Drawing on Parsons' analytical distinction between social and cultural systems, explain how specific cultural ideas and values can be used to criticize existing arrangements in society and to...

Drawing on Parsons' analytical distinction between social and cultural systems, explain how specific cultural ideas and values can be used to criticize existing arrangements in society and to legitimate or justify pressures for change to such.

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Talcott Parsons delineated the distinction between culture and society in "The Concepts of Culture and of Social System," co-written with A. L. Kroeber, as early as 1958. His theory holds--in opposition to the then current concept of society and culture being a single dynamic entity designated as "sociocultural system"--that culture and society, though interrelating dynamic entities, are separate and distinct systems.

[There are] some ... who do not even consider the distinction [between society and culture] necessary on the ground that all phenomena of human behavior are sociocultural, with both societal and cultural aspects at the same time .... (Kroeber and Parsons, "The Concepts of Culture and of Social System")

This difference between concepts is called "analytical distinction" because Parsons holds that in order to understand the distinct sets of phenomena in what was then called sociocultural system, but which Parsons identified as cultural system and social system, analytical precision comes from recognizing the relationships within one are of a different order from the relationships within the other; this concept is opposed to the concept suggesting that socioculture holds aspects of society and culture in a unified simultaneousness.

[Society and culture] are distinct systems in that they abstract or select two analytically distinct sets of components from the same concrete phenomena. Statements made about relationships within a cultural pattern are thus of a different order from those [made about relationships] within a system of societal relationships. Neither can be directly reduced to terms of the other; that is to say, the order of relationships within one is independent from that in the other. Careful attention to this independence greatly increases the power of analytical precision. (Kroeber and Parsons)

Some of the cultural ideas that interested Parsons were kinship, religion and citizenship. Any one of these might be used as an example of how cultural ideas and values might be used to criticize existing arrangements in society. The cultural value of citizenship might be used to criticize the social arrangement whereby foreign aliens are denied legitimacy in America at the cost of their safety and well being, or it might be used to criticize the social arrangement that allows the state of Georgia to legalize public display of firearms in any and all public venues when mass murder is an increasing American problem. The cultural value of religion might be used to criticize the social arrangement whereby the mass media trivializes health and aggrandizes sexual solicitation to the detriment of both men and women but especially to the detriment of women.

The cultural value of kinship might be used to criticize the social arrangement whereby employment (1) spreads kindred individuals across vast distances from one another, potentially leaving individuals in desperate isolation if health, job or addiction problems overwhelm them, and whereby employment (2) demands unrelenting attendance to work or at work through mobile phone calls, text messages, emails and late work nights. Kinship is defined by sociologists and anthropologists as:

Kinship is a culture's system of recognized family roles and relationships that define patterns of behavior and attitudes, obligations, rights, boundaries, and ways of addressing others in interaction among the members of a self-recognizing group constituted by birth, adoption or ritualized behavior like marriage and household economies.

Parsons traced the divergence of the Western, specifically the American, family through the evolving stages of pre- and post-Industrialization, before which the family unit or kinship-based groupings fulfilled all four functions of the social system (AGIL Scheme), with little distinction between public and private systems but after which these functions of socialization were separated, differentiated and specialized. Parsons saw this differentiation and specialization as a benefit to society because tasks and functions, like manufacturing and education, came to be under the oversight of unique institutions and came to be performed at superior levels. Nonetheless, this separation, differentiation and specialization resulted in problems of social integration, which required society to construct or adopt new rules, values, norms and regulation within a new normative framework. Returning to the question, the consequence of the maturity of post-Industrialization differentiation and specialization is that cultural ideas and values of family primacy and unity may be used to criticize and legitimately apply pressure for change to existing arrangements in society.

He referred to his basic classification of the functional problem of social systems (AGIL). This classification distinguished four main [functional] categories:
-the value system - which defines and legitimized the goals of the organization (L)
-the adaptive mechanisms - which concern mobilization of resources (A)
-the operative code - mechanisms of the direct process of goal implementation (G)
-the integrative mechanisms (I) (University of Chicago)


A. L. Kroeber and Talcott Parsons. "The Concepts of Culture and of Social System." The American Sociological Review 23 (1958).

Theory of Culture. Editors Richard Münch, Neil J. Smelser.

"An Outline of the Social System." University of Chicago.

Paul Gingrich. "Talcott Parsons." University of Regina.