Talcott Parsons Introduction Sociology YouTube Lecture Handouts

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Talcott Parsons


  • Books
    • The Structure of Social Action, 1937
    • The Social System, 1951
    • Action Theory and the Human Condition, 1978
  • Focus on theoretical work
  • Theory of action
  • Influenced by Kant՚s critical philosophy
  • Every action is a product of interaction of dynamic and controlling forces

Social Action

  • Choices between alternative values and actions must be partially free
  • Voluntary, oriented and subject to guidance by norms
  • Motives as part of action
  • Actor is not independent but dependent upon social values when he performs a social action

Elements of Social Action

  • Actor
  • Situation
  • Motivation
    • Aesthetic
    • Cognitive
    • Evaluative
    • Combine to make value theory and determine social action


  • The one who speaks or does – ego
  • The one who receives/hears or listens – alter-ego
  • Interaction between the two - micro level – beginning of social system – most elementary form

Three Types of Social Action

  • Instrumental action – e. g. studying for long hours to get good marks
  • Expressive action- e. g. moral/emotional satisfaction by doing something
  • Moral action- e. g. deciding what is fair or not based on moral or ethical grounds

Pattern Variable

  • Categorize choices and forms of orientation for actors
  • They provide range of possible decisions to the actor
  • They focus on the aspect of the action
  • In order to fulfil a social action, the actor must come out of any dilemma
  • Provide a means of describing and classifying institutions, social relations, etc. and values, norms associated with them

Five Types of Pattern Variables

  • Affective neutrality vs affectivity – amount of appropriate or expected emotion in any interaction
  • Collectively or self – collective or shared interest over self interest
  • Particularism or universalism – whom to consider when involved in a social action i.e.. on the basis of general norm or their relation with actor. E. g. relatives and bureaucracy
  • Diffuseness or specificity – range of obligation involved with relation e. g. student-teacher and husband-wife
  • Ascription or achievement – inborn or achieved qualities. E. g. priest and soldier

AGIL Model

  • One of the first open systems theories of organizations
  • Functional imperatives to all social systems
  • It represents four basic functions that all social systems must perform in order to sustain/survive:
    • Adaptation:
      • A system must be able to cope with external situational exigencies
      • Adapt to environment or adapt the environment as need be
    • Goal Attainment:
      • Define goals
      • Achieve goals
    • Integration:
      • regulate interrelationship
      • Maintain Relationship with A, G and L
    • Latency:
      • Motivate and renew motivation of individuals and cultural patterns
Motivation of Individuals and Cultural Patterns

AGIL in Practice

  • Adaptation – adjusting to external world … behavioral organism
  • Three aspects of social action:
    • Personality system – motivates actor՚s desires – goal attainment – goals are defined and resources are mobilized
    • Social system – action is done in this system – integration function – control component parts
    • Cultural system – they define the situations in which actor does action – latency function – norms and values provided which motivates actors


Q. 1. Select the pair, which does not find a room in the inventory of β€˜pattern variables’ , suggested by Talcott Parsons:

(A) Quietism vs. Aggressive action

(B) Self-orientation vs. Collective orientation

(C) Affectivity vs. Affective neutrality

(D) Universalism vs. Particularism

Answer: A

Q. 2. According to Parsons, society is in ________

A. Constant equilibrium

B. Moving equilibrium

C. Conservative equilibrium

D. Static equilibrium

Answer: B

#Sociological Theories





0: 00 Talcott Parsons

0: 12 Introduction of Talcott Parsons

1: 07 Social Action

2: 22 Elements of Social Action

3: 02 Ego-alter

3: 47 Types of Social Action

4: 47 Pattern variable

6: 40 Types of Pattern Variables

9: 10 AGIL Model

10: 34 AGIL in Practice

12: 04 MCQ about Talcott Parsons

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