A.R. Brown’s Conception of Social Structure: According to Radcliffe-Brown, social structure “denotes the network of actually existing relations” between people. Culture is not a concrete reality, but only an abstraction.
Hence what we observe concretely in society is not very much culture, but “the acts of behaviour of the individuals” that compose society. The human beings are connected by a complex network of social relations which itself could be social structure, according to Brown. As Brown says, “Social structures are just as real as are individual organisms”. The physiological and psychological phenomena that we observe in the organisms are very much the result of the structure (made up of cells and interstitial fluids) in which they are united. Similarly, the social phenomena that are observed in human society are the result of social structure by which they are united.
Brown has made it clear that the study of social structures is not equivalent to the study of social relations as such. A. particular relation between Tom and Ram, or Review and Ruth, is not studied here. But a wide network of social relations involving many other persons is the object of study. Parts of Social Structure: Brown considers as a part of the social structure: (i) All social relations of person to person. For example, the kinship structure of any society consists of interpersonal relations between father and son, or a mother’s brother and his sister’s son, etc.
(ii) Brown includes under social structure the different social roles of individuals, (iii) The differentiated social positions of men and women, of chiefs and commoners, of employers and employees etc., no doubt determine the different clans or nations, or groups to which they belong. But more than that they work as the determinants of social relations. Actual Structure and Structural Form: Brown makes a clear distinction between “actual structure” and “structural form”. Actual structure refers to a set of actually existing social relations at a given moment of time. One can make direct observations of that. It is a concrete reality which any one can directly observe.
But “structural form” is abstract. It refers to the patterns or kinds of relations which people maintain over a period of time. It is relatively stable. But the actual structure, that is, the actual relations of persons and groups of persons change from year to year, or even from day to day.
New members come, old members go, and friends may become enemies, and enemies’ friends, and, so on. Though the actual structure changes in this way, the structural form may remain constant for some time. Structural form may change gradually and sometimes suddenly due to war, revolutions, etc. Thus, the conception of social structure, involves the idea of continuity. But this continuity is “not static like that of a building, but a dynamic continuity, like that of the organic structure of a living body. The social life constantly renews the social structure as it is evidenced in the changes of social roles and positions of individuals. Spatial Aspect: Brown is of the opinion that ‘social structure’ involves the spatial aspect also; Brown feels that it is convenient to study any network of social relations as confined to a locality of a suitable size.
With this “we can observe, describe, and compare the systems of social structure of as many localities as we wish”. Social Structure and Social Personality: Brown’s conception of social structure is essentially related to the conception of ‘social personality’. ‘Social personality’, according to Brown, refers to the position occupied by a human being in a social structure. This includes the complex of all his social relations with others. Thus every human being living in society is two things: (i) he is an individual and also a (ii) person.
Human beings as individuals are subjects of study for physiologists and psychologists. “The human being as a person is a complex of social relationships “. For example, he is a citizen of India, a husband, a father, a brother, a cricket player, a trade unionist, a parliamentarian, and so on. Each of these descriptions indicates a place in social structure. Since a person can change his place in social structure, social personality is subject to change during the course of life of the person. The human being as a person is the object of study for the social anthropologist and also sociologist.
Hence Brown says “we cannot study persons except in terms of social structure, nor can we study social structure except in terms of the persons who are the units of which it is composed.”