Coercive mode Weapons

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cold, impersonal, unempathic fictions (the impersonalized other)? In this,

partners construe each other in ways that are interpersonally distancing. He

also points out that the facilities and media that enable profit-oriented market

exchanges yield instrumental relevances to partners. Smith highlights that firmbased

economies are characterized by competitive pressure being primarily

between sellers, whereas in bazaar-type economies competitive pressure is on

the transactions between buyers and sellers. This supports impersonality in

buyer-seller transactions. As Smith points out, “interaction itself is always a

form of market behavior, however imperfect” (p. 226), and “many persons,

observing one another in competitive attachment processes, constitute an

interaction system and form a social market” (p. 226).

Social Action

An action is a unit of intentional behaviour that produces expected consequences.

Experience is the result of interaction between the person and some

thing(s) — person, object, idea. So, then, interaction is action done together

– a purposive interpersonal process. Interaction, taken literally, means reciprocal

action or co-action. Transaction, on the other hand, is across, beyond,

over, or to the other (e.g., trans-Atlantic). In the terms of symbolic interactionism,

in social interaction the self is observed and analysed as subject and object.

Social interaction is interpersonal action, or relations between self and other:

there is negotiation of meaning, there is reciprocation, and actions of self and

other are reflected on. So, is social interaction merely the “coming together” of

people into co-presence? Is social action events of behaviour in, and by virtue

of, the presence of other(s)?

Social Systems

Luhmann (1995) moved beyond the socio-psychological analysis of individuals

to distinguish three forms of social systems or modes of social system formation:

interaction systems, societal systems, and organised social systems.

The system of interaction comprises those who are “present” “together” at a

point in time, with a set of rules. Interaction is, in this view, a social system that

emerges among those who are present to one another. Interactions are

temporally arranged episodes of societal process, only possible within preexisting

and continuing societal communication. Interactions are embedded

within the flow of ephemeral individual actions. Interaction systems include

everything that can be treated as “present,” and are able to decide who and

what is to be treated as present and who and what is not. Presence is

determined by the perception mode of information.

Society is, on the other hand, the totality of all social communication, and

characterised by comprehensiveness (or inclusivity). The societal system is not

composed of interactions — societal action is interaction-free — for example,

demonstrated in mass communication events.

The extensive differentiation of society and interaction leads to less reliance on

the resolution of societal problems of science-politics, economy-education,

and science-religion, by interaction (for deliberative democracy). There is a

gap between the interaction sequences a person lives through, and the

complexity of the societal system (whose consequences cannot be influenced

or controlled). But interaction has not lost societal relevance. Highly consequential

developments are initiated in interactions. Contemporary society is

more indifferent to, but also more sensitive to, interaction than pre-modern

societies were.

In thinking back to the notion of social action, we can now see that this is evident

whenever one person considers what others would think of their action,

whereas societal action arises when action is intended and/or experienced as


Some social action is free of interaction — we can act without the presence of

others and can give our action a meaning that for us (and any possible observer)

refers to society (e.g., reading, writing, sitting alone in a waiting room, and so

on). Solitary action is much more common in modern societies than in older

societies, and much of this has reference to society (I’m writing this chapter with

some anticipation of some reading by others some time in the future). It is now

possible, through writing, printing, etc., to withdraw from interaction systems

and to communicate with far-reaching societal consequences — society is a

result of interactions with a standardised, disciplined use of a language.

Organisations (i.e., organised social systems) are a special form of social

system. Formal organisations regulate their boundaries by membership roles

and control of admission to membership. Thus, “customers” are members of the

extended organisation. What is significant is that organisations standardise the

motives that guide interactions.