Social structure  

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This page Social structure is part of the politics series.Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.
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This page Social structure is part of the politics series.
Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Social structure is a term frequently used in sociology and more specifically in social theory — yet rarely defined or clearly conceptualised (Jary and Jary 1991, Abercrombie et al 2000).

The term social structure, used in a general sense, refers to entities or groups in definite relation to each other, to relatively enduring patterns of behaviour and relationship within social systems, or to social institutions and norms becoming embedded into social systems in such a way that they shape the behaviour of actors within those social systems.

The notion of social structure as relationships between different entities or groups or as enduring and relatively stable patterns of relationship emphasises the idea that society is grouped into structurally related groups or sets of roles, with different functions, meanings or purposes. One example of social structure is 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.

The notion of structure as embedded institutions or norms that shape the actions of social agents is important, as structural determination may occur as the actions of people and organisations are guided partially by the underlying structures in the social system. This approach has been important in the academic literature with the rise of various forms of structuralism, and is important in the contemporary organisational context as organisation structure may determine an organisation's flexibity, capacity to change and many other factors, and is therefore an important issue to management.

Social structure may be seen to underly important social systems including the economic system, legal system, political system, cultural system, and others. Family, religion, law, economy and class are all social structures. The social system is the parent system of those various systems that are embedded in the social system.

History of the concept of social structure

The concept of social structure has a long history in the social sciences, going back for example to the functionalism of figures such as Herbert Spencer, the class structure analysis of Karl Marx, or the work of 19th century German sociologist Georg Simmel on social structure as abstract patterns underlying human interaction.

The notion of social structure has been extensively developed in the twentieth century, with key contributions from structuralist perspectives drawing on the structuralism of Levi-Strauss, Feminist or Marxist perspectives, from functionalist perspectives such as those developed by Talcott Parsons and his followers, or from a variety of analytic perspectives (see Blau 1975, Lopez and Scott 2000).

The notion of social structure is intimately related to a variety of central topics in social science, including the relation of structure and agency.

See also

Related theorists




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Social structure" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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