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Leydesdorff, Loet. A sociological theory of communication: the self organization of the knowledge-based society. Parkland, FL: Universal Publishers, 2001. ISBN 1-58112-695-6. $29.95

loetThis work by Loet Leydesdorff (University of Amsterdam, Department of Computer and Information Science) is not easy reading for leisure time, as it offers a challenging opportunity for vigorous mind exercise. The author draws upon the mathematical theory of communication by Shannon, structuration theory by Giddens, theory of communicative action by Habermas, autopoiesis of social systems by Luhmann, shifts of paradigms by Kuhn, symbolic interactionism, Darwin's theory of evolution, systems theory, and many others. The wealth of theoretical sociological (and not only) thought and its analysis is used as a basis for understanding scientific communication as a self-organising social network. It develops and exists through communication acts generating messages and meanings and through self-reflectivity. The introduction of a dynamic extension into a structuralist model allows the author to bring in historical and contextual perspectives to the analysis of the communication network (which can be treated as an information system).

Most of the book deals with complicated theoretising. It is both fun and an ordeal to follow the way of thinking of the author while he is revealing the complexity of the chosen object of study (communication in science) by bringing in more and more theoretical perspectives to interpret it. But, together with theoretical perspectives, in chapters 6, 7 and 8, the author provides examples of application of the theory and method to:

  • a historical analysis of the construction of the complex system of university-industry-government relations (Triple Helix);
  • using empirical data from three studies to consider if the European Union can be regarded as self-organising in its future stages and as a single publication system;
  • looks into the potential and advantages of second-order theories (systems theory and sociological theory of communication) for studying complex systems in complex environments.

It is curious to note that the author fails to apply his theoretical framework to the most suitable object for a most appropriate example:

"... several authors have pointed to the internal weaknesses of the communist systems in the former Soviet Union and China before the end of the Cold War... While the chances for improvement through transition seemed at that time better for Russia than for China, at this moment China seems to have succeeded in finding a trajectory... while... Russia has failed to find its way to a capitalist regime (Leydesdorff and Guoping, 2001)... Thus... the question has to be raised of the flexibility of the evolutionary pathway towards the desired arrangement" (p. 258).

A capitalist regime never was a desired arrangement of the disintegrating Soviet Union and Russia is looking for its way to it with a varying success. Using the terminology of Leydesdorff, the Soviet Union, in fact, failed "to develop the code of the communication into possibly anticipatory configurations" (p. 216). It might be more appropriate to analyse the processes in the Soviet Union in the terms used for the European Union than for China.

This comment is one of many that a reader may feel like making while reading this book. It definitely serves as a catalyst for a theoretical argument and a source of a wide range of material on exiting research ideas.

Dr. Elena Maceviciute
Swedish School of Information and Library Studies
Högskolan i Borås
March 2002