The concept of social statics relates to the assumption that the order of society is knowable. Without this basic premise, the study of the social sciences lacks rational predictability.
Social statics is the order of society. This order includes structural components (e.g., family, government, and economics) and the interaction between these components. Auguste Comte, the father of sociology, based social statics on the positivistic philosophy. In creating the science of sociology, Comte moved the explanation of the hows and whys of society away from the theological and metaphysical toward the rational and scientific. This is similar to Plato’s basic assumption that the order of society is knowable and explainable, as illustrated in The Republic.
Comte identified the elements of “spontaneous order” of social statics as the individual, family, and society. Sociology does not focus on the study of the individual in the way that psychology does. For Comte, the simplest form of a social unit is the family. All other social units build upon the family unit. The reason Comte included the individual as one of the elements in social statics was to illustrate a primary function of the family as a social unit: to socialize the individual into a functioning member of society. The result of successful socialization is the expression of appropriate forms of interaction with all elements of society.
The interaction of the family social unit with the rest of society illustrates Comte’s concept of the division of labor. The division of labor is an operational definition of social statics. The interdependency of the division of labor holds together social structure and interaction in an orderly fashion. In the family structure there are roles that the husband, wife, and offspring play. For example, the role of the husband is interdependent upon the role of the wife. The family unit cannot fulfill its defined social purpose to reproduce and socialize offspring without the interdependency between husband and wife. Interactions focus on socialization of the members of the family unit for the benefit of the greater society as a form of social control. The division of labor creates not only interdependency but also social control through the socialization process. Social control of sexual relations and reproduction is limited to the family unit, since this is the ideal method for providing for the basic needs of offspring and socializing them.
Social dynamics is the progressive change in social statics. Comte’s “law of human progress” is the foundation for social dynamics. The order of society changes over time in a progressive, positive direction. A new social order succeeds an existing social order. In Comte’s law of human progress, society had moved from the stage of theological to metaphysical and then to positivistic.
For Herbert Spencer, society is superorganic, which tends toward a state of equilibrium. This biological concept defines social statics as the major institutions of society (e.g., familiar, governmental, religion, and industrial) and interaction represented by the division of labor. Spencer expanded the detailed explanation of social statics to include regulatory, operative, and distributive components. Social dynamics is a progressive evolutionary process. As society progresses, new elements of society are created, and unfit elements decay and drop away. The nature of society moves from homogeneity toward heterogeneity; there is greater differentiation. In primitive times the structure of society was very simple with a minimal division of labor. As society progresses, the division of labor becomes more complex with the addition of new elements of social structure and new customs (interactions). In addition the level of interdependency increases as there is greater differentiation through increased stratification. Stratification is the ranking and ordering of this interdependency and is usually the first social static to change due to increased differentiation. In modern terms stratification is the ranking of abilities and training to fulfill the needs of society. The purpose of stratification is to identify the most important resources needed for societal survival and progress.
Social statics is the foundation for the structural-functionalist tradition in sociology. This tradition studies society at a macro level, identifying the components of social structure and their corresponding functions. Within this tradition, Émile Durkheim’s expanded theory of the division of labor incorporates social statics and social dynamics based on social solidarity. Structural components and their functions hold society together and create organic solidarity through increasingly complex interdependency. Talcott Parsons’s theory of social system and social action continues in the structural-functionalist tradition by using the concepts of social statics and social dynamics to explain social structure, social order, socialization, and social change.
SEE ALSO Comte, Auguste; Division of Labor; Durkheim, Émile; Hierarchy; Parsons, Talcott; Prediction; Social Science; Society; Spencer, Herbert; Stratification; Structuralism
Spencer, Herbert. 1877. Social Statics: The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness Specified, and the First of Them Developed. 2nd ed. New York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1954.
Turner, Jonathan H., Leonard Beeghley, and Charles H. Powers. 2007. The Emergence of Sociological Theory. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.
Ronald Keith Bolender