Social Structure The Macro level Perspective Social structure provides tr:'! framework within which we interact with others. This framework is an orderly, fixed arrangement of parts that together make up the whole group or society As defined in Chapter I, a society is a large social grouping that shares the same geographical territory and is subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. At the macro level. the social structure of a society has several essential elements: social institutions, groups, statuses, roles, and norms. Functional theorists emphasize that social structure is essential because it creates order and predictability in a society (Parsons, 1951). Social structure is also important for our human development. we develop a self-concept as we learn the attitudes, values, and behaviors of the people around us. When these attitudes and values are part of a predictable structure, it is easier to develop that self-concept, Social structure gives us the ability to interpret the social situations we encounter. Par example, we expect our families to care for us, our schools to educate l is, and our police to protect us. When our circumstances change dramatically, most of us feel an acute sense of
anxiety because we do not know what to expect or what is expected of us. for example, newly homeless individuals may feel disoriented because they do not know how to function in their new setting. The person is likely to ask questions: "How will I survive on the streets!" "Where do I go to get help!" "Should J stay at a shelter!" "Where can I get a job?" Social structure helps people make sense out of their environment, even when they find themselves on the streets.
In addition to providing a map for our encounters with others. social structure may limit our options and place us in arbitrary categories not of our own choosing. Conflict theorists maintain that there is more to social structure than is readily visible and that we must explore the deeper. underlying structures that determine social relations in a society. Karl Marx suggested that the way economic production is organized is the most important structural aspect of any society. In capitalistic societies, where a few people control the labor of many the social structure reflects a system of relationships of domination among categories of people (for example, owner-worker and employer-employee). Social structure creates boundaries that define which persons or groups will be the "insiders" and which will be the "outsiders" Social marginnlity is the state of being part insider and part outsider in the social structure. Sociologist Robert Park (1928) coined this term to refer to persons (such as immigrants) who simultaneously share the life and traditions or two distinct groups. Social marginality results in stigmatization. A stigma. is any physical or. social attribute or sign that so devalues a person's social identi' y that it disqualifies that person from full social acceptance (Goffman, 1963 b). A convicted criminal, wearing a prison uniform. is an example person who has been stigmatized the uniform is that the person has done something wrong and s::~·u;J not be allowed unsupervised outside the prison wal.s,