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institution (social institution)

Definition of Institution

(noun) A large-scale social arrangement that is stable and predictable, created and maintained to serve the needs of society.

Examples of Institution

Institution Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: in·sti·tu·tion

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /in-stuh-tOO-shuhn/
  • British English – /in-sti-tyOO-shuhn/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ˌɪnstɪˈtuʃən/
  • British English – /ɪnstɪˈtjuːʃən/

Usage Notes

Related Quotations

  • “According to [functionalism], a society is composed of interrelated parts, each of which serves a function and (ideally) contributes to the overall stability of the society. Societies develop social structures, or institutions, that persist because they play a part in helping society survive. These institutions include the family, education, government, religion, and the economy. If anything adverse happens to one of these institutions or parts, all other parts are affected and the system no longer functions properly” (Kendall 2006:15).
  • “Discourses of underdevelopment and development emerged in the 1940s and became institutionalized in the context of decolonization, the Cold War, and the United States’ struggle for hegemony. A specific blueprint for planned social change (modernization overcoming traditionalism), shaped by Western notions of social evolution, was promoted by the North, adopted by elites in the South, and underpinned the newly established global institutions. These included the United Nations, the development institutions established by the Bretton Woods Agreement signed in July 1944, which became operational in 1946 (the World Bank, made up of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Development Association, and the International Monetary Fund [IMF]), and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). That blueprint was articulated around the notion that Third World countries would ‘catch up’ with the First World through economic growth, technological transfer, and Westernization” (Flora and Flora 2007:496).
  • “Each moral career, and behind this, each self, occurs within the confines of an institutional system, whether a social establishment such as a mental hospital or a complex of personal and professional relationships. The self, then, can be seen as something that resides in the arrangements prevailing in a social system for its members. The self in this sense is not a property of the person to whom it is attributed, but dwells rather in the pattern of social control that is exerted in connection with the person by himself and those around him. This special kind of institutional arrangement does not so much support the self as constitute it” (Goffman 1961:168).
  • “In order for the division of labour to engender solidarity, it is not, therefore, sufficient that each person has his task: this task must also suit him . . . In effect, if the institution of classes or castes sometimes gives rise to painful wrangling, instead of producing solidarity, this is because the distribution of social functions on which the solidarity is based, does not correspond, or rather no longer responds to the distribution of talent” (Durkheim [1893] 2004:37).
  • “No society lacks norms governing conduct. But societies do differ in the degree to which folkways, mores and institutional controls are effectively integrated with the goals which stand high in the hierarchy of cultural values. The culture may be such as to lead individuals to center their emotional convictions upon the complex of culturally acclaimed ends, with far less emotional support for prescribed methods of reaching out for these ends. With such differential emphases upon goals and institutional procedures, the latter may be so vitiated by the stress on goals as to have the behavior of many individuals limited only by considerations of technical expediency. In this context, the sole significant question becomes: Which of the available procedures is most efficient in netting the culturally approved value? The technically most effective procedure, whether culturally legitimate or not, becomes typically preferred to institutionally prescribed conduct. As this process of attenuation continues, the society becomes unstable and there develops what Durkheim called ‘anomie‘ (normlessness)” (Merton [1949] 1968:189).
  • “[T]he essential aspect of social structure lies in a system of patterned expectations defining the proper behavior of persons playing certain roles, enforced both by the incumbents’ own positive motives for conformity and by the sanctions of others. Such systems of patterned expectations, seen in the perspective of their place in a total social system and sufficiently thoroughly established in action to be taken for granted as legitimate, are conveniently called ‘institutions’. The fundamental, structurally stable element of social systems then, which, according to the present argument, must play a crucial role in their theoretical analysis, is their structure of institutional patterns defining the roles of their constituent actors” (Parsons 1954:231).
  • “Using the family as an example, we can see the difference between the concept of group and the concept of institution. A group is a collection of specific, identifiable people. An institution is a system for organizing standardized patterns of social behavior. In other words, a group consists of people, and an institution consists of actions. For example, when sociologists discuss a family (say the Smith family), they are referring to a particular group of people. When they discuss the family, they are referring to the family as an institution—a cluster of statuses, roles, values, and norms that organize the standardized patterns of behavior that we expect to find within family groups” (Tischler 2011:133).
  • “Without distorting the meaning of this expression, we can, in fact, call all beliefs and all modes of behaviour instituted by the collectivity ‘institutions’; sociology can then be defined as the science of institutions, their genesis and their functioning” (Durkheim [1895] 2004:46).

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Additional Information

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Durkheim, Émile. [1893] 2004. “The Division of Labour in Society.” Pp. 19–38 in Readings from Emile Durkheim. Rev. ed., edited and translated by K. Thompson. New York: Routledge.

Durkheim, Émile. [1895] 2004. “The Rules of Sociological Method.” Pp. 43–63 in Readings from Emile Durkheim. Rev. ed., edited and translated by K. Thompson. New York: Routledge.

Flora, Cornelia Butler, and Jan L. Flora. 2007. “The Sociology of Development.” Pp. 496 in 21st Century Sociology: A Reference Handbook, edited by C. D. Bryant and D. L. Peck. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Goffman, Erving. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. New York: Doubleday.

Kendall, Diana. 2006. Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Merton, Robert King. [1949] 1968. Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press.

Parsons, Talcott. 1954. “The Present Position and Prospects of Systematic Theory in Sociology” in Essays in Sociological Theory. Rev. ed. Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press.

Note: Read for free at the Open Library.

Tischler, Henry L. 2011. Introduction to Sociology. 10th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Works Consulted

Brinkerhoff, David, Lynn White, Suzanne Ortega, and Rose Weitz. 2011. Essentials of Sociology. 8th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Bruce, Steve, and Steven Yearley. 2006. The SAGE Dictionary of Sociology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Chase-Dunn, Christopher, and Bruce Lerro. 2014. Social Change: Globalization from the Stone Age to the Present. New York: Routledge.

Ferrante, Joan. 2011. Seeing Sociology: An Introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Kimmel, Michael S., and Amy Aronson. 2012. Sociology Now. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Kornblum, William. 2008. Sociology in a Changing World. 8th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Macionis, John, and Kenneth Plummer. 2012. Sociology: A Global Introduction. 4th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Marsh, Ian, and Mike Keating, eds. 2006. Sociology: Making Sense of Society. 3rd ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Merriam-Webster. (N.d.) Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/).

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).

Stewart, Paul, and Johan Zaaiman, eds. 2015. Sociology: A Concise South African Introduction. Cape Town: Juta.

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wiktionary, The Free Dictionary. Wikimedia Foundation. (http://en.wiktionary.org).

Cite the Definition of Institution

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “institution.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved May 23, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/institution/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

institution. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/institution/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “institution.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed May 23, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/institution/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“institution.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 23 May. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/institution/>.