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Social Structure
Building Blocks of
Social Structure
 Social
structure is the network of
interdependent statuses and roles that
guide human interaction
 Status is a socially defined position in a
group or in a society
 Role is the behavior—the rights and
obligations—expected of someone
occupying a particular status
Statuses are ways to define people
You can be more than one status at a time
Example: You are a student, an employee, a son/daughter, a
teenager and a friend
Ascribed v. Achieved statuses
Ascribed means that you are assigned that status because of
qualities beyond your control
• Example: you are a teenager because of your age, you are an African
American because of your DNA
Achieved means you are that status because of something you did
• Example: you are on the football team because you are good at sports
Master status is the status that plays the biggest role in
shaping a person’s life and determining his or her social
Can be ascribed or achieved
Could be occupation, wealth, marital status, or parenthood
 You
occupy the status, but play the role
 This means that you are a son or
daughter, but you have to play the role
of son or daughter when you are home
 Reciprocal roles are those that require
interaction with another role
 A husband cannot be a husband without
someone providing the role of wife
Role Expectation and
Role Performance
 Role
expectations-what are you expected
to do
Doctors are supposed to treat patients,
parents care for children, children respect
 Role
performance-what you actually do
Doctors sometimes harm patients, parents
mistreat their children, children don’t always
respect authority
Role Conflict and Role Strain
Role sets are all the different roles attached to a
single status
Role conflict is when fulfilling the role of one
status conflicts with another
Because we hold many statuses, they sometime
conflict with each other
Ex: being a parent of a sick child and an employee
means you have to leave one for the other
Role strain is difficulty meeting the roles of one
A boss who must maintain morale while asking
employees to work overtime
Social Institutions
When statuses are organized to satisfy one or
more of the basic needs of society it is called a
social institution
 There are several social institutions, however
sociologists usually focus on the following:
Types of Social Interaction
 Interactions
takes on many forms
 There are five common forms of social
Exchange occurs when someone interacts with another in
order to illicit a response from the second party
Exchange is the most basic form of social interaction;
includes dating, family, friends
Reciprocity is the idea that if you do something for someone,
they owe you something in return
 Could be material or nonmaterial-a “thank you” from your
parents for doing the dishes
Exchange theory is basically a self-motivation to interact with
those that cause positive reward (repeat behaviors), and
avoid behaviors regarding exchange that cause negative
 Ex: If you tell a joke that was really lame and people made
fun of you, you would not tell that joke again, if the joke got a
positive response you would tell others
 Competition
occurs when two or more
people or groups oppose each other to
achieve a goal that only one can attain
 Common feature of Western societies
 Positive motivator but leads to lack of
unity, inequality, and conflict
Conflict is the deliberate attempt to control a
person by force, to oppose someone, or to harm
another person
 There are four major sources of conflict: wars,
disagreements within groups, legal disputes,
and clashes over ideology
 Conflict is not always negative
Can strengthen a group (focusing on outside threats
instead of differences)
Lead to social change by making opposing sides seek
Cooperation occurs when two or more people
work together to achieve a goal that will help
more than one person
 Cooperation is a social process that gets things
Group cannot achieve goal without cooperation from
its members
Football, for example, cannot be played unless the
offense and the defense are willing to work together
and the quarterback and the wide receiver are on the
same page
Accommodation is the balance between conflict and
Example: If you buy a video game the store owner is
accommodating you by giving you the game in exchange
for $50
• If the owner were in cooperation with you, he would give it to you
for free
• If the owner were in conflict with you, he would refuse to sell it to
A compromise (someone gives up something in
order to make peace) and a truce are the two
common forms of accommodations
In a truce (agree to disagree until a solution is found) you
may use mediation (have a third party give you ideas
based on both sides) or arbitration (have a third party
decide what is to be done)
Types of Societies
 A group
is a set of people who interact on
the basis of shared expectations and who
possess some degree of commonality
 A subsistence strategy is the way a society
uses technology to provide for the needs
of its members
This is how sociologists often classify
The three broad groups are called:
preindustrial, industrial, or postindustrial
Hunters and Gathers
Food production, carried out through human and
animal labor, is the main economic activity
 They are divided according to their method of
producing food
Hunting and Gathering Societies collect wild plants
and hunt wild game
They do not build permanent villages
Generally have fewer than 60, rarely +100
Family is the main social unit
Family is related by birth or marriage
Pastoral Societies rely on domesticated herd
animals to meet their food needs
They can support larger societies since food supply is
Live nomadic lives, moving their herds from pasture
to pasture
Since their were fewer people needed to make food,
a division of labor developed
• Division of labor means that people specialized in
performance of specific economic activities
• Ex. People became craftworkers, tool makers, etc.
• This encouraged trade
Horticultural and Agricultural
 Both
are more complicated than pastoral
and the hunters and gathers
 Bartering, exchange of goods and
services, grew out of agricultural societies
 Typically systems of writing and
government emerge out of ag. societies
Industrial Societies
 Focuses
more on producing goods as
main economic activity
 Causes a shift from home life setting
(where most preindustrial societies work)
to city life where factories are built
This leads to urbanization which is the
concentration of population in cities
See more competition for status
 Economy
is based on providing
information and services
 This is what the US is
About 73% of our workforce is based on info
and services
 When
switching from industrial to
postindustrial, the standard of living
increase, as well as a belief in rights
Groups within society
Society is a group made up of groups
A group can be as small as two people on a date, or
be large like 500 soldiers at boot camp
A group can be either intimate like a family or formal
like people at a conference
There are four major features of a group:
There must be two or more people
There must be interaction among members
There must be shared expectations
Members must possess some commonality
Groups within society
 If
the groups do not possess interaction,
expectations, and commonality then they
are considered an aggregate-group that
lacks organization
 A social category is a means of classifying
people (they do not necessarily have to
interact in any way)
Ex: women, teenagers, etc. are examples of
social categories
Groups within society
Group size
Dyad-a group with two members
• If one person leaves, the group ceases to exist
Triad-a group of three people
• The group takes on a life of its own, no one person can
cause the group to stop existing
Small group-means that everyone can interact on a
face-to-face basis
• The more people in the group, the more face-to-face
interaction has to take place
• Sociologists have found 15 people is the largest number for a
group before it begins to break down into smaller groups
Groups within society
Group Time
Some groups meet once and they never see each
other again, some groups see each other everyday
Interaction is not continuous, you do not see your
family 24 hours a day
Formal group-structure, goals, and activities are
clearly defined
Informal group-there is no official structure or
established rules of conduct
Types of Groups
 The
most common types of groups are:
Primary and Secondary Groups
Primary-small group of people who interact over
a relatively long period
Entire self of individual is taken into account
Relationships often intimate and face-to-face
Secondary-interaction is impersonal and
temporary in nature
Casual, limited personal involvement
Importance to group lies in what function he or she
Can be replaced easily
Reference, In-Groups and OutGroups
Reference groups-any group with whom individuals
identify and whose behaviors and values they adopt
Thug mentality, Christian groups, etc
Do not have to belong to the group
In-Groups-A group that a person belongs to and
identifies with
Out-groups-Any group that a person does not identify
with or belong to
In-groups tend to separate themselves by use of
symbols, clothes, etc.; they view themselves positively
and out-groups negatively; they find themselves in
conflict with out-groups
E-Communities and Social
 E-communities
are where people
communicate regularly through internet
Some believe that these groups are primary
groups because they interact on a more
intimate level, but not face-to-face
 The
web of relationships that is formed by
the sum of a person’s interactions with
others is called a social network
Group Functions
 Groups
must do several things to exist
Define boundaries (who can/cannot belong)
Select leaders (people who influence the
attitudes and opinions of others)
• Leader fall into two categories: Instrumental (taskoriented) leader and Expressive (emotion-oriented)
Perform related functions of setting goal,
assigning tasks, making decisions
Control their members behavior
The Structure of Formal
Formal organization is a large, complex secondary group
that had been established to achieve specific goals
Bureaucracy is a ranked authority structure that operates
according to specific rules and procedures
Includes businesses, schools, government agencies, religious
organizations, labor unions…
Most formal structure
Been around since ancient times, came to prominence during
Industrial Revolution
Rationality involves subjecting every feature of human
behavior to calculation, measurement, and control
Bureaucracies were created to rationally organize groups to
complete a set of goals
Weber’s Model of
According to Weber bureaucracies have the
following characteristics:
Division of Labor
Ranking of Authority
Employment based on formal qualifications
Rules and Regulations
Specific lines of promotion and advancement
Large corporations fit this description rigidly,
other organizations like voluntary (nonprofit)
associations are less rigid
How Effective are
Bureaucracies advantages:
Create order by clearly defining job tasks and rewards
Provide stability
Lose sight of original goals
Focus too much on rules instead of goals
Iron Law of Oligarchy-a small group rules the larger
group (sometimes promoting their own interests over
People rise to their level of incompetence