Social institutions are a collective of different sources of knowledge, information, skills and values that affect an individual and define how an individual would behave in his or her society. In this sense, family, schools, religion and economy are considered as institutions to the sociologist. In other words, we tend to look up to our parents, teachers and care-givers in identifying what is right and what is wrong. Additionally, we as humans prefer to always be part of something bigger. We want to be part of our families, our society, our religion and we want to think of a supreme entity that judges us or at least takes care of us.

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Image: “Family.” by Catherine Scott – Family <3 Uploaded by Yjenith. License: CC BY-SA 2.0


Education and Schools as a Social Institution

Before we get into family and religion, it is easier to study our education system as a social institution because we have always considered schools as an institution. In schools, we learn scientific knowledge, we develop skills, acquire values, have attitudes and sometimes schools help form our beliefs and habits.

Schools, in addition to the other social institutions we shall talk about later, help prepare us for two important tasks. To be part of a bigger society and to be productive and have a future career.

In addition to our curriculum in the school, we also learn how to govern our behavior and what is normal and what is abnormal in terms of social interaction from our peers and teachers. We understand the hierarchy of our society.

Additionally, teachers usually realize individual differences among their students, thus start to have different expectations for each student. It is understandable to have different expectations but this should not affect how the teacher spends his or her time with students as limiting our interaction with average students might limit their future full potential and can make them feel marginalized.

Additionally, schools and teaching systems differ from one neighborhood to another. Accordingly, what we might learn from our school experience might be different and this can affect our potential as adults in integrating with our society professionally.

Family as a Social Institution

While it is easy to think of schools and our educational system as a social institution, it might be difficult for someone who is not a sociologist to think of family or religion as some form of an institution. In sociology, family is considered as an institution because it can also help us define our goals, our expectations, can help us define what is normal and what is not and finally can have a huge impact on our habits, beliefs and values.

A family can be defined as people who are related to an individual because of blood, marriage, adoption or other kinds of relationships. These people teach us some values, affect our decisions and are part of our immediate support social group when we are under stress or need support, e.g. for grief over loss.

Additionally, families can be nuclear or extended. A nuclear family consists of our parents, siblings and offspring. An extended family consists of grandparents, aunts and uncles. The nuclear family tends to have a larger impact on our social norms compared to the extended family.

While families and education affect our goals, expectations and norms, it is important to note that genetics also play an essential role in defining behaviors, criminal behavior, and the ability to socially interact.

Additionally, the environment is known to affect our genetics through epigenetics. It can affect our ability to express certain genes. A common example is studying families who had huge stress in their lives and then to study their second or third generation to see if they still show signs of anxiety or depression. Surpassingly, anxiety disorders were found to be significantly more common up to the 3rd generation in these families even though their parents themselves did not experience any major stressful events in their lives.

The main five goals of families as a social institution are to protect the offspring, to reproduce, to teach the children how to socialize and what is wrong and what is right, to show affection and love and finally to teach the offspring their position in the society and to keep a reputation for the family.

Let us take reproduction as one of the important goals of the family as a social institution. Before the introduction of antibiotics, it was very common for children and adolescents to die before reaching adulthood due to infectious disease.Therefore, families had to reproduce large numbers of offspring to ensure that their business is going to survive and they will be able to be part of the productive society.

Families nowadays tend to have a smaller number of children because their goals are different now. Nowadays, a larger family simply means more mouths to feed and your integration in the society as a business would not be largely affected by the number of children because they are very unlikely to die at a young age because of infections.

Additionally, families nowadays can have a negative impact on their offspring because of an increased rate of divorce. Domestic violence is more commonly reported nowadays compared to the past, and is known to affect our social skills.

Another difference is that families are more diverse because you can have traditional parents, gay parents or lesbian parents.

Religion as a Social Institution

Religion and organized religious rituals and practices can be tracked back to the first days humanity started to emerge on earth. Religion and our need as humans to belong to supreme entities affect our behavior, our norms and can define our morals.

Unfortunately, strict adherence to religion is known to lead to conflict and can make one group of people socially isolated. Due to that, secularization started to emerge where people wanted to weaken the influence of religion and the church on politics and on the society. Nowadays, people try to seek information and answers from scientific sources rather than miraculous thinking or religious explanations.

Economy, the Government and Social Integrity

Governments are essential part of the social institution. They are responsible for setting rules and enforce them to define how every one of us can integrate in the society. They help us by regulating the society and preventing crime.

While the government can affect people and their interactions with each other, people can also influence the government by applying democracy. In a democratic setting, people can be part of the government and can affect the government’s decisions, goals and expectations.

On the other hand, a society that is run under authoritarianism would not allow people to be part of the government. That society might be under military control because of an emergency or a disaster for instance.

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