Social Settings

Social Settings

A Chapter by Debbie Barry

An essay about social structures. Written for SOC 101: Introduction to Sociology.


Social Settings



It is difficult for me to choose a single social structure as coming closest to matching my social setting.  Tonnies' and Lenski's systems are very different, not unlike comparing apples to oranges.  If I was only looking at Durkheim and Tonnies, I would say with confidence that my social setting is a Gemeinshaft.  This deals with how people interact in a smaller society, and describes my setting.  Where I grew up, where I spent my early adulthood, and where I live now are all small communities.  In each of these communities, relationships are very close, similar to kinship relationships.  Everyone knows everyone, and strangers and newcomers are identified immediately.  Everyone knows else's business, and there is little real privacy.

However, I must also look at Lenski.  Lenski's postmodern society collides with Tonnies' Gemeinshaft in my social setting.  There is a combination of ascribed status and achieved status in my setting, particularly in relation to race and gender.  I come from an area where racial integration was rare, though it was not overtly opposed.  The area where I live now has some integration, but my social interactions with church, social and service organizations, and with my sons' Scout troop, almost never involve multiple races.  In both locations, gender roles are very traditional, and males have greater ascribed status than females.

Social roles are also clearly understood in my social setting, with the expectation that each person will have knowledge of his or her occupation.  As a stay-at-home mother, I am expected to know about children and about cooking and sewing.  Achieved roles, and related status, are harder, as people do not expect or easily accept deviations from the norm.  People are often surprised to discover my roles as a student and as an artist, because of my status as a stay-at-home mother and as a middle-aged woman.

My primary group consists of four people: my husband, me, and my two sons by a previous marriage.  My husband works outside the home to provide the income needed to support the family.  I cook, clean, and raise the children and, beginning this fall, I will be facilitating my sons' education through an online charter school.  The boys, who are still in elementary school, leave our home for an extended period each summer to visit their father in another state.

Other primary groups for me are our church community, which is much like an extended family; my brothers and sisters in the local chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star; and the "household" my husband and I associate with in our medieval reenactment organization.  (Explaining how the household works would take too long for this discussion, but it is a clan-like, fraternal, social group.)

 I suppose Ashford University is a secondary group for me, as classmates never really get close.  I don't have a lot of interactions beyond my primary groups to form secondary groups, which fact takes me back to Gemeinshaft.

When I identified Lenski's postmodern society, it was not so much about interpersonal relationships as about world influences on my life.  In an average month, my family is likely to eat at On the Border, a Mexican restaurant; at Tokyo Sushi, a Japanese restaurant; and at Pita Way, a Mediterranean restaurant; as well as to enjoy take-out from Chinese, Thai, and Italian restaurants that my husband visits.  Everyone in my home primary group uses the Internet, and I am likely to chat with friends in London, Wales, and Dubai on any given day on Facebook.  Many products that we buy are manufactured in other countries, and we are impacted by global economies.  So, while the atmosphere of my social setting matches well with Gemeinshaft, it is set in a backdrop of postmodern society.

© 2017 Debbie Barry

Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Initial reactions and constructive criticism appreciated.

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Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 10, 2017
Tags: essay, sociology, social systems, social settings, social structure, society

A Journey through My College Papers


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..