HSP3M Grade 11 Anthropology – Social Institutions

Section 9.2—Canadian Social Structures and Institutions

Social Institutions

  • when most people hear the work “institution”, they think about a building (school, hospital, prison etc.)
  • in sociology, a social institution is an organization or social framework whose function is to meet the basic needs of its members by providing direction and operating principles for society
    • example: a prison is a physical institution, but it’s a social institution as well—it’s part of the institution of government, which is responsible for maintaining public order
    • example: school is a public institution and part of the social institution, education
  • functions of social institutions:
    • satisfy the basic needs of society`s members (healthcare)
    • demonstrate dominant values and beliefs (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms)
    • establish enduring patterns of social behaviour (caring for children)
    • define roles for individuals to emulate (husband vs. wife)
  • the underlying goal of all social institutions is to satisfy individual needs and provide an orderly structure for the benefit of all society
  • social institutions also provide a way for different agents of socialization to transmit important beliefs and attitudes to the population
  • although distinct in their roles and overall purpose, social institutions perform the basic function of promoting social cohesion

 

Theoretical Perspectives of Social Institutions

  • conflict theorists (Marx) would agree that the purpose of social institutions is to meet the needs of their members
    • their greatest criticism would be that social institutions may have strayed from their original purpose to serve the individual; over time, social institutions have come to represent the interests of a small, wealthy, and privileged minority
      • marginalised groups in society may not be fully recognized of social institutions because social power is in the hands of the wealthy few (who allow minimal access to the social resources that were meant to serve all of society)
    • conflict theorists see institutions as roadblocks, hindering the general population from gaining equal access to social resources
  • structural functionalises (Max Weber) would say that social institutions perform an integral function in modern life and their core purpose is the welfare of the individual
  • functional theorists see the institutions as undisputable necessities for social living—they model social norms and provide positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviour

 

Social Institutions and Their Primary Goals

  • each social institution contains a set of social norms, roles, and behaviour expected of its members
  • there are many social institutions which guide public life, but there are only 5 that are discovered repeatedly in all cultures of the world, and they are: family, religion, education, government, economy

 

 

Institution and Core Beliefs Representatives of Institution Individual Needs Served
FAMILY

  • fidelity
  • respect
  • nurturance
  • knowledge
  • support
  • loyalty
  • individual members (father, mother, daughter etc.)
  • families (nuclear, extended etc.)
  • parents (adoptive, same-sex)
  • relatives of a family
  • socializes children
  • responsible for reproduction
  • perpetuates marriage
  • establishes positive self-concept and self-esteem
  • provides emotional nurturance

 

RELIGION

  • worshipping
  • faith
  • charity
  • tolerance
  • ethics
  • morals
  • worshipper
  • religious leaders of church, mosque, synagogue, temple etc.
  • spiritual leaders and healers
  • satisfies spiritual needs of individuals
  • provides solace for life’s crises and tragedies
  • models altruistic behaviour
  • promotes tolerance of other groups
EDUCATION

  • obedience
  • punctuality
  • knowledge
  • practical skills
  • respect
  • students
  • teachers and administrators
  • college and university professors
  • transmits knowledge and skills from one generation to the next
  • continues the socialization process begun at home with the family
  • prepares students for the workforce

 

GOVERNMENT

  • obedience
  • loyalty
  • pride
  • justice
  • patriotism
  • respect
  • equality
  • political leaders
  • political parties
  • elected officials
  • judges
  • police officers
  • civil servants
  • demonstrates the legitimate use of power by governing members
  • models respect for the nation and its symbols
  • instils a sense of belonging and pride of country
  • enforces social order (law, law enforcement etc.)
  • administers to the well-being of the population
  • attempts to unify society
ECONOMY

  • ethics
  • efficiency
  • competition
  • honesty
  • integrity
  • banks
  • small businesses
  • corporations
  • regulates the distribution of goods and services
  • establishes an appropriate work ethic
  • teaches the value of honest and hard work as a way to get ahead
  • teaches the laws of supply and demand

 

 

Family

  • family is the primary agent of socialization and the most important institution in Canadian society
  • like all institutions, it’s continuously adapting to change
    • the nuclear family was considered the ideal for many generations
      • today, Canadians are challenging the notion that nuclear families are the only way children can properly be socialized
      • as a result of changing attitudes toward parenting and marriage, the family is an institution that has grown to include lone-parents families, same0sex families, common-law, and blended families
    • more than any other institution, the family has demonstrated that diversity and tolerance are possible in a society as complex as Canada
      • even with these changes, the family is still a dominant force directing Canadian society and other worldwide societies
  • in all cultures, the institution of the family is responsible for promoting universal functions, such as regulation reproduction and sexual behaviour
    • it’s also responsible for socializing and teaching the youngest members social norms
    • daily, the family helps develop lifelong lessons, such as the importance of respect and obedience
      • these skills are further explored when the student enters school—in this way, the family is seen as the blueprint for social norms and beliefs
  • in addition to all social and practical functions, the family is responsible for the economic maintenance and recreation of its members
  • the changing face of Canadian families has left an indelible mark on whom we are as a nation; it also says something about our social values
  • the family is the only institution to use nurturance and emotional support as a basis for all its relationships
    • other institutions (religion) do so in a limited manner
    • the family has the ability to nurture self-esteem, creativity, and self-confidence
  • the family is the foundation on which well-adjusted young adults emerge ready and capable of fully participating in other institutions and society itself

 

Religion

  • on a personal level, religion can serve a number of purposes—it can provide an individual with a sense of serenity and calm, help celebrate important rituals of life, and provide support in times of grief and personal tragedy
  • on an intellectual and philosophical level, it can help explain the origins of the world, the universal order that governs it, and the presence of good and evil
  • for many individuals, religious beliefs are developed in the family starting at a very young age through initiation rites (Catholic baptism, Hindu ear0piercing, Jewish bris etc.)
    • these ceremonies serve to teach the young faithful about the ritual sand beliefs of their religion
  • throughout the course of a person’s life, a worshipper will attend prayer services, observe important rites, and learn sacred scripture
    • religion helps the worshipper explain natural phenomena, such as birth and death
  • socially, religion helps individuals develop charity, compassion, and altruism
    • most of the world’s well-known religions are based on these elements
  • for many cultures around the world, religion is a deeply integrated part of the fabric of society
    • it exerts a great influence on other institutions as well
    • in one way or another, organized religions have been known to create social cohesion as well as social conflict among their believers and their society
  • as social institutions, religious organizations serve a social purpose
    • most host charity events and community meals, and perform social service (good will and charity)
      • these events aren’t restricted to members of that specific religious organization (but are extended to the community as a whole)
      • these events alleviate the stress and alienation that secular (no religion) life may bring—religion is a constructive force in society
  • it is common for religious groups to come together to promote peaceful resolution to global issues and closer to home issues; these religious groups work with government agencies to alleviate social inequality and injustice locally
  • before 1971, less than 1% of people identified themselves as non-religious’ two generations later, 23% of people identify themselves as non-religious
    • a look at the youngest Canadians suggests the transformation is gathering speed—in 2002, 34% of 15-29 year olds said religion was highly important to them; in 2009, that number dropped to 22%
      • this demographic shift raises profound questions about our social values, the fate of our cultural heritage, the institutions that once formed the bedrock of our communities, and access to political power

 

Education

  • on the surface, it would appear that the purpose of going to school is to get good grades (this is the most basic purpose of school)
  • education as an institution is steeped in traditions, rituals and rites of passage for many youth all over the world
  • not all education systems are the same, as not all countries value the same set of skills or body of knowledge
    • however, all education systems work to transmit knowledge, skills and social values from one generation to the next
    • the knowledge and skills you learn in school are building blocks for the next phase of your life (the workforce)
  • education also provides a number of social and life management skills that are meant to lead to students’ independence
  • education must offer every student the same access to the same resources and serve them equally
    • no matter social class, race etc.
    • equality
  • education’s other functions:
    • socialization and roles
      • students learn about punctuality, and respect for authority and others
    • discipline and obedience
      • students come to accept and respect the authority of teachers and rules of the school
      • students learn to use self-control in their dealings with peers and others
      • students learn to take responsibility for their own actions (including actions taken against others)
    • knowledge and skills
      • students study and complete assignments
      • students meet all curriculum expectations
    • competition and collaboration
      • students are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities to develop healthy competition
      • students contribute to classroom activities to help foster collaboration and teamwork
  • during the 1950s when TV became a household fixture in North America, it was widely believed that TV would revolutionize many aspects of life, including education
    • many social commentators saw “old-fashioned” schools becoming a thing of the past, as the TV craze took hold; however, more than 60 years later, the “old-fashioned” schools are still with us
    • today, the same concerns over technology are surfacing again—this time it’s computer technology that’s threatening the “old-fashioned” system
      • educators are trying to incorporate the “old-fashioned” system with computer technology
      • perhaps the future of education involves integrating computer technology as a means of building the knowledge and skills that will lead to career paths yet to be developed
      • it is important we don’t completely lose the old-fashioned system by integrating technology
      • however, if technology was integrated into the education system, socio-economic equity comes into play as we consider who has access to this technology and who does not

 

Government

  • every human society is based on a guiding principle that is upheld by authority figures (religious or secular), and by the general population
  • the guiding principle for most countries is a political idea (Canada’s is democracy; Cuba’s and China’s is communism)
  • aside from the political idea, society is also defined by distinct roles and obligations that help advance the fundamental beliefs of its members
    • laws may be written to facilitate appropriate social conduct for the people (institutionalization of norms)
    • laws give the government ultimate authority to govern people’s social interaction and to intervene when individuals violate the norm
    • to some people, laws may appear constrictive, but without laws, society would be full of chaos
    • our elected officials are given the power to make decisions for society and the citizens grant them that authority by means of our political vote
    • the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides the standard for which many cases are determined
  • the role of government in society has many purposes, and law enforcement is just a small portion
    • government institutions must provide for the social and economic welfare of their people
    • with its many social programs and policies, the Canadian government tries to ensure that the most vulnerable and needy receive the support they need
      • through these incentives and based on appropriate policies, the government hopes to alleviate social inequalities
      • however, social inequalities are on the rise in Canada, especially among certain groups like the Aboriginals
  • the government oversees many other institutions, like family and religion
  • all social institutions work to satisfy the needs of their members—however, the government has specific mandates to keep society safe (from pandemics, violence/terrorism, attacks etc.)
    • Health Care System
      • during H1N1, government tried to vaccinate everyone as quickly as possible
      • Canada’s healthcare system consists of 13 provincial and territorial programs—the provincial, federal, and territorial governments work together to manage and deliver health care to Canadians
      • Canada has “universal health care” because the system is based on need, rather than the ability to pay, and is available to all citizens of Canada
      • preserves life
      • provides proactive solutions to extend life and ensures a high standard of living for the elderly
    • Canadian Military
      • works to preserve our way of life, and to keep our nation safe from external threats
      • in our peacekeeping missions, we extend our valued notion of peace and safety to countries around the world in their greatest moments of crisis
      • Canadian peacekeepers provide humanitarian relief after natural disasters, protecting civilians during conflicts, and helping to organize elections and assists in relief efforts around the world
      • promotes honour, patriotism, and nationalism among the population
      • teaches obedience and discipline to soldiers
      • members act as ambassadors around the world for our way of life and beliefs
      • provides domestic protection (response to disasters in Canada)

 

Economy

  • a country’s economic institution is closely related to the nation’s government
  • the economy serves a number of important functions (production of goods and the organization of the labour force)
  • the economy and its related institutions, such as small businesses and large corporations are concerned with the supply and demand of goods and efficient methods to produce profit
  • in  many countries, banks are the most powerful economic institutions—they are the keepers of the nation’s currency
    • the strength of a country’s currency is an indicator of how a country’s economy is performing
  • on a more human level, economic institutions provide society with appropriate examples of leadership styles and teach the importance of honesty and strong work ethic
  • the economy also highlights the importance of ownership and personal financial success in society
  • in sociological terms, there are 2 distinct views about the role of workers in modern-day economy
    • the first is that workers are insignificant mechanisms in the larger and more important machine
      • dehumanizes the efforts of the individual
    • workers are an integral part of the success of any company, and with encouragement and praise, will produce outstanding results