Social Order: Definition & Concepts

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  • 0:00 What is Social Order?
  • 1:27 Social Contracts
  • 2:23 Social Norms
  • 3:45 Social Hierarchies
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Social order is a broad concept based upon societal contracts, expectations, and hierarchies. In this lesson, you'll learn how to define social order and explore some of the things that contribute to keeping societies stable.

What Is Social Order?

If you stop and think about it, human societies are something of a mystery. On a fundamental biological level, humans are designed to procreate and ensure the survival of the species. However, our capacity for empathy and critical thinking, as well as the ability to act in the interest of others, sets us apart from the animals. But can these characteristics really be the things that hold us all together?

In the broadest sense, our societies and communities rely on social orders, or the links found among institutions, traditions, values and morals that work cooperatively to keep societies moving forward instead of falling apart. For example, most of us agree that murder is an unacceptable act and that people have to work for their money. Overall, our beliefs are based on the morals and values of our societies, which means that as societies evolve, so too do their social orders.

In the United States, we have a social order that promotes certain standards of beliefs and behaviors in order to keep things stable. For example, citizens work collaboratively with the government and judicial system to establish laws and social expectations that reward good behaviors and punish bad behaviors. Younger people acquire these values and traditions in the home and at school, which are reinforced later in the workplace.

Social Contracts

Social contracts are the means by which societies remain stable through implied agreements. These contracts are the standards and expectations that most people believe necessary to maintain order and progress. Social contracts can be broad, like those that protect persons and property from violence and theft, and ultimately serve as the foundation for governments and laws.

Social contracts have been a source of considerable debate and theories for a very long time. In the 14th century, for example, English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, asserted that on a fundamental level, human beings lived short, brutal, and chaotic lives that, in the absence of collective morals and agreed upon values, precluded the formation of a society. From Hobbes' perspective, social contracts are the cornerstone of society because they encourage people to think beyond their own self-interest in order to preserve order.

Social Norms

In relation to social order, social norms help to promote uniform behaviors in relation to agreements, justice, means of communication, and property rights. During the first half of the 20th century, for instance, American men went to work and women stayed home to manage the home and care for the children. Although some women were not always content or happy with the situation, this particular social norm was based on a widespread commitment known as extensiveness. According to the theory of extensiveness, the more important a standard or expectation to the group, the degree to which people commit to it will have a strong influence on social bonds and help to mitigate conflicts.

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