The concept of social institution

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).

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-4446.2008.00203.x/abstract

He identifies a number of different ways in which institutions have been conceptualised:

  1. Regular patterns of behaviour
  2. The normative beliefs held by individuals which account for these regularities (individual representations)
  3. The normative beliefs held by collectives which account for these regularities (collective representations)
  4. The ‘virtual’ systems of rules and resources that are instantiated in individual practices (structuration)

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