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Social Institutions
AI the macro level of all societies, certain basic activities routinely occur-children are born and socialized. goods and services are produced and distributed. order is preserved. and a sense of purpose is maintained (Aberleetal., 1950; Mack and Bradford, 1979). Social institutions are the means by which these basic needs are met A social institution is a set of organized beliefs and rules that establishes how a society will attempt to meet its basic social needs. In the past. these needs have centered around five basic social institutions: the family. religion. education. the economy. and the government or politics. Today. mass media. sports. science and medicine. and the military are also considered to be social institutions.

What is the difference between a group and a social institution? A group is composed of specific. identifiable people; an institution is a standardized Nosily of doing something. The concept of "family" helps to distinguish between the two. When we talk about "your family" or "my family we are referring to a specific family. When we refer to the family as a social institution. we are talking about ideologies and standardized patterns of behavior that organize family life. For example. the family as a social institution contains certain statuses organized into well-defined relationships. such as husband-wife. parent-child, and brother-sister. Specific families do not always conform to these Ideologies and behavior patterns. Functional theorists emphasize that social institutions exist because they perform five essential tasks:

1. ReplACing members. Societies and groups must have Socially approved ways of replacing members who move away or die. The family provides the structure for legitimated sexual activity-and thus procreation- between adults.

2. Teaching new members' People who are born into a society or move into it must learn the group's values and customs. The family is essential in teaching new members. but other social institutions educate new members as well

·3. Producing. distributing, and consuming goods and services. All societies must provide and distributegoods and services for their members. The economy is the primary social institution fulfilling this' need; the government is often involved in the regulation of economic activity.

4. Preserving order. Every group or society must preserve order within its boundaries and protect itself from attack by outsiders. The government legitimates the creation of law enforcement agencies to preserve internal order and some fonn of military for external defense.
5. Providing and maintaining a sense of purpose. In order to motivate people to cooperate with one another. a sense of purpose is needed. Although this list of functional prerequisites is shared by all societies, the institutions in each society perform these tasks in somewhat different ways depending on their specific cultural values and norms.

Conflict theorists agree With functionalists that social institutions are originally organized to meet basic social needs. However. they do not believe that social institutions work for the common good of everyone in SOCiety.For example. the homeless Jack the power and resources to promote their own interests when they are opposed by dominant social groups. From the conflict perspective. social institutions such as the government maintain the privileges of the wealthy and powerful while contributing to the powerlessness of others .

For example. U.S. government policies in urban areas have benefited some people but exacerbated the problems of others. Urban renewal and transportation projects have caused the destruction of low-cost housing and put large numbers of people "on the street" (Katz. 1989). Similarly. the shift in governmental policies toward the mentally ill and welfare recipients has resulted in more people struggling-and often failing-to rind affordable housing. Meanwhile. many wealthy and privileged bankers. investors. developers. and builders have bench led at the expense of the low-income casualties of those policies.

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