Author(s): Niklas Luhmann
In The Reality of the Mass Media Luhmann extends his theoryof social systems - applied in his earlier works to the economy,the political system, art, religion, the sciences and law - to anexamination of the role of mass media in the constitution of socialreality.
Luhmann argues that the system of mass media is a set ofrecursive, self-referential programmes of communication, whosefunctions are not determined by the external values oftruthfulness, objectivity, or knowledge, nor by specific socialinterests or political directives. Rather, he contends that thesystem of mass media is regulated by the internal code information/ non-information, which enables the system to select itsinformation (news) from its own environment and to communicate thisinformation in accordance with its own reflexive criteria.
Despite its self-referential quality, however, Luhmann describesthe mass media as one of the key cognitive systems of modernsociety, by means of which society constructs the illusion of itsown reality. The reality of mass media, he argues, allows societiesto process information without destabilizing social roles oroverburdening social actors. It forms a broad reservoir (memory) ofoptions for the future co-ordination of action, and it providesparameters for the stabilization of political expectations. Inthese respects, it has a crucial function in the generalself-reproduction of society, as it produces a continuousself-description of the world around which modern society canorientate itself. In his discussion of mass media, Luhmannelaborates a theory of communication in which communication is seennot as the act of a particular consciousness, nor the medium ofintegrative social norms, but merely the technical codes throughwhich systemic operations arrange and perpetuate themselves.
This book will be of great interest to third year students,graduate students and scholars in sociology, politics, social andpolitical theory, media and cultural studies and communicationstudies.