Social Organization: definition, types & characteristics

The health science student shouldbe introduced to the idea of how we as social beings organize ourselves and howindividual persons, communities and societies are related to one another. Humanbeings are social animals by nature and whatever we do or say are related tosocial environment. Our lives as human beings have their meanings in organizedrelationships.

Whether we eat, drink, work,play, worship, recreate or learn, we do it in social group context. No oneenjoys alone outside organized network of social interaction and relationships.Although we have the capacity for privacy, no one can enjoy him / herself for asustained period of time, without inflicting upon oneself adverse effects

By social organization,we refer to the pattern of individual and group relations. The term“organization” signifies technical arrangement of parts in a whole,and the term “social”, indicates the fact that individual and grouprelations are the outcomes of social processes (Broom and Slezinky, 1973).Thus, one of sociology’s main concerns is to study and analyze the behavior of humansociety as it appears in its structured and organized ways and relationships.Specifically, sociologists are here interested in discovering and analyzing:

  • The personal and group relations that influence individualbehavior and social institutions;
  • How persons and groups relate to each other;
  • How people organize themselves in various socialsituations, whether consciously or unconsciously;
  • What kind of social relationships occur in their organizedbehaviors; and
  • How these social relationships are maintained; howthey decline or disintegrate.

Socialorganization refers to the way people are socially grouped in anenduring network of social interaction and relationship. The appropriate livingand working environment of a person is group life. As a ship does not functionoutside water, a human being as a social animal does not live for anymeaningful sustained period of time in isolation from social group context.Whatever we do, say, behave, or act gets its right meaning in the context of asocial group.

The social organizational life ofpeople may be explained in terms of social groups, aggregates, categories, etc.The organic life of society is cemented or glued together by forces of socialinteraction and relationship. The nature and dynamic of social interaction inour everyday lives are discussed. Key symbolic interactionist concepts andperspectives such dramaturgy, stereotypes in everyday interaction, ethnomethodologyand the social construction of reality are also discussed.

Social status locates individualsand groups in the social structure, of which some locations are defined bybirth and others are obtained by choice, efforts and competitions. Statuses areassociated with roles, which may be ideal or actual. There are usually tensionsand clashes between ideal and actual roles. When such tensions take placewithin one role it is intra-role conflict or role strain, and when it occursbetween the different roles of a person, it is inter-role conflict.


Formalorganizations are large, secondary groups that are organized to achieve theirgoals efficiently. They are the product of rationalization of society, which meansthe acceptance of rules, efficiency, and practical results as the right way toapproach human affairs. Past is the best guide for the present i.e. traditional orientation tends to be abandoned.Rationality was a totally different way of thinking that came to permeatesociety. This new orientation transformed the way in which society isorganized. As a result, formalorganizations, secondary groupsdesigned to achieve explicit objectives, have become a central feature ofcontemporary society. Examples can be business corporations, governmentdepartments, colleges and universities, hospitals, prisons, and militaryorganizations.

Suchorganizations are deliberately created ‘social machines with human parts’. Inthese organizations social relationsare impersonal, formal, and planned. These organizations havemajor influence on the everyday lives of members of modern societies.

[They] permeate virtually every aspect of modern life.… We are usually born and die in organizations, are educated by them, and wework, play, and pray in them. We pay taxes to and obey the laws of asupra-organization, the state. Indeed the latter “certifies” our birth, ourdeath, and much that happens in between. (Etzioniand Lehman, 1978)

Formalorganizations operate in a deliberate way, not to meet personal needs, but toaccomplish complex jobs. Offices/statuses remain intact but the members comeand go.

Types of Formal Organizations

Threetypes of organizations have been distinguished on the basis of why peopleparticipate i.e. Utilitarian, Normative, and Coercive.

Utilitarian Organizations

Justabout everyone who works for income is member of utilitarian organization, which pays its members to perform the jobs for which they were hired.Large business enterprises, for example, generate profits for their owners andsalaries and wages for their employees. Most people must join an organizationfor making a living.

Normative Organizations

Peoplejoin normative organizations not for income but to pursue goals they consider morally worthwhile.

Theyare also called voluntaryorganizations. The interests of suchorganizations can be community services, social action, and environmentalprotection. They are concerned with specific social issues. Examples can beEdhi Trust, Red Crescent, The Lions Club.

Voluntaryorganizations strive for participatorydemocracy, in which all members have an equalopportunity to discuss and decide important questions affecting theorganization.

Coercive Organizations

Theseorganizations have involuntary membership. These are total institutions thatfeature very strict control of members by top-ranked officials. Members arephysically and socially separated from ‘outsiders’ or ‘civil society’. Theexamples can be prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and military units. Totalinstitutions transform a human being’s overall sense of self.

Fromdiffering vantage points, many organizations may fall into all thesecategories. A psychiatric hospital, for example, serves as a coerciveorganization for a patient, a utilitarian organization for a healthprofessional, and a normative organization to a hospital volunteer.


Bureaucracyis an organizational model rationally designed to perform complex tasksefficiently. In a bureaucratic business or government agency, officialsdeliberately enact and revise policy to make the organization as efficient aspossible.

Characteristics of Ideal-TypicalBureaucracy

1. Specialization. Thereis division of labor in the bureaucracy and each member has a specific task tofulfill. All the tasks are coordinated to accomplish the purpose of theorganization.

2. Hierarchy of offices. Bureaucracies arrange the personnel in a vertical ranking. Each personis supervised by ‘higher ups’ and in turn supervising others in lowerpositions. Usually with fewer people in higher positions, the structure takesthe form of a bureaucratic ‘pyramid’. In this hierarchy assignments flow downward and accountability flowingupward. Each level assigns responsibilities to thelevel beneath it, while each lower level is responsible to the level above forfulfilling these assignments.

3. Written rules and regulations. Rationally enacted rules and regulations control not only theorganization’s own functioning but also its larger environment. In general, thelonger a bureaucracy exists and the larger it grows, the more written rules ithas.

4. Technical competence. A bureaucratic organization expects its officials and staff to have thetechnical competence to carry out their duties, and regularly monitors workerperformance. Evaluation is based on performance and not on favoritism.

5. Impersonality. Rulestake precedence over personal whims. Members of a bureaucracy owe allegiance tothe office, not to a particular person. The impersonality ensures that theclients as well as workers are all treated uniformly. Each worker inbureaucracy becomes a small cog in a large machine. Each worker is areplaceable unit, for many others are available to fulfill each particularfunction. From this detached approach stems the notion of the “facelessbureaucrat”.

6. Formal, written communication. Heart of bureaucracy is not people but paperwork.

Ratherthan casual, verbal communication, bureaucracy relies on formal, written memosand reports. Over time, this correspondence accumulates into vast files.

Problems of Bureaucracy

Bureaucracycan dehumanize and manipulate individuals, and it poses a threat to personalprivacy and political democracy.

Bureaucratic Alienation

Efficiencyvs. potential to dehumanize the people it is supposed to serve. The very sameimpersonality that fosters efficiency keeps officials and clients fromresponding to each other’s unique, personal needs. Follow bureaucraticprocedure. Bureaucratic environment gives rise to alienation where a humanbeing is reduced to a part (cog) of big bureaucratic machinery.

Bureaucratic Inefficiency andRitualism

Redtape: The tedious preoccupation with organizational routine and procedures.Rule is a rule.

Bureaucraticritualism (Merton): Preoccupation with rules and regulations to the point ofthwarting an organization’s goals.

Ritualismstifles individual’s creativity and strangles organizational performance.

Modestsalary – no stake to perform efficiently – no incentive – all ritualism – andthe resultant corruption.

Bureaucratic Inertia

Bureaucraticinertia refers to the tendency of thebureaucratic organizations to perpetuate them.

Ifbureaucrats have little motivation to be efficient, they certainly have everyreason to protect their jobs.

Thusthe officials typically strive to perpetuate their organization even when itspurpose has been fulfilled.

Explain the term social organizationusing you own words

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