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  The notion of system (from Greek syn, ‘together’ and histemi, ‘set up’), in sociology, is a widely used analytical tool. The concept of a social system is vital in all social theory. Broadly speaking a system is any collection of interrelated parts, where a change in one part would affect some or all of the other parts. A system is often seen to be purposeful or functional in that it exists to satisfy some objective or goal in relation to an external environment. Social scientists have treated social relations, groups or societies as a set of interrelated parts which function to maintain their boundaries within a wider environment. A further aspect of the concept of a system is the assumption of a tendency towards equilibrium. Social scientists have drawn an analogy between society and a biological organism each comprised of interdependent parts performing essential functions contributing to the smooth-running of the system as a whole.

The notion of a system has been used in social science since the 19th century though most explicitly by functionalism in the 1950s and 1960s. Although the approach has been subject to immense criticism the concept has been developed and remains important. DA

See also evolutionism; holism; social integration; society; structuralism; structure; systems theory; theories of modernity; world system.Further reading W. Buckley, Sociology and Modern Systems Theory.



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