Social Structure – Concept, origin and central elements

We explain what the social structure is, the origin of the concept and the four central elements in the functioning of society.

social structure
The social structure is a changing and adaptable organization.

What is the social structure?

In the language of sociology, the social structure is called ordering or the way in which social relations exist between the individuals of a community determined. This organization is changing and adaptable, just like the individuals in the community, and operates in the manner of a system, with its rules, its mechanisms and its processes, as well as its values ​​and contents.

The social structure is omnipresent, that is, it encompasses the whole of society, but it is not something tangible, but an order that individuals assume as natural, their own or spontaneous. In this sense, disciplines such as sociology, social psychology, social anthropology and other similar social sciences, are concerned with making it visible and understanding its scope, its characteristics and its consequences.

Thus, four central elements are derived from the social structure in the functioning of society:

  • Normative interactions, that is, the accepted or correct way of doing things in a given society, according to custom and the laws and protocols that regulate social interaction in accordance with moral, political, etc. values.
  • The structures of inequality, such as social classes, castes and other forms of discrimination based on economic, racial, gender, etc. traits, which empower some and demand submission on the part of others.
  • Social institutions, which are the modes of organization that society reinforces in each generation and values ​​above others, such as the family (and certain types of families or family conformations), political parties, and so on.
  • Demographic and environmental aspects, that is, the ways in which society regulates its population growth and deals with its environment. Urban dynamics, migration processes, public health concerns, for example, respond to this element of the social structure to some extent.

The concept of social structure appeared for the first time at the end of the 19th century, as a result of the studies of the German philosophers and sociologists Georg Simmel (1858-1918) and Ferdinand Tönnies (1855-1936), to explain how, in the same community, two unknown individuals without any contact may be socially related.

Since then, this concept has been controversial within the discipline, to the extent that there has been much debate regarding its true existence, especially on the part of some sociological currents that deny the possibility of conceiving a social structure that encompasses society in your set.