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What Is Social Structure of Society? - Definition & Theory

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  • 0:01 Overview of Social Structure
  • 0:50 Types of Social Structure
  • 1:37 Develping Social…
  • 3:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kitsy Dixon

Kitsy has taught college Sociology and Interdisciplinary courses. She holds a doctorate in Medical Humanities.

The way we create relationships with others is based on certain patterns we use daily. This lesson takes you through the definition and theory of social structure in society and offers a quiz to test your knowledge.

Overview of Social Structure

Have you ever visited a large city and stopped at an outdoor cart to order a hot dog? If so, the person who sold you that hot dog was a vendor. Vendors live day to day based on the location of where they move their product each day. Most vendors are viewed as being poor immigrants who can't make it in society. This is not the case. Although it's easy to look at vendors as just people selling products on the street, in actuality they are pursuing the same life goals as you and I.

This example of social structure demonstrates how people in society develop a code of conduct in regards to living in society. There are specific elements and frameworks that we use to fit into mainstream society and to develop the concept of social structure.

Types of Social Structure

To best help us understand the social structure and elements of society, sociologist Talcott Parsons produced one of the best-known theoretical foundations for studying society. Parsons believed that society best functions in four ways, and these four elements are necessary in forming the social structure of society.

  1. Adaptation: The way we adapt to our environments is one of the ways we function through survival in society. For example, jobs, economy, family.
  2. Goal attainment: The need to set goals and achieve them in society.
  3. Integration: The need to relate to other human beings who share similar interests.
  4. Latency: The need to have people motivate us toward our goals of achievement.

Developing Social Structure & Role in Society

What kinds of social groups do you belong to? Do you ever stop to think that your role within your social groups determines how you take part in the structure and organization of society? Most times we don't, but we, the individuals, are society. Status is our social position within a group (for example, leader, organizer, founder) whereas role is the part we are expected to play in our lives (for example, mother, father, sister, brother). Therefore, in the formation of the social structure in society, we develop our roles and status through our social interactions, relationships, and patterns of behavior.

There are two types of statuses that help us understand our status in society. Achieved status is when someone does something that may define his or her role. For example, a person becomes a musician by studying music, or a woman becomes a mother by giving birth. Ascribed statuses are assigned roles given to us in life. For example, we do not pick the family we are born into.

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