What are some examples or ways we are guided by social structure?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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To understand how this is so, let us first think about what social structure is.  Social structure is a set of unwritten rules that guide a society.  These are not things like laws or other overt rules.  Instead, they are the rules that we are socialized to understand but which are not explicitly laid out.

Let us now look at a few examples of how the presence of social structure can guide the ways in which we behave.  One example is the example of families.  In our society, we are raised to believe that the ideal family structure is a nuclear family with two parents and their children.  This shapes our behavior as we seek very strongly to enter into marriages and to live together with spouses and children.  It also shapes our behavior in that we typically do not seek to live with extended families.  Most adult Americans do not try to form households that include their siblings or their parents. 

A second example would be the fact that we do not act with much deference towards our elders.  When compared to people of many other cultures, Americans do not tend to allow age to determine the ways they interact with others.  American teens, for example, are very likely to address adults of their parents’ age by their first names.  This is very different than the way people behave in some other societies.  The reason for this is the presence of social structure.  In comparison to other societies, we do not ascribe a very high status to people who are older than us.

Whenever we are guided by unwritten rules in our society, or by typical patterns of interactions, we are being guided by the social structure of our society.   

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