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Sociology | Class 11 | Understanding Social Institutions


We each have a status and a role, but we don't get to choose them. They are not roles that an actor might play. Social institutions limit, punish, and reward people. It might be the government or the family. This chapter discusses social institutions and how sociology and anthropology study them.

It also gives a fast review of basic social institutions such as family, marriage, kinship, politics, economy, religion, and education.


An institution, in the broadest sense, is something that operates according to rules set or at least accepted by law or custom. And whose regular and continuous operation cannot be comprehended unless those principles are followed. Individuals are constrained by institutions.

An institution can also be regarded as a means to an aim. Indeed, individuals have regarded the family, church, state, and even education as ends in themselves.

We've already seen that there are contradictory and divergent interpretations of ideas within sociology. We've also been introduced to the functionalist and conflict perspectives, and seen how they saw the same phenomenon, such as stratification or social control, in various ways.

A functionalist perspective of social institutions sees them as a complex network of social norms, beliefs, values, and role relationships that emerge in response to societal requirements. As a result, societies have both informal and formal social institutions. Family and religion are examples of informal social institutions, whereas law and (formal) education are examples of formal social institutions.

According to a conflict Perspective, all individuals are not treated equally in society. All social institutions, whether family, religious, political, economic, legal, or educational, will serve the dominant segments of society, regardless of class, caste, tribe, or gender. The dominant social sector not only dominates political and economic institutions, but also ensures that the beliefs of the ruling class become the ideas of a society.


A family is a group of people who are related by blood and whose adult members are responsible for caring for children. Kinship links are relationships formed between individuals, either by marriage or through the lines of ancestry that link blood relatives.

Over many decades, sociology and social anthropology have done field research across cultures to demonstrate how the institutions of family, marriage, and kinship are significant in all communities but varied in character.

The family, according to functionalists, performs crucial responsibilities that contribute to society's basic requirements and help to maintain social order. According to the functionalist viewpoint, modern industrial societies work best when women care for the family and males earn the family's living.

The functionalists regard the nuclear family as the unit most suited to meet the needs of industrial society. In this type of family, one adult can work outside the home while the other takes care of the house and children. In practise, this specialisation of duties within the nuclear family entails the husband taking on the 'instrumental' function of breadwinner, while the woman takes on the 'affective', emotional role in domestic settings.

Variation in Family Forms

The transition from nuclear to joint families has been a hot topic in India. 

Several studies have revealed how various family forms can be found in various societies.

  • In terms of the residence rule, certain civilizations are matrilocal in their marriage and family norms, whilst others are patrilocal. The newly married pair in the first case lives with the woman's parents, whereas the couple in the second situation lives with the man's parents.

  • A patriarchal family structure occurs in which men wield control and domination, and a matriarchal family structure exists in which women play a significant part in family decision-making.

Families Are Connected to Other Social Spheres, and Families Change In our daily lives, we often see the family as unique and independent from other spheres such as the economic or political. However, as you will see, the family, the household, its structure, and its standards are inextricably related to the rest of society.

Thus, family and kinship are prone to change and transformation as a result of macroeconomic processes, but the direction of change does not have to be consistent across different countries and areas.

Is the family gendered?

Because families believe that the male child will support the parents in their old age and the female child will leave after marriage, they invest more in a male child.

Despite the biological truth that a female baby has a better chance of survival than a male baby, the rate of infant mortality among female children in lower age groups in India is higher than that of male children.


Marriage is defined as a socially recognised and sanctioned sexual relationship between two adults. When two people marry, they become related to one other. However, the marriage relationship brings together a broader group of people. Through marriage, the partner's parents, siblings, sisters, and other blood relatives become relatives. The family of origin is known as the family of orientation, and the family in which a person marries is known as the family of procreation. Kin who are linked by "blood" are known as consanguinal kin, while kin who are related by marriage are known as affines.

Marriage partners are grouped in a variety of ways that demonstrate an amazing variety of styles and customs.

Marriage Forms

Marriage can take many different forms. These forms can be distinguished by the number of partners and the regulations determining who can marry whom.

There are two types of marriage in terms of the number of partners who can legally join into matrimony: monogamy and polygamy.

Monogamy limits an individual to only one spouse at a time. Monogamy is becoming more common. Many societies allow people to marry again, usually after the death of the first spouse or after divorce. They cannot, however, have more than one spouse at the same time. Serial monogamy refers to such a monogamous marriage.

Polygamy is defined as marriage to more than one mate at the same time and can take the form of either Polygyny (one husband with two or more wives) or Polyandry (one husband with two or more wives) (one wife with two or more husbands). When economic conditions are difficult, polyandry may be one of society's responses, because a single male cannot sufficiently support a wife and children. Furthermore, extreme poverty forces a group to limit its population.

The Matter of Arranging Marriages: Rules and Prescriptions

In certain communities, parents/relatives make mate selection decisions; in others, individuals are relatively free to choose their own mates.

Endogamy and Exogamy Rules

Endogamy and exogamy are marriage forms classified according to the rules determining the eligibility/ineligibility of mates.

Endogamy requires a person to marry within a culturally defined group in which he or she already belongs, such as caste.

Exogamy is the opposite of endogamy in that it requires the individual to marry outside of his or her own group.

Endogamy and exogamy refer to kinship units such as clan, caste, and racial, ethnic, or religious groups. Village exogamy is practised in several parts of northern India. Village exogamy ensured that daughters were married into households from distant villages.

Because of the geographical distance and the unequal relationship under the patrilineal system, married daughters did not see their parents very often. Thus, leaving one's birthplace was a painful occasion, which is reflected in folk songs.

Work and Economic Life

Work, whether paid or unpaid, can be defined as the performance of tasks involving the expenditure of mental and physical effort, with the goal of producing goods and services that meet human needs.

Much of the labour done in the informal economy, for example, is not directly documented in official employment statistics. The phrase informal economy refers to transactions that take place outside of the realm of regular employment, sometimes involving the exchange of cash for services performed, but more frequently than not involving the direct trade of commodities or services.

Modern Work Forms and Labor Division

Most individuals in pre-modern societies worked in the fields or cared for livestock. In a country like India, the majority of the population remains rural and agricultural, or engaged in other rural-based occupations.

The existence of a very complicated division of labour is one of the most distinguishing features of modern nations' economic systems. Work has been separated into a plethora of distinct occupations in which people might specialise. Non-agricultural labour in traditional societies required knowledge of a craft.

Prior to industrialisation, the majority of work was done at home by all members of the household. Advances in industrial technology, such as electricity and coal-powered machines, aided in the separation of work and home. Capitalist entrepreneurs' factories became the focal focus of industrial development.

People looking for work in factories were trained to execute a specialised skill and were paid for it. One of the most notable characteristics of modern society is a massive increase in economic interdependence.

The vast majority of individuals in modern cultures do not produce the food they eat, the dwellings they live in, or the material items they consume, with a few exceptions.

Transformation of Work

Mass production need mass markets. The construction of a moving assembly line was one of the most significant inventions. Modern industrial production required costly equipment as well as continuous supervision of employees via monitoring or surveillance systems.

Over the last few decades, there has been a shift toward what is commonly referred to as "flexible production" and "decentralisation of work."

It is argued that in this era of globalisation, the increasing competitiveness between enterprises and countries necessitates firms organising output to meet changing market conditions.


Political institutions are concerned with how power is distributed in society. Power is the ability of people or groups to carry out their desires despite opposition from others. It implies that people in power do so at the expense of others. A society has a fixed amount of power. Power is not held by a man or a group in isolation; it is held in connection to others.

The principal has the authority to enforce school discipline. The president of a political party has the authority to expel a party member. Authority is used to wield power. Authority is a type of power that is recognised as legitimate, that is, as just and reasonable. It has become institutionalised because it is founded on legitimacy. People often respect individuals in positions of authority because they believe their control is fair and reasonable.

The Concept of the State

A state exists when a political apparatus of government (institutions such as a parliament or congress, as well as civil service workers) rules over a specific territory.

According to the functionalist viewpoint, the state represents the interests of all segments of society. According to the conflict perspective, the state represents the dominant sectors of society.

Modern states are not the same as traditional states. Sovereignty, citizenship, and, most often, concepts of nationalism define these states. Sovereignty refers to a state's unquestioned political sovereignty over a certain territory.

The sovereign state was not always one in which citizenship included political participation privileges. These were generally achieved through struggles that either curtailed the power of kings or actively overthrew them.

Civil, political, and social rights are all part of citizenship.

  • Individuals' civil rights include the freedom to live wherever they want, the freedom of expression and religion, the right to own property, and the right to equal justice under the law.

  • Political rights include the ability to vote in elections and run for public office.

  • Social rights are the third type of citizenship rights. These are about every individual's right to a certain level of economic well-being and security. They include rights to health care, unemployment assistance, and the establishment of a minimum wage.

Nationalism is described as a set of symbols and beliefs that provide a sense of belonging to a single political community. Individuals feel a sense of pride and belonging when they identify as 'British,' 'Indian,' 'Indonesian,' or 'French.'

Its focus is not only on what can be called essentially political associations, such as state legislatures, town councils, and political parties, but also on associations such as schools, banks, and religious institutions with non-political goals.

Sociology has always been interested in the study of power in general, rather than merely the formal apparatus of government. It has been interested in the distribution of power among political parties, classes, castes, and religions.


In many ways, the sociological study of religion differs from the religious or theological study of religion. One, it performs empirical studies on how religions function in society and their interactions with other institutions. Two, it employs a comparative approach. Three, it examines religious ideas, practises, and institutions in light of other aspects of society and culture.

Because of the scientific technique, the sociologist does not take a judgmental approach to religious occurrences. The comparative method is crucial because it brings all societies on a level playing field. It is beneficial to research without bias and prejudice. According to the sociological viewpoint, religious life can only be understood by linking it to domestic, economic, and political life.

Religion is related with a wide range of rituals. Praying, chanting, singing, eating certain foods (or refraining from doing so), fasting on certain days, and so on are examples of ritual acts. Because ritual behaviours are geared toward religious symbols, they are frequently considered as separate from everyday habits and processes. The meaning of lighting a candle or diya to honour the divine differs greatly from that of just lighting a space.

Religion is concerned with the sacred realm. Consider what adherents of other religions do before entering a hallowed domain. For example, covering or not covering one's head, removing shoes or wearing specific clothing, etc. What they all have in common is a sense of wonder, acknowledgment, and respect for hallowed locations or situations.

  • Following Emile Durkheim, sociologists of religion are interested in understanding this hallowed domain that every community divides from the profane. In most circumstances, the sacred includes a supernatural component.

  • The sacred aspect of a tree or a temple is frequently associated with the assumption that it is hallowed precisely because of some supernatural force behind it.

  • It is crucial to remember, however, that certain religions, such as early Buddhism and Confucianism, had no idea of the supernatural but did allow adequate veneration for things and people they considered sacred.

Sociological study of religion allows us to pose questions regarding religion's interaction with other social institutions. Religion and power have always had a tight relationship. For example, there have been religious movements for social reform throughout history, such as numerous anti-caste movements or movements against gender inequality. Religion is more than simply an individual's private beliefs; it also has a public dimension.

Classical sociologists believed that as countries modernised, religion's influence over many aspects of life would diminish. This process is described by the concept of secularisation.

  • Max Weber's (1864-1920) seminal work reveals how sociology views religion in connection to other aspects of social and economic behaviour.

  • According to Weber, Calvinism (a branch of Protestant Christianity) had a significant impact on the creation and evolution of capitalism as a system of economic organisation. Calvinists thought that the universe was created for God's glory, which meant that any work done in this world had to be done for His honour, making even routine tasks acts of worship.

  • More importantly, the Calvinists believed in predestination, which meant that whether one went to heaven or hell was predetermined. People looked for signs of God's will in this world, in their own activities, because there was no way of knowing if they had been allotted heaven or damnation.

  • As a result, if a person, regardless of vocation, was constant and successful in his or her work, it was seen as a sign of God's happiness. The money acquired was not to be spent on earthly goods; rather, the Calvinist goal was to live frugally. This meant that investing became almost religious in nature.

  • Thus, Weber was able to establish that religion, specifically Calvinism, has an impact on economic development.

Religion cannot be examined in isolation. Religious institutions are continually influenced by social circumstances.

Religion is an important component of society that is intricately linked to other components. Sociologists' job is to figure out how these diverse linkages work. Religion is usually central to social life in traditional societies. Religious symbols and rituals are frequently incorporated into a society's material and artistic culture.


Education is a lifelong process that involves both official and informal learning institutions.

Many of us see school as a stepping stone to higher education and, eventually, work. For some of us, this may imply learning some necessary social skills. What all of these examples have in common is a perceived need for knowledge.

We observed an expanding economic division of labour, separation of work and family, a demand for specialised study and skill development, the rise of state systems, nations, and a complex set of symbols and ideas in complex civilizations. In such a societal framework, education must be formal and explicit.

Furthermore, unlike simple societies, modern complex societies are founded on abstract universalistic values. This is what sets it apart from a simple community focused on particularistic values such as family, kin, clan, caste, or religion. Modern schools are intended to promote uniformity, standardised aspirations, and universalistic principles.

According to Emile Durkheim, no society can survive without a "common base-a certain number of ideas, attitudes, and behaviours that education must instil in all children, regardless of socioeconomic category to which they belong."

 Education should prepare the youngster for a certain career while also allowing the child to internalise society's essential ideals.

Thus, the functionalist sociologist speaks of general social demands and social standards. Education, according to functionalists, preserves and renews social structure while also transmitting and developing culture.

It is also viewed as a means of proving one's skill and, as such, a means of selecting individuals for different levels of status based on their abilities.

Education is a major stratifying tool for sociologists who see society as unequally stratified.

Some say that education "intensifies the existing difference between the elite and the masses." Children who attend privileged schools learn to be confident, whilst those who do not may feel the reverse.


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