Social structure is at the center of analysis. Social structure is at the center of analysis



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Social structure is at the center of analysis.

  • Social structure is at the center of analysis.

  • social institutions, collectively forming a social structure, function to maintain the harmony of the social whole


Robert Merton: Looking at any social institution in the light of what contribution it makes to uphold the social order.

  • Robert Merton: Looking at any social institution in the light of what contribution it makes to uphold the social order.

  • ''self-fulfilling prophecy'' - 1st applied to the sociological problem of discrimination. 

  • Theories of the middle range

    • “fills in the blanks” between empiricism and all-inclusive theory
    • Influenced by Weber and Durkheim


Merton criticized both strict empiricism, which stresses solely on the collection of data without any attention to a theory, and the abstract theorizing of scholars who were engaged in the attempt to construct a total theoretical system covering all aspects of social life—in other words the "grand theory." With the introduction of the middle range theory, he advocated concentrating on measurable pieces of social life. He conceded that when they matured, as natural sciences already had, the body of middle range theories would converge into a system of universal laws, but he concluded that until that time the social sciences should give priority to middle range theories.

  • Merton criticized both strict empiricism, which stresses solely on the collection of data without any attention to a theory, and the abstract theorizing of scholars who were engaged in the attempt to construct a total theoretical system covering all aspects of social life—in other words the "grand theory." With the introduction of the middle range theory, he advocated concentrating on measurable pieces of social life. He conceded that when they matured, as natural sciences already had, the body of middle range theories would converge into a system of universal laws, but he concluded that until that time the social sciences should give priority to middle range theories.



Role-Set Theory: Begins with the concept that each social status involves not a single associated role, but an array of roles.

  • Role-Set Theory: Begins with the concept that each social status involves not a single associated role, but an array of roles.

  • Role-Set raises the general but definite problem of identifying the social mechanisms

  • Illustrates another aspect of sociological theories of the middle range.

  • Frequently consistent with a variety of so-called systems of sociological theory: Marxist Theory, functional analysis



Durkheim’s two level analysis: how the surface of our beliefs and actions is determined by the structural basis below.

  • Durkheim’s two level analysis: how the surface of our beliefs and actions is determined by the structural basis below.

  • Merton: manifest functions- results that people consciously try to attain

  • Latent functions: produced by the action of the social system itself.

    • Merton sees attention to latent functions as increasing understanding of greater society in going beyond individuals’ motivation


Machine politics: centralized machine organizations appeared in American cities because local government, organized on the principle of separation of powers, proved too weak and fragmented to meet the "latent" needs of urban society.

  • Machine politics: centralized machine organizations appeared in American cities because local government, organized on the principle of separation of powers, proved too weak and fragmented to meet the "latent" needs of urban society.

  • Under the constitutional framework of American political organization, political power is dispersed and the growth of leadership is discouraged.



Corrupt “machine politics” resisted all efforts of reformers to clean it up, because it served certain implicit functions for ordinary people who benefit from the machine more than they do from official bureaucracy espoused by the reformers.

  • Corrupt “machine politics” resisted all efforts of reformers to clean it up, because it served certain implicit functions for ordinary people who benefit from the machine more than they do from official bureaucracy espoused by the reformers.

  • The "deprived classes“ constitute one subgroup for whom the political machine satisfies wants not adequately satisfied in the same fashion by the legit. structure.

  • Also businessmen



An official view of what is a social problem is really one group’s viewpoint, whereas other people involved actually benefit from the siituation.

  • An official view of what is a social problem is really one group’s viewpoint, whereas other people involved actually benefit from the siituation.

  • BUT:

  • Instead of seeing that the big city machine involved a fight between different interest groups and classes, it diverted attention from the structure of conflict into a more abstract judgement that the institution served some latent function.

  • Each group has its own version of social order that they try to uphold.



E.g: “Stratification and inequality simply are mechanisms to ensure optimal social efficiency by putting the most qualified people in the most important positions.”

  • E.g: “Stratification and inequality simply are mechanisms to ensure optimal social efficiency by putting the most qualified people in the most important positions.”



Merton admitted that not everything works out best for everyone.

  • Merton admitted that not everything works out best for everyone.

  • Dysfunctions: biggest dysfunction is anomie

  • Merton suggested that anomie was likely to arise when society's members were denied adequate means of achieving the very cultural goals that their society projected, like wealth, power, fame or enlightenment.

  • Deviant behaviour and crime?

  • Anomie: to mean “A discontinuity between cultural goals and the legitimate means available for reaching them.”



He began by stating that there are two elements of social and cultural structure. The first structure is culturally assigned goals and aspirations. These are the things that all individuals should want and expect out of life, including success, money, and material things.

  • He began by stating that there are two elements of social and cultural structure. The first structure is culturally assigned goals and aspirations. These are the things that all individuals should want and expect out of life, including success, money, and material things.



The second aspect of the social structure defines the acceptable mode for achieving the goals and aspirations set by society . This is the appropriate way that people achieve what they want and expect out of life. Examples include obeying laws and societal norms, seeking an education, and hard work. In order for society to maintain a normative function, there must be a balance between aspirations and the means by which to fulfill such aspirations

  • The second aspect of the social structure defines the acceptable mode for achieving the goals and aspirations set by society . This is the appropriate way that people achieve what they want and expect out of life. Examples include obeying laws and societal norms, seeking an education, and hard work. In order for society to maintain a normative function, there must be a balance between aspirations and the means by which to fulfill such aspirations



According to Merton, balance is maintained as long as the individual feels that he is achieving the culturally desired goal by conforming to the "institutionally accepted mode of doing so.

  • According to Merton, balance is maintained as long as the individual feels that he is achieving the culturally desired goal by conforming to the "institutionally accepted mode of doing so.

  • Merton became intrigued by the possible outcomes, or dysfunctions, that occur when the balance between aspirations and means to achieve them is lost. He described several possible "adaptations" to the "strain" such imbalance produces: Conformity, Innovation, Ritualism, Retreatism, and Rebellion. This formed the basis of his famous strain theory.



Social Order. Much like Durkheim, Parsons was concerned with the problem of social order, "how, if individuals were really separate entities pursuing their self-interest, there could be any order at all: How could there be anything but disorder?"

  • Social Order. Much like Durkheim, Parsons was concerned with the problem of social order, "how, if individuals were really separate entities pursuing their self-interest, there could be any order at all: How could there be anything but disorder?"



the basis of social action can be termed voluntarism. "People act on the basis of their values; their actions are oriented and constrained by the values and norms of people around them; and these norms and values are the basis of social order“

  • the basis of social action can be termed voluntarism. "People act on the basis of their values; their actions are oriented and constrained by the values and norms of people around them; and these norms and values are the basis of social order“

  • The ends that people pursue are based on shared values and norms, and these are "internalized in the motivational systems of individuals"



The shared values and norms, the institution of the family, and the generally agreed upon means for accomplishing ends were viewed by Parsons as being functional for the operation of society as a system. Critics argue that this is not really social analysis but description and justification, because it makes the institutions appear to be necessary and the only ones that could exist. As a result, there appear to be strong conservative and consensus assumptions built into this approach.

  • The shared values and norms, the institution of the family, and the generally agreed upon means for accomplishing ends were viewed by Parsons as being functional for the operation of society as a system. Critics argue that this is not really social analysis but description and justification, because it makes the institutions appear to be necessary and the only ones that could exist. As a result, there appear to be strong conservative and consensus assumptions built into this approach.



The social system was Parsons' main concern. This is society as a whole, or the various institutions such as the family within society. Parsons' definition of the social system is:

  • The social system was Parsons' main concern. This is society as a whole, or the various institutions such as the family within society. Parsons' definition of the social system is:

  • “A social system consists in a plurality of individual actors interacting with each other in a situation which has at least a physical or environmental aspect, actors who are motivated in terms of a tendency to the "optimization of gratification" and whose relation to their situations, including each other, is defined and mediated in terms of a system of culturally structured and shared symbols (The Social System, pp. 5-6).”



The basic unit of the system for Parsons was the status-role bundle or complex. These are structural elements, and are not characteristics of the individual or of interaction. Rather they are like the positions within the stratification model. A status is a structural position within the social system, and a role is what the individual who has that status does. For example, brother or sister could refer to a status, and there are certain roles that are generally associated with these statuses. Note that these statuses need not be hierarchical as in the stratification model.

  • The basic unit of the system for Parsons was the status-role bundle or complex. These are structural elements, and are not characteristics of the individual or of interaction. Rather they are like the positions within the stratification model. A status is a structural position within the social system, and a role is what the individual who has that status does. For example, brother or sister could refer to a status, and there are certain roles that are generally associated with these statuses. Note that these statuses need not be hierarchical as in the stratification model.



Within this social system, Parsons considered the needs of the system as important, and individuals fulfilled certain system functions by taking on various roles as means of carrying out the function of their statuses. Individuals are discussed by Parsons as carrying out actions that maintain order in the system. Socialization, education and learning in the child, and continued socialization throughout life are the means by which the norms and values of society are learned by individuals. This is what binds the individual to the social system as a whole. If successful, this socialization process means that the norms and values become internalized by individuals, and when people pursue their own interests, they also serve the needs of the society as a whole.

  • Within this social system, Parsons considered the needs of the system as important, and individuals fulfilled certain system functions by taking on various roles as means of carrying out the function of their statuses. Individuals are discussed by Parsons as carrying out actions that maintain order in the system. Socialization, education and learning in the child, and continued socialization throughout life are the means by which the norms and values of society are learned by individuals. This is what binds the individual to the social system as a whole. If successful, this socialization process means that the norms and values become internalized by individuals, and when people pursue their own interests, they also serve the needs of the society as a whole.



In modern society there are many roles, statuses and opportunities for individuals to express their different personalities. For Parsons, this is a positive feature of a social system, and a flexible system of this sort is more able to maintain order. However, if people become too deviant, there are social control mechanisms that either stop the deviance (ultimately at the legal level). In most cases though, there are stronger mechanisms that the social system has to maintain order. This is the socialization process, and the continued operation of the socialization process through one's whole life.

  • In modern society there are many roles, statuses and opportunities for individuals to express their different personalities. For Parsons, this is a positive feature of a social system, and a flexible system of this sort is more able to maintain order. However, if people become too deviant, there are social control mechanisms that either stop the deviance (ultimately at the legal level). In most cases though, there are stronger mechanisms that the social system has to maintain order. This is the socialization process, and the continued operation of the socialization process through one's whole life.



Parsons: a more macro theory than Merton’s middle range functionalism.

  • Parsons: a more macro theory than Merton’s middle range functionalism.

  • The key entity is the social system as a whole

  • Categorizations

  • Conception of society is Durkheimian, but not the methodology.

  • Maps out the conceptual scheme: description of the society at an abstract level rather than explaining it:Goal attainment, and other functions: metaphors such as society’s nerves, brain, etc.



Society is not static: the most dynamic aspect is the long-term historical vision.

  • Society is not static: the most dynamic aspect is the long-term historical vision.

  • various structures have the function of carrying out this socialization: family, church, schools.

  • Basis of historical change is the changes in basic values.



Parsons used Weber’s comparative religions to argue that world history is driven by a succession of different religiouos world views.

  • Parsons used Weber’s comparative religions to argue that world history is driven by a succession of different religiouos world views.

  • Initially, there were tribal societies with their symbol system: reinforced traditional routine.

  • Then, “world religions”: separated gods from the world, put spiritual power in transcendental realm, called Heaven, etc.



Parsons interpreted Weber to mean that Christianity generated more social leverage than Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc, all of which ended up reinforcing the static social order rather than changing it.

  • Parsons interpreted Weber to mean that Christianity generated more social leverage than Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc, all of which ended up reinforcing the static social order rather than changing it.

  • So, Christianity generated the value system that ended up creating the modern world.



Parsonian explanation of historical change: Weber’s Protestant Ethic attached to Durkheimian macrotheory of society.

  • Parsonian explanation of historical change: Weber’s Protestant Ethic attached to Durkheimian macrotheory of society.

  • Nazi Germany: a country that tried to modernize too fast from a traditional base, and provoked mass psychological reactions to the strain of change.



All societies eventually evolved towards democracy because this is the most advanced functionally differentiated stage.

  • All societies eventually evolved towards democracy because this is the most advanced functionally differentiated stage.

  • Any social dissatisfaction is a temporary strain of social change.

  • Student revolts of the 1960s: temporary response to the upgrading of specialized educational training: The more differentiated society demands long years of schooling and this created temporary strain as people has to adjust to new concepts of childhood and adulthood.





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