1. WHAT IS A SOCIAL INSTITUTION?
A social institution is a complex, integrated set of social norms organized around the preservation of a basic societal value. Obviously, the sociologist does not define institutions in the same way as does the person on the street. Lay persons are likely to use the term "institution" very loosely, for churches, hospitals, jails, and many other things as institutions. Sociologists often reserve the term "institution" to describe normative systems that operate in five basic areas of life, which may be designated as the primary institutions. (1) In determining Kinship; (2) in providing for the legitimate use of power; (3) in regulating the distribution of goods and services; (4) in transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next; and (5) in regulating our relation to the supernatural. In shorthand form, or as concepts, these five basic institutions are called the family, government, economy, education and religion. Family
The five primary institutions are found among all human groups. They are not always as highly elaborated or as distinct from one another as into the United States, but, in rudimentary form at last, they exist everywhere. Their universality indicates that they are deeply rooted in human nature and that they are essential in the development and maintenance of orders. Sociologists operating in terms of the functionalist model society have provided the clearest explanation of the functions served by social institutions. Apparently there are certain minimum tasks that must be performed in all human groups. Unless these tasks are performed adequately, the group will cease to exist. An analogy may help to make the point. We might hypothesize that cost accounting department is essential to the operation of a large corporation. A company might procure a superior product and distribute it then at the price which is assigned to it, the company will soon go out of business. Perhaps the only way to avoid this is to have a careful accounting of the cost of each step in the production and distribution process. Social institutions are important structures in all societies. The fundamental aspect of all social institutions is that they meet basic human needs and are VERY difficult to change. According the Berger and Luckmann, social institutions arise out of our repeated interactions. One person observes the other’s behavior and attaches motives to their actions. As these actions are repeated over and over again, behaviors become predictable and social roles are developed. Once behaviors become crystallized, they are passed from generation to generation as “objective realities.” In other words, we internalize these behaviors and assume they are natural to all societies. A sociologist named Talcott Parsons devoted a great deal of time trying to understanding the importance of social institutions in society. He suggested that each social institution has a separate function which contributes to the stability of society as a whole. Using the organismic analogy, Parsons and other Functionalists pointed out that society is like a living organism. Functionalists believed that society could be analyzed in the same way that the physical sciences had studied the human body. They sought to understand social institutions as if they were parts of a living organism. For instance, in the human body, there are organs that work together in a healthy, stable system. Each organ has its own function or purpose. Without the lungs, for instance, the circulatory system would fail to operate and oxygen would not make its way to other parts of the body. This is a necessary function for all humans. With this in mind, Parsons pointed out that like the human body, society is a system of interrelated parts that work together to create stability. Social institutions are equated with the body’s organs. When one part is failing to function properly, other social...
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