What are Social Observers?

The obvious answer is that they are that which observes within society. But this definition is not very elucidating. It is tempting to answer that persons fit this description. After all, they can be seen as part of, or even constituting society, and they can also be seen as observers, giving accounts of processes within society. However, sociological systems and network theory has worked on the deconstruction of such notions of personhood during the past decades. It has shown that persons are indeed social constructions, nothing that can be observed to exist outside of society. Niklas Luhmann and Harrison C. White, for example, have both suggested to look at persons not as the constituting elements of society, but as one among different forms of constructions living inside of it. Luhmann has argued that society is made from communication only. It follows from this that anything attributed to society is also made from communication only. This would include the notion of persons, but also organizations, nation states, functional sytems such as religions, or, very generally, concepts and discourses.

Social observers are, then, observers within communication. As phenomena, we can have a look at communicated observations, and then investigate how they are attributed to specific observers. Obvious cases of communicated observations include newspaper articles, explicit judgements, or insults. In these phenomena, something specific is taken into focus, and then a certain stance is taken towards them. They are observed as belonging to a more or less defined category. And the observation is usually attributed to another social entity, the observer, who has to assume responsibility for it. Such observations could also be described as social perspectives, where communication focuses on some specific phenomenon, which must be possible to describe in communication, and specifies how a certain observer understands this phenomenon in terms of categories it belongs to. In this blog, I will investigate cases, functions, and processes of the roles social observers play in communication.


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