What Is Parsons Theory of Social Action?


Jane Flores

What Is Parsons Theory of Social Action?

The theory of social action developed by Talcott Parsons is a prominent framework within the field of sociology. Parsons, an influential American sociologist, proposed this theory to understand the complex dynamics of social behavior and its relationship with societal structures. His theory emphasizes the importance of individual actions and their consequences in shaping society as a whole.

The Basics of Parsons Theory

In Parsons’ theory, social action refers to any behavior or conduct that is influenced by societal norms, values, and expectations. He believed that individuals act based on their understanding of these norms and their desire to fulfill certain roles within society. According to Parsons, social actions can be classified into four main types:

  • Instrumental Action: This type of action is driven by rational decision-making and is aimed at achieving specific goals or outcomes.
  • Expressive Action: This type of action is driven by emotions and personal expression rather than rationality or goal-oriented behavior.
  • Social Norm-Guided Action: This type of action is influenced by societal norms and expectations, where individuals conform to established rules and standards.
  • Value-Guided Action: This type of action is guided by deeply held beliefs and values, which may come into conflict with societal norms.

Social Systems and Social Order

Parsons argued that society functions as a complex system composed of various interconnected parts. These parts include institutions such as family, education, economy, and religion. Each institution plays a unique role in maintaining social order and stability.

Social order, according to Parsons’ theory, is achieved through the establishment of shared values and norms that guide individual behavior. When individuals conform to these norms, they contribute to the overall stability and functioning of society. Parsons referred to this process as pattern maintenance.

Role Differentiation and Integration

One of the key concepts in Parsons’ theory is role differentiation. According to him, individuals occupy various roles within society, such as being a parent, a teacher, an employee, etc. These roles are interconnected and contribute to the overall functioning of society.

Role integration, on the other hand, refers to how different roles are coordinated and balanced within society. Parsons argued that for social order to be maintained, there needs to be a balance between role differentiation and integration. When roles are well-defined and integrated, it leads to functional efficiency within society.

Critiques of Parsons Theory

While Parsons’ theory has been influential in shaping sociological thought, it has also faced several critiques. Some critics argue that his theory places too much emphasis on societal order and stability at the expense of individual agency and social change.

Others argue that his theory neglects issues related to power, inequality, and conflict within society. Additionally, some scholars question the universal applicability of his theory across different cultural contexts.

In Conclusion

The theory of social action developed by Talcott Parsons provides a valuable framework for understanding how individual actions shape societal structures and maintain social order. While it has faced critiques over the years, it remains an important contribution to the field of sociology.