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Systems Theory in Anthropology [and Comments and Reply]

Author(s): Miriam Rodin, Karen Michaelson, Gerald M. Britan, A. De Ruijter, James Dow,
Julio Csar Espnola, Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Beatrice Diamond Miller, Philip C. Miller, Emilio
Moran, Xto. G. Okojie, M. Estellie Smith, John M. VanDeusen, Daniela Weinberg and Stanley
A. West
Source: Current Anthropology, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Dec., 1978), pp. 747-762
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological
Research
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2741987 .
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CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY

Vol. 19, No. 4, December 1978

1978 by The Wenner-GrenFoundation for AnthropologicalResearch 0011-3204/78/1904-0005$01.85

SystemsTheoryin Anthropology'
by Miriam Rodin, Karen Michaelson, and Gerald M. Britan

INTRODUCTION
Modernsystemstheorybegan havinga significant
impacton
the social and behavioralsciencesmorethan two decades ago.
Since then,an entiregenerationof scholarshas maturedin an
intellectualatmospherewhichfocuseson systemicrelationships
in sociallife.An understanding
of thepromiseand problemsof
evolvingsystemsapproachesis now an importantif implicit
part ofeveryanthropologist's
training.
When the firstAnthropology
Today panel met in the early
1950s,modernsystemstheorybarelyglimmered
on thehorizon.
In thefallof 1977,whena newWorldAnthropology
Conference
was convened,one ofsix panelswas devotedto the topic.2This
is a criticalreportoftheviewsexpressedby thepanel members
and discussantswhogatheredat that timeto considersystems
theoryand anthropology.
It does not reviewall ofthe relevant
(and rapidlygrowing)literature,
but triesto identify
themajor
fociof currentanthropological
systemsresearch,theircommon
themes,and the crucialproblemsthat remainto be solved. The World Anthropology-1977Conferencewas realized
throughthe effortsof co-organizersSol Tax and Demitri
Shimkin.It gatheredan international
assortment
ofscholarsto
discussimportantissuesin anthropology's
presentand future.
Each contributorprepared a detailed outline for a module
focusingon a particularanthropological
issue. These prospectuses and the discussionsthat ensuedare expectedto provide
thebasis fora largerconference
and fora trulyglobaldisseminationof the findings
and promiseof anthropological
research.
The systems-theory
panel was organizedby Fred Eggan
(Chicago), Robert Miller (Wisconsin),and Demitri Shimkin
I This article reports the
proceedingsof the panel on Systems
Analysis in Anthropologyof the World Anthropology-1977Conference,held in Houston,Texas, November28-29, 1977. It represents
a trulycommunaleffort.
The threedesignatedauthors,whose names
have simply been listed in reversealphabetical order,served primarilyas reporters,editing,collating,and commentingon the panel
proceedings.Michaelsonpreparedan initialroughdraftof thearticle,
which was then circulatedto all of the panelists for comment.On
the basis of these comments,Britan and Rodin substantiallyredrafted the manuscriptand recirculatedit before making final
revisions.Thus, while the authorshave triedto representall participants' opinions,the finalresponsibility
forwhat is said remains,of
course,our own. We owe special thanksto DemitriShimkinforhis
assistancein preparingcomparativematerialson Soviet and Marxist
systemsthinkingand researchand for his criticalpresentationof
mathematicaltechniquesin systemsmodeling.
2 The
otherfivepanels were (1) The Lessons of Human Evolution
and Prehistory,chairedby C. Owen Lovejoy and GordonWilley; (2)
The Bio-Social Interface,chaired by Estelle Fuchs and Solomon
Katz; (3) Human Ecology-Models forHuman Survival,chairedby
Thayer Scudderand JohnBennett; (4) SymbolicAnthropologyand
the Psycho-SocialInterface,chaired by Margaret Mead and F. K.
Lehman;and (5) Public Policyand Anthropology,
chairedby Dorothy
Willner,David Mandelbaum,and Sam Stanley.

(Illinois-Urbana).Modules werealso preparedby Richard E.


Blanton (Purdtue),Gerald M. Britan (Northwestern),
Marian
Lundy Dobbert (Minnesota),Howard Harrison (Wisconsin),
JohnLowe (Illinois-Urbana),Karen L. Michaelson (SUNYBinghamton),BeatriceMiller (Wisconsin),and MiriamRodin
(Illinois-MedicalCenter).These paperswerethestartingpoint
fora four-hour
discussionthat also involvedparticipantsfrom
the audience.3This discussion,alongwiththepapers,provides
the basis for our report.First, however,we must find our
bearingsby outliningthe scope of systemstheoryas we see it.
THE SYSTEMS PERSPECTIVE

AND ANTHROPOLOGY

Systemstheoriesemergedfroma varietyof sources-cybernetics,engineering,


industrialorganizationtheory,epidemiology, and Gestalt psychology-and in Westernand Marxist
socialcontexts.Systemsanalysis,then,is a generictermforthe
applicationof formal,includingmathematical,methodsto the
task of describingphysical,biological,and social phenomena.
When modernsystemsapproachesfirstcame to the attention
of social scientistsin the late 1950s,many researchers
viewed
themas a panacea. Systemstheorycould transcendthelimitationsofsimple,functionalcause-and-effect
modelsand portray
human adaptation in termsof well-specified
webs of mutual
causality.This methodofanalysishad beensuccessfully
applied
to the complexflowsof energywithinbiologicalorganismsand
and therewas everyreasonto believeit could be
communities,
applied to the apparentlymorecomplexrealitiesof social life.
Indeed,svstemstheoryseemedto offer
preciselywhatthesocial
and behavioralscienceslacked-the toolsto modelmultivariate
thathad previouslyescaped intuitiveunderstandinteractions
ing. Our models mightbe more complicatedthan those of
physicalscience,but they could still be firmlygroundedin
measured,empiricalrelationships.
it soonbecameapparent
Aftertheinitialflushofenthusiasm,
that systemstheorywas not a cure-all.Althoughresearchers
developedmoreand moresophisticatedtechnologyand clearer
of systemsstructureand development,social
understandings
As given
realitycould neverbe simulatedin all its complexity.
by Godel's theoremon axiomatic incompletenessand by
Bremmerman'snumber (on maximumcomputability),even
the most sophisticatedof theorieshad limitations.Scientists
still had to make choices, develop measurements,and test
specificcausal relationships.Systemstheoryprovideda tem3 Among these were Cyril Belshaw (BritishColumbia), Jonathan
Institute),QladejQ Okediji (Lagos),
Benthall (Royal Anthropological
Theodore Schwartz (Universityof California,San Diego), Thayer
Scudder (California Institute of Technology), and K. S. Singh
Surveyof India).
(Anthropological

Vol. 19 * No. 4 * December1978

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plate forcomplexinteractions,
but it could neverrevealwhich
phenomenawere worthstudyingand whichwere not. Static
pictures of randomlyselected empiricalrelationshipsoften
becamereifiedstatementsof theirauthors'ownbiases.
In reactionto resultsthat were less than promised,many
Westernsocial scientists,anthropologists
amongthem,turned
away froma systemsapproach.The newparadigmmaintained
influence,
however,as systemsconceptspermeateddiscussions
in thescientific
literature.Some researchers
continuedto apply
the systemsapproach,to refineit, and to learn what it could
and could not do. It is these effortsthat are finallyyielding
fruit.
Modernsystemstheoryis neithera simplenora unifiedbody
of knowledge.Rather, it is a compendiumof approaches,
theories,and methods.Whethera generaland nontrivialtheory
is attainablestillremainsin doubt (Sadovskiy1974). At base,
systemstheoryis a generalperspective,a way oflookingat the
relationships
amongvariablesthat has muchin commonwith
traditionalanthropological
holism.Systemsaresetsofcovariant
entities,no subset of whichis unrelatedto any othersubset.
Systemsanalysisfocuseson the meaningful
interactions
of the
parts with one anotherand with the wholeas theyinfluence
someprocessor outcome.No elementalpart can be understood
onlyin termsofitself;we mustalso studyits interactions
with
the entiresystem,whichis shaped by both internaland environmentalprocessesand conditionsovertime.Systems"thinking" thustendsto be processual(timeand space), conditional,
and probabilistic.
In this sense, systemstheoryprovidesa broad framework
for analyzingempiricalreality.It is a metalanguagewhich
allows various disciplinesand subdisciplines,
both withinthe
social sciencesand outsidethem,to communicate
witha single
terminology.
It is a paradigmwhichcomprehends
relationships
througha unifiedperspectiveofmutualcause and effect
within
thestructuralconstraints
ofsystemicinteraction.
The developmentofsystemsthinking
has beengreatestin theUnitedStates,
WesternEurope (e.g., Germany[Klaus 1964,Radnitzky1974]
and England [Clark 1968]), and the Soviet Union. American
systemsthinkinghas been empiricallyoriented,conceptually
diversified,
and closelylinkedto technologicaland application
problems;Sovietwork,in contrast,has beenlargelytheoretical,
withlittlesubstantiveresearch,and has beenpresentedmainly
in journalsdevotedto mathematicsand philosophy.
One way in whichWesternsystemstheorydiffers
fromthe
primitive"functionalism"of anthropologicalholismis in its
specification
ofunits,aggregates,and relationships.
It has been
concernedwithmeasurableentities-flowsof energy,information, or materialbetween well-defined
elements.The larger
theoreticalframework
ofmodernsystemsapproachespointedly
bares the assumptions,limitations,and definitional
criteriaof
any specifictheorythat is being applied and provides an
opportunityfortestingthis theoryagainst empiricalreality.
A systemsmodeldemandsa conceptualclarityand a specification of conceptuallevel that enable relationshipsamongvariables to be understoodalong consistentrelationaldimensions.
By clearlydefiningthe conceptuallevel at whichdiscourseis
taking place, systemstheoriesprovide a bridge among the
levels examinedby relateddisciplines.Such a fittingtogether
promisesa cross-fertilization
of both specificanalyticaltechniquesand moregeneraltheoreticalabstractions.
Klir (1972) has edited a compendiumof leading Western
viewpointsin systemstheory.Particularlyrelevantto anthropologistsis Weinberg's(1972:137) discussionof the unreality
of social-culturalboundaries under conditions of change.
Weinbergin partaddressesBoguslaw's(1965) criticism
ofmuch
systems analysis by Western social scientists,which bases
social modelson formalinstitutions
withoutexaminingtheless
explicitbut nevertheless
important
informal
relationships
which
transcendformalorganizationalboundaries.To some extent,
748

legislatedrequirements
forimpact assessmentshave directed
studies to reach beyondthe level of formalinstitutions(Lee
and Hung 1976).
Systems approaches have developed a unique brand of
insight by examiningthe characteristicsof "systems qua
systems"(Geertz1973) and considering
the effects
of different
kindsofsystemstructure
on systemperformance.
Followingthe
lead of earlier cyberneticists,
social scientistsfirststudied
closed,"well-structured"
systems.Throughsuch analysis,the
moreprimitiveconceptof "functionalequilibrium"was translated intoan understanding
of thehomeostaticmaintenanceof
specifiedsystemscharacteristicsthroughstructuredinteractions among related variables. However, a static view of
system-maintaining
(and seemingly
purposively
designed)negative feedbackswas quicklyabandonedin face of a discordant
reality.Constant systemperformanceturnedout to be the
exception,not the rule. Positive feedback,thresholds,
oscillation, nonlinearand discontinuousrelationships,and growth
werequicklyincorporated
intosystemsanalysis.More recently,
researchershave begun tackling the complexitiesof open
systems,whosestructuresare definedonly by the interaction
ofpartsin theenvironment.
This providesa basis formodeling
the most complex human systems,not as they maintain
but as theyreflect
equilibrium,
theadaptiveneedsofpurposive
humanactors (Buckley1967). Equilibriumis not a given,but
a plausiblespecial case whichmust be explained.Thus, contemporarysystemsapproaches seek to encompass dynamic
process.
In this respect,Soviet theoristshave perhapsmovedahead
in identifying
of theirWesterncounterparts
certainprinciples
ofsystemsanalysis.Blauberg,Sadovskiy,and Yudin (1969:2123) have proposed the concepts of (1) holism vis-a-visthe
on the one hand, and componentelements,on
environment,
the other; (2) systemcoherencethroughlinkagesof different
functionand type; (3) relativestabilityand orderof elements
and linkages(i.e., structure)overtime; (4) structure
as having
both horizontaland vertical dimensions;(5) hierarchically
orderedsystemscharacterized
and probabilistic
by determinate
control;(6) in some systems,controlthat is teleologicalin the
cyberneticsense; and (7) in some systemswith teleological
control, directionality,so that synchronicand diachronic
analyses are requiredfora full description.These principles
innovation(Ignatyev
have beenappliedto analysesofscientific
and Yablonsky1976;Marshakova1977;Yablonsky1976,1977)
and to experimental
psychology(Zinchenkoand Gordon1976).
In the West, Turner (1977) has taken a similardirectionin
analyzingmentalphenomena.Interestingly,
throughthe mediumof information
theories,Soviet anthropologists
grounded
in the primacyof economicdeterminismhave been able to
include aspects of Western structuralismin their analyses
(Markarian1969,1972; Gretskiy1974).
Systemstheory,then,providesa generaltheoreticalframework for analyzing relationshipswithin a bounded set of
variables.It has generateda typologyof systemsstructuresclosed, open, hierarchical,decomposable,purposive-and has
analyzed the implicationsof these structuresfor systems
performance.It has grounded its understandingof larger
systemscharacteristics-stability,
flexibility,
directionality-in
an understanding
of particularkindsof variablerelationships.
In conjunctionwithother,morespecifictheories,it has translated particularslicesof empiricalrealityinto abstractmathematical models that are multicausal but can still predict
outcomesand be tested.
Modern systems theorycan analyze the dynamics of a
structurallystatic system,such as closed interactionsin a
stable environment,
or the dynamicsof an evolvingstructure,
such as the transformations
of revolutionarysocial change.
Ratherthanignoringthecontradictions
withinhumansystems,
systemsanalysiscan modelthecontradictions,
conflicting
needs,
CURRENT

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ANTHROPOLOGY

Rodin,Michaetson,and Britan:SYSTEMS THEORY IN ANTHROPOLOGY


variableexternalstimuli,and internaltensionswhichare the
paramountrealityof social life and the special concernof
limitations,and on what issues meritfurtherinvestigation.
Marxistanthropologists.
Five questions surfacedthroughoutthe session; this report
In thiscontext,it is importantto notethatsystemstheoryis
edits the panelists'commentsto presentthese themesin the
not, as many of its criticsclaim, inherentlyconservativeor
following
order:
static. Indeed, a systemsapproachattemptsto transcendthe
1. How doessystemstheoryrelateto existinganthropological
functionalism.
of anthropological
conservatism
Systemstheory
adds a means by which to understandnot only continuous theory?
2. What determinesappropriatesystemboundaries?Is sysshiftsas well.It neednot,as Haberprocess,but discontinuous
mas (1973) and Kuenzlen (1972) suggest,ignorestructural temstheorybest appliedin local empiricalanalysesor at more
generallevelsof theorybuilding?
tensionsor reducesocial phenomenato input-outputanalysis
3. Can we devise modelsthat comprehendindividualvariproblems.
and steering-mechanism
abilityand cope withproblemsofmisplacedteleology?
has as its
Systemsanalysis,like Marxismand structuralism,
4. What qualitativeand quantitativemethodsare anthroprimaryconcernthe examinationof the underlyingrelationpologistsusingnow?
in empiricalphenomena-the
shipswhichproduceregularities
5. How mightsystemsapproachesbe applied in the future?
internallogicthroughwhichthewholeand itspartsare related.
It is a perspectiveabout how relationshipscan be modeled,
but it can onlyaccountforspecificoutcomesthroughreference
SYSTEMS THEORY AND ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY
deterto other theory-maximization,technoenvironmental
minism,learningtheory,or the like. Any particularsystem Eggan's openingremarkson the historyof anthropological
analysis involveschoices about what to observeand how to
theorysuggestedthat earlyfunctionalism
and structural-funcand theseare onlyas goodas thetheory tionalismmay wellhave metthe theoreticalneedsofan earlier
relationships,
represent
applied.Thus, it shouldbe quitepossibleto use thelanguageof
generation
ofethnologists.
Societieschangedslowlyduringtheir
and generalizabil- colonialperiods,and early ethnographers
systems-withits advantagesof specificity
may have sampled
ity-to analyze not only static structures,but also Marxist
an artificially
stable universe.Thereforethe static modelsof
Indeed, one
relationsof productionand theirtransformation.
functionaltheoristsmay have simply reflectedthe political
couldwellarguethatitis systemstheoryto whichbothMarxists
climateat the time.The rapidchangeexperienced
sinceWorld
and culturalidealistsmustturnif theirspecifictheoriesabout
War II may representnotmerelyan adjustmentto new condicause and effectare to be adequatelytested.
tions,but also a catchingup on naturalprocessesofsocial and
That a givenmethodhas been used badly or that one disculturaladaptation.The former
colonies'strikingrateoftransagrees with the findingsof particularpractitionersdoes not
formationsince WorldWar II, however,has sensitizedus to
mean that it is useless. If Forrester's(1969) model of urban
the dynamismand variabilityof all humansocieties:the old
decay is conservative,it is because of his stated assumptions static theoriesare foundto be conceptuallylacking. Recent
variablesand the structureof
about the natureof significant
theoreticalinnovationsin anthropology
have triedto explain
theirinterrelationship.
Yet he was able to pinpointthelimitsof
the mechanismsof change.
commonsense of intuitivemodels (Forrester1971). Similarly,
Eggan notedthateventheold staticmodelscontaina primione may be criticalof a Marxist"systemsmodel" focusingon
tive conceptof the systemicnatureof societyand culture.At
the economicoriginsof ethnic consciousnessin the contem- least since Malinowski,we have orderedrelationshipsamong
poraryUnited States. In neithercase is systemstheoryitself component
socialparts,focusedon countervailing
forces,related
at fault.
socialand biologicaldomains,and searchedforheuristicmodels
Systems theoryis a method of explanationthroughthe
ofculture.More recentapplicationsofsystemsmethodsinclude
but it is an approachwhich,
modelingofmultiplerelationships,
the use of mathematicaland logical modelsby Levi-Strauss,
like mostgeneralmodels,can be applied in a varietyof ways.
cybernetics
byBateson,populationdynamicsbyVayda,Sahlins,
In anthropology,
its applicationshave variedwidely,fromthe
Cancian, and others,physicsby White, political controlby
formalmodelingof cognitiveprocess (Leaf 1972) to the open
Easton, and decisionmodelsby Parsons. The basic question,
spatial
analysisof adaptive coping,formalsocial organization,
however,was the extentto whichsystemsapproachesoffera
interaction.In
relationships(Plog 1975), and environmental
useful avenue for new theoreticaldevelopment.To what
some fields,such as regionalanalysisand ecology,empirically extent,asked JonathanBenthall,is systemstheorya theory
groundedand widelyapplicable theoriesof systemsstructure at all?
and performance
have alreadybeen developed.In others,such
The panel reacheda consensusthatvon Bertalanffy's
(1967)
as the dynamicsof behavioraladaptation,we have discovered coinage"generalsystemtheory"is slightlymisleading.There
many of the questionsand only some of the answers.Thus,
is no singlesystemstheory;thereare manywaysto examinethe
thispaper has two foci:To the extentpossible,we will report dynamicrelationshipsamong parts and the implicationsof
on specificdevelopmentsin the theoreticallyrefinedsystems
these relationshipsfor the whole.However,a specifictheory
models that have enhancedour understandingof particular mustsatisfyscientific
and intellectualstandardsof adequacy:
empiricalphenomena.More generally,however,we will con(a) It mustbe groundedin empiricaldata-either the qualitasiderthebroaderissuesthathave evolvedin the applicationof
or the quantitative
tiveobservationsofa trainedethnographer
ofthehuman
systemsanalysisto themodelingofcharacteristics
data ofcensusstatisticsor social surveys.(b) It musthave face
animaland his social groupings.Thus,whileeach panel partici- validity;it mustbe appropriateto the researchor development
pantprovidedhis owninsightsin a particularsubstantivearea,
problemat hand. (c) It must be powerfulenoughto explain
this reporthas been organizedaround the integrativetopics
exceptionsas wellas therules,but notso broadas to lose speciwhichthesecontributions,
and thoseofthediscussants,suggest. ficity.(d) It shouldmotivatedependenthypothesesand generate new questions.
One aspect of a usefulsystemstheoryis a link to social
ISSUES IN ANTHROPOLOGICAL SYSTEMS THEORY
In thisvein,
applications,eithersubstantiveor methodological.
skillsvariedconsider- Michaelsonoffered
Our specificinterestsand methodological
theconceptofa "criticaltheory,"one which
ably, but we shared a commonvocabularyand conceptual is directlyrelatedto application.Although"criticaltheorists"
we also agreedon the relation- such as Thabermasand Kuenzlenrejectgeneralsystemtheory
orientation.More importantly,
on thetheory's out of hand, theircriticismsapply only to particularsystems
shipbetweensystemstheoryand anthropology,

Vol. 19 * No. 4 * December1978

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749

models.Thus, whentheyclaimthaturbansystemsmodelslack
humanvalues,theymerelyunderlinethe need forcarefuleducationin appropriatesystemsapplications.As Harrisonnoted,
social scientists,engineers,
and plannersmustcollaboratecarefullyif we are to deal at all humanelywithphenomenathat
combinephysical,biological,and social elements-whatHarrison termed"people" and "semi-people"systems.
The panelfinallyagreedthatsystemstheoriescouldfulfill
the
ofscientific
requirements
modeling.Moreover,participantsfelt
that a systemsperspectiveprovidesa promisingway forsocial
to understandsocial and culturalchange,rapid
anthropologists
populationgrowth,migration,institutionalelaboration,and
the relationshipbetween cognitiveand biological bases for
humanthought.Amongthe advantagesthisperspectiveoffers
is the possibilityof transcending
the ethnographic
description
of simultaneouseventsin linearlanguage.Dobbertspecifically
recommended
the use of flowdiagramsas an aid in anthropologicalteachingand research.
Systemstheorieshave already found wide application in
manydisciplinesof thephysical,biological,and social sciences,
as well as in engineering
and business.Yet, whiletraditionally
anthropological
problemshave increasingly
becomethe subject
of interdisciplinary
research(as Mead noted in her plenary
address),anthropologists
have themselvesbecomeincreasingly
isolatedby subdisciplinary
divisions.The unitaryconceptsand
ofsystemstheoryprovidea linguafrancathatcan
terminology
enable social, biological,and archaeologicalanthropologists
to
converseacrossspecialtiesand worksmoothlywithengineers,
managers,planners,geneticists,
computerscientists,
and others.
Many participantshave alreadybeen able to workeasilyon
commonsystemsproblemswithcolleaguesin fieldsfarremoved
fromtheirown. As we comparedour experiencesin highway
planning,agriculturalextension,education, mental health,
marketing,
and the like, it became increasingly
apparentthat
systemsmodelsare appropriateto a widevarietyoftheoretical
and practicalproblems.Shimkin,Harrison,and Britanpointed
out,however,thattheselectionofwhichmodel,or exactlyhow
to apply it, requiresintellectualrigorand honestyand a very
carefulexaminationofthelimitationsofthemodel'sunderlying
theory.Merelyrelabelingacts and productsas feedback,input,
or output is not only atheoretical,but also terminologically
sloppyand intellectually
lazy.
A further
advantageofsystemsanalysisis its heuristicvalue
in problemdefinition,
whetheror not othertheoreticalperspectivesare finallyapplied.Givena researcher's
assumptionsabout
significant
variablesand dynamics,a systemsmodelcan offer
a rough test of his hypothesesand may reveal important
influencesthat are not intuitivelyevidentand are difficult
to
conceptualizein otherways.
This finaladvantage returnedour discussionto anthropology's need fordynamictheories.Whileit is truethat systems
perspectivesare not the only approach to changeover time,
mostforecasting
modelshave incorporated
at least rudimentary
systemsanalysis.The primarydifficulties
in developingtheories
for social analysis are encounteredin the early formulative
stages,when termsare ill-defined
and poorlyunderstood.All
researchis foundedon irreducibleassumptions,and the value
of theorydepends not only on how well these assumptions
emulatereality,but also on whethertheyare clearlyunderstood
by thescholarand his technicalaudience.The systemstheorist,
like any otherresearcher,
mustbe surehis definitions
and proceduresare carefullyand consistently
wrought.While specific
systemsmodelsmay sometimesprovemistaken,theirassumptionsmustat least be clear and theirvaliditytestable.In the
professional
exchangeofpublication,inadequatemodelscan be
winnowedout. As Cyril Belshaw indicated,the craftingof
bettertheoriesis speededwhenmanyresearchers
workwithin
a commonframework.
750

SYSTEMS THEORY AND LEVELS OF ANALYSTS

The problemof selectingan appropriatelevel foranalysis is


notuniqueto a systemsorientation.
Level, as we used it, refers
largelyto thekindofsocial aggregateto be studied.Should we
focuson a singlesettlement,
a social network,or the political
and economicrelationshipswithina city or betweencities?
Alternatively,
"level" was used to distinguishamong social,
cultural,behavioral,and biologicaldomains.The findingof an
appropriatelevel ofanalysisis particularly
importantforthose
ofus whoare workingwithsystemsmodels,because thenotion
ofinterconnection
and mutualinfluence
amongmanyvariables
can lead us to overspecify
complexelementsor, conversely,to
elaboratemodelsbeyondour data-gathering
abilities.
In any research,the firststep is delimitingthe range of
phenomenatobe measuredorobserved.RobertMiller,Shimkin,
Lowe, and Britan all mentionedthat anthropologists
tend to
select theirlevels of analysisarbitrarily.
Anthropologists
concernedwith "culturalgroups" can definethem in termsof
language,ethnicity,
or subsistencepattern.Variousnotionsof
"a city," a "social norm," a "transformational
rule," or a
native taxonomyare treatedas if theywere comparable,yet
such conceptsoftenreflectthe peculiar opinionsof each researcher.Dobbertnotedthatnativecategoriescan be employed
only to produce culturallyspecificdescriptionsof perceived
interrelations
(see Dobbert 1977). Ethnographicdata mustbe
and thiscreatesproblemsof definition;
classified,
the choiceof
an appropriatelevel of analysisis inescapablyrelatedto the
natureof theproblemand theorymotivatingresearch.
Harrison contributedthe insightsof a workingengineer
throughseveral examples of systems problem-solvingand
design.He argued that many alternativesolutionsmay exist
forany oneproblem,and theinvestigator
mustchoosethemost
usefuloption:"Thus theappropriatedivisionofsubjectmatter
is heavilydependenton purpose."Afteridentifying
an appropriatedomain,"one willinvariablystudya systemlargerthan
thetarget."The conceptualproblemofidentifying
theboundary
betweena systemand its environment-defining
internaland
externalvariables-is largelya matterof judgment.As a rule
ofthumb,Harrisonsuggestedthatsystemboundariesbe placed
wheresystemoutput does not significantly
influencesystem
input.For example,ifhoe agriculture
does notaffectthenatural
environment's
carryingcapacity,the anthropologist
can limit
his investigationof a primitiveeconomyto a considerationof
domesticresourcemanagement.If, however,environmental
characteristicsare sensitive to human action, the system
boundariesmust be expandedto includethose aspects of the
environment(such as water table or soil fertility)that are
As Blantonindicated,it was preciselysuch a consideraffected.
ation that motivatedhis use of regionalanalysisto studythe
developmentof local markets,since the developmentof individual marketsvaried with trade among many settlements
and settlement
clusters.A dramaticapplicationof thismethod
of delimitingsystemboundarieswas offeredby Lowe in an
analysisof the collapseof the Classic Maya. Britannotedthat
errorsin boundaryplacementand uncertainty
about the interfrom
actionsamongpartshave sometimeskeptanthropologists
developing adequate models. For example, while Barth's
systemicapproach to social change is in some ways overly
general, its combinationof environmental,behavioral,and
culturalvariableshas stimulatedan impressiveand valuable
seriesof investigations.
The discussionculminatedin a moredetailedexaminationof
the particularsystemsmodelsthat participantshave used in
their own research.Rodin, for example,describedhow she
applied ecological models of competitionand predator-prey
to a studyofurbanneighborhood
successionwith
relationships
comparisonsto the dynamicsof expansionand warfareamong
Africansegmentarysocieties (see Rodin 1977). Dobbert deCURRENT

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ANTHROPOLOGY

scribedheruse ofconditional-probability
matricesin analyzing
decisionmakingby individualactors.Beatrice
context-specific
Milleroutlinedthe uses of dynamicsystemstheoriesin family
therapy.Shimkinand Lowe describedtheapplicationofMarkov
chainsand otherstochasticmodelsto urbansystemsgrowthand
decline.Britan discussedthe nature of boundariesin formal
bureaucraciesconsideredas informalsocioculturalsystems.
Theodore Schwartzdiscussedthe applicationsof cybernetics
to the understandingof cognitionand social process. His
researchin Melanesia identifiedsituations in which social
structureplaced severelimitson the feasibilityof alternative
werethebasis forfurther
adaptations.His comments
discussion
on futureapplications of systems models to problems of
development.
At the conclusionofthisroundrobin,thepanelistsgenerally
agreed that the choice of a particularlevel of analysis-individualcognition,behavioralprocess,social patterns,cultural
rules,or ecologicalinteractions-wasdependenton the specific
problemat hand. Beyondthis,Shimkinnotedthatanalysesof
largersocial entitiesor longertimeperiodsmustnecessarilybe
or local situationsmay be
less specific.Small, well-defined,
modeledfairlyexactlywithinthelimitsofhumanpredictability;
the resultingtheorycan be applied to similarsituationsbut
may not be widelygeneralizable.Less precisemodelsof large
systems,such as nationaleconomies,may be capable of predictinglarge-scaleshiftsbut probablynot short-term
or local
Rodinsuggestedthatthechoiceofan appropriate
fluctuations.
boundarydependson whetherthe researcheris interestedin
developing
generalorspecifictheories.Sincemostethnographers
describeand analyzeparticularlocal settingsto enrichour inventoryofhumanvariety,specifictheoriesofhighprecisionpresentthemostwidelyacceptableuse ofsystemsmodelsin social
anthropology
today.Blantonand Lowe added thatlarger-scale
modelsaimed at moregeneraltheorieswouldbe of greateruse
forarchaeologists
and prehistorians.
Thayer Scudder and JonathanBenthall added a note of
caution by pointingout that researchersoftenselect models
uncritically,
withoutcarefullyexaminingtheirunderlyingassumptions.The easy confusionof competitionand predation
modelsand the loose borrowingof cyberneticterminology
for
culturalanalyses were cited as examples.Both Scudder and
Benthallemphasizedthat the credibilityof systemsanalyses
dependedupon a carefulreconceptualization
so that assumptionsand terminology
developedin anothersubstantivedomain
mightbe validly applied to social and culturalphenomena.
Benthallwas especiallycriticalof statementsmixingempirical
data withvalue judgments,as in the phrase"systemicpathology." Blanton's and Harrison'suse of continuousvs. discontinuous change, collapse models, and models of structural
noncoherence
and Lowe's concernfor "forecastingthe consequences" of a particularline of socioculturaldevelopmentare
instancesof the maintenanceof a moreappropriatedegreeof
culturalrelativity.
INDIVIDUAL
VARIABILITY
ANDMISPLACED
TELEOLOGY
IN SYSTEMSMODELS
Early criticsof systemsanalysisattackedthe assumptionthat
humansystemsare boundby mechanistic
linksso thatan event
must evoke a unique response. Such models, they argued,
reducehumanbehaviorto determinateoutputand ignorethe
variabilityofsocial behavior.Whilemostparticipantsfeltthat
Harrison'sdesignationofhumansystemsas "ill-defined"
simply
beggedthe question,we recognizedthe conceptualand operationaldifficulties
ofmodelingsituationally
plastichumanaction.
Shimkinproposed that we start by thinkingof behavioral
processas "nonlinear,nonstationary,
stochastic,and subjectto
structuralchange." To apply "system" characteristics
to in-

Rodin,Michaelson,and Britan:SYSTEMS

THEORY IN ANTHROPOLOGY

dividualactorsis an ecologicalfallacy.Harrison,Michaelson,
and Shimkinnotedthat manyeconomicforecastsassumethat
individualsexhibitonly rationaleconomicbehavior.Yet, as
RobertMillernotedin the case of sacredcows in India, when
this logic is not groundedin native understandings
it cannot
predicteitherlarge-scaleeventsorindividualactions(see Miller
1971). Nonetheless,Rodin argued that such models have a
heuristic
value.Investigators
can checktheirpredictions
against
eventsto see how closelytheirassumptionsreflectreal cultural
process.Shimkinnoted,forexample,that Levi-Strauss'sdistinctionbetweenstatisticaland mechanicalmodelsis inconsistentwithcurrentunderstanding
of cognitionand behavior,in
which memoryand anticipationplay a large role. Yet the
computationalcapacityof the humanminddoes imposeconstraints,and mechanicalcategoriesmay be viewed as coding
devices that reduce environmental
complexity.Thus, even if
the assumptionsare invalid,mechanicalmodelscan be tested
againstempiricalindicatorsofsocial and culturalchange.
While a stochasticsystemsmodel may accountforpresent
states, it cannot completelypredictthe future.Models may
onlybe able to indicatethe consequencesof unchangingstructuralarrangements-andstructuresrarelyremainunchanged.
Human groupingsare not mechanisticand perfectly
specifiable
systems.As Michaelson and Britan noted, human systems
displayrealcontradictions;
all partsmaynotbe equallyrelated
to all otherparts.Tensions,moreover,are continuously
generated in the processof life,and, as ecologistshave discovered,
equilibriumis onlyone ofmanypossiblestates.Techniquesfor
modelingchangedstructuralarrangements
need to be developed; Dobbert (1975) has suggestedsequentialgenerationas a
methodfor handlingthis problem.Yet social theoryis still
imbuedwiththe subtleteleologicalassumptionsof earlyfunctionalism: "This practice exists in order to

. .

." or "Social

equilibriumis the goal of social process." Still, while the


attribution
ofpurposeto socialsystems
is fallacious,the failure
to attributegoals to individualsand corporategroupsis also in
error.Social systemsanalysismustencompassthe dynamicsof
uneven distributionsof beliefs,abilities,knowledge,and resourcesamongpeople,as well as the genuinelydiffering
goals
amongindividualsand the corporategroupstheyform.
THE STATE OF THE ART

As we have emphasized,there are many different


systems
theoriesand methods;it is thus difficult
to draw a unified
conclusionabout wherethe fieldnow stands.Indeed, systems
theoryappearsto be increasingly
pervasivenotonlyin anthropology,but throughout
the social and behavioralsciences.To
date,we have beensearchingand experimenting
withparticular
systemsmethodsin each anthropological
subfield,
rangingfrom
Bateson's use of cyberneticsto understandschizophreniato
ecological models of culturaladaptation and to the "new"
The simpleinput-output
modelsoftheearly1960s
archaeology.
have by and largebeen supersededby morecomplexones.
The greatesttechnicaladvances in systemsanalysis have
occurrednot in anthropology,but in the natural sciences.
Investigatorstherehave appliedfinitemathematics-probability theory,vector and matrixmodels,linear programming,
game theory(Von Neumannand Morgenstern
1947),and path
analysis-to open and adaptive systems.The increasingavailability of small high-speedcomputershas made it easier to
in a wide rangeof settings.
apply these complexframeworks
Theiruse in anthropology,
however,has been limitedby their
data.
enormousdemandsforquantifiableand commensurable
Even more importantly,
these quantitativetechniqueshave
diverged widely from the methodologicalsophisticationof

Vol. 19 * No. 4 * December1978

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751

qualitativeanthropology.
Thus, we are still onlybeginningto
apply the sophisticatedmathematicsemergingfromphysicalscience models of discretevs. continuouschange,structural
and topologicaltransformation.
What is needed
noncoherence,
forsuchanalysesare theoriesthatgeneratetestablehypotheses.
The panel suggestednew approachesin social anthropology
that would be more consonantwith a quantitativesystems
framework.
Dobbert,Lowe, and Rodin, forexample,suggestedseveral
ways to discriminate
typesof social systemson purelyformal
grounds.Beyond qualitativecomparisonsof kinshiprulesand
terminology,
theysuggestedthe idea of mathematicalisomorphism,whichhas had some currencyamongcognitiveanthropologists.This wouldlet researchers
comparesocial systemson
dimensionsof dynamics,stability,and rangesof equilibrium
solutions.Rodin furthernoted that biologicalsystemsoften
at all. Dobbert,
persistwithoutachievinganystableequilibrium
on theotherhand,outlineda strategythroughwhichindividual
withqualitative
criteriacould be represented
decision-making
ethnographicdata by estimatingprobabilitiesof particular
decisioncontexts.The resultingprobabilitymatricescould be
inductivelygrouped into classes for formal cross-cultural
comparisons.

Blanton's(1976) workon regionalanalysisis anotherexample.


and archivalsources,
Usingdiachronicdata fromarchaeological
he and Kent Flanneryand theirassociatesdocumentedcyclical
processesof urbandevelopmentin Oaxaca in termsofdistorted
themerging
thatreflected
ofadministrahierarchies
central-place
The primate-city
tive and marketfunctions.
patterndeveloped
to thelimitsofa region'sagricultural
potentialbut was followed
by rapid collapse and decentralization.Blanton's work has
many theoreticaland methodologicalsimilaritiesto that of
Lowe, whoused systemsanalysisto identifythe criticalroleof
the Maya elite in pushingthe lowland economyto collapse
(Shimkin1973).
Harrisonbroachedthe issue of systemswhose components
are of radicallydivergentorders,for example,man-machine
systems.Beatrice Miller,Shimkin,and Lowe also mentioned
biosocialsystems,involvingthe interplayof biologicaland socioculturalfactorsin disease and epidemiccycles.Such models
of measures,a conditionwhichis
need a readyconvertibility
and may remainunmet.Reliable measuresof the relationship
betweensocialstressand cardiovascular
pathology,forexample,
have not yet been devised, preciselybecause the cultural
to quantify.
componentin stressperceptionis difficult
Human-ecological
approaches,on the otherhand,have consistentlyintegratedphysical,biological,and symbolicaspects
of life.As Shimkinnoted,game theoryis a human-behavioral
special case of Shelford'srulefrombiologicalecologyand can
be appliedto studiesofhumanbioculturaladaptation.This does
notnecessarily
solvetheproblem,however.More than50 years
ago, Park (1969) borrowedbiologicalideas forhis theoriesof
urbanecologybut mystified
the analysiswithunnamedforces
and laws. Yet Rodin noted that biologicalecologyhas coped
with the problemof imputedteleology,and the concept of
adaptationhas been widelyemployedin urban ethnography.
Shimkinand Harrisonoutlinedthepromiseforanthropology
of theoriesof adaptive controlin automated systems.Such
machinesystemsgrowmore complexthroughfeedbackloops
that have the capacityto modifysystemfunctioning.
Britan
and MichaelsonnotedBuckley's(1967) discussionofhowfeedback loops can resultin changesin systemsstructure.Rodin
and Lowe further
observedthat the conceptof controlused so
faron mechanisticsystemshas at least intuitiveapplicability
to humansystems,thoughproblemsremainin operationalizing
the conceptof controlto accountforculturaland social stability.Issues like the roleof the Maya elitein economicmanagement and the role of grass-rootspolitical organizationsin
gainingfundsand servicesforthe innercityseemamenableto
752

such an analysis.Britanprovidedanotherexampleforfurther
inquirybydistinguishing
betweenformaland informal
structure
in centralizedbureaucraciesand outliningthe effectof this
distinctionon the diffusion
of innovations.
Techniquesforquantifying
culturalbeliefsand values have
not yet been perfected,and consequentlyqualitativemodels
seemforthe momentto providebetterconceptualizations.
Yet
the combinationof social, cultural,biological,and physical
variables in qualitativeanalysis raises again the problemof
comparablemeasurements
(Shimkin,Hyland,and Rodin 1976).
For example, when cognitive,demographic,and economic
phenomenaare combinedin a singlequalitativemodel,howcan
we determine
therelativecontributions
ofthevariouselements?
This problemcan possiblybe solvedthroughtheuse ofweighting factorsassignedthroughethnographic
observationsof importanceand/orthroughsummingrepetitions
(Dobbert 1975).
Harrison suggestedthat, in any case, qualitative modeling
permitsan investigatorto identifythoseaspects of social and
culturalorganization
whichare moreorless sensitiveto external
pressuresand to examinetheinterrelationships
amongvariables.
Qualitativemodelingand testingoftheoretical
assumptionscan
thenbe groundedin detailedquantitativeanalysesof selected
subsetsof the system.
SYSTEMS APPLICATION IN THE FUTURE

In the finalpart of our discussion,severalmembersof the audiencetook the initiative.CyrilBelshaw relatedour examination of systems theory to currentdirectionsin economic
anthropology,
observingthat isolated investigatorscan never
accomplishas muchas a groupthatsharesideas and results.He
suggested that a critical mass of anthropologicalsystems
theorists
wouldstimulatefurther
interdisciplinary
collaboration.
He notedthatsomepromising
systemsapplicationshavealready
beenundertakenby theInternationalSocial ScienceCouncilin
the area of world modelingand that more participationby
wouldbe desirable.He also pointedto theneed
anthropologists
foranthropologists
to be presentin developmentagenciesand
mentionedseveralinterdisciplinary
projectsalreadyunderway
in Asia and Latin America.In Argentina,forexample,thereis
a stronginterestin systemsanalyses,and researchers
therehave
developedrelativelysophisticatedmathematicalapplications.
QladejQ Okediji spoke of developmentin Africaand particularlyof the need forstudyingurbanismand urbanization.
He notedthatin-country
technicalskillsarelesseasilyavailable
in nonindustrialized
nations and emphasizedthat we would
have to communicatethe immediatepractical value of a
systemsperspectivebeforeit would be accepted.One goal of
majorimportanceto himand his colleaguesis the discoveryof
social means for promotingpolitical stabilityin rapidlyurbanizingsocieties.He expressedreservationsabout the future
acceptabilityof pure theoreticalresearch:the focusshouldbe
on immediateapplicability.This suggestsa deemphasison
mathematical
modelingand an increasedconcernforqualitative
approaches.
thepointsmade by Okedijiand by
K. S. Singhreemphasized
TheodoreSchwartz.He noted that Westernsocial sciencehas
and suggestedthat
sometimesservedtheendsofrecolonization
we makegreaterefforts
to developusefulMarxistanalyses.To
thatend,he feltthatsystemsresearchmightfocuson thetypes
of culturalgroupingswhich are more and less amenable to
change. He said that analysis of systemsdynamicsin East
Asian and Indian societies would be of particularinterest,
giventhe varietyand greatstabilityofthesesocieties.
Harrisonrespondedwithenthusiasmto the requestfornon
mathematicalformulations,arguing that systems concepts
could be masteredquicklyand used as a basis forqualitative
modelsofsocialprocess Specificapplicationswereproposedby
CURRENT

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ANTHROPOLOGY

Rodin,Michaelson,and Britan:SYSTEMS THEORY IN ANTHROPOLOGY


studies
severalparticipants.Michaelsonsaid thatsocial-impact
highways,
dams,
as
(such
projects
of largepublicconstruction
feasibleand immediately Comments
railways,and housing)are technically
useful.Britanemphasizedthe utilityof systemsapproachesin
analyzingorganizationaldynamicsand conductingprogram by A. DE RUIJTER
State Universityof
evaluations.RobertMiller focusedon the systemiceffectsof
Departmentof CulturalAnthropology,
on issuesoftaxation
proposedeconomicchanges,citingconflicts
Utrecht,TransitoriumII, Heidelberglaan2, Utrecht,The
betweenlocal and national interestsin both developed and
Netherlands.20 v 78
developingnations.Dobbert mentionedthe immediateappliRodin, Michaelson,and Britan's article reflectsvery well a
cationofstochasticsystemsmodelsto theculturaltransmission characteristic
namely,
of many large-scaleworldconferences,
ofeducationalsituations.
ofknowledgeand the structuring
by the extensuperficiality.
This characteristic
is strengthened
Rodinand Shimkindescribedhowgametheoriesand theories sivenessof the topic: systemstheoryis "a compendium
of apof competitionhave been applied to the politicaldynamicsof
proaches,theories,and methods."The resultis thatthe article
In sum,thepanelistssuggested containsmany uninformative
environments.
urbanresidential
vague generalities.An example
problemsthatmightbe attacked
a numberoflocal development
is the conclusionof the panel that "the choiceof a particular
withsystemsmodelsand agreedon thenecessarystepsto begin
behavioralprocess,solevel of analysis-individualcognition,
suchapplicationson a widescale.
cial patterns,culturalrules, or ecological interactions-[is]
The need is not forglobal systemsmodels,but ratherfor
dependenton thespecificproblemat hand."In brief,fiveissues
perspectivesthatare preciselybased on local data. Many ofus
pass in review.One need not be astonishedthatthe discussion
can play a usefulroleby helpingto set
feltthatanthropologists
of these issues is defective;manyquestionsremain.
planningofhealth,
plans forin-country
up local record-keeping
In thisregard,I wonderwhythe panelistsreferso littleto
and urbanservicesystems.Panelists
development,
agricultural
Levi-Strauss.His structuralism
stronglyemphasizesrelationalso held a generalbeliefthat quantitativesystemsanalyses
a systemsapships betweenphenomena;it is preeminently
are best groundedin local studies.In such cases, reasonably proach.His "Social Structure"was a breakthrough
to modern
timeperiod,and,
completedata can be obtainedfora significant
relationships
systemsthinkingin its emphasison underlying
can maintain and its searchforthe internallogic of a system.(In thisconthe ethnographer
withcarefulconceptualization,
directcontroloverthequalityand validityofdata generatedby
text, it is piquant that his expositionwas presentedat the
surveys,census,or recordsummaries.
originalAnthropology
Today conferencein 1952.) The seven
principlesidentified
by Soviet theoristscan-to a large extent
-also be discoveredin the worksof Levi-Strauss.What refbecause of the brieferenceis made here to his worksuffers
CONCLUSIONS
ness of the discussion.For example,Shimkinsays that LeviConferencewas plannedas an
betweenmechanicaland statisticalmodels
Strauss'sdistinction
The WorldAnthropology-1977
of cognitionand bewithcurrentunderstanding
forumto take stock of our discipline.Free from is inconsistent
international
havior,in whichmemoryand anticipationplay a large role.
the confinesof narrowacademic discourse,participantsconsideredhow farwe have come since the originalAnthropology Levi-Strauss'sworks,however,give riseto threepossibleinterin 1952 and wherewe shouldnow be going.
pretationsof the distinction
betweenmechanicaland statistical
Today conference
betweenideal and
withthedifference
panel, in keeping with this intent, models: (a) a connection
The systems-analysis
ignoredspecificresearchin favorof a moregeneralassessment real behavior; (b) a connectionwiththe presenceor absence
thenaturaland social
of an explicitlyformulated
thathas affected
systemof rules; and (c) a connecofthesystemsrevolution
known tionwitha different
kindof-discipline-tied-approach(Levisciences.Crowdedintoa smallroom,colleaguesformerly
to each otheronlythroughabstractsand papersfounda group
Strauss1958:303-53). My questionsare (1) WhichinterpretaIn
tionis Shimkin'sstarting-point?
(2) On whatgroundshas this
oflike-minded
people sharinga familiarframeof reference.
been chosen?and (3) Whyis thedistinction
beinterpretation
this setting,we were able to isolate continuingissues and
withcurcommonconcernsabout theplace ofsystemstheoryin anthro- tweenmechanicaland statisticalmodelsinconsistent
of cognitionand behavior?Perhaps these
rentunderstanding
pologicalresearch.
questionswill seem out of order,but to me theyillustratethe
This reporthas been organizedaroundthe fivethemesthat
of systems core problemI have in evaluatingthis article: Does it offer
and discussed:the relationship
we jointlyidentified
theoriesto anthropologicaltheory,the problemof levels of
anything
new,or does it onlyrepeatmoreor less acceptedgenanalysis,theplace ofvariablehumanbehavior,thestate ofthe
eral statementsand conclusions?
By identiart,and promisingavenuesforfutureinvestigation.
fyingthesethemes,we hope thatwe have helpedto elucidatea
by JAMES Dow
in progress.By addressingissuesofboth
theoreticalframework
Oakland UniDepartmentof Sociology and Anthropology,
theoreticaladequacy and practicalapplication,we have tried
vi
U.S.A.
23
Mich.
78
versity,
Rochester,
48063,
needs
the
to meetthe standardsof sciencewhileremembering
I agreewholeheartedly
withthe authors'positivepresentation
of the humanbeingswho are our subjects.In so doing,we are
of systemstheoryas capable of dealingwithsocial and cultural
pursuingthe traditionthat Sol Tax has pioneered.
change,productiveof new theories,and leadingto accuracyin
Now that we have isolated the generalissues of action and
that "systemstheory"has an alien
theory.It is unfortunate
theory,we feelthat the major task still remains.That task is
in
connotation
anthropology.
What is beingdiscussedhereis a
to stimulatesubstantiveresearchincorporatingthe systems
typeof anthropological
theorythathas insightinto social and
hope
our
is
It
perspectivesand methodswe have described.
culturaldynamics.Systemsperspectiveshave been part of anthatthisreportwillspreada growingawarenessof thepromise thropologyfora long time.The problemforthe futureis not
We expectthatpubliofsystemsperspectivesin anthropology.
to bringsystemstheoryintoanthropology,
but to makeanthrocationof the substantivereportssummarizedin each panelist's
pologistsawareof theextentto whichsystemsconceptsalready
fora moreunifiedapproach
prospectuswillbuildthefoundation
exist,to helpthemto findtechniquesto proveor disprovetheir
by scholarsthroughoutthe world.The World Anthropology- theories,and, thus,to move anthropology
ahead as a science.
1977 Conferenceprovidedan initialforum.The nextphase of
The struggleis really between atheoreticalhistoricismand
growthshouldnow begin.
modernfunctionalism.

Vol. 19 * No. 4 * December1978

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753

What seem to be neededat thispointare guidelinesforthe


creationof systemsmodelsthatallow researchers
to workwith
theorythathas understandable,
predictable,
and verifiable
logical consequences.The logic and mathematicsof systemsanalysis can be takenfromotherfields,but thegeneraland specific
guidelinesfor model buildingin anthropology
have to be developed in this field.Specificguidelinesare beingworkedout
in many subdisciplines,among them culturalecology,social
structure,and anthropologicaleconomics.General guidelines
are difficult
to discussbut appearin suchworkas thatof Odum
(1971) on energy,Bennett (1976) on culturalecology,and
White(1975) on culture.I have discussedtheproblemof integratingenergyand symbolicinformation
in systemsmodels
(Dow 1976). For example,a generalguidelineis thatthe complexityof real systemscan be reducedin models by taking
natureof thetotalsystem.Shortadvantageof thehierarchical
termequilibriacan be treatedas variablesin a higher-order
system.Thus we already should know that,proceedingfrom
we
themodelingof short-term
dynamicsto long-term
dynamics,
of individualdecisionsto social norms
go fromconsideration
to institutionalorganizationto cultural-ecological
adaptation
to basic human ethology.The importantgeneral job is, as
always, to findways of reducingcomplexitywhile retaining
validityin the models.

La teoriade los sistemasy otrosdesarrollosmenosgenerales,


respuestas,aunque parcialesestipero que dan evidentemente
mulantesy constructivas,sobre como el metodo cientifico
del hombre(vg. Auger1952,
puede servirpara el conocimiento
aunque sea
Kaufmann1975-77,Vendryes1942). Contribuyen,
a transa un sectordel conocimiento,
de manerarestringuida
y
formara un tiemponuestranocionactual del determinismo
ese acercaminuestranocionactual de la vida. proporcionando
ento entrelas ciencias de la naturalezay las cienciasdel espirituque es una de las tareasmas urgentesde nuestrotiempo.
que se va imponiendoa un
Esta direccionde la investigacion
numerocada vez mayorde estudiosos,sea cuales fuerensus
convicciones
filosoficas,
pareceserla mas valida cientificamente
sustantivasen
y la ma'ssusceptiblede aportarcontribuciones
el dominiode la cienciadel hombrey, por ende,en el dominio
de la antropologiasocial.

phenomenaof
[Generallyspeaking,one of the mostillustrative
the presentmomentin the specializeddisciplinesand domains
des methodes,the
of the scienceof man is the renversement
mostcharacteristic
featureof whichis the changefromqualiof a regulartativeto quantitativeprocedures.The recognition
model,
of a mathematical
ityin empiricaldata, the formulation
the demonstration
of its reliability,
and its applicationto descriptive,analytical,and predictiveends are a source of inprestigiousgroupof
terestand fascinationforan increasingly
social anthropologists.
by JULIO CESAR ESPfNOLA
materialOne cannotpostulatea returnto the 19th-century
20 V 78
Salta 1549, Corrientes3.400, Argentina.
ist, biologicalmonismaccordingto whichQueteletattempted
En terminosgenerales,uno de los fenomenosmas ilustrativos to sketcha mathematicalskeletonof the human being and
de la hora presenteen las disciplinasy dominiosespecializados Comteessayedto transform
the humanbrainintoa mirrorof
de la ciencia del hombre,lo constituyeel renversement
des
the externalorder.We knowtoday thatthe mathematicalexm'thodes,cuyo rasgom's caracteristico
es el paso del empleo
pressionof socioculturalphenomenais an auxiliaryfunction,
de los procedimientos
cualitativosa un crecienteuso de los
never a goal. Nor can one postulatea returnto the kind of
procedimientos
cuantitativos.
thehumanbeLa comprension
de una regulari- ontologicalextraterritoriality
thatcharacterized
dad de datos empiricos,la formulacionde un modelo mateing beforethe emergenceof the scientificmethod,according
matico,la demostracion
de su confiabilidad
y la aplicaci6ndel
to whichinductiveand experimental
procedureswereapplicable
mismo con finesdescriptivos,
analiticosy de prediccion,cononlyto the physicalorder.
stituyeuna fuentede interesy de fascinacionpara un grupode
Systemstheoryreflectsin a singularway recentchangesin
crecienteprestigioentrelos antropologossociales.
thegeneralconceptionof thenaturalsciencesand thedevelopObserveseque no cabe postularun retornoal monismomamentof new intellectualtools applicableto the understanding
terialistay biologicodel sigloXIX, conformeal cual Quetelet
converof man. It allows us to visualizea new epistemological
emprendiola tareade delinearun esqueletomatemaitico
del ser
thought(thus amsion thatwouldreconcileclassicalscientific
humanoy Comte se propusotransformar
el cerebrohumano plified)withthe thoughtof the humansciences,in searchof
en un espejo del ordenexterior.Hoy sabemosque la expresion theirown image. In this connection,
it seems uniquelymeanmatem'aticade los fenomenossocioculturaleses una funcion ingfuland important
forthe futurethateminentphysicists
and
auxiliar,pero nunca una meta. Tampoco se debe suponerel
biologistshave been observingwith great clarityin recent
retornoa esa suertede extraterritorialidad
ontologicaque catimesthat theirdisciplinesare also sciencesof man and not
racterizoal ser humanoantes de la apariciondel metodocienonlynaturalsciences.As Gusdorf(1957:121, my translation)
tifico,segu'nel cual el uso de procedimientos
inductivosy exsays,"The humansciences,untilrecentlyannexedto thenatues solo aplicableal ordenfisico.
to geteven.In mathematics,
physics,
perimentales
ral sciences,are beginning
La teoriade los sistemasreflejade manerasingularlos camcrisisin basic principleshas underlinedthe
the contemporary
bios sufridosrecientemente
en la concepciongeneral de las
fact that the positive disciplinesare a mirrorof man; they
cienciasde la naturalezay el desarrollode nuevosinstrumentos highlight
man's acquisitionof consciousnessin time."
intelectualesaplicables al conocimientodel hombre,que perSystemstheoryand otherless generaldevelopmentsobvimite avisorar una nueva conversionepistemologicaque realthough
ously provideanswers,stimulatingand constructive
concilie el pensamientocientificoclasico (ampliado por este
partial,as to how the scientificmethodcan serve the understandingof man (e.g., Auger 1952, Kaufman 1975-77, Vencamino) con el pensamientode las cienciashumanas,que inalthoughin a mannerrestricted
dryes1942). They contribute,
dagan su propiaimagen.Al respecto,parecesingularmente
sigboth of our
to one area of knowledge,to the transformation
nificativo
y de granalcancepara el futuroque eminentesfisicos
and of our presentnotionof
presentnotionof determinism
y biologoshayan venido observandocon gran claridaddesdc
betweenthe natural
life,bringingabout that rapprochement
hace algu'ntiempoque tales disciplinasson tambienciencias
sciencesand the sciencesof the spiritwhichis one of the most
del hombrey no solo ciencias de la naturaleza.Como dice
pressingtasks of our time. This researchdirection,whichis
Gusdorf(1957:121), ((Las cienciashumanas,hasta hace poco
numberof scholars,
comingto prevailamongan everincreasing
agregadasa las cienciasde la naturaleza,tiendena tomarsesu
desquite.En matematica,fisica,la crisiscontemporannea
de los
irrespectiveof theirphilosophicaloutlooks,seems the most
scientifically
valid and the mostlikelyto providesubstantive
fundamentos
ha destacadoel hechode que las disciplinaspositiin the domainof the scienceof man and, therevas son un espejo del hombre;jalonan una tomade conciencia contributions
fore,in the domainof social anthropology.]
del hombreen el tiempo)).
754

CIJURRENT

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ANTH1ROPOLOGY

by SUE-ELLEN

JRodin,
Michaelson,and Britan:SYSTEMS

JACOBS

THEORY IN ANTHROPOLOGY

Department
ofAnthropology,
University
ofWashington,
Seas runningcounterto the conservativeapproachesof systems
attle,Wash.98195,U.S.A.26vi 78
Rodin,Michaelson,
and Britanhaveprovidedan interesting analystswho have been so caughtup with homeostasisand
beforethem
and valuableperspective
on systems
theoryin anthropology. "closed systems"that,like many functionalists
of thepaperspre- theyview "the system"and overlookwhat I have called the
Theirsummary
of thefour-hour
discussion
Conference
paredfortheWorldAnthropology-1977
indicates system's"componentsystems"(1974).
Anthropologists
have been burnedso badly by the fear of
to reacha consensus
effort
of theparticipants
theearnest
conteleologythat we tend to deny automaticallyany imputation
and discussed."
cerning
thefivethemes"jointlyidentified
A
is thevaria- of purpose or design to any social system.Yet, if we look
sixththemethatmight
wellhavebeendiscussed
or culturaluses of systemstheory. closelywe can, in fact,discoverthatthereis an overtpurpose
tionsin epistemological

to an "educationalsystem,"i.e., to educate,or to a "political


While some attentionwas paid to Soviet, German,and other
system,"i.e., to control.The goals of the people involvedas
Westernattemptsto refinesystemstheories,nonewas paid to
componentsin any such systemswill vary,however,according
Easternscholarshipdevotedto theseproblems.
to multiplefactors,including(1) wherein the systemindividA systemstheorymightwelldevelopwhichcan be appliedto
uals
perceivethemselvesand are perceivedby others;(2) with
the solutionof specifichuman and environmental
problems.
theyrecognizesimilarinterests,
which
However,as the authorsnote,thishas yet to be accomplished. whichothercomponents
Perhapsit is because theoriesabout and waysof usingsystems may-or may not-conformto those the system"assigns"to
them; and (3) whataccess theyhave to meansforinfluencing
analysis have not yet incorporatednon-Westernconceptsof
the system'spurposeand/orupsettingits equilibrium.
Disconhumanand environmental
relationships.
Maruyama(e.g., 1961,
formitiesbetweenthe purpose of the social systemand the
1975, 1978a) has attemptedto do this,explainingthat it is
very difficult
to communicatewith claritycross-epistemologi- goals of its humancomponents(Miller 1975) are theverystuff
of both gradual and revolutionary
transformations
of social
cally and even more difficult
to achieve an integratedmodel
systems.
or theoryof a givensystem(or subsystem)applicableto and
In termsof application,recognition
of such disconformities
understandableby people fromdiverse cultures.I offerthe
calls not simplyforacknowledging
the need for "perspectives
followingas an exampleof thesedifficulties:
Tewa conceptsof relationships
in the environment
are typi- thatare preciselybased on local data," but for reemphasizing
the individualswho are the targetsor "clients"of variousforcally nonlinear(Ortiz 1969), yet theirmodelof theworldas a
mal systems(Miller 1977). Focussingon the individuals-and
systemis so explicitthateverydaylife can be explainedin reon the formaland informalsystemsof whichtheyare comlational termsas part of the systemicorder by most Tewa
withsome voice in decisionmaking(Miller
adults. Intrusionsinto the system (which systemstheorists ponent-mombers,
to the customary
mightview as causingdeviations,thenas deviation-amplifying 1974)-can providea "bottom-up"corrective
approacheswhichworkdownfromsomeformalsystemthrough
mechanisms),whetherby humansor nonhumans,may cause
its so-called subsystems.Neglect of this correctiveis partly
temporary
changesin certaineverydaybehaviors,but theywill
responsiblefor the most dismal failuresof well-intentioned
not changethe natureof the overall relationships
in the long
run; i.e., the culturewill not be destroyedby theseintrusions. "servicesystems."Habermas(1973) and Kuenzlen(1972) had
of urbansystemsmodelswhichlacked"upward"
Hispanosand Angloswho sharethe same physicalenvironment valid criticism
and "horizontal"flowsthat originatedfromindividualsand
withRio GrandeTewa Puebloans seldom share this view of
groups of individualswith similarand conflicting
goals and
lifeand the world,and theyalso seldomsharea commonview
of thesewithone another.Systemsapproachesused in develop- values.
One of the advantagesof generalsystemstheoryis thatthe
mentprojectsin thisarea moreoftenthannot failto take into
analyst definesthe systemand its level on the basis of the
account the various "harmonious"relationshipsperceivedby
problem(s) to be studied.A cell biologistviewsa singlecell as
the people concerned.
so examinesour "solar system."
Whenmultipleepistemologies
trulyinfluence
systemstheories a system,whilean astronomer
and methodsforanalysis,thenperhapsthemodelsand theories For theirwidelydisparatepurposes,bothdefinetheirsystems.
in commuwill prove usefulforproblemsolvingin multiethnic
environ- Withinthesystems'context,theyhave no difficulty
For the cell biologist's
ments.Untilthen,as theauthorsnote,thepotentialof "systems nicatingtheirsystemiccharacteristics.
level may be inappropriate,
but the
perspectivesin anthropology"
remainsan unfulfilled
promise. purpose,the solar-system
same approachis valid. Thus, althoughRodin et al. statethat
"to apply'system'characteristics
to individualactorsis an ecoby BEATRICE DIAMOND MILLER
logicalfallacy,"to apply"system"characteristics
to individuals
1227 SweetbriarRd., Madison,Wis. 53705, U.S.A. 31 v 78
can be a physical,social,or mentalhealthnecessity.The nature
As a memberof the SystemsAnalysispanel,I well appreciate of the problemthe analystis examiningmay well requireconthe difficulty
of the task assignedto Rodin, Michaelson,and
sideringindividualsas systems,or as component-members
of
Britan.Theirarticlepresentsan excellentoverviewof ourvery
moreinclusivesystems,or as targetcomponentsof stillother
wide-ranging
discussionsand opinions.Thereforewhatfollows typesof systems(Miller 1972). The intimaterelationships
beis not a critique,but an expansionof some of the pointsthey
tween problem,level, and system for analysis still remain
have touchedupon.
largelyunexplored.
No list of anthropologists
who have applied systemstheory
to the description
and analysisof variousaspectsof anthropoby PHILIP C. MILLER
logicalconcernis completewithoutCount (1973), forhis sysDepartmentof Urbanand RegionalPlanning,University
of
tems analysis of human biobehavioralevolution,or Wallace
Toronto,Toronto,Ont.,Canada. 16 vi 78
(1961). Wallace's attentionto the "mazeway"and to "equivalent behaviors"broke the mold of the "replication-of-unifor- This articlewill, I hope, stimulateanthropologists
to inquire
mity"approachthathas so bedeviledthe fieldof cultureand
more deeplyinto systemsanalysis.While the authorsare reWallace stressedthe conceptof individualprocess- strictedby theirnonmathematical
personality.
exposition,manysubstantial
ings,perceptions,
and cognitionratherthanthe automaticand
areas are referredto. I shall commenton two of these:
inherentlystatic transmissionof a society's "culture" (and
the systemsapproachcan be usefulin
1. As a methodology,
can be seen
coordinating
"personality")to its members.His contributions
interdisciplinary
research.Disciplinaryparadigms
Vol. 19 * No. 4 * December1978

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755

oftenrestrictthe opportunities
fordialogue.Throughsystems
analysisit may be possible to uncovera commongroundof
sharedinterests.The researchof specialistscan thenproceed
withinthe framework
of a comprehensive
researchprogram.
The coordinating
functionof systemsanalysisis particularly
usefulin dealingwithenvironmental
and natural-resource
issues. The limitsto thisstructured
eclecticismstemfroma lack
of unitaryorganizationor purposefuldesignin the object of
study.
2. Mathematicalsystemstheorymayaid thedevelopment
of
quantitativeand ecologicalanthropology.
Mathematicalmodels
of dynamicprocessesoffera succinctpresentation
of concepts
wheredescriptionis too voluminousand diffuseand theoryis
as yetincipientand unwieldy.The pricethatis paid is theloss
of the richnessof ordinarylanguage.
Models are oftenusefultools for developinganalyticalapproachesto broad-ranged
problems.Models in theoryalso play
an important
roleby phrasingalternativeexplanationsand suggestingavenuesforempiricaltests.In modelling,
severalallied
fieldsmay be drawnupon. The data requirements
suggestthe
use of quasi-experimental
designsin fieldresearchand multivariate statistics.Computersimulationis a very useful approach for understanding
multiequationsystems.Analytical
fieldssuch as optimal-control
theoryand theoriesof stability
and discontinuous
changemaystimulatenewideas forresearch.
Systemsanalysisshouldbe of particularinterestto ecological
An integratedsocio-ecologicalapproachis in
anthropologists.
demandforimpactassessmentof large-scalepublicworksand
the studyof primaryresource-based
These fields
communities.
would benefitfromthe integratedstudyof the culturaland
ecological contextof humanpopulations.
by EMILIOMORAN
Departmentof Anthropology,
Indiana University,
Bloomington,Ind. 47401, U.S.A. 24 vi 78
The authorsmustbe congratulatedfor summarizing
the disparate ideas of a symposiumthat appears to have involved
numerousparticipants.It is perhapstheirconscientious
effort
to represent
all theideas raisedat the conference
thatpresents
problemsfora clear understanding
of the contribution
of systemstheoryto anthropology.
Whiletheytouchuponpractically
everypossibleidea thatis relevantto systemsin anthropology,
theygloss over mostof them.I wouldlike to pick up on two
ideas that I was particularlydisappointedto see glossed: the
inherentdifferences
betweenfunctionalist
and conflictmodels
of social systemsand therelativevalue of quantitative
vis-a-vis
qualitativemodeling.
The authorscorrectly
pointout thatcontemporary
functionalist theoryhas gottenaway fromthe static equilibrium-orientedmodels of yesteryear.
They do not point out, however,
that even today the functionalist
approachdominantin most
systemstheoryemphasizesthe role of consensusin the maintenanceof systemstability.Such a view came to us via Comte
and Durkheimand has permeatedBritishand Americanintellectuallife. A consensus-oriented
approachto systemstability
and evolutiontendsto overlookthe inherentcontradictions
in
societyand nature.It is probablyforthisreasonthatForrester
(1969) has describedcomplexsystemsas "counterintuitive"
(i.e., inadequatelyperceivedby the humanmindand leading
to counterproductive
actions). When one worksunderthe assumptionthat consensusis the chiefmeans to stability,one
simplifiesthe behaviorof systemsbeyondrecognition
and is
unable to explainthe evolutionof social structures.
One need
not go veryfarin thehistoricalrecordto pointout thatsocial
systemscan remain maladjusted for long periods and even
totallydisintegrate
in the end. The cases of social changein
therecordhave notalwaysresultedfromconsensusbut,rather,
fromconflictbetweensocietalsegmentsvyingfor powerand
fromthe sometimesviolenttakeoverof one such group.It is
756

surelyinadequateto say thatif a groupis in powerit expresses


the consensusof thepopulace.Yet thatis preciselytheposition
in whichconsensus-functionalism
puts its defenders.
Conflicttheoryneedsto be blendedwithfunctionalist
theory
if systemstheoryis to live up to the expectationsof the authorsand the rest of the intellectualcommunity.
By conflict
theoryI meannot a naive Marxismbut,rather,the awareness
of and accountingfor the differentially
sharedvalues and aspirationsin societythatgeneratea constanttug-of-war
between
its segments.Out of thisinherentconflict
arisenewsolutionsor
adjustmentsto changingcircumstances
(i.e., internalchange).
Even responseto externalchangeis facilitatedas the various
segmentspropose alternativeways of coping with external
stress.It is because of this variabilitythat systemsmay perhaps be muchless counterintuitive
than functionalists
might
think.Conflicttheoryalso accountsforthe fact thatsocieties
may evolve in the directionof instability.In the tug-of-war
overpowerin societythereis no guaranteethatthosewho gain
it will have the interestsof societyat large in mindand that
theiracts will not be destructive
of the social fabric.The conflictmodelpermitsone to deal withthatpossibilityin the behaviorof systems.
The otherdisturbing
gloss in the articleis a passingremark
about a forthcoming
trendmarkedby a "deemphasison mathematicalmodelingand an increasedconcernforqualitativeapproaches."If anything,
all thatwe have had in the social sciences are qualitative models. Even in the more biological
branchesof anthropology,
practitioners
of quantitativemodelingand simulationhave been fewindeed.If systemsapproaches
are to live up to theirpotential,whatis neededare someserious
efforts
to put numbersto all thoseboxes-and-arrows
of qualitative models. The difficulty
has been that systems-oriented
have takenholismtoo literallyand have tried
anthropologists
to model systemstoo large to be practicablyhandledby any
exactmeans.The resultis thattheyhave had to settleformore
qualitative,and oftenimpressionistic,
remarksabout the behavior of systems.The authorscorrectlypoint out that the
onlypracticableand accurateapplicationsof systemsanalysis
willbe in micro-situations,
carefullyboundedby exact criteria,
with awarenessof the theoreticalassumptionsbehindsuch a
choice and the limitationsof the results for understanding
large-scalesystems.
One difficulty
withanthropological
in systemsparticipation
orientedresearchthat cuts across disciplinesis a tendency
towardcomplacencyon our part. We tend to make an issue
of the fact that our disciplinehas been since its inception
holisticand,so theargument
goes,essentiallysystems-oriented.
it has seldombeen
Whilethishas been a goal of anthropology,
deteraccomplished.The Boasian reactionto environmental
minismproduceda generationof scholarsthatgave us minute
which
descriptionsof societies,but not of the environments
formedthe contextof their behavior. Specializationwithin
sincethattimehas increasingly
anthropology
producedsophisno less
ticatedstudiesof partsof total systems.Anthropology,
thantheothersciences,needsto approachthestudyof systems
to a task whichis far more
withhumilityand a commitment
taxingof our expertisethanour specializedtasksand of which
the returnsare, at best,uncertain.
by XTO. G. OKOJIE

Zuma MemorialHospital, Irrua, Bendel State, Nigeria. 20


vi 78
The identification
and discussionof thesefivethemesby the
systems-analysis
panel is scholarlyand stimulating,
but highly
theoretical.I mustagreewithBelshawthatas in otheranthropologicalsubfields,
isolatedinvestigators
can neveraccomplish
as muchas a groupthatsharesideas and results.Furthermore,
qualitativeanthropology
is gettingcomplex,but need we for
merelyacademic reasonsfurthercomplicatea subject that is
CURRENT

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ANTHROPOLOGY

the whole science of man? We are all agreed,firstly,


that in
this science quantifiableand commensurate
data are hard to
come by and, secondly,that since human systemsdisplayso
theirstudymust of necessitybe multimany contradictions
disciplinary;but is thisany excuse forturninghumangroups
into mechanisticand perfectlyspecifiablesystems?How, for
instance,would even relativelysophisticatedmathematical
apeasier forteachers,let alone stuplicationsmakeanthropology
dents?I am in fullagreementwithOkedijiin his reservations
about the futureacceptabilityof puretheoreticalresearch.For
us herein developingcountriesgrapplingwithmyriadsof humanproblems,the focusshouldbe on functional
anthropology.
On the otherhand,I agreewithMiller,Shimkin,and Lowe
thatit is not withoutreasonthathuman-ecological
approaches
have consistently
integratedphysical,biological,and symbolic
aspectsof life. Examplesof biosocialsystemsinvolvingan interplayof biologicaland socioculturalfactorsin diseaseabound
in medicine.My work amongstthe simple rural people of
Ishan, Bendel State, Nigeria,gives some measureof the relationshipbetweensocial stress and cardiovascularpathology.
Twentyyears ago, theywere simplefarmersengagedin subAll a man neededto be recognizedin his
sistenceagriculture.
villagewas a thatchedhouse and a wifeand children;no one
had any cash savings.Today manv men aspire to leadership.
They own cars,and theirmain occupationis as contractors
engagedin government
projectsin threeor moredistantvillages,
rushingfromone project to the otherfrommorningto night.
They own severalhouses,keep multiplefamiliesscatteredall
over the place, and come to the hospitalbeggingformedicine
to be able to sleep. Next to malariaas a local killernow comes
I never saw in my firstten years
an affliction
hypertension,
in the area.

Rodin,Michaelson,and Britan:SYSTEMS

THEORY IN ANTHROPOLOGY

its promise.Eitherthat,or the insightsprovidedby the model


are alreadyso powerfulthatSoviet scientistsare shyto apply
themin situ.

by JOHN M. VANDEUSEN
PhiladelphiaChild GuidanceClinic,34thSt. and Civic Center Blvd., Philadelphia,Pa. 19104, U.S.A. 20 vi 78
While thisis a stimulating
and welcomepaper,it is less than
satisfying.Rangingacross a numberof importantissues, the
discussionseems to avoid closureon any. Perhapsthis is unavoidablein a cursorytreatment
of so largea subjectarea. My
primaryresponseis to urge carefuland thoroughexploration
of the interfacebetweensystemsconceptsand anthropology.
Systemstheoriesand methodsmay offera "newkey" to nomotheticenterprise
and perhapsprovideus a meansof integrating
the many disciplineswithinanthropology.
Effectivedevelopmentand use of thiskeyis no smallproblem.
It is less thanlikelythatpublicationof reportssuch as the
presentone will, of itself,"build the foundationsfora more
unifiedapproachby scholarsaroundthe world."I wouldrecall
to minda fewof the moreunfortunate
resultsof the diffusion
of "neutral"technologiesamongdevelopingnationsand make
a plea fora moretemperedoptimismhere.
My beliefis thatthe nextphase in the marriageof systems
theorywithanthropology
shouldbe characterized
notby direct
growthand rapiddissemination
of information,
but by a return
to simplerconstructs.Core conceptsand techniquesrequire
standardization,
correlation,
and evaluationfollowedby gradual synthesisof a theoreticalnetwork.Models are being
adapted fromotherbiologicaland naturalscienceswithlittle
of theirlargerimplicationsfor our field.A rare
consideration
by M. ESTELLIE SMITH
existsforunification
of anthropological
opportunity
disciplines
Minetto,N.Y. 13115, U.S.A. 22 v 78
throughthe criticalassessmentof themeaningand applications
The authors,as well as a numberof the participants(e.g.,
of systemsconcepts.It shouldbe pursuedbeforetheproliferaOkediji, Belshaw, and Singh) in the symposium,stress the
tionof methodsand measureshas outpacedour abilityto conutilityof systemsmodelsin the analysisof systemsdynamics, structa guidingrationalefortheiruse.
sincetheseare "the special concernof Marxistanparticularly
It is obviousfromthisreportthatanthropology
as a science
is now struggling
thropologists"and since such analyses would focus on "the
withquestionsof just whereand howsystems
immediatepracticalvalue of a systemsperspective."One alconceptsand modelsfitin. The presentdangerlies in theeager
mostsensesa collectivecryof "mea culpa" as Harrison("with
and disjointednatureof this pursuit.There is an enormous
enthusiasm"),Michaelson,R. Miller,and othersassure their languageproblem.Terminologiesare inconsistent,
and usages
more pragmaticcolleaguesthat thereare, indeed,applied asrangefromthe formalto the metaphorical.
The term"system"
pects in theworkof systemsscholars.
itselfhas been used witha multiplicity
of definition
whichmust
Despite this,one is also struckby the fact-though some
approachthe recordnow held by "culture."The potentialfor
maythinkthistrivial-thatwhereasSovietMarxistsare lauded
confusionis hintedat in the presentpaper by the irritating
as "ahead of theirWesterncounterpartsin identifying
shiftingof referencebetween"systemstheory"and "systems
. . .
principlesof systemsanalysis" (italics mine), Marxistselseapproach."A readernew to the fieldcould not possiblycome
whereseem essentiallyconcernedwithlocal applicationsand
away fromthis discussionwitha much clearerunderstanding
empiricalformulations
of a programmatic
of what exactlyis usefulabout systemsthinkingor whereto
type-e.g., Okediji's
emphasison promotingpoliticalstabilityand Singh'scall for
beginto get a handle on it (since the referencescited in the
understanding
the dynamicsof societies,such as India, which paper are ratheradvanced).
display"greatstability."Giventhe ratherabstract,theoretical
Whilethereis a need forcautious,disinterested
studyof the
emphasisin the earlierdiscussions,one mightwonderat the
relativemeritsof varioussystemsapproachesand standardizaratherunbecominghaste displayedas variousparticipantsaption of key definitions,
a moreimportanttask is the articulaparentlyscurryto suggestsociallyrelevantapplicationssuchas
tion of infrastructure
in generalsystemstheory.Benthallis
social-impactstudiesof dams and issues of taxationconflicts. rightto query,"Is systemstheorya theoryat all?" It is more
My pointis that,if Okediji,Singh,and Belshawhave legiti- an epistemologythan eithera science or a methodology(cf.
matelychided the panel members(and I hope I have inter- von Bertalanffy
1967,Bateson 1972). We need to ascertainthe
pretedthe tone of theirremarkscorrectly),thenone wonders scope and applicabilityof thisbody of theoryto our field,and
why Soviet Marxists-who surelyshould be expectedto be
thisrequiresan assessmentof generalsystemstheoryas a disutilizingmodelswithina Marxistmode par excellence-stress
ciplinein its own right.Collaborationwiththe variousguilds
researchon the theoreticalquestionsand problemswhich,for
of systemstheoristsand scientistswho are examining
the same
them,still appear to exist in systemsmodels,neglectingthe
issues could prove most helpfulfor all parties.
applicationof the modelsto real systems.Perhaps,despitethe
Severalmajorassetsof systemsthinking,
alludedto obliquely
enthusiasmand optimismexpressedin the closingsession,it is
by Rodin, Michaelson,and Britan but meritingmuch more
because thereis still much fundamentaldevelopmentalwork
consideration,
are the following:
thatmustbe done beforesystemsanalysiscan genuinelyfulfill
1. The systemsapproach accommodateschange,paradox,
Vol. 19 * No. 4 * December1978

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757

catastrophe,
complexity-allthephenomenawhichproveto be
thedownfallof simpleror morespecializedtheories.Maruyama
(1978a) has recentlydiscussedthemannerin whicha newlogical structurecharacterized
by suchphenomenais expandingits
influencein all sciences.
2. The approachis totallyflexiblein its scope, domain,and
rangeof application.The same formalconceptsmay be used
reiteratively
to construct
quitesophisticated
modelsfromprimitive elements.Birdwhistell(1972) has shaped the scienceof
kinesicsin this manner,adaptinga few basic tools fromthe
linguist'skit.
3. The fact thatthe essenceof any systemis behavioralor
relationalratherthanmaterialallows fora revolutionary
manner of unitizingand measuringsocial and culturalphenomena.
and "ethos" are brought
Metaconceptssuch as "superorganic"
considerablycloserto operationaldefinition.
4. The approachgeneratesnot onlytestablehypotheses,
but
also operationalparadigmsand modelswithinwhichany number of such hypothesesmay be generatedand ordered.The
processof scientific
inquirycan be muchmorethoroughly
organizedthanhas been trueheretofore(cf. Churchman1971).
I have foundit veryhelpfulin my own researchto use an
elementary
formof systemstheory,reducedto a set of simple,
formalstatements.
These can be appliedto the construction
of
a conceptualbridgeacross conventionalanthropological
methods (e.g., via isomorphiccomparison).In thismannertwo or
moremethodscan be takenas supplemental
perspectives,
and
models previouslyconsideredunrelatedcan be viewed comparatively.The use of theterm"system"is reservedformodels
in whichanalysis (preferablymulti-method)
has verifiedthe
presenceof constraint
or patternin the data.

mightthey have enough convictionof the value of the approach to go on to computerizedsimulationsand othersuch
technologicalsophistications.
Rodin et al. pointout that systemsthinking
and anthropology share a beliefin holism.I will add two more articlesof
faithheld in common:the comparativeapproach(seen in systemsthinking
as controlled-isomorphic
model-building)
and the
processual-evolutionary
approach by whichboth sciencesexpresstheirconcernwithchange.Systemsthinking
and anthropology are reallymetasciences.Isomorphismand the culture
conceptare theirrespectivemethodologies,
and complexity
is
theircommonsubject matter.
Weinberg,in exemplarysystems-thinking
style, has suggestedthe followinganalogy: the systems-theory
movementis
to science as ready-to-wear
fashionis to haute couture.The
chain-store
shirt,like the stochasticmodel,offers
the consumer
a low-pricedand serviceableproduct.A gentlemancan safely
send his shirteven to a Europeanlaundry,fromwhichit will
emergeboiled but unscathed.He has paid a pricein styleand
qualityforthe dependability
he has gained.Justso, good systemsthinking
mustbe open and comprehensible
to thelargely
uninformedconsumerswho buy it for its usefulnessalone.
This is a requisitenot onlyof systemsmodels but also of papers on "SystemsTheory in Anthropology."Unfortunately,
the presentpaper lacks the commontouchand thus does not
fulfillthepromiseof its title.

by STANLEY A. WEST
Environmental
Laboratory,U.S. ArmyEngineerWaterways
Miss. 39180, U.S.A. 21 vi 78
ExperimentStation,Vicksburg,
AlthoughI subscribeto manyof the ideas in Rodin,Michaelson, and Britan'spaper,I shall employthese commentsto deby DANIELA WEINBERG
scribe developmentsin the "soft" systemsmethodswhichI
Departmentof Anthropology,
Universityof Nebraska-Lin- feel theyneglect.
coln,Lincoln,Nebr. 68588, U.S.A. 21 vi 78
In theirdiscussionof "The State of the Art,"Rodin et al.
The authors' hope that theirpaper "will spread a growing aver that "the greatesttechnicaladvancesin systemsanalysis
awarenessof thepromiseof systemsperspectivesin anthropol- have occurrednotin anthropology,
but in thenaturalsciences."
ogy" is not likelyto be realized.The constraintof reporting They ignorean importantdevelopmentin systemsanalysis,
the discussionsat the World Anthropology-1977
Conference however,when they recommendthat anthropologists
should
preventsthe authorsfromperforming
a muchgreaterservice:
seek approaches"more consonantwitha quantitativesystems
writinga simple,clear,and balanced presentationof general framework"(my emphasis), because increasingnumbersof
systemstheoryaimed at the anthropological
novice. In this
are turningaway fromrigorsophisticatedsystemsresearchers
respect,thepaperalso failsto meeta fundamental
requirement ous quantitativemethodsand are developingor adoptingtechof CURRENTANTHROPOLOGY-tocommunicate with colleagues
niques based on weak mathematicalassumptions(van Gigch
who are not membersof an innercircleof initiates.Historical
and Pipino 1977; Negoita and Ralescu 1975; West 1977a:
and bibliographic
imbalanceare evidentin theoveremphasis
on
chaps. 3, 7). An excellentpoint of departurefor theirpaper
Soviet writers(many of whoseworks,incidentally,
wouldhave been Explanationin Social Scienzce:A SystemParhave been
translatedinto English-for references,see von Bertalanffy adigm (Meehan 1968). Meehan's perspectiveis compatible
and Rapoport 1956-78) and the absence of references
scienceand also leads one
as a nondeductive
withanthropology
to certain seminalWesternworks(Boulding 1956,Ashby1961).
away fromthe deductiveparadigmof science (and systems
A recentbook of particularvalue to the beginningsystems theory)whichis too evidentin the paper. For once weak is
theoristwho is also a social scientistis G. M. Weinberg's good,notbad, in thatour oftenqualitativeanthropological
ap(1975) An Introductionto General Systems Thinking.The
plicationsof this new wave of systemsanalysiswould be untitlehighlights
a major problemwhichRodin et al. are aware
the tools used.
likelyto rape the assumptionsunderlying
of but do not resolve.Generalsystemstheoryis not a theory
Examples of "soft" methodsinclude the mathematicsof
at all. It is a way of thinking,
an approachto dealingwiththe
graph theory(West 1977b) and fuzzy-settheory.Fuzzy-set
complexityof the real world,and a heuristicdevice for the
retheorywas pioneeredby Zadeh (1965), an internationally
definitionand resolutionof real-worldproblems.It is not a
spectedsystemsanalystand controltheorist,in ordersystemquestionof linearalgebraor decisiontheoryor Markov chains
atically to handle imprecision(or vagueness) somewhatas
or predators.Rather,thekeyto understanding
systemsthinking probabilitytheoryhelps one to confrontuncertainty.
In the
is the idea of controlledisomorphism.
Generalsystemstheory 13 years since Zadeh's initialarticle,publicationsin fuzzy-set
is thebranchof sciencethatspecializesin the studyof modeltheoryand its applicationshave come to numberover 1,000
ling.A systemsthinkerlives in a worldof analogies.As Bould(Gaines and Kohout 1977). This emergingschool of systems
ing once put it, he or she will step offthe plane in Bangkok, analysisnow constitutes
visible
a fairlyextensive,increasingly
glancearound,and remarkhowlikePittsburgh
it is. How many
development(Zadeh et al. 1975, Negoita and Ralescu 1975,
of OUrskepticalcolleagueswould be turnedon insteadof off van Gigchand Pipino 1977, Gottinger1973,Kaufmann1975).
if we could communicateto themthe fundamental
simplicity
Zadeh now interpretsfuzzy-settheoryas a theoryof possiand playfulnessof truesystemsthinking
! Then,and onlythen, bilityand observesthathumandecisionsare based moreupon
758

CURRENT

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ANTHROPOLOGY

beliefsabout what is feasibleand the assumedmeaning(e.g.,


thanuponsubjectiveestimatesof the
value) of thealternatives
probabilitiesof events (1977a:1-2). Also, in appreciationof
the virtuesof naturallanguagesas vague media forcommunication,Zadeh promotesuse of the linguisticapproachto fuzzy
sets, "in whichwords ratherthan numbersare employedto
the values of variablesas well as
characterizeapproximately
therelationsbetweenthem"(1977b:1-2). It makesgreatsense
to interpret
words,cognitivecategories,and conceptsas fuzzy
sets (Kay 1975,Pierce 1977,West 1977c).
Althoughscientiststoo oftenpresumethat more precision
is betterthanless precision,thereis considerableevidencethat
certainfuzzysystemsoutperform
sharpor preciseones. Mamdani and Assilian(1975), forexample,have achievedexcellent
resultsby applyingcrude computerizedfuzzy controllersto
complexindustrialprocesses.The rules in the controllersare
stated usingratherundiscriminating
linguisticvariables (e.g.,
thevariableSPEED ERROR has sevenpossiblevalues,including "positivebig," "positivemedium,"and "positivesmall"),
and experiencedhuman operatorsformulatedthe rules comprisingthe controlstrategy.Mamdaniand his co-workers
have
controllers
are too Prothatprecisealgorithmic
demonstrated
crusteanto permiteffectivesystemcontrol.
Dimitrov(1976) of the BulgarianAcademyof Sciencesemploys symboliclogic to prove that the optimalgovernanceof
social systemsis fuzzy.His logicincludesthe followingreasoning: Accordingto Ashby's(1963 :206) cybernetic
law of requisite variety,any effectivecontrolof a given systemmust
encompassat least as muchvarietyas the systemto be concontrolled.Hence, controlof social systemswhichinherently
tain enormouslatentvarietyrequiresthat the controlleralso
be capable of manifesting
immensevariety.Ironically,it is the
veryimprecision
of instructions
statedin naturallanguageand
in otherculturalrules whichpermitseffective
governanceof
social systems.The virtueof fuzzyrulesand fuzzyinstructions
is that each can be givenmultipleinterpretation,
therebyadmittingvarietyand permitting
enoughfreedomto enable control to be flexiblyattunedto compellingempiricalconditions.
Therefore,it is desirableformuchof any cultureto be fuzzy
to reflectits subject of studyby being
and for anthropology
equally fuzzy.
I am convincedthatas anthropologists
who employsystems
analysismake increasinguse of "soft" systemsmethodssucl
as fuzzy-set
theory,theywill discoverthattheweddingis comfortableas wellas expeditious.Rodin,Michaelson,and Britan's
neglectof thissubjectis explained,thoughnot justified,if the
panel discussionon whichtheyreportlargelyavoided "soft"
systemsmethods.

Reply
by MIRIAM RODIN
Chicago,Ill., U.S.A. 26 vii 78
For myselfand my co-authorsI would like to thankall those
who commentedon our report.I am especiallypleased to see
that several commentators
expandon pointswe raised.Some,
however,criticizeus fornot doingwhatwe said we wouldnot
do. For theirbenefitI shall take this opportunity
to restate
our purpose.
Our reportorganizedwrittenand verbal materialsaround
themesthat ran througha professionaldiscussion.In several
places, we amplifiedthe documentsby referenceto published
sourcesor to examplesfromour ownknowledge.Our aim at all
times,however,was to stickto thesubstanceof the conference.
As we stated quite clearly,this reportis neithera reviewof

Rodin,Miclhaelson,
and Britan:SYSTEMS

THEORY IN ANTHROPOLOGY

nor a primer
the literatureon systemstheoryin anthropology
A portionof
in systemstheoryfor the novice ethnographer.
the discussionmay by-passreadersless familiarwiththe specifics of systemstheoriesand modelingtechniques.On the
otherhand,boundby thegenre,we maynot have satisfiedthe
specialist.We interpretthe extent to which the comments
of our
complementeach otheras a step towardsfulfillment
furtherintentto stimulatethe exchangeof ideas on systems
points
interesting
Several particularly
theoryin anthropology.
were raisedto whichI will respond.
of WestThe impactof systemsthinking
in thedevelopment
ern science constitutes,
in the opinionof many,nothingless
thana paradigmaticrevolution.The earliestconceptionof systemsgrewout of empiricalstudiesof simplehomeostatsconducted near the beginningof the 20th century.Anomalous
observations,such as those of embryonicgrowthand differentiationor of cyclicaloscillationsin relativenumbersof individualsin predatorand preyspecies,led scientiststo question
the prevailingnotion of the clockworkNewtonianuniverse.
Closer to the social sciences,Freud's thinking,for example,
as he developed a model of the
was clearlyproto-systemic,
human psyche characterizedby energyflows,differentiation,
and conflictamong subsystemsof the mind.This progressive
has left few disciplinesuntouched.
shiftin epistemology
We thank Espinola for his statement,whichplaces these
eventsin historicalcontext,and for drawingout the implications.Not onlyhave the humanisticsciencesbecome"harder"
but the phvsicalsciences
as a resultof the systemsrevolution,
are becominghumanized.Thus we do not see anyinherentconin urgingthe developas do severalcommentators,
tradiction,
ment of both quantitativeand qualitativemethodsof model
in elaboratingthe paradigm,inductive
building.Furthermore,
each to the
and deductivereasoningmustproceedconcurrently,
benefitof the other.As I inferfromEspinola's discussion,the
whichhas resultedin theincreasing
des me'thodes
renversement
use of quantitativetechniquesneed not implyor necessarily
produce a dehumanizingtrend towards sterile materialistic
models.Properlyunderstood,the use of quantitativeand deductivetechniquesmay well have the oppositeeffect.
to inMaruyama's(1978a, b) referencesto his own efforts
creaseawarenessof systemsmodelsof growthand differentiation and of self-organizing
systemsare a case in point. Alat times,the notionthat
thoughhis neologismscan be baffling
a universetendingtowardsincreasingentropycontainssuband forincreassystemswiththe capacityforself-organization
shiftin
ing levels of complexity(negentropy)is a significant
scientific
epistemology
predatinghis own work.Contemporary
theoriesof evolutionrest on this paradigm.Among others,
(1967) and Rapoport(1966)
Buckley(1967), von Bertalanffy
in social systems.Within
have dealtwithaspectsof negentropy
this framework,
Maruyama's observationof the importance
of positivefeedback,even of relativelyshortdurationor low
intensity,in stimulatingprofoundchangesin the state of a
systemis most useful.It is perhapsthis typeof phenomenon
social
which will prove valuable in analyzingrevolutionary
changeof the orderdiscussedby Moran. These are the types
of problemswithwhichmathematicians
developingcatastrophe
theoryare engaged,thoughtheirproofsremaincontroversial.
Dow and VanDeusen appear to be askingone of the questionswhichconcernedthepanel but was notdealtwithin much
detail. There is unquestionablya large numberof attractive
how to adapt
systemsmodelsbeingbattedaround.Specifically
presentsproblems.
appropriatemodelsforuse in anthropology
As Dow and VanDeusen suggest,it is largelya matterof careful scholarship,selectivelychoosingmodels appropriateto
boththe propertiesof the
understanding
problems,thoroughly
modelanfdthe analytictechniquesit entails.Dow's strategyof

Vol. 19 * No. 4 * December1978

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reducingcomplexity,
of whichwe wouldliketo have seenmore
seems to be similarto VanDeusen's strategyof buildingfron
simpleelements.Because of the brevityof his comment,
how
ever,Dow's easy transitionfromindividualdecisionsto socia
normsis troublesome.It impliesa theoreticalpositionon thi
relationship
betweencognitionand behaviorand glossesmans
difficult
methodological
problems.
The triangulation
of methodsand of systematicsearchin~
forstructural
isomorphism
suggestedby VanDeusen was men
tionedin passingin thepanel. ElsewhereI have advocatedthi:
strategyforurbanethnographers
(Rodin 1977). I have foun4
thatthe use of variousstatisticalmethodsforsurveyand sec
ondarydata combinedwithmorequalitativeparticipant-obser
vation,mapping,formalelicitationof categoriesfrominfor
mants,and use of historicaldocumentsprovidesverification
o
intuitivemodelsas well as identifying
incongruities
suggestin,
errorsin the models.It is not entirelyclear fromthe context
however,howVanDeusenis usingthephrase"isomorphiccom
parison." If he is referring
to the comparisonof systemsoi
the basis of mathematicalhomology,he is perhapsaware o
the conservativepositiontakenby Conantand Ashby(1970)
They qualifythe level of valuable comparisonby statingtha
homologyis acceptableprovidedthatit is confinedto a com
parisonof relationsbetweenthe subsetof regulatory
element
and the systemas a whole.That is, theyregardas valid com
parisonsbetweensystemson the basis of how theyare con
trolled,ratherthan total-systems
comparisons.
We mustthankWest forhis expositionof theuses of mathe
maticalmodelsbased on weak assumptions,such as fuzzy-se
and graphtheory.He usefullydistinguishes
betweenquantita
tive methodsand mathematics
whichwa.
per se, a distinction
perhapsnot well drawnin the report.His discussionof fuzz'
controlis especiallyrelevantin view of our commentsabov(
and of Moran's discussionof the heterogeneity
of beliefsanc
values and noncongruence
of interestsin large-scale,if not all
humansocieties.
The large technicalliteratureto whichWest alludes woulc
of Tewa worlc
cause us to questionJacobs's interpretation
view as completelyexplicit.Even thoughany Tewa adult car
explain everydaylife in relationalterms,one is temptedtc
wonder whetherthis representsactual decision-making
pro
cesses or ex post facto rationales.That the Tewa view th4
world as constructedof harmoniousnonlinearrelationsdoe;
reasonto label themnon
not to our mindconstitutesufficient
In the courseof thepanel Dobbert
Westernsystemstheorists.
and in a previousvolume of this journal Shweder (1977)
amongothers,have suggestedmethodsformodelingnativecog
nitivecategoriesand styles.The stabilityof such phenomena
over timeis also subject to investigation.
Systemstheoriesdo not assume that intrusionsand disturbances necessarilydestroysocioculturalsystems.This is preone of whichis discussedby
ciselythedomainof controltheory,
West.The factthatTewa, Anglos,and Hispanoscan occupythe
one anothersugsame space withoutsignificantly
influencing
a
geststhateach ethnicentityis strongly
bounded,constituting
discretesubsystem.
of suchsocialboundThe verymaintenance
aries impliesa mechanismof control.Yet, we findit hard to
believethatTewa have devisedor evolvedno responseto thE
presence of other culturalgroups. Rather, Tewa relational
propositionsmay serve to frame,control,and limitthe inevitable intrusionof Angloand Hispanic influences
on theirlifeways.As Moranimplies,a systemmaypersistapparently-and
we emphasizeapparently-unchanged
untilit suddentlydisinstategrates.On the otherhand,the conditionsforlong-term
bilitywithoutloss of adaptabilityremainimportantissues to
be studied.The Tewa may providean example.
Moran is quite correctin identifying
the studyof conflict
as an importantpriorityin anthropologicalresearchand in
tweakingour complacencyadheringto the ritual recitatior
about anthropologyas a holisticscience. There are a few~
760

pointsthatrequiresome expansion.The multivocality


of symbols and theirdifferential
acceptanceamongpartsof the same
societyare familiarto manyethnographers.
Furthermore,
ambiguityis a characteristic
of humancommunication.
These factors do indeed relate to underlying
or even obvious stresses
in societiesleadingin some cases to conflict.Withina single
society,the presenceof a varietyof adaptive patternsmay
createstrainat one pointin timebut supplyusefulalternatives
when conditionschange; that is, adaptive potentialmay increasethroughinternalheterogeneity.
De Ruijter wonderswhy Levi-Strausswas not singledout
for attention.His own choice of words containsthe germof
our answer. Levi-Strauss'sgreat contribution
was in recognizingthe way in whichunderlying
relationalprinciplesorder
cognitionacross several domains,in directinganthropologists
to distinguishbetweenreal and ideal, and in givingimpetus
to formalanalysisof rulesystems.His structuralism,
however,
lacks a means of accountingfor conflictand for contingent
behavior.It is significant
that de Ruijter statesthatthe work
of Levi-Strauss"gives rise to three possible interpretations
of the distinctions
betweenmechanicaland statisticalmodels."
Levi-Strausshimselfdoes not offerthese interpretations.
We
are not sure what de Ruijter meansby the third," a connectionwitha different
kindof-discipline-tied-approach."With
respectto his particularquestions,Shimkinand Lowe have
personallycommunicated
the following:
Shimkinand Lowe's use of mechanicalversusstatisticalmodels
derivesfromLevi-Strauss's
(1953) "Social Structure."
The point
is thatbothtypesofmodelsare intrinsic
theyweremaking
to both
and behaviorand that one shouldnot be regardedas
cognition
morefundamental
becauseeach impliestheother.Underlying
statisticalmodelsis a samplespaceof probabilities
(Feller1968),and
thatis a sharpconceptualtypology.
underlying
But in constructing mechanical
modelsone selectsfroman indenumerably
infinite
numberof possibilities
and, as a result,can neverbe certaina
modelwillbe adequate.It is herethatthecomputation
particular
ofhumanbeingsalsocomeintoplay.Further,
limitations
itis known
fromG6del'sproofthatno mechanical
modelwillcompletely
capturereality.Thesefactorsof arbitrariness
inand incompleteness
troducea necessaryuncertainty
in the workingof conceptual
modelsin the real world-an uncertainty
statistical.
ineluctably
in a theorem
of gametheorywhichstatesthat
(This is reflected
in gamesofimperfect
information
notpurestratmixedstrategies,
egies,areusuallyoptimal.)The pointis notthatmechanical
and/or
or thatthey
statistical
modelsofhumanactivity
cannotbe created,
may not be usefulin some cases,but ratherto emphasizethe
natureof bothcognition
and behavior.
interactive
BeatriceMillerraisesseveralof the samepointsthatinterest
Moran. In modelinga system,one mustbe carefulnot to confuse manifestpurpose with latent function,not to attribute
collectivegoals to componentindividuals.Political scientists
have soughtto characterizedifferent
kinds of consensus,but
this need not deter us fromrecognizingaspects of conflict,
and cooperationamong disparateculturalor incompetition,
terestgroups.It is thispointwhichMillermayhave misunderthe
to ecologicalfallacy.Not attributing
stoodin our reference
aggregate'spurposeto individualsin no way deniesor obviates
attributionof purposeto individuals.The relativelylittlediscussiongivenoverto thestudyof individualsas systemssimply
reflectsthe compositionof thepanel,as Millermay remember.
We wereby and largesocial scientiststrainedto examinesocial
groupingsand theirculturaldoings.A groupof psychologists
and cliniciansmighthave dweltmore on the level of interest
to her.The importance,
however,of social and culturalchange
not onlyobservablebehavior,but emotionaland
in influencing
physiologicprocessesinternalto individualscannotbe denied.
Okojie has presentedan immediateand pressingexampleof the
need forappliedresearchin psycho-physiological
processunder
conditionsof socioculturalchange.
There seem,finally,to b.etwo generalcategoriesof critique
leveled at systemsworkin anthropology.
These appear in one
CURRENT

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ANTHROPOLOGY

or more formsin severalof the commentsand have appeared


elsewherein journal articlesand exchanges.They seem to be
moreor less limitedto anthropology;
we see themless oftenin
and relatedfields,even though
the sociological,psychological,
the substanceof theirconcernis oftensimilarto our own.The
double-barreled
chargeof functionalism
and deductivereasoningis oftenaimedas blanketcriticismof systemsanalyses.We
oughtto reexaminethe emotionaland rationalbaggageassociated withthe place of functionalanalysisand of deductive
vs. inductivereasoningin anthropology.
cerThe tensionbetweenfunctionalism
and structuralism
tainlypre-datesthe presentcontextand may be traceableto
the debate between Malinowskian and Radcliffe-Brownian
schools.Few anthropologists
today,even those avowedlyconcernedwithproducingfunctionalaccounts (e.g., Goldschmidt
1966), would maintainthat all behaviors,institutional
forms,
or beliefsnecessarilycontribute
to social cohesionor increased
adaptivecapacity.Much of whatpeople do is eitherirrelevant
to or destructiveof such, if viewed functionally.
Studies of
conflict,
competition,
and changeare addressedto this point.
Functionalanalyses thus ought to be criticallyevaluated in
termsof the ethnographers'
dispassionatewillingness
to report
thingsas theyare. One can oftendetecta certaindefensiveness,in ethnographic
reportsof beliefsor practiceswhichharm
healthor close offthepotentialforadaptation,in theappeal to
the implied"benefit"of promotinggroupcohesion.Thoughtfullyconceived,a functional
systemsanalysisis no moreprone
to thissortof naivetethanalliance,exchange,or othermodes
of analysis.
A furtherpoint to be raised is the ready identification
by
several commentators
of systemsand functionalanalyses as
one and the same. While systemsepistemology
oftendoes informneo-functionalist
analyses,it need not. Systemsthinking
occursin manytheoretical
settingsquitedivorcedfromnarrowly functionalconcerns.Criticswho make the associationmentionedexpandthe notionof functionalism
to mean any examinationof the relationshipbetweenbeliefs or behaviorsand
environmental
conditionsor demographic
factors.By thatdefinition,nearlyall social scienceis functionalist.
This does not
deny the importanceof cognitive,symbolic,and semantic
studiesof myth,literature,
and mentallife per se. Rather,the
two modesare properlycomplementary.
Unlesswe are willing
to take the extremestance that causal investigations
of complex phenomenaare somehowimpure,the co-development
of
functionaland structuralanalyses,with or withoutsystems
seems assured.Since systemsmethods(for hisepistemology,
torical reasons in Westernsocieties) are readilyadapted to
broadlyfunctionalconcerns,this area has receivedmore attention.On the otherhand, studiesof symbolism,ritual,and
cognitionhave benefittedgreatlythroughinfusionsof cyberneticand information
theory.
The second categoryof critiquederivesfromthe antiquanHere again,the
titativebias of some culturalanthropologists.
quibble is more apparentthan real. Statisticalmethodsand
formalmathematical
modelingmayequallyas well generateas
test hypotheses.Seen holistically,
the researchprocessis both
inductiveand deductive.While purelydeductivestudiesmay
not satisfythe creativeappetitesof manyof us, if we do not
pursuethe hypothesesmotivatedby our theories,howeverelegantlyinduced,we will be saddled withuntriedspeculations.
Nor is deductivereasoningculture-bound.
Having read, admittedlyin translation,several Ming Dynasty philosophical
tracts, I am convincedthat deductive argumentis not a
uniquelyWesternmode of thought.
A morepragmaticpoint concernsthe realitiesof academic
life.Fundingagenciesincreasingly
preferhighlyspecificstudies
of a practicalnature.Our non-Westerncolleaguesare faced
withimmediateneeds forusefulinformation
to guide development.Systemsepistemology
is an integralpartof theplanning
process. Anthropologists
did not participateearly enoughin
T

-A

A.

IA,

Rodin, Mhichaelson,
and Britan:SYSTEMS

THEORY IN ANTHROPOLOGY

this enterprisein the West, and we, especiallyour poor, are


payingforit. Ideally,a balance can be struckbetweenthe requirementsof applied researchand the continuingneed for
theoreticaladvances.Withoutthelatter,planningin non-Western contextscan onlylead us to repeatour mistakes.

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