The Military of Guatemala and Niklas Luhmann's Theory of Autopoietic Social Systems


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Virginia Tech


Niklas Luhmann's theory of autopoietic social systems challenges traditional social science by dissolving the individual as an analytical category and replacing it with the functional structures of social systems. The opaque complexity of this model of thought has rendered it extremely difficult to understand and apply, which has obstructed its reception on the part of empirically oriented scholars.

This paper investigates the political and military strategy of Guatemala's armed forces during the 1960s-1990s civil war from the perspective of the theory of autopoietic social systems. It thereby illustrates and illuminates Luhmann's highly abstract theoretical framework and demonstrates its scope and limits as an explanatory model guiding empirical research in the social sciences. By the same token, it lends moderate support to the universality claim Luhmann makes for his radical systems perspective and proposes new avenues of thought that could lead to a better understanding of Third World politics.



Military, Guatemala, Luhmann