Systems Theory in International Relations

  • Robert L. Flood
  • Ewart R. Carson


We now come to the third and last chapter dealing with systems thinking in the social sciences, Theme C of this book. The aim of this chapter is to show one example of systems science employed in theory building in the social sciences. The subject area is international relations (IR), a discipline that has “traditionally” explored structure rather than processes, focusing on the structure of functional units. This chapter provides a particularly useful example of the Development Cycle 2 of Figure 1.1. It shows how systems thinking has strongly influenced IR and how IR in turn has contributed to the functionalist viewpoint in systems thinking. As argued elsewhere in this book, adopting a functionalist approach at the expense of all other ones is impoverished. We therefore suggest a need to look for alternative paradigms that could support the study of IR toward the end of the chapter. The following account is based on an article by Ellison and Flood (1986). As this chapter is primarily a review, the terminology adopted in the reviewed articles has necessarily been used.


System Science International Relation International System System Concept System Thinking 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert L. Flood
    • 1
  • Ewart R. Carson
    • 2
  1. 1.The University of HullHullEngland
  2. 2.City UniversityLondonEngland

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