Pub. date: 2010 | Online Pub. Date: May 06, 2010 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412958660 | Print ISBN: 9781412958653 | Online ISBN: 9781412958660| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Structure is perhaps the most difficult concept to define in social theory; indeed, a recent trend has been to reject the idea altogether. Maintaining an idea of social structure often implies that the theorist believes that the social world can be studied in a similar way to the natural world (naturalism). Some interpretivist critics would claim that while it might be possible to identify structures in the natural world—atoms, gravity, biological species—the social world differs from the natural world in being conceptual, ideational, and normatively laden, and hence not open to this sort of classification. The most general understanding of structure is simply an arrangement of different elements that have a particular and enduring pattern. This raises a question as to whether, in this notion, structure is anything more than just the sum of its parts; in other words, are structures more than simply aggregates? Critics of this definition importance ...