The term is central to the theories of structural functionalism, structuralism, and post-structuralism. In all three cases it is employed in both a nominative and explanatory capacity. Thus, whatever aspects of social life are designated as structure are also endowed with the capacity for structuring other aspects of the social, as when sociologists claim that gender structures employment opportunities, religion structures family life, or modes of production structure social formations. Not unreasonably, Sewell concludes that structure is not a concept and cannot therefore be defined precisely, since it functions rather as a metaphor in and of social scientific discourse.
Where structure has been placed at the forefront of sociological discussion it has tended to generate a causal determinism in which the efficacy of human agency is lost. Structures invariably seem to exist separately from, but nevertheless to determine, motivated social action. This often makes it difficult to explain change, since structures imply stability of patterns over time, if not permanency. These problems are widely recognized in the discipline. For example, specifically in response to the dualism of ‘agency versus structure’ Anthony Giddens has proposed a theory of so-called structuration, which states that structures are themselves dual; that is, they are ‘both the medium and the outcome of the practices which constitute social systems’ (A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism, 1981). In short, structure shapes people's practices, but these practices constitute and reproduce social systems. Some have acknowledged this formulation as an imaginative step forward in social theory; others dismiss it as merely a redescription of the problem.
Such issues apart, the major divergence in sociological usages of structure is between those who see the term as referring to the observable patterned social practices (roles, norms, and such like) that make up social systems or societies, and those for whom structure comprises the underlying principles (for example relationships to the means of production) that pattern these overt practices. Structural functionalists exemplify the former; structuralists (such as structural Marxists) are a good example of the latter. See also FORMALISM; FUNCTION; SOCIAL ORDER; SOCIOLOGY.
struc·ture / ˈstrəkchər/ • n. the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex: flint is extremely hard, like diamond, which has a similar structure. ∎ the organization of a society or other group and the relations between its members, determining its working. ∎ a building or other object constructed from several parts. ∎ the quality of being organized: we shall use three headings to give some structure to the discussion.• v. [tr.] (often be structured) construct or arrange according to a plan; give a pattern or organization to: the game is structured so that there are five ways to win.DERIVATIVES: struc·ture·less adj.
Structure is anything that furnishes holding cover. Logs and fallen trees enhance an area by providing cover. Structures cause current cushions and hiding places. A fallen tree can create a lie which astonishing numbers of fish can use. Structure may include a wide variety of objects such as roots, plants, rocks, fallen trees, and even abandoned car bodies. I once caught a huge brown trout that lived in the back seat of a submerged Buick. I think that even a bigger one lived in the trunk.