Niklas Luhmann

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Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998)

Zettelkasten von Niklas Luhmann

ist jetzt teilweise online verfügbar (via

„Rund 90.000 handschriftliche Notizen versammelte Luhmann im Laufe von fünf Jahrzehnten in dem hölzernen Büromöbel. Ihm ging es dabei um weit mehr als die Akkumulation von Gedanken, Zitaten und Literaturangaben: Ein ausgeklügeltes Anschluss- und Verweisungssystem machte seine Zettelsammlung zu einem „kompetenten Kommunikationspartner“, der Ideen und Überraschungen hervorbringt. (…)

Mit der Freischaltung der neuen Internetpräsenz des Niklas Luhmann-Archivs haben die Akteure aus Bielefeld und Köln einen wichtigen Meilenstein hinter sich gelassen: Rund 4.000 Zettel sind bereits vollständig erfasst und laden zum Blättern und Stöbern direkt im Browser ein. Sie gehören zum Zettelkasten I, denn die Sammlung gliedert sich in zwei Kästen, die einen Übergang von Luhmanns Forschungsinteressen weg von eher juristischen und verwaltungswissenschaftlichen Fragen hin zu Soziologie und Philosophie dokumentieren. Weitere rund 35.000 Zettel stehen online zunächst lediglich als Bilddateien zur Verfügung.“

080419 via digithek ch

050922 via site

Communicating with Slip Boxes - An Empirical Account - by Niklas Luhmann


What follows is a piece of empirical sociology. It concerns me and someone else, namely my slip box [or index card file]. It should be clear that the usual methods of empirical sociology would fail in this special case. Still, it is empirical, as this case really obtains. And it is research, for we can—at least that is what I hope—generalize from it; even though one of the participants, or better: both of them, themselves generalize themselves .

For generalizations or research that also applies to other cases, we need problems, concepts, and, whenever possible, theories. For both of us, that is myself and my slip box, it is easy to think of systems theory. In any case, it is being presupposed. In spite of this, we choose a communicative theory starting point. No one will be surprised that we consider ourselves to be systems, but what about communication or even successful communication? One of us listens to the other? This needs to be explained.

That slip boxes can be recommended as partners of communication is first of all due to a simple problem about technical and economic theoretical research. It is impossible to think without writing; at least it is impossible in any sophisticated or networked (anschlußfähig) fashion. Somehow we must mark differences, and capture distinctions which are either implicitly or explicitly contained in concepts. Only if we have secured in this way the constancy of the schema that produces information, can the consistency of the subsequent processes of processing information be guaranteed. And if one has to write anyway, it is useful to take advantage of this activity in order to create in the system of notes a competent partner o communication.

One of the most basic presuppositions of communication is that the partners can mutually surprise each other. Only in the way can information be produced in the respective other. Information is an intra-systematic event. It results when one compares one message or entry with regard to other possibilities. Information, accordingly, originates only in systems which possess a comparative schema—even if this amounts only to: “this or something else.” For communication, we do not have to presuppose that both parties use the same comparative schema. The effect of surprise even increases when this is not the case and when we believe that a message means something (or is useful) against the background of other possibilities. Put differently, the variety in communicating systems increases when it may happen that the two partners successfully communicate in the face of different comparative goals. (This means that it is useful for the other partner.) This requires the addition of randomness (Zufall) into the system—randomness in the sense that the agreement of the different comparative schemata is not been fixed, or that the information which is transmitted by communication is correct, but rather that this happens (or does not happen) “at the occasion” of communication.

If a communicative system is to hold together for a longer period, we must choose either the rout of highly technical specialization or that of incorporating randomness and information generated ad hoc. Applied to collections of notes, we can choose the route of thematic specialization (such as notes about governmental liability) or we can choose the route of an open organization. We decided for the latter. After more than twenty-six years of successful and only occasionally difficult co-operation, we can now vouch for the success or at least the viability of this approach.

Naturally, the route that creates a partner in communication that is meant for the long haul, is open, and not thematically limited (but only limiting itself), makes certain structural demands on the partners. You might, given the great trust that is still being put in the abilities of human beings, trust that I fulfill these presuppositions. But what about the slip box? How must it be conceived that he will acquire the corresponding communicative competence? I cannot answer this question deductively, not by means of a review of all the possibilities and the selection of the best. We shall remain at the bathos of experience and give only a description saturated by theory.


310523 via site

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