In my previous post I set out a view of the relationship between the interaction order and social structure. I want now to discuss the forms of integration or malintegration that exist at each level. These issues were famously discussed by David Lockwood in an article of 1964 through his distinction between 'social integration' and 'system integration' (in Explorations in Social Change, edited by Zollschan and Hirsch). My claim is that social integration should be seen as relating to the interaction order and system integration as relating to the macro-level social structure.
A state of social integration exists when interacting individuals and groups establish shared understandings that permit a coordination of their actions. They produce a negotiated order that underpins their joint action. Where there are failures in mutual understanding and a resulting lack of coordination, there is social disorder, rather than social order, and the potential for social disintegration. This was discussed further in David Lockwood's Solidarity and Schism (1992). The larger social structure that emerges as a virtual reality from this interaction order comprise a relational and institutional structure with a particular degree of 'system integration'. This state of system integration is an emergent property of the virtual structure and it is important to explore the specific connections between this and the state of social integration.
The elements comprising a relational structure are what Lockwood described as the 'non-normative' factors, comprising a 'substratum' of 'the factual distribution of means' that set limits on the opportunities available to actors and imply specific interests for them. The connections among these elements are what Pitirim Sorokin referred to as 'causal-functional' integration. The 'parts are related to one another, directly, or, if indirectly, by several internal "centers"' (in an extract from his 1937 book in System Change, and Conflict, edited by Demerath and Peterson). These connections are internal to the relational structure itself.
They are systemically interdependent because the change or elimination of one part 'perceptibly influences the rest of the synthesis' and a part when found in a different combination of parts cannot exist or undergoes profound modification to become a part of the combination. Sorokin added that 'the degree of functional unity or functional interdependence is everywhere not the same'. That is to say, the degree of integration is variable.
This point was taken up by Alvin Gouldner in his contribution to the same volume. He argued that only in certain cases does the system interdependence of parts comprise a stable and enduring 'equilibrium'. The degree of 'functional reciprocity' between parts can vary, departures from full reciprocity resulting in varying degrees of instability. Disequilibrium occurs when interdependence is low, as the parts have considerable 'functional autonomy'. The greater the extent to which a part tends to maintain its autonomy, the greater is the 'tension' within the structure as a whole. Disequilibrium also occurs when interdependence is high but involves negative feedback. Ion this situation the parts operate in ways that undermine each other. Lockwood followed Marxian terminology and referred to this situation as involving structural 'contradictions' between the relational parts. His example is Marx's claimed contradiction between the forces and relations of production within the economic structure of a capitalist mode of production.
The elements comprising an institutional structure are what Lockwood referred to as the normative elements. Whereas a relational structure is a system of 'energy' pressures resulting from the limits imposed by the structural constraints, an institutional structure is a system of 'information' connections in which the degree of 'fit' between elements is a matter of their meaningful coherence. The information connections comprise what Sorokin called 'logico-meaningful' integration and coherent clusters of these normative elements comprise social institutions. The state of system integration characterising an institution or structure of institutions and norms can be described, Sorokin argued, using terms such as consistency, complementarity, or logical contradiction (as against the material contradictions of the relational structure). Thus, an element may be internally inconsistent or contradictory and may be inconsistently combined with other elements.
Margaret Archer shared much with Sorokin's point of view, but emphasised the relevance of Popper's view of the (Hegelian) world of 'objective knowledge'. Viewed as a cultural system, she argued, an institutional structure is a 'corpus of intelligibilia' (Culture and Agency, p. 104) that stand in a logical relationship to each other and so may be judged as consistent or contradictory. As an objective, emergent property of the institutional structure, the state of system integration can constrain the actions of individuals. For example, the norms of a language (which may be inconsistent or even contradictory) constrain speakers and so shape what can be said and how it is understood.
There is, of course, a definite relationship between the institutional structure and the relational structure, though this is not a simple one-to-one relationship. There social structure is a complex combination of institutional and relational structures and it is necessary to look at the integration of relational structures, the integration of institutional structures, and the integration between these two. Talcott Parsons famously analysed the state of perfect integration - fully institutionalised social relations - where the one-to-one relationship is clear. This, he argued, allowed the sociologists to study the simplest form, of social structure as a preliminary to understanding its more usual and more complex forms of low integration. As Karl Mannheim recognised the social world is not 'a single and completed structure, but an aggregation of partially structured orbits' ('Towards a sociology of mind', p. 75). The recognition of varying degrees of system integration is a way of placing this at the centre of attention.
Similarly, there is no one-to-one relationship between social integration and system integration. David Lockwood's paper highlighted this as a fundamental limitation of the Parsonian view, which assumed that one could be read off from the other. It is important to analyse separately the integration at each of these levels and then to trace out the mechanisms that link the two together and that are responsible for the variations and disjunctions between them. In short, the ways in which intentional actions have unintended and unanticipated consequences, which establish new conditions that constrain future actions.
Originally Posted August 7 2017