social structure

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Related to social structure: social stratification

social structure

  1. any relatively enduring pattern or interrelationship of social elements, e.g. the CLASS structure.
  2. the more or less enduring pattern of social arrangements within a particular society group, or social organization, e.g. the 'social structure of Great Britain’.
No single agreed concept of social structure exists in sociology, despite its widespread usage. The definition employed depends upon the theoretical perspective within which the concept is used. For example, Herbert SPENCER was interested in showing how social structure, conceived as analogous with, if not identical to, a biological organism, became increasingly differentiated and more specialized as the result of'social evolution’. MARX, on the other hand, stressed the overriding importance of the basis (or infrastructure) and the more or less dependent superstructure, as the two main components of social structure.

In general, disagreement exists as to whether the most decisive elements of social structure consist of the 'surface’ rules, roles and social institutions (e.g. PARSONS, 1951, or Nadel, 1957), or whether these arise from mechanisms and processes which are hidden from view but which underpin social life, as for MARX or for LÉVI-STRAUSS (see also STRUCTURE, STRUCTURALISM).

Whilst a focus on the interrelation of social parts – and hence 'structural’ thinking – can be seen as one of the defining features of sociology, numerous reservations exist about the uses to which the concept of social structure is put.

Disagreement and debate about the role of structural thinking in sociology derives from the differences of degree, if not of kind, which would seem to exist between the types of structures that exist in the physical and the biological world and social structures. Reservations exist particularly about the appropriateness of mechanical and biological analogies and the use of conceptions of HOMEOSTASIS, FUNCTION, SOCIAL SYSTEM as well as conceptions of TELEOLOGY in sociology (see FUNCTIONALISM).

The fact is that social structures do not possess the relatively clear-cut ‘boundaries’ in time and space of many physical and most biological structures, nor do they possess the precisely identifiable tendencies to homeostasis possessed by organic structures.

Reservations about structural thinking exist particularly in connection with functionalist thinking, but the identification of the ‘essential’ or central features of particular social structures, or types of social structure, is often controversial whether or not functional thinking is involved.

Social Structure


(in Russian, sotsial’naia struktura), the network of stable and regularized relations between elements of a social system, determined by the relations between classes and other social groups, the division of labor, and the nature of the social system’s institutions. A distinction is made between the social structure of society as a whole, which comprises all social relations, and the social structure of society’s subsystems and spheres, such as production, politics, science, and culture.

Marxism-Leninism posits that economic relations (structure) determine all other social structures but emphasizes that the other social structures have an important effect on economic relations. A society’s class structure is of utmost importance. The requirements of public management necessitate the study of the social structure of the population in terms of other components, for example, occupation, nationality, sex, age, and culture.

References in periodicals archive ?
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The consequence is further desensitization to excesses of authority and acceptance of a social structure in which the desires of public servants are treated as the unquestioned commands of public masters.
3) I take issue with this position, as well as the dominant hermeneutic rendered by the interpretive communities in support of maintaining a hegemonic social structure, (4) with the requisite "hard" demarcations of class.
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Portraits Of The Bison: An Illustrated Guide To Bison Society by Wes Olson (Senior Warden, Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada) is an informed and informative introduction to the history, social structure, and life cycle of bison enhanced with anatomical illustrations as well as the color photography y Johane Janelle.
An actor's network is the social structure in which he or she is embedded.
Computer-mediated distance education classes have a distinctive social structure unlike those found in a face-to-face class.
Some in Europe felt that his talk of equality and freedom threatened the social structure.
Occupations in nursing, social work and physiotherapy continue to be female dominated, and to understand this phenomenon better, one needs to understand the social structure of women in the workforce, says Heap.