Maturana and Varela provided the following definition of autopoiesis:
“An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components that produces the components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in the space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network.”
This definition shows that for Maturana and Varela, autopoietic systems are systems that define, maintain, and reproduce themselves. The notion of machine that they employ in the definition might seem a bit misleading because we tend to think of machines as mechanistic and nonliving, but Maturana and Varela in later publications have preferred to speak of autopoietic organizations. Social systems are systems that are based on the interactions of living systems. Maturana considers them as higher-order systems. The question therefore arises if these systems are also autopoietic systems. The paper at hand will discuss this question and try to give an answer that is critical of the one given by the main representative of the theory of social autopoiesis — Niklas Luhmann.