What is Social Institution? Definition, Types, Features, and Functions

What is Social Institution?

A social institution is a network or organized pattern of social relationships and actions which are relatively permanent and comes into existence to fulfill social needs (or to satisfy basic human needs) and therefore, they can be seen as an indispensable part of the large society or community. In other words, social institutions are complex sets of statuses, roles, organizations, norms, and beliefs that meet people’s basic needs within society.

Institution refers to the organized way of doing things. It represents common procedures. Horton and Hunt define it as “social institution is a system of norms to achieve some goal or activity that People feel is important, or more formally an organized cluster of folkways and mores centered around a major human activity. Durkheim has gone to the extent of defining sociology as the science of social institutions. Giddings regards institutions as the organs that conserve what is best in the past of the human race.”

Institutions are structured processes through which people carry out their activities. To fulfill his self-interest man forms different types of associations. These organizations and associations have their own working methods practiced method in society to satisfy thor procedures to achieve their present goals. To fulfill different interests and different objectives man gets help from rules working system, methods, tools, procedures, etc. are used.

Therefore it is a useful method in society to meet needs. E.g., if we see the campus as a collection of campus chiefs, professors, lecturers, and other staff, the campus is an organization or association and it has some objectives. To fulfill those objectives campus has to adopt a specific method of education, prepares time table, rules, and regulations, adopt an examination system. These all things make the campus an institution.


  • Max Weber has defined the social institution as “the social relations in a whole network of social actions.”
  • According to RT. Schaefer “Social institutions are organized patterns of beliefs and behavior centered on basic social needs.”
  • According to Harton and Hunt, “An institution is an organized system of social relationships which embodies certain common values and procedures and meets certain needs of the society”.
  • According to Bogardus, “A social institution is a structure that is organized to meet the need of people chiefly through well-established procedures.”

By this, he meant that institutions exist only so far as people act in certain ways. The institution is manifest only as a pattern of behavior. For e.g, marriage, kinship, family, religion, economy, polity, etc. are social institutions because they are networks of social relationships and social and social actions.


Primary Social Institutions: The most basic institutions which are found even in primitive societies like religion, family, marriage, property, some kind of political system, as primary in character, primary institutions are evolved or developed naturally, unconsciously, and even spontaneously.

Secondary Social Institutions: As societies, grow in size and complexities institutions become progressive and more differentiated. These institutions are established to satisfy the secondary needs of people. E.g. education, examination, law, legislation, constitution, parliamentary procedures, business, etc. Secondary institutions are established consciously, purposefully, and in a planned way.

Characteristics of Social Institution

The main characteristics of a social institution may be described here:

Social in nature: Social institutions come into being due to the relationships and behaviors of individuals.

Universal: Social institutions exist everywhere i.e. in all the societies and at all the stages of social development.

Relatively permanent: Social institutions are permanent in nature, with a special structure with changes in its functions but slowly and gradually. E.g. the formation of a family is made up of husband, wife, children, in-laws, etc. This structure has been existing since ancient times, and despite changes in its functions, this structure has not been changed.

Interdependent/inter-related: Social institutions depend on each other and have a mutual co-existence. E.g. family depends on the economy, the economy depends on the political status of the country. Any change in the economy (agrarian to the industrial economy) brings a change in family types and size (joint family into a nuclear family).

Social institutions are standardized norms: An institution must be understood as standardized procedures and norms. E.g. marriage governs the relations between husband and wife.

Means of satisfying social needs: Social institutions cater to the satisfaction of some basic and vital needs of human beings. E.g. marriage satisfies the sexual and psychological needs of men.

As control mechanisms: Social institutions like religion, morality, state, government, law, legislation, etc. control the behavior of men.

Abstract in nature: Institutions are not external, visible, or tangible things. They are abstract. Thus marriage cannot be kept in a museum, religion cannot be rated or qualified, war cannot be weighed and law cannot be brought to the laboratory experiments, and so on.

Tend to be the site of social problems: When social institutions do not function properly i.e. unable to fulfill the social needs, problems are created. E.g. if the economic institution fails to provide food, employment, and supply according to demand, then problems of famine and unemployment will be produced if a political institution fails in maintaining peace, order, and justice, and then lawlessness, crimes, and disorder appear.

Functions of Social Institution

Social institutions have manifest and latent functions attending to make the balance and setting up of complicated relations in the society. These functions are explained as:

Continuity of the human race: Family as a social institution functions to preserve the human race and its growth by socially approved way of conjugal relations (marriage), provides food, shelter, and cloth for the survival of life. The political institution provides security, the educational institutions provide knowledge and religious institutions foster kindness and morality for better relations in society, keeping the existence of society.

Transmission of cultural heritage: Social institutions such as family education, religion, etc. transmits culture to the next generations. The family teaches norms, values, traditions, language, morality to the individuals. The educational institution imparts knowledge. The religious institution teaches morality, kindness, and the virtues of life.

Fulfillment of basic needs: All social institutions strive to meet basic human needs. E.g. marriage satisfies the sexual needs and continuity of the human race. The economic institution gives food and the political institution gives security to life and property. Religion institution provides moral training. Family and school provide education of children, teaches different skills.

Social solidarity: Social institution contributes to unity in society. The family institution teaches the value of a sense of belonging to a family as a group and to be loyal, teaches children the norms, values, and traditions of the society. The religious institution teaches people to help others, we feel and gather for a good purpose. The political institution plays role in maintaining security by maintaining law and order.

Social welfare and development: Social institutions are for satisfying social needs i.e. human needs the jobs of the welfare of the society. Family provides economic and social security of children, the state (political institution) establishes orphan houses, old aged homes, facilities for the disabled, unemployment allowances, etc. for the welfare of the people.

Provision of recreational activities: Social institutions are als°, source of recreation for people. E.g. the family organizes feats all, festivals to provide recreation to its members. The education institutions do this through plays, games, speech contests, and extra-curricular activities. Similarly, the state (political institution) organizes national athletic games competitions to provide entertainment to its people.

Mental and physical security: Social institution provides relief to the individuals in trouble and worry and provides mental peace and security. E.g. religion soothes people’s emotions and instills hopes during failures and worries. Family provides a sense of security to the old and children by providing emotional, social and physical, and physical support. The political institution establishes departments of Police, judiciary, and jails to provide security of life, property, honor, and Prestige.

Control and direct human behavior: Social institutions like religion, morality, state, government, law, legislation, etc. control the behavior of men through the formulation of various no and regulations. E.g. marriage regulates the sexual behavior of men.

Assign roles and statuses to the individual: Social institution is a functional entity where the individuals are assigned status and roles to play to achieve the aim of social welfare.

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