1st Edition

Systems Theory for Social Work and the Helping Professions

    178 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    178 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

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    Social systems occur in many contexts of social work. This book provides an easy-to-read introduction to systems thinking for social workers who will encounter social problems in their professional practice or academic research. It offers new insights and fresh perspectives on this familiar topic and invites creative, critical, and empathetic thinking with a systems perspective.

    Through introducing systems theory as a problem-oriented approach for dealing with complex interpersonal relations and social systems, this book provides a framework for studying social relations. The authors present a strand of systems theory (inspired by sociologist Niklas Luhmann) that offers innovative, surprising, and practically relevant understandings of everyday social life, inclusion/exclusion, social problems, interventions, and society in general.

    Systems Theory for Social Work and the Helping Professions should be considered essential reading for all social work students taking modules on sociology and social policy as well as students of nursing, medicine, counselling, and occupational health and therapy.

    Preface to the Swedish original; Preface to the international version; Introduction; Outline of the book; Chapter 1. Communication.; What people often mean by "communication"; The transmission model and its shortcomings; The complexity of communication; What is emergence?; Communication as system; Systems theory, communication and causality; Metacommunication and the five axioms of communication; Pathological communication: the practical relevance of systems theory; Chapter 2. System and environment.; Interaction systems; Organisation systems; Differentiation of different system levels: interaction, organisation and society; Chapter 3. Modern society and functional differentiation.; A short history of societal differentiation; Societal differentiation by the classics of social science; The differentiation of society according to systems theory; What does "functional differentiation" actually mean?; Function systems: some examples; The difference between function systems and organisation systems; Organisations and interactions in the context of function systems; Polyphonic organisations; Chapter 4. Society and the human being. On inclusion and exclusion.; The concept "person"; The human being in modern society: multi-inclusion; No inclusion without exclusion; Inclusion, exclusion and the role of organisations; Exclusion as a problem; Social work as exclusion management; Chapter 5. Constructionism and realism.; Functional differentiation: a short recap; Toward a constructionism so radical that it is realist at the same time; Systems as observers; Realism and constructionism: realities of the first and second orders; Causality from a systems-theoretical perspective I: circularity; Causality from a systems-theoretical perspective II: causality as construction; Application case: teachers in a "blackboard jungle"; Chapter 6. Systems theory and social problems.; Systems theory and social problems: realism; Systems theory and social problems: constructionism; Illustration: suicide among people with mental illness as a social problem; Illustration: loneliness among older people as a social problem; Chapter 7. Intervention and steering.; Expectations structure systems; Political steering; Steering optimism or steering pessimism?; Steering of organisation systems; Case study; Chapter 8. Functions and latent problems, systemic criticism, and social work as a reflection theory.; Systems theory and the functional method; Illustration: the latent function of the Ethical Platform in healthcare priority-setting; Social criticism with systems theory; Social work research as a reflection theory of the help system; Conclusion; References; Index


    Werner Schirmer, PhD, holds a docent title in sociology from Uppsala University. He has worked at several universities in Germany, Sweden, the USA, and Belgium. Currently, he is working at the department of Sociology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, research group TOR. Schirmer has written several articles and book chapters applying systems theoretical thinking to topics such as interethnic relations, social work and social problems, inclusion/exclusion, respect and tolerance, international relations, priority setting in healthcare, and loneliness among older people. His current research focuses on the impact of digital technologies on social relations.

    Dimitris Michailakis, PhD, is Professor of Sociology and Chair Professor of Social Work. He is the author of several books and reports for national and international organisations. In his research, he mainly highlights two strongly correlated areas. The first area is political governance, with particular emphasis on how the welfare state has tried to control other social systems to become more responsive towards vulnerable groups. The second area is about modern society's strongest conflict, namely the one between a fundamental right to inclusion and a steadily increasing exclusion.