Through the evolution of sociology as a discipline, several ‘big questions’ have dominated discourse in the subject. Such questions surround how social order is obtained and maintained in society as well as the factors that account for a movement away from the social order and engage in behaviour thought to be deviant. This discussion will seek to give an account of the treatment various sociologists have given to the issue of social order in society; and the role primary and secondary groups play in the maintenance of order.
In the wake of such major revolutions as the French Revolution of 1789 as well as the Industrial Revolution that was also in progress in Europe, society as was conceived at the time experienced massive transformations. Questions arose that needed to be answered. “The types of questions these nineteenth-century thinkers sought to answer – what is human nature? Why is society structured like it is? How and why do societies change? – are the same questions sociologists try to answer today” (Giddens 1997). This statement further elucidates the central notion of this essay; that the problem of social order has always been at the forefront of the minds of sociologists.
O’Donnell (1997) describes social order simply as “…a state in which social life – actions and interactions – can be conducted without major interruptions”. While there are breaches of the social order - by and large - collective life is able to happen without chaos. It is this relative uniformity in social action, on a macro level, that has pre-occupied the minds of sociologists for some time.
A defining fact of human social life is that people will gravitate to each other in various ways. Macionis and Plummer (2008) defines a social group as “…two or more people who identify and interact with one another.” Social Groups range from married couples to friendship groups, to gangs, to churches, to multi-
national corporations. Macionis & Plummer (2008) go on to define a primary group as “…a small group whose members share personal and enduring relationships.” They argue that “…individuals in primary groups typically spend a great deal of time together, engage in a wide range of common activities and feel they know one another well.” Essentially, primary groups are small and – due to their size – they are able to allow members a considerable measure of familiarity.
The opposite is true of secondary groups. These may be defined as “…large and impersonal social group[s] whose members pursue a specific interest or activity…Secondary relationships usually involve weak emotional ties and little personal knowledge of one another” (Macionis & Plummer, 2008). Weaker social ties allow secondary groups to facilitate a much larger membership that would obtain in a primary group setting.
By this token, we are able understand that membership in primary and secondary groups, serves to facilitate different needs. They achieve different ends in completely different ways. In primary groups, members define themselves in relation to who they are, while in secondary groups persons are defined in relation to what they offer and what the others receive in return.
Before we can understand sources of deviance, we must understand order. Order becomes manifest when people conform to social norms and values. The social order is maintained through the presence and implementation of sanctions. A sanction is “…any response to a behaviour that serves to reinforce the norms of a society or social group.” Sanctions may be positive or negative. Positive sanctions or rewards, are implemented to encourage a desired behaviour, whereas negative sanctions are implemented to deter or discourage undesired behaviour.
Social order is maintained by the work of the agents of social control. These include such social...