Ecological Systems Theory Essay
This essay will identify the ecological systems theory, by one of few living theorists Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917 – Current) who the student believes that the theorist expresses his own intuitions and sociological reflections. The ecological systems theory’s places an “…emphases on the adaptive mechanisms by which social equilibrium is maintained, seeing these as an inevitable basis for social existence…” (Marshall, p.287, 1998). Bronfenbrenner’s sociological thinking incorporates wider environmental issues, which impinges on an individual’s social action, such as contextual systems of relationships that form one’s environmental structure. These environmental layers, which view humans as existing in constant reciprocity with their immediate environment, consist of a number of social landscapes, which comprise of four multiple spheres, known as the Micro, Meso, Exo and Macro systems.
Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory of development stresses the importance of understanding not only the relationship between the organism and various environmental systems, but the relations between such systems themselves (Hetherington, Parke and Schmuckler, 2002). The preceding definition clearly points out that the ecological systems theory is affiliated with the structural-functional theory, whereby its sociological functional perspective is to show that social institutions do contribute to the maintenance and survival of an individual’s social reality. To break down the definition further, the structure part of the definition holds the belief that behaviour and social actions are structured.
The theory for instance, explains how cultural values and norms differ from social structures within a particular environment. It relates with that of the structural-functional typology, which is popularized by one of major sociological figures known as Talcott Parsons (1902 –79). According to Marshall (1994), Parsons can be remembered for his mission to provide a fully integrated, abstract, and totalizing theory for sociology, and in addition generalizing concepts, which set out to describe the social system.
The main emphasis of the systems model holds the notion that societal structures regulate human behaviour and govern social relations. This can be incorporated into South Africa’s history of apartheid, with its racialised institutions of discrimination, and emphases on white domination. For example, the Population Registration Act of 1950 and the 1951 Bantu Authorities Act, holistically impinged on black people’s psychosocial development, compared to that of the minority ruling white population.
This then brings us to the first of Bronfenbrenner’s of five ecological levels of development within society. The microsystem, which is the smallest context directly experienced by an individual, consists of bi-directional relationships between the developing person and important figures such as primary caregivers, family members, friends, classmates and teachers (Hook et al, 2002). It is within this system that basic factors, comprising of patterns of activities such as roles and interpersonal relations, could the developing person experience, through their socialization process.
The second component of the ecological model consists of the mesosystem, which is concerned with the interaction between various settings within the microsystem. Bronfenbrenner cited in (Hook et al 2002) points that the mesosystem is a system of microsystem, which is formed whenever the developing person moves into a new setting (p.317). This practically consists of one’s relation and influences across settings, such as home and school, home and friendship groups, school and neighbourhood, to name a few. It could be argued that South Africa’s current mesosystem is largely a result of apartheid’s macro policies, which among others, enforced inferior education and discriminatory social security on black people.
Thirdly there’s the exosystem, which are one or more social settings or organizations beyond the individual’s immediate experience that nevertheless affects him or her. According to Bronfenbrenner cited in (Hook et al, 2002), the exosystem consists of formalized institutions such as the parent’s place of employment, one’s community and the local government. Indeed, these do have a significant impact on an individual, since major decisions do occur here, which could affect what happens to an individual and their development within this setting.
The macrosystem, which is known as the general or master model of a society, incorporates “…overarching institutional patterns of the culture or the sub-culture, of which micro, meso, exosystem are the concrete manifestations” (Bronfenbrenner, cited in Hook et al, 2002). The definition suggests that this system develops and implements cultural beliefs, ideologies, customs and policies, which exist in a particular society.
The last on the list of the ecological systems theory is the chronosystem, which encompasses the dimension of time as a fundamental influence on the direction of psychosocial development. This particular ecosystem relates to psychosocial development and socio-historical changes of an individual. Closely associated with this system is the Nature versus Nurture debate, which takes both the child’s biology and environment as a major role player in how an individual changes and grows during the life span.
The ecological systems theory simply helps the student to think and express his own intuitions on thinking sociologically. This is because its’ application on society helps one to understand how various, yet interrelated parts of society could impinge on an individual’s psychosocial development and social action. Applying such theory in a South African context and its legacy of the injustice past could be useful. This is with regards to understanding present issues facing majority of the black population in this country. One would have to understand that major issues such as high levels of unemployment, HIV/AIDS and poverty are all interlinked in relation to the ecological systems. Although in the case of unemployment, it could be understood as a problem associated with the macrosystem or the government’s inability to create jobs.
The impact or consequences of such, is serious since it influences all other sphere of social reality, thus pinpointing the interconnections and consequences of these interrelated micro, meso, exo and macro social spheres on society. To further support the notion above, the consequence of this macro role of apartheid influenced the microsystem, since the primary socialization agent such as the family, suffered as a result of exploitation of migrant laborers, forced removals and communities being constantly destabilized. This also saw family members being imprisoned, while others faced a life of exile, dismantling further South Africa’s family unit.
It’s through Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory of development, that today’s major societal issues and obviously the macro role of apartheid could be explained in terms of the interconnection and interrelatedness of these social spheres. Furthermore, the theory appeals to me in that it supports and relates to the sociological structural-functional typology. It is through this theory, that the student is able to express and articulate his own intuitions and sociological reflections.
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