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Systems Theory

Theodore M. Godlaski College of Social Work University of Kentucky

Initial Considerations
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Systems theory springs from biology. It is content free and applicable to many fields of study. It is not actually a theory but a rather high level abstraction: a working hypothesis, the main function of which is to provide a theoretical model for explaining, predicting, and controlling phenomenon. Bertalanffy, L.
(1962) General systems theory: A critical review. General Systems Yearbook,7:1-20; p.17.

Initial Considerations
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Its function is to focus the attention on the diverse systems in which any complex living entity participates. Systems are organized wholes comprised of component parts that interact in a distinct way over time. In its time it was revolutionary because it emphasized the interrelatedness and mutual interdependence of systems elements.

Initial Considerations
It was especially important in social work because it allowed movement out of an essential medical and linear model of causation. | The emphasis is on the complex and diverse factors that can influence any specific human behavior.
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x-y Hormonal difference

y-y Hormonal difference

family system

psychic system

psychic system

family system

local culture educational system

mainstream culture

local culture

educational system

Some Basic Assumptions


A social system is made up of individuals, interrelated to constitute a whole. | The limits of a social system are defined by established or arbitrary boundaries. | Boundaries give a social system its focus and identity as distinct from other social systems with which it interacts.
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Some Basic Assumptions


A systems environment is by definition outside the systems boundaries. | The life of a social system is more than the sum of its members activities. | A social system can be studied as a network of unique, interlocking relationships with identifiable structural and communications patterns.
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Some Basic Assumptions


There is a high degree of organization and interdependence among members of a social system. | All systems are sub-systems of larger systems. | There is interdependence and interaction between and among social systems.
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Some Basic Assumptions


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A social system is adaptive and goaloriented or purposive. A change in one member of the social system affects the nature of the social system as a whole. Transactions or movements across social system boundaries influence a social systems functional capacity and internal structure as well as its ability to adapt.

Some Basic Assumptions


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Change from within or outside a social system that moves the system to an imbalanced state will result in an attempt by the system to reestablish that balance (homeostasis).

Functional or General Systems Theory


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What has been described is essentially Functional or General Systems Theory.


It places strong emphasis on the maintenance of homeostasis. z Change tends to be seen as disruptive and even causative of pathology. z It takes the analogy of biological organism very literally but ignores the fact that change is also essential to viability.
z

Functional or General Systems Theory


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Systems maintain homeostasis by adequately performing specific functions:


z

z z z

Adaptation is the ability to cope with changes in the external environment by obtaining necessary resources and modifying itself, the environment, or other systems to create a more hospitable situation. Goal Attainment is the setting of priorities and the use of appropriate resources to obtain desired ends. Integration is the process of organizing internally the activity of individuals who make up the system. Latency is the process of maintaining motivation and dealing with internal tensions.

Robert Mertons Paradigm


Cultural Goals Institutional Means Modes of Adaptation Conformity Innovation Ritualism Retreatism Rebellion

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Social Network Theory


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A network is a set of relationships More precisely, it is a set of objects (nodes) and a mapping or description of their relationship.

Social Network Theory


The mapping may indicate a directional relationship | One likes two
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+ 1 2

Social Network Theory


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The relationship could be symmetrical or non-directional One and two like each other The relationship might also imply the exchange of information or gifts.

Social Network Theory


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Two nodes may be connected to each other by a third or intermediary node. One is connected to three via two The relationship here is directional and not reciprocal.

Social Network Theory


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The relationship could be reciprocal and symmetrical. One and two like each other and two and three like each other. The distance between nodes can be described in steps: one is two steps removed from three.

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+ 3

Social Network Theory


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The relationship could be reciprocal and symmetrical. One and two like each other and two and three like each other. The distance between nodes can be described in steps: one is two steps removed from three.

+ 1 2

+ 3

Social Network Theory


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If one also likes three than we have a transitive or balanced network.


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Social Network Theory


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Types of Networks
z

Ego-centric
Focus on a single node My family and friends, all the companies who do business with Widgets Inc.

Socio-centric
networks in a box All the children in a classroom, all the executives of a corporation, workers in an organization

Open systems
Networks where the boundaries are unclear Individuals influencing current energy policy, individuals influencing decisions about a specific social policy.

Social Network Theory


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Propinquity
At all levels of analysis nodes are more likely to be connected with one another, other conditions being equal, if they are geographically near to one another. z This principle has been demonstrated time and again for individuals in a neighborhood, membership on boards of directors, and trade among nations.
z

Social Network Theory


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Homophily
z

Nodes are more likely to be connected if they share common attributes and characteristics to a degree higher than would be expected in the population from which they are drawn. Common norms may draw individuals with common attributes together or being together may breed common norms. It could also be that operating in the same area leads to developing common norms and attributes.

Social Network Theory


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Homophily and Connections z The stronger the homophily the more likely two nodes will be connected. Homophily and Individuals z People are more likely to have connections, friendships, and association if they have common attributes. Homophily and Collectives z In organization, whether homophily leads to greater connection depends on the kind of connection and the focus of the organization. Individuals or groups with homophilous relations are more likely to share similar attitudes.

Social Network Theory


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Problems (pathology) can arise in a network


z z z

Because of the failure of a unit to identify its core self (mission) Because a node does not recognize what other nodes expect Because what one node wants for itself is out of synchronization with that other nodes want of it.

When these conditions are not present, nodes exist in a state of mutual recognition and mutual regulation.

Social Network Theory


Mutual does not necessarily mean equal. | For a state of mutual recognition and mutual regulation to exists each node must have some ability to take on the role of other nodes. | In brief, some degree of empathy is essential for mutuality and balance to exist in a social network.
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Social Network Theory


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From what has been said so far, imagine that a city government wants to build an anti-drug coalition and invites the school principles and guidance counselors, representative administration and staff of the mental health clinic, the police and county prosecutor, the administration of the local hospitals, and the administrator of the public health department to participate. z Do these groups share propinquity? z Do they have homophily? z What are their common attributes? z How likely will the coalition have mutual regard and mutual regulation?

7 2

6 5

1 4
=L/g(g-1)

C A B

c D b e a d

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6 5

1 4

Social Network Theory


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Weak ties facilitate the flow of information from otherwise distant parts of a network.
z

Individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information and confined to the views of their close friends Social systems lacking weak ties tend to be limited and easily fragmented and incoherent.

Weak ties help integrate social systems


z

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Centrality
b f a b e e d c d a c

Membership

Andre Beverly Carol Diane Ed Fernando Garth Heather Ike Jane

Group Size 10 Potential Ties 90 Actual Ties 36 Density 40% Computing geodesics 36 paths of length 1 48 paths of length 2 16 paths of length 3 12 paths of length 4 0 paths of length 5 Weighted Avg. Path Length: 2.04
: Betweeness : Uniform 0.389 0.231 0.231 0.222 0.102 0.023 0.023 0.000 0.000 0.000 Heather Fernando Garth Ike Diane Andre Beverly Carol Ed Jane

0.667 0.556 0.556 0.444 0.444 0.333 0.333 0.333 0.222 0.111 0.400

Degrees Diane Fernando Garth Andre Beverly Carol Ed Heather Ike Jane AVERAGE

0.334 CENTRALIZATION

: Closeness 0.643 0.643 0.600 0.600 0.529 0.529 0.500 0.500 0.429 0.310 0.528 0.271 Fernando Garth Diane Heather Andre Beverly Carol Ed Ike Jane AVERAGE CENTRALIZATION

0.122 AVERAGE 0.297 CENTRALIZATION

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Number of Reported Research Studies Utilizing a Systems Theory Approach by Decade

60 50 40 30 20 10 0 '70-'79 '80-'89 '90-'99 '00-'07

Usefulness of Systems Theory


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It focuses attention on the vast and diverse factors that influence even the most simple human behavior. It highlights the role played by different systems in facilitating or inhibiting behavioral change. It cautions against the application of linear (tame) solutions to complex (wicked) systems problems. It is perhaps the only theory that is non reductiuonistic.

Usefulness of Systems Theory


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It allowed for the recognition that social systems can change and adapt to their environment.
This is done by constant exchange of energy from without and within the system and a continuous reorganization into more complex forms (morphogenesis). z structuring, destructuring, restructuring. (Buckley, 1968).
z

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Usefulness of Systems Theory


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Such adaptive systems are what Ilya Prigogine called, in physics, dissipative structures: structures that do not obey the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Such systems have an equilibrium that is essentially fluid and even a little chaotic which is a quite different picture than the more mechanistic and static stability of early systems theory. A primary factor in whether a specific system will be adaptive or not is its openness.

Usefulness of Systems Theory


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Open Systems:
z z z z z z z

Have more permeable boundaries, Have constant active interchange of energy with their environment. Experience constant significant strains on their structure. Are capable of increasing differentiation and/or number and types of roles. Provide potential for individuation and development. Have dynamic interplay of subsystems Tend to maintain a reservoir of alternative ideas and behaviors.

Usefulness of Systems Theory


Systems theory has been valuable in indicating that social change, in order to be fully effective, must occur on multiple system levels simultaneously. | It has been especially useful in development of family therapy approaches.
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Usefulness of Systems Theory


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Systems Theory focus in family therapy:


z z

Communication and interaction between people affects every aspect of behavior. Despite of all other factors, how people treat each other here-and-now significantly affects how they function for better or worse. In any durable relationship patterns of interaction develop and persist because of reciprocal reinforcement.

Usefulness of Systems Theory


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Systems Theory focus in family therapy (cont):


z

Although such interactions occur in all social organizations it is especially important in the family. When a problem arises and persists that is seriously distressing, it is because other behavior must be occurring that provokes and maintains the problem behavior. The resolution of a problems requires an appropriate change of behavior in the system or a change in evaluation of the behavior.

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