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Social institutions

Institutions are structures within society, such as police stations, schools, and businesses, that provide order and stability. While individuals rely on these institutions, the institutions themselves generally do not depend on any one person. People may view institutions differently: conservatives tend to see them as natural and positive, while progressives may argue they need regulation in order to benefit society. Created by Sydney Brown.

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Video transcript

Institutions are essential parts of any society. Think about it. Police stations, schools, hospitals, businesses like Walmart and Trader Joe's are all core parts of the community. In a sense, they impose structure on how individuals behave. For example, if all the laws that exist in our community disappeared, would I still have a normal day? Probably not. People would be speeding down the street, looting my neighborhood coffee shop, and perhaps a stranger would be sleeping on my living room couch. All the things that I'm used to would be completely disrupted. Maybe a more reasonable example is, let's say all the schools had a new rule of no classes on Fridays. Then parents would have to figure out childcare for that day. Institutions and their rules definitively guide what we do. You may be thinking that you don't have a kid and maybe you don't need child care services. But in general, individuals are reliant on the institutions in their community. But is the reverse true? Do institutions need individuals? In general, they need lots of folks to contribute to allow them to function. But they don't typically need any one random individual. So there's a bit of an imbalance between institutions and individuals, if that makes sense. While they need individuals and are created by groups of individuals, they will continue even after the individual is gone. The concept of institutions may seem like a daunting idea. But try thinking of them as just a form fulfilling a need. Institutions meet the needs of society by filling expected roles and behaviors. For example, in order for a society to continue, it needs people year after year after year. The family institution makes sure that there will be people to carry on the next generation. We know society needs a way to keep people healthy. So you have the medical institution. And society even needs a way to encourage innovation and progress, so you have universities. There are two views of institutions-- a conservative view and a progressive view. The conservative view sees institutions as being natural positive byproducts of human nature. For example, the institution of hospitals forms naturally from the activities of humans and naturally benefits them. The progressive view takes the standpoint that institutions are artificial creations that need to be redesigned if they are to be helpful to humanity. So perhaps you could see businesses as potentially harming society if they aren't reined in. Now unfortunately, institution is one of those words that has a very different meaning to a sociologist than it does to the average person. We average people might think of just a business or corporation when we hear the word institution. A sociologist, on the other hand, thinks of social structures when they hear the word institution. They think of governments, families, hospitals, schools, the legal system, religion, as well as businesses. Each of those parts of society continues on without regard to any individual. Governments continue even after the people within them turn over. Families continue from one generation to the next. Laws continue on after the people who wrote them are long dead and buried. Hospitals, schools, businesses-- all continue past the time span of any individual and are not dependent on any one individual, either.