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 Page 1


leisure opportunities s/he avails, the
health access s/he has, i.e. her/his
lifestyle in general. As in the case of
social structure, social stratification
constrains individual action.
One of the central concerns of the
sociological perspective has been to
understand the dialectical relationship
between the individual and society . Y ou
will recall C.Wright Mill’ s elaboration of
the sociological imagination that seeks
to unfold the interplay between an
individual’s biography and society’s
history. It is towards understanding
this dialectical relationship between the
society and individual that we need to
discuss the three central concepts of
structure, stratification and social
processes in this chapter. In the next
few chapters we then move on to how
social structure in rural and urban
societies are different, to broader
relationships between environment and
society. In the last two chapters we look
at western social thinkers and Indian
sociologists and their writings that
would help us further understand the
ideas of social structure, stratification
as well as social processes.
CHAPTER 1
SOCIAL STRUCTURE, STRATIFICATION AND SOCIAL
PROCESSES IN SOCIETY
INTRODUCTION
You will recall that the earlier book
Introducing Sociology, Class XI had
begun with a discussion on the
relationship between personal
problems and social issues. We also
saw how individuals are located within
collectivities such as groups, classes,
gender , castes and tribes. Indeed each
of you, is a member of not just one
kind of collectivity, but many
overlapping ones. F or instance, you are
a member of your own peer group,
your family and kin, your class and
gender, your country and region. Each
individual thus has a specific location
in the social structure and social
stratification system (see pages 28-35
in Introducing Sociology). This also
implies that they have different levels
and types of access to social resources.
In other words the choices an individual
has in life in terms of the school s/he
goes to — or if s/he goes to school at
all — would depend on the social
stratum that s/he belongs to.
Likewise with the clothes s/he gets to
wear, the food s/he consumes, the
2022-23
Page 2


leisure opportunities s/he avails, the
health access s/he has, i.e. her/his
lifestyle in general. As in the case of
social structure, social stratification
constrains individual action.
One of the central concerns of the
sociological perspective has been to
understand the dialectical relationship
between the individual and society . Y ou
will recall C.Wright Mill’ s elaboration of
the sociological imagination that seeks
to unfold the interplay between an
individual’s biography and society’s
history. It is towards understanding
this dialectical relationship between the
society and individual that we need to
discuss the three central concepts of
structure, stratification and social
processes in this chapter. In the next
few chapters we then move on to how
social structure in rural and urban
societies are different, to broader
relationships between environment and
society. In the last two chapters we look
at western social thinkers and Indian
sociologists and their writings that
would help us further understand the
ideas of social structure, stratification
as well as social processes.
CHAPTER 1
SOCIAL STRUCTURE, STRATIFICATION AND SOCIAL
PROCESSES IN SOCIETY
INTRODUCTION
You will recall that the earlier book
Introducing Sociology, Class XI had
begun with a discussion on the
relationship between personal
problems and social issues. We also
saw how individuals are located within
collectivities such as groups, classes,
gender , castes and tribes. Indeed each
of you, is a member of not just one
kind of collectivity, but many
overlapping ones. F or instance, you are
a member of your own peer group,
your family and kin, your class and
gender, your country and region. Each
individual thus has a specific location
in the social structure and social
stratification system (see pages 28-35
in Introducing Sociology). This also
implies that they have different levels
and types of access to social resources.
In other words the choices an individual
has in life in terms of the school s/he
goes to — or if s/he goes to school at
all — would depend on the social
stratum that s/he belongs to.
Likewise with the clothes s/he gets to
wear, the food s/he consumes, the
2022-23
 2 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
regularities that the concept of social
structure refers. Upto a point, it is
helpful to think of the structural
characteristics of societies as
resembling the structure of a building.
A building has walls, a floor and a roof,
which together give it a particular
‘shape’ or form (Giddens 2004: 667).
But the metaphor can be a very
misleading one if applied too strictly.
Social structures are made up of
human actions and relationships.
What gives these their patterning is
their repetition across periods of time
and distances of space. Thus, the ideas
of social reproduction and social
structure are very closely related to one
another in sociological analysis. For
example, consider a school and a
family structure. In a school certain
ways of behaving are repeated over the
years and become institutions. For
instance admission procedures, codes
of conduct, annual functions, daily
assemblies and in some cases even
school anthems. Likewise in families
certain ways of behaving, marriage
practices, notions of relationships,
duties and expectations are set. Even
as old members of the family or school
may pass away and new members
enter, the institution goes on. Yet we
also know that changes do take place
within the family and in schools.
The above discussion and activity
should help us understand human
societies as buildings that are at every
moment being reconstructed by the
very bricks that compose them. For as
we saw for ourselves human beings in
schools or families do bring changes
The central question that this
chapter seeks to discuss is to what
extent the individual constrained by,
and to what extent s/he is free of, the
social structure? To what extent does
one’s position in society or location in
the stratification system govern
individual choice? Do social structure
and social stratification influence the
manner people act? Do they shape the
way individuals cooperate, compete
and conflict with each other?
In this chapter we deal briefly with
the terms ‘social structure’ and ‘social
stratification’. You have already
discussed social stratification in some
detail in Chapter 2 of the earlier
book Introducing Sociology, Class XI
(NCERT, 2006). We then move on to
focus on three social processes namely;
cooperation, competition and conflict.
In dealing with each of these processes
we shall try and see how social structure
and stratification impinge themselves on
the social processes. In other words how
individuals and groups cooperate,
compete and conflict depending upon
their position within the social structure
and stratification system.
SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND STRATIFICATION
The term social structure points to the
fact that society is structured — i.e.,
organised or arranged — in particular
ways. The social environments in
which we exist do not just consist of
random assortments of events or
actions. There are underlying
regularities, or patterns, in how people
behave and in the relationships they
have with one another. It is to these
2022-23
Page 3


leisure opportunities s/he avails, the
health access s/he has, i.e. her/his
lifestyle in general. As in the case of
social structure, social stratification
constrains individual action.
One of the central concerns of the
sociological perspective has been to
understand the dialectical relationship
between the individual and society . Y ou
will recall C.Wright Mill’ s elaboration of
the sociological imagination that seeks
to unfold the interplay between an
individual’s biography and society’s
history. It is towards understanding
this dialectical relationship between the
society and individual that we need to
discuss the three central concepts of
structure, stratification and social
processes in this chapter. In the next
few chapters we then move on to how
social structure in rural and urban
societies are different, to broader
relationships between environment and
society. In the last two chapters we look
at western social thinkers and Indian
sociologists and their writings that
would help us further understand the
ideas of social structure, stratification
as well as social processes.
CHAPTER 1
SOCIAL STRUCTURE, STRATIFICATION AND SOCIAL
PROCESSES IN SOCIETY
INTRODUCTION
You will recall that the earlier book
Introducing Sociology, Class XI had
begun with a discussion on the
relationship between personal
problems and social issues. We also
saw how individuals are located within
collectivities such as groups, classes,
gender , castes and tribes. Indeed each
of you, is a member of not just one
kind of collectivity, but many
overlapping ones. F or instance, you are
a member of your own peer group,
your family and kin, your class and
gender, your country and region. Each
individual thus has a specific location
in the social structure and social
stratification system (see pages 28-35
in Introducing Sociology). This also
implies that they have different levels
and types of access to social resources.
In other words the choices an individual
has in life in terms of the school s/he
goes to — or if s/he goes to school at
all — would depend on the social
stratum that s/he belongs to.
Likewise with the clothes s/he gets to
wear, the food s/he consumes, the
2022-23
 2 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
regularities that the concept of social
structure refers. Upto a point, it is
helpful to think of the structural
characteristics of societies as
resembling the structure of a building.
A building has walls, a floor and a roof,
which together give it a particular
‘shape’ or form (Giddens 2004: 667).
But the metaphor can be a very
misleading one if applied too strictly.
Social structures are made up of
human actions and relationships.
What gives these their patterning is
their repetition across periods of time
and distances of space. Thus, the ideas
of social reproduction and social
structure are very closely related to one
another in sociological analysis. For
example, consider a school and a
family structure. In a school certain
ways of behaving are repeated over the
years and become institutions. For
instance admission procedures, codes
of conduct, annual functions, daily
assemblies and in some cases even
school anthems. Likewise in families
certain ways of behaving, marriage
practices, notions of relationships,
duties and expectations are set. Even
as old members of the family or school
may pass away and new members
enter, the institution goes on. Yet we
also know that changes do take place
within the family and in schools.
The above discussion and activity
should help us understand human
societies as buildings that are at every
moment being reconstructed by the
very bricks that compose them. For as
we saw for ourselves human beings in
schools or families do bring changes
The central question that this
chapter seeks to discuss is to what
extent the individual constrained by,
and to what extent s/he is free of, the
social structure? To what extent does
one’s position in society or location in
the stratification system govern
individual choice? Do social structure
and social stratification influence the
manner people act? Do they shape the
way individuals cooperate, compete
and conflict with each other?
In this chapter we deal briefly with
the terms ‘social structure’ and ‘social
stratification’. You have already
discussed social stratification in some
detail in Chapter 2 of the earlier
book Introducing Sociology, Class XI
(NCERT, 2006). We then move on to
focus on three social processes namely;
cooperation, competition and conflict.
In dealing with each of these processes
we shall try and see how social structure
and stratification impinge themselves on
the social processes. In other words how
individuals and groups cooperate,
compete and conflict depending upon
their position within the social structure
and stratification system.
SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND STRATIFICATION
The term social structure points to the
fact that society is structured — i.e.,
organised or arranged — in particular
ways. The social environments in
which we exist do not just consist of
random assortments of events or
actions. There are underlying
regularities, or patterns, in how people
behave and in the relationships they
have with one another. It is to these
2022-23
3 SOCIAL STRUCTURE, STRATIFICATION AND SOCIAL PROCESSES IN SOCIETY
Different types of buildings in rural and urban areas
2022-23
Page 4


leisure opportunities s/he avails, the
health access s/he has, i.e. her/his
lifestyle in general. As in the case of
social structure, social stratification
constrains individual action.
One of the central concerns of the
sociological perspective has been to
understand the dialectical relationship
between the individual and society . Y ou
will recall C.Wright Mill’ s elaboration of
the sociological imagination that seeks
to unfold the interplay between an
individual’s biography and society’s
history. It is towards understanding
this dialectical relationship between the
society and individual that we need to
discuss the three central concepts of
structure, stratification and social
processes in this chapter. In the next
few chapters we then move on to how
social structure in rural and urban
societies are different, to broader
relationships between environment and
society. In the last two chapters we look
at western social thinkers and Indian
sociologists and their writings that
would help us further understand the
ideas of social structure, stratification
as well as social processes.
CHAPTER 1
SOCIAL STRUCTURE, STRATIFICATION AND SOCIAL
PROCESSES IN SOCIETY
INTRODUCTION
You will recall that the earlier book
Introducing Sociology, Class XI had
begun with a discussion on the
relationship between personal
problems and social issues. We also
saw how individuals are located within
collectivities such as groups, classes,
gender , castes and tribes. Indeed each
of you, is a member of not just one
kind of collectivity, but many
overlapping ones. F or instance, you are
a member of your own peer group,
your family and kin, your class and
gender, your country and region. Each
individual thus has a specific location
in the social structure and social
stratification system (see pages 28-35
in Introducing Sociology). This also
implies that they have different levels
and types of access to social resources.
In other words the choices an individual
has in life in terms of the school s/he
goes to — or if s/he goes to school at
all — would depend on the social
stratum that s/he belongs to.
Likewise with the clothes s/he gets to
wear, the food s/he consumes, the
2022-23
 2 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
regularities that the concept of social
structure refers. Upto a point, it is
helpful to think of the structural
characteristics of societies as
resembling the structure of a building.
A building has walls, a floor and a roof,
which together give it a particular
‘shape’ or form (Giddens 2004: 667).
But the metaphor can be a very
misleading one if applied too strictly.
Social structures are made up of
human actions and relationships.
What gives these their patterning is
their repetition across periods of time
and distances of space. Thus, the ideas
of social reproduction and social
structure are very closely related to one
another in sociological analysis. For
example, consider a school and a
family structure. In a school certain
ways of behaving are repeated over the
years and become institutions. For
instance admission procedures, codes
of conduct, annual functions, daily
assemblies and in some cases even
school anthems. Likewise in families
certain ways of behaving, marriage
practices, notions of relationships,
duties and expectations are set. Even
as old members of the family or school
may pass away and new members
enter, the institution goes on. Yet we
also know that changes do take place
within the family and in schools.
The above discussion and activity
should help us understand human
societies as buildings that are at every
moment being reconstructed by the
very bricks that compose them. For as
we saw for ourselves human beings in
schools or families do bring changes
The central question that this
chapter seeks to discuss is to what
extent the individual constrained by,
and to what extent s/he is free of, the
social structure? To what extent does
one’s position in society or location in
the stratification system govern
individual choice? Do social structure
and social stratification influence the
manner people act? Do they shape the
way individuals cooperate, compete
and conflict with each other?
In this chapter we deal briefly with
the terms ‘social structure’ and ‘social
stratification’. You have already
discussed social stratification in some
detail in Chapter 2 of the earlier
book Introducing Sociology, Class XI
(NCERT, 2006). We then move on to
focus on three social processes namely;
cooperation, competition and conflict.
In dealing with each of these processes
we shall try and see how social structure
and stratification impinge themselves on
the social processes. In other words how
individuals and groups cooperate,
compete and conflict depending upon
their position within the social structure
and stratification system.
SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND STRATIFICATION
The term social structure points to the
fact that society is structured — i.e.,
organised or arranged — in particular
ways. The social environments in
which we exist do not just consist of
random assortments of events or
actions. There are underlying
regularities, or patterns, in how people
behave and in the relationships they
have with one another. It is to these
2022-23
3 SOCIAL STRUCTURE, STRATIFICATION AND SOCIAL PROCESSES IN SOCIETY
Different types of buildings in rural and urban areas
2022-23
 4 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
to reproduce the structure even while
introducing changes. They cooperate
at various levels in their everyday lives
towards this reproduction. No less true
is the fact that they also compete with
each other, often viciously and
ruthlessly. The fact remains that along
with cooperative behaviour we also
witness serious conflict. And as we
shall find later in this chapter,
cooperation can be enforced and
thereby serve to conceal conflict.
A major theme pursued by Emile
Durkheim (and by many other
sociologists since) is that the societies
exert social constraint over the
actions of their members. Durkheim
argued that society has primacy over
the individual person. Society is far
more than the sum of individual acts;
it has a ‘firmness’ or ‘solidity’
comparable to structures in the
material environment.
Think of a person standing in a
room with several doors. The structure
of the room constrains the range of
his or her possible activities. The placing
of the walls and doors, for example
defines the routes of exit and entry.
Social structure, according to
Durkheim, constrains our activities in
a parallel way, setting limits to what
we can do as individuals. It is ‘external’
to us just as the walls of the room are.
Other social thinkers like Karl Marx
would emphasise the constraints of
social structure but would at the same
time stress human creativity or agency
to both reproduce and change social
structure. Marx argued that human
beings make history, but not as they
wish to or in conditions of their choice,
but within the constraints and
possibilities of the historical and
structural situation that they are in.
To recall the concept of social
strati-fication in Chapter 2 of
Introducing Sociology, Class XI, Social
stratification refers to the existence of
structured inequalities between
groups in society, in terms of their
access to material or symbolic
Activity 1
Discuss with your grandparents and others of that generation to find out about
the ways in which families/schools have changed and the ways in which they
have remained the same.
Compare descriptions of families in old films/television serials/novels with
contemporary depictions.
Can you observe patterns and regularities of social behaviour in your family? In
other words, can you describe the structure of your family?
Discuss with your teachers how they understand the school as a structure. Do
students, teachers and the staff have to act in certain ways to maintain or reproduce
the structure? Can you think of any changes in either your school or family? Were
these changes resisted? Who resisted them and why?
2022-23
Page 5


leisure opportunities s/he avails, the
health access s/he has, i.e. her/his
lifestyle in general. As in the case of
social structure, social stratification
constrains individual action.
One of the central concerns of the
sociological perspective has been to
understand the dialectical relationship
between the individual and society . Y ou
will recall C.Wright Mill’ s elaboration of
the sociological imagination that seeks
to unfold the interplay between an
individual’s biography and society’s
history. It is towards understanding
this dialectical relationship between the
society and individual that we need to
discuss the three central concepts of
structure, stratification and social
processes in this chapter. In the next
few chapters we then move on to how
social structure in rural and urban
societies are different, to broader
relationships between environment and
society. In the last two chapters we look
at western social thinkers and Indian
sociologists and their writings that
would help us further understand the
ideas of social structure, stratification
as well as social processes.
CHAPTER 1
SOCIAL STRUCTURE, STRATIFICATION AND SOCIAL
PROCESSES IN SOCIETY
INTRODUCTION
You will recall that the earlier book
Introducing Sociology, Class XI had
begun with a discussion on the
relationship between personal
problems and social issues. We also
saw how individuals are located within
collectivities such as groups, classes,
gender , castes and tribes. Indeed each
of you, is a member of not just one
kind of collectivity, but many
overlapping ones. F or instance, you are
a member of your own peer group,
your family and kin, your class and
gender, your country and region. Each
individual thus has a specific location
in the social structure and social
stratification system (see pages 28-35
in Introducing Sociology). This also
implies that they have different levels
and types of access to social resources.
In other words the choices an individual
has in life in terms of the school s/he
goes to — or if s/he goes to school at
all — would depend on the social
stratum that s/he belongs to.
Likewise with the clothes s/he gets to
wear, the food s/he consumes, the
2022-23
 2 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
regularities that the concept of social
structure refers. Upto a point, it is
helpful to think of the structural
characteristics of societies as
resembling the structure of a building.
A building has walls, a floor and a roof,
which together give it a particular
‘shape’ or form (Giddens 2004: 667).
But the metaphor can be a very
misleading one if applied too strictly.
Social structures are made up of
human actions and relationships.
What gives these their patterning is
their repetition across periods of time
and distances of space. Thus, the ideas
of social reproduction and social
structure are very closely related to one
another in sociological analysis. For
example, consider a school and a
family structure. In a school certain
ways of behaving are repeated over the
years and become institutions. For
instance admission procedures, codes
of conduct, annual functions, daily
assemblies and in some cases even
school anthems. Likewise in families
certain ways of behaving, marriage
practices, notions of relationships,
duties and expectations are set. Even
as old members of the family or school
may pass away and new members
enter, the institution goes on. Yet we
also know that changes do take place
within the family and in schools.
The above discussion and activity
should help us understand human
societies as buildings that are at every
moment being reconstructed by the
very bricks that compose them. For as
we saw for ourselves human beings in
schools or families do bring changes
The central question that this
chapter seeks to discuss is to what
extent the individual constrained by,
and to what extent s/he is free of, the
social structure? To what extent does
one’s position in society or location in
the stratification system govern
individual choice? Do social structure
and social stratification influence the
manner people act? Do they shape the
way individuals cooperate, compete
and conflict with each other?
In this chapter we deal briefly with
the terms ‘social structure’ and ‘social
stratification’. You have already
discussed social stratification in some
detail in Chapter 2 of the earlier
book Introducing Sociology, Class XI
(NCERT, 2006). We then move on to
focus on three social processes namely;
cooperation, competition and conflict.
In dealing with each of these processes
we shall try and see how social structure
and stratification impinge themselves on
the social processes. In other words how
individuals and groups cooperate,
compete and conflict depending upon
their position within the social structure
and stratification system.
SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND STRATIFICATION
The term social structure points to the
fact that society is structured — i.e.,
organised or arranged — in particular
ways. The social environments in
which we exist do not just consist of
random assortments of events or
actions. There are underlying
regularities, or patterns, in how people
behave and in the relationships they
have with one another. It is to these
2022-23
3 SOCIAL STRUCTURE, STRATIFICATION AND SOCIAL PROCESSES IN SOCIETY
Different types of buildings in rural and urban areas
2022-23
 4 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
to reproduce the structure even while
introducing changes. They cooperate
at various levels in their everyday lives
towards this reproduction. No less true
is the fact that they also compete with
each other, often viciously and
ruthlessly. The fact remains that along
with cooperative behaviour we also
witness serious conflict. And as we
shall find later in this chapter,
cooperation can be enforced and
thereby serve to conceal conflict.
A major theme pursued by Emile
Durkheim (and by many other
sociologists since) is that the societies
exert social constraint over the
actions of their members. Durkheim
argued that society has primacy over
the individual person. Society is far
more than the sum of individual acts;
it has a ‘firmness’ or ‘solidity’
comparable to structures in the
material environment.
Think of a person standing in a
room with several doors. The structure
of the room constrains the range of
his or her possible activities. The placing
of the walls and doors, for example
defines the routes of exit and entry.
Social structure, according to
Durkheim, constrains our activities in
a parallel way, setting limits to what
we can do as individuals. It is ‘external’
to us just as the walls of the room are.
Other social thinkers like Karl Marx
would emphasise the constraints of
social structure but would at the same
time stress human creativity or agency
to both reproduce and change social
structure. Marx argued that human
beings make history, but not as they
wish to or in conditions of their choice,
but within the constraints and
possibilities of the historical and
structural situation that they are in.
To recall the concept of social
strati-fication in Chapter 2 of
Introducing Sociology, Class XI, Social
stratification refers to the existence of
structured inequalities between
groups in society, in terms of their
access to material or symbolic
Activity 1
Discuss with your grandparents and others of that generation to find out about
the ways in which families/schools have changed and the ways in which they
have remained the same.
Compare descriptions of families in old films/television serials/novels with
contemporary depictions.
Can you observe patterns and regularities of social behaviour in your family? In
other words, can you describe the structure of your family?
Discuss with your teachers how they understand the school as a structure. Do
students, teachers and the staff have to act in certain ways to maintain or reproduce
the structure? Can you think of any changes in either your school or family? Were
these changes resisted? Who resisted them and why?
2022-23
5 SOCIAL STRUCTURE, STRATIFICATION AND SOCIAL PROCESSES IN SOCIETY
rewards. While all societies involve
some forms of social stratification,
modern societies are often marked by
wide differences in wealth and power.
While the most evident forms of
stratification in modern societies
involve class divisions, others like
race and caste, region and
community, tribe and gender also
continue to matter as bases of social
stratification.
You will recall that social structure
implied a certain patterning of social
behaviour. Social stratification as part
of the broader social structure is
likewise characterised by a certain
pattern of inequality. Inequality is not
something which is randomly
distributed between individuals in
society. It is systematically linked to
membership in different kinds of social
groups. Members of a given group will
have features in common, and if they
are in a superior position they will
usually see to it that their privileged
position is passed on to their children.
The concept of stratification, then,
refers to the idea that society is divided
into a patterned structure of unequal
groups, and usually implies that this
structure tends to persist across
generations (Jayaram 1987:22).
It is necessary to distinguish
between different advantages which
can be distributed unequally. There
are three basic forms of advantage
which privileged groups may enjoy:
(i) Life Chances: All those material
advantages which improve the
quality of life of the recipient — this
This point of view is expressed by Durkheim in his famous statement: When I
perform my duties as a brother, a husband or a citizen and carry out the
commitments I have entered into, I fulfil my obligations which are defined in law
and custom and which are external to myself and my actions…Similarly, the believer
has discovered from birth, ready fashioned, the beliefs and practices of his religious
life; if they existed before he did, it follows that they exist outside him. The systems
of signs that I employ to express my thoughts, the monetary system I use to pay
my debts, the credit instruments I utilise in my commercial relationships, the
practices I follow in my profession, etc. all function independently of the use I
make of them. Considering in turn each member of society, the following remarks
could be made for every single one of them.
Source: Durkheim, Emile, 1933, The Division of Labour in Society, pp.50-1, A Free
Press Paperback, The MacMillan Company, New York.
Activity 2
Think of examples that reveal both
how human beings are constrained by
social structure and also of examples
where individuals defy social structure
and transform it. Recall our
discussion on socialisation in
Introducing Sociology (pages 78-79).
2022-23
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