Getzel's Social Systems Theory

by Lee Flamand

J.W. Getzels was a professor of education at the University of Chicago. His work on social systems applied primarily to institutions and the role of administration, and to educational administration in particular. Getzels sought to explain the structure of institutions, how institutions functioned, and to discern from these insights the important functions and roles of administration.

Hierarchy

According to Getzels, a social system can be defined in part by its institutions. These institutions can then be defined by the ends that they serve. Ends determine the specific tasks that an institution must accomplish, which are then paired with particular roles. These roles range from leaders and administrators, who are given authority and perform tasks, down to other levels of functionaries who perform tasks and may or may not have authority over others.

Institutions

Institutions have several features. They are purposful, in that they carry out means towards ends. They are peopled, structured, and normative, meaning that certain roles exist with a set of expectations within the organization of the institution, and the people filling those roles are obliged to meet those expectations. If not, they are held subject to sanctions.

Actors/People

The individuals who fill the roles designated by institutions are both actors, in that they fulfill the role they are assigned, and people, in that they have specific personalities, styles of working, needs and dispositions. One can say that a person feels that she "belongs" in a role when it is felt that fulfilling the expectations of her roles aligns well with her personal dispositions.

Role of Administrators

An administrator's task is, in part, to negotiate between the demands of the institutions and the demands of the individual staff members who people the institution, so that the institution is productive and the people are fulfilled. Administrators also function as leaders, in that they prescribe roles to actors and make sure that people live up to their expectations.

Social Behavior

Social behavior is considered the interaction between an individual's role and his or her personality and disposition. The mediation between these two factors is reflected in an individual's style of working.

References

  • Social Behavior and the Administration Process, J. W. Getzels and E. G. Guba, 1957, The University of Chicago Press

About the Author

Lee Flamand holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California at Berkeley. A committed generalist, he writes on various topics. He currently resides, works and studies in Berlin, Germany.

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