The world we live in today is governed by different sets of rules and regulations almost everywhere we turn. From when and how we brush our teeth, to how we drive our cars, our world is in a way, very predictable. This is all due to the social structure that resides in our society and holds together everything in place. Social structure is the mainframe of how and why we do the things that we do every day of our lives. Without it, humanity would be in complete chaos, and anarchy would take control. The social structure guides us to do our everyday tasks but also gives us direction in how we should perform those tasks. It is divided into smaller elements that have different tasks and functions in the bigger picture.
The social structure today has 4 main components: status, roles, groups, and institutions. Each one of these components plays out a different action in how we behave within the main framework that is being created. The statuses we have are basically positions that we occupy in society and are associated with particular rights and obligations (Elements). Each status that we are defined by comes with a set of expectations that define our identity (Mooney). These statuses can be either achieved or ascribed. Achieved statuses are ones that we usually have control over and are able to direct where they go (Ferris 141). Examples of these types of achieved statuses can be seen every day in almost any environment. From people that have become doctors, to people who are now parents, achieved statuses are usually earned by hard work and diligence. This is not always the case in negative statuses such as convicts and felons.
The other type of status, ascribed, is one that you are usually born into and can be very hard to change (Ferris 142). Examples of this are a person’s race, cultural background, and sexuality. In society today, people have numerous statuses which are a combination of both ascribed and achieved, but there is always one status that is considered the master status. It is the status that most people view an individual by, and is considered the one that overrides all other statuses (Ferris 142). This master status is usually in some way related to a person’s occupation (Mooney). If you are a full-time student and a son, then you would be considered as a “student” in society, and if you are a law enforcement agent as well as a father, you would most likely be viewed as a “cop” rather than a father. These statuses that we occupy every day of our lives are accompanied by certain actions that we must perform in order to keep those statuses.
Statuses come with a set of obligations and expectations that define that certain status and the behaviours and actions that must be presented with each one are called social roles (Elements). These roles guide our behaviours and help us predict the behaviours of people around us. For example, as a student, I am expected to listen and take notes in class, take tests, and study at home. These are the roles that are associated with having a status of a student. All of these roles that are attached to a single status are considered to be a role set (Mooney). By being a student I can also predict certain things from my teachers who must act their roles of teachers. Because I know what the role of a teacher involves, I can predict that my teacher will lecture, give exams, and assign homework. These real-life examples can be seen every day of our lives, and are the basis for the way of how our society functions as a whole. When multiple roles collide, role conflict occurs and presents a dilemma to the individual (Ferris 142).
For instance, if a student has to go to work for an emergency, he is faced with the decision of whether to study for the next day’s exam or go to work and not risk being fired. These decisions that we make help build who we are and our identity in society. Certain roles can be hard to accomplish and may result in role strain. Role strain occurs in occasions where there are contradictory “expectations with the same role “(Ferris 142). This can happen in parenting when a parent is forced to either discipline a child or nurture it. The same concept can be seen in work environments when bosses are faced to discipline co-workers even though they might be close friends. Sometimes, people are also forced to perform role exits when they no longer need to fulfill a certain status. A student that has graduated from college has no longer the status of a student, but of a worker in society.
Status changes result in role changes, and these roles and statuses help shape our individual identities and who we are in our society today. Social structure has another basic block that combines these individuals with their statuses into one united form. Social groups are defined as “two or more people who have a common identity, interact, and form a social relationship” (Mooney). These groups are just as important to society, as the individual person is. Groups can be seen everywhere and all the time. From families to soccer teams, groups are an inevitable part of our social structure. Primary groups are comprised of the people who are most important to a person and have ongoing “face-to-face” interactions which contribute to a strong sense of belonging and attachment (Ferris 152). An example of this type of group is the family, in which people are blood-related and function together in unity on a daily basis.
Close friends can also be considered a part of this group, even though other people can be in it as well. On the other hand, secondary groups are larger, less intimate groups that are usually formed around a specific activity or formed in order to accomplish a specific task (Ferris 153). From a macro-sociological perspective, through these groups, individuals can form a new sense of identity and status, which in turn helps them become more productive members of society. This helps strengthen society as a whole by creating more social cohesion. When people feel part of a group, they feel a sense of belonging and identity which helps the individual build a stronger personality and also a larger social network. This social network ties people directly and indirectly and forms stronger bonds between the individuals (Ferris 153). Groups are also directly tied to the last structure block in our society.
Institutions are establishments in our social structure that govern our behaviours and actions through a system that has standardized patterns of rules and regulations (Elements). The main five institutions in our society are family, religion, politics, economics, and education (Mooney). Each one of those institutes provides a specific concept that is followed by the majority of the population and results in an organized and structured society. These social concepts and practices involve members of society by having them follow these regulations and rules in order to maintain peace. For example, if a member of society chooses to go against the institution of law and commit a crime, he/she puts himself at risk of being detained and sentenced to do jail time. Unlike this example, most people do follow the rules and conducts of these institutions and are rewarded for it.
These significant factors in a society’s identity are important for understanding the society and integration into the society. An outsider normally has to become aware of these social institutions to gain acceptance and credibility in the host society (Mooney). That is why learning how these institutions function and the guidelines that they provide are crucial to having a strong place in society. The way we present ourselves to others almost always involves some kind of acting and/or presentations. Based on the teachings of Erving Goffman, the dramaturgical approach to life has been greatly valued by sociologists and people today (Ferris 131). It involves a way of perceiving things as if all people are in a way, “acting”. Everyone goes on through their day and acts upon the roles to which they have attached a certain status without realizing that they are constantly sending out messages and trying to impress the people around them. Goffman called this impression management (Ferris 31). It is a way of viewing the world and society as a movie set, and the people that are involved in this movie are just mere actors.
Although unorthodox, this perspective makes a lot of sense when everyday situations are presented, and the way people behave is analyzed. Most people do not act the same in a working environment as they do at home or when they are with friends or family. This front that people put for different occasions varies from situation to situation and from group to group. This exact way of thinking explains why people behave the way they do when they are acting upon different roles and statuses. To sum up, it is notable that these social structures exist for the good of all people regardless the gender, colour of the body, sex among other personal attributes. It is through these exact building blocks that society develops well-behaved and intelligent citizens, thereby giving hope for the future. Each different culture varies its importance on certain aspects of society, but as a whole, all these structures can be seen in every society around the world and are vital to the existence of mankind.
- “Elements of Society: Social Structure.” SparkNotes.com. Web. 18 Mar. 2012.
- Ferris, Kerry, and Jill Stein. The Real World an Introduction to Sociology. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2010. Print
- Mooney, L. A., Knox, D., & Schacht, C. Understanding Social Problems. 2nd ed. Cincinnati, OH: Wadsworth. (2000). Online