. What are the pattern variables as discussed by Parsons. How do they help the
development of sociological theory?
When pattern variables Talcott Parsons introduced a concept called action frame of reference.
This concept consists of 3 central characteristics: usually more than one actor, a situation in
which an action is carried out, and the orientation of the action in that specific situation. This
concept assumes that all action is directed at achieving goals, which involves planning which
thus relates the individual to that situation
Pattern variables are discussed in Parsons work Toward a General Theory of Action. He defines
them as a framework for understanding social action. Pattern variable schemes are a way of
classifying the various actions an individual can take in society. Parson outlines 5 pattern
variables, each with 2 terms which contain a choice presented to the individual in all social
action situations. The first pattern variable is “effectivity vs effective neutrality. This means the
expression of emotion as opposed to an absence of emotion. An individual must decide in the
context of the situation which, and how much emotion to show. In the context of family one is
supposed to show a high degree of emotionality to members of that group. There are also
situations where emotionality is not preferred, such as when paying a mechanic for their service.
This variable shows how society places norms and expectations on the individual when acting in
society, which act as constraints.
The second pattern variable put forward by Parsons is “self orientation vs. collectivity
orientation”. This dilemma refers whether the individual prefers self oriented action choices over
those expressed by society. In certain social roles this dilemma is quite apparent where they are
responsible for others and must act in a collective capacity for the group they are a member. He
gives the example of an individual in the military, who must give priority to the collective
matters rather than their own personal ones. He also gives an example when the self is put in
priority over the collective will, such as when one is ill. Emphasis is put on the individual to get
better, in order to return to their full capacity for collectivity.
A third pattern variable according to Parsons is “universalism vs particularism” which related to