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New long-term research project ‘Niklas Luhmann – A passion for theory’

Published on 7. November 2014, 16:39 h
Five million Euros of funding for the project from the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences, Humanities and the Arts

On the 30th of October, the Joint Science Conference (GWK) announced six new long-term research projects for the Academies’ Programme sponsored by the Federal Government and the States. The research proposal ‘Niklas Luhmann – Theorie als Passion. Wissenschaftliche Erschließung und Edition des Nachlasses’ [Niklas Luhmann – A passion for theory: Academic indexing and editing of the legacy] is a new admission to the Academies’ Programme for the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences, Humanities and the Arts. It will receive a total of 5,050,000 Euro over a period of 16 years. As a result, the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences, Humanities and the Arts is now represented by 15 projects in the largest research programme for the humanities in Germany.

Der Zettelkasten bildet nur einen Teil des Nachlasses von Niklas Luhmann
The filing cabinet is just one part of Niklas Luhmann’s legacy. Photo: Bielefeld University
The project should carry out academic work on the legacy of the sociologist Niklas Luhmann. The head of the research project is Professor Dr. André Kieserling, Professor of General Sociology and Sociological Theory at Bielefeld University where the project will also be located. The Faculty of Sociology is cooperating with the archive and the library of Bielefeld University along with the Cologne Center for eHumanties (CCeH) in the project that will start in 2015. Professor Dr. André Kieserling says, ‘I’m delighted that the project has been accepted into the Academies’ Programme. With the Academy’s support, we shall be able to conserve and study Niklas Luhmann’s academic legacy, present it on a website in the public domain, and produce an edited version of his unpublished manuscripts.’
The research project

Niklas Luhmann (1927–1998) worked as a researcher and teacher at Bielefeld University from 1968 to 1993. Alongside Max Weber, he was one of the most important sociologists of the 20th century. His social theory and theory of society developed continuously over 30 years is internationally renowned. Luhmann’s extensive academic legacy, which Bielefeld University was able to acquire in 2010, reveals more about the author and his theories than his published works, and the amount of information it contains on the recent history of ideas is potentially only topped by the legacy of Edmund Husserl. One particularly important source of information and the centre of Luhmann’s theoretical work is his ‘filing cabinet’ containing roughly 90,000 filing cards. This is the principal part of the legacy. These records made between 1951 and 1996 provide a unique documentation of how Luhmann developed his theory, allowing us to understand the collection as his intellectual autobiography. Alongside the filing cabinet, his legacy contains almost 200 unpublished manuscripts. Particularly the early works from the 1950s and 1960s on legal and administrative science topics reveal the intellectual roots of Luhmann’s theory. Other outstanding contents include the four comprehensive versions of his theory of society written between 1965 and 1990 that trace the development of Luhmann’s world of ideas and concepts all the way up to the final published version that came out in 1997. The same also applies for the comprehensive lecture notes in the legacy that not only reveal Luhmann as an academic teacher but also illustrate the way in which he took his first approach to new fields of research.
The edition of the legacy to be produced in the Academies’ project is conceived as sociological research on the structure and genesis of one of the last ‘grand theories’ in sociology. It forms the basis for a publication in both book form and online. In cooperation with the CCeH, a general information portal will be set up in the public domain that will provide a user-friendly presentation of all the scientifically relevant elements of Luhmann’s legacy. The research platform linking together the different materials in the legacy ensures access to this scientific work in not only a theoretically appropriate but also a contemporary form – thereby making the material widely available for further research.
The Academies’ Programme
The Academies’ Programme has been sponsored jointly by the Federal Government and the States since 1979/80. Its aim is to promote long-term research projects predominantly in the humanities. Run by the Academies of Sciences, Humanities and the Arts, it is currently the largest research programme addressing this field in Germany. It is coordinated by the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities and has a budget of roughly 62 million Euros in 2015. Since 2006, the Programme is announced publicly every year. To be accepted in the Programme, research projects in the social sciences must meet the following criteria: they have to be significant for the whole of Germany and not just regional, of high academic relevance, run for 12–15 years, and require a minimum budget of 120,000 Euro per year. Decisions on the budget for the Academies’ Programme, the admission of new projects, and the continuation of existing projects are made by the Joint Science Conference (GWK) in which both the Federal Government and the States are represented.
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