Double Contingency and Value Consensus

Communication: Reflections on Niklas Luhmann's Social Systems Theory

In the chapter 3 of Social Systems, the chapter on Double Contingency, Luhmann writes

Nothing forces us to seek the solution for the problem of double contingency exclusively in an already existing consensus, thus in the social dimension. There are functional equivalents–for example, those in the temporal dimension. At first alter tentatively determines his behavior in a situation that is still unclear. He begins with a friendly glance, a gesture, a gift–and waits to see whether and how ego receives the proposed definition of the situation. In light of this beginning, every subsequent step is an action with a contingency-reducing, determining, effect–be it positive or negative. . . . We can connect this to the “order from noise principle” of general systems theory. No preordained value consensus is needed. The problem of double contingency (i.e., empty, closed, indeterminable self-reference) draws in chance straightaway, creates sensitivity to chance…

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