SOCC33 - Outline
19 January Structure, system, and action
Readings: Mills, C. Wright. 2000  “The Promise”. In The Sociological
Imagination, pp. 3-24. New York: Oxford.
Bernardi, F., J.J. González, and M. Requena. 2007. “The
Sociology of Social Structure”. In Clifton D. Bryant, Dennis L. Peck
(coeditors in chief) 21 Century Sociology: A Reference Handbook, Vol.
1, pp. 162-170. Sage: Thousand Oaks.
Social structure, culture, and social interaction [“social action”?]
“Society’s fault, society made me do it”
Some say that it is the individual’s fault as to why they get into trouble but some may say that it
is society’s fault.
Sociology looks at aggregates—statistics, numbers, groups of numbers, shared similar
Symbolic Interactionist—micro level
These are patterned interactions because people usually do the same things on a daily basis
All of these have complex relationships
1 Sociologists are interested in explaining the behavior of humans in relation to others (social
A major assumptions—individuals actions are being influenced by the actions of others in a
group—this is very much so a structured component of society
Social interactions are shaped by culture and by social structure.
An example of social structure—the act of eating—what you eat is easily determined by what
others are eating around you, whom you regularly interact with
It might be useful to think of social structure as the way that social life is set up
Macro—nations, national, global (made up of nations), European nations—all these share certain
commonalities with one another
Meso—regions, communities, organizations, occupational groups
Micro—neighbourhoods, families, peer groups, classroom
Asking the question of social structure, determinism and human agency.
Structure determines our actions, seems to limit our roles as individuals.
Maybe our actions determine what kinds of social structure comes into being, or is it the opposite
Marx: ones social economic group determines their cultural consciusncess, determined by SES.
If you are a worker or a means of productuion? Those who were production, also had the means
of translating, or funneling down what their class interestes were to other classes below them.
This is the class persepective, example is Titanic.
The group that you are in, determines the opportunities that you have, your class is also
determined by your parents class. Higher chance of you to follow in the same footsteps of your
Mills: If one does not understand their SES, then they will accept that things are the way they are
Durkhiem would agree with marx, he says that social solidarity rather then conflict is what diets
our behavior, this is a more functionalist view. When society is well integrated with each other,
this is when you have a functioning society, but this is when we start to question the structre of
Structure drives culture.
2 Life Chances by Social Class
“a banking history of a nation which adduces only economic motives for explanatory purposes
is . . . just as unacceptable as an explanation of the Sistine Madonna as a consequence of the
socioeconomic basis of the culture of the epoch in which it was created” (Max Weber,
“Objectivity in Social Science and Social Policy', in The Methodology of the Social Sciences, p.
71. New York: Free Press. pp. 50-112).
This description suggest that weber is questioning the idea of the economic base or economic
structure, the way that society is organized, reflects the culture of the society. He suggests that
this is kind of questionable, we cannot just look at economic motives. It is not always economics
that drives social structure, but the value and beliefs also have a stand on social structure.
Religion, sign and symbols also drive social structure. Different beliefs brought capitalism into
Robert Merton’s anomie
For Merton, societies are characterized by two structural features:
i. a commonly defined set of goals for its members to try to achieve and
ii. a generally approved set of means to achieve those goals
“When social structure extols common symbols of success for all, and effectively restricts access
to legitimate modes for some segment of the population, deviance ensues on a large scale.” –
Anomie: social norms.
3 Structures opportunities are limited by the social class that you come from. That’s what he
means when he says that we have this huge dream out there but there are limiting factors that
allow other to come closer to the dream then others, this is higher economic classes.
Opportunities structures by your ethnic background, education, sex. Society teaches us that we
can achieve by individual merit, that everyone has an equal chance. But this is not true. Because
as some people try as much as they can, they are still held back from achieving their goal. Other
factors to consider, anomic because there is a disconnect between the goals and the means in
North America, because it does not allow everyone for economic success evenly.
Social institutions: family, school, church. All of these are determined by how well their social
institutions are doing. If the economy takes a down turn, people will fid it hard to pay for things,
and then there is a crisis in the family life too. Social institutions make up societyis social
structure. It I organized around a common set of values of success, but do not make it known
that it is an equal grasp at success. Others might come easier then others.
The influence of the social structure that one is part of.
Merton: The Goal-Means Gap
Merton believed that instead of discouraging deviant behaviour, society in fact does the opposite
encourages people to engage in deviant activities and behaviors.
All of these values that we have towards conformity, is what binds us to our assumptions
what it means to be a normal functioning member of society. Then we take those assumptions
and treat others differently. It is not so much society that discourages us from deviant acts, but it
is the opposite, society encourages deviant behavior. Encourage people to break rules by the goal
that we mentioned before, the “American dream”: if you work hard enough you will succeed
(individual merit). Lets say you do not have a nice lawn, you get judged by your neighbors, they
might tell you that you are lowering the property value. We are pushed toward this American
dream thing, which is what connects all our social institutions. Our parents will say to get good
grades in school, because it gaurentees a good job and good money, and ultimnetly the American
dream. Other social institutions, like media, all preach the same kinda of idea of sucees, those
who do not want to follow the dream are usually seen as criminals, low lifes, etc. Religious
instititioions, and education also preach the dream. The American dream is also functional, it
serves many purposes. The idea of owning a house, and cars, what is the function and the
purpose to believe to aspire to it? It helps to build a nation, hard working people acquire wealth,
pay their taxes, and then we have a cohesive society. It has been creditied for the be