Social structure

Social structure (also referred to as a social system) is a system of social relations. Social structure does not concerns itself with people - individuals forming the society or their social organisations, neither does it study who are the people/organisation forming it, or what is the ultimate goal of their relations. Social structure deals rather with the very structure of their relations - how are they organized in a patterns of relationships.

The concept of social structure was pioneered by 19th century German sociologist, Georg Simmel, who studied structure as an abstract concept.

Social structure presents an idea that society is grouped into structures with different functions, meanings or purposes. Family, religion, law, economy and class are all social structures. This is related to the idea of "social stratification," which refers to the idea that society is separated into different strata, according to social distinctions such as a race, class and gender. Social treatment of persons within various social structures can be understood as related to their placement within the various social strata.

For example, some argue that men and women who have otherwise equal qualifications receive different treatment in the workplace because of their gender. Others note that individuals are sometimes viewed as having different essential qualities based on their race and ethnicity, regardless of their individual qualities. When examined, these social distinctions are often considered stereotypes based on prejudice. However, these social distinctions often go unexamined because they appear to be the result of social structures rather than prejudice.

Some believe that social structure is naturally developed. It may be caused by larger system needs, such as the need for labor, management, professional and military classes, or by conflicts between groups, such as competition among political parties or among elites and masses. Others believe that this structuring is not a result of natural processes, but is socially constructed. It may be created by the power of elites who seek to retain their power, or by economic systems that place emphasis upon competition or cooperation.

Social structure can be divided into microstructure and macrostructure. Microstructure is the pattern of relations betwen most basic elements of social life, that cannot be further divided and have no social structure of their own (for example, pattern of relations between individuals in a group composed of individals - where individuals have no social structure, or a structure of organisations as a pattern of relations between social positions or social roles, where those positions and roles have no structure by themselves). Macrostructure is thus a kind of 'second level' structure, a pattern of relations between objects that have their own structure (for example, a political social structure between political parties, as political parties have their own social structure). Some special types of social structures that modern sociologist differentiate are relation structures (in family or larger family-like clan structures), communication structures (how information is passed in organisations) and sociometric structures (structures of sympathy, antypathy and indifference in organisations - this was studied by Jacob Moreno).

Sociologists also distinguish between:

Structures are important, as the actions of people and organisations are guided partially by the structural determination. Organisation structure determins its flexibity, capacity to change and many other factors, and is an important part of the management.

Social structure in the broader sense, known as social system can be viewed as a structure composed of the economic system, law system, political system, cultural system, etc. Thus social system is the parent system of those lower systems.

See also

Related ideas:

Related theorists:

pl:Struktura społeczna


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