Social structure is a key sociological concept. While social structure is useful in that it
provides an ordered framework for society and our interactions with others, it also constrains the
ways people relate to one another in social situations. While we may think our actions are freely
chosen, most of the time, our behaviour follows the instructions outlined in social scripts.
Our identities and roles, fundamental elements of social structure, are a central part of the
way social structure controls us. In order words, we are expected to conform to the behaviours
associated with our identities and roles. Our group memberships also regulate our behaviour, and
this is the case whether we are members of small groups or vast bureaucracies. A number of
groups are examined in this chapter: teams, bands, and gangs (TBGs); cliques; networks; and
bureaucracies. Although these groups vary in size and in their goals, they expect us to conform to
rules beneficial to the group, if not ourselves.
This chapter is grounded almost exclusively in the symbolic interactionist tradition.
In this chapter, you will
• learn how social structures, roles, and identities influence our behaviour;
• find out how the size of a group affects the way people behave within it;
• differentiate between the functions of gangs, teams, and bands, while recognizing how
each group is similar in its goals;
• consider the characteristics of cliques; and,
• understand the processes that occur within bureaucracies.
identity: All the ways in which we view and describe ourselves (female/male, friend, student,
attractive, unusual, etc.) and in which others perceive us.
looking-glass self: A process in which people come to see (and value) themselves as others see
role: The expected behaviour of an individual in a social position and the duties associated with
that position. 2
role-taking: The process in which we take on existing defined roles.
role-making: The process of creating new social roles in and through interaction.
role-set: The collection of roles any individual plays.
role strain: A result of role conflict, when the demands of some roles conflict with the demands
social script: Guidelines that people follow to carry out interactions and fulfill role expectations
as seamlessly as possible.
status: A person’s social position, which is associated with a role and its associated
status sequence: The array of statuses we occupy over a lifetime, through which we pass in a
socially recognizable order.
symbol: A thing that stands for or represents something else, and provides a means of
communication (e.g., through spoken words, written words, facial expressions, or body
Crozier, M. (1964). The Bureaucratic Phenomenon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Crozier, a French sociologist, explores whether and why bureaucracies work differently in
different societies and cultures, despite their common organization as described by Max
Weber. With reference to societies’ varying histories and circumstances, Crozier argues that
the ways in which bureaucracies function vary according their societal context—for
example, according to cultural conceptions of inequality and freedom.
Du Gay, P. (2005). The Values of Bureaucracy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
This book explores why bureaucracies are such successful, and therefore persistent,
organizational structures. The book outlines the characteristics that make bureaucracies
efficient in various settings.
Freeman, L. C. (2004). The Development of Social Network Analysis: A Study in the Sociology
of Science. Vancouver, BC: Empirical Press.
Humans have an inherent need to be social; therefore, social networks and social structure
have existed for centuries. This book considers the development of sociological research on 3
these topics over the course of the twentieth century. It also discusses the characteristics of
social network composition as vast webs of connections between nodes.
Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (2003). Education, Social Status and Health. New York, Aldine De
This book examines the connection between social status and health and well-being. It is
widely known that higher social status—including high income, high educational
background, occupational success, and prestige—is associated with better health and vitality.
The book also provides useful historical information, outlines of previous research, and
Travers, M. (2007). The New Bureaucracy: Quality Assurance and Its Critics. Bristol, UK: The
This analysis of British bureaucratic organizations is written from a symbolic interactionist
viewpoint. It also overviews the classic works on this topic, including material by Weber,
Merton, Durkheim, Marx, Parsons, Goffman, and others.
Society for Study of Symbolic Interaction (sssi)
Sociology of Organizations
Correctional Services Canada
Multiple Choice Questions
1. The sociologist whose name is most associated with social forms is
a) Erving Goffman.
b) Émile Durkheim.
c) Michel Foucault.
d) George Simmel. 4
2. Guidelines that people follow to carry out interactions and fulfill role expectations as
seamlessly as possible are known as
a) social forms.
b) social scripts.
c) social statuses.
d) social roles.
3. In Outsiders, Becker studied
a) jazz musicians.
b) marijuana users.
c) male juvenile delinquents.
d) both a and b
4. The __________ approach compares social life in terms of a theatrical production.
a) presentation of self
b) impression management
5. A __________ refers to the expected behaviour of an individual in a social position and the
duties associated with that position.
a) role requirement
b) social script
6. __________ refers to all the ways in which we view and describe ourselves and in which
others perceive us.
c) Status sequence
d) Role embracement 5
7. A __________ is a group of people who interact and communicate often with one another
and share common interests, values, and goals.
b) primary group
d) social network
8. The __________ concept refers to the process in which people come to see (and value)
themselves as others see them.
a) looking-glass self
d) significant other
9. In __________, a person may take on a role but keep separate their behaviour from the
identity associated with that role.
a) role exit
b) role ambiguity
c) role distance
d) role compartmentalization
10. According to George Herbert Mead, people adopt roles throughout their lifetimes in a
a) role adaptation.
d) role embracement.
11. A person’s social position, which is associated with a role and its associated scripts is known
b) master status.
c) status set.
d) dominant status. 6
12. The array of statuses we occupy over a lifetime, through which we pass in a socially
recognizable order is defined as a
a) status order.
b) status sequence.
c) status set.
d) status hierarchy.
13. When the roles a person plays conflict with each other, the individual experiences
a) role conflict.
b) role strain.
c) role distance.
d) role stress.
14. Julia is scheduled to write an exam at 8:00 in the morning, but her boss has scheduled her to
work an extra shift at that time. Julia is experiencing
a) role conflict.
b) role incompatibility.
c) role stress.
d) role management.