Systems Theory, Normativity and the ‘Realist Dilemma’

Christopher Hutton

in Language, Meaning and the Law

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print January 2009 | ISBN: 9780748633500
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748671489 | DOI:
Systems Theory, Normativity and the ‘Realist Dilemma’

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This chapter looks at the concept of ‘system’ as applied to the study of language, and the methodological and theoretical dilemmas that this raises for the study of language and law. The question is whether a system-based model can offer a ‘realistic’ representation of law, the mind, society, and so on. Linguistics is seen as a branch of systems theory, and this raises problems since linguistics is anti-normative, whereas law is inherently normative. The fundamental challenge represented by systems theories is that they tend to marginalise, or completely deny, the relevance of social actors’ subjectivity and of organising control over social meanings. In its extreme form, this implies that social actors ‘do not know what they are doing’, and their lived experience is an ‘epiphenomenal’ or contingent rather than constitutive feature of social interaction. Law seeks a particular answer to a particular question, whereas linguistics offers a general answer to a general question. Theories analyzed include Saussurean linguistics, Chomskyan theory, and ethnomethodology.

Keywords: System; Systems theory; Realist dilemma; Saussurean linguistics; Chomskyan linguistics; Ethnomethodology; Agency; Subjectivity

Chapter.  8298 words. 

Subjects: Language Teaching and Learning

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