Social Organization

Social Structure, Roles, and Statuses

Social Structure

Social structures are the social patterns that organize society; individuals use these social structures to make sense of their lived experiences.
Social structure is the organized pattern of relationships and social institutions that make up a society. It refers to a society's overall organization, based on institutions, rules, and norms. A society is a group of people who interact in a defined territory and share a culture. Macrolevel institutions such as the economy, the family, education, and religion provide a framework for the social structure of any society. The many rules and norms governing the everyday social world also contribute to social structure. Sociologists study and analyze the structure of societies in order to describe and understand patterns of social interaction, distribution of power, and the particular characteristics of a society's institutions and practices. Social structure shapes the ways social institutions function, including the values and goals of these institutions. The social structure of a particular society influences the behaviors and choices of the individual members of the society. For example, social structure shapes ideas about education and schools. In the United States, for example, primary education is free and mandatory (required). This means that most parents send their children to school. Some families provide homeschooling. Schools play a major role in social organization and influence the choices of both parents and children.

Social Status and Social Role

A status is the social position a person occupies; social roles are duties and behaviors tied to a status, often influencing how a person acts in a particular situation.

A status is a position an individual holds within a society. At any time, individuals simultaneously hold multiple statuses. Some common social statues include student, employee, daughter, son, and friend. Markers of identity such as profession, social class, race, and sex are also social statuses. A status set is the collection of statuses held by an individual. People acquire some statuses through effort or life choices but are born with or assigned other statuses. An achieved status is a social position attained through individual effort and achievement. This type of status is often linked to a person's education and occupational prestige (the level of respect that accompanies a particular job). For instance, being a doctor, teacher, or mechanic is an achieved status. An ascribed status is a social position a person acquires through birth. Sex and race are ascribed statuses. Social class can also be considered an ascribed status, because most individuals acquire this status from their parents. Many people remain in the social class they are born into throughout the course of their lives. However, some experience upward mobility, moving to a higher social class from a lower social class. Others experience downward mobility, moving to a lower social class from a higher social class. When people move into a social class, their class is an achieved status. A master status is the most important or exceptional status a person holds. A master status may be an achieved status, such as being a politician or a movie star, or it can be an ascribed status, such as belonging to a wealthy family, such as the Rockefellers, a family that acquired great wealth through oil, railroads, and banking in the early 20th century. However, a master status does not always entail a rare characteristic, such as great wealth. Rather, a master status is the status that most stands out, among all the statuses an individual holds. A master status can be a status that has a negative connotation within society, such as a visible illness or disability. The master status often becomes the main focus of a person's identity because it overrides all other social statuses the person occupies.

A social role is a behavior associated with a social status. Whereas a status is a social position a person occupies, a role is something that a person does. For example, the status of student carries with it several roles. Students go to class, study, write papers, and form friendships with other students. When individuals engage in the behavior associated with social roles, social life is predictable and organized. People are perceived by others, at least in part, in terms of social statuses and social roles. Social and economic opportunities, behavior, and norms are linked to the statuses people hold and the roles they perform. People's identities are also partially formed by their understanding of their social statuses and social roles.

Social Statuses and Social Roles Example: Barack Obama

Status: A social position a person occupies in society Role: Something a person does, related to a status
Father Nurture and socialize children
Husband Make joint decisions with spouse
Ascribed status: male, African American No associated roles. A person acquires an ascribed status through birth, not through any particular behavior.
Achieved status: former president Choose to engage or not engage with political issues
Master status: former president Choose to engage or not engage with political issues (Obama's master status is also an achieved status.)