Universität Bielefeld

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Niklas Luhmann was one of the greatest international sociologists of the 20th century. From 1968 onwards he taught at Bielefeld University (one of its first professors) until his retirement. As an outstanding sociological theorist, Luhmann played a crucial role in promoting awareness of the University by the international scientific as well as non-scientific public. For the first time in 2005, the Faculty of Sociology and the Rectorate of Bielefeld University established a Niklas-Luhmann-guest professorship. The intention of this guest professorship is to attract internationally renowned sociologists in order to offer the students and a wider academic as well as non-academic public audience the opportunity to become directly acquainted with influential and innovative theories. Appointment to the guest professorship always occurs in the summer semester.


Current Niklas-Luhmann-Guest-Professor

+  2016: Richard Münch


Richard Münch was the Niklas Luhmann Guest Professor at the Department of Sociology and at the BGHS (Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology) from 28 November 2016 to 5 February 2017. He is professor emeritus for sociology at the University of Bamberg and senior professor for social theory and comparative macrosociology at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen.

Richard Münch, born in 1945, studied sociology, philosophy and psychology at Heidelberg University from 1965 to 1970, where he earned his Master of Arts in 1969 and his Ph.D. in 1971. He completed his post-doctoral qualification (Habilitation) in sociology at the University of Augsburg in 1972, where he worked as an academic assistant to the Chair for Sociology and Communication studies from 1970 to 1974. From 1974 to 1976 he taught as a professor for sociology at the University of Cologne, from 1976 to 1995 at the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, and from 1995 to 2013 at the University of Bamberg, where he was appointed Emeritus of Excellence in 2013. Since 2015, he has been senior professor for social theory and comparative macrosociology at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen. He spent multiple stints as a guest professor at the University of California in Los Angeles and belonged to the editorial board of the American Journal of Sociology, the Annual Review of Social Theory, as well as the journals Sociological Theory, Zeitschrift für Soziologie and Soziologische Revue. From 2002 to 2012 he was spokesperson of the interdisciplinary graduate programme "Markets and Social Systems in Europe", sponsored by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft at the University of Bamberg. He was a member and ultimately chairman of the advisory board of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, and is a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

After dealing with the foundations of action theory and social theory in his dissertation and his post-doctoral (Habilitation) thesis (Mentales System und Verhalten, Mohr Siebeck, 1972; Gesellschaftstheorie und Ideologiekritik, Hofmann und Campe, 1973), Richard Münch turned to the classic and modern contributions to social theory (including Theorie des Handelns, Suhrkamp, 1982; Theory of Action, Routledge, 1987). His further theoretical work targeted the wide-ranging collection of various strands of theory and their contribution to explaining human action and order and changes in society (Sociological Theory, 3 vols., Nelson Hall, 1994; Soziologische Theorie, 3 Bände, Campus, 2002-2004). Building on these works on social theory, Richard Münch conducted broad-based comparative historical studies on the development of modern society (Die Struktur der Moderne, Suhrkamp, 1984; Die Kultur der Moderne, 2 vols., Suhrkamp, 1986; The Ethics of Modernity, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001). Since the early 1990s he has been investigating structural change in societies of the present. His focus here is, on the one hand, on the causes, manifestations and consequences of global expansion, concentration and acceleration of communication (including Dialektik der Kommunikationsgesellschaft, Suhrkamp, 1991; Dynamik der Kommunikationsgesellschaft, Suhrkamp, 1995); and on the other, the structural changes in identity, solidarity and social integration as a consequence of the Europeanization and globalization of life circumstances (among them, Das Projekt Europa, Suhrkamp, 1993; Globale Dynamik, lokale Lebenswelten, Suhrkamp, 1998; Offene Räume, Suhrkamp, 2001; Nation and Citizenship in the Global Age, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001; Die Konstruktion der europäischen Gesellschaft, Campus, 2008; Das Regime des liberalen Kapitalismus, Campus, 2009; Das Regime des Pluralismus, Campus, 2010; Das Regime des Freihandels, Campus, 2011; European Governmentality, Routledge, 2010; Inclusion and Exclusion in the Liberal Competition State, Routledge, 2012; The Global Division of Labour, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). In his current research, Richard Münch is investigating changes in education and science in the context of intensified international competition (among them, Die akademische Elite, Suhrkamp, 2007; Globale Eliten, lokale Autoritäten, Suhrkamp, 2009; Akademischer Kapitalismus, Suhrkamp, 2011; Academic Capitalism, Routledge, 2014).

In the framework of the Niklas-Luhmann-Guest-Professorship, on 14 December 2016 Richard Münch held a public university lecture about international competition in education between global standardization and national traditions. In addition, he held a weekly seminar for graduate students on the topic of the university in academic capitalism ("Die Universität im akademischen Kapitalismus") as well as a colloquium on dissertations in progress.

Information about the seminars: 

300199 Die Universität: Von der akademischen Gemeinschaft zum strategisch operierenden Unternehmen - The University: From the Academic Community to the Strategically Operating Enterprise (S) (WiSe 2016/2017)   

300200 Kolloquium für Doktorandinnen und Doktoranden/Colloquium for Ph.D. students (S) (WiSe 2016/2017)


Previous Niklas-Luhmann-Guest-Professors

+   2015: Elena Esposito


This year Niklas-Luhmann-Visiting Professor, coming to Bielefeld from December 2015 until January 2016 is Prof. Elena Esposito.

Elena Esposito is professor of sociology at the University of Modena-Reggio Emilia. She received her PhD and her Habilitation in Sociology from Bielefeld University under the supervision of Niklas Luhmann. She has held several fellowships and guest professorships, including institutions such as Columbia University, Meiji University, the University of Vienna, IKKM Weimar, ISA Warwick, The New School in New York, and the Humboldt Stiftung.

Esposito works with the theory of social systems on a broad range of issues especially in relation to the social management of time. Her publications deal with topics such as social memory and forgetting, fashion as the semantic institutionalization of transience, the use of the future in financial markets, the genesis and transformation of fiction, and the social management of uncertainty. In all these cases, the tools of systems theory, with their focus on contingency and improbability, are utilized to foster dialogue with other social theories as well as with ongoing public debates. Her current research projects address the possibilities and forms of forgetting on the web, the problem of communication with algorithms, and the proliferation of rankings and ratings for the management of information.

As the Niklas Luhmann Visiting Professor of Sociology, Elena Esposito will give a public lecture on Artificial Communication: The production of contingency by algorithms on December 9th. While on the faculty of the Department of Sociology at Bielefeld University she will be teaching a weekly graduate seminar on Developing Systems Theory, focusing on the challenges and the usefulness of Luhmann’s approach for current sociological research. She will also coordinate a Master Class for the discussion of ongoing PhD dissertations.

For further informations about Elena Esposito see the CV.

+   2014: Alejandro Portes


This year Niklas-Luhmann-Visiting Professor, coming to Bielefeld from October 4th to December 6th, is Prof. Alejandro Portes.

Alejandro Portes is Howard Harrison and Gabrielle Snyder Beck Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Miami. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Migration and Development at Princeton. He has formerly taught at Johns Hopkins University, where he held the John Dewey Chair in Arts and Sciences; Duke University, and the University of Texas-Austin. In 1997, he was elected president of the American Sociological Association and served in that capacity in 1998-99. Born in Havana, Cuba, he came to the United States in 1960. He was educated at the University of Havana, Catholic University of Argentina, and Creighton University. He received his M. A. and Ph. D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Portes is the author of 220 articles and chapters on national development, international migration, Latin American and Caribbean urbanization, and economic sociology. He has published 36 books and special issues. His books include City on the Edge – the Transformation of Miami (California 1993), co-authored with Alex Stepick and winner of the Robert Park Award for best book in urban sociology and the Anthony Leeds Award for best book in urban anthropology in 1995; and Immigrant America: A Portrait, 3rd edition, (California 2006), designated as a Centennial Publication by the University of California Press in 1996.

His current research is on the adaptation process of the immigrant second generation in comparative perspective, the role of institutions on national development, and immigration and the American health system. In 2001, he published, with Rubén G. Rumbaut, Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation and Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America (California 2001). Legacies is the winner of the 2002 Distinguished Scholarship Award from the American Sociological Association and of the 2002 W. I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki Award for best book from the International Migration Section of ASA. Ten volumes of his collected essays have been published in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. His most recent articles have appeared in the American Sociological Review, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, International Migration Review, and Population and Development Review.

Portes is a former fellow of the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences and of the Russell Sage Foundation. He has received honorary doctorates from the New School for Social Research, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Genoa (Italy). He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2008, he received the annual Award for Scientific Reviewing (Social and Politcal Sciences) from the National Academy of Sciences. In 2009, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society. In 2010, he received the W.E.B. DuBois Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award from the American Sociological Association and, in 2012, he was inducted as the James Coleman Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.

For further informations about Alejandro Portes see the CV.

During his visit at the Faculty of Sociology of the University of Bielefeld Alejandro Portes is going to teach a weekly graduate seminar at the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology “The Economic Sociology of Immigration”. [more...]

Alejandro Portes will give a public Lecture at the University on November 19th:
“Immigration, Transnationalism and Development: the State of the Question"

+   2013: Yasemin Soysal

portrait Yasemin Soysal

Before taking her position at Essex University, Yasemin Soysal studied (PhD in Sociology, Stanford University) and worked (Assistant and then John Loeb Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Harvard University) in the US. She has written extensively on the historical development and contemporary reconfigurations of the nation-state and citizenship in Europe. Currently she is working on two projects: a comparative and longitudinal study of the changing concepts of “good citizen” and “good society” in Europe and East Asia (with S.Y. Wong, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, UK, and the Hong Kong Research Grant Council), and a survey study of “life course and self projections” of immigrant and non-immigrant origin youth in Spain (with A. Gonzales and H. Cebolla, funded by Juan March Institute and the Spanish Ministry of Education). Soysal has held several fellowships and guest professorships, including Wissenschaftskolleg, National Endowment of Humanities, National Academy of Education, German Marshall Fund, Max Planck Institute, European University Institute, Juan March Institute, New York University, Hitotsubashi University, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She is past president of the European Sociological Association.

Selected Publications:

Limits of Citizenship: Migrants and Postnational Membership in Europe. University of Chicago Press, 1994. [Chinese translation, Chu Liu Book Company, 2013].

The Nation, Europe, and the World: Curricula and Textbooks in Transition, with H. Schissler (ed). Berghahn Books, 2006.

Citizenship, Immigration, and the European Social Project: Rights and Obligations of Individuality, The British Journal of Sociology 63 (1) 2012.

Individuality, Sociological Institutionalism, and Continuing Inequalities: A Response to Commentators, The British Journal of Sociology 63 (1) 2012.

Reply to Will Kymlicka, “Multicultural Citizenship within Multination States.” Ethnicities 11(3) 2011.

Unpacking Cosmopolitanism: An Insider-Outsider Reading. The British Journal of Sociology, 60th Anniversary Special Issue 2010.

Re-conceptualizing the Republic: Diversity and Education in France, 1945-2008, with S. Szakacs. Journal of Interdisciplinary History 41(1) 2010.

Diversity from Within and Without: Comparative Notes from France and Japan, with S.Y. Wong. Multicultural Education Review 2(1) 2010.

Locating Europe. European Societies 4(3) 2002.

Citizenship and Identity: Living in Diasporas in Postwar Europe? Ethnic and Racial Studies 23 (1) 2000.

The Changing Logic of Political Citizenship: Cross National Acquisition of Women Suffrage Rights, 1890-1990, with F. O. Ramirez and S. Shanahan. American Sociological Review, 62 (5) 1997.

Citizenship and Claims-Making: Organized Islam in European Public Spheres. Theory and Society 26 (4) 1997.

World Expansion of Mass Education, 1870 1980, with J. W. Meyer and F. O. Ramirez. Sociology of Education 65 (2) 1992.

Constructing the First Mass Education Systems: Nineteenth Century Europe, with D. Strang. Sociology of Education 62 (4) 1989.


Nation-State and Citizenship: Inclusions and Exclusions
starting on May 13th. (Further informations about the seminar you can find here).

For additional readings see bibliography on Citizenship.

+   2011: Saskia Sassen

Saskia Sassen This years Niklas-Luhmann-Visiting Professor, coming to Bielefeld from May 11th to July 9th, is Prof. Saskia Sassen, Columbia University, New York. Saskia Sassen is the Lynd Professor of Sociology and Co-Chair, The Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University (www.saskiasassen.com). Her recent book is Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton University Press 2008) published in German by Suhrkamp (2008) as Das Paradox des Nationalen. Other recent books are A Sociology of Globalization (W.W.Norton 2007), the 3rd. fully updated Cities in a World Economy (Sage 2006), the edited Deciphering the Global (Routledge 2007), and the co-edited Digital Formations: New Architectures for Global Order (Princeton University Press 2005). For UNESCO she organized a five-year project on sustainable human settlement with a network of researchers and activists in over 30 countries; it is published as one of the volumes of the Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (Oxford, UK: EOLSS Publishers) [http://www.eolss.net]. The Global City came out in a new fully updated edition in 2001. Her books are translated into twenty-one languages. She serves on several editorial boards and is an advisor to several international bodies. She is a Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the National Academy of Sciences Panel on Cities, and was Chair of the Information Technology and International Cooperation Committee of the Social Science Research Council (USA). She has written for The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, the International Herald Tribune, Newsweek International, Vanguardia, Clarin, the Financial Times, among others. She contributes regularly to www.OpenDemocracy.net and www.HuffingtonPost.com. During her time at the Faculty of Sociology of the University of Bielefeld Saskia Sassen will be teaching a weekly graduate seminar at the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology “Territory, Authority, Rights: Emerging global assemblages” and she will give two public Lectures at the University :

  1. Territory, Authority, Rights: Emerging Global Assemblages (May 11)
  2. Ungoverned Territories and Informal Jurisdictions (planned for June 22)

For further Information about the Seminar (content, registration) consult the ekvv of Bielefeld University (http://ekvv.uni-bielefeld.de/kvv_publ/publ/Home.jsp).

+   2009: Ulrich Oevermann

portrait Ulrich Oevermann Ulrich Oevermann was the Niklas Luhmann Guest Professor supported by the Department of Sociology and the BGHS from 1 December 2009 to 5 February 2010, during which time he conducted an extensive programme of instruction. Information on the courses, most of which were offered in the framework of the graduate school curriculum, can be found at the University of Bielefeld´s eKVV. At the beginning of 2010 Mr. Oevermann held a public university lecture. During his stay Mr. Oevermann occupied room K4-111 in the BGHS corridor. Mr. Oevermann is an emeritus of Goethe University Frankfurt and has been one of the most productive sociologists in the country since the late 1960s. He adopted the education and socialization research of that period as an academic assistant to Jürgen Habermas. He began his career as a sociologist with a large-scale study about the connection between language and social background. From Bernstein´s sociolinguistics, he proceeded to linguistics and its concept of rule-following, and from there to his very own version of structuralism, perhaps the only one besides Bourdieu?s which can be imputed completely to sociology. The basic idea is simple enough: For Oevermann, the surplus of sentences that are linguistically meaningful as opposed to socially meaningful makes it possible to experience - and objectify - the selectivity of society, while the surplus of socially meaningful sentences as opposed to those that can be said in a given social system makes it possible to experience - and objectify - that system?s own selectivity. From this follows his own methodology for qualitative social research, known as "objective hermeneutics", which is a sequence analysis designed to reconstruct linguistically and socially opened spaces of possibilities to illuminate the event-based selectivity of each individual linguistic act, and, by reconstructing the connections among several independent actions, the structural selectivity of the social system under investigation: In Oevermann´s own words, this means illuminating the case structure of any given life practice being studied. For Oevermann, the conceptual interest in structures does not exclude thematizing what is new, what is individual, nor what is original. In his more recent publications, Oevermann´s primary objective is to provide sociological insight into this trinity of topics by differentiating among structured routines and the crises that overstrain them. For a good thirty years he has built his life´s work in sociology on these foundations.

+   2008: Alois Hahn

portrait Alois Hahn This year s Niklas Luhmann Guest Professor is Alois Hahn, sociologist from Trier. In 1967 he earned his doctorate in Frankfurt am Main with a thesis about the social conditionality of attitudes toward death and dying, and in 1973 he was awarded his post-doctorate qualification (Habilitation) with a thesis about systems of knowledge of meaning ("Systeme des Bedeutungswissens"). Since 1974 he has been a full professor for general sociology at Trier University, where he researches and teaches on a broad field of subjects. The emphases of his work are on the sociology of religion and culture, the sociology of death and dying, and more recently, on research on inclusion and exclusion.?Alois Hahn has held many guest professorships, among others, in 1987/88 at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris, and in 2007 at the University of Strasbourg. In the 2005/6 academic year he was a fellow at the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study. His programme of work in the framework of the Luhmann memorial professorship concerns considerations on the pre-history of social science thought.

+   2007: Nils Brunsson

portrait Nils Brunsson

Prof. Nils Brunsson holds the City of Stockholm Chair in Management at the Stockholm School of Economics. He has published more than 20 books and numerous articles on organizations. His research includes studies of decision-making, administrative reforms and standardization. He is now working with issues of rule-setting and regulation. His latest book in English is Mechanisms of Hope. Maintaining the dream of rationality in organizations. There are several reviews of Nils Brunsson’s contributions to organization theory (see CV and publications).
During his time at the Faculty of Sociology of the University of Bielefeld he will be teaching a weekly graduate seminar about “Institutional Aspects on Organizations” every Tuesday from 10- 13h (Room T4-110) (For registration contact christel.vinke@uni-bielefeld.de). Additional to that seminar a public lecture is going to take place on 9. Mai. Nils Brunsson will also make a one-day workshop about his latest book Mechanism of Hope.

Curriculum Vitae & Publications

+   2006: John W. Meyer

portrait meyer

This years Niklas-Luhmann-Visiting Professor, coming to Bielefeld from April 18 to June 20, is Prof. John W. Meyer, Department of Sociology (and the International Studies Institute) at Stanford University.

John Meyer received his PhD from Columbia University, New York, here he taught for several years afterwards before becoming Professor of Sociology at the Stanford University, California, where he is now an Emeritus Professor.

Throughout the years his research has focused on the spread of modern institutions around the world, and their impact on national states and societies. He is particularly interested in the spread and impact of scientific activity, and in the expansion and standardization of educational models. He has made many contributions to organizational theory (e.g., Organizational Environments, with W. R. Scott, Sage 1983), and to the sociology of education, developing lines of thought now called neoinstitutional theory.

Since the late 1970s, he has worked on issues related to the impact of global society on national states and societies (e.g., Institutional Structure, co-authored with others, Sage 1987). Currently, he is completing a collaborative study of worldwide science and its impact on national societies (Drori, et al., Science in the Modern World Polity, Stanford, 2003), and is working on a study of the rise and impact of the worldwide human rights regime.

During his time at the Faculty of Sociology of the University of Bielefeld he will be teaching a weekly graduate seminar focussing the impact of modern macro-level cultural environments on societies, organizations, and individuals seen as actors. Additional to that seminar two public lectures are going to take place on 26. April and 24. Mai. Following are information on the seminar and the lectures.

Graduate Seminar April – June: Seminar on Sociological Institutional Theory

  • The impact of modern macro-level cultural environments on societies, organizations, and individuals seen as actors.
  • Special emphasis on the more extreme institutionalist tradition stressing environmental
  • impacts in the identity and constitution of actors, over and above influences on their activities and structures.
  • Theory and research on general institutional effects, and empirical studies of world societal
  • effects on national societies, organizations and individuals.

Public Lecture I, 26. April: Institutional Theories in Sociology

  • The contemporary rise of "new institutionalisms" in a world understood to be made up of autonomous actors.
  • Institutions as macro-sociological, as cultural, or as both (i.e., modern sociological institutionalism).
  • Core propositions, with illustrative applications to individuals, organizations, and national societies.
  • Issues, and contrasts with other lines of theorizing.

Public Lecture II, 24. May: Building a World Society

  • The impact of world models on national societies and states.
  • Emphases, in these models, on cooperative participation in global society.
  • Sources of models in pressures for social control: emphases on science, rationality, and human individual rights.
  • Location of the culture involved in expansive and relatively standardized educational arrangements, worldwide.
+   2005: Harrison White

portrait Harrison White Die meisten Wissenschaftler forschen heute zu sehr speziellen, eng abgegrenzten Fragestellungen. Auch in der Soziologie fragen nur sehr wenige nach umfassenden und allgemeinen Zusammenhängen. Einer dieser wenigen ist Prof. Harrison C. White von der renommierten Columbia University in New York, der sich derzeit für zwei Monate als erster Niklas-Luhmann-Gastprofessor an der Fakultät für Soziologie der Universität Bielefeld aufhält. Harrison C. White (*1930) gilt allgemein als einer der Gründer und bedeutenden Vertreter der Netzwerktheorie. Er ist als Mathematiker und Soziologe ausgebildet. In vielen seiner Arbeiten hat er sich mit der Modellierung, mit der mathematischen Rekonstruktion von sozialen Netzwerken beschäftigt. Wie Niklas Luhmann betont White in seinen Arbeiten dabei die Eigenständigkeit dieser sozialen Realität. Das Soziale ist nicht reduzierbar auf Individuen. Es sind soziale Strukturen oder Netzwerke, die die Entwicklung von individuellen Identitäten erst ermöglichen. Die Arbeiten von White widmen sich der Analyse solcher sozialer Netzwerke. Wo, wann und wie verdichtet sich Interdependenz? Wo, wann und wie entstehen Kopplungen und Entkopplungen im sozialen Verkehr? Whites Analysen gehen davon aus, dass die sozialen Strukturen den Möglichkeitsraum bilden und kontrollieren, in dem Identität entstehen und sich entwickeln kann. "Identity and control" lautet entsprechend der Titel seines theoretischen Hauptwerkes, das 1992 erschienen ist. (mehr)