Niklas Luhmann: social systems theory and the translation of public health research

Samantha Meyer, Barry Gibson, Paul Ward

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


For some, Niklas Luhmann’s social theory is ‘the best description and analysis of contemporary society presently available’, and yet ‘the majority of people — not only the wider public, but also in academic circles — have apparently failed to notice this’ (Moeller 2012:3). Over his lifetime Luhmann produced over 75 books and 500 articles (Borch 2011), although he is probably best known for his scholarly work on the sociology of trust and risk (Luhmann 1979, 1988, 2000, 2005) and systems theory (Luhmann 1982, 1995). Given his wide-ranging and voluminous outputs, it is therefore highly unlikely that we will be able to provide a completely adequate introduction to his work in this short chapter. It is with this in mind that we would direct readers to some of the useful texts that introduce Luhmann (King and Thornhill 2003, 2006; Moeller 2006; King 2009; Borch 2011). In addition, it is worth pointing out that Luhmann’s own lecures introducing systems theory have now been published and are presented in a very accessible format, clearly demarcating his theory of society from other approaches in sociology (Luhmann 2013). For many of those working with his theory, an exciting development has been the recent publication of Theory of Society Volume 1: Cultural Memory in the Present (Luhmann 2012).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of Social Theory in Health, Illness and Medicine
EditorsF. Collyer
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781137355621
ISBN (Print)9781349470228
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2015


  • Social Determinants
  • public health research
  • structural coupling


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