Society and Institutions
The largest group to which a person belongs is a society. A society refers to all the people who live within a certain geographic area, share a common way of life, and have a feeling of solidarity that binds them together as a unit. The most familiar societies are nations with formal governments. When we speak of American society, for example, we usually mean all the people who live in the United States. However, not all societies are nations. Many tribes with fewer than a thousand members comprise complete societies. They have their own languages and unique life-styles that they pass on from generation to generation.
Every society, whether large or small, has certain basic needs that must be fulfilled if it is to endure. Among these needs are: to create new members so as to replace old members as they die, to train the young and instill in them the norms and values of the society; to explain the meaning of existence and reinforce moral values; to provide food and shelter; to maintain order and security.
In simple societies, these needs may be met by the group without any formal organization. For example, the young may be trained without schools. But as societies become more complex, they form patterns to meet their basic needs. The distinctive and stable pattern of norms, values, statuses, and roles that develops around a basic need of a society is called an institution. Five major social institutions are:
1. The family. The institution that is responsible for replenishing the members of a society, regulating sexual behavior, and providing for the rearing of children.
2. Education. The institution that is responsible for teaching children the values, norms, roles, and the accumulated knowledge of a society.
3. Religion. The institution that is concern with explaining the meaning and purpose of life, offering hope for the future, and providing moral guidance.
4. The economic system. The institution that is concerned with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services in a society.
5. Government. The institution that is responsible for maintaining order within a society, enforcing its norms, and protecting it from outside enemies.
The five major institutions usually compliment each other, and often their functions overlap. In our society, the family, school, and church or synagogue all teach moral values to children. Cooperation between two or more institutions is often essential if they are to succeed in their goals. The educational system depends on parents to prepare their children for school work. Parents depend on the schools to educate their children and prepare them to take their places in society. The public schools depend on government for their funding.
Institutions may also be in conflict with each other within a society. For example, the government’s desire for environmental protection may conflict with the economic system’s desire for maximum profits and productivity.