Even though there has been consistency in the use of social institutions as a concept by contemporary sociologists, it is not yet clearly defined in either term of common language or philosophical prose.
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In the contemporary world, sociologists have been using the concept to refer to the complex forms of social relations in the society that generate themselves, including the family, economy, government, human languages, educational institutions, religion, mass media, health care, among others.
According to Turner, (1997), a composition of roles, positions, values and norms stuck in specific kinds of structures in the society and organizing comparatively stabilized human activity patterns with reference to the basic issues of concern in generating resources to sustain life, individual reproduction and in sustaining workable structures within a given societal set up (Turner, 2007).
In the words of Giddens Anthony, institutions can be defined as the long-term features manifested in individual lives in a society. To Giddens, such features may include economic institutions, modes of discourse, legal institutions, political institutions, as well as institutional orders (Giddens, 1984).
Harre, a contemporary social scientist, offers his own point of view on how to define the concept “social institution” with respect to the theoretical sociological perspective (Harre, 1979).
To him, an institution is a double structure linkage of people such as office bearers or role holders and of social applications entailing both practical and expressive objectives and results or outcomes. Examples of such are shops, schools, police forces, post offices, and the British monarch.
Politics as a social institution is normally organized as a state. The societal structure takes on a political nature where social classes and the state begin to emerge. As time passes, there is usually grown in the political organization in the society, with it developing more complicated characteristics.
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In a highly developed societal structure, the political organization does not just entail the state, which forms the foundation, but also political parties, religious institutions, trade unions, and other political organizations as well as political movements.
Further, political traditions, standards, and norms are known to bind together a political organization into a single system to guarantee its functioning in society. The action of the institutions involved in the societal, political organization encompasses all relations of society’s nature that exercises political power (Stark, 2007).
According to Karl Marx cited in Stark (2007), the history of all existing societies is the history of antagonism between social classes. To Marx, what shapes the political systems or even the history itself in the society is geared by the process of joint antagonism on the portion of groups of people experiencing the same economic circumstances so as to realize their economic objectives.
These historical occurrences characterized by class struggles ever since the ancient time through the mid-years to the modern times have involved the capitalists’ class and that of the proletariats. The capitalists are known to be the owners of the means of production while the proletariats work in exchange for a living.
Just prior to the capitalistic social system, a system characterized by the struggle between slaves and their masters, that is, the serfs and the feudal lords existed. Today the class that has shaped societies in many industrialized economies is composed of the merchants struggling against the feudal society or the aristocratic elites (Stark, 2007).
With exploration and the consequent discoveries of metals and other raw materials that occurred in the world and resulting and the opening of global commercial markets, the capitalists whose accumulation was their livelihood went on growing wealthier and more emboldened in terms of politics against the feudal group which it eventually managed to sweep through antagonism and insurrection.
In the contemporary world of industrialization, capitalists’ status has risen to be the dominating class; thus, shaping institutions of politics and society with reference to its own concerns. Instead of eliminating the struggle between social classes, this class, which once used to occupy a subordinate position, has substituted the dominating class.
In an extortionist society, the political system reflects the antagonistic class nature in society. The ruling class dictatorship mechanism plays a central role in this type of political structure (Lenski, 1999).
From the point of view of societal political organization’s character under the capitalist system, capitalist and reformist ideologists arrive at conclusions about the political power pluralist character in a society dominated by capitalism and about the dispersal of power between the associations linked to a range of classes.
In reality, capitalism dominates the economy and does not share political power with any other system. Capitalism controls the state, which indeed monopolizes the political power in any society.
The state as an apparatus closely interacts with others connects in society’s political organization, in particular, the major bourgeois and the socialist parties, which plays a central and critical part in the ideological influencing of the masses as well as political manipulation.
The state machinery, that is, capitalism, often comes in contact with employers’ associations and pressure groups fighting against monopoly. All possible means are applied by the monopolistic capitalists to perimeter the functions and roles of the proletariats and other toiling groups of people in the society’s political structure hence minimizing the working-class influence on politics and the government (Stark, 2007).
The victory for the socialists’ revolution results in the creation of a new type of society’s political structure reflecting the economic, social, ideological, and political harmony of the new society. Their political system is composed of the communist party, its leading force, the system of the state power bodies and administration, public associations such as cooperatives, trade unions, and unions of inventive workers.
The central decree of political organization development in socialist societies is the constant perfection and progress of a socialist democratic state. There is no clear distinction between the antagonism to put up communism and the detailed progress of the socialist democratic state, soviet state strengthening, and the entire societal, political organization improvement (Stark, 2007).
When looking at the political institution in reference to the functionalist point of view which provides a flexible approach to institutions of politics and in explaining the unconventional political decisions, people stand for various groups with the conflict theory offering an approach to some of the factors contributing to political change.
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Considering some of the analogies as well as the area of deviation in its approach to political institutions, the theory explores some of the related difficulties, similarities, and differences in approaching the political institutions (Stark, 2007).
The theory does not prescribe a way of solving problems in case of a political crisis, but it comes up with a mechanism to prevent the recurrence of a future crisis. Proponents of functionalism as a school of thought are of the view that it is promising to deal with the humanity issues by establishing transnational corporations.
The need for the existence of a nation state has been acknowledged as a fact perhaps by the proponents of both interactionism and conflict schools of thought that are not similar to what the functionalists think. According to functionalists, there is a functional need for a state to shift from being the supreme determinant of how the society is shaped but instead should focus much on its functionality as a motivator (Thio, 2008).
The interactionism perspective strongly deviates from the other two approaches in the sense that it mostly emphasizes the political institutions’ participants. They view society as a set of actors who have to act in response to one another.
The proponents of this point of view hold that actions and reactions happen as consequences of actors in society interacting with each other. The need to control is what normally drives the situation where an actor in the society is interacting with another. This is where individuals may want to control what others in the society thinks about them, and the information is passed to them by other people (Thio, 2008).
When evaluating how each of these theories affects the political institution in reference to social change, functionalism’s immense effect on social change approach follows the fact that it objects the idea of globalization.
The response to this has been reverberated by the unwillingness of numerous political institutions to work under regulations provided by the international community. The belief in globalization is a notion that many countries that are against these nations are strong of the perspective that sovereignty of individual nations stating that this would reduce the supreme rights and freedoms of the humanity (Griffin, 1997).
Interactionism plays a central role in the process of social change, making people understand the reasons as to why the representative to political institutions and parties are occasionally viewed to be highly unconventional.
The reason behind this is that varied actors have different ways of interacting with one another in different circumstances. As a result, the adoption of social change in a social set up can be rapid when evaluating a society using such an approach (Griffin, 1997).
When illuminating why social change occurs in the realm of politics, perhaps, the class conflict perspective seems to be among the most attributed theories in terms of relevance. According to views posited by many of these scholars, the elites who have a tendency to create systems in their favor characterize the society.
Whenever people’s actions deviate from these approaches, they are labeled as deviants of society. Due to their capability to determine how society may work best, the politically interested people are able to maintain their power for long.
These political figures are not for the people’s wellbeing, but according to this view, they work towards flourishing their own interests. The same explanation is applicable to political transition issues.
Hitherto, many societies seem to be in the battle with the issue of capitalism against the socialist system in their political structures. The reasons for these are complained often voiced by the poor in the society regarding their leader’s ineffectiveness which has resulted in changes in the government systems (Goffman, 1998)
Each of the above-evaluated theories, in a way, has posed tremendous effects on the societal views with structural-functionalism being able to portray several situations that are common in life. For instance, the political parties are frequently changing in different countries, which can be attributed to the approach followed by the functionalists.
The major proponent of the structural functionalist school of thought is Merton Robert, who asserts that the occurrence of social change can be explained through the analysis of conformity, ritualism, innovation, rebellion, and retreat-ism (Rosamond, 2000).
This is practical in societies where particular parties or political systems dominate in such places as Sweden, where democratic parties have been involved in the society’s operations as from mid-fifties (Rosamond, 2000).
This can be deduced to be the consequent reason as to why many of these political actors have shown conformity in connection to their structural instructions because there has been the effective achievement of their cultural goals using that approach. In addition, people’s views about the external world and society have been greatly influenced by the functionalist perspective due to its creative aspect (Wilson,1995).
There has been a lot of influence on the society caused by the perspective posited by the interactionists. The reason for this is claimed to be that in recent times, especially in western societies, many political figures claimed to side with the opposite side regarding the significance of the classes in the society.
Alternatively, they are of the view that the electorate should be considerate of what is to be done to cause a change in their country. For instance, Margaret
Thatcher, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, was strongly opposed to the interactionist approach, which, according to her, talks of an inexistent society. She believes that people should take responsibility for their own fate (Wilson, 1995).
There has been a radical transformation of the societal views via the views posited by the conflict’s approach. According to the proponents of this theory, conflict comes as a result of privileges and presuppositions granted to a single class of individuals. In some countries, for instance, there is a common assumption that political powers can only be held by individuals from particular regions.
Thus, there is a consequent tendency of conflict existing amongst the members of one group against another. Such situations are common in societies with high levels of ethnicity. For example, in some countries, it is normally assumed that political positions can only be held by people from certain regions.
Consequently, there is always a conflict that exists between members of one region against those of another. Such a scenario is highly prevalent in societies where there are high levels of ethnicity. It should be clear that the conflict theory may determine how the institutions of politics portray conflict, which usually happens by means of revolution or wars.
Currently, in countries such as Burma, there have been clashes between the political systems with the military members battling with the population in order to control the state (Rosamond, 2000).
To recapitulate, the political side of human life has been affected by the functionalist approach because of changing flexibility in the regimes or governments. The interactionism theory has been claimed to empower numerous societal members while the approach taken by the conflict theorists depict the normal occurrence of social change in the society.
Giddens, A. (1971). Capitalism and Modern Social Theory. An Analysis of the writings of Marx, Durkheim and Max Weber. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Goffman, E. (2006). The Presentation of self-Everyday Life. New York: University of Edinburgh Press
Griffin, E. (2002). A first look at communication theory. London: Mc GrawHill Publishers.
Harre &Varela. (1996) “Conflicting Varieties of Realism: Causal Powers and the Problems of Social Structure.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. 26(3). Pp 313-325
Lenski, G. (1999). A theory of social stratification – Power and privilege. London: McGraw hill Publishers
Rosamond, B. (2000). Theories of European Integration. New York: McMillan Press
Stark, R. (2007): Sociology. Manchester: Thomas Wordsworth Publishers
Thio, A. (2008). A Brief Introduction to Sociology. New York: Pearson Publishers
Turner, R. (2007). Impact of Social Identity. London: Oxford University Press.
Wilson, O. (2008). Thinkers of the Twenty Years Crisis. London: Clarendon Press.