What do you understand by the term social structure?
To understand social structure - it is that enduring aspect of society which has a pattern & which is basically a set of rules that govern actual behavior. Since social structure created by people, they can change over times, despite their enduring character. And social structure reflects some dimensions of interaction such as power, economic resources, prestige, values etc.
Role & status are an integral aspect of the social structure. They are two related concepts of a social structure & they are interrelated & intertwined.
Status is a position in a social structure. For example, a person is 23 years old, male, student & belong to Hindu community. Each of these social positions is defined by the relationship it has other social position in the society. Status is two types - ascribed status & achieved status.
Ascribed status: Status that people are born into, is called ascribed status by the sociologist Ralph Linton. It is a position that is neither earned nor chosen but assigned. Sex, caste, ethnicity & to some extent religion are all ascribed statuses.
Achieved status: Achieved status is a status which is achieved by an individual & which is not given at birth. It reflects personal skills, abilities & efforts. The most achieved statuses are occupation, educational levels & income.
Each status has an expectation of behavior. For instance, men are expected to be strong, rational, aggressive, the bread earner etc. The women, on the other hand, are expected to be nonaggressive, caring, emotional etc. These expectations of different behavior for men & women among others & the difference in upbringing bring us very close to the meaning of the concept of roles.
A role is a behavior that is generally expected of one who occupies a particular status. As Linton (1936) put in 'we occupy statuses, but we play roles'. In the course of a day, everyone performs a variety of social roles, each carrying a set of behavioral expectations that are dependent on the social context.
Every person plays several roles in their life time & sometimes these roles carry different role expectations. These conflicting expectations are called role conflict. For example, a mother may be expected to be a good mother which involves a commitment to her children. This commitment may come in conflict with her role as head of an organization or employer which involves in equal expectations.
Therefore, status & role are most important elements of the society. Society has also other elements. They are social stratification & division of labor. Social stratification & division of labor two interrelated & integral parts of society.
The system of inequality is called social stratification. The stratification system of most societies endures as a pattern for a long time. Social stratification is related in part to society's division of labor. Some people, including sociologists like Davis & Moore, argue that certain jobs require more skills & specialized training & more difficult to learn than others. Such jobs are rewarded as they are difficult to require long periods of training etc.
In general, conflict theorists argue that inequality exists because the wealthy & powerful make the social system work in such a way that it protects their interest. Moreover, wealth is distributed unequally than income. A large share of wealth is inherited rather than earned.
Division of Labor
One reason why societies have a wide variety of roles in a social structure is that of the division of labor or specialization. For a society to keep going there are diverse jobs that need to be attended. Basic requirements such as food, shelter, rearing of children etc, have to be attended to. Almost all societies have a semblance of the division of labor & gender based division. For example - men hunt, women gather & take care of children.
The larger & more complex a society, the division of labor becomes more elaborate. Each job can be thought a social role that has a particular set of expectations that must be met. Moreover, in large complex societies, each of these social roles relates in some way to other jobs & status. Thus, the social structure becomes a system of roles that divides labor into specialized tasks, all of which are independent.
So, the elements of the social structure are status, role, stratification & division of labor. And they are interrelated & interconnected.