Talcott Parsons (1902-82): Social system, Pattern variables | Sociology UPSC Notes

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Talcott Parsons

Talcott Parsons was born in the state of Colorado. At the time, his father taught English at Colorado College and was the college’s vice president. Parsons went to Amherst College as a student and studied biology, sociology, and philosophy. He got his Bachelor’s degree in 1924. He then went to the London School of Economics and later got his Ph.D. in economics and sociology from the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

In 1927, Parsons taught for a year at Amherst College. After that, he got a job as a teacher in the Department of Economics at Harvard University. At the time, Harvard did not have a school of sociology. In 1931, Harvard made its first sociology department, and Parsons was one of the two teachers in the new department. He went on to get a full professorship. In 1946, Parsons helped start the programme of Social Relations at Harvard. This was a programme that included sociology, anthropology, and psychology. Parsons was in charge of that new department as its head. In 1973, he stopped working at Harvard, but he kept writing and teaching at universities all over the United States.

3.He was the most famous psychologist in the United States and one of the most famous people in the world. He came up with a broad theory for analysing society, which became known as structural functionalism.

4. The influence of “the classics” on Anglo-American sociology can be traced back to Talcott Parsons (1902–1979). During his graduate studies in the UK and Europe in the 1920s, he became familiar with the work of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim, among others. In the 1930s, Parsons set out to write a big theoretical synthesis, using the work of Weber and Durkheim as his main sources. The Structure of Social Action, which was the result of his work, came out in 1937. The work was mostly about introducing four thinkers, two of whom—the economist Alfred Marshall and the economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto—have not been as important to sociology over time. This book was the first important and organised look at the ideas of Weber and Durkheim for the English-speaking sociology world.

5.Parsons agreed that Marx was a great thinker, but he said that he stayed true to the way people thought in the social sciences in the nineteenth century, while Weber and Durkheim had helped to break it down.

6.Utilitarianism was one of the main things Parsons criticised. Utilitarianism is the idea that people act based on practical goals and that the human mind is basically a computer that figures out the best way to get the most satisfying results. This picture shows the core of economics. The “economic human” is a person who knows what he or she wants and has the money to get some of those things. He or she then tries to figure out how to get the best mix of goods for the money that is available. By building its theories on the idea of a logical, self-interested person, economics is building on a model that was very common in social thought before the 20th century.

7. As we’ve already said, this model was most clear and, in some ways, most important in Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1994), which was written in the 1600s. Hobbes’s main point was that people are greedy and live in a world with few things to make them happy. Each person has wants, and they try to get as many of them as they can. When people try to figure out the best way to get what they want, they understand that they are in competition with each other and that one person can only win at the expense of another. So, people are truly selfish by nature and only see other people as obstacles or possible tools on their way to finding the most happiness for themselves. The most reasonable way to get what you want, then, is to either get rid of the competition by killing them or use them to help you get what you want by forcing or tricking them into doing what you want.

8. If, on the other hand, every person is seen as a rational being, that is, someone who thinks rationally, then everyone will come to the same conclusion, making social life a constant battle. Hobbes called it a “war of all against all,” and in a famous piece, he described it as “lonely, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes himself said that most people don’t think life is that bad. He said that rational people who value their own lives above all else can see the slippery slope to mutual misery and destruction that they would slide down if they didn’t accept some limits on their freedom to compete. These rules come in the form of society, which is symbolised by the sovereign master, to whom people give up their freedom.

Parson also showed that positivists and idealists were wrong: Positivists think that people know everything there is to know about their social situation. This leaves no room for players to make mistakes or even to be different. Idealists believe that social action is the realisation of the social spirit and the ideas of a country or a people. Because of this, they don’t pay much attention to the real-world problems that make it hard for ideas to come to life. In the same way, an idealist view of the social order sees democracy as nothing more than the realisation of the national spirit. Idealism puts too much weight on ideas and ideals and not enough on how they are put into action in society. In a way, Weber was also part of this pattern, because he said that the Protestant ethic helped capitalism in its early stages. But it has to be said that Weber went into detail about some values, like “rational asceticism” or “inner-worldly asceticism,” but he didn’t talk much about the role of wants and the search for utilities.

10.On the other hand, positivists say that people should only move when they know everything about a situation. So, their plan is final and can’t be changed, because there is only one right way to act. So, there is no room for values, mistakes, and different ways of doing things in social activity.

11. Durkheim, Weber, Pareto, and Marshall were all interesting to Parsons because, in their own ways, they were all trying to think outside of the framework of utilitarian beliefs.

12. The most important thing they did was reject the utilitarian idea that people’s goals are random. In a system like Hobbes’s, it doesn’t matter what kinds of things people want. What matters is that they have a lot of wants, more than can be met by the world’s limited resources. This is what makes them competitors, not what they want. In this kind of thinking, it doesn’t matter how people get what they want or what they want. If you look at the system as a whole, the ends might as well be random.

13. However, Durkheim, Weber, and the others saw that people’s goals are not random. Instead, they are learned in society and, as a result, are linked to each other in a systematic way. For example, Durkheim looks at the idea of “economic suicide” in terms of how people’s wants are organised. People’s wants are shaped by social arrangements that are in line with the hierarchy of stratification and include normative standards that tell people what their “right” wants are.

14. Based on this, Parsons thought it might be possible to start making a general scientific plan for knowing how people live. Between his first big work and the next one, fourteen years passed. During that time, Parsons did write a lot of essays, though. Then, in 1951, he put out two books: The Social System, which he wrote by himself, and Towards a General Theory of Action, which he wrote with other people. In some ways, Parsons had changed his goals from 1937, but the plan he laid out in these two books was still very big. Contributors to Towards a General Theory came from many different fields. This was necessary, since Parsons wanted to set the stage for a wide range of social sciences, or “sciences of action,” as he called them. So, psychology, sociology, economics, political science, and other fields were to be brought together under a single theory framework, which Parsons basically came up with. The Social System was the part of the project that dealt with sociology. It showed how this general plan, or general theory of action, would be developed in sociology. From the work of his four theorists, Parsons made a picture of social life in which people are driven to do what is right.

15. Motivated compliance: Social life doesn’t fall apart into Hobbes’s “war of all against all,” but it does work. It works not only because people do things the way society tells them to, but also because they think these ways are right and want to do them.

Social System:

Parsons’s idea of the social system is like a general sociological theory that can be used to study both simple ancient societies and complex modern industrial societies. Parsons’ theory has grown from the level of actions to the level of the whole social order. His conceptual plan helps us figure out how the social system is put together and how it works.

Parsons’s view of the social system is based on his theory of social action, which is a part of the social system itself. Parsons’ approach to the social system is integrative because he pointed out the importance of both values and motivational factors, like those in the utilitarian point of view, in the creation of the system.

Parson says that things don’t just happen by themselves. It is not actually discrete; instead, it happens in groups, or constellations, that make up a system. According to Parson, the idea of action comes from the way people act as live things. As living things, they connect (orient) with the outside world and their own thoughts.

When four things happen, behaviour turns into action:

• It is aimed at achieving ends, goals, or other things that are expected to happen; • It takes place in situations;

• It is governed by the rules and values of society; and • It requires “energy,” motivation, or effort.

For instance, a woman who drives a car to a temple. She will likely say some prayers. In this case, the prayer is her end or goal, towards which she is moving. The road she is driving on and the car she is sitting in make up her situation. Aside from that, her actions are guided by social norms or beliefs, which say that praying is a good thing. She also uses her smarts to drive, which is a skill that most people learn from society. Lastly, driving a car requires a lot of energy. You have to hold the wheel, control the pedal, and move through traffic on the road with skill. When behaviour is looked at in this way, it can be thought of as movement.

As we’ve already said, Parsons says that actions don’t happen by themselves, but in groups: System is made up of these groups of actions. Parsons says that these ways of acting are put together in three ways: the personality system, the culture system, and the social system.

He suggested that a society’s real way of life is made up of the following:

1. The abstract patterns of action (cultural system) that tell people what they should do in different situations. The highway code, for example, tells drivers how fast they should go and how they should work with other drivers.

2. The pattern of ongoing activity, (social system), i.e., how real people act in real situations in ways that (roughly, more or less) match the abstract patterns. For example, when there is traffic on the road, drivers are busy keeping an eye on what other drivers are doing and adjusting their driving to suit and avoid each other. This depends in different ways on most, if not all, drivers following the rules of the road.

3. The identities, or patterns of likes, dislikes, reactions, and other things, of the people who follow these patterns (personality system). For example, when they are driving in traffic, they act like drivers and interact with each other based on their personalities: some drive much faster than others, some are more aware of others’ rights on the road, some get angry when traffic is bad, and others stay cool.

But most of these drivers generally follow the rules of the road (Motivated Compliance). They do this not just out of caution, for safety’s sake, or because they have carefully calculated how much following the rules would benefit them, but because they think it is the right thing to do. They think that everyone must follow these rules, including themselves. They can get angry at other drivers who don’t follow the rules of the road, even if it doesn’t put them in danger or hurt them in any way.

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“Motivated compliance” doesn’t mean anything more than drivers being motivated to follow the rules of the road, but this example shows how real-life events are made up of three “action systems,” as Parsons put it:

Cultural system: the set of ideas, rules, etc. that tells people in a general way how they should act. Social system: the orderly patterns of people’s activities and relationships as they go about their lives together, sometimes even working together. Personality system: a person’s mental make-up, which affects how they act in real life, how they do things, and how they react to other people. Parsons says that any society has to make some way for these three things to work together.

Putting together society, social system, and people

Somehow, things will have to work out so that:

• Culture will tell people what to do in ways that are practical and work well with what people want to do.

• The pattern of activities and relationships that people have will make it possible for people to follow the culture’s rules (a lot of the time).

• The people who take part in social life will have mental structures that allow them to get along with others, work together on projects, and accept and follow the rules that their culture sets for them.

If there is to be any kind of social order, cultures, social structures, and people have to work together. Cultures have to be set up in a way that makes their rules workable in real life. If a culture asks its members to do things that don’t make sense, those people will either leave the culture or die out. Individuals’ different rules for what they should do have to fit with the rules that other people follow. If they didn’t, people would always be doing opposite things, nothing would ever get done that required their cooperation, and no social system would have even temporary stability. Imagine if people from different cultures had different rules about which way to drive on the roads.

People with a pathological fear of competition, for example, will be very resistant to being involved in society, such as competitive sports, if the activities aren’t set up in a way that makes them feel involved enough. Parsons says that these are the very least things that must be true for social order to exist. A society can, of course, deal with the fact that a small number of people follow different rules or have personalities that don’t fit with, say, the generally competitive nature of American culture, but it can only function if this “lack of fit” is limited to a small number of people.

Social relationships can’t be set up and kept going if there isn’t enough integration between the society, the social system, and the individual. “Enough” is not a very exact word, but that goes without saying. Given that Parsons’s work was finally met with hostility, we should point out that he does not see the integration of culture, social system, and personality as either automatic or complete. In fact, he thinks it is far from it. When we’re talking about something as complicated as a society’s order, its pattern of structures and relationships, its culture, which has been built up over time, and the different personalities of its many members, we should realise that integration is a very hard thing to do.

Any society that is still going strong and not falling apart into civil war must have some level of integration, since things get done, people act in a way that is mostly in line with their cultural norms, and many people are involved in and committed to activities. The fact that society seems to be stable shows that its members, or at least the vast majority of them most of the time, are not disconnected, which means “turned off.” But there may not be full integration because some parts of the culture may clash with the way the social order is set up, and the way both are set up may make people feel like they are missing out on something.

In a real society, many people may not be so unhappy with their work that they would rather quit, so against authority that they would rather fight their boss than do what he or she says, or so disrespectful of the law that they would gladly break it. Still, these same people may be unhappy at work, unwilling to do what their boss tells them to do, and so indifferent to living by the law that they may not resist every chance to break the law. Parsons recognises just such potential. They are part of what we mean when we say that integrating culture, social system, and personality is hard, because it is neither automatic nor given that the connections between them will work out. Even though the fact that a real society exists proves that it goes beyond the “minimum” standards of integration, the question of how far beyond this minimum the integration goes is still an empirical one.

It is also a logical result of Parsons’ systems analysis that there will be tendencies for the system to counterbalance tendencies towards disintegration, to contain dissidence, and to keep dissidents isolated from each other. This keeps dissidents from building up a collectively organised opposition to the dominant culture and directs their deviations in ways that don’t hurt overall integration. The system ‘handles and channels’ social disturbances, but there is no theoretical promise that disturbances will never overwhelm the system. When Parsons talks about reaching and going beyond this “minimal” level, he doesn’t talk about how people in a society consciously and deliberately “work out” answers to the problem of integrating these three parts of social reality. These things don’t bother the members. Analytical and sociological terms are used to talk about these issues. Parsons is talking from a “system standpoint” about how things work out, or how the social order comes together through the interaction and mutual effects of culture, social system, and personality. If societies didn’t meet these basic needs, we wouldn’t be able to study them. The fact that we can study a society means that it has met the basic needs of social integration in some way. How much more than the minimum has been done to integrate it depends on how far it has been integrated. It’s important to remember that the three things Parsons talks about are “integrated” in the sense that any real-life social setting has all three of them. In real life, these three things are all mixed together. In fact, Parsons says, they go through each other. People in social ties don’t just stand as “Joe” and “Jim,” but also as “worker” and “supervisor,” for example. Their roles are not just about what they do, but also about what rights and responsibilities they have. For example, Jim may have the right to tell Joe what to do, and Joe may have to do what Jim says. In other words, a work relationship, like any other, is about rights and responsibilities. This means that it has cultural elements, and these cultural aspects make up the social system. In turn, the social order becomes a part of the people who are a part of it. A person’s position and job are not just based on what is expected of them from the outside; they are also a part of who they are and how they think of themselves. How someone feels about themselves is affected by what kind of job they have. Also, if you identify with your job, you naturally come to see the things you are allowed to do and are responsible for not just as things you have to do because the law says so, but as things you would want to do even if you weren’t told to. In this way, the cultural standards and responsibilities of a job become part of a person’s personality.

According to Parsons, the social order is made up of both cultural elements and people. The culture and the social system are connected because the culture is established in the social system. In one way, a social system is a pattern of institutionalised culture, which is a set of rules and requirements that people have come to accept as the way they should act and relate to each other. For example, the highway code is widely accepted as the way drivers should handle their cars, talk to other drivers, and treat them with respect. Internalisation is what makes the link between the social order and the person.


This idea is about how people make the requirements of their different jobs part of who they are. They do this by “taking over” those requirements and making them part of their own ideas about how and what they should do. For example, when we see other people breaking a traffic rule, we may get angry because we feel like we’ve been hurt by what they did. Since a social system is largely made up of institutionalised culture, when people internalise the social system, or connect with their place in it, they also internalise culture, since their place in the social system is made up of institutionalised culture.

Basic Unit of Organisation of a Social System

Role is a way of organising how people act in a social order. It is the basic unit of thought in the social system and includes the whole system of actions of each agent. It is also a place where an individual actor’s system of actions meets the society system. Parsons says that role-expectation is the most important part of a job. It requires a two-way exchange between the character and his or her alter (the other people) and is based on a variety of motivations and values.

The motivations and ideals that link the unit acts to the personality systems in the first case and to the cultural systems in the second case are part of how social systems are put together.

The motivated orientation and the value orientation are the two parts of the action orientation.

• Motivational orientation is when people act in ways that take into account their wants, how they look to others, and their plans.

• Value orientation is based on standards of values, aesthetics, morality, and ways of thought.

1. There are three main types of motivation: There are three types of orientations: cognitive, affective, and evaluation.

• The cognitive orientation makes people see their environment or issue as a mental object in relation to how they feel about their needs. They, i.e., the actors, try to understand the subject of study in an objective way.

• The emotional attitude of players towards their object is part of the cognitive orientation.

• The evaluative orientation causes the players to organise their work in the best way possible to reach their goal.

Consider how a housewife acts when she goes to the market to buy veggies. The cognitive orientation lets her judge the quality of vegetables based on what she needs and how much they cost. The affective orientation lets her decide if she likes a certain vegetable, and the evaluative orientation lets her choose a vegetable that gives her the most satisfaction.

2. There are also three parts to the range of value directions. There are three types of intelligence: logical, appreciative, and moral.

• The cognitive perspective is one that has to do with the correctness of decisions.

• The appreciative orientation is what lets actors judge their emotional reaction to an object and decide if it is appropriate or consistent.

• A person’s moral attitude is the way he or she feels about the things he or she does.

Using a housewife buying veggies as an example only shows how the housewife is driven. But in value direction, what’s important is the society’s set of values and the way it lives. The actions of each actor are based on this societal pattern. For example, certain values and rules of society determine what a son’s role and position are in his family. He had a different standing as a son in a patriarchal family than he did in a matriarchal family. His actions will be based on the norms and ideals of society.

So, the motivational orientation is only about the individual’s motivations or personal traits, while the value orientation is about the culture. But both the psychological and cultural parts of a person’s actions are linked and depend on each other.

• jobs in a social system are institutionalised: In a social system, jobs are made official. Institutionalisation means that a role’s expectations, beliefs, and ways of getting things done become part of the culture of a society. Society sets common standards for what parts its members are expected to play. When an actor incorporates these standards into the way he or she approaches and plays a role, the role is said to have been institutionalised.

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Parsons came up with the idea of pattern variables to explain the different actions that people can take in social systems as a whole.

Pattern Variables:

Role is the most important part of the social order, and the way it is played out creates forces of tension. The level of strain relies on how role expectations are institutionalised in society and how much social actors internalise the values of role expectations. In their parts, each actor faces dilemmas that have to do with their motivational orientation and their value orientation. These problems come from the fact that a person’s choice or preference within a range of orientations linked to both needs and values can put stress on them. If these dilemmas were two-sided, the actor would have to choose between the two choices before acting on the situation. For example, if a character has to choose between universalist values and particularist values, he or she can only choose one of them.

Parsons talks about five pattern variables of how roles are defined, but he says that there are many more options.

• Affectivity vs. neutrality of affect

• Self-orientation vs. attitude towards the group

• Particularism vs. universalism

• Specificity vs. vagueness.

• Attribution vs. achievement.

1. Affectivity vs. affective neutrality: The dilemma here is choosing whether to express one’s orientation in terms of immediate gratification (affectivity) or to give up immediate gratification in favour of moral interests (affective neutrality). Parsons says, “No actor can live without gratifications, but no action system can be organised or integrated without giving up some gratifications that are available in the given situation.”

2. Self-orientation vs. collectivity orientation: The key question is how moral standards affect the evaluation process. The moral standard comes from the fact that a character has to choose between his or her own happiness and sacrificing it for the good of a group of people. There is some kind of selflessness and self-sacrifice going on. This pattern variable’s problem has always been a part of human life, from the earliest days of our economy and society to the present day. The idea of a socialist society is a good example of how a whole social system and the way its institutions work are based on the fact that most people choose to focus on the group. But, as Parsons has said, putting these principles into institutions is always risky.

3. Universalism vs. particularism: This describes a role situation in which the character has to decide between the cognitive and the cathetic (or emotional standards) ways of judging the role. Roles that go strictly by legal rules and legal punishments are examples of roles that stick to universal standards of how people should act. If someone follows the rule of law no matter how they feel about the person, their family, or their friends, that would be an example of the universalistic way of role performance. If someone breaks the law because the person involved is a family member or friend, this is called a “particularistic consideration.” Parsons says that the dilemmas of universalism and particularism have become a part of everyday life in countries where the role of bureaucracy in formal organisations and modern institutions has grown.

4. Ascription versus achievemen: In the ascription versus achievement pattern variable, the dilemma depends on whether the actor defines the objects of his or her job in terms of quality or performance. The caste system in India is a good example of this type of pattern variable. It decides how people act in their roles. Ascription is giving a person a certain trait based on their birth, age, sex, family ties, or race. A person’s success depends on the skills they learn and how well they do in society.

5. Specificity vs. diffuseness: The specificity vs. diffuseness pattern variable is about how big the job performance object is. In this case, you should think about scope in terms of how people communicate with each other. Some social interactions, like those between doctors and patients or between buyers and sellers at the market, have a very clear goal. The nature of these interactions is described by how they happen in very specific ways. Some ties between roles are very broad and cover a lot of ground. These jobs involve different parts of the thing being interacted with. Some examples of these kinds of relationships are friendship, marriage, and relationships between relatives of different degrees. The range of contact is open, wide, and all-encompassing.


1. The pattern factors not only show how roles interact with each other and what people expect from their roles, but they also show how most people in a social system choose their roles. It also tells us something about the way society works. Take the family as an example of a social system. People’s views of their roles within the family can be said to be affective, mostly focused on the group, particularistic, ascribed, and diffuse.

2.On the other hand, we can use our membership in a medical association, bar association, or student association as an example. Here, role expectations and standards of role performance would be mostly based on pattern variables like affective neutrality, self-orientation (due to competition), universalism, achievement, and specificity. But these are the worst cases. In real life, the decisions you have to make about pattern variables are much more dangerous and stressful than the ones we’ve talked about so far.

3. The difficulty of playing a part when judging it in relation to a situation. How much should a situation be judged by how it makes you feel or how it makes you feel in general? This makes it hard to decide what to do in most of the parts we are expected to play in society. Take the connection between a mother and her child. It has a lot of emotional focus, but you also have to be disciplined. So, a mother would often have to play an emotional-neutral part when it came to her child’s socialisation. But affect is the most important thing in a mother-child bond. In contrast, the connection between a doctor and a patient shows the emotional neutrality that is part of a doctor’s job. Neutrality of emotion is important for good medical care, especially when surgery is involved. But, according to Parsons, the problem of choice and the level of expression or commitment stays the same in all role-playing settings.

4. Talcott The idea of pattern variables that Parsons came up with connects social action and the social structure. The ways that these problems are solved can be used to describe a social order. Any system of interactions is made up of these pattern factors.

Systems theory:

The idea of order is important to Parsons. It is a broad term that can be used to describe anything from a talk between two people to the international system of nation states. It is the basis for Parsons’s whole analysis.


A system has an identity that stays the same in an environment. It is different from its environment, but it needs to do business with it, so it is an open system. For example, a mouse as a living thing is an open system. The mouse is not the same as its environment, but it must take in needs (air, food) from the environment and must release waste products into it. In order for the system to keep its own identity in that environment, it has to focus on two important things:

1. The control of interactions with the outside world. 2. The maintenance of relationships inside the system that work well.

Parsons tried to give a very general explanation of how social processes work based on these very simple assumptions. After the books of 1951, Parsons saw a new way to improve his analysis. He said this was mostly because of his work with Robert F. Bales, a social psychologist who was trying to make a general model of how task-oriented small groups act. Bales thought that these kinds of groups went through four stages:

1. They gather the things they need to do a task. 2. They organise themselves to do the task. 3. As they do this, they handle their own internal relationships, such as putting an end to fights and keeping people interested. 4. When they have finished their task, they celebrate.

4. They take a break from work to do something else for a while before getting ready for the next job.

Parsons made the four-phase model of system swaps out of these four steps.His future work was always about improving this model and finding ways to use it in different scenarios.

Talcott Parsons was the one person who did the most to develop and use structural functionalism. The four functional imperatives, also called the AGIL system, are the foundation of Parsons’s theory. He says that every system, like the family, the business, or the government, has a boundary that it must keep in order to stay alive. This self-maintenance of systems is possible because people are social beings who are socialised in society and whose motivations and values are structured in a way that makes sense. Social systems have to make necessary changes between their internal structure and the outside world in order to stay alive.

Parsons says that social processes can also change and keep themselves going on their own. Functions are the adjusting processes that keep the social order running both from the inside and from the outside. Functions are the ways that a system takes care of itself.

Talcott Parsons calls the features that a social system needs to work “functional prerequisites.” Without them, the system can’t work.

• Change • Achieving goals

• Latency, and • Integration

These functional factors work in different ways depending on whether they deal with processes outside or inside the system. They are also categorised by what kind of contact it is, whether it is Consummatory or Instrumental. Consummatory means that the goal is to get something you want, while instrumental means that the goal is to get something you want by getting and using tools.

1. Adaptation: In order for a system to be able to adapt, it needs to be able to make and get resources from its external world and distribute them within the system. In this case, “external environment” means land, water, etc. As an example, we can look at the economic system, which uses resources to make things and then gives them out to people. Adaptation is based on things outside of the system and has a practical purpose.

Goal-Achievement: The first step is to set goals. The second step is to get members of the system excited about reaching these goals. The third step is to get members and their energy to work together to reach these goals. Its methods are Consummatory, but they do involve interaction with the outside world. The way a social system sets up its power and control structure is an example of an institution whose main goal is to help people reach their goals. Its models are the ways that politics work. It has to do with how the social order is set up in terms of ideas and how things are run.

Integration: A functional must-have that helps keep the system’s coherence, solidarity, and organisation. Most of this job is done by culture and values in the social order.

Integration gives the system stability, coordination, and unity. It also helps keep the system from breaking down or being disrupted. This requirement for a function is part of the system and has a Consummatory nature.

4. Latency: A social system requirement that saves, organises, and keeps the motivational energy of the social system’s parts. Its major jobs are to keep the pattern going and keep the tension in the system in check. Members of the social system learn how to do this through the process of socialisation. Its major jobs are to keep the pattern going and keep the tension in the system in check. In Parsons’s view, all institutions must have their own ways of dealing with conflict.

In a complex system, of course, not all participants will be as active in all phases, and different parts of the system will focus on one or the other of these tasks for the rest of the system. We can figure out how a system is put together by looking at how important the different parts are to the way the system works as a whole. It’s important to remember that for Parsons, it’s all about systems, so the question “What is the system?” is key.’s meaning changes based on the goal of the analysis. For example, the family can be seen as a part, or subsystem, of the social system of a society, or it can be seen as the system itself, in which case the relationships between husband and wife, father and daughters, mother and daughters, and so on can be seen as subsystems of the family system. So, Parsons’s categories can be used to describe systems, their sections, and their subsubsystems. Obviously, no subsystem will only do one of the four functions, because each subsystem has to meet its own functional needs. For example, the family can be put in the latency phase of society because people who are at home with their families are often taking a break from other social obligations, relaxing, doing fun things, and getting ready for another day at work or whatever. But if we want to look at the family as a system in and of itself, we’ll have to put its activities through the AGIL cycle, and we might find that some family members are experts at one or more of these roles. For example, in the traditional nuclear family, the wife/mother was more skilled at activities that brought everyone together than the other members. She was expected to keep everyone on the same page and calm and help those who were upset or under stress.

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In the later part of Parsons’s work, the AGIL model focused on how people in the system related to each other. He tried to figure out how the different steps worked together and with each other. For example, in the adaptive phase (A), the system gathers the tools it needs to change its surroundings. However, if these tools are to be used in the goal-attainment phase (G), they must be given to the people doing the goal-attainment work. If people in the A phase are going to give resources or tools, as Parsons often calls them, to the G phase, they need an incentive or something in return. People are likely to feel bitter if they keep giving things away without getting anything in return. Eventually, they will stop giving anything away at all. For any system to work, there needs to be at least a little bit of balance between the different parts. As an overly simple example, the government’s goal-attainment function is to try to steer the society as a whole towards its goals, such as economic growth, national pride, or a mix of the two. The economy is the part of society that helps it adapt to its natural and social surroundings by making resources out of them. Obviously, the government needs resources to stay together as an organised organisation and to carry out its policies, so the adaptive system must give the government some of its products. Either way, it’s clear that the government has to do something for the economy, and we can see that some of its policies support, improve, and make business people happy.

The plan by Parsons is meant to be used in more subtle ways, but it should be easy to see how it can be expanded. One way is to look at how the different stages connect and talk to each other. For example, both the I and L phases need facilities. Another is how these exchange patterns are nested inside each other. We can see this by looking at the structure of subsystems, how they interact with the system they are part of, and how they interact with each other.

Since the AGIL model works for two people, for the whole society, and for everything in between, it has to be hard and complicated to figure out how to put these patterns together.

Along with this, there are four action systems that each serve a different purpose. The behavioural organism is responsible for adaptation, the personality system is responsible for reaching goals, the social system is responsible for integration, and the culture system is responsible for maintaining patterns. Parsons saw these action systems working at different levels of study, from the behavioural organism to the cultural system. He saw these levels as a hierarchy, with the lower levels giving the higher levels energy and the higher levels being in charge of the lower levels.

Parsons was mostly interested in how social order is made, and he used his theory to study this. His theory is based on a number of assumptions, including that systems are interdependent, that they tend towards equilibrium, that they can stay the same or change, that allocation and integration are especially important to systems at any given point of equilibrium, and that systems take care of themselves. Because of these ideas, he focused mostly on order and mostly forgot about the problem of change.

Pattern variables show in a clear way how the main types of social systems cluster together. Parsons talks about four of these kinds.

• The method of achieving success for everyone

• The trend of attributing things to everyone

• The trend of specific achievement

• The specific attribution pattern

1. The Universalistic-Achievement Pattern is a type of social system structure in which those value orientations are most important that urge people to reach their goals using legal and rational methods. It shows what a modern industrial society looks like, where equality, democracy, freedom of business, rational management, and openness in social interactions are the most important values. In this social order, it doesn’t work well to divide people based on caste, ethnicity, or other particular values. EXAMPLE.. the American way of life.

2. The Universalistic-Ascription Pattern is a way of setting up roles that makes a kind of social system in which the values of legal rationality are promoted in the way roles are played, but power isn’t given out based on equality or democracy. Modern science and technology are used in work and occupations in industry and communication, but they are given out based on things like membership in a certain ideological group, party, or cult. Parsons thinks that Nazi Germany is a good example of a culture like this.

3. The Particularistic-Achievement Pattern: The ideals of familism were the most important thing in this society. By “familism,” we mean the idea of continuity with ancestors (worship of ancestors), strong bonds of kinship, and a society where women are treated as second-class citizens. But at the same time, the society also put a lot of weight on success and a “code of propriety” for how roles should be played, which was the same thing as the universalistic principle of legal rationality. Parsons says that the classical Chinese culture is the best place to see this kind of social structure. Confucianism, which was the official way of life in ancient China, had all of these things. The fact that most government workers in China belong to the Communist Party of China shows that universalism and the ascription principle are the most important ideas.

4. The Particularistic-Ascription Pattern is a type of social structure in which people’s jobs are based on values related to family, birth, and other ascriptional factors. In these kinds of social structures, people are not pushed to do well on their own. Talcott Parsons says that this kind of work is seen as a necessary evil, just like morality is a necessary condition for at least some security. In this kind of culture, expressive or artistic orientations are given the most weight. Society is traditionalist because people have no reason to change traditions and have a strong interest in keeping things the same. This kind of social system is shown by “Spanish Americans” in the United States.


• The first ways to look at social systems, like the utilitarian, positivist, and idealist methods. Parsons didn’t agree with these ways of thinking because the utilitarians put too much emphasis on external factors that motivate people, the positivists didn’t leave any room for social agents or values to make mistakes, and the idealists put too much emphasis on values. So, Parsons came up with his own action approach theory, which is an integrative theory, as an option. In this theory, he has thought about both the value orientations and the driving orientations.

• According to Parsons, roles are the most important part of social structures. When people play their parts, they face problems that come from the choices that society gives them in a variety of ways, both in terms of motivation and values. In his pattern variables, Parsons talks about how there are two different kinds of orientations. These two kinds of orientations decide how people act in society.

• Necessary functions, like adaptation, goal achievement, integration, and latency, that a social system can’t live without. Parsons looked at different types of social system structures based on four criteria: universalism, particularism, attribution, and achievement. He used examples from real countries to show how each type of social system works.

An evaluation of parsons:

1. For more than 20 years, Parsons has had a big impact on American sociology. He has also shaped a whole school of sociologists. Robert Merton, Kingsley Davis, Wilbert Moore, Marion J. Levy, Neil Smelser, Harold Garfinkel, and many other important people were among his students.

2. The most important thing Parsons did was break away from the empirical practise of American sociology, which was very detailed. He started out with the lofty goal of putting together different parts of sociology into a single conceptual structure that would also connect all other social sciences. His theory was based on ideas from British utilitarian economics, French positivism, and German historicism. Even though this project helped fix the fact that American sociology was too focused on evidence, it made his theory model too big to be useful in the real world.

3. Parsons used the ideas of “pattern variables” and “systemic analyses” to try to bring together action theory and functionalism. But because of these ideas, he ended up putting action theory of system in second place. His whole theory is based on a view of man that is too socialised.

4. He has spent too much time worrying about order and balance. This has made his idea based on the status quo. In his plan, social strife and social change are not given enough attention.

5. His idea of power is also based on functionalism, and his functionalism has a goal-directed nature. Values and rules have been given too much attention.

6. Parsons was attacked more than anyone else in modern sociology. Even the fact that he couldn’t write in clear, simple English was used against him. A lot of this criticism is shallow and repeated, so it’s easy to ignore. There are three main criticisms that need to be dealt with first:

• Society is shown as being in perfect unity with no problems.

• Part of this picture comes from the fact that Parsons didn’t look at the cause of social strife, which is the unequal distribution of power.

• Parsons’ theory can’t explain social change because it focuses on unity and leaves out conflict.

7. Each of these three complaints has flaws. Even though Parsons didn’t think about change, conflict, and power the way his enemies did, that doesn’t mean that his theory couldn’t handle them. In fact, Parsons went out of his way to do this in his later works. From the beginning, Parsons’s theory was based on the idea that the functional organisation and integration of society are hard to do. The integration of such complex setups in a whole society must happen in a complicated and thorough way, with problems and failures along the way. Any real society can’t be fully merged, and it’s only natural that there are many gaps and differences between and within society’s different areas and how they are set up. When things don’t fit together or don’t make sense, they can cause problems or even fights.

8. Also, Parsons doesn’t think that a highly connected (but not perfect) society wouldn’t or couldn’t change. After all, in biology, assuming that a living organism must be meeting its functional requirements for survival doesn’t mean that the organism is immortal and will continue to meet its functional requirements forever or that, as long as it is alive, it will stay the same, never getting older or sick. If Parsons’ model is any indication, this might be what he has in mind when he talks about a system’s parts balancing out on their own. Equilibrium is when things reach a safe point and then stay the same. Even though the idea of equilibrium has its place, he rejects the idea that there is only one kind of equilibrium. Instead, he points out that there is a type of equilibrium called “moving equilibrium,” which is often seen in living things. An organism can be in balance if all of its systems and parts are healthy and working well. This doesn’t mean that the organism doesn’t change, though, because it grows and ages even as it stays healthy and lives. Parsons thought that society should be like this, and change is a big part of this idea. In two short books written in 1966 and 1971 for an introductory series, Parsons tried to give an overview of the long-term development of Western society, starting with its roots in ancient Greek and Jewish culture (an interpretation that owed a lot to Weber).