Dirk Baecker

Observers Amongst Themselves - A Theory of Culture

(German title: Beobachter unter sich)
ca. 309 pages
Dirk Baecker
Foto: Dirk Baecker
© Jürgen Bauer

Dirk Baecker was born in 1955 in Karlsruhe.

After studying sociology in Cologne and Paris, he went on to complete his PhD and Habilitation in sociology at the Univeristy of Bielefeld under Niklas Luhmann between 1986–1992.

He has been awarded a Heisenberg grant by the German Research Foundation, and has been a visiting scholar at Stanford Univeristy in Palo Alto, CA, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, and the London School of Economics and Political Sciences. In 1996 he was made professor of sociology at Witten/Herdecke University.

Since 2007, Baecker has been professor of cultural theory and analysis at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen.

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The philosophers of German Idealism – Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel – each developed concepts that may be regarded as prolegomena to a theory of the observer. These culminated, especially in the case of Fichte, in the notion of the self as empty and therefore in need of an external world.

In this world, theoretical knowledge and practical action are never in perfect alignment, which means that the very process of observation and the observer himself can only be conceived in terms of difference and complexity. This is fortunate for cultural theory, which depends precisely on placing the observer in relation not only to other observers but also that which he observes.

Drawing on George Spencer-Brown’s formal calculus, Dirk Baecker shows that this provides a solid basis for the formulation of a theory of the observer. Building upon an original re-reading of the history of philosophy and theory, Baecker argues that it is possible to understand culture as the recognition of the position of an observer from the perspective of that position’s contingency. This book is nothing less than an impressive, formal foundation for a sociological theory of culture.


»Sociologist Dirk Baecker is one of the most interesting and prolific thinkers working in systems theory today.« Der Spiegel

»Elegant and dauntless: sociologist Dirk Baecker presents a theory of culture for our time« Ralf Konersmann, Süddeutsche Zeitung