European Association for Studies of Literature, Culture and the Environment

EASLCE Webinar Spring 2016

logoEASLCE Webinar Spring 2016

With Dr. Hannes Bergthaller, National Chung-Hsing University, Taiwan

Friday, March 4, 2016 (10 am CET)

(Please register by February 22, 2016)

Social Systems Theory and the Environmental Humanities

Niklas Luhmann’s theory of social systems, elaborated in a vast archipelago of texts between the 1970s and his death in 1998, remains one of most ambitious, conceptually innovative and intellectually provocative attempts to understand modern society. The aim of this webinar is to introduce participants to the basic outlines of social systems theory, and to explore some of the ways in which its insights can be brought to bear on scholarship in the environmental humanities. For the purposes of this webinar, I want to focus on three aspects of social systems theory which ought to make it particularly attractive for environmental humanities scholarship. Social systems theory, I argue, offers us

(1) a radically non-anthropocentric account of the social and of social evolution;

(2) a theory of modernity which allows for an understanding of world society as a reality sui generis, and of the role environmentalist movements play within this configuration;

(3) a distinctive conceptualization of the relationship between society and its ecological environment.

The readings are selected to underscore these claims, on which I will also elaborate at the beginning of the webinar. Both with regard to its premises and to the conclusions which it draws from them, social systems theory is radically counter-intuitive and runs athwart assumptions widely shared across the environmental humanities. I would therefore ask participants to single out aspects of the theory that they find particularly objectionable or difficult to square with their own understanding of environmental humanities scholarship, or environmental issues more broadly. The purpose of the discussion will be not only to clarify the respective positions of social systems theory, but more importantly, to find out in what ways they can stimulate original revisions or re-articulations of the problems that define the environmental humanities as a field.

Required Readings:

- Bergthaller, Hannes. “The Canon of East Asian Ecocriticism and the Duplicity of Culture.” CLCWeb 16.6 (2014).

- Bergthaller, Hannes. “’No More Eternal than the Hills of the Poets’: On Rachel Carson, Environmentalism, and the Paradox of Nature.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment. ISLE 22.1 (2015): 9-26.

- Bergthaller, Hannes. “Paradox as Bedrock: Social Systems Theory and the Ungrounding of Literary Environmentalism in Desert Solitaire.” DeGruyter Handbook of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology. Ed. Hubert Zapf. Berlin: DeGruyter, forthcoming.

- Luhmann, Niklas. “Globalization or World Society? How to Conceive of Modern Society.” International Review of Sociology 7.1 (1997): 67-79.

- Weisz, Helga. “The Probability of the Improbable: Society-Nature Coevolution.” Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography 93.4 (2011): 325–36.

If you are not an EASLCE member you can join here.  In order to register for the webinar go here: