No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)


Luhmann, N. (1975), Macht, Stuttgart: Ferdinand Enke Verlag.

In sociology and communication studies, power is a significant topic. Among the scholars who have explored this complex phenomenon, Niklas Luhmann stands out for his insights and perspectives. Luhmann's examination of power within the framework of symbolic communication media and organized social systems offers us a lens through which to understand and navigate the dynamics of power in contemporary society.


Power as a Communication Medium

Luhmann's approach to power encourages us to view it as a communication medium, much like language or money. He suggests that power should be examined in broader concepts, including causality, exchange, and game theory. By doing so, we gain a more comprehensive understanding of power's role in society. Power, according to Luhmann, operates as a symbolically generalized communication medium within the context of macro-sociological systems. In this perspective, power involves influencing the selections and choices of others. It relies on the production and reduction of uncertainty. What distinguishes power from coercion is its ability to maintain symbolic generalization while reducing complexity. Power, as a communication medium, limits the range of selections for the recipient, thereby altering their possible actions. It can be seen as a catalyst, accelerating events and altering the balance of effective connections.


The Differentiation of Power

One of the insights from Luhmann's work is the differentiation of power within society. Power is not a monolithic entity but is distributed across various social systems, including family, religion, economy, and education. This decentralized distribution of power poses challenges to the complete monopolization of power by any one system. It highlights the interdependencies that characterize modern society.

Luhmann's exploration of power within organized social systems, particularly organizations, sheds light on how power operates within these contexts. Formal organizational power and personnel power are crucial components in understanding power dynamics within organizations. As organizations become more complex, the dynamics of power change, and new challenges emerge.


Challenges and Solutions

Luhmann's work also addresses the challenges associated with power. He discusses the risk of both the misuse of power and the risk of too little power. As society's decision-making capacity increases, it becomes more challenging to make and transmit decisions effectively. Luhmann suggests that traditional remedies grounded in ethical considerations may no longer suffice in addressing these complexities. Two competing solutions emerge: juridification and democratization. Juridification involves applying legal frameworks to interactions and conflicts, allowing political power to be conserved and utilized for non-political purposes. On the other hand, democratization introduces localized politics within various organizational contexts, potentially blurring the lines between different functional domains of society.