The Social Systems Citation Theory (SSCT): A proposal to use the social systems theory for conceptualizing publications and their citation links


  • Iman Tahamtan Design and Consumer Experience. JPMorgan Chase
  • Lutz Bornmann Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research


Palabras clave:

Autopoiesis, Communication, Niklas Luhmann, Publications, Citations links, Citations, Citation theory, Social systems citation theory (SSCT)


The normative theory of citing considers citations as rewarding tools to acknowledge the influence of scientific works, while the social constructivist theory of citing considers citations, for example, as persuasion tools used by authors to support their claims, and convince the scientific community that those claims are valid. Other citation theories and models have been proposed in recent years to overcome the limitations of the normative and social constructivist theories. Nevertheless, they have not been able to fully explain all citation motives of scientists (but have a certain focus). This study proposes a new theory (which we call "social systems citation theory", SSCT) that integrates previous theories and models on publications and their citation links and is mainly based on Niklas Luhmann´s "social systems theory". Luhmann´s social systems theory focuses on "communications" as the basic constituting elements of a social science system and not on humans and their motives. Humans are not part of social systems but are connected with them and irritate them. Thus, the social systems theory does not have the problem of integrating various and different motives of humans to cite in the science system. In the SSCT, authors´ motives to cite belong to psychic systems while publications and their citation links belong to the social science system. The systems operate autonomously but interact with each other: the social system operates recursively with publications and citation links. Although psychic systems stimulate or irritate the science system, they do not determine communications in the science system. In this study, we explain the SSCT and demonstrate how the theory can be used to underlie empirical bibliometric studies.


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Cómo citar

Tahamtan, I., & Bornmann, L. (2022). The Social Systems Citation Theory (SSCT): A proposal to use the social systems theory for conceptualizing publications and their citation links. Profesional De La información Information Professional, 31(4).



Artí­culos de investigación / Research articles