Sociological Perspective

Social Interaction, Social Structure, and Social Change

The central sociological concepts are social interaction, social structure, and social change.

Society is a group of people who interact in a defined territory and share a culture. A culture is a set of shared practices, values, beliefs, norms, and traditions. Sociologists understand society to be a human-made system that organizes and connects people. The central sociological concepts are the major ways that sociologists approach the study of society.

A social interaction is a social exchange between two or more individuals, emphasizing their actions and reactions toward one another. Social interactions follow a shared set of norms, rules, and expectations. These function as a system of unwritten rules that individuals internalize. When those norms, rules, or expectations are broken, society imposes consequences, based on social understanding of how deviant, or far from the norm, the behavior is. For example, interrupting during a conversation might elicit a negative social reaction. Social interactions also reinforce power relations in a society. When service workers who earn relatively little interact with very wealthy customers, for instance, they might be expected to behave deferentially by avoiding eye contact, speaking softly, and using certain types of language. This reflects and strengthens the power of the wealthy customers. Workers who violate these norms may face consequences such as verbal abuse or loss of a job.

Social structure, the organized pattern of relationships and social institutions that make up a society, is the product of all the social interactions in a society. The major components of social structure include culture, social class, social status, roles, groups, and social institutions (such as religion, family, education, law, and the media). Socioeconomic status (SES) is a combined measure of economic and social ranking based on income, wealth, education, and occupation. Social structure and a person's place within it guide their perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors. Social structure maintains social order by guiding and organizing human behavior.

Sociology is also concerned with social change, shifts in the patterns that characterize a society. Sociologists note trends related to changing behaviors, norms, and practices. They analyze the forces that influence social change and the ways that social change shapes the social behavior of individuals and groups.
The structure of a society both is created by and influences social exchanges between individuals and groups. Social change occurs as social exchanges and social structure shift.