by digital media. In the political system the parties and administrations are weakened while politicians and other actors take initiative. In the public sphere, journalists and the editorial offices are passed over by the blogosphere and social media. Our aim is to analyse these phenomena using media sociology and media history and point out an explanation of what is going on and also point out a media historically based image of a probable socio-media evolutionary scenario for the future development in which we see a possible re-professionalization. 

Jesper Tække, Aarhus University; Lars Clausen

Pædagogisk konsulent / educational consultant


Mobil: +45 24 94 05 77




Center for Undervisningsmidler, Niels Bohrs Allé 1, 5230 Odense

Center for Undervisningsmidler, Vestre Engvej 51C, 7100 Vejle

Tlf. 6318 3400 

Organisational systems on the move

long term transformations of professions from late Medieval interaction systems to second order co-operational functions

Gorm Harste, dr.scient.pol. Aarhus University, (phone ++4560894668)

The classic professions developed with the emergence of organizational systems in the 16th century as a reaction and compromise to Reformation conflicts. Before, first priests and monks, then lawyers and judges got their classic form. This form dependency was transformed by the professions of civil servants and officers in late 16th century with the ‘professional revolution’ in the 1580s. Medical doctors, bankers, shipmasters, engineers, professors, artists and teachers later developed and in the Enlightenment organizational systems fused with functional systems and opened for a or the classical form of professions. With a still more complex organization more professions, from locomotive engineers to nurses, truck drivers, politicians, kindergarten teachers to journalists and therapists developed. Still more intermediate professions developed (fx physiotherapists, pediatrists) and organization by specialization leads to unprecedented needs for coordination functions. Using examples from health systems and military systems, the present paper discuss reductions in material, social and in particular temporal complexities developed by professions in the 16th century and compare with the form of reductions in the 21st century. The printing press form of communication is today substituted with the internet as beforehand the Holy Spirit (today’s corporate spirit) was the medium of classic organizational inclusion and exclusion.

Martin Nore (AFPAF;; Aarhus)

“The Soldier – A Chameleon. Personal Experiences from Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, and Iraq”

With comments from Gorm Harste, Klaus Laursen and Lars Clausen.

Klaus Laursen: BSS, Aarhus University


IUC Conference in Dubrovnik September 18-22, 2017.

Development of Professions – Observed with Niklas Luhmann’s Systems Theory.”

Vibeke Klitgaard (Copenhagen/ University of Lund:

Abstract for presentation:

Social disorder and order in psychiatry.

In this presentation, I will analyse the communication between the patients based on participant observation from two Day Care centres in the beginning of the 1990’ies.

Psychiatry as a social help system.

Luhmann defines help as a contribution to satisfy the needs of another person. Sociologically speaking an act of help is a social phenomenon which gets realized in so far as it is expected. Luhmann takes as point of departure that only expected behaviour can be accepted in social interaction. It presupposes that there is a culture typical pre-understanding at disposal, which in a given situation can be applied to accept or reject the typified expectations releasing help.

In modern function-differentiated societies, the help function applies mainly to the government-organized social welfare services and the medical system, including the psychiatric system. When you’re sick, you expect to get help. The binary code of the medical system is disease – health. In this presentation, I will focus on the persons with a functional mental illness (FMI), who are motivated to seek help.

The core problem of persons suffering from FMI would be that they violate basic expectations. That would be the expectations we all have, but only realize we have them, when they are violated. Luhmann calls them “rarely disappointed expectations”, they are “natural” expectations in that they have no alternatives. In the psychiatric institutions, you find the “alternatives”. At the other end of the scale from violation of basic expectations you find order performances. They occur when there are no disturbances on the three meaning dimensions in communication, and when a person’s behaviour is unremarkable. Psychiatry helps patients improve and re-establish their order performances. One of the important means for this purpose is the so-called “milieu therapy”. I will analyse the communication of the patients within the milieu therapeutic frame in the two Day Care centres.

Useful E-mails:

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2 Baere, Merie & Louise Schou Drivsholm (2017). ’Følelser er det bedste kompas til at træffe politiske beslutninger’. Information. 4th of August 2017 p. 4).

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