Identify and discuss the various elements of social structure.


Identify and discuss the various elements of social structure.

   6 elements of social structure.  Each of these will be treated in a separate objective.  For this objective you need to know what they are generally how they create social structure. 


Identify and discuss the various elements of social structure.


Social Structure Social structure makes life predictable.  We learn norms and then we learn how the norms fit together to tell us how to fill a social role.  Each social role has a specific position (status) in the social structure that we can match with some measure of importance compared to other statuses.  The statuses and their associated roles belong to social institutions.Social institutions exist to meet human needs.  They constructed of statuses that are filled by people who do the duties associated with that status.  The duties are defined by the norms of the roles.  For example cashier is the status within a retail institution.  The cashier works in a store, which is the organizational face of the retail as an institution.  The cashier is a person, but the individual who fills the status can’t act according to his own personality; instead he must follow norms for the status of cashier.  These norms constitute the social role or roles that must be filled when the person is a work, doing the job (status) of cashier.

Social institutions, statuses and social roles exist more or less independently of the real people who fill them.  Real people move through them according to the rules of the culture.  For example there are statuses associated with age (infant, toddler, child, preteen, teen, young adult, adult, middle aged, senior citizen, elderly, old) that we move through based on how many years we’ve been alive.  Another institution would have a different set of statuses and associated roles.  The work world might look like this:  dependent, worker, retiree.  Within a job we might be a cashier and have many different types of tasks (roles) to complete as part of the status, but we could get promoted and leave those behind in exchange of a new set of tasks and a new status.

Social networks and groups have statuses and roles associated with them but these social forms don’t usually have any existence separate from the individuals within them.  Think about the institution of family:  at its most basic it is parent and child, usually mother, father, child.  The statuses continue to exist even when there is no person to fill them.  So for example if one parent abandons the family that parental status continues to exist even though there is no one filling it.  What usually happens is that the roles associated with the missing parent are reassigned to the other parent or to a non-parent (or, sadly, sometimes to a child).

The group is the basic social form.  A social group is one in which the people within have contact with each other.  A social group is a form of social network.  There are different types of groups which sociologists differentiate by the kind and degree of contact the members have.

Social networks are chains of interactions that tie us together.  Facebook is a good example of a social network, and also of a virtual world. If we are on facebook we have contact with our “Friends”, but we can also see people we don’t know who are friends of friends and sometimes something we post makes it all the way to friends of friends of friends… people who we don’t know, but who know people we know!

View (virtual worlds)

Key Terms  
Define Statuses
  Social roles
  Social Networks
  Virtual worlds
  Social Institutions
  Social Structure
Evaluation Quiz 5.2
Additional resources  
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