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A short note on origins and orientation of the systems approach

The genesis of the Systems approach can be traced to several, different sciences. Lilienfeld has mentioned in this connection the fields of biology, cybernetics and operations research. This approach is also indebted to anthropology, economics and sociology. Ludwig Von Burtalanffy and others founded the Society for General Systems Research and also a journal, Behavioural Science. They said that the goal of the Systems theory was the integration of “the various sciences, natural and social”.

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Norbert Weiner believed that his concept of cybernetic control through feedback could be a model for legitimising governmental operations in a political system. Operations Research applied the Systems approach to the use of radar installations during the Second World War. It was used to forecast military outcomes on the basis of strategy, tactics and the design of weapons. Later, in times of peace, operations research becomes synonymous with systems analysis in natural and social sciences.

Among the social sciences, economics was first to make contributions to systems theory. Economic techniques and computer simulation were used along with input-output analysis to analyse relation among various segments of an economic system. Input-output analysis is generally static in nature. In Political Science, it is generally used in qualitative assessments of a system.

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Game theory has been used in political analysis of electoral strategies and external relations of political systems. Political scientists have used it in the testing and implementation of the rational choice, theory. This theory assumes that individuals tend to use actions that bring them the best results.

Sociology also alludes to “ways of guiding human thinking in systematic fashion,” We often refer to the “Planning – Programming – Budgeting System” used by the American government. David Singer distinguished between two different orientations consisting of (i) systems analysis and (ii) general systems. In his view, systems analysis suffers from abstraction and lacks a dynamic and historical perspective. He opted for the phrase, general systems, which should study regularities in various systems. P.G. Casanova suggested a somewhat similar distinction.

The first type was represented by Talcott Parsons and is rooted in 19th century positivist theories. The second type is called systems analysis, which stresses on the decision-making and has benefited from mathematical applications and operations research. Casanova studied the history of changes in modern systems. His emphasis on history and policy-oriented research enabled him to put forward a radical reinterpretation of both systems – analysis and functionalism.

Ronald Chilcote has identified three principal trends in the literature of Systems Theory : One trend, sometimes called Grand Theory, is non-historical in orientation. It grew from the natural sciences. It culminated in the writings of David Easton. The impact of Easton was wide-ranging and had a profound impact on both comparative and international politics; Karl Deutsch, Morton Kaplan, and Herbert Spiro were deeply influenced by him.

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Another trend, known as structural – functionalism, tries to be holistic but drifts towards a non-historical and middle – range analysis. It has grown from two academic traditions. In the first tradition, we can place the works of Malinowski, Radcliffe – Brown, and Talcott Parsons. In the second traditions, we can refer to the works of Arthur Bentley and David Truman. Both these traditions have converged in the contributions of Gabriel Almond, whose structural -functional approach made great impact on comparative politics.

A third trend is a radical and Marxist critique and reinterpretation of Systems Theory. It raises substantive issues of public policy and argues that the study of political system must investigate them in order to make our knowledge socially relevant and meaningful. In addition, “the radical re-interpretation recasts system in terms of state and looks to the theories of the capitalist, state.’

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