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  Social structure, in anthropology and sociology, refers to any arrangement of social phenomena into a definite pattern. To refer to the structure of a society is to refer to those enduring and patterned aspects which provide the context and background against which people live out their daily lives. Examples of social structure include: the class structure, economic structure, education and the occupational structure.

Social structure is a concept over which there is much debate in sociology. Some branches of the discipline (for example functionalism, Marxism and structuralism) assume that social structure pre-exists individuals and plays a leading role in shaping social reality and creating social order. Others (for example supporters of ethnomethodology, phenomenological sociology and symbolic interactionism) dispute this and accord a greater role to individual action in the creation and re-creation of social structure.

The term structure is used in a second sense in structuralism. This use of the term has its origins in linguistics, but has been developed in anthropology and sociology. Supporters of this perspective hold that there exists a set of social structures that are unobservable, but which generate observable social phenomena. A distinction is drawn between surface and deep structures. It is believed that analysis of social phenomena should involve getting beyond surface appearances and discover the deeper structures which are believed to govern social relationships. DA

See also action perspective; class; generalized other; holism; individualism; macrosociology; microsociology; norm; role; social construction of reality; socialization; social order; social realism; social stratification; society; structuration; structure-agency debate; values.Further reading T.B. Bottomore and , R. Nisbet (eds.), A History of Sociological Analysis; , R. Keat and , J. Urry, Social Theory as Science; , C. Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology vols. 1 & 2.



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