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Systems Theory

Klaus Krippendorff


The word “system” is widely used. We speak of planetary systems, transportation systems, nervous systems, number systems, filing systems, political systems, systems of checks and balances, systems of grammatical rules, systems of weights and measures, and so on as if they shared the same reality. Their common denominator is a multitude of component parts, depending on each other, working together in complex ways, and functioning as wholes. Beyond these commonalities, such systems exhibit at best Wittgensteinian family resemblances. Systems theory is an interdisciplinary field. It was founded by Ludwig Bertalanffy (1968) in the 1950s and soon attracted other scholars, notably the economist Kenneth Boulding, mathematician Anatol Rapoport, biologist James Grier Miller, architect Russell Ackoff, management scientist West Churchman, and the sociologist Talcott Parsons, to name only a few. The early dream of finding a general theory of all systems turned out not to be realizable. Now, several specialized systems theories are recognized. What has kept these and many other scholars together is what is increasingly called systems thinking: the use of a common language and principles to address complex issues. Systems theory and →  cybernetics , often mentioned together, have radically different epistemologies. According to Ross Ashby (1956, 1981) , whereas cybernetics attends to all ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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