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The Sensitive Organisation of the Reflective Society (thesis)



Susanne Holmström

Selected Publications

Ph.D. thesis

Dissertation (M. Soc. Sc.)

PhD thesis:

The Sensitive Organisation of the Reflective Society
Social systemic reconstructions of the evolution in corporate legitimacy and societal responsibility

The thesis analytically uncovers the evolutionary transformations within the expectations from corporate legitimacy and social responsibility since the mid-1900s, and identifies these transformations as part of society's self-proceeding dynamics. The focus is on social processes – as distinct from the individual , and as distinct from the idea of purposive systems rationality. Based on the theories of Niklas Luhmann, the social processes are seen as constituting society as a self-organising, self-referential circular dynamics which drives the processes forward. The basic problem is the continuation of society, and through a focus on the evolution within the ideals of corporate legitimacy and social responsibility the thesis demonstrates how society regulates itself.

Accordingly, the thesis dissociates itself from an anthropocentric understanding of society which sees the individual as the ultimate reference of the social analysis, and applies a polycentric understanding: the ultimate reference of society is differentiated communicative systems.

Correspondingly, the thesis takes a distinction-theoretical approach as opposed to an ontological understanding of notions such as society, organisation, social responsibility, public sphere, and ethics – and endeavours to dissolve ontologisations which are socially processed in evolutionary processes through differing and changing distinctions.

The thesis analytically uncovers a series of patterns within the social processes:

  • Transformations in society's processes of coordination towards polycontextual forms of legitimisation: towards polycontext-referential self-regulation .
  • Social responsibility is analytically uncovered as a function which changes in equivalences as part of society's self-regulating processes, and is reconstructed as society's responsibility for itself.
  • A specific process is analytically identified over evolutionary stages from conventional over counter-active to reflective towards 'good practice' and which stabilises in a neo-conventional, reflective business paradigm .
  • As part of this process and constituting a polycontextual form of legitimisation, the systemic form of observation reflection is analytically uncovered as a prevalent evolutionary feature of society – and accordingly a reflective practice as the ideal of the late modern organisation.

To avoid a blinding reduction of complexity the thesis explicitly deselects action-oriented contemplations. Paradoxically, by means of this approach, the potential for insight and action will lie implicitly throughout the thesis. By omitting to see the human being, insight is created for the human being. The reasons and practices we in our everyday life take for granted are seen as ‘re-impregnations' of the social memories: as a result of society's continuous solutions of problems with its self-continuation. The potential of the thesis lies partly in demonstrating these circumstances, however also in reconstructing the context which has impregnated the 'reality' in which corporate legitimacy and social responsibility is now seen.

Thus, the considerations of the thesis can be viewed as an attempt to overcome society's first order blindness and establish a reflective posit

Click to download the original Danish edition of the thesis, "Grænser for ansvar".

The thesis is currently available in Danish only.



Susanne Holmström - Banevej 5 - DK-2920 Charlottenlund - Denmark - Tlf: (+45) 39635330
Roskilde University – Universitetsvej 1, bld. 23.2 – DK-4000 Roskilde – Denmark – susanho@ruc.dk