Implications of Self -reference: Niklas Luhmann’s Autopoiesis and Organization Theory

Tor Hernes, Tore Bakken

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This article reviews the potential of Niklas Luhmann’s autopoiesis as a contribution to organization theory. We consider organization theory to consist of three epistemological foundations, which we label equilibrium-based theory, process-based theory and recursivity-based theory. We review critically Luhmann’s autopoietic theory in relation to each of these three foundations. We suggest that whereas it deviates radically from equilibrium-based theory and deviates significantly from process-based theory, it holds potential in its complementarity with Giddens’s structuration theory in providing a promising basis for recursivity-based organization theory.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)1511-1535
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Organization theory
  • Autopoiesis
  • Systems theory
  • Luhmann

Cite this