What is the definition of social institution?

Every society has certain basic needs and it is vital for the society to satisfy these needs. To satisfy these needs, society creates social institutions. Social institutions are built from social relationships in society so that basic needs such as law and order, stability, defining roles and responsibilities and decision making can be met. For sociologist social institutions are complex social forms that reproduce themselves such as family, marriage, religion, government and so on.

William Graham Sumner defined “an institution consists of a concept and a structure”. By “concept” Sumner meant ideas, notions, doctrine and interest and “structure” meant a framework or arrangement. While Horton and Hunt (1964) termed institutions as “an organized system of a social relationship which embodies certain common values and procedures and meet certain basic needs of the society”. Here “common values” indicates shared ideas and goals, “common procedures” denotes standardized pattern of behaviour that a given group of people follows and “the system of relationship” indicates a set of roles and structures through which action takes place.

Bryan Turner refers to social institutions as a complex of positions, roles, rules and values located in certain types of social structures that have comparatively stable patterns of human activity regarding fundamental problems in producing life-sustaining resources, in reproducing individuals and in sustaining viable societal structures within a given environment. This definition brings out the essential function of social institution.

One of the most comprehensive meaning of social institution is given by Hertzler. Hertzler refers to social institutions as purposive, regulatory and consequently primary cultural configuration that is formed consciously or unconsciously to fulfill individual’s desire and social needs. It consists of codes, rules and ideologies. It has essential symbolic organizational and material implementation. Hertzler definition brings out four important element of social institutions i.e purpose, functions, mechanism and structure.

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