Social interaction refers to the ways in which people
respond to one another. Social structure refers to
the way in which a society is organized into predictable
relationships. This chapter examines the basic
elements of social structure: statuses, social roles,
groups, networks, and institutions.
We shape our social reality based on what we
learn through our social interactions. Social
change comes from redefining or reconstructing
social reality. Sometimes change results
An ascribed status is generally assigned to a
person at birth, whereas an achieved status is
attained largely through one's own effort.
In the United States, ascribed statuses, such as
race and gender, can function as master
statuses that have an important impact on
one's potential to achieve a desired professional
and social status.
With each distinctive status--whether ascribed
or achieved--come particular social roles, the
set of expectations for people who occupy that
Much of our patterned behavior takes place
within groups and is influenced by the norms
and sanctions established by groups. Groups
serve as links to social networks and their vast
The mass media, the government, the
economy, the family, and the health care
system are all examples of social institutions
found in the United States.
One way to understand social institutions is to
see how they fulfill essential functions, such as replacing personnel, training new recruits, and
The conflict perspective argues that social institutions
help to maintain the privileges of the
powerful while contributing to the powerlessness
Interactionist theorists emphasize that our social
behavior is conditioned by the roles and
statuses that we accept, the groups to which we
belong, and the institutions within which we
Ferdinand Tönnies distinguished the close-knit
community of Gemeinschaft from the impersonal
mass society known as Gesellschaft.
Gerhard Lenski views human societies as
changing historically as technology advances,
which he calls sociocultural evolution.
The AIDS crisis affects every social institution,
including the family, the schools, the health
care system, the economy, and the government,
as well as the social interactions of
people touched by the epidemic.
After studying this chapter, you should be able to:
1. Understand how we define and reconstruct our social reality.
2. Give your own examples of ascribed, achieved, and master statuses.
3. Discuss the social roles we acquire throughout our lives.
4. Differentiate between role conflict, role strain, and role exit.
5. List the four stages of role exit identified by Helen Rose Fuchs Ebaugh.
6. Explain what is meant by the term social network.
7. Contrast the functionalist, conflict, and interactionist views of social institutions.
8. Summarize the differences between the Gemeinschaft and the Gesellschaft community.
9. Discuss Gerhard Lenski's sociocultural evolution approach.
10. Describe the characteristics of the hunting-and-gathering society, the horticultural society, the industrial society, and the postindustrial and post modern society.
11. Summarize the concerns about the AIDS crisis from the interactionist perspective.