The word structure originally means the construction of a building. Gradually, structure began to imply inter-relations between the parts of any whole. The concept of social structure became popular amongst the sociologists, few years after the World War II. In this period of time the term Social Structure came to be applied to ‘almost any ordered arrangement of social phenomenon.’
There are three major views of Social Structure.
1. Structural-functionalist view
2. Structuralist view
3. Marxist view
1. Structural-functionalist view:
It is founded on the analogy between a society and an organism, modelled on the natural science methods of biology. These sociologists were of importance here, like Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Radcliffe Brown, etc
Spencer introduced the concept of social structure in sociology. For Spencer, a society is made up of different parts, all of which have to work in order to remain healthy.
The understanding of some sort of a social structure is implicit in Durkheim’s writings. One can say that for Durkheim to study the collective consciousness in a society was similar to discussing its social structure.
Radcliffe Brown defined social structure far more precisely than Durkheim, who was the source of many of his major ideas. Radcliffe Brown defined social structure as ‘an arrangement of parts or components related to one another in some sort of a larger unity’.
It is an arrangement of persons in relationships institutionally defined and regulated,’ such as the relationship between the king and his subject, between husband and wife, etc. In this way relationships within society are ordered by various mores and norms.
2. Structuralist point of view:
Claude Levi-Strauss of France is one of the major structuralists. Levi Strauss holds that ‘social structure’ has nothing to do with empirical reality but it should deal with models which are built after it. Thus, Levi Strauss says that social structure ‘can by no means be reduced to the ensemble of social relations to be described in a given society.’
3. Marxist point of view:
Marxist theory of social structure is free from the bias of organic analogy of the structural functionalists. For Marx, the relations of production constitutes ‘the economic structure’, the real basis on which is created a judicial and political super structure and to which correspond the forms of the determined social conscience.
‘ In this explanation Marx has used the term structure, not in the biological sense, but in the sense of a building or construction.