What is a social system?

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The best way to categorize the word system, to define it, is to see it as a choreography.

In the case of a social system, it is a collective behavioral choreography brought forward by the various processes used to attain a goal.

To better understand how social system evolves we first need to look at social constructions which help us communicate and co-operate.

Social Construction

Social construction is a process by which the use of words to communicate and cooperative actions to cooperate spread and is adopted by others.

Social constructions are all around us and we use them each second of our lives to think, to communicate and cooperate with others. The more we use a word or an action, the stronger the social construction.


Language is the result of a process where someone creates a link between a word and an object, a concept, an emotion, a person, a place, etc., and then shares it with others. As they learn this word and share it with others, its degree of adoption increases and the strength of the social construction increases as well.

When a new word emerges it is difficult, but not impossible, for the new word to get enough traction and replace an older word that is already used by people.

Cooperative Actions

A cooperative action first emerges when a new idea arises in our mind. Once we attach a goal, an objective as well as identify the resources and the processes that we need to use, then we are ready to share it with others by using language. As they start to learn the processes and start using it starts to be a social construction. As with words, the more the action is spread and adopted, the stronger the social construction is.

Hence to cooperate we need to use language and we need to understand the goal, the objectives, the resources that we can use and the process we need to follow to achieve the goal.

Collective Behavioral Choreography

A social system starts to appear when the cooperative actions are learned, repeated and shared. As the number of people that are learning, repeating and sharing these cooperative actions increase, a collective behavioral choreography starts to take form. The more people are participating the bigger the choreography is.

Visible Behavioral Choreography

One example of a collective choreography that is easy to see is traffic. If we could capture from high above, the daily movements of motorists and replay the movie on fast forward, we could see the choreography that is repeated every week and every year.

For example, we would see that every day of the week, traffic starts around 6h30 AM and  ends at around 9 AM. It starts again in the opposite direction around 3PM and ends around 6PM. During the middle of the night, there is almost no traffic. On the week end, it’s usually easier. Hence if we compare one week with another week, we would see basically the same choreography.

On a yearly basis, we would see that the week and the weekend patterns repeat week after week, but we would also see the vacation patterns as well. During the summer months we see an increase in the fluidity of the traffic because school is out (schools, colleges and universities) which means students and teachers are on vacation. Add to this the fact that many people take 2, 3, 4 and even 5 or 6 weeks of vacation, and you see how it affects traffics.  

Invisible Behavioral Choreography

Unfortunately, we don’t see most of the collective choreography that happens because they take place inside buildings and sometime in several buildings in different cities, but they do take place.

Everywhere people follow processes and use the available resources to achieve the various objectives they need to achieve so that their organization, attain its goal.

Whether it is to help young people to learn new knowledge and develop skills, help people be healthy again, to go from one place to another, to get food, etc., people are performing tasks to help achieve the goal of their organizations and that creates a collective behavioral choreography or a social system, which most people call just “the system.”


A social system, be it economic, politic, cultural, organizational, which most people call ‘a system” is the result of a collaborative action which is learned, repeated and shared. As the collaborative action spreads and is adopted by other people, it becomes a social construction. As the social construction becomes stronger it forms a collective behavioral choreography.

Viewing a social system as a collective behavioral choreography is important. It presupposes that we understand that this choreography is the results of learned, shared and repeated behaviors. It also assumes that we recognize that these behaviors are brought forward by the processes that are put in place in order to help us achieve our goal.

This knowledge is important for managers because it helps us understand that to change a social system, be it economic, politic, cultural, organizational, etc., we need to change the behaviors. And, because these behaviors are brought forward by the processes, the resources, the objectives and the goal, then if we want to change the behavior, we must change either the processes, the resources used, the objectives to be achieved, the goal to be achieved, or a mixture of these.

Denis Pageau

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