Systems theory is one that emphasizes the view that the society is one large system made up of several sub systems. These sub systems are united by one purpose and all work together to make the whole. It is concerned with boundaries, roles and the flow of information between individuals (Stein, 1974). This theory attempts to explain the behavior of human beings by analyzing the interacting components as well as the rules that govern such interaction (Andreae, 2011). Systems theory underlines the fact that the parts or the sub systems make up the whole, and one needs to analyze the contribution of the parts to understand the whole.
An example of a system in society is the family. It is made up of individual members who are brought together by relations. A nuclear family such as that of Marie has two parents, and children who are brought up together by virtue of the marriage between Anna and Werner. The individuals within the family play specific roles which are guided by rules (Andreae, 2011). Marie’s mother for example takes care of the children as demonstrated by her efforts of working as a brick cleaner in Berlin and using food stamps to obtain cheese and milk for them as well as dropping them at the day care center every morning. This kind of dedication indicates contribution towards the general success of the whole unit.
The family is also made up of other subsystems which include spousal relations and roles, parent to child, and sibling systems. An example of a spousal system can be seen between Marie and her husband. His inability to get a job in Canada makes them decide to move to the states and her German upbringing influences their choice of residence in New Jersey. Marie also has a close relationship with her younger sibling since their childhood when they went to day care together.
According to the systems theory, the members of the family system must coexist in a given environment which is prone to change from time to time. Andreae (2011) observes that the changes that occur to one member of the family lead to changes in other parts of the system and may at several times affect all or some of the constituents of the family system. The death of her biological father results in her mother being their provider during the war period. She later remarries and Marie and her siblings have to adapt to living with their step father. She even stays behind in Germany to complete her college education on his advice before following them to Canada.
Ritzer and Goodman (2004) also observe that in a system, the actions of the whole are influenced by those of the individuals components. When Marie’s husband cannot find a job in Canada, it is her step father who comes to their aid by sharing information about a business up for sale in the United States. Through his individual action, he ends up initiating the immigration of her family from Edmonton to New Jersey where they intend to start a new life.
Systems theory also views the family as an open system which freely shares information with outside sources. The decisions of the family are influenced by its immediate environment as noted by Andreae (2011). On her family’s return to Berlin, they find their former apartment occupied by two other families whose houses had been destroyed by the bombings. The whole city is facing a shortage of housing units for its residents. Their street having been spared the destruction during the war, attracts people from other parts of the city and they are forced to share their small apartment with these other families. In this case, Marie’s family has to transform from the formerly simple system of one family, to a larger system. This system pulls up three families; each as a major constituent of the main system. It then moves to the individual members who make up the three subsystems as they all have to live together and coexist.
The application of the systems theory has various limitations in societal analysis. The limitations of applying the systems theory in looking at the case of Marie can be noted in its over emphasis on the system at the expense of the individual. For example, Anna had to put her children in day care due to the fact that most schools had been destroyed in the war. However it ignores other individual factors that may have led to this decision. She was clearly over burdened at that point and part of this burden was brought about by the death of her husband. This may have contributed to her choice of having some of her children in a catholic run day care center and one of them in school.
Feminist theories are usually concerned with establishing the subject matter of women. Most of feminist oriented theories focused on what can be referred to as the dehumanization of women in society. They are concerned with deconstructing the power relations in society that have contributed to women’s oppression by men. The differences between men and women are merely structural creations of society and therefore the main focus of the feminist theory is to reassert the position of women as being equal to men in society. In some extreme cases it seeks to destroy patriarchy in totality and suggests a new female based power system (Rich, 2007) .
Feminist theories show the struggles of women under oppression in a society dominated by men. Feminism is therefore women’s struggles that are devoid of class differences in society. Marie’s family suffers in the wake of bombings in their city which forces them to flee as a result of dwindling food rations. Her mother moves with them to her aunt who has enough supplies. Another military invasion forces them to flee from her aunt’s estate. Their suffering can be attributed to the actions of a military force that was dominantly male both in structure, leadership, and in thinking.
The family is conceptualized as a system of power relations that puts women subordinate to men in decision making. The creation of the family structure is such that women take a more silent role and are rarely visible (Andersen & Taylor, 2008). Her family migrates to New Jersey so that her husband may get himself some employment. This action is initiated from a call from her step father about a business that is up for sale. Throughout this episode, the women are painted as willing tag along to the whole plot.
Additionally, it points out that women are equal to many in performance of any task that society should place on them. This theory calls for the liberation of women through their own concious awareness of their abilities (Rich, 2007). The women in Marie’s life take charge of the situation in many instances to play roles that would otherwise be played by their husbands. Her aunt takes them in when the food stocks in Berlin run low. When her father passes away, her mother takes up a job as a brick cleaner in Berlin to provide for the family, stepping up into a job and a role that the society should perceive as a man’s.
Feminism also draws heavily on Marxism to state that “the personal is political” (Rich, 2007). This is used to mean that the personals problems that women face are not of their own making but are as a result of the general structure of society. Marie has to stay back in Germany for a whole year when her family migrates to Canada.It is not because she would wish to stay away from her family, but the education system dictates that she stays in Germany for that extra year before she graduates. She is a good show of the female effort and sacrifice for a better achievement in the family in the future.
The feminist theory is also characterized by various shortfalls. This theory has a limitation in analyzing her case because of its assertion that patriarchy is the source of problems for women and it should therefore be abolished as stated by Rich, (2007). Marie stays behind to pursue her education on the advice of their family patriarch which is to her benefit and to the benefit of the family. Later on, she moves to join her family at New Jersey. This movement takes place so that the husband may be able to get a job. She also benefits by being closer to her parents and to own a business. Patriachy may generate some problems in the society. Nonetheless, the feminist theory should not wholesomely view male dominance as the major limitation to female success as it also contributes to their triumph at other times.
The conflict theory of analyzing the society bases its concepts on a relationship between the scarcity of resources and the consequent outcome of competition for the same. Conflict theory is built on the premise that groups and individuals will always compete for the scarce resources that are available. As humans interact, they look out for the best of their interests. Competition leads to conflict which acts as a catalyst for change in society. Access to more resources gives more power to the group that controls the resources while the less powerful groups find themselves under the control of those controlling resources. The resource ownership structure leads to class struggles between the haves and the have-nots (Chibucos, Leite, & Weis, 2005).
The family structure in society inherently breeds conflict. The power structure is such that the men wield more power than women and children wield the least power. The individual interests are therefore prioritized in such a way that those with lesser power are subordinated to those with more power (Ritzer & Goodman, 2004). The decision to move her family from Edmonton to New Jersey is primarily driven by the need to satisfy the needs of her husband who heads the family. With the backing of Marie’s father, they both wield enough power to convince the rest of the family to buy into their decisions.
Class struggles emerge between the owners of capital and the owners of labor. The laborer’s feel exploited by the capitalists who pay them below the actual value for which they provide services. The working class feels disempowered and lives on a low budget which keeps them going back to work so that they can afford to provide for their families (Ritzer & Goodman, 2004). Marie’s family experiences the consequences of this class struggle. Her mother takes up work as brick cleaner when they return to Berlin but she is forced to supplement her income with food stamps for milk, and cheese. Despite her resolve to wake up everyday and work, her earnings are so low that she has to postpone enrolling her daughter in 1st grade and instead put her in a day care center with her younger brother.
One of the concepts of conflict theory is that competition is inevitable in society. Chibucos et. al (2005), argue that the result of this is a win-lose situation. Family arrangements are therefore an aggregate of negotiations in which some of the members have to cede ground for the family to move forward. The forces that determine these may be salient or explicitly expressed. On their return to Berlin, her family finds their apartment being occupied by other families whose houses had been destroyed. Her mother agrees to share her small apartment with them and in the process she gets to secure accommodation for her family in a city where getting one is an uphill task.
Just like the rest, the conflict theory also has limitations in this analysis. The argument that competition in a family always leads to a win-lose outcome limits the use of this theory in analysing Marie’s case. For example when she moves her family from, Edmonton to New Jersey, it is easy to point out that this is pushed through by her husband for his own best interests. He gets to own a business, thereby becoming employed; which was not possible for him in Canada. On the other hand, she gets to choose where they live which is predominantly German. She also gets to be closer to her parents who had moved to the United States. The whole situation is neve a simple win-lose outcome.
Implications for Social Work Practice
This case helps to provide the author with a better understanding of the relationship between the general outlook of families and the individual members. Through the systems theory, it demonstrates that to understand the family unit, it is vital to give a hearing chance to the individual members too. It is of importance to me as a social worker to pay more attention to changes in individuals within the family to be able to understand how it affects the rest of the family members with whom they work.
It is worth noting that this case also brings to the fore the driving force among group relations. As a social worker, an understanding of the nature of competition among groups and individuals is significant as it informs how one can effectively mediate in case of conflicts. While some clients may resign to their fate as victims of oppression, a level of conflict helps to even the grievances through negotiations and concessions between competing groups.
Andersen, M. L., & Taylor, H. F. (2008). Sociology; Understanding a Diverse Society (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Learning.
Andreae, D. (2011). General Systems Theory: Contributions to Social Work Theory and Practice. In F. J. Turner (Ed.), Social Work Treatment: Interlocking Theoretical Approaches (5th ed., pp. 242 -254). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chibucos, T. R., Leite, R. W., & Weis, D. L. (Eds.). (2005). Readings in Family Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Rich, J. (2007). An Introduction to Modern Feminist Theory. (M. Addis, Ed.) Penrith: Humanities-Ebooks.
Ritzer, G., & Goodman, D. J. (2004). Sociological Theory (6th ed.). Boston: Mc Graw Hill.
Stein, I. (1974). Systems Theory, Sience, and Social Work. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.