Definition of Structure
(noun) The complex and stable framework of society that influences all individuals or groups through the relationship between institutions (e.g., economy, politics, religion) and social practices (e.g., behaviors, norms, and values).
- American English – /strUHk-chuhr/
- British English – /strUHk-chuh/
International Phonetic Alphabet
- American English – /ˈstrək(t)ʃər/
- British English – /ˈstrʌktʃə/
- Plural: structures
- The terms “structure” and “social structure” are used interchangeably in a sociological context.
- “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).
- “Feminism explicitly examines women’s roles and experiences in society, working to fully uncover women’s contributions to social life and the nature of the structures and processes that maintain gender inequality” (Hughes and Kroehler 2008:17).
- “Masculine privilege and its benefits are real, but they’re often hard to see. They go unrecognized because they’re so common. The ideological, structural, and institutional factors of masculine privilege tend to remain invisible. And men tend to be unaware of their own privileges as men. Masculine privilege includes individual actions, but it exists on a larger scale as well. So even if a man says, ‘Well I’m not sexist. I’m not like that,’ masculine privilege isn’t so easy to shrug off. In general, men more easily than women walk through the world with a sense of status and cultural legitimacy that isn’t necessarily conscious or articulated. And it’s not necessarily something that men ask for. Men are conferred status and legitimacy by a culture with a long history of doing so. Masculine privilege functions on macro level through the ways our institutional and cultural systems are systematically structured” (Tarrant 2009:90).
- “Some bureaucracies perpetuate inequalities of race, class, and gender because this form of organizational structure creates a specific type of work or learning environment. This structure was typically created for middle- and upper-middle-class white men, who for many years were the predominant organizational participants” (Kendall 2011:194).
- “The educational system helps integrate youth into the economic system, we believe, through a structural correspondence between its social relations and those of production. The structure of social relations in education not only inures the student to the discipline of the workplace, but develops the types of personal demeanour, modes of self-presentation, self-image, and social-class identification which are the crucial ingredients of job adequacy. Specifically, the social relationships of education – the relationships between administrators and teachers, teachers and students, students and students, and students and their work – replicate the hierarchical division of labour” (Bowles and Gintis 1976:131).
- “[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).
- “The function of any recurrent activity, such as the punishment of a crime, or a funeral ceremony, is the part it plays in the social life as a whole and therefore the contribution it makes to the maintenance of the structural continuity. The concept of function as here defined thus involves the notion of a structure consisting of a set of relations amongst unit entities, the continuity of the structure being maintained by a life-process made up of the activities of the constituent units” (Radcliffe-Brown 1935:396).
- “There is an ordering of versions of femininity and masculinity at the level of the whole society, in some ways analogous to the patterns of face-to-face relations with institution. The possibilities of variation, of course, are vastly greater. The sheer complexity of relationships involving millions of people guarantees that ethnic differences and generational differences as well as class patterns come into play. But in key aspects the organization of gender on the very large scale must be more skeletal and simplified than the human relationships in face-to-face milieux. The forms of femininity and masculinity constituted at this level are stylized and impoverished. Their interrelation is centred on the single structural fact, the global dominance of men over women” (Connell 1987:183).
- Family and Kinship Resources – Books, Journals, and Helpful Links
- Economic Sociology Resources – Books, Journals, and Helpful Links
- Word origin of “structure” – Online Etymology Dictionary: etymonline.com
Bowles, Samuel, and Herbert Gintis.  1976. Schooling in Capitalist America. Haymarket Books: Chicago.
Connell, R. W. 1987. Gender and Power: Society, the Person, and Sexual Politics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Hughes, Michael, and Carolyn J. Kroehler. 2008. Sociology: The Core. 8th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Kendall, Diana. 2006. Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Parsons, Talcott. 1954. “The Present Position and Prospects of Systematic Theory in Sociology” in Essays in Sociological Theory. Rev. ed. Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press.
Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. 1935. “On the Concept of Function in Social Science.” American Anthropologist 37(3):394–402. doi:10.1525/aa.1935.37.3.02a00030.
Tarrant, Shira. 2009. Men and Feminism. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.
Abercrombie, Nicholas, Stephen Hill, and Bryan Turner. 2006. The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. 5th ed. London: Penguin.
Bilton, Tony, Kevin Bonnett, Pip Jones, David Skinner, Michelle Stanworth, and Andrew Webster. 1996. Introductory Sociology. 3rd ed. London: Macmillan.
Dillon, Michele. 2014. Introduction to Sociological Theory: Theorists, Concepts, and their Applicability to the Twenty-first Century. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
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Ravelli, Bruce, and Michelle Webber. 2016. Exploring Sociology: A Canadian Perspective. 3rd ed. Toronto: Pearson.
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Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/).
Cite the Definition of Structure
ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2015. “structure.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved April 1, 2023 (https://sociologydictionary.org/structure/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
structure. (2015). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/structure/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2015. “structure.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed April 1, 2023. https://sociologydictionary.org/structure/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“structure.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2015. Web. 1 Apr. 2023. <https://sociologydictionary.org/structure/>.