Can social systems theory be used for immanent critique?

Alexei R Procyshyn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleOther


Two trends have emerged in recent work from the Frankfurt School: the first involves a reconsideration of immanent critique’s basic commitments and viability for critical social theory, while the second involves an effort to introduce temporal considerations for social interaction into critical theorizing to help make sense of the phenomenon of social acceleration. This article contributes to these ongoing discussions by investigating whether social systems theory, in which temporal relations play a primary role, can be integrated with immanent critique. If such a synthesis were successful, it would promise to unify two distinct forms of social theorizing that have often been taken to be orthogonal or incommensurate since the debate between Luhmann and Habermas in the 1970s. The investigation proceeds in three parts: first, the article delineates immanent critique’s conditions of success; second, using these conditions, it identifies potential points of contact between social systems theorizing and immanent critical forms of analysis, while exemplifying these commonalities via a case study; finally, the article argues that, although immanent critique is not a strict method of analysis or investigation, its success conditions preclude social systems theory on the grounds that the latter approach cannot anchor itself within the context of analysis in the way ‘immanent critique’ requires.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-114
Number of pages18
JournalThesis Eleven: Critical Theory and Historical Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017

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