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 institutions as the family and the peer group, as well as the education system, religious institutions, the mass media as well as such
institutions as the security forces and the justice system. As we become exposed to these institutions, we become aware of what our social group expects of us. We gradually learn what appropriate behaviour is and get an idea of the consequences of each. In this regard, we can better understand the practical framework within which properly ordered collective order happens.
This question of how it is that humans are able to cooperate and engaged in structured behaviour is taken by this writer to be central to sociology, largely due to the fact that it manifests itself in the work of such writers as Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, Karl Marx, Max Weber and even W.E.B. Dubois. Emile Durkheim postulated that the basis of social order was, in fact, wide scale agreement and shared morality. Bilton et al (1981) states that Durkheim and fellow functionalist, Talcott Parsons, were talking about the same idea when they used the terms “collective conscience” and “value consensus” respectively. Essentially they were both suggesting that human beings submit to a set of social rules because they believe in their validity to a greater or lesser extent. The difference between them was that “…in Durkheim the source of this belief was society itself but in…Parsons, society is described as a social system” (Bilton et al, 1981).
Haralambos et al (2002) states that “…Durkheim assumes that society has certain functional prerequisites, the most important of which is the need for social order.” Haralmbos et al (2002) go on to further explain that, “without this consensus or agreement on fundamental moral issues, social solidarity would be impossible and individuals could not be bound together to form a social unit.”
Parsons’ treatment of society as a social system has been seen as foundational to his other ideas, but the fact importance he placed on society as a social system was crucial to his broader understanding of social order and cannot be understated.
This treatment of social order became central to functionalist writing, since common values produce common goals. This is largely because writers in the functionalist school posit that since society is a system of interrelated parts, there is a need for there to a certain amount of agreement in society in order to make the system work. Thus, from a functionalist perspective, social groups and institutions are effective in shaping social order by virtue of the ways in which they ensure conformity to the consensus on values that exists in society.
The challenge with this functionalist analysis of order is that it presents a very idealistic and almost utopic picture of how society works. It suggests that we all come together because we happily agree upon a certain set of values there is no element of coercion or exploitation involved. Another perspective that gives a different treatment to the issue is that of the Marist school of thought.
The work of Karl Marx presents a sharply contrasting picture of the order problem in society. Rather than seeing social order as the result of collective agreement and harmony in society, Marxist sociology presents a radical alternative to this view. Jessop (1999) highlights the importance of seeing Marx in a material determinist framework. He did not see society and its institutions as emerging from the wide scale on a set of values, beliefs and ideas. Rather, he saw the society as emerging from economic forces. Primacy was given to the economic system of society rather than the value system.
A major argument postulated by Marx is that conflict emerges in society with the emergence of private ownership (Jessop 1998). For Marx, the bottom line behaviour of man is the pursuit of subsistence. Thus, in order to survive one must engage in some form of work. By working, we engage in different types of relationships with each other. Marx highlights two basic states of being; owners of the means of their production and owners of their labour. Essentially there are the haves and the have nots, the bourgeoisie and the proletariats. These, according to him, are the two basic classes of society.
Marx postulates that it is the bourgeoisie who – by virtue of having control of the means of production – have ideological control over the society. They can therefore exert their idea of values, norms, etc on the wider society, seeing that the superstructure of society is biased in their favour. Although there is conflict in society, the effect of that conflict is sublimated as a result of ruling class dominance. Charon (1999) summarizes Marx’s take on the issue as suggesting that social order is maintained through force and manipulation of a subordinate class of people.
From this perspective, we see that in society, it is possible for social groups to work to conspire to hold masses of people in check. The agents of social control represent the ruling class agenda and ideology. In this regard, some persons fall into deviance, because the ruling class agenda, which dictates what is acceptable or not, conspires against them. As such, it is the capitalist system that creates deviants, rather than the deviants themselves.
Thus far, the writers examined have subscribed to a macro or structuralist approach to society and the individuals in it. They postulate ideas that suggest that the society creates the individuals and therefore emphasis is placed on understanding the work of social structures in maintaining social order. However, a large body of sociological work subscribes to a micro or interpretive approach. They suggest that the structuralist stance underestimates the abilities of the individual and treats them as less than autonomous beings. Conversely, interpretive theorists seek to understand structured, relatively uniform behaviour against the backdrop of humans being purposeful and rational beings. They do not merely seek to know that a behaviour has been committed, but more so, the interpretations of the meanings behind the behaviours in question.
Max Weber, though influenced by Marx, was highly critical of his approach to understanding society. He did not subscribe to the one-sided idealism of functionalism, but at the same time, rejected the one-sided materialism of Marx. For him, both of these forces worked in tandem and were crucial in
shaping social cohesion and change (Jessop 1998). He drew his analysis from his research into The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (1904) which explored the ways in which religious beliefs shaped the development of capitalist system while, at the same time emphasizing that the capitalist system could shape the course of religious beliefs.
In rejecting the more structuralist approach, Weber presents the idea that society and the social order does not exist in isolation of the purposeful actions of the individuals in it. He suggests that it is individuals in interaction who give rise to a social structure. The social action approach to understanding behaviour relies heavily on the concept of rationality. He identified different types of rationality, namely: traditional, affective and value-free rationality and emphasized that societies progressed towards deeper more rational behaviour with development. According to Jessop, Weber saw social change as the rationalization of social life. This rationalization became culminated in the
creation the bureaucracy in modern society.
Thus far, the perspectives that have presented have been colour-blind in the examination of society. They have either presented a vision of society that is either too harmonious to fathom any idea of conflict and division or examined a conflict that emphasizes wealth-based conflict so far that it understates the presence of any other form of conflict that might be abundant in society. It can be argued no perspective best explains the dynamics of Caribbean social order on its own. As such, a more Caribbean perspective must be sought.
M.G. Smith, in his seminal work, The Plural Society in the West Indies advanced the argument that the Caribbean societies are several cultures co-existing without blending to form one. Smith (1955) begins his analysis with the basic functionalist premise that society begins with shared values and common social institutions. As a functionalist, he sought to apply this basic principle to a diverse Caribbean cultural landscape with slaves, mulattoes and whites living alongside each-other.
When Smith (1955) examined such social institutions as Family, Religion, Education and Economy, he concluded that there is no single collective value system among the three major cultural groups. Rather, he argued that each group had a value system of its own and that the Colonial system was responsible for holding the societies together. This idea of ‘cultural pluralism’ as he described it was quite popular in Caribbean thought for some time, as it helped to explain the divided and divisive of Caribbean social relations. Hence, through the work of M.G. Smith, we are better able to see how social order is in the Caribbean is achieved.
On the other hand, other Caribbean writers in the structural functionalist tradition have disagreed with Smith. Edward Braithwaite (in Barrow and Reddock, 2002) argues that the Caribbean does indeed have a common value system. He posits that there has emerged in the region a common ascriptive base, upon which values are built. For instance, he believes that over time, blacks came to accept white dominance, as did the whites and, hence, the argument that there were absolutely no common values does not hold. He suggests that, while stark differences exist in the way cultural institutions are practiced by different sections of the society, it cannot be denied that underlying commonalities abound. Hence, from this perspective, we are again able to appreciate, another perspective of Caribbean order.
Yet another Caribbean sociologist worth examining is Edward Kamau Brathwaite (1971). In his work, Creolisation in Jamaica, Brathwaite advances the argument that the cultures which were flung together and helped to shape Caribbean culture have indeed mixed, blended and fused to form one. In providing a working definition, Edward Kamau Brathwaite in, Creolisation in Jamaica (1971) states that creolisation is “…a cultural action – material, psychological, and spiritual – based upon the stimulus/response of individuals within the society to their environment and – as white/black …to each other.” As such, creolisation theory posits that when the Africans were thrown together in social arrangement with the Europeans, there was a cultural fusion and this fusion of cultural elements came to form something new. The assumption is
that the two cultures were flung together but one was the ‘dominant’ culture (Europe) and the other was subordinate (Africa).
Simple exposure to linguistics will explain that a ‘creole’ is a fusion of two or more languages to form a new one. In this way, the new language – though influenced by both – is neither of the pre-existent languages. For example, Haitian creole is heavily influenced by French, but is by no means understood by a native French speaker living in France. The point is that, when the process of creolisation takes place, a new social order is formed.
Ken Pryce in Barrow & Reddock (2004) questions whether or not ‘mainstream approaches’ to understanding order and deviance be readily applied to the Caribbean. As post-plantation societies, the Caribbean region has been shaped by the complex dynamics of its cultural experience. In his piece entitled, Towards a Caribbean Criminology he posits that Caribbean experience is complicated and hence, scholars must examine the peculiarities of the region and the ways in which social groups contribute to deviance in the culture.
Pryce (in Barrow & Reddock 2004) suggests that more attention must be placed on the lumpen proletariat class (as described by Karl Marx) and the ways in which they’ve been exploited by the capitalist class; resulting in a certain level of deviance. He also discusses the ways in which modernization of Caribbean societies has contributed to the modernization of deviance and crime in the locality.
For his part, Anthony Harriot (in Barrow & Reddock, 2004) critically analyzes the changing trends of crime and deviance in Jamaica. He highlights the trending down of property related crimes which have happened alongside a rise in violent crime. He also notes that the gun has increased in prominence in violent crimes over the last three decades.
Harriot (in Barrow & Reddock, 2004) focuses attention at two major sources of violent crime in Jamaica. These are ‘domestic violence’ and ‘gang violence’.
These two categories have accounted for the overwhelming majority of violent crimes (particularly murders) in Jamaica. What this reveals is that,
membership in primary groups, in which persons are familiar with each other, does not exclude one from perpetuating and being the victims of violence. Domestic violence takes place among persons who share familial bonds. Couples and wider family members are often the perpetrators as well as the victims of deviant activity. Similarly, gang violence in has been cited in annual statistics are the largest contributor to violent crime statistics.
In the final analysis, it is beyond doubt that groups – both small and large – are fundamental to human social experience. We turn to them for a sense of collective identity and belonging. Because of this reality, social groups help to promote social cohesion, solidarity and facilitate social order. However, while group life is instrumental in preserving order in society, it is also a fact that social groups do contribute to deviant behaviour in societies everywhere.
References • • Barrow, C. and Reddock, R. Caribbean Sociology © 2002
Bilton, T., Bonnet, K.,Jones, P., Stanworth, M., Introduction to Sociology, © 1981 Macmillan Publishers, Londin
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Coser, Lewis, Key Sociological Thinkers, © 1977
Chevannes, B. Rastafari: Roots and Ideology, © 1995
Giddens, Anthony, Sociology (3rd Ed.) © 1999 Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge
Giddens, Anthony, What is Sociology? A Definition and Some Preliminary Considerations, © 1986 Macmillan Publishers, London.
Haralambos, M. and Holborn, M. Sociology: Themes and Perspectives © 2004.
Macionis, J. and Plummer, K., Sociology: A Global Introduction, © 2008 Prentice Hall.