Chapter 4: Social Structure and Social Interaction
This chapter is divided into two parts with two levels of analysis: social structure
(macrosociology) and social interaction (microsociology)
The Two Levels of SociologicalAnalysis
• Sociologists use two approaches to studying social life:
o Macrosociology (focusing on the broad features of social structure) used by
functionalists and conflict theorist
o Microsociology (concentrating on small-scale, face-to-face social interactions
between people) used by symbolic interactionists
Part I: MacrosociologicalAnalysis of Social Structure
• What is “social structure”? (#1, #2, #3??)
o Social structure refers to the framework that surrounds us, consisting of the
relationships of people and groups to one another, which give direction and set
limits on human behavior.
o Recall Durkheim’s concept of “social facts”
o Aperson’s location in the social structure—his or her social class and social
status; the roles he or she are assigned to play; and the culture, groups, and social
institutions to which he or she belongs—underlie his or her perceptions, attitudes,
o All of the components of social structure work together to maintain social order
by limiting, guiding, and organizing human behavior.
• The major components of social structure include culture, social class, social status, roles,
groups, and social institutions
o Social class – One’s class location is based on income, education, and
occupational prestige. Alarge number of people with similar incomes, education
levels, and occupational prestige make up a social class.
Determines: residence, health outcomes, education, health and mental
For conflict theorists, class is the primary element of social structure that
determines individual’s fates
o Social status – Describes the position that a person occupies in a society or a
Social status is a recognized position that an individual occupies willingly
Statuses are socially defined not individually defined. Statuses define who
and what we are in relation to others. Differs from the concept of identity.
Statuses guide social interaction—each status involves particular duties,
rights and expectations.
EX. Mother, father, child statuses in family. Professor and student statuses
in a classroom
Statuses are classified in terms of how individuals obtain them Ascribed status – social positions a person either inherits at birth (e.g.,
race, ethnicity, sex) or receives involuntarily later in life (e.g., teenager,
adult, senior citizen).
Individuals have little or no choice—the status is ascribed
Achieved status – a social position that someone assumes voluntarily and
that reflects personal ability and effort (e.g., an athlete, a good student, a
Individual has significant choice—status is achieved
Many statuses involve a combination of ascription and achievement
Each status a person occupies, whether it is prestigious or not so
prestigious, ascribed or achieved, provides guidelines for how s/he should
act or feel.
People often flash status symbols such as wedding rings, expensive
jewelry, and luxury cars to announce their statuses to others. In simplest
terms, a status symbol is any item used to identify a status.
Master status – a status that cuts (or dominant) across the other statuses
an individual occupies.Astatus that has exceptional importance for social
identity, often shaping a person’s entire life.
Can be ascribed or achieved. EX occupation (achieved), sex
Status Inconsistency – a contradiction or mismatch between statuses—a
gas station attendant with a Ph.D., for example.
o Roles – Roles are the behaviors, obligations, and privileges attached to a status.
The difference between a role and a status is that a person occupies a status (ex.
Being a male), but plays a role, such as acting tough.
One individual occupies several statuses at the same time = status set
Wife, mother, teacher, researcher
Mother: maternal role, civic role
Wife: domestic role, conjugal role
Teacher: teacher role, colleague role
Researcher: laboratory role, author role
Role conflict (among several statuses) – refers to incompatibility among
roles corresponding to two or more different statuses.
Individual feels pulled in several directions related to demands of
EX. couldn’t study for exam because of part-time working as a
student and employee.
!!!!!Every day is regulated by a structure that exists outside of ourselves!!!!!!
EX. Test date is set by teacher… or this class ends at 6:20 and we’re not forced to stay
Role strain (within one status) – refers to incompatibility among roles
corresponding to a single status. Difficulty of being friendly and
supervisory at work.
Role exit – process by which people disengage from social roles that have
been central to their lives.
EX. Nuns, ex-doctors, ex-alcoholics – trouble adjusting to a new role o Groups – Agroup consists of people who regularly and consciously interact with
one another and, ordinarily, share similar values, norms, and expectations.
Decision-making tends to move from the individual to the collective (or
group level); for example, peer pressure, notions of belonging
EX. Young Johnny sets something in school on fire
o Social Institutions –Abroad definition of social institutions is the organized,
usual, or standard ways by which society meets it basic needs
Social institutions tend to be more formal in industrialized societies and
more informal in tribal societies
EX. Nursed elderly, but now we have institutions of nursing homes
In industrial and post-industrial societies, the major social institutions are
the family, religion, law, politics, economics, education, science, medicine,
the military, and the mass media
Social institutions establish the context in which people live, shaping their
priorities, obligations, activities, relationships, behaviors, thoughts, and
Functionalists and conflict theorists disagree over the purposes for and
effects of social institutions.
Functionalists emphasize the positive aspects of social institutions and
argue that social institutions exist because they meet universal ne