General Systems Theory: Family

The general systems theory was proposed by a biologist known as Ludwig von Bertalanffy in the year 1928 and advanced by Lotfi Zadeh an academician at the University of Columbia. It has since undergone transformation and improvement to include biological systems that incorporate life of human beings. The theory explores the inter relationship between the several components of a system and in this case a family. The tenets of the general systems theory include energy, matter and information (Skyttner 2001).

The components of the systems theory are placed into three broad categories these are inputs, outputs and throughputs. The constituents of the input sections are producers, distributors, ingestors, boundaries and converters. In the family setting the parents perform the role of the producer as characterized by procreation and bringing forth children. The output refers to the transducers, encoder and memory, which determine the extent in which the materials brought into the family impact on its well-being. The environment acts as a throughput as seen in its role in providing other inputs necessary for the well being of the family it is also the foundation of other supplementary processes within the family. The effectiveness of such a process is evident in the quality of output.

The family has several functions the most common are socialization of children, economic cooperation, reproduction and social support. In order for it to attain the required status in the mentioned aspects there is need for the members to act in coordination with each other and with the environment. The systems theory highlights the need for the members of the family and the environment to perform the functions allocated to them. The absence or breakdown of a single part of the system leads to poor performance of the whole system. This therefore calls for the organization of the system to make it more interactive. This simplifies complex tasks.

The system theory can be applied within the context of the family with the aim of facilitating desired change. The logic behind such a process is that the faultless part of the family assists the faulty or struggling part in order to achieve the required level of performance. It is common knowledge that when members of a family do not perform tasks allocated to them by virtue of division of labor a family break up becomes inevitable. This is also the case when the environment fails to provide supportive role to the family. The systems theory therefore tries to make the members of the family supplement and compliment each other with the environment playing a supporting role.

The family systems theory is a useful tool in illuminating the nature and features of the Obama family. The theory highlights the family as a unit which shares a common history, are emotionally bound and develop clear strategies to meet the needs of each family member. The members of the Obama family especially Michelle and Barrack share a common history in regard to their educational process, social life and to a lesser extent family life. The Children are emotionally bound to the parents and to each other this is also the case with the parents thus portraying the extent in which love influences the relationships and family life. The patterns of interactions between the family members is an important aspect of the family systems theory as it determines the strategies utilized to meet the psychological, social, emotional and physical needs. It is evident in the Obama family that the role of provision and guidance which eventually leads to the well-being of family members is achieved through concerted efforts. In as much as Barrack and Michelle provide for Sasha and Malia it is evident during the campaign for the presidency of the United States that the girls were instrumental in providing emotional support to the father. This highlights the tenets of the family systems theory.


Skyttner, l. (2001). General systems theory: ideas & applications. World scientific publishers.

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