International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics

2nd Edition, as published by Charles François 2004 Presented by the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science Vienna for public access.


The International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics was first edited and published by the system scientist Charles François in 1997. The online version that is provided here was based on the 2nd edition in 2004. It was uploaded and gifted to the center by ASC president Michael Lissack in 2019; the BCSSS purchased the rights for the re-publication of this volume in 200?. In 2018, the original editor expressed his wish to pass on the stewardship over the maintenance and further development of the encyclopedia to the Bertalanffy Center. In the future, the BCSSS seeks to further develop the encyclopedia by open collaboration within the systems sciences. Until the center has found and been able to implement an adequate technical solution for this, the static website is made accessible for the benefit of public scholarship and education.



"A measure of the natural decay of the structure or of the disappearance of distinctions within the social system" (K. KRIPPENDORFF, 1986, p.70).

This concept is used by various authors. It must be however observed that it is mainly metaphoric. While phenomena of decay and destructuration are evident and frequent in social systems, they have really never been "measured". The concept should be refined and given a more precise content.

It is, notwithstanding, true that social systems ultimately subsist on energy inputs and produce entropy, as can be seen by their production of waste and the frequent degradation of their environment.

In more recent years, K.D. BAILEY (1990, and subsequent papers) expanded the scope of the social entropy concept, stating that "we clearly need a macrosociological systems theory that is broad enough to incorporate nonliving elements such as technology, along with living elements such as social organization"(1998, p. 6)

BAILEY proposes his social entropy theory (SET), including "six important and interrelated factors that are used by every society- large or small- in its everyday development", namely Population, Information, Space, Technology, Organization and Level of living (for which he stamped a vigorous acronym: PISTOL). Moreover, or one should say, to begin with, "each society utilizes energy… to adapt to its particular spatial environment".

"This involves doing work through both its available technology, and its particular level of organization". (Ibid)

As to entropy, according to Bailey, if the society is successful it can be controlled at acceptable levels, this allowing the society to maintain or even increase its level of living" (Ibid)

This corresponds obviously to PRIGOGINE's theorem of minimum entropy production and dissipative structuration in systems far from equilibrium.

In Bailey's model if the society is "unsuccessful for any reason (e.g. overpopulation, inadequate energy resources, faulty information processing, antiquated technology or bureaucratic pathology) then entropy may increase, perhaps to the point where the very future of the entire society is in doubt" (Ibid)

This apparently corresponds to a violation of the minimum entropy production theorem: the society squanders uselessly a considerable part of its energy's inputs.

On the other hand, Bailey's views are quite critical of T. PARSONS' ones, as this author based his social models on the concept of equilibrium, in a form that "precluded or blocked the effective analysis of social change in systems not characterized by equilibrium"(1996, p. 8)


  • 1) General information
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Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science(2020).

To cite this page, please use the following information:

Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]

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