Systems Theory: New and Old

  • Carey B. Joynt
  • Percy E. Corbett


Any text in the field of international relations makes constant but usually unsystematic use of the concept of “system.” References are made to the “international system,” the “global system,” the “nation-state system,” and so on often without clearly differentiating between the different uses of these terms. It seems the better part of wisdom, therefore, to examine the concept with care not merely because of the frequency with which it is abused but also because the scholarly literature on systems theory has spawned an ever-proliferating body of complex jargon, contradictory assertions and, in general, considerable theoretical confusion. Such a process is all too familiar to students in the social sciences. Debates first produce excitement, then anger but little enlightenment and finally, through the sheer weight of the boredom and weariness evidenced in participants and bystanders alike, fruitful ideas are lost for long periods of time. Meanwhile, precious time and energy have been lost.


Political System International System World Politics Critical Range Essential Actor 
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  1. 1.
    Anatol Rapaport, “General Systems Theory,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 15, p. 457. This is the best short treatment of the subject. The pioneer thinker in the field is Ludwig Von Bertalanffy,, General Systems Theory (New York, 1969).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Michael Banks, “Systems Analysis and the Study of Regions,” International Studies Quarterly, vol. 13 (1969), pp. 347–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 6.
    See for example Thomas L. Saaty, Mathematical Models of Arms Control and Disarmament (New York, 1968).Google Scholar
  4. 22.
    For a severe but penetrating analysis, see M. B. Nicholson and P. A. Reynolds, “General Systems, the International System, and the Eastonian Analysis,” Political Studies, vol. 15 (1967), pp. 12–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 28.
    Charles P. Kindleberger, “Scientific International Politics,” World Politics, vol. 10 (October 1958), p. 83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 36.
    Martin Wight, “The Balance of Power and International Order,” in Alan James (ed.), The Bases of International Order. Essays in Honour of C. A. W. Manning (London, 1973), p. 100.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Carey B. Joynt and Percy E. Corbett 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carey B. Joynt
  • Percy E. Corbett

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