CC—3 Introductory Sociology-ii
What is Social Structure
Social Structure is an abstract system of interrelated concepts refers to arrangements of persons in relation to each other defined or controlled by institutions. When sociologists use the term "social structure" they are typically referring to macro-level social forces including social institutions and patterns of institutionalized relationships. Social structure is the organized set of social institutions and patterns of institutionalized relationships that together compose society. Social structure is both a product of social interaction and directly determines it. Social structures are not immediately visible to the untrained observer; however, they are always present and affect all dimensions of human experience in society. Structures are defined as the patterns and forms of social relations and combinations among a set of constituent social elements or component parts such as positions, units, levels, regions and locations, and social formations.
The major social institutions recognized by sociologists include family, religion, education, media, law, politics, and economy. These are understood as distinct institutions that are interrelated and interdependent and together help compose the overarching social structure of a society.
In Sociology, Anthropology, and Linguistics, structuralism is the methodology that implies elements of human culture must be understood by way of their relationship to a broader, overarching system of structure. Claude Levi-Strauss (b. 1908) is said to be the father of structuralism. He is the person who has broadened this concept to include all forms of communication within the framework of structuralism. His variety of structuralism is based on how the mind works. He is the expounder of the concept of Binary oppositions. The mind of man works in such a way that he thinks about binary oppositions. Strauss argues that there are abstract models of thought or formats in the mind of man. Strauss’ definition of structure is simple. He argues that a social structure is not a reality which can directly be seen. But it is a reality that exists beyond the visible reality. The function of the structure constitutes the underlying logic of the system which can be explained by the apparent reality According to him, “structuralism includes a wide range of social phenomena as sys tems of communication, kinship system and exchange of spouses” Strauss has developed binary oppositions out of the data which he gathered from the field. He asserts that the “man organizes the world in contrasting pairs and develops coherent systems of relationship from such a starting point”. The central element in Levi-Strauss’ per spective is the idea that “all kinship systems are elaborations on four fundamental kin relationships: brother-sister, husband-wife, father- son and mother’s brother-sister’s son”. He regards this as the elementary social structure. Structuralism, other than linguistic structuralism, is associated with Levi-Strauss. He is credited to have made an original attempt at theoretical synthesis in the 20th century anthropology. His work in elementary and complex structures in kinship is unparalleled. Finally, it must also be said that Strauss was greatly influenced by Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown.
Structuralism defined as a methodology which explores the relationships between signs, in order to determine the meaning of the signs in accordance with the cultural structures in which the signs are located, and thus it involves locating systems of meanings within Foucauldian discourses. Structuralism (or macro theories) is the school of thought that believe People are not just independent actors making independent decisions; they are the product of the social conditions in which they live. Marxists, for example, think that institutions, culture, ideas (what they term the superstructure) cannot be understood separately from the basic social class interests of capitalist society. These ideas are sometimes criticised as being deterministic. Another important theoretical approach to the concept of social structure is structuralism (sometimes called French structuralism), which studies the underlying, unconscious regularities of human expression—that is, the unobservable structures that have observable effects on behaviour, society, and culture. Claude Lévi-Strauss
French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss derived this theory from structural linguistics, developed by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. According to Saussure, any language is structured in the sense that its elements are interrelated in no arbitrary, regular, rule-bound ways; a competent speaker of the language largely follows these rules without being aware of doing so. The task of the theorist is to detect this underlying structure, including the rules of transformation that connect the structure to the various observed expressions.
Structuralism is a school of thought emphasizes the view that society is prior to individuals. It employs the nature of social interaction as patterned behavior and uses it as a tool in all sociological analysis. Claude Levi-Strauss in his analysis of myth used this method by providing necessary analysis. The elements which are basic to human mind and universally applicable determine the possible varieties of social structure. Marxist sociologist Louis Althusser has adopted a structuralism framework in explaining social phenomena by referring to the structure of mode of production. He criticised Berger and Luckman in their view that the dialectical processes of human interaction in which meaning given by individuals when institutionalized becomes social structure. Instead he argued that the human agency is only the agents of the structure of social relation. It is the social relations which should form the basis of analysing the social structure. Structuralism is a mode of knowledge of nature and human life that is interested in relationships rather than individual objects or, alternatively, where objects are defined by the set of relationships of which they are part and not by the qualities possessed by them taken in isolation. Claude Lévi-Strauss was the spokesperson for structuralism in Anthropology, incorporating the work of many authors along the twentieth century. Three meanings of ‘structuralism’ will be distinguished, corresponding to different timescales: structuralism as a French intellectual movement of the 1960s, structuralism as a wider epistemological attitude and Lévi-Strauss' structuralism which is a link between the two.
Anthony Giddens used the term struturation to express mutual dependency of human agency and social structure. Social structure should be viewed as associated with social action. Social institutions as organized patterns of social behaviour are proposed as the elements of social structure by the functionalists.
Karl Marx analyzed how social relations are structured to sustain inequalities in the society. Marx used the concept of structure to denote the distribution of resources. Thus structure is the symbolic, material and political resources that the actors employ in their interactions and produce the structure of their social relations. Marx used the concept of dialectics in the interaction process which in turn tend to change and transform the nature of social relations thereby changing the social structure.
Structuralism is "Study of text as a whole and the kinds of interrelationships/contrasts that the system builds into it to make it meaningful”. Contrasts are often times highlighted by calling attention to their basic oppositional/binary structure. For instance, in a newspaper the idea of front/back: front page/ back page/ important: less important. More interesting might be news/ads. But could also be very basic categories of cultural experience (although here could always be an argument about "who’s" cultural experience): up/down, culture/nature, male /female. Major figures relevant to understanding structuralism are Marx, Durkheim, Saussure, Piaget, Lévi-Strauss, and Althusser.