Sociology often talks about the idea of “social structure,” but it is rarely talked about in depth. There are two main ways to look at things. The first sees social structure as patterns that can be seen in how people act. This way of thinking is shown by the term “functionalism.” The second finds structure in the underlying principle of social arrangements, which may not be visible. This would be like the case of realism.
Social structure is simply any repeating pattern of how people act in a group. But most sociologists think that such a definition would include both important and unimportant actions. Most sociologists agree that a society’s social structure is made up of the long-lasting, orderly, and predictable relationships between its parts. This definition led some nineteenth-century sociologists to compare societies to machines or living things.
Some people have different ideas about what an “element” is. Radcliffe-Brown, for instance, thought of social structures as people’s regular and general relationships with each other. On the other hand, S.F. Nadel thought that the elements were roles. Even more generally, many sociologists, especially functionalists, say that social institutions, which are organized patterns of social behavior, are the building blocks of social structure. Societies are then defined by how social institutions work together. Also, they need certain parts of the social structure, like social institutions, because they are functionally necessary.
Sociologists usually want to explain something by using ideas about social structure, which means that the explanation is usually a causal one. A problem with this point of view is that social structures are not things that can be seen directly. Instead, they are more like abstract ideas. Because of this and other problems, people have said that social structure is not a good idea. So, it has been seen as a fixed idea, something that can’t be seen and can’t be proven. It has also been seen as denying human creativity and freedom by saying that human actions are set by structures.
One way to answer these criticisms is to show, as P.L. Berger and T. Luckmann did in 1967, that social structures are made by people who are doing things. Even though a lot of sociologists, like P. Bourdieu, say they have solved the problem of how agency and structure work together, these solutions are often circular.