Systems Theory has generated a lot of excitement in the last decade. It has also spawned more than its share of pitchmen, enough so that it is in danger of being discredited before its genuine potential in many fields of practice has been fairly tested. Wearing the double halo of Science and Corporate Efficiency conferred by its association with the aerospace industry and the Pentagon, it has been enthusiastically offered to Federal and State governments (Chartrand, 1971; Hoos, 1969 & 1972) as well as private individuals and organizations as a way of solving complex social problems like mass transit, crime, and welfare dependency. As with any situation where expectations are raised (at high cost in contract fees) and then left unfulfilled, the reaction may indict basic ideas and intemperate applications alike.

Let us, then, look more closely at the history and logic of systems theory and try to assess its strengths and weaknesses as a guide to social work practice. Remembering Gross' admonition, we must be tolerant of the confusion and error that are part of the ferment of innovative thinking and yet wary of its intoxication. To change the metaphor from food to drink: Getting too high makes one a dangerous driver and an easy mark. This is, after all, the practitioner's special problem. He or she must deal daily with the lives of real people, not imaginative constructs. After a yeasty session with intoxicating ideas, theorists can always sit in the back seat and sing; but the practitioner is the one who has to get behind the wheel and drive safely home.

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