The concept of social structure can be a difficult one for those new to sociology to come to terms with (come to that, it can be a difficult concept to understand even for those well-versed in sociological understanding...). For the moment, therefore, I want consider how we can describe the concept of structure in a relatively simple way, since if we have a basic understanding of the concept it will be possible to apply it to an understanding of society, culture and socialisation.
To begin with, therefore, think about the following questions:
Firstly, given that we are all conscious, individuals, equipped with the ability to think and act in a huge variety of different ways (a potentially chaotic situation), how is it that we are able to live together in relative peace, harmony and stability. How is it possible, in effect, for order to exist in society?
The answer to this question is that there must be something that exists, on a level above individual consciousness, that is able to impose a sense of order and predictability in our lives. Whether we see this "thing" in abstract terms like "society" or "culture" or in more concrete terms like our social relationships, it is evident that we are talking about a social structure. That is, we are talking about a moral framework to which people, willingly or otherwise, subscribe. By social structure, therefore, we are starting to talk about a Framework of Rules (which, in turn, involves responsibilities, routines and relationships) that provide use with a set of guidelines for our social behaviour.
Secondly, therefore, if the concept of social structure involves a Framework of Rules we need to think about how such rules are created. In short, we need to think about how this moral framework is constructed - not, for the moment, in specific terms but in more general terms. The question we need to answer, therefore, is what is the social glue that binds people together as a group or society?
To answer this question we need to step back for a moment and consider the fact that, so far, we have looked at the ideas of society, culture and socialisation in very general terms. The next stage in our development of sociological understanding is to look at the significance of these ideas in more specific terms. To help us do this and, indirectly perhaps, come to some general understanding about the concept of social structure, we need to look at a number of related ideas that give substance to the sociological argument that human social behaviour is learned.
Specifically, we can begin by using the following quote from Barnard and Burgess ("Sociology Explained", 1996) as a means of exploring further the question just posed:
"Societies work or function because each individual member of that society plays particular roles and each role carries a status and norms which are informed by the values and beliefs of the culture of that society. The process of learning these roles and the norms and values appropriate to them from those around us is called socialisation".