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General System Theory The Biological System of the Individual Human Behavior and the Social Environment SSS 571 September 27, 2010 Christine Anlauf Sabatino, Ph D, LICSW, C-SSW Associate Professor Director, Center for the Advancement of Children, Youth, and Families

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General System Theory

The Biological System of the Individual

Human Behavior and the Social Environment SSS 571

September 27, 2010

Christine Anlauf Sabatino, Ph D, LICSW, C-SSW

Associate Professor

Director, Center for the Advancement of Children, Youth, and Families

National Catholic School of Social Service

The Catholic University of America

Sabatino@cua.edu

202.319.5461

introduction your goals
Introduction:Your Goals
  • What questions and concerns do you have about learning General System Theory (GST) and how to apply it to social work practice?
  • What would you like to take away from this lecture on GST?
review
Review
  • How do we know what we know about human behavior and the social environment theories, perspectives, and paradigms/models?

(Four philosophical frameworks)

  • What is the “truth” about human behavior and the social environment based on theory (abstraction) and research/empiricism (observation)?

(Classical knowledge development)

review purpose of theory
Review:Purpose of Theory
  • To explain behavior and events
  • To guide change activities

Two types of change –

normative &

directed interventions

purpose of gst
Purpose of GST
  • According to General Systems Theory,

human behavior/conduct is a explained by ________.

  • According to General Systems Theory,

natural change is brought about by _________.

  • According to General Systems Theory,

guided change is brought about by _________.

review framework for leaning theory
Review: Framework for Leaning Theory

An overview of the theory – the basic premise/definition

Historical context – original theorists & variant forms

Key concepts –

explanatory functions

change functions

Contemporary issues

Application to social work

Critical analysis

Summary

overview systems defined short version
Overview:Systems Defined - Short Version
  • A system is a complex whole with a set of components interacting with each other that has a boundary determining what is inside the system and what is outside the system
overview systems defined long version
Overview:Systems Defined - Long Version

A system is a

  • set of components
  • interacting with each other
  • with a boundary possessing the ability
  • to filter both the kind and rate of
  • inputs and
  • outputs
  • to and from the system.
overview basic premise
Overview:Basic Premise

A system achieves its goal

by taking in energy/information/inputs/resources,

using or processing these elements,

then expelling energy/information/outputs/products

that are different from the original inputs

historical context
Historical Context

GST incorporates knowledge and principles from many disciplines including

  • biology
  • economics
  • psychology
  • mathematics
  • sociology
  • physics
  • engineering
  • medicine
  • social work.
historical context11
Historical Context

The wide usage of the systems approach since the late nineteenth century by the physical sciences was fostered by the necessity to overcome the overpowering skepticism that was occurring with sciences whose principles were based on the naïve conception of a simple one-way cause-and-effect ideas (Turner, p. 602, 1996).

historical context12
Historical Context

Prior to general systems theory, there was little examination of the relationship between system parts and their effects on one another.

historical context13
Historical Context

GST developed in part as a response to psycho dynamic theories which focused exclusively on internal mental processes, without any recognition of the impact of external forces on internal dynamics and social transactions.

major theorist and their disciplines
Major Theorist and Their Disciplines
  • W.R. Ashby, a bacteriologist
  • L. Von Bertalanffy, a theoretical biologist
  • U. Bronfenbrenner, developmental psychologist**
  • K. E. Boulding, an economist
  • K. Lewin, psychologist
  • J. G. Miller, a psychiatrist and psychologist
  • A. Rapoport, a mathematician
major theorist and their disciplines15
Major Theorist and Their Disciplines

These theorists’ works on cybernetics, information theory, game theory, and network theory were applied to the social and behavioral sciences that was looking for a way to make conceptual connections between disparate phenomena.

**Urie Bronfenbrenner introduced the term “human ecology” because he thought socio-cultural phenomena were intrinsic to all systems.

major social work theorist
Major Social Work Theorist

Gordon Hearn

Lead the discussion about GST as a meta-theory and conceptual framework for professional social work.

Carole Germain & Alex Gitterman adapted GST and developed a social work practice model.

Germaine, C. & Gitterman, A. (1996). The life model of social work practice: Advances in theory and practice. New York: Columbia Press.

Ellen Netting adapted GST for development of a macro practice text book.

Orren Dale, Rebecca Smith, Julie M. Norling, and Wayne A. Chess adopted GST as the framework for their HBSE textbook.

variant forms or adaptations of gst hutchinson reading
Variant Forms or Adaptations of GST:Hutchinson reading

The biological person

  • Nervous system
  • Endocrine system
  • Immune system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Reproductive system
slide18
The biological person

The presentation for each of these systems has included detailed information about illness and disease processes.

What it does not present is a detailed discussion of the pharmacology associated with the prevention and treatment of various illnesses. Discuss this issue with your field instructor.

slide19
The biological person

These interior biological systems are influenced by social, political, cultural, and economic environmental systems.

slide20
The biological person

We are obligated to rule out a physiologically-based reason for the current psychosocial challenge/issue/need/problem.

Each agency setting attends to specific facets of the biological system for their client population and service delivery system.

variant forms or adaptations of gst robbins reading
Variant Forms or Adaptations of GST:Robbins reading

The individual system

  • Biological system
  • Emotional system
  • Cognitive system
  • Spiritual system
slide22
Structural Functionalism: a sociological paradigm developed by Talcott Parsons that examined “how social systems survive and why institutionalized patterns of interaction persist” (Robbins, p. 29).

The structure of a system determines its function; hence the structural definition of a system takes primacy over the functional definition. Without structure, function is impossible.

slide23
Ecological Perspective: an approach to human behavior which examines the progressive, mutual accommodation throughout the course of life between an active, growing human being and his or her environment (Uri Bronfenbrenner).

A multidisciplinary approach adapted to social work practice in the form of the “Life Model” wherein the overarching focus is on the transactions between people and their environments. Major concepts include stress, adaptation, goodness-of-fit, habitat, niche, mutuality, and transaction.

slide24
Deep Ecology: posits that there is an interdependency between human beings and total planetary ecology, that there is intrinsic value in all life, and that diversity, interdependency, and complexity reflect the nature of life. (Robbins, p. 46 - 47).
slide25
Eco-feminism: challenges hierarchy and oppressive power structures and highlights the importance of interconnectedness, relatedness, and wholeness within, among, and between humans and nature (Robbins, p. 48).
major theorist and their disciplines26
Major Theorist and Their Disciplines

Some therapist have applied GST concepts to their work with families, leading to various forms of family system therapy.

  • Murray Bowen “family psychiatry”

(schizophrenia)

  • Salvador Minuchin “structural family theory”

(disorganized, lower socio-economic families)

  • Jay Haley “strategic family theory”

(focus is on communication patterns, rules, and distribution of power)

dynamic systems theory robbins reading
Dynamic Systems Theory: Robbins reading

Explanatory Statement

How GST Describe HBSE

Human, institutional, and community conduct is a function of the actions and activities designed to achieve a specific goal.

dynamic systems theory robbins reading28
Dynamic Systems Theory: Robbins reading

Key concepts

  • Focal system: The unit of attention or analysis
  • Supra system: The environment of the focal system; absorbs the system’s outputs
  • Subsystem: The units within the system
slide29
Holon:

a focal system that is simultaneously –

a whole with it own distinctive qualities;

a part of larger systems, and ;

a container of subsystems.

dynamic systems theory robbins reading30
Dynamic Systems Theory: Robbins reading

Boundary:

  • the region separating one system for another
  • defines what is inside or outside the system
  • regulates the flow of energy/information (inputs) entering and leaving the system (outputs)
  • transfers energy/information from focal system to supra- or sub-systems
  • needs to be semi-permeable
slide31
Types of boundaries

Enmeshed boundaries: too permeable

Disengaged boundaries: too rigid

slide32
Inputs: Energy/information/resources introduced and absorbed by the system
  • Throughputs: The transformation of energy/information/resources to be used by the focal system to achieve its goal
  • Outputs: Energy/information/products discharged from the system
slide33
Open system:
  • A system that accepts and responds to inputs;
  • receives and exchanges energy/information/resources from outside the system;
  • characterized by an active exchange with the environment;
  • greater ability to adapt;
  • more goal oriented
slide34
Closed system:
  • A system that has limited transactions

with supra-systems or sub-systems

  • does not accept and respond to inputs
  • fails to receive and exchange energy/information/resources

from outside the system

  • characterized by very little active exchange

with the environment

  • less able to adapt
  • less goal oriented
slide35
Feedback:
  • monitoring efforts to reach the system’s goal;
  • transmission of information

about actions the system has performed;

  • assessment of system output that is

used as input for subsequent action

slide36
Two types of feedback

Positive feedback:

  • accelerate actions
  • feedback loop signals the system is

to open and allow more inputs

Negative feedback:

  • decelerate actions
  • feedback loop signals the system is to

close and to cut off or reduce inputs.

slide37
Adaptation: the ability of a system to discriminate and act effectively on their environment
  • Adaptive systems are more complex because they have a greater capacity to grow and develop their arrangements.
slide38
Entropy:
  • when a system moves toward disorganization or becomes stagnant and chaotic
  • energy is not exchanged with the environment and the system becomes ‘run down.’
slide39
Dynamic system: one that finds a new and different balance after a disturbance
  • Static system: A system that returns to the same fixed point or position after a disturbance
change without social work intervention
Change: Without Social Work Intervention

Normative Change:

Feedback loops serve

to support current course of action or

indicate a new course of action is necessary

to achieve the system goal.

change with social work intervention
Change:With Social Work Intervention

Prepare for planned change or interventions after a thorough assessment

general systems theory assessment
General Systems Theory: Assessment
  • What is the goal?
  • Has the goal been clearly defined?
  • Is it realistic and applicable to the system?
general systems theory assessment43
General Systems Theory: Assessment

Review the key concepts to determine which one helps to explain the system’s problem:

  • Correct focal system?
  • Boundary issues?
  • Closed system?
  • Input/throughput/output used?
  • Feedback issues?
  • Adaptation issues?
  • Inability to maintain homeostasis or equilibrium?
  • In a state of entropy?
planned change or social work intervention
Planned Change or Social Work Intervention

Create system change through specific techniques

  • Analyze the viability of the system goal
  • Delineate the focal system
  • Realign subsystems
  • Alter boundaries
  • Provide new input/resources/information/products
  • Assist system to process throughputs differently
  • Evaluate success of outputs/feedback in relation to goal
  • Support adaptation, homeostasis, equilibrium
  • Guard against entropy
planned change or social work intervention45
Planned Change or Social Work Intervention

Determine which actions

will bring about the greatest movement

toward the goal

(maximum point of reverberation)

strengths of the gst
Strengths of the GST

Moves from a linear cause and effect analysis of issues/concerns/challenges/problems to a reflection on the multiple dynamic transactions between persons and their environments

Recognizes the value of the formal and informal social contexts (supra systems)

Does not pathologize situations

weaknesses of the gst
Weaknesses of the GST

Concepts are specific but the application of the concepts is inferred and very abstract

One may question the underlying assumption that change in one part of the system will bring about change in another part of the system. Resistance to change is a powerful force in the system

Can be used to deny individual responsibility

critically reflective analysis framework robbins chatterjee canda
Critically Reflective Analysis Framework: Robbins, Chatterjee & Canda

Q. What specific aspect of human development and human relations does the theory address and emphasize? Which dimensions are addressed and which dimensions are omitted?

A. All aspects and all dimensions are included in GST

critically reflective analysis framework robbins chatterjee canda49
Critically Reflective Analysis Framework: Robbins, Chatterjee & Canda

Q. What is the theory’s relevance to individuals, families, groups, organizations, institutions, and communities? Where on the micro-macro continuum is the theory most relevant?

A. GST may applied to all units of attention along the micro/mezzo/macro continuum of abstraction

critically reflective analysis framework robbins chatterjee canda50
Critically Reflective Analysis Framework: Robbins, Chatterjee & Canda

Q. How consistent is the theory with social work values and ethics?

  • Because all variables are considered relevant in GST theory, it is able to incorporate issues related to race, gender, culture, religion, sexual orientation, ability, and social class?

The problem is that one has to take the concept and infer/link/apply it to the specific concrete issue/challenge/need/problem under discussion

robbins chatterjee canda critical analysis framework
Robbins, Chatterjee & Canda Critical Analysis Framework
  • What does the theory say about human nature?
  • The theory is very hopeful and optimistic. Despite its beginning in the hard sciences, change is seen as inevitable and constant, and it can take place through multiple processes.
robbins chatterjee canda critical analysis framework52
Robbins, Chatterjee & Canda Critical Analysis Framework

Q. What is the empirical evidence to support GST?

A. The empirical base is limited but it is developing.

robbins chatterjee canda critical analysis framework53
Robbins, Chatterjee & Canda Critical Analysis Framework

Q. On what grounds does the theory base its appeal?

A. It is a dynamic theory that is applicable to multiple populations, problems, and settings across the micro-mezzo-macro continuum

bibliography classical literature
Bibliography: Classical Literature
  • Berrien, K.F. (1968). General systems theory. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Bronnfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Von Bertalanffy, L. (1968) General Systems Theory: foundations, Development, Applications. New York: George Braziller.
slide55
Bibliography:

Contemporary Literature

Bolland, K., & Atherton, D. (1999). Chaos theory: An alternative approach to social work practice and research. Families in Society: The Journal of contemporary Human Services, 80(4), 376-373.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1989). Ecological system theory. Annals of Child Development, 6, 187- 249.

Dale, O., Smith, R., Norlin, J.M., & Chess, W. (2006) Human Behavior and the Social Environment: Social Systems Theory (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Friedman, B. (1997). System theory. In J. Brandell, Theory and Practice in Clinical Social Work (pp.3-17). New York: Free Press, Simon & Schuster, Inc.

slide56
Forder, A. (1976). Social work and systems theory. British Journal of Social Work, 6 (1) 23-41.

Germaine. C. & Gitterman, A. (1996) The Life Model of social work practice: Advances in theory and practice. New York: Columbia University Press.

Halmi, A. (2007). Chaos and non-linear dynamics. International Social Work, 46(1), 83-101.

Hudson, C. (2000). At the edge of chaos: A new paradigm for social work? Journal of Social Work Education, 36(2), 215-230.

Netting, E. F., Kettner, P.M., & McMurty, S. (2007). Macro Social Work Practice (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Warren, L., & Streeter, C. (1998). New directions in systems theory: Chaos and complexity. Social Work, 43(4), 357-372.