A Brief History of Systemic Thought in the Social and Natural Sciences

  • Eoin Flaherty


This chapter presents a history and critique of mid-twentieth century general, and social systems theory. The history of systemic thought is familiar to most students of social science. What is less well integrated into current sociological theory and practice is the ‘second wave’ of systemic theory or ‘complexity theory’, which succeeded the general systems program. It beings with a critical re-evaluation of the legacies of ‘classical’ general systems theorists, and the early multidisciplinary promise of their work. Social systems theory emphasises the role of functional pre-requisites for social stability and reproduction, allied to a model of social structure often referred to as ‘structural functionalism’. The chapter concludes that the two tasks can productively be separated, and that there is nothing inherently conservative in specifying structural models as guiding ideal-types.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eoin Flaherty
    • 1
  1. 1.SociologyUniversity College DublinDublinUK

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