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Journal Article

Presidential Address: Parameters of Social Structure

Peter M. Blau
American Sociological Review
Vol. 39, No. 5 (Oct., 1974), pp. 615-635
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2094309
Page Count: 21
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Presidential Address: Parameters of Social Structure
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Abstract

Social structures are defined by their parameters--the criteria underlying the differentiation among people and governing social interaction, such as sex, race, socioeconomic status, and power. The analysis of various forms of differentiation, their interrelations, and their implications for integration and change is the distinctive task of sociology. Two generic types of differentiation are heterogeneity and status inequality. Nominal parameters divide people into subgroups and engender heterogeneity. Graduated parameters differentiate people in terms of status rankings and engender inequality. The macrosocial integration of the diverse groups in modern society rests on its multiform heterogeneity resulting from many crosscutting parameters. For although heterogeneity entails barriers to social intercourse multiform heterogeneity undermines these barriers and creates structural constraints to establish intergroup relations. Crosscutting lines of differentiation thus foster processes of social integration, and they also foster processes of recurrent change. Strongly interrelated parameters impede these processes of integration and adjustment, however. (Such relationships between parameters--for example, between the occupation and income of individuals--must not be confused with the relationships between forms of differentiation--for example, between the division of labor and income inequality in societies.) Pronounced correlations of parameters reveal a consolidated status structure, which intensifies inequalities and discourages intergroup relations and gradual change. The growing concentration of resources and powers in large organizations and their top executives poses a serious threat of structural consolidation in contemporary society.

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