EERJ Open Call: Niklas Luhmann and education: observing world society

For over thirty years, until his death in 1998, Niklas Luhmann developed with a rarely seen radicality a theory of society that features a today still peculiarly bold claim to universality – a supertheory of “everything social” (Luhmann, 1995 p. xlvii). This characterizing trait finds perhaps its clearest expression in the simplicity with which he defined modern society, long before the globalization debate broke loose, as a world society (Luhmann, 1971). No longer limited by states or territory (cf. Luhmann, 1982), but instead defined by the now globe-spanning attainability of communication, he considered a single world society as the one and only societal form possible.

While Luhmann produced a rich and meticulous sociological analysis of school education, he never elaborated much, if at all, which implications his notion of world society might carry for education (cf. Luhmann & Schorr, 1988; Luhmann, 2002). His sociological account of the education system focused mainly on describing its morphogenesis in Europe, in an attempt to break through the apparent normality of school education. The same aspiration marked his often-taunting dialogue with German pedagogy (Luhmann, 2004). As far as he registered an emancipation from the nation-state, it was not theorized in reference to a global society, but observed as the limits of steering a now autonomous education system (cf. Luhmann, 1997), manifestly apparent in the perpetual attempts to reform school education (Luhmann & Schorr, 1988, p. 15) and the system’s seemingly endless and uncontrollable growth (Luhmann, 2002, pp. 122-123).

Notwithstanding that precisely this effort is lacking in his sociology of education, Luhmann’s systems theory remains one of the very few grand theories able to offer a conceptually solid foundation for elaborating on the global traits characterizing modern society. In addition to offering an international showcase for current research engaging with his oeuvre, this special issue proposes to explore how the notion of world society can be further refined and applied to the changing panorama of education. That holds both for the understanding of world society as the most encompassing social system, as for its complementary interpretation as the structural primacy of cognitive expectation patterns, rather than normative integration, in the self-organisation of society (Luhmann, 1971, p. 26)

In order to investigate the changing contours of a global education system within world society, we invite papers that address this question via empirical and/or theoretical inquiry from a systems-theory perspective.

Possible topics include:

  • Organisation & profession: How does the global character of the education system affect the re-specifications of education? Which new organisations and professions emerge and how do they differ from the existing configuration of national school systems?
  • Inclusion/exclusion: How does education’s claim to universal inclusion translate beyond the national context? Who is addressed by the global education system? Who is not?
  • Differentiation and structural couplings: Do new couplings or divides emerge between education and its worldwide environment? Which role do states, constitutions or markets play in the articulation of that ecological difference? How does global education relate to the local significance of the family?
  • Interaction: Is educational interaction still predominantly structured by the hierarchical difference between a professional teacher and students? Or does the contingency formula of learning allow for other forms of pedagogical communication, with different role constellations?
  • Temporality: How does education deal with future uncertainties? Do future emergencies translate into educational change?
  • Medium/form: With education’s horizon increasingly constituted along the entire life course, how are new educational forms moulded into shape? How is the difference and relationship between education’s medium and (digital) dissemination media to be understood?
  • Observation/operation: What role do global comparisons play in the destabilization or re-stabilization of the education systems’ reference points? Are there other mechanisms organising second order observation on a global scale? Which paradoxes do they unfold?
  • Steering: What policy (re)forms do attempt to govern education beyond the Nation-State?

Guidelines for Authors

If you are interested in submitting a paper, please send an extended abstract (max. 2 pages) by November 1, 2018, to and Final paper submission is expected by February 16, 2019 and should be uploaded on

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Luhmann, N. (1971). Die Weltgesellschaft. Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie, 57, 1–35.
Luhmann, N. (1982). Territorial Borders as System Boundaries. In R. Strassaldo & G. Delli Zotti (Eds.), Cooperation and Conflict in Border Areas (pp. 235–244). Milano: Franco Angeli.
Luhmann, N. (1995). Social systems. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
Luhmann, N. (1997). Limits of Steering. Theory, Culture & Society, 14(1), 41–57.
Luhmann, N. (2002). Das Erziehungssystem der Gesellschaft (D. Lenzen, Ed.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
Luhmann, N. (2004). Schriften zur Pädagogik. (D. Lenzen, Ed.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
Luhmann, N., & Schorr, K.-E. (1988). Reflexionsprobleme im Erziehungssystem. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

EERJ Call for Papers

Niklas Luhmann and education: observing world society

Eds. Eric Mangez and Pieter Vanden Broeck

Submit online at: 

Deadline: 16 Februar 2019