Autopoietic spatial systems: the significance of actor network theory and system theory for the development of a system theoretical approach of space
08 Jun 2005
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Division of Geography, Seminar on Social Geography, University of Munich, Luisenstr. 37, 80333 Munich, Germany
Abstract. This article presents a system theoretical approach to space. Basically, there have been two motivations that led to this approach. Firstly, within German-speaking social geography, a significant tendency can be recognised to understand space (spatiality) as solely determined by social factors. System theory, on the other hand, replaces this causal thinking with a reciprocal relationship of sociality and spatiality. Secondly, several attempts to integrate spatiality into the theory of systems remain unconvincing in certain parts. Even Luhmann, whose work formed the basis of my approach attributed only marginal significance to space in social systems.
Thus the paper deals with the difficulty of exclusively socially determined spatiality. In line with Flusser's "modes of translation" I suggest a way to overcome this difficulty. Flusser's ideas point directly and unsurprisingly to actor network theory (ANT), because here, too, the concept of translation is crucial. The concept of translation enables us to understand the results of relationships between social and spatial systems as hybrid phenomena. Moreover, ANT provides an interesting conceptual approach to space which will be interpreted from a system theoretical point of view.
One important outcome emerging from linking ANT and system theory is a symmetrical, mutually dependent relationship between the social construction of spatiality and spatial construction of sociality. However, the core implication is to focus on the results of these associative relations: the socio-spatial hybrid settings. Discussing several characteristics of spatial systems and their connection with social systems, the paper offers some suggestions concerning the influence of information and communication technologies on generating new kinds of spaces.