Unit 4: Institutions
In Unit 4 we study our primary sociological institutions: family, religion, education, and government.
Sociologists have seen dramatic changes in the structure of the American family. The number of unmarried couples grew from fewer than one million in the 1970s, to 6.4 million in 2008. Cohabiting couples account for 10 percent of all opposite-sex couples.
We'll also take a look at religious institutions, a second significant social and cultural indicator, from a sociological rather than religious perspective. Émile Durkheim, the French sociologist, found that people use religion in several different ways: for healing and faith, as a communal bond, and to understand "the meaning of life." All of these social functions affect a community's structure, balance, and social fabric.
Education is our third example of an institution that can be a social solution and a challenge. For example, schools can serve as change agents (as tools to break poverty and racism) or create barriers (such as when they foster large drop-out rates and institutional disorganization). Schools can sow political discord when community members protest a chosen curriculum, such as sex education and scientific evolution. Sociologists consider all of these trends when studying schools and education.
We conclude by exploring government institutions, in terms of their political and economic structure from a sociological perspective. How do you define power? Do you inherit your social status at birth or earn it in the workplace? We explore how various economic systems affect how societies function.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 10 hours.