A system is an integrated set of interacting variables that together create a larger pattern or whole. A family is a good example. Families are only possible by virtue of interactions among members, which results in the family having its own unique character. System theory is a broad approach that applies this idea to any number of natural, social, and personal phenomena, including cognition, interpersonal relationships, social groups, organizations and institutions, biological organisms, and the natural environment. Providing a common way of thinking about complex phenomena, system theory has had a major impact on many fields, including communication. In fact, Robert Craig has identified system thinking as one of seven major traditions of communication theory.

System theory has its origins in 19th-century European thought dealing with process, change, and evolution, particularly the work of Geog Hegel, Charles Darwin, and Karl Marx. Although Western versions of system theory can be traced to these roots, Eastern thought has long espoused the interconnectedness of all things and in itself is consistent with much system thinking. Later, in the 20th-century, system theory began to gel formally with the advent of cybernetics and information theory in the 1940s.

Frustrated by the lack of a common vocabulary by which various fields could communicate,
Biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy looked to system theory to provide a set of concepts that might unify the sciences. Referring to his approach as general system (GST), von Bertalanffy saw system principles as a way to bridge disciplines. He aimed to create a theory, not of specific phenomena, but general principles that apply to everything. The goal was to integrate knowledge into a universal set of ideas. Although the sciences never reached the level of integration hoped for by advocates of GST, system theory does provide a common vocabulary and way of thinking that allows scientists and scholars from many fields to recognize similar relationships across the disciplines. This entry explains systems, explores cybernetics as one important aspect of systems, and identifies some examples of communication theories that take a systems point of view. GST did much to popularize system thinking in the latter half of the 20th century.

Littlejohn, Stephen W and Karen A.Floss. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory.USA:SAGE.178-179

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Edwina Ayu Kustiawan