Social structure refers to the way a society is organized. It is about the way that various parts of society fit together and work together. Different scholars identify differen elements of a social structure. Among these elements are such things as:
- Institutions. These are established patterns of human relationships. These include things like family and politics that provide set ways for us to interact with one another.
- Social groups. These are smaller groups that have something in common with one another. This could be something as small as a family or as large as a religion.
- Status. Within each social group, people have different statuses. You can, for example, be the child in a family or you can be the husband.
- Roles. These are the expectations that go with your status. If you are a child in a family you are expected to obey your parents, for example, but are not generally expected to help support the family.
These are some of the major elements of a social structure.
The structure of society refers to the way society is organized. Society is organized into different parts: institutions, social groups, statuses, and roles.
Institutions; An institution is an established and enduring pattern of social relationships. The five traditional institutions are family, religion, politics, economics, and education. but some sociologists argue that other social institutions, such as science and technology, mass media, medicine, sport, and the military, also play important roles in modern society.
Social Groups; Institutions are made up of social groups. A social group is defined as two or more people who have a common identity, interact, and form a social relationship. For example, the family in which you were reared is a social group that is part of the family institution. The religious association to which you may belong is a social group that is part of the religious institution.
Statuses; Just as institutions consist of social groups, social groups consist of statuses. A status is a position a person occupies within a social group. The statuses we occupy largely define our social identity. The statuses in a family may consist of mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, wife, husband, child, and so on. Statuses may be either ascribed or achieved. An ascribed status is one that society assigns to an individual on the basis of factors over which the individual has no control. For example, we have no control over the sex, race, ethnic background, and socioeconomic status into which we are born. Similarly, we are assigned the status of "child," "teenager," "adult," or "senior citizen" on the basis of age--something we do not choose or control.
Roles; Every status is associated with many roles, or the set of rights, obligations, and expectations associated with a status. Roles guide our behavior and allow us to predict the behavior of others. As a student, you are expected to attend class, listen and take notes, study for tests, and complete assignments. Because you know what the role of the teacher involves, you can predict that your teacher will lecture, give exams, and assign grades based on your performance on tests.