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Social Structure and Individuality

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The assertion that human behaviour is socially patterned often provokes some initial resistance. Few human beings readily admit to being part of any kind of system, especially those who live in a culture that prizes individual autonomy. Americans, for instance, tend to emphasize individual responsibility for behaviour and highlight the unique elements of their personalities. Behaving in patterned ways, however, does not threaten our individuality. On the contrary, individuality is encouraged by social structure.

First, and more generally, our humanity involves much more than physical existence. The great potential of human beings develops only thorough interaction with others. Within social life, distinct personalities emerge as people blend their unique qualities with the values and norms of the large culture from freely expressing ourselvs. The social world can be disorienting, even frightening, to people who do not know the behaviour guidelines. Without this knowledge, people feel too uncomfortable to express their unique personalities with confidence.

To illustrate, you may recall going aloneto a party given by people you did not know well. Entering such a setting - and not knowing quite what to expect - is likely to cause some anxiety. At such times you generally feel self-conscious, try to make a favorable impression, and look to others for clues about what sort of behaviour is expected of you. Once you understand the behavioral standards that apply to the setting, you are likely to feel comfortable enough to "act like yourself".

Of course, social structure also places some constraints on human behaviour. By guiding behaviour within culturally approved bounds, established social patterns discourage behaviour that is culturally defined as unconventional. Traditional values and norms in the United States and Canada, for example, still reflect the expectation that males will be "masculine" (physically strong, self-assertive, and rational) and the females will be "feminine" (physically weak, self-effacing, and emotional). The structure of society exerts pressure on individuals to fit into one or the other of these categories, ignoring the fact that most people have both "masculine" and "feminine" qualities. In this and many other ways, social structure can limit any individual's freedom to think and act in ways that may be personally preferred. In addition, the failure to conform to established social patterns may lead to being defined by others as deviant.

II. Answer the following questions:

1. Why do we say that social interaction ispatterned?

2. What does culture provide?

3. So, according to what is our behaviour patterned?

4. What may this assertion provoke?

5. Does behaving in patterned waysthreaten our individuality in any way?

6. Through what does the potential of human beings develop?

7. In what case do people feel uncomfortable?

8. What do you feel in an unfamiliar situation?

9. What does social structure place on human behaviour?

10. What is understood by unconventional behaviour?

11. What pressure does the structure of society exert on individuals?

12. What can social structure limit?

III. Prove the following statements:

1, Social interaction is patterned.

2. Culture provides guidelines for human behaviour.

3. The humanbehaviour is patterned according to cultural norms.

4. Behaving in patterned ways does not threaten our individuality.

5. A great potential of human beings develops through interaction.

IV. State the general idea of each paragraph of the text.

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