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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And within a church congregation exists a social structure that features established rituals and accepted behaviors.
He has explored incisively how America's crumbling social structure could bring about economic decline.
Economic Development, Social Structure and Population Growth.
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Using a model derived from Blau's theory of social structure, he constructs measures for six dimensions of social structure: regional, community, population, residential, economic, and occupational.
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There is widespread agreement that attention to social structure has declined in historical research over the past two decades, partly as a result of changes in the classic structures of industrial society and the decline of Marxism, partly as a result of the cultural turn.
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