Social Structure; Social Groups; and Organizations 

(This naval formation exemplifies one kind of group that sociologists call a formal organization).


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Section I: Social Structure

Sociologists define the concept, "society" as a group of interacting individuals who share the same territory and participate in a common culture.  As we have already seen,  "interaction" is a process by which communicating individuals influence each others' thoughts and activities. All of this interaction must be ordered or organized some way; according to some framework--- We refer to this frame work as social structure.

Social structure is the organization of social positions and the distribution of people in them.  Our text defines social structure as "the way in which a society is organized into predictable relationships"

It's important to realize that we are not concerned with personalities but positions; e.g., faculty member; short stop; half-back; President of the U.S., etc. (This is not as easy as it seems--- Think of the President. What thoughts fill your mind?   Now think of the president who served before Clinton. What kinds of thoughts enter your mind? It is difficult to separate the man from the position).

The basic components of social structure are:  Statuses; Roles; Groups; and Institutions.  We've already discussed six basic social institutions:

1. FAMILY-- caring for the young

2. EDUCATION-- transmitting cultural knowledge from one generation to the next

3. RELIGION-- reaffirming the values that bind people together

4. POLITICS-- governing people, maintaining order

5. ECONOMY-- providing food, shelter, and necessary services

6. RECREATION--entertainment/ recreation/ relaxation


There are two levels of social structure: 1.) Micro level: small, interpersonal level-- dorm life; organizational network in the office. 2.) Macro level: the "Big Picture" how does it fit into society? (The relationships between components of society -- education in American Society).


Example: The Prison

Micro level: Look at a prison. We see that it's comprised of administrators, guards, and prisoners. There's also an elaborate set of rules governing the relationships between the three. But when we look deeper we find more. There's an informal network among the prisoners and they divide themselves into many different categories and these categories describe what they do in the prison. Here are some of the positions in prison argot: (Sykes and Messinger)


toughs: those who quarrel easily and fight without cause

gorilla: those who use violence to obtain their goals

merchant or peddler: buys and sells goods; exploits fellow prisoners by manipulation, not force

wolf or fag: prisoners who enter into homosexual relationships (label applies to the role they take) [Tusk hogs at Richmond State Pen.?]

 square John: they conform to the values of the greater society (in effect, support prison officials)


rat or squealer: informers

real man or right guy: quiet; doesn't talk; doesn't push people around, but can handle the toughs and the gorillas; doesn't let other prisoners down--- i.e. the Clint Eastwood type


The importance of this is that some prisoners assume much admired roles-- the real men; while others are considered scum-- the rats. The problem for prison administrators is to maintain order and control when they are in the minority--- more prisoners than guards. Prisoners certainly don't obey from love or respect. They are at the legal limits of coercion. How do they do this, then? They allow the breaking of trivial rules in exchange for cooperation. They allow an "informal social structure" to develop where prison leaders (prisoners, themselves) have a say in what goes on.  In May, 1980 very violent riots took place in the New Mexico State Pen. Why? The informal structure was disrupted. Cries of political corruption booted out leaders to other prisons and left the prisoners without leaders. As a result, the toughs and gorillas took over-- macho contests. A riot ensued: When the authorities tried to negotiate, they found that they had to deal with several different groups of prisoners.

The Macro Level: Here we wouldn't focus on the internal workings of a particular prison, but rather how prisons fit into the larger society.


·        What is the purpose of prisons (containment and isolation; punishment; retribution; rehabilitation)?

·        What percent of the U.S. population is in prison? (over 1,000,000 in prison on any given day in U.S.-- a % greater than most countries; well over 1 million on probation/parole).

·        What types of prisons are there?

·        What are the characteristics of prisoners-- age, sex, religion, race?

·        Are prisons overcrowded? (From 1993 World Almanac: It is estimated that state prisons were 16 to 31 percent above their capacities in 1990.





The Components of Social Structure-- Some Terms:

status: refers to a position in the social structure; Each person possesses several statuses, age, sex, race, occupation, nationality, son, daughter, mother, father, etc.


master status: This is the basic one in giving you a sense of who you are. Think of the question, "Who and what are you, what do you do?" (Usually its a job).


ascribed status: This one has been assigned or given to us and we can't change it easily-- race, sex, age, etc.


achieved status: It is earned by us; Doctor, Lawyer, college graduate, etc.).


social class:  Roughly a social class consists of people who occupy the same status in society. (Marx -- depends on relationship to the means of production (job); Weber-- status group, people who share similar interests, atti tudes, likes, and dislikes). (College professors can have different life-styles; one goes to bars and basket ball games while the other goes to fancy restaurants and classical music concerts). According to Weber garbage collector and factory owner can both belong to the same status group if they both like Mozart and have similar likes and dislikes.

roles: Roles are socially prescribed ways of acting in a particular status. They involve certain behavior patterns, obligations and privileges. We play a different role for each of the different statuses we occupy. Usually one status (say President of the U.S.) has many different roles assigned to it. (Run country, veto bills, State of the Union Address, commander of armed forces, submit budget to Congress, greet foreign dignitaries, etc).  We call this a role set.


role set: Each status usually has several roles attached to it-- Doctor as medical professional; Doctor as nurse supervisor; Doctor as instructor to other Doctors; Doctor as medical researcher; Doctor as hospital administrator; Doctor as surgeon.


role model: A person who occupies a status and plays the roles associated with that status in the way that we would like to play them. (Sort of an ideal). Be able to hit the ball like Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle.  


role expectations: social norms that define how a role should be played. (What is an English Profes sor supposed to teach? How are children expected to behave in front of company?)

role performance: actual role behavior--- how well we actually play the roles we have.


role strain: difficulties that result from the differing demands and expectations associated with the same social position (status). The Captain of a Navy ship has many roles. One of them is to maintain high morale among the officers and crew. Another is to accomplish the assigned mission or task. Often these two are incompatible, and it's hard to meet role expectations.


role conflict: Difficulties that occur when incom patible expectations arise from two or more social positions (statuses) held by the same individual. For example; a priest hearing confession--- a man comes in and confesses to killing the President of the U.S. Here, two different roles, associated with two different statuses-- (priest's confidentiality vs his role as a responsible citizen to report a crime to the police) have two roles which are in conflict. How many people have seen the movie Ser geant York? Gary Cooper has serious doubts about joining the Army. In fact, he won't do it until those doubts are settled. (Man of God vs. soldier expected to kill). He will not assume that second status (soldier) until he resolves the dilemma. He was trying to avoid role conflict by not assuming the position (status) of soldier. How does he re solve this problem? He decides that a man of God can, and must, under certain circumstances, kill. In other words the roles do not necessarily con flict. Once he resolves this dilemma he readily accepts the second status which is that of soldier.


groups:  A group is a number of people (three or more) who interact together in an orderly way on the basis of shared expectations about each other's behavior. Note the distinction between group and category. The latter are people who share the same characteristic-- red hair, for example. Note that a group is more than a simple aggregate-- people who happen to be at the same place at the same time.


primary group: relatively small number of people who interact over a relatively long period of time on an intimate, face-to-face basis. These groups are the building blocks of social structure families, roommates, husband and wife, peer group, small town, or neighborhood.  


secondary group: relatively large number of people who interact on a temporary, ananymous, and impersonal basis. Formal organizations like Ford Motor Company, IBM, DuPont; they exist to serve a purpose.


associations and institutions: What's the difference between the terms "association" and "institution?" An institution is a stable cluster of values, norms, statuses, roles, and groups that develops around a basic social need. Simply stated--- an organized procedure-- an established way of pursuing some basic social need. On the other hand an association is any organized group, large or small that; has structure;  has continuity; continues beyond the individuals that start it; has an identity (name)

Institution:                        Association:
education                            VCU
family                                  Kennedy
religion                                Greek Orthodox Church
govrnment                           Richmond City Council

What are some of the characteristics of institutions?  They are inherently conservative. we say that patterns of behavior become institutionalized. By this we mean that they become fixed, rigid, traditional. It's difficult to change and innovate. Education; stop the experimenting--- get back to the basics. Religion; bring prayer back into the schools. Recreation; Until recently, refusing to change the criteria for amateur status in the Olympics, (Why not let the pro's participate? What took them so long to allow women to run the marathon?) Economy; In the U.S. we're afraid of socialized medicine when it would provide better care for the poor. Government; campaigning takes more and more time from the presidency, yet people resist implementing 1 six-year term.  Institutions are closely linked within the social structure. Religion, politics, recreation, economy, family, education all are compatible and interrelated within a given society. If not, the society would disintegrate. (Witness the tremendous strain Catholicism places upon the government in communist Poland.   Because institutions are linked together when one changes, the others tend to experience "adjusting changes."

Functions of institutions: There are two kinds (from Robert Merton): manifest and latent. Manifest functions are those that are intended. Latent functions are hidden and unintended. What is the manifest function of education, for example? -- Education is intended to provide training which enables individuals to function in society. --It is intended to teach the youth. What is a latent function of education? It gets the kids out of the home and frees up mothers from baby sitting so they can get into the labor force.




Socio-Cultural Evolution  (Lenski) -- Types of Societies and the Complexity of  Social Structure

Low Complexity                                                                  High Complexity            
Hunting/Gathering   Pastoral    Horticultural    Agricultural     Industrial

Societies world wide, in the present and the past display general patterns of characteristics which are based upon the complexity of their social structures. These patterns have been gathered into five different types:

Hunting and gathering:


o       very small scattered groups

o       high level of equality

o       no material wealth

o       no division or specialization of labor

o       little or no warfare

o       status based upon sex, age, or kinship

o       religion is simple. No gods-- just unseen spirits that must be taken account of not worshiped.

Pastoral societies: (subsistence strategy based on the domestication of animals)

o       larger population possible

o       some stratification from wealth possible

o       nomadic, material possessions few in number

o       develop trading and barter

o       warfare and slavery exist

o       belief in gods


Horticultural Societies: (gardeners cultivating donesticated plants by hand-- slash and burn technology)


o       large populations possible

o       stratification by wealth and power is possible.

o       Hereditary chieftanships develop.

o       specialization and division of labor possible

o       warfare is common-- cannibalism, head hunting, human sacrifice

o       belief in gods

o       permanent settlements and elaborate cultural artifacts


Agricultural Societies: (6000 years ago the plow was invented. It greatly improved the productivity of the soil; brings surface nutirents that have sunk out of the reach of the roots of the plants).


o       land continually cultivated-- permanent settlements emerge

o       food output increased greatly--- substantial surpluses.

o       much greater population size possible

o       more highly refined division of labor

o       first time cities appear

o       power is in the hands of one individual, hereditary monarchies develop

o       inequality of wealth

o       religion becomes a separate social institution

o       economic institutions more complex, more elaborate trade; money developes

o       almost always at war

o       permanent armies

o       system of writing developed

o       efficient transportation system is developed.

o       many more cultural artifacts


Industrial societies: (originated in the industrial revolution in England 250 yrs ago).  They have learned to appply scientific knowledge to the technology of production

·        technological innovation is swift

·        continuous, rapid social change

·        very large populations, 100 million or more

·        highly complex division of labor

·        family and kinship become less important

·        influence of religion weakens

·        wide diversity of values and beliefs

·        importance of science as institution increases

·        education becomes distinct institution

·        mass literacr (requires formal education)

·        reduction in inequality

·        incidence of warfare decreases

·        more and more social life occurs in secondary groups

·        problems with pollution, resource depletion, social disorganization




 The Distinction Between Pre-Industrial and Industrial Societies:

EMEINSCHAFT                                 GESELLSCHAFT (Ferdinand Tonnes)
(community)                                              (association)




FOLK SOCIETY                                     URBAN SOCIETY (Robert Redfield)




Section II:  The Importance of Social Groups

    Groups are important to sociologists because most of our day-to-day activities are spent in the company of other people in a group; whether it be at home, at school, or at work. There are virtually countless groups in society.  They vary in size, but almost everybody belongs to a large number of them. For example, you may think that it would be difficult to name 25 groups that you belong to.  But VCU students have easily provided the following:.


VCU Student Body

Suite/Dorm Mates

English Class

Spanish Class

Math Class

Sociology Class

Biology Class

Class of 2000, etc.

Immediate Family

Extended Family

Sports Team/Club

High School Class


Auto Club (AAA)

Auto Insurance Co.

College Meal Plan


Religious Affiliation

Political Party

Employment Group


Peer Group (Friends)

Academic Program

Video Club

Internet Access


Most of our socialization occurs in groups. In groups we learn to enact various roles and most roles have meaning only within the context of groups. Example:

      • Leader: Leader of what? (Band, class, parade, military organization, sports team, etc.). All these examples involve groups.


      • Mother/Father the family (another group)


      • Treasurer, Secretary, President (club; company)


      • Teacher class (also a group)




Definition of a Group:

A group is simply a collection of people who: 1.) Interact on a fairly regular basis; 2.) occupy specific status's and know the roles expected of those status's; 3.) Show general agreement on goals, rules, values;  4.) Have a sense of shared identity. 

Classification of Groups:

Primary Group: The primary group is very important to the development of the human as a social being. It is the locus of our socialization. Some of the characteristics:

      • A high degree of intimacy among members (promotes loyalty). Face-to-face, personal interaction
      • Relatively small size (usually less than 20 people)
      • Great emotional depth
      • The group tends to last a long time to endure.

Examples of primary groups:

      • the family
      • street gangs
      • play groups
      • certain social clubs (fraternities, sororities, etc.)
      • sports team

Secondary Group: The secondary group reflects characteristics that are the opposite of the above. It is large, formal and impersonal group that does not display social intimacy.  Key attributes:

      • Far less intimacy, much more impersonal large, more bureaucratic;
      • Usually formed for a specific purpose;
      • People relate to each other not so much face to face but according to specific positions (and roles).
      • Relationships between individuals are not emotional but are based upon calculation
      • We join these groups for what they can do for us, not what they mean to us.


Examples of secondary groups:

      • civic organizations
      • college classes
      • work groups task forces
      • auto club (AAA)
      • business corporations
      • government departments
      • the Army (but not the squad or platoon)
      • the bank


In-groups and Outgroups: (This concept was first developed   by William Graham Sumner when he spoke of "we" and "they" feelings. The "in-group" is the group that we belong to (or feel that we belong to). The "out group" is one that we feel we don't belong to, (and act as if we wouldn't want to belong). In-group feelings promote group solidarity and, in some cases, group superiority. I know a Virginia Tech graduate whose license plate reads: "NOT UVA".  (U.Va. graduates will chide their Tech friends with comments like; "Joe didn't go to college, he went to Tech."

Reference Groups: A reference group is any group of people that individuals use as a standard for evaluating themselves and their own behavior (Schaefer). The term "reference group" was coined by Herbert Hymen in 1942 in a study of social class. Hymen discovered that what people perceived their social status to be could not be predicted solely from factors of income and levels of education. A person's self evaluation depended upon the groups used as a framework for judgment. In many cases individuals modeled their behavior after groups to which they did not belong.  Reference Groups can be primary or secondary groups:

Reference Groups fall into three categories:

      • Those in which we hold official membership (VCU).
      • Those to which we would like to belong (Nobel Prize Winners; Olympic Atheletes; Good Parents, etc.)
      • Those we reject and don't want to belong to. (Crooked Politicians, Deadbeat Spouses, etc.)

Reference groups may vary from situation to situation. Example: You got a "C" on your last test. So what? Is that good or bad. What class was it? Sociology or Organic Chemistry? In this case we compare ourselves to the rest of the class. A "C" in Psychology may not be so hot; but a "C" in organic may be great. "C" is a respectable grade if everybody else got "D's" and "F's."

Subdivisions of reference groups:

      • Normative: This group sets the standards for our own actions.
      • Comparative: We use this group to judge our performance How well did I do in comparison to the other members of the class?
      • Audience: We can adjust our behavior with regard to how the group reacts to what we say and do.




Leadership in Groups:

All groups (primary and secondary) tend to have leaders--  people who are able to influence the behavior of others consistently.

What makes a leader? It's difficult to say what specific personal characteristics are important. The argument that "leaders are born not made" doesn't hold water, but there are some physical characteristics that seem to emerge often among leaders:  (Of course, there are numerous exceptions to the following):

      • Often they are taller: This may seem hard to believe, but American Presidents have tended to be taller than the average population Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, (more recently, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton!) Of course, there are some major exceptions to this.
      • More attractive people are often found in leadership positions.
      • More intelligent people usually emerge as leaders.
      • Self-confident people tend to be leaders.
      • Sociable people tend to lead.
      • Assertive people, people who begin conversations emerge as leaders.

The situation is very important in determining leadership. Usually by this we mean what the purpose of the group is (what it does) and the skills that the leader has.

A good example of this is Capt. John Smith and the situation involving the Jamestown colony in Virginia. The colony of about 105 settlers was in danger of being wiped out by famine, hostile indians, and poor leadership. Smith, by far was the ablest leader there experienced, brave, charismatic (he was short 5'2"). But he was also brash and, at times, disrespectful to authority. On the way across the Atlantic he had been placed under arrest and was not released until a month after the colonists had landed (Dabney, p. 2). After a initial problems and the failings of other leaders, Smith was asked to take over and organized the colony in the early years, 1607-1609. He was the main reason why it survived. In 1609 he suffered a serious injury (gunshot wound accidental) and returned to England in the Fall of that year. There were about 500 colonists when he departed. The next Spring 60 colonists were left. (Indian hostility was the primary reason for the deaths most colonists starved to death, others were massacred, still others succumbed to disease). It is questionable whether or not Smith could have fared any better than those who were left to lead the colony, but he was its best leader.

Small group research has shown that there are two types of leaders:

      • Instrumental leaders are goal oriented. They concentrate on the task at hand, and direct the group toward its goals. They perform what is called the "tasking function."
      • Expressive leaders concentrate on maintaining harmony among group members. They perform what is often called the "maintenance function."

Usually, when a group is formed, both these functions are assumed by one person, but as time goes on they split and a new person usually emerges to take over the maintenance. One reason for this is that the instrumental leaders tend to lose popularity they tell everybody what to do and give them a hard time if it's not done.

Styles of leadership: Usually, you'll find that leadership has been divided into three separate kinds:

      • Authoritarian: One person or a small group of people have total control and give all the orders. An authoritarian style of leadership is especially effective in emergency situations where action must be quick, coordinated and effective. This is precisely the kind of leadership one finds in the military, where one person has "authority" to make decisions (at various levels) and there is a definite chain of command to follow. (Culturally, In the United States this form of leadership is not the most effective in the small group situation, because it leads to dissension and in fighting.)
      • Democratic: Here the leader attempts to win consensus on his decision before carrying it out. "Is everybody happy?" This form of leadership generally works well in small groups and in countries like the United States where people value the opportunity to have a say in the final decision. However, it is not applicable to certain situations.  Can you imagine the Captain of a ship taking a vote every time the ship needed to change course?


      • Laissez-faire (Virtually "Hands-off" leadership) In this case, there is a designated leader but he/she lets the group run itself.




Group Size:


Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of a group is its size.  Size determines the kind of interaction that occurs within a group-- basically how the group works.  The smaller the group, the more intense the interaction. Group conformity is very strong in a small group.
A German sociologist, Georg Simmel (1858-1918) is perhaps the first to emphasize the importance of interaction processes within groups. He pointed out that as a group grows in size, it must develop "forms and organs which serve its maintenance and promotion." These forms and organs are things that a smaller group doesn't need. On the other hand, small groups have qualities that disappear when groups grow larger. (Schaefer, 1983).

The smallest group is the dyad, (a two person group). Here the emotional level is very intense because the two people in the group depend on each other for existence of the group. One reason for this is that you can't hide responsibility for things that occur within the confines of the dyad. (It's either you or me, and I know I didn't do it). Simmel pointed out that the thought of termination of the group hangs over a dyadic relationship perhaps more than any other type of relationship. (Schaefer, 1983).


In Triads or three person groups, many of these qualities change. In many respects, a whole different world exists. ("If it's not me, it's gotta be you!" no longer exists).

      • Coalitions two against one can form.


      • The third person can act as a mediator and bind the other two together (a child settling an argument between its parents).


      • "Divide and rule" strategy can emerge where one individual can pit the other two against each other. (Ask the class if they had any difference between two and three roommate situations.



Small Groups: When we refer to "small groups," we mean that there are sufficiently few members that all members can relate to each other as individuals According to Theodore Caplow, the upper limit of such groups is about 30 people. (Our text seems to imply that 20 people is the largest a primary group can become).

      •  Small groups can either be primary or secondary.


      •  While still considered "small", once a group gets to be above 12 people or so, there is a need for a leader to serve the purpose of channeling communication. (Studies have shown that 7 people can do well without a leader for this purpose).


      • The larger the group, the greater the necessity to rely upon rules and regulations to guide behavior in the group. As size increases, the structure becomes more rigid and formal. (Written rules and regulations emerge to guide behavior-- Such groups are called "formal organizations").




Group Formation:

Why do groups form in the first place?

      • Goal achievement: Very often, groups are formed for the purpose of getting something done. (IBM, FORD, GM; The Environmental Protection Agency)


      • Proximity: How do you make friends, in the first place? Unless you're strange, you tend to meet and make friends in the immediate circle of your personal contacts. (There are some people who live in a big city and have no friends in that city, but do maintain an extensive friendship network of pen pals, or other friends through CB or Amateur radio).


      • Similarity: People who share the same likes, dislikes, values, beliefs, etc., will often form clubs and social networks.




Group Boundaries:

How does a group define its own boundaries so that it can distinguish itself form the surrounding population or other groups?  In some cases it's easy as the groups adopt badges, emblems, uniforms, etc. which they wear or display and serve to distinguish them from the surrounding population. (Fire Department, Police, Military, all are good examples). In other cases, the differences are not as obvious and we have to spend a little more time studying a group before we can tell what characteristics its members have adopted to distinguish itself from the surrounding world.  Here are some examples:

      • argot (language, slang, key phrases)--  Many groups and organizations have their own slang or terminology.  The military, in particular, is known for its use of acronyms (words made up of initials from longer phrases).  Naval personnel are very familiar with words like "BUPERS" (Bureau of Personnel) or "BUMED" (Bureau of Medicine) there's even a "DICNAVAB" (Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations)!


      • subtle elements of dress or personal appearance--  the business suit and briefcase vs blue jeans and flannel shirt.  (Do professors of business and law dress differently from their colleagues in engineering, sociology and psychology?


By establishing norms of physical appearance groups reinforce their boundaries and develope a sense of "we" (the in-group) and "they" (the out-group).

There are also other ways that group identity is reinforced.  "Rites of passage"  are special ceremonies that emphasize the importance of joining or forming a group.  Special holidays and "anniversaries" (Independence Day or July Fourth, for example) reinforce group identity.  The wedding ceremony is one "rite of passage" that marks the formation of a new group in our society.  At another level, to become a citizen when you're born outside the U.S. requires lots of studying, a written exam, and usually an elaborate "swearing-in" ceremony).




Group Decision Making:

Which is better at making a decision-- a group or an individual?  Research on this question indicates that the answer depends on the kind of task that is involved:   Tasks can be divided into two different kinds:  determinate and indeterminate:

      • Determinate tasks have one definite solution that is quickly apparent.  Designing an automobile, or bridge or even doing a simple crossword puzzle are examples of such tasks-- There is one correct solution.  Goups can perform these tasks more quickly because they have a larger pool of talent and experience.


      • Indeterminant tasks do not have immediately apparent correct decisions.  Selecting applicants for college admissions or choosing job applicants are examples of indeterminant tasks and it is not clear whether groups out-perform individuals in these situations.

The Risky Shift:  Groups tend to make riskier decisions than individuals.  It is hypothesized that when in a group, responsibility for the decision is "diffused" among the members.  Individuals are more visibly accountable for the decisions that they make alone.  Thus, individual decision-making tends to be more conservative.

Group Think: Inside the group, there is normative pressure to conform and produce unanamous decisions.  This pressure may cause people to ignore or play down information that goes against group norms guiding the decision process.  "Don't rock the boat" is a good example of this.  Group Think can have disasterous consequences.  (Some writers have pointed to U.S. policy in Vietnam as an example of this, where Congress was slow to question involvement in the war).  Schaefer has a great example of how the Persians avoided the dangers of "group think." They decided an important issue twice. First, they would address the issue while sober.  Then they would get drunk and revisit it. (The idea being that alcohol, as a releaser, would remove people's inhibitions against opposing group norms)!




Group Size;   Communication, Conflict, and Cohesiveness:

As we've seen, in a two person arrangement (a dyad), the members are totally dependent on each other, but in a triad, alliances can form and an individual can benefit from a disagreement between the other two members.

As group size increases, the total number of possible relationships increases from

      • One in a two person group
      • Twenty-five in a four person group
      • 966 in a seven person group
      • 28500 in a ten person group
      • We actually have a formula to use when computing the total number of possible relationships:

                R = ((3n 2n+1) + 1) / 2

When a group starts getting up beyond seven members, leaders start dominating communications and the group's procedures become more formal.  When a group starts getting very large, certain things start happening.  It tends to become less less cohesive and there is an increase in internal conflict. Of course there are exceptions to this.




Formal Organizations:

A formal organization has been commonly defined to be a large social group that is deliberately and rationally formed to achieve specific objectives.  Private compamies like IBM or public agencies like the Internal Revenue Service are good examples.  Generally, formal organizations share the following characteristics:

      • A collective identity or name
      • A charter or "vision statement" which outlines its purpose
      • A list of members
      • An Organization Chart or some other means of defining the organizational hierarchy

Formal organizations can be voluntary (People join of their own will-- political parties, churches, etc.); coercive (People are forced to join the draft, attend schools or some alternative form of schooling); or utilitarian (People join for practical purposes work ing for IBM).

Bureaucracy: When we speak of formal organizations we usually think of bureaucracy and the work of Max Weber.  Bureaucracy is the part of a formal ogranization responsible for planning, coordinating, and supervising work. Essentially, it is the formal organization's administrative arm.

Common sense may tell us that bureaucracies are inherently inefficient but Weber points out that overall, they are very efficient in doing what they're supposed to do-- distrributing vast amounts of information and material across a large area.  Still, we are all aware of bizzarre things that can happen in bureaucracies:  The Department of Defense has come under intense scrutiny for $2000.00 toilet seats and $500.00 hammers, for example.

Max Weber applied his concept of "ideal type" to the study of bureaucracy and found that the typical bureaucracy has the following features:

1. Clearly defined and specific purposes with associated rules and regulations which govern the behavior of officials.

2. A well defined division of labor with people assigned to do different tasks.

3. Offices and authority arranged in a hierarchy. (Pyramidal authority).

4. The members of the bureaucracy are personally free. That is they are contractual workers and are paid for their work. (They can quit the job if so inclined).

5. People are promoted (or moved up) based upon seniority, performance, or both. Initially they are hired on basis of technical competence in the particular job they seek.

6. Workers perform their job in a disciplined and impersonal manner tend to treat people as cases.

7. The bureaucracy maintains a set of detailed written records or files.

8. Individuals are committed to their "office." Example; an artist is committed to his craft a bureaucrat to his desk.

Dysfunctions of Bureaucracy:

      • Inefficiency-- Despite the fact that they are designed to be efficient, bureaucracies create "red tape" which often seems to slow down what should be very simple tasks.
      • Bureaucracies do not handle exceptional cases very well because they are set to meet "standard requirements").
      • "Trained incapacity" is a term that refers to the fact that workers in a bureaucracy are so narrowly trained that they can't handle problems outside one' own specific position.
      • Bureaucrats become focused on their own internal workings and may tend to forget the major problem that they were created to solve in the first place. (A special government commission formed to do one task may spend much of its time trying to perpetuate or even expand itself).
      • Communications may be slowed as they must travel along a large number of offices to get to those responsible for carrying them out.
      • Individual personalities may be repressed by the formality of the position a person holds.
      • Parkinson's Law: Work expands to fill the available time allotted for completion. Therefore there is a tendency for an organization to grow.
      • Peter Principle: Employees tend to get promoted to positions above their levels of competence.  (They get promoted above their capabilities).
      • Michels' Iron Law of Oligarchy: In a bureaucracy, leaders and managers tend to promote people similar to themselves and eventually, power becomes concentrated in the hands of a few.