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Identifying institutional vulnerability : the importance of language, and system boundaries

Dolfsma, W. and Finch, J. and McMaster, R. (2011) Identifying institutional vulnerability : the importance of language, and system boundaries. Journal of Economic Issues, 45 (4). pp. 805-818. ISSN 0021-3624

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Abstract

Taking the idea that institutional reproduction is not obvious and that institutions are vulnerable has significant conceptual implications. Institutional vulnerability can arise through communication between actors in a common language. To apprehend this requires an elaboration of John Searle's (1995, 2005) argument that language is the fundamental institution. Ontologically, language delineates and circumscribes a community. A community cannot function without a common language, and language at the same time constitutes a community's boundaries, allowing for focused and effective communication within a community. Communication through language introduces ambiguity as well, however, and so institutional reproduction, mediated by language, is a deeply contentious process. Communication across boundaries may particularly "irritate" a system, as Niklas Luhmann has argued. How can institutions then be re-identified through change? Searle's general form for institutions is in need of elaboration. We develop arguments by drawing upon Luhmann's (1995) systems analysis and notion of communication.