Open Thinkering


TB872: Different understandings of the word ‘system’

Note: this is a post reflecting on one of the modules of my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. You can see all of the related posts in this category.

The image presents a spray diagram that illustrates various meanings and interpretations of the word "system." The central node, labeled "System," is connected to several nodes, each representing different aspects or contexts where the term "system" is applicable. These aspects include tangible elements like "Physical entities" and "Components," as well as more abstract concepts such as "Complexity" and "Reflective practice."

Each node contains a brief example or explanation, presumably quoting various sources, as indicated by citations such as "(Caulkin, quoted in Ison, 2017, p.26)." These citations suggest that the concepts and examples were drawn from a work by Ison in 2017, where Caulkin and others are quoted to provide context for the different uses of the term "system."

The diagram branches out to cover a range of system-related concepts, such as "Process-oriented," indicating systems viewed through their processes; "Societal structures," referring to systems within society; and "Emergence," highlighting the phenomenon where system properties arise from the interactions between components.

One node quotes Bateson, reflecting on the study of preliterate communities, while another quotes Mead, suggesting that a small group's efforts can bring about significant change, emphasizing the impact of collective action.

Overall, the spray diagram visually organizes the diverse interpretations of "system," from concrete applications like engineering and rules/frameworks to abstract notions like simplicity, complexity, and intangibility. It captures the multifaceted nature of systems thinking by showing how it intersects with various disciplines and perspectives.
(tap to enlarge)

I’m sharing this here more for a sake of completeness, as it makes more sense to post on the students forums for this module (which I already have done).

The activity was to reflect on our course readings and own experience in terms of the different use of the word ‘system’ in various contexts. Mine builds on a previous post about systems as epistemologies vs systems as ontologies.

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