Social system

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Social system is a central term in sociological systems theory. The term draws a line to ecosystem, biological organisms, psychical systems and technical systems. They all form the environment of social systems. Minimum requirements for a social system is interaction of at least two personal systems or two persons acting in their roles. The first who formulated a systematic theory of social systems was Talcott Parsons where it was a part of his AGIL paradigm yet the social system is only a segment (or a "subsystem") of what Parsons calls action theory;[1] however, Vilfredo Pareto had used the term "social system" earlier but only as a sketch and not as an overall analytical scheme in the sense of Parsons.

Jay Wright Forrester describes three counterintuitive behaviours as important: causes from symptoms are often far removed in time and space, identifying leverage points, conflicting short and long-term consequences.[2]

Approaches of Parsons and Luhmann[edit]

In sociological systems theory there is a controversy what kind of structural elements a social system consists of. For Talcott Parsons it is actions, while Niklas Luhmann considers communication processes which constitute a social system. Though communication is also an action (e.g. speech acts) and on the surface this seems to be a discussion about terms only, the selection of basic terms has theoretical and practical consequences.

Social systems and digital/online worlds[edit]

Social systems sciences is a loose term for engineered environments which, if successful, attract users to participate. The advent of computers and the internet has enabled new types of social systems to take form.

There are multiple methods of measuring participation within a social system. Reach, engagement, frequency of participation – all tell something about the success of a social system.

All social systems have commonalities. One is that they become more fun and interesting as more people play and participate. Another is that with each iteration, or version, very quickly the population or interest reaches a plateau.

Indeed, the world is one large social system, split into many smaller social systems.

  • Digital social systems
  • Role-playing games as social systems

When the Internet first reached the hands of the populace, people took the existing model of dungeons and dragons and created their own digital versions of the worlds once played by people in their living rooms and basements. These first text-based online role-playing games attracted people who enjoyed the social aspect of battling for gold and riches. Hundreds of new worlds sprouted up. Some of these worlds were designed more successfully than others. In terms of reach, some of these worlds supported thousands of users, while some only tens to hundreds.

Social networks[edit]

e.g. Friendster, Facebook, Myspace, Orkut, Stumbleupon, Wallop, Twitter, Pinterest, G+, YouTube

See also[edit]


  • Parsons, Talcott. (1970). The System of Modern Societies, New York
  • Parsons, Talcott. (1977). Social Systems and the Evolution of Action Theory, New York
  • Parsons, Talcott. (1978). Action Theory and the Human Condition, New York


  1. ^ Parsons, Talcott. (1951). The Social System. New York: Free Press.
  2. ^ Forrester, Jay. 1971. Counterintuitive behavior of social systems. Chapter VI. Technology Review 73(3): 52–68

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