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A critique of David Easton’s
Systems Theory
Blessing Mataka
MSc International Relations (2010, UZ)
BSc Honours Political Science (2008, UZ)
Email: matakab@gmail.com
---------------------------------------------------------
Graduate Teaching Assistant (1 year)
Deputy Manager –Industrial Relations (4 years)
Lecturer -Part-time (3 years)
Lecturer Full-time (2 years)
Outline
1. Introduction
2. System theories
3. What is a system
4. Levels of the political system
5. David Easton Model
6. Key Assumptions
7. Analysis of the Model
8. Critic of the Model
System theories
• As far as system theory is concerned, the political
system - like other systems such as the economic
system - represents a subsystem.
• What makes the political system so special is that
it is in this system that "authoritative allocation of
values" are made or authoritative value
assignments are made = decisions that are binding
for all.
What is a System
A system is a collection of ELEMENTS that are
related to each other by some PATTERN of behaviour
and actions
The purpose of a political system is to convert inputs
(demands and support) into outputs (decisions)
The boundary of the system determines what is system
and what is not, that is, what actions are political and
what actions are not. Actions that are political are
inside the system (endogenous)
The environment depicts all actions and conditions
that are not POLITICAL (exogenous)
Levels of the political system
• State
A permanent structure of political entity with legitimate use of
coercion over the territory and population. Governments
succeed one another or regimes come and go, while the state
usually stays.
• Regime
Fundamental principles, norms, rules of the political
institutions of the state within which government operates. A
regime is a more permanent organization of power than
specific governments. Governments may come and go while
the regime may remain in place.
• Government
A collection of offices in a political system filled by office
holders who play various roles in the political process.
The David Easton Model
• System theory is almost synonymous with the name of
David Easton, who published his theoretic works on
political models in three volumes - "The Political
System" (1964), "A Framework for Political Analysis"
(1965) and most importantly "A Systems Analysis of
Political Life" (1979).
• At the center of his work was the question as to how
political systems manage to remain firm in a world full
of instability and change. To answer this question, he
believes that it is necessary to examine the way in which
the political system interacts with the environment
within society and outside of society.
Easton constructed an empirically oriented general theory of
politics that defined the kinds of functions and characteristics
of any political system through a systematic framework for
political analysis. He examines “the basic processes through
which a political system, regardless of genetic and specific
type, is able to persist as a system of behaviour in a world
either of stability and change.
Therefore, System theory of David Easton based on
conception of political phenomena as a “system of
interrelated and reciprocally regulated patterns of actions and
orientation, pattern that cluster together in equilibrium and that
have certain needs of maintenance and survival.
The Key Assumption
• The key assumption built into this definition is
that in every society people have different values
such as interests, objectives, desires, resources,
and these must be authoritatively allocated or
distributed in a conflict situation (scarcity vs.
incompatible goals).
• “How is this done” or “how are values
distributed,” or in Lasswell’s classic phrase,
“Who gets What, When, and How?” becomes the
basic question of politics and the main task of any
political system.
Inputs
Ways in which average citizens and groups engage
in political life
Can support or place demands on the state
Demands have their birth in two sectors of
experience: either in the environment of a system
or within the system itself.
Support - is fed into the political system in
relation to three objects: the community, the
regime, and the government.
Examples: Electoral system, political parties,
Interest groups
The Political System
The structure of the political institutions and the
values, skills and personalities of the leaders
Filtering of demands by the ‘gate-keepers’ in the
political system in order to avoid systems
overload
Common comparison study political systems for
instance between Parliamentary systems and
Presidential systems
Examples: British system viz a vis the Zambian
Sytem
Output
Regulates behaviour and distributes resources
through
Policies
Plans
Programmes; and
Projects
The decisions from the political system addresses
political, legal, social and economic aspects of a
local, regional and international character
(foreign affairs)
Feedback
People find out about public policy and react to it
through news, social media, interaction with
public interest groups etc
Feedback can either be positive or negative.
Positive feedback signals a need to seek or
increase input as well as amplify deviation from
a predetermined norm.
Negative feedback indicates the need to cut off or
reduce inputs
Environment
Everything outside the political system has an
influence on the inputs, decision making process,
output and feedback
Political factors include government regulations and
legal issues and define both formal and informal
rules under which the firm must operate. Some
examples include: tax policy, employment laws and
trade restrictions and tariffs
Economic factors affect the daily lives of citizens
and operations of the government. These include
interest rates, exchange rates and inflation rate.
Environment cont..
Social factors include the demographic, health
consciousness and cultural aspects of the external
macro-environment.
Technological factors can lower barriers to entry,
reduce minimum efficient production levels, and
influence outsourcing decisions. Some
technological factors include automation,
technology incentives and rate of technological
change
Critiques of Easton’s Model
Easton claims to create a “general theory” but he
really succeeded in describing or defining the
political system
Black box view of politics
Not clear of how conversion inside the box
operates
Assumes politics is ordered and complete
Too mechanical and rigid, not dynamic
Ideologically the system model is too western and
applies mainly to mature and stable democracies
“Which comes first, the chicken or the
egg?” An Old Philosopher, Jusepe de
Ribera (1652)
The End
Thank You

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systems theory

  • 1. A critique of David Easton’s Systems Theory Blessing Mataka MSc International Relations (2010, UZ) BSc Honours Political Science (2008, UZ) Email: matakab@gmail.com --------------------------------------------------------- Graduate Teaching Assistant (1 year) Deputy Manager –Industrial Relations (4 years) Lecturer -Part-time (3 years) Lecturer Full-time (2 years)
  • 2. Outline 1. Introduction 2. System theories 3. What is a system 4. Levels of the political system 5. David Easton Model 6. Key Assumptions 7. Analysis of the Model 8. Critic of the Model
  • 3. System theories • As far as system theory is concerned, the political system - like other systems such as the economic system - represents a subsystem. • What makes the political system so special is that it is in this system that "authoritative allocation of values" are made or authoritative value assignments are made = decisions that are binding for all.
  • 4. What is a System A system is a collection of ELEMENTS that are related to each other by some PATTERN of behaviour and actions The purpose of a political system is to convert inputs (demands and support) into outputs (decisions) The boundary of the system determines what is system and what is not, that is, what actions are political and what actions are not. Actions that are political are inside the system (endogenous) The environment depicts all actions and conditions that are not POLITICAL (exogenous)
  • 5. Levels of the political system • State A permanent structure of political entity with legitimate use of coercion over the territory and population. Governments succeed one another or regimes come and go, while the state usually stays. • Regime Fundamental principles, norms, rules of the political institutions of the state within which government operates. A regime is a more permanent organization of power than specific governments. Governments may come and go while the regime may remain in place. • Government A collection of offices in a political system filled by office holders who play various roles in the political process.
  • 6. The David Easton Model • System theory is almost synonymous with the name of David Easton, who published his theoretic works on political models in three volumes - "The Political System" (1964), "A Framework for Political Analysis" (1965) and most importantly "A Systems Analysis of Political Life" (1979). • At the center of his work was the question as to how political systems manage to remain firm in a world full of instability and change. To answer this question, he believes that it is necessary to examine the way in which the political system interacts with the environment within society and outside of society.
  • 7. Easton constructed an empirically oriented general theory of politics that defined the kinds of functions and characteristics of any political system through a systematic framework for political analysis. He examines “the basic processes through which a political system, regardless of genetic and specific type, is able to persist as a system of behaviour in a world either of stability and change. Therefore, System theory of David Easton based on conception of political phenomena as a “system of interrelated and reciprocally regulated patterns of actions and orientation, pattern that cluster together in equilibrium and that have certain needs of maintenance and survival.
  • 8. The Key Assumption • The key assumption built into this definition is that in every society people have different values such as interests, objectives, desires, resources, and these must be authoritatively allocated or distributed in a conflict situation (scarcity vs. incompatible goals). • “How is this done” or “how are values distributed,” or in Lasswell’s classic phrase, “Who gets What, When, and How?” becomes the basic question of politics and the main task of any political system.
  • 9.
  • 10. Inputs Ways in which average citizens and groups engage in political life Can support or place demands on the state Demands have their birth in two sectors of experience: either in the environment of a system or within the system itself. Support - is fed into the political system in relation to three objects: the community, the regime, and the government. Examples: Electoral system, political parties, Interest groups
  • 11. The Political System The structure of the political institutions and the values, skills and personalities of the leaders Filtering of demands by the ‘gate-keepers’ in the political system in order to avoid systems overload Common comparison study political systems for instance between Parliamentary systems and Presidential systems Examples: British system viz a vis the Zambian Sytem
  • 12. Output Regulates behaviour and distributes resources through Policies Plans Programmes; and Projects The decisions from the political system addresses political, legal, social and economic aspects of a local, regional and international character (foreign affairs)
  • 13. Feedback People find out about public policy and react to it through news, social media, interaction with public interest groups etc Feedback can either be positive or negative. Positive feedback signals a need to seek or increase input as well as amplify deviation from a predetermined norm. Negative feedback indicates the need to cut off or reduce inputs
  • 14. Environment Everything outside the political system has an influence on the inputs, decision making process, output and feedback Political factors include government regulations and legal issues and define both formal and informal rules under which the firm must operate. Some examples include: tax policy, employment laws and trade restrictions and tariffs Economic factors affect the daily lives of citizens and operations of the government. These include interest rates, exchange rates and inflation rate.
  • 15. Environment cont.. Social factors include the demographic, health consciousness and cultural aspects of the external macro-environment. Technological factors can lower barriers to entry, reduce minimum efficient production levels, and influence outsourcing decisions. Some technological factors include automation, technology incentives and rate of technological change
  • 16. Critiques of Easton’s Model Easton claims to create a “general theory” but he really succeeded in describing or defining the political system Black box view of politics Not clear of how conversion inside the box operates Assumes politics is ordered and complete Too mechanical and rigid, not dynamic Ideologically the system model is too western and applies mainly to mature and stable democracies
  • 17. “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” An Old Philosopher, Jusepe de Ribera (1652)