Social structures keep changing day in and day out and there exist not one but many contending sociological theories that attempt to clarify why individual and societal lives exist as they are and why they keep changing. Sociological theory has continuously developed with time from classical to contemporary sociology with the recently evolved theories capable of dealing with today’s relevant societal matters.
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Some of the hypotheses can be traced back to the ideas of classical theorists as Durkheim. Though slightly superannuated, his works have not ceased containing significant theories that when expounded upon relates to the ever changing contemporary society.
As a matter of fact, contemporary theory is filled with the developed ideas of outstanding classical theories. According to the perspectives of some social theories, which mainly center on societal transformations, various critical arguments have emerged.
Society is viewed as an organization through which every interconnected component fits together to make a whole. Society functions as a unit basing on norms and values, satisfactory behavior as well as social ties.
The purpose of social structures and institutions within the society, the connection between these structures, and the way in which they restrain the activities of persons within the society is well defined by the social order.
With the emerging changes, individuals have tended to stray away from the customary rules that govern their behavior thus creating some sort of deviance in the society. Therefore, things that had once been unacceptable, or considered aberrant, are now part of cultural norms.
In order to understand the society, this essay aims to look at the societal order and changes that take place within the society and how they are manifested in the works of some famous sociologists; Durkheim, Parsons and Merton.
Structuralism is a thought established in the hypothesis that human behavior is structured by the societal environs. These structures shape human behavior. With the assistance of his student, Robert Merton, Talcott Parsons came up with the idea of structural functionalism during the 1950s.
This, he developed basing on the sociological theory of Durkheim, a French sociologist, who is truly regarded a founder of the present day sociology. Durkheim and Parsons both considered the individuals within the society as inactive players in the continually varying societal structures (Parsons, 2011, pp. 51-53).
In his book, The Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim dwells upon the specialization in labor as a function of the process that contributed to solidarity and social density in the society. He examines how social order is kept within the various societies.
He views the division of labor in the traditional society as different from that of the modern society. He argues that conventional societies were ‘mechanical’ and were joined by the fact that everybody was somewhat equal and thence had mutual things.
He continues to debate that, in conventional societies collective consciousness completely colligates the personal consciousness; societal rules are firm and social doings are substantially controlled. In modern societies, the extreme complexity of the division of labor results in ‘organic’ solidarity.
Various differentiations in work and social functions create dependences that tie individuals to each other since individuals could no more depend on meeting all of their requirements on their own (Durkheim, 2005, pp. 105-107).
This theory however, presented a problem; it collectively combined the contradictory issues of the economy and social organization which would lead to social disintegration and not solidarity. In an effort to resolve this, Parsons came up with economic and social stratification systems thus enabling each system to conduct its own issues separately and consequently moving toward its own structured demands and objectives.
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In his Sex Roles in the American Kinship System, parsons explains that during the medieval times families acted as the foundation for social organizations and functions. This, he argues, has changed with the development of the division of labor in the passage to the present times which is characterized by several chores and functions previously performed by the family; social segregations have occurred.
As industrial and business enterprises flourished, production progressively took place beyond the family into an economy. Additionally, some social functions were freed from the household and relocated to institutions of education.
Parsons states that this separation of roles is important as it enhanced specialization such that separate social structures and positions became responsible for executing certain roles. This differentiation also meant that tasks could be better executed (Parsons, 2011, pp. 52-53).
This is what Durkheim referred to as organic solidarity in his work (Durkheim, 2005, p. 108). A family serves two major functions according to Parsons; socializing children and stabilizing the personality of an adult in a society.
This simplification enabled parsons to avoid unneeded combinations of varying problems. This provides a good description of how the society has evolved from traditional to modern era and the changes that have taken place (Parsons, 2011).
Similarly, Merton also developed his theories basing on those of Durkheim. Merton’s major contribution was his investigation into the connections betwixt culture, structure and anomie. Durkheim had in his earlier writing concentrated on the direct consequences of specialism increase upon a person.
He discovered that in a society with mechanical solidarity, the law in general is repressive; an individual who goes against the rules suffers a penalty that in reality would even collective conscience overlooked by the offense- the penalty serves to uphold the oneness of consciences.
On the contrary, the laws of a society with organic solidarity are normally restitutive; its objective is not to penalize but rather indemnify ordinary actions of a complicated society.
The rapidly changing society is because of the rising division of labor hence producing states of muddiness with respect to social rules and neutrality in social life that finally contributes to the collapse of societal rules that regulates doings. Durkheim marks this situation anomie which from it arises all kinds of aberrant behaviors, particularly suicide (Durkheim, 2005, pp. 107-111).
Profound changes have been produced in the structure of our societies in a very short time; they have been freed from the segmental type with a rapidity and in proportions such as have never before been seen in history…., the functions which have been disrupted in the course of the upheaval have not had time to adjust themselves to one another; the new life which has emerged so suddenly has not been able to be completely organized,… (Durkheim, 2005, p. 111)
He made a conclusion that anomie is the outcome of deteriorating strength of the usual ethics in the modernistic society
In an assay to counter this problem, Durkheim developed the notion of corporate moral sense that he stated as, “The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average citizens of the same society forms a determinate system which has its own life; one may call it the collective or common conscience” (Durkheim, 2005, p. 106).
He saw the rise in the ‘division of labor’ as a reason for this change; the decline but not vanishing of the collective consciousness.
Hence, missing in this counsel, an individual would fail to maintain their general conscious awareness in their conception of good or bad thus becoming disoriented and permitting anomie to kick in; “If, in certain cases, organic solidarity is not all that it should be, it is certainly not because mechanical solidarity has lost ground, but because all the conditions for the existence of organic solidarity have not been realized” (Durkheim, 2005, p. 108).
Durkheim’s notion of anomie was expounded upon by Merton who to a greater extent developed them into a contemporary edition. Merton, in Social Structure and Anomie stated that culture was an “organized set of normative values governing behavior which is common to members of a designated society or group” (Merton, 1996, p. 16), and that social structure was “that organized set of social relationships in which members of the society or group are variously implicated” (Merton, 1996, p. 21).
Drawing out from this, Merton reasoned out that anomie came about when particular conflicts arose betwixt the cultural norms and goals, and the socially integrated statuses that group’s members concur with.
Through the expounding on this theory, anomie is no more related simply to deficiency of moral counsel in today’s world but also due to the fact that people are being pushed to consider their social statuses first in place of moral values so as to pull through adversity (Merton, 1996).
Merton conceives that society influences the behaviors of an individual by setting ambitions and the way those ambitions are to be achieved. He believes that there is a connection between anomie and the difference that exist between the vehemence laid upon the ambitions and the means of achieving them in the society.
Thus, society is the root cause of crime and it represents how poorly the society is organized. The perspective of Merton is therefore similar to that of Durkheim in that both see a person’s life as a making of the society (Merton, 1996).
However, while Durkheim considers that the key societal principles and values are accordant, it is only during the beginning of a stage in societal development that he conceives the aspirations of individuals to be the same (Durkheim, 2005).
Merton on the other hand, asserts that the society as a whole strives toward similar goals and only some persons prefer not to comply with the rules that the society has set in reaching their aspirations. Durkheim is of the opinion that society creates criminal offenses so as to ameliorate and keep order within the society whilst Merton’s opinion is that society is the cause of an individual resorting to offense on account of it failing to serve its administrative purposes (Merton R. , 2008).
The social structure produces a strain toward anomie and deviant behavior. The pressure of such a social order is upon outdoing one’s competitors. So long as the sentiments supporting this competitive system are distributed throughout the entire range of activities and are not confined to the final result of “success”, the choice of means will remain largely within the ambit of institutional control.
When, however, the cultural emphasis shifts from the satisfactions deriving from competition itself to exclusive concern with the outcome, the resulting stress makes for the breakdown of the regulatory structure (Merton, 1996, p. 151).
He further goes on to argue that the society sets goals which are unattainable and urges an individual to pursue them and often not supplying the means of lawfully attaining them. In the process, it fails to order the society and provides a militant environment in which criminal offenses flourish (Merton R. , 2008).
It is only when a system of cultural values extols, virtually above all else, certain common success-goals for the population at large while the social structure rigorously restricts or completely closes access to approved modes of reaching these goals for a considerable part of the same population, that deviant behavior ensues on a large scale (Merton, 1996, p. 143).
From the discussion it can be seen that the writings of the three sociologists pertains to the issues within today’s social organizations such as crime and morality, economy, as well as the social justice system. Various elements of a person’s life such as work, marriage, and children have been analyzed as well hence providing a great understanding of the social structures.
It has been made quite clear that in order for a society to progress; structural separatism of work related roles is a requirement. In conclusion, deviance can be viewed as an illumination of moral value limits, avouchment of social order, and a booster of social integrity and social change. It has also been showed that we live in extremely specialized societies that are divided along lines of work, social classes, and cultural structures.
Durkheim, E. (2005). From The Division of Labour in Society (1893). In S. Appelrouth, & D. E. Laura, Sociological Theory in the Classical Era (pp. 105-111). SAGE.
Merton, R. (2008). From Social Structure and Anomie (1967). In S. Appelrouth, & D. E. Laura, Sociological Theory in the Contemporary Era (pp. 66-73). Pine Forge Press.
Merton, R. K. (1996). On Social Structure and Science. (P. Sztompka, Trans.) University of Chicago Press.
Parsons, T. (2011). From Sex Roles in the American Kinship System (1943). In S. Appelrouth, & D. E. Laura, Sociological Theory in the Contemporary Era (pp. 51- 54). Pine Forge Press.