Social structure is the basic concept in sociology. Efforts have been made to define social structure but there is no unanimity of opinion. Herbert Spencer was the first man who discussed about social structure but he could not give a clear-cut definition of 'social structure'. Durkheim also made a futile effort to define it.
S.F. Nadel says, "We arrive at the structure of a society through abstracting from the concrete population, and its behaviour, the pattern or network of relationship obtaining between actors in their capacity of playing roles relative to one another".
Talcott Parsons says, "Social structure is the term applied to the particular arrangement of the inter-related institutions, agencies, and social patterns, as well as the statuses and roles which each person assumes in the group".
Ginsberg opines, "Social structure is concerned with the principal forms of social organization, i.e. types of groups, associations and institutions and the complex of these which constitute societies."
From the above definitions, it is very clear that social structure is an abstract phenomerta. It refers to external aspects of society. Its units are groups, institutions, associations and organizations. When men relate themselves to each other, they establish a structural form. It may be a group, an association or an organization. Social structure is made up of these structural forms, which are arranged in an inter-related way to enable the society to function in a harmonious manner. Elements of Social Structure.
1. Normative System:
People attach emotional importance to the ideals and values, which are called norms of society. The institutions and associations are inter-related according to these norms. The individuals perform their roles in accordance with the accepted norms of society.
2. Position System:
Position system refers to the statuses and roles of the individuals. The proper functioning of social structure depends upon proper assignment of roles and statuses.
3. Sanction System:
Proper enforcement of norms needs sanction of society. It integrates and co-ordinates different parts of society. The stability of social structure depends upon the effectiveness of its sanction, system.
4. A system of anticipated responses:
The anticipated response system calls upon the individual to participate in the social system. The successful working of social structure depends upon the realization of his duties by the individual and his efforts to fulfill these duties.
5. Action System:
The whole social structure revolves around the action system. The action is the root cause, which weaves the web of social relationships and sets the social structure in motion.
Types of Social Structure:
Tolcott Parsons has described four principal types of social structure. His classification is based on four social values universalistic social values, particularistic social values, achieved social values and ascribed social values. The four types of social structure are-
1. The Universalistic-Achievement Pattern:
Universalistic achievement value patterns sometimes are imposed to the values of social structure built mostly about kinship, community, class, race etc. When universalism is combined with achievement values, it produces a social structure of universalistic achievement pattern. Under this type of social structure, the choice of goal by the individual must be in accord with the universalistic values. His pursuits are defined by universalistic moral norms.
2. The Universalistic-Ascription Pattern:
Under this type of social structure, the value orientation is dominated by the elements of ascription. Therefore, in such a social structure strong emphasis is laid on the status of the individual rather than of his specific achievements. The emphasis is on what an individual is rather than on what he has done. Status is ascribed to the group than to the individual. The individual derives status from his group. Therefore, it can be said that the universalistic achievement type of social structure is individualistic whereas the universalistic ascription type is 'collectivistic'.
3. The Particularistic - Achievement Pattern:
This type of social structure combines achievement values with particularism. It is more traditionalistic value. Persons has kept the Indian and the Chinese social structure under this category.
4. The Particularistic-Ascriptive Pattern:
In this type the social structure is organized around the relational reference points notably those of kinship and local, community but it differs from the particularistic achievement type. The structure tends to be traditional and emphasis is laid on its stability. Parsons says that Spanish social structure is such type.