Socio-technical system

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The work system as a socio-technical system

A socio-technical system is understood to be an organized set of people and technologies linked to them, which are structured in a certain way in order to produce a specific result. It is a special case of a complex adaptive system . The behavior of such systems differs from the behavior of socio-ecological systems .


The term "socio-technical system" (English: sociotechnical systems ) goes to research by the London Tavistock Institute (among others in the British coal industry ) in the 1950s, back (Trist & Bamforth, 1951). Frederick Edmund Emery and Eric Lansdown Trist are often cited as the fathers of this term . One finding derived from their research is: "In general, management needs to understand that the success of the company depends on how it works as a socio-technical system - not simply as a technical system with replaceable individuals that have to be added and adapted" ( Emery, Thorsrud & Trist 1964).

Basic components of a socio-technical system

A socio-technical system consists of two components (subsystems):

The sub-systems cannot be separated from one another, but there are differently shaped dependencies.

Both subsystems benefit from the togetherness in the socio-technical system in that human communication and human-machine interactions mutually refer to and support each other:

  • In the social sub-component, the identity, the self-image and the ability to describe oneself are improved.
  • The continued existence and further development of the technical subcomponent is ensured by the dependence on the social system.

System theoretical considerations

The special position of the socio-technical system approach in relation to systems theory

The underlying understanding of social systems is based on Luhmann's system-theoretical approach . The description of social systems as autopoietic and thus operationally closed units is of particular importance .

The use of the term by Günter Ropohl does not follow Luhmann's view since the 1970s:

“A computer only becomes a real computer when it has become part of a human-machine unit. When text is written, it is not only the person who does it, but it is also not only the computer that writes the text; only the working unit of man and computer brings word processing to bear. Since, of course, the work of other people is always embodied in the computer used, since the human-machine unit is not only formed by the individual user, but is also shaped by other people, I call it a socio-technical system . "

- Günter Ropohl 2009

In contrast to Luhmann's sociological distinction between technology and social structures, which focuses on the possibility of domination , Ropohl's technical-philosophical approach follows the question of the explicit and implicit power of technology, especially in the field of work and industrial production , as already posed by Karl Marx .

In contrast to purely technical systems, which are viewed as deterministic , socio- technical systems can also be non-deterministic due to the involvement of social components.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Günter Ropohl: Allgemeine Technologie , 3rd, revised. Ed., Karlsruhe 2009, pp. 58–59.


  • C. West Churchman : Systems Approach. New York 1968 ( German  introduction to systems analysis ).
  • Günter Ropohl : Eine Systemsheorie der Technik , 1979, 2nd ed. And title Allgemeine Technologie . Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich Vienna 1999 ISBN 3-446-19606-4 . 3rd edition Karlsruhe 2009.
  • Sydow, Jörg (1985): The socio-technical approach to work and organizational design . Frankfurt: Campus.
  • Trist, Eric & Bamforth, Ken (1951): Some social and psychological consequences of the long wall method of coal getting . Human Relations, 4, pp. 3-38.