Sociology: Power and Authority's Contribution to Social Order

Topics: Sociology, Anomie, Sociological terms Pages: 5 (1983 words) Published: March 6, 2015
Social order requires social behaviour to be predictable and individuals to cooperate. Amongst the explanations of social order are five outlined by Hechter and Horne: (shared) ‘meaning’, ‘values and norms’, ‘power and authority’, ‘spontaneous interaction’ and ‘networks and groups’. Following Hechter and Horne, describe how at least TWO of these explanations might account for social order, and discuss the extent to which you find those explanations convincing.

Social order is one of the most central aspects of sociology. Two main factors are necessary for the existence of social order: predictability of society and cooperative behaviour of individuals (Hechter and Horne, 2003). In this essay I will describe how ‘values and norms’ and ‘power and authority’ account for social order, drawing on the explanations offered in Theories of Social Order: A Reader (2003) by Michael Hechter and Christine Horne. The first explanation is based on people cooperating voluntarily and following informal rules, while the second focuses on the ability of one group to control and coerce another into obeying the rules. I will discuss limitations of both theories and suggest that neither provides an entirely convincing explanation of social order on its own.

Values and norms are internal and external criteria for evaluation (Hechter and Horne, 2003), individuals use them to judge which actions are good or bad, appropriate or not and hence regulate behaviour. Therefore it could be assumed that if people share the same values and norms they act in a predictable and cooperative manner which leads to the establishment of social order. The processes that could be responsible for the development of these phenomena will be discussed below.

Internalisation is a process through which individuals incorporate values present in their social environment into their own mind (Hechter and Horne, 2003). Freud (1930 in Hechter and Horne, 2003) suggests the following mechanism for this process. A completely helpless and dependent infant internalises the parent figure in oder to prevent the parent’s disapproval and ensure continuity of care. Thus the child’s conscience or superego is developed, it evaluates potential actions and counteracts aggressive instincts, promoting cooperative behaviour. One of the weaknesses of Freud’s theory is that it is based on the ‘fear of loss of love’ and argues that it continues into adulthood due to the fear of loosing God’s love. This explanation neglects the existence of order in societies in which people do not believe in such love and hence cannot be applied universally. In addition Freud’s theory relies heavily on an analytical argument, lacking empirical evidence, which makes it less persuasive.

Durkheim’s analysis of suicide rates, on the other hand, has a more objective, statistical basis. Hechter and Horne (2003) explain in their introduction that because suicide is often seen as an antisocial act, the rates of suicide could be used as indicators of social disorder. Durkheim (1897 in Hechter and Horne, 2003) notes an increase of suicides in the state of anomie, the condition when there are no values in the society. This proves the importance of values for social order. However, Durkheim (1897 in Hechter and Horne, 2003) also finds that rates of egoistic suicide, and hence social disorder, are higher in groups that are less integrated and value individualism. This suggests that values can be antisocial as well as prosocial. Social order therefore cannot be explained by values alone, because they can account for antisocial as well as cooperative behaviour.

Unlike Freud and Durkheim, Christine Horne (2001 in Hechter and Horne, 2003) suggests explanations for how the contents of norms could emerge. One possibility is that normative simply means the same as typical or frequent behaviour. However according to Horne (2001) there seems to be a difference between purely habitual behaviour and acts that...
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