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Social order is a concept used in sociology, history and other social sciences.

It refers to a set of linked social structures, social institutions and social practices which conserve, maintain and enforce "normal" ways of relating and behaving.

Thus, a "social order" is a relatively stable system of institutions, pattern of interactions and customs, capable of continually reproducing at least those conditions essential for its own existence. The concept thus refers to all those facets of society which remain relatively constant over time.

These conditions could include both property, exchange and power relations, but also cultural forms, communication relations and ideological systems of values.

The "problem of social order," how and why it is that social order exists at all, is historically central to sociology. Thomas Hobbes is recognized as the first to clearly formulate the problem, to answer which he conceived the notion of a social contract. Social theorists (such as Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, and Jürgen Habermas) have proposed different explanations for what a social order consists of, and what its real basis is. For Marx, it is the relations of production or economic structure which is the basis of a social order. For Durkheim, it is a set of shared social norms. For Parsons, it is a set of social institutions determining moral behaviour. For Habermas, it is all of these, as well as communicative action.

Social order contrasts with social change. Social change implies that the existing order or status quo is modified, changed or breaking down (see social disintegration). One of the most basic conflicts in politics is between those seeking to conserve social order and those seeking social change. Social order is rarely absolute, since there will always be something that is changing. Nevertheless, there is both continuity and discontinuity in social existence; some things change, other things stay the same. The human brain is unable to cope with a situation where everything changes constantly, and thus it seeks to impose order, even where it doesn't truly exist.

There are distinct features of social ordering in relation to law and social justice. These features include:

1) personal and interpersonal conflicts become state property

2) "individuality" is undermined in this process

3) the use of rationalizations to justify behaviour

4) the use of "justice reform" as a tool of the state to change the rules of the game to the advantage of the rich and powerful

See also


  • Dennis H. Wrong, The Problem of Order: What Unites and Divides Society, New York:The Free Press, 1994. ISBN 002935515X.
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