In this very useful paper Dave Elder-Vass observes that the concept of ‘social institution’ is almost as diverse as that of ‘social structure’:
The concept of social institution is almost as diverse in its referents as the concept of social structure. The Collins Dictionary of Sociology, for example, begins its definition: ‘an established order comprising rule-bound and standardized behaviour patterns. The term is widely acknowledged to be used in a variety of ways, and hence often ambiguously. Social institution refers to arrangements involving large numbers of people whose behaviour is guided by norms and roles’ (Jary and Jary 2000: 302).
He identifies a number of different ways in which institutions have been conceptualised:
- Regular patterns of behaviour
- The normative beliefs held by individuals which account for these regularities (individual representations)
- The normative beliefs held by collectives which account for these regularities (collective representations)
- The ‘virtual’ systems of rules and resources that are instantiated in individual practices (structuration)