The Social System

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‘Social System’ is one of the most important concepts of Parsons’ sociological thought. This theory of social system has been developed in Parsons famous work “The Social System (1952)”: According to Talcott Parsons, reduced to the simple possible terms, a social system consists in a plurality of individual actors interacting with each other in a situation which has at least a physical or environmental aspect. Actors who are motivated in terms of a tendency to the “optimization of gratification’ and whose relation to their situations, including each other, is defined and mediated in terms of a system of  culturally structured and shared symbols.”

According to Parsons, a social system emerges when “a plurality of individual actors interact with each other in a social situation (which has at least physical or environmental aspect) under a system of culturally structured and shared symbols motivated by a tendency of optimum gratification of there desires and wants. Thus, according to Parsons, a social system involves

 (i) plurality of individual actors,

 (ii) interactions between these actors, an aim or purpose of such
          interactions, i.e.., a tendency of optimum

(iii) gratification of their desires and wants, or environ-mental

 (iv)a social situation (which has at least a physical aspect) for these interactions to happen, and 

(v) a cultural relevance of the social relationships emerged as a result of such interactions. integrated pat- From this it follows that, in reality, a social system is an tern of social relationships emerging out of interactions in a social situation, defined and regulated by a particular cultural system for the fulfilment of human desires or wants. In the words of Parsons himself: “The social system is essentially a network of interactive relationships.” Parsons’ abovementioned five elements involved in a social system can be reduced to three by grouping together a few of them-(i) the individual actor, (ii) the interactive system, and (iii) a system of cultural patterning. According to Parsons, these are the functional prerequisites of social system. These three elements are inter-related and inter-dependent. In the absence of anyone of them, the concept of social system will be incomplete. This is. Says Parsons, because of two facts: First, a social system cannot be so structured as to be radically incompatible with the conditions of functioning of its component individual actors as Secondly, in turn the social system depends on the requisite minimum of “support” from each of the personality system and cultural system. A social system cannot emerge unless it has a sufficient proportion of its component actors adequately motivated to act in accordance with the requirements of its role system prescribed by cultural system, positively in the fulfilment of expectations and negatively in abstention from too much disruptive, ie.. deviant  behaviour. That is, he must do positive functions to contribute to the matinee nance of social system and avoid disruptive or deviant behaviour.  All sociological theories of Talcott Parsons are somehow based upon his conception of social action. The overt form of social action is expressed as role or function. The role or function presents itself in various ways.

When the role is performed by an individual, then it comes under the category of personality system. On the other hand, when the role is being performed in the context of some cultural background, then it comes under the category of cultural system. And if a role is being performed in certain social context or background, then it is   covered by the category  of social system.

 

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Meaning of System

 

Parsons has discussed the personality, the cultural and the social systems. In order to explain the meaning of the term system Parsons points out that each individual and society have certain nature or habit. It is generally believed that each individual should act according to his nature. we expect a certain kind of behaviour from an individual having a particular befit or nature. There is a norm or standard of behaviour in respect to each individual. Generally, the behaviour of a person conforms to this norm. If an individual acts against the expected behaviour and contrary to the norm of his behaviour, he is considered to be suffering from the disorder of his personality system. For example, if a celibate person indulges in lascivious and risqué acts, he is considered to be imbalanced because a celibate is out expected to indulge in sex. This fact applies not only to individuals bit is equally applicable to society and culture. From every society or culture a certain standard of behaviour is expected. If the behaviour is contrary to the norm or standard, anarchy ensues. Thus a system implies conformity standard of behaviour expected of an individual, society or culture.

 

Personality System

 

The personality system is concerned with the social actions of on individual. The social actions of an individual can be looked upon from two points of view, The first point of view is self regarding, that is he views his actions according to the nature of his own self. The second point of view evaluation of the actions of the individual from the viewpoint of others. The other persons have a definite idea about the nature of an individual and they expect from hima particular type of behaviour; they judge with reference to the norms of behaviour they have in mind albout him. Under these conditions an individual is prepared to make some sacrifices and also fulfl his desires. If the behaviour of an individual is in accordance with his own nature and the expectations of others, he is considered to have a vell-organised personality. If, on the other hand, the behaviour of anindividual is in conflict with his own basic nature or the expectation of  others, he is considered to have a disorganized personality. A concrete illustration of this fact can he given. Let us suppose that there is a man who considers himself an altruist and is preparcd to help anyone who is in distress and other persons accept hin as a scuial worker and a sacrificer. Now, if there is flood in the area in which he lives, he is supposed to do everything to help others. If he actually behaves in this manner he has a well-organized personality; but, if on the other hand, he does nothing to help others or disorganized personality. According to Talcott Parsons each society expects a certain standard of behaviour from its members. Those individuals who conform to these standards in their behaviour are said to have well organized personalities and those who fail to live upto the standards of behaviour expected of them by society most of the societies individuals are therefore, those persons who are dishonest or lie habitually to have disorganized personalities.

 

 

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Cultural System

 

When the individual system rises to the level of culture, it is known as cultural system. The individual and society gather cultural facts. The cultural system is represented by certain signs or symptoms. When any actionist done with reference to these cultural signs and symptoms, Parsons Geniuses it in the category of cultural system. For example, if certain social ceremonies are effect. Where the ceremonies or social formalities remain unchanged for a long time, there the cultural system is said to be well organized. On the contrary, if the culture of society does not affect the lives  of the individuals, the cultural system is then ill-organized. Thus it is clear that a cultural is well organised as long as it actively influences the lives of the individuals.

 

Social System

 

A society is made up of individuals. A number of different types of fadividuals live in society. They may have a common culture or may belong ndifferent sels of culture. According to Parsons, if all individuals in a society belong to same culture, they form a social system. The various cultural signs or symptoms have the same meaning for all the members of that society. For example, in Hindu Society all  individuals illuminate their homes by earthen lamps, candles etc., on a illumination is related to the story of Ram’s victorious return to Ayodhya then we can say that a social system obtains in the society. Besides commonness of culture it is necessary for a social system that the social actions of various members of a society should be well-coordinatod and should not so conflict as to destroy the social harmony. In advanced society certain institutions do the work of systematization of these social actions.

According to Parsons, a social system emerges when a plurality of individual actors interact with each ouher in a social situation (which has idea or environmental aspect) under a system of culhoraly struc physical and shared symbols motivated by a tendency of optinum graificarion of he desires and wants.

Thus, according to Parsons, a social system involves

(1) plurality of individual actors

(2) interactions between these actors,

(3) an aim or purpose of such interactions, ie a tendemcy of optimum gratification of their desires and wants

(4) a social situation (which has a least a physical or environ-mental aspect) for these interactions to happen, and (5) a cultural relevance of the social relationships emerged as a result of such interactions.

From this it follows that, in reality, a social system is an integrated pattern of social relationships emerging out of interactions in a social situation defined and regulated by a particular cultural system for the fulfilment of human desires or wants. In the words of Parsons himself: The social system is essentially a network of interactive relationships.

 

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Parsons’ abovementioned five elements involved in a social system can be reduced to three by grouping together a few of them-0 the individual actor, (ii) the interactive system, and (ii) a system of cultural patterning. According to Parsons, these are the functional prerequisites of social system. These three elements are inter-related and inter-dependent. In the absence of anyone of them, the concept of social system will be incomplete. This is. Says Parsons, because of two facts :

First, a social system cannot be so structured as to be radically incompatible with the conditions of functioning of its component as individual actors

Secondly, in turn the social system depends on the requisite minimum of “support” from each of the personality system and cultural system. A social system cannot emerge unless it has a sufficient proportion of its component actors adequately motivated to act in accordance with the requirements of its role system prescribed by cultural system. Positively  in the fulfilment of expectations rid negatively in abstention from too much disruptive. ie. Deviant  behaviour. That is, he must do positive functions to contribute to the maintenance of social system and avoid disruptive or deviant behaviour.

in  addition so four functional requirements, we find two more dichotomies, viz., external- internal and instrumental-consumatory dichotomy. The instrumental refers to activity which represents the means to a goal, while consumatory   involves end in itself On the other, external-internal dichotomy depends on whether the action is oriented toward external or internal situation of a social system. For detail analysis, we begin the discussion with four functional requirement and its relation to various types of social institutions.

1 Adaptation

It involves the problem of securing from the eminonment sufficient facilities and then distributing these facilities throughout the system. moaibilise nooses to get things done. It must extract the necessary facilities for collective action from its environment. For instance, theme is the nered to extraci resources such as food, shelter, elc., from the physical environment. In the economic system, the primnary Sctions are resource utilisafion, production, and distribution in the society that people need to live their lives and carry out their social responsibilities. Adaptation, in fact, is oriented to factors extemal to the system and it has an instrumental character.

2 Goal-attainment:

It refers to the problem of establishing priorities among system goals and mobilising system resources for their attainment. The function of goal-attainment is to maximise the capacity of the society to attain collective goals. The organisation of the power and authority, ie, institutions of government (Polity) has primary role to play in the achievement of collective goals. Goal-attainment has consummator is character and involves internal interaction achieving some desired end, ie, Any society, therefore, must be able to Adaptation and goal-attainments, therefore, refer to the first e of survival, the need for social units to relate to the hunt from which they draw facilities and into which they inject ‘outputs of that achievements.

  1. Integration:

It denotes the problem of coordinating and maintaining viable interrelationships among system units relation there are possibilities if strain and conflict, be ways of repeating relations amongst parts and preventing difficulties getting out of land In the social system this function is mainly performed by culture anl values Therefore, the community and cultural institutions, Much as organised religion, education and mass communication, serve the function of integration In this process, the mechanism of “social control” is also used The police and courts play promitent roles here 1His fuctional pretequisite is internal to the sysfem and has a consummator character.

  1. Pattern Maintenance and Tension Manageinent (Latency )

Latency involves two problems: pattern maintenance and tension management. “Pattern maintenance pertains to the problem of how to insure that actors in the social system display the ‘appropriate characteristics (motives, needs, role playing skills, and so forth). Tension management concerns the problem of dealing with the internal tensions and strains of actors in the social system. Latency, in fact, tries to maintain the structural patterns of the institutionalised culture of the system, especially its basic values. The problems of latency process of socialisation of the members. Within family, children brought up in the culture and ways of the society (thereby providing pattern maintenance); and the relations of affection, companionship, joint participation members provide comfort, consolation and relief (thereby dealing with tension management). The functional prerequisite of latency bears an instrumental character within the system. Parsons’s analysis of “Functional Prerequisites” can be presented diagrammatically as follows:

 

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Functional Prerequisites of a Social System

 

Instrumental              Consummatory    External            

 Adaptation                                                                                              

Goal Attainment

Economic         system-resource           Political system-state

Utilization, Production,                                         major subsystem political Distribution etc.                               parties, bureaucracies

Major subsystem factory

System, banking system

Internal                Latency                                                            Integration

Family,  socialization                                                       Cultural and community

Major subsystem nuclear                                                                 system-religion, Media

Family, marriage                      major subsystem-school,

Churches, ideology

 

 

In many societies, however, we do not find specialised social agencies such as courts , businesses, parliaments and so on. These type of societies are mainly characterised by kinship system and regulated by economic activity, political business, the socialization and of the young , religious ritiuals, control and punishment of offender. In this sense , the four functional requirements must be satisfied in such a society, but they are not met by specialised means.

 

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