Using the macrosociological approach, functionalists and conflict theorists examine the more expansive aspects of social structure. It refers to a society’s framework, consisting of the various relationships between people and groups that direct and set limits on human behavior. The major components of social structure include culture, social class, social status, roles, groups, and social institutions. Social structure guides people’s behaviors. A person’s location in the social structure (his or her social class; social status; the roles he or she plays; and the culture, groups, and social institutions to which he or she belongs) underlies his or her perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors. People develop these perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors from their place in the social structure, and they act accordingly. All of the components of social structure work together to maintain social order by limiting, guiding, and organizing human behavior. Social institutions are the organized, usual, or standard ways by which society meets its basic needs. In industrial and postindustrial societies, social institutions include the family, religion, law, politics, economics, education, science, medicine, the military, and the mass media. Functionalists and conflict theorists disagree over the purposes and effects of social institutions. According to functionalists, social institutions exist because they meet universal group needs. Conflict theorists view social institutions as the primary means by which the elite maintains its privileged position. Social structure is not static. It responds to changes in culture, technology, economic conditions, group relationships, and societal needs and priorities. Structural changes can sometimes fundamentally and permanently alter the way a society organizes itself. Emile Durkheim demonstrated this with the concepts of mechanical and organic solidarity; Ferdinand Tönnies used the constructs of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft .
While functionalist and conflict theorists tend to explore broad features of social structure from a macrosociological perspective, symbolic interactionists are more inclined to examine small- scale, face-to-face social interactions from a microsociological perspective. Symbolic interactionists are especially interested in the symbols that people use to define their worlds and how these definitions, in turn, influence human behavior. For symbolic interactionists, this may include studying stereotyping, personal space, and touching. Stereotypes are assumptions that people make about other people based on previous associations with them or people with similar visible characteristics. Stereotypes may also be based on what they have been “told” about “such people.” These assumptions may be accurate, semi-accurate, or completely inaccurate. Stereotypes affect how people define and treat other people. They influence how these “other people” define themselves and adjust their behaviors accordingly.
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- Spring '16
- Sociology, Erving Goffman