Definition of System
(noun) The interconnected relationship between individuals, groups, and institutions with shared behaviors, norms, and values that combine to form society.
- American English – /sIs-tuhm/
- British English – /sIs-tim/
International Phonetic Alphabet
- American English – /ˈsɪstᵻm/
- British English – /ˈsɪstᵻm/
- Plural: systems
- “A world-system is not the system of the world, but a system that is a world and that can be, most often has been, located in an area less than the entire globe. World-systems analysis argues that the unities of social reality within which we operate, whose rules constrain us, are for the most part, such world-systems (other than the now-extinct small minisystems that once existed on the earth). World-systems analysis argues that there have been thus far only two varieties of world-system: world-economies and world-empires . . . In English, the hyphen is essential to indicate [this concept]. ‘World-system‘ without a hyphen suggests that there has been only one world-system in the history of the world” (Wallerstein 2004:98–99).
- “Caste and class systems of stratification are opposite, extreme points on a continuum. The two systems differ in the ease of social mobility, the relative importance of achieved and ascribed statuses, and the extent to which each restricts interaction among people considered unequal” (Ferrante 2011b:204).
- “Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour, acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action” (Kroeber and Kluckhohn 1952:181).
- “Each moral career, and behind this, each self, occurs within the confines of an institutional system, whether a social establishment such as a mental hospital or a complex of personal and professional relationships. The self, then, can be seen as something that resides in the arrangements prevailing in a social system for its members. The self in this sense is not a property of the person to whom it is attributed, but dwells rather in the pattern of social control that is exerted in connection with the person by himself and those around him. This special kind of institutional arrangement does not so much support the self as constitute it” (Goffman 1961:168).
- “Families of orientation, procreation, and cohabitation provide us with some of the most important roles we will assume in life. The nuclear family roles (such as parent, child, husband, wife, and sibling) combine with extended family roles (such as grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, and in-law) to form the kinship system” (Strong, Devault, and Cohen 2011:19).
- “Masculine privilege and its benefits are real, but they’re often hard to see. They go unrecognized because they’re so common. The ideological, structural, and institutional factors of masculine privilege tend to remain invisible. And men tend to be unaware of their own privileges as men. Masculine privilege includes individual actions, but it exists on a larger scale as well. So even if a man says, ‘Well I’m not sexist. I’m not like that,’ masculine privilege isn’t so easy to shrug off. In general, men more easily than women walk through the world with a sense of status and cultural legitimacy that isn’t necessarily conscious or articulated. And it’s not necessarily something that men ask for. Men are conferred status and legitimacy by a culture with a long history of doing so. Masculine privilege functions on macro level through the ways our institutional and cultural systems are systematically structured” (Tarrant 2009:90).
- “Most (and probably all) societies exist with systems of social division and social stratification, through which entire categories of people are elevated above others, providing one segment of the population with a disproportionate amount of money, power and prestige” (Macionis Plummer 2012:232).
- “The apartheid system is designed to ensure white control of the society’s political apparatus and of its economic wealth and resources and to provide an exploitable and powerless labor force to support the society’s industries” (Marger 1985:206).
- “The educational system helps integrate youth into the economic system, we believe, through a structural correspondence between its social relations and those of production. The structure of social relations in education not only inures the student to the discipline of the workplace, but develops the types of personal demeanour, modes of self-presentation, self-image, and social-class identification which are the crucial ingredients of job adequacy. Specifically, the social relationships of education – the relationships between administrators and teachers, teachers and students, students and students, and students and their work – replicate the hierarchical division of labour” (Bowles and Gintis 1976:131).
- “[T]he essential aspect of social structure lies in a system of patterned expectations defining the proper behavior of persons playing certain roles, enforced both by the incumbents’ own positive motives for conformity and by the sanctions of others. Such systems of patterned expectations, seen in the perspective of their place in a total social system and sufficiently thoroughly established in action to be taken for granted as legitimate, are conveniently called ‘institutions‘. The fundamental, structurally stable element of social systems then, which, according to the present argument, must play a crucial role in their theoretical analysis, is their structure of institutional patterns defining the roles of their constituent actors” (Parsons 1954:231).
- “The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average members of the same society forms a particular system with a life of its own life; one might call it the collective or common consciousness” (Durkheim  2004:24).
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- Word origin of “system” – Online Etymology Dictionary: etymonline.com
Bowles, Samuel, and Herbert Gintis.  1976. Schooling in Capitalist America. Haymarket Books: Chicago.
Durkheim, Émile.  2004. “The Division of Labour in Society.” Pp. 19–38 in Readings from Emile Durkheim. Rev. ed., edited and translated by K. Thompson. New York: Routledge.
Ferrante, Joan. 2011b. Sociology: A Global Perspective. 7th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Goffman, Erving. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. New York: Doubleday.
Kroeber, Alfred L., and Clyde Kluckhohn. 1952. Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of American Archæology and Ethnology.
Macionis, John, and Kenneth Plummer. 2012. Sociology: A Global Introduction. 4th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.
Marger, Martin. 1985. Race and Ethnic Relations: American and Global Perspectives. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Parsons, Talcott. 1954. “The Present Position and Prospects of Systematic Theory in Sociology” in Essays in Sociological Theory. Rev. ed. Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press.
Note: Read for free at the Open Library.
Tarrant, Shira. 2009. Men and Feminism. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 2004. World-systems Analysis: An Introduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
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Cite the Definition of System
ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2017. “system.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved May 29, 2023 (https://sociologydictionary.org/system/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
system. (2017). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/system/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2017. “system.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed May 29, 2023. https://sociologydictionary.org/system/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“system.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2017. Web. 29 May. 2023. <https://sociologydictionary.org/system/>.