Essay on the Social System

(iii) “A” system is any collection of interrelated parts, objects, things or organisms”.

Five Points about any System:

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The term ‘system’ denotes the following points or factors:

(a) A System indicates an orderly arrangement of parts. It has parts which are interrelated. These parts may have their specific functions.

(b) A system may have its own boundaries. In order to determine what lies within a particular system and what lies outside it, it is necessary to specify the boundaries of that system.

(c) One system can be an element or a subsystem in another. For example, city is a sub-system in the thaluk and thaluk is a sub-system in the district which happens to be a sub-system in the province, and so on.

(d) To call something a system is an abstract or an analytical way of looking at concrete things. A system is merely an aspect of things abstracted from reality for purpose of analysis.

(e) The concept of system is applicable to the study of organic as well as inorganic realities. The term ‘system’ is used to refer to the organic realities such as the human digestive system, circuit.

Example of the Human Body as a System:

The human body is an excellent example of system. It helps us to know the concept of system’ and how system represents an orderly arrangement of its various parts.

There are different organs and systems in the human body with various functions to perform. There are organs with which we take food, breathe air, and excrete waste. There are organs of sight, hearing, taste and smell.

The circulatory system supplies blood to different parts of the body. The nervous system stimulates and controls the activity of the various parts and of the ‘whole’. The digestive system digests the food consumed.

In the same way, different glandular systems have their distinctive functions to perform. What is to be noted here is that every organ in the human body is connected with every other, and true it is in the case of different systems and functions.

There is interrelation and interdependence. As a result, the human body maintains its unity and balance, and equilibrium among all the organs and systems. These relationships of the parts of the body are in a systematic arrangement or, in other words, they constitute a system.

Origin of the Concept of ‘Social System’:

Biological thought has inspired many sociologists. Herbert Spencer, who was highly influ­enced by the views of Charles Darwin, has given an organic analogy in which society is compared with the human organism. Even from classical time’s right through the Middle Ages, writers were fascinated by this organic analogy.

Studies on human physiology and anatomy made by the scien­tists have also impressed upon many sociologists. Studies made by Walter B. Canon and L.J. Henderson and others revealed the importance of interrelationship of parts or organs in the human body. This idea inspired many sociologists to think of society as a “system”.

As A.R. Radcliffe-Brown has pointed out it was Montesquieu who formulated and used the concept of “Social system” for the first time towards the middle of the 18th century. The theory of Montesquieu states that “all the features of social life are united into a coherent whole”. As a student of jurisprudence, Montesquieu was concerned with the study of laws.

He sought to show that the laws of a society are connected with the political constitution, the economic life, the religion, the climate, the size of the population, the manners and customs and what he called the ‘general spirit’ (esprit general). His study suggests that if we investigate systematically the interconnections amongst features of social life, we can advance our understanding of human societies.

The leading social analysts of the 19th century such as Comte, Karl Marx, Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim had their own conceptions of the social system and the relationship between social units. But they never used ‘social system’ as a key term in their works.

Meaning of Social System:

Human society is a network of human interactions and interrelations. The interaction of indi­viduals takes place under such-conditions that such a process of interaction may be called a system. System refers to the orderly arrangement of parts.

Social system refers to the orderly arrangement of parts or components of society namely; human interactions. Individuals in their process of interac­tion influence each other. Their interrelationship and interaction assume a definite pattern which is called ‘social system’.

The concept is not however limited to interpersonal interaction alone. It also refers to the analysis of groups, institutions, societies and inter-societal entities. It may, for example, be employed in the analysis of the university, or the state, or the U.N.O. as social systems which have structures of interrelated parts.

As David Popenoe has pointed out “social system can refer to any kind of social grouping, from a group of two friends to a large complex society”. It is widely used in sociology because it makes us to think of the way in which social units fit together into a whole, and the basic similarities among all forms of social interaction.

We can look at the social system of a high school and see how it compares with the social system of a business firm or we can compare family with a football team. Each is a social unit in which people are pursuing a special set of goals, depending upon one another in various ways, and sharing a sense of common identity as a group.

The concept of “social system” has been used most explicitly and self-consciously in modem ‘functionalism’. But it was implicit as much in 19th century social thought. “A social theory which treats social relations, groups or societies as a set of interrelated parts which function to maintain some boundary or unity of the parts is based explicitly or implicitly on the concept of social system”.

The chief exponent of the most modern theory of social system has been Talcott Parsons. Persons has tried to give a more scientific and a rational explanation to the concept of social system in his books” The Structure of Social Action”, and “An Outline of the Social System”.

Definitions of Social System:

1. According to David Popenoe, “A social system is a set of persons or groups who interact with one another; the set is conceived of as a social unit distinct from the particular persons who compose it”.

2. “A social system is the system constituted by the interaction of a plurality of individual actors whose relations to each other are mutually oriented. i.e., are defined and mediated by a system of culturally structural and shared expectations”-Source: “A Dictionary of Social Sciences” By Julius Gould and William-L-Kolb.

3. “A social system is defined in terms of two or more social actors engaged in more or less stable interaction within a bounded environment”.

4. W.F. Ogburn has simplified Talcott Parsons’ definition of social system in the following way: “A social system may be defined as a plurality of individuals interacting with each other according to shared cultural norms and meanings”.

5. Duncan Mitchell in his A Dictionary of Sociology writes: “A social system basically con­sists of two or more individuals interacting directly or indirectly in a bounded situation”.

There may be physical or territorial boundaries, but the fundamental sociological point of reference is that the individuals are oriented, in a wide sense to a common focus or interrelated foci”.

Characteristics of Social System:

Our concept of social system consists of the following features:

(i) Social system consists of two or more individuals among whom we find an established pattern of interaction.

(ii) Individuals in their actions take account of how the others are likely to act or behave.

(iii) Individuals in the system behave in accordance with their shared cultural norms and values.

(iv) Individuals in the system act together in pursuit of common goals or rewards.

(v) “Social system” as a concept may represent the entire society or a number of sub-systems such as political system, educational system, economic system, judicial system, etc., that are found within the society.

(vi) A social system has its own boundary with the help of which it can be distinguished from other social systems.

(vii) The term ‘social system’ denotes a sociological concept that has been evolved to study society. In Weber’s language it represents an ‘ideal type’.


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