Social institutions | Society and Culture | MCAT | Khan Academy

Social institutions | Society and Culture | MCAT | Khan Academy


Institutions are essential
parts of any society. Think about it. Police stations,
schools, hospitals, businesses like Walmart
and Trader Joe’s are all core parts
of the community. In a sense, they
impose structure on how individuals behave. For example, if all the laws
that exist in our community disappeared, would I
still have a normal day? Probably not. People would be speeding
down the street, looting my neighborhood
coffee shop, and perhaps a stranger would
be sleeping on my living room couch. All the things that I’m used to
would be completely disrupted. Maybe a more
reasonable example is, let’s say all the schools
had a new rule of no classes on Fridays. Then parents would
have to figure out childcare for that day. Institutions and their rules
definitively guide what we do. You may be thinking that
you don’t have a kid and maybe you don’t need
child care services. But in general, individuals
are reliant on the institutions in their community. But is the reverse true? Do institutions
need individuals? In general, they
need lots of folks to contribute to allow
them to function. But they don’t typically need
any one random individual. So there’s a bit of an
imbalance between institutions and individuals, if
that makes sense. While they need
individuals and are created by groups
of individuals, they will continue even
after the individual is gone. The concept of institutions
may seem like a daunting idea. But try thinking of them as
just a form fulfilling a need. Institutions meet
the needs of society by filling expected
roles and behaviors. For example, in order for
a society to continue, it needs people year
after year after year. The family
institution makes sure that there will be people to
carry on the next generation. We know society needs a
way to keep people healthy. So you have the
medical institution. And society even needs a
way to encourage innovation and progress, so you
have universities. There are two views
of institutions– a conservative view
and a progressive view. The conservative view
sees institutions as being natural positive
byproducts of human nature. For example, the
institution of hospitals forms naturally from
the activities of humans and naturally benefits them. The progressive view
takes the standpoint that institutions are
artificial creations that need to be redesigned if they
are to be helpful to humanity. So perhaps you
could see businesses as potentially harming society
if they aren’t reined in. Now unfortunately,
institution is one of those words that has
a very different meaning to a sociologist than it
does to the average person. We average people might think of
just a business or corporation when we hear the
word institution. A sociologist, on
the other hand, thinks of social structures when
they hear the word institution. They think of governments,
families, hospitals, schools, the legal system, religion,
as well as businesses. Each of those parts of society
continues on without regard to any individual. Governments continue even
after the people within them turn over. Families continue from one
generation to the next. Laws continue on
after the people who wrote them are
long dead and buried. Hospitals, schools,
businesses– all continue past the time
span of any individual and are not dependent on
any one individual, either.

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    Zena O'Brien

    I don't work well with concrete examples. Can someone tell me what a social institution is in an abstract way?

    I found this definition:

    Sociology. a well-established and
    structured pattern of behavior or of relationships that is accepted as a
    fundamental part of a culture, as marriage:

    This definition makes sense to me. Seem accurate?

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