Structure (sociology)

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In sociology , the structure is the size and formative forces that exist between actors such as B. Mediate population groups. The structure is mostly understood as the basis of social action, whereby it is assumed that it limits or dissolves contingency (freedom of choice in action) and is the cause of repetitive patterns of action and the distribution of power . According to many sociologists, the structure is omnipresent and permeates all social processes. The concept of structure is above all a reaction in sociology to complex events in which a large number of different people are involved and which cannot be described solely on the basis of the number of individual interactions between these people, but nevertheless run relatively stable and thus through the concept of structure in a larger context. The structure bridges temporal and spatial distances between individual actions and limits the possible courses of action and the resulting action consequences from the start. It is thus placed before individual actions, but in the opinion of most sociological theories it is constructed and constantly reproduced from related interactions as its individual components.

The main problem with structuralist theories is that the postulated structures cannot be observed directly. They can only be reconstructed using observable interactions. The main question here is how interactions and actors are linked to the structure. Many theories have tried to respond to this question with the concept of institution . As mediators of social conventions, institutions have a mixed character made up of actor and structural characteristics, which in turn makes it difficult not to assign them to one of the two categories. The question of structures, institutions and actors reflects the fundamental difficulties of macro- , meso- and microsociology and has run through sociology since Émile Durkheim's work The Rules of the Sociological Method . Examples of structural concepts are Durkheim's concept of society , according to which the individual is subject to society in his actions, the systems of Talcott Parsons and Niklas Luhmann or the social field of Pierre Bourdieu .

More recently, the concept of structure has been criticized primarily by post-structuralist sociologies that do not see themselves in Durkheim's tradition. Above all, this includes the actor-network theory , which rejects a social structure as an independent entity. The criticism relates to the transcendence of structure, a lack of opportunity to observe it and measure postulated principles as well as the neglect of mediating elements on site. These include technical facilities, topography, ie the existing natural spatial conditions, or communicative links between individual actors, which would have made it necessary to use the structure as an explanatory variable. Instead, the actor-network theory suggests that social groups should no longer be equated with purely human gatherings and that the emergence of complex patterns of action over time and space should be better understood.


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