Thomas Scheffer, Matthias Michaeler, Jan Schank
May 19, 2016
The authors contrast two political inquiries in light of Luhmann’s system theory of procedure. The article asks whether and to what extent these inquiries can be considered to be procedural systems, meaning distinct frames of action that generate specific meanings and relevancies. Starting from a micro-sociological analysis of question-answer interactions in the British “Hutton Inquiry” and the European Union’s “CIA Inquiry” the authors aim at reconstructing the specific functionalities of the respective procedures with regard to their different ways of engaging and enabling selfreferential processes of communication, knowledge production, and decision-making. Both inquiries show properties of procedural systems. But they do so to different degrees. The discourse material exhibits a gradation of self-reference, integration, and differentiation in terms of communication, knowledge production, and decision-making. As a system, each merges these three processes into a consistent, relatively strong or weak procedure. The two procedural registers are further confirmed by the participants’ discourse strategies. The participants at times invoke the respective opposite - either weak or strong - type. We conclude with further implications of our functional analysis of procedure: on the political evaluation of inquiries and their effects; on the epistemic premises of each real type; and on the strengthening and weakening dynamics in the course of the procedure. Overall, the article encourages a sociological understanding of the procedural mechanism as well as an empirical qualification and variation of system-theoretical assertions.