System Theory

Fleissner, Peter
 Incorporated contributions
Fleissner (28/02/09)
 Usage domain
Théorie des Systêmes 
 German Systemstheorie 
Systems theory (ST) is a specific way of how to reflect the totality of material or mental objects, their structures, their quantitative and qualitative change and their relations to their environment. It represents the structured portraying, designing, reifying and interpreting of this totality. By portraying ST picks up certain essential aspects of perceived reality; by designing ST (re)constructs this totality in a certain way; by reifying it transforms the mental image into scientific language and/or into mathematical expressions; by interpreting ST links the totality to the philosophical, political or scientific context.

ST deals with the relations between structure, function and dynamics of a system, with the relations between its elements or parts and the total system, with the relations between the system and its environment, and with the identification and classification of systems.

The vibrant development of the productive forces in the last century based on scientific revolutions provides the basis for a deepened understanding of totalities. At the same time, extreme specialization of science and research generates a growing need for ST to handle complex practical problems of contemporary life.

Although systems thinking can be traced back to ancient Egypt, ST as an area of study was developed by the works of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, William Ross Ashby, Gregory Bateson, Kenneth E. Boulding, C. West Churchman, Heinz von Förster, Paul Lazarsfeld, Kurt Lewin, Warren McCulloch, John von Neumann, Margaret Mead, Anatol Rapoport, Norbert Wiener and others in the 1950s. Between 1946 and 1953 ST was specifically catalyzed by the Society for General Systems Research and the Macy Conferences (organized in the US by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation).

Specific versions of Systems Theories exist in cybernetics and in the theory of adaptive systems. Applications can be found in mathematics and computing (control theory), system dynamics (Jay Forrester), agent based modeling, systems engineering, biochemistry, theories of living systems, anthropology, sociology and social cybernetics, economics, ecology, political sciences, history, archeology, systems psychology, group dynamics and theories of organization etc.


  • BERTALANFFY, L. von (1950). "An Outline for General Systems Theory". British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol 1, No. 2, pp. 134-165.
  • WIKIPEDIA (2009). Systems Theory. [Online] [Consulted: 02/11/09]
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Fleissner (28/02/2009)
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