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CULTURE AND SOCIAL SYSTEM REVISITED

Author(s): TALCOTT PARSONS


Source: Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 2, TWO SYMPOSIA: The Idea of Culture and LBJ's
The Vantage Point (SEPTEMBER, 1972), pp. 253-266
Published by: Wiley
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CULTURE AND SOCIAL SYSTEM REVISITED

TALCOTT PARSONS
Harvard University

ONEOF THE MORESENIORSOCIOLOGISTS STILLEXTANT, I HAVELIVED


through a considerable gamut of discussionsof the concept of cul-
AS ture and its relationsto various of the social science disciplines.In
particular,I was involvedfora good manyyearsin theventureat Harvard
called a departmentof social relationswhich attemptedto bringtogether
social anthropologyand sociology along with parts of psychologyand,
naturally,in the relationsof the sociologiststo the anthropologiststhe
problemof culturewas verycentral.Indeed, one has had the phenomenon
thatcertainanthropologists called themselvesculturalanthropologists and
otherssocial anthropologistsand at least a mild amount of conflictde-
veloped betweenthesetwo groups.
A veryhighpointforme in thesematterswas a seriesofdiscussionsI had
the good fortuneto have with the late AlfredL. Kroeberduringthe year
1957-58 whichI spentat the CenterforAdvanced Studyin the Behavioral
Sciences at Stanford,California.It was a great satisfactionto me when
ProfessorKroeber,who surelywas the dean of Americananthropologists
at that time,proposed that he and I should make a joint statement,the
main purportof which would be to emphasize the importanceof the dis-
tinctionbetween culturaland social systemsas conceptsand to attemptto
clarifytheirrespectivenaturesand relationsto each other.11 thinkit per-
haps can be said thatthe positionwhich Kroeberand I took was farfrom
being generallyaccepted at thetimeon eitherside of the disciplinaryline.
I think,however,thatit has made substantialprogressin thisdirectionin
the interveningyears.On the anthropologicalside, forexample,I cite the
extremelyinteresting, thoughfar fromidentical developments,in the re-
centworkof such authorsas CliffordGeertzand David Schneider,bothof
whom,of course,were trainedin the Harvard Departmentof Social Re-
lations.
In myown workas both a sociologistand a theoristworkingat the level
of the general theoryof action I have found this distinctionto be com-
pletelyindispensable.Moreover,I do not thinkit is too much to say that
the main lines of the distinctionhave become quite sufficientlyclarifiedto
be serviceable formost workingpurposes,though of course major theo-
reticalconceptualizationis unlikelyto remaincompletelystable over very
long periods,and hence revisionsin both conceptsand the way of relating
themto each otherare to be anticipated.
Perhaps it is best to begin a more detailed statementby interweaving
the concepts of cultural and of social system.I assume that man as the

1A. L. Kroeber
and TalcottParsons,
"The Concepts ofCultureandofSocialSys-
tem,"American Review,
Sociological 23 (Oct.,1958),pp.582-583.

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254 SocialScienceQuarterly

symbol-usinganimal as it is sometimesput is always a "culturebearer."


There is no human societyknown,forexample,withouta fullydeveloped
language which is a medium of expressionand communicationveryspe-
cificallyat symboliclevels expressedin the language, forexample,bothin
beliefsand sentimentsand in variousmodesofovertaction.Thereis always
a comprehensivesystemof modes and aspects of the meaningof speech
acts,ritualacts,and variousotherkindsof acts. This systemof meaningis
the focus of what I mean by a culturalsystem,but withinthe framework
of orientationto and by meanings and of man as a behaving biological
species of organism,I conceive of the social systemas the systemgene-
rated by the fact of the interactionof a pluralityof human beings with
each other.The masterexample of the social systemin turnis the society.
This is constitutedby a pluralityof interactingindividuals,usuallya sub-
stantial number,who act within the meaning-framework of a common
cultureand who also maintainan identityas a systemtranscendingthe life
span ofthe particularhumanindividual.A society,thatis to say,is at least
in large part, though by no means necessarily exclusively,recruited
throughprocessesofbiologicalreproduction.
In my theoreticalconceptionof a societyI have come increasinglyto
follow the lines of analysis put forwardby Durkheim.Relative to non-
members,which categorymay be very importantin its environment, a
society exhibitsthe property Durkheim called .
solidarity This may be char-
acterized at the level of what one mightcall collectiveidentityas above
all expressedthroughthe collectivepronoun"we." A good exampleis Ray-
mond Firth'smonographtitle,"We, The Tikopia."2We might,however,
extendit to such expressionsas "we Americans"or "we Japanese."Readi-
ness to use the concept "we" seems to indicate both that the collectivity
referredto has some kind of relativelydefiniteidentityand that the in-
dividual participanthas a sense of "belonging"to it, that is, of member-
ship. This in turnleads to the question of the natureand strengthof the
"bonds"by which he is in factattachedto such a collectivity, thatis, that
has thestatusofmember.Here we mayspeak ofloyalty.
Of course,societies are internallydifferentiated and, therefore,the in-
dividual personswho are membersof a givensocietyare at the same time
membersof a varietyofsubcollectivities ofwhichthesocietyis at one level
"composed." One major reference, of course, is kinship,but in modern
societies,there are also occupation in employingorganizations,local or
residentialcommunities, religiousgroups,politicalassociations,and many
others.Here it is a cardinal propositionof contemporarysociology first
thatno individualis a memberonly of one solidarycollectivity, but of a
plurality.Even withinsuch a small unit as a nuclear family,husband and
wifeconstitutea subcollectivity distinguishablefromthatof theirchildren
and of thenuclearfamilyas a whole. Moreover,it is fundamentalthatin a
pluralisticsociety,persons who are membersof the same collectivityin
2Raymond Firth,We, The Tikopia:A SociologicalStudyof Kinshipin Primitive
Polynesia(NewYork:American BookCo.,1936).

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CULTURE
ANDSOCIAL
SYSTEM
REVISITED 255

one referencedo not necessarilyshare the same membershipsin other


collectivities.Thus the occupational involvementsof husband and wife,
supposingboth are "gainfullyemployed,"need notbe in the same employ-
ing organizationand certainlynot necessarilyin the same status within
thatorganization.
Anotheressential point is that there are many collectivitieswhich cut
across two or more societies.When I identifymyselfoccupationallyas a
sociologist,for some purposes it is necessaryto qualifythat by saying I
am an Americansociologistbecause thereare many sociologistswho are
citizensof othernational societies.Internationalsociologyis in some re-
spects an effectivelyorganized collectivity,the membersof which are in
othercapacities citizensof manydifferent nations.If in the modernworld
we consider the "nation" to be the prototypicalsociety,then of course
thereare limitsto the levels of loyaltyto transnationalcollectivitieswhich
are compatiblewith continuingmembershipin a national society.Those
the functionsof which are relativelyspecialized are apt to cause little
though,forexample,in a moretotalitariantypeof society,such
difficulty,
as thoseof the Communistworld,the problemofthe statusof a sociologist
who is a Soviet national,for example, but also a member of the inter-
national sociological group, may be a source of greaterstrainsthan it
would be in theso-called"freeworld."

TRANSITION TOAFULLERDISCUSSION OFCULTURE


It should be evidentfromthe above that what at the human level we
call social systemsand societies, that is, systemsof action in the tech-
nical sense I and manyassociateshave used, societyis notunderstandable
apart fromits relationsto a culturalsystem.This is to say thatthe actions
of individualpersonsin theircapacitiesas membersof a social systemmust
be orientedin termsofthe meaningsof culturalsymbolsystems,ofwhat is
sometimescalled patternsof culture.Furthermore, the societyitselfand
variousothersocial systemsas object of orientationmustalso have mean-
ings definedin culturalterms.Moreover,the two sets of meanings,thatis,
fromthepointof view ofactorsas componentsof theirorientationpatterns
and of the objects to which theyare oriented,mustto some degree be in-
tegratedwitheach otherat theculturallevel.
Culturalsystems,however,are by no means fullyintegratedbut may be
regarded as varyingfroma pole of virtuallycompleteintegrationto one
of a nearlyrandomassortmentof meaningcomponents.Furthermore, the
actual behaviorof individuals,theirsymbolicallyorientedaction,may be
to a widely varyingdegree congruentwith the meaningsof the cultural
system.This applies, of course,as well to those aspects of meaningwhich
we speak of as being institutionalizedto constituteaspects of the actual
structureof a social systemand thosewhichwe speak of as being internal-
ized to constituteactual components of the structureof personality
systems.
The above qualificationsare necessitatedby a cardinal consideration

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256 SocialScienceQuarterly

about culture.This is that the meaning of culturalpatternsseen in the


contextof theirrelationto action is always in some degree and respect
normative.This I take to be implicitin the conceptpatternwhichhas been
so widely used by anthropologistsin this connection.There is, that is to
say,always some rangeof variationfrom"correct"or otherwiseacceptable
action in relationto a culturalpatternor complexof patternsand varying
modes and degreesof "incorrect"or unacceptable modes of action.This is
nearly obvious in cases where the cultural pattern lays down explicit
normsforbehavior.It is less obviousin such cases as language wherethere
is, however, a fundamentalline of distinctionbetween correctand in-
correctusage of the language accordingto rules of choice of vocabulary,
grammar,and syntax.The normativecharacterof the language itselfmay
be quite different fromothernormsimposed in the same culturewithre-
spect, for example,to the contractingof marriagerelationships.But this
is not to say that it is in any general sense non-normative. Anothervery
importantexampleis fromthe cognitivefield.There maybe a high degree
of normativeneutralitywith respectto motivesforattemptingto acquire
knowledgeor forthe use of knowledgeonce commanded.However,with
respectto the contentof knowledgeitself,thereare always explicitor im-
plicit normswhich I have lately been referringto as those of cognitive
validityand significance.As a categoryof culturalobject,knowledgecan-
not be orientedto withouta relevantnormativedimension.
We considera culturalsystemitselfto be complexand internallydiffer-
entiated. Accordingto the paradigm of the four primaryfunctionaldi-
visionsof any systemof action,we have analyzed it respectivelyinto the
fourcategoriesof cognitivesymbolization, moral-evaluativesymbolization,
expressivesymbolization,and constitutive symbolization.
By contrastwith the cultural system,which is specificallyconcerned
with systemsof meaning,the social systemis a way of organizinghuman
action which is concernedwithlinkingmeaningto the conditionsof con-
cretebehaviorin the environmentally givenworld. This is a world which
mustbe classifiedas constituting on the one hand the environment outside
the social systemof reference,an environmentwhich includes personali-
ties of individual participants,and the social systemitselfconceived as
an environment relativeto whichthe actionof participantsmustbe under-
stood.3In this connectionthe most cruciallyimportantpart of a cultural
systemfor social systemsis the moral-evaluativeaspect. This concerns
norms or complexes of norms which definerightsand obligations and
more concretelyexpectationsin the relationsof social interactionitselfon
thepartofthosewho constitutea social system.
We can, therefore,speak of the moral-evaluativeaspect of a cultural
systeminterpenetrating with the actual structureof the social system
through the status which we call institutionalization.
This is to say that
the normativeculturalmeaningsdefiningdesirablepatternsof social inter-
action come to be regardedas the standardsby which unitactionshall be
3Talcott TheSystem
Parsons, ofModern Societies
(Englewood N.J.:Prentice-
Cliffs,
Hall,1971).

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CULTURE
ANDSOCIAL
SYSTEM
REVISITED 257

evaluated. There are two crucial corollariesof this statementto be con-


sidered before we enterinto a fullerdiscussionof the nature of institu-
tionalization:(1) It is a criterionof institutionalization
thatwhat may be
called "socialized" individualparticipantscan on the statisticalaverage be
consideredto have a personal psychologicalinterestin acting in accord
with the normativestandardsin question. (2) The normativesystemwill
constitutethe primaryaxis forthe organizationof sanctions,thatis, of re-
wards and deprivationswhichmaybe expectedto followupon therangeof
concreteactions as evaluated relativeto the institutionalizednormative
framework. Such normativepatterns,insofaras theybecome actual partsof
a social systemthroughinstitutionalization, are in thefirstinstancewhatwe
call institutionalizedvalues. They constituterelativelygeneralizedpatterns
oforientationwhich,to use cyberneticterminology, defineprogramsforthe
operationof the social systemof reference.It is importantto interpretthe
programcomponentwhich applies to the social systemas a whole at a
sufficientlyhigh level of generality.Only in a limitingcase does a social
system, most especiallya society,have one particulargoal whichwould be
definedas a specificmode of relationshipbetween the systemand its sig-
nificantenvironment. More generalvalue patternsdefinedirectionsof or-
ientation,includingeitherthe exclusionor the downplayingof alternatives
to the principal direction.It requires much greaterspecificationbefore
thelevel ofparticulargoals is reached. Even here,however,thereare goals
forthe social systemas a whole, but subsidiaryto these are both lower
order value patternsfor subsystemsand subcollectivitiesand particular
goals foreach ofthese.
What characterizesa social systemin thisrespectis not "a value" but a
value system. Insofaras such a value systemcan be regardedas relatively
integrated,it will be characterizedby a dominantpatterndefiningdi-
rectionalityin the sense just noted. It will, however,also include specifi-
cations to lower levels of generalityand also to differentiated functions
withinthe system.Thus, fora modern,large-scalesocietytheremaybe an
overall generalvalue pattern,and subsidiaryto thistheremay be societal
goals. Insofaras a society as a whole is involved in goal attainmentac-
tivity,it has to be primarilythroughthe agency we call government.
Complex modernsocieties,however,are differentiated intomanydifferent
collectivitiesat manydifferent levels. Therefore,the subvalues of business
firms,universities,and political parties,to select three subtypes,though
articulatedand in some sense congruentwiththe more generalvalue pat-
terns,are not identicalwiththembecause of the combinationof the lower
level of generalityand the functionaldifferentiatedness of the subsystems
to which theyapply. For example,in a forthcoming manuscriptwe have
argued strenuouslythat a universityshould not be conceived as a micro-
cosm of a society;on the contrary, it should be conceived as a functionally
specialized subsystem.4
Values in thissense focuson the normativeregulationof social relation-
4TalcottParsonsandGeraldM. Piatt,TheAmerican Har-
University
(Cambridge:
vardUniversity .
Press,forthcoming)

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258 SocialScienceQuarterly

ships. Indeed, the terminstitutionseems to me to be more properlyap-


plied to this focus of normativeregulationratherthan to collectivitiesas
is so frequentlythe case in sociological usage. Thus the institutionof
propertyand the institution of authoritycannotconceivablybe definedas
collectivitiesbut rather as complexes of norms regulatingbehavior in
certainfunctionalareas of the nexus of social relationships.It is particu-
larly importantin this connectionto emphasize that a value definesa
relationalcomplexwhichincludesactingunitsofthesocial system,notonly
as such,but in relationto objects.Typically,every"social object" is at the
same time also an acting unit. The concept,value, thereforeis a way of
linkingthe actor-objectmodalitiesof the same concreteunits in a social
systempreciselybecause at certain concrete levels of action there are
manypotentialconflictsbetween the "role" of actor and the "role" of the
object of action by others.It is importantthat there should be outside
leverage with regulatoryfunctions,that is to say, leverage grounded in
culturalmeaningsratherthan only in the exigenciesof social interaction
as such.
We may now pursue the ramificationsof the normativecomplex in
social systemsin two different directions.One of these involvesthe inter-
penetrationin social systemsof aspects of the culturalsystemotherthan
thatof moral-evaluativeculture.The second involvesthe stages of institu-
tionalizationof interpenetratingculturefromvalues throughnormsto the
structureof collectivitiesand roles. A briefsketchof each of these two
contextswillbe necessary.
NON-EVALUATIVE INSOCIETY
CULTURE
We considervalues to be one of fourprimarysubsectorsof the cultural
system.They are, as we have suggested,the sector most intimatelyin-
volved in interpénétration withsocial systems,but the otherthreeshould
not be neglected.There will not,however,be space formore than a few
brief comments.First,historicallythere would probably be ratherlittle
argumentabout the salient importanceof religionin the more general
matrixof culturalmeaningswhich bear on the functioningof social sys-
tems.At one level the classic modernstatementin this area was made by
Max Weber in his analysisof what he called the "problemsof meaning"in
a religioussettingand theirconsequences for the formulationof values
forhis particularinterests,especiallyin the economicsphere.
Durkheim'sequally classic statementin The ElementaryForms of the
5
ReligiousLife was made froma somewhatdifferent perspective.He chose
to analyze a particularlyprimitivereligionexplicitlydefiningprimitivein
an evolutionarysense. The implicationof this was that religionwas not
specificallydifferentiatedfromothercomponentsof the action systemat
eitherthe culturalor thesocial levels.The relationsbetweenwhat we have
come to call mythas an aspect of Durkheim'sbelief systemsand the
5EmileDurkheim, The Elementary FormsoftheReligious Life, trans,
byJoseph
WardSwain( Glencoe,111.
: TheFreePress,1954) .

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ANDSOCIAL
CULTURE SYSTEM
REVISITED 259

symbolisminvolved in ritual actions constitutesthe religiousframework


withinwhich the value systemof the AustralianAboriginesbecomes in a
certainsense meaningful.Durkheimdid not workout a Weberian analysis
of the varioussteps between religiouscommitmentand obligationsin the
fieldof social action,especially in what he called the profanesphere,but
thecongruencewithWeber s analysisis quite clear.
I thinkwe may speak of a revivedinterestin and sensitivity to thislevel
of problemsof what we have called constitutivesymbolismin the subtle
interrelations between societyand culture.There is a sense in which the
movementsby virtueof which many of our older established traditions
have come into fluxhave inevitablyraised problemsin thisarea. In what
is sometimescalled the counter-culture of our timethereare unquestion-
ably religiousundertoneswhich link up, for example, with some of the
Orientalreligioustraditions.
All we want to suggestat the momentis thatthislevel of culturalsym-
bolization is always implicit,if not explicit,in the culturalgroundingof
anymajorsocial system,certainlyofanysociety.
Different,thoughcloselyrelated in manyrespects,is the problemof the
relationof cognitivecultureto the social system.Like any otherbranchof
culture,it mustbe articulatedin the value systemthe relevantaspect of
which we have called the values of cognitiverationality(see my forth-
comingbook). As an aspect of culture,however,it is primarilyof adaptive
significanceto human action,not of moral-evaluativesignificance.But in
the course of socio-culturalevolutionthis aspect has, as is well-known,
come to be of increasinglysalientimportance.On the purelyculturalside,
we have the impressivedevelopment,definitely cumulativesince the 17th
century,of what are oftencalled the intellectualdisciplines,mostparticu-
larlythe sciences,and on the side of social organizationwhat I have been
callingtheeducationalrevolutionas a majorphenomenonofsocial change,
the apex of which is the institutionalizationof mass highereducation and
high quality professionalism in the fieldof cognitivecompetenceand re-
search.6This is an area in which the concretephenomenawhich are very
salient in our time simplycannot be understoodwithoutan attemptto
articulatethe culturallevel of analysiswiththatof the social system.The
intellectualdisciplinesare culturalphenomena,thoughverysalient ones
at thisjuncture.The university, however,withthe restof the educational
system,is an integralpart of modern society,preciselyin the analytical
sense as social system.At the culturallevels thiscognitivecomplex,as we
have been calling it, mustarticulatewiththe otheraspects of culture,no-
tably the moral-evaluativeand the religiouslyconstitutive,but also the
expressive.At the social systemlevel it must,like values, be institutional-

6 TalcottParsons,
"UnityandDiversityintheModernIntellectual The
Disciplines:
RoleoftheSocialSciences," Daedalus,94 (Winter,1965),pp. 31-65. Christopher
Jencks and David Riesman,The AcademicRevolution(GardenCity,N.Y.: Double-
day& Co.,1968).

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ä6o SocialScienceQuarterly

ized if it is to be the focusof theperformanceof highlyimportantsocietal


functions, as itundoubtedlyhas come to be.
Finally,a few wordsshould be said about the fourthprimaryfunctional
categorywhich we have called expressivesymbolization.Its most im-
portant,relativelyformalizedorganizationis to be found in the areas
whichwe call thoseof the arts.These, as is well-known,have become over
a long course of social developmentprogressivelyfurtherdifferentiated
fromotherculturalcomponents,notablyreligiousand moral.However,as
Dürkheims analysisof the religiousritualof the Australiansmade clear,
thereis in manycases a veryprominentexpressivecomponentin the overt
actionpatternsofmanysocial situations.TTiisexpressivecomponentat the
level of culturalmeaningsramifiesinto and interpenetrates with all of the
otherthree.There is,forexample,in thecognitivefielda componentthatis
sometimesreferredto as intellectual"elegance/'which is perhapsparticu-
larlyhighlyvalued in mathematics.There are certainlyveryintimatere-
lationsbetween religiouscommitments and expressive"actingout" of the
implicationsof these commitmentsand there are perhaps less obvious
connectionsbetweenthe moraland the aesthetic.In thiscase thetwo seem
quite frequentlyto standin conflictwitheach otheras alternativecultural
emphases.
With respectto the expressiveaspect, as well as the restof the cultural
aspects, one importantgeneral point ought to be made. This is perhaps
mostfamiliarin the cognitivefield.Since Kant I thinkit is fairto say that
the overwhelminglydominant epistomological opinion has been that
knowledgecould notbe interpretedsimplyas theintrusionintothehuman
mindof"raw"data comingfromthe externalworld,on theassumptionthat
the mindwas some kind of a purelypassive photographicplate on which
information fromoutsidewas automaticallyregistered.Knowledge,on the
contrary, the product of the combinationof an input of what tradi-
is
tionallyhad been called "sense data" with culturalcomponents,in Kan-
tian terms,the categories,and certainlyrequiringthe active agency of a
knowingpersonality.We suggestthat the broad patternmust be similar
forexpressivesymbolization.The parallel to sense data fromthe external
environment in thiscase is "subjective"experience,but this does not con-
stitutean organizedoutputuntilit has been combinedwithculturalcom-
ponentsthroughthe active agency of personalitiesin society.That is to
say, thereis a culturalframeworksometimescalled thatof "style"within
which "raw" experienceis organized and given meaningsthat definitely
transcendthe immediacyand particularity of thespecificexperienceitself.
At high levels of organizationthese patternsof stylebecome organized
into what is sometimescalled mythsof the type illuminatingly discussed
by NorthropFrye.7We should contendthat just as in the othercases of
the otheraspects of a culturalsystem,the involvementwith processesof
social actionis essentialin thiscase. Therehave to be social analogsto uni-
7Northrop Frye,"The CriticalPath:An Essayon theSocialContext of Literary
Criticism," Daedalus, 99 ( Spring,
1970),pp.268-342.

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CULTURE
ANDSOCIAL
SYSTEM
REVISITED 26i

versitiesand colleges as modes of social organizationfavoringlearningand


the productionof knowledgeifsufficiently high-leveland "relevant"forms
of expressivesymbolizationare also to be produced. The greatperiods in
the historyof art give ready illustrationsof the relevantkind of social
situation.
COMPONENTS
OF INSTITUTIONALIZATION
Afterthis verycursoryreview of the main componentsof culturalsys-
tems,we may returnto the social system.We have already stated above
thatvalues constitutethemostimportantzone of interpénétration between
the culturaland the social systems.We stressthe idea of a zone because
the more complexa social systemis, the more it is characterizednot by a
singlepatternof values, but by a value-system.The existenceof an identi-
fiable commonpatternis one major characteristicof a value system.But
as a systemit mustbe conceived to be differentiated in two main respects.
The firstof these concernslevels of generalitywhichfollowthe line of the
differentiationof concretesocial systemswhich is usually called segmen-
tation.A segmentof a largersystem,forexample,involvinga small frac-
tion of the geographicalarea of relevance to a total society,can be ade-
quately "controlled"by values stated at a ratherlow level of generality.
Contrariwise,one thatmustcover the conflictsand exigencieswhich arise
in a much largerscale and more complex social systemmustbe couched
at a muchhigherlevel of generality.
The second basis of differentiation is that of the functionsof the sub-
systemsin which the relevant subvalues are institutionalized.Thus we
considerthe educational systemgenerallyand the universityin particular
to be a functionallydifferentiated subsystemof a modernsociety,and the
in -
paramount values this subsystem notablythose of cognitiverational-
ity- we consider not to constitute,as it were, a random sample of the
value componentsof the total societal value system.Similarthingswould
be trueof the governmentalsystemas differentiated in relationto political
functionor the economydifferentiated with referenceto the functionof
economic production,the economyor an industryor business firmas a
subsectoroftheeconomy.
The general principle is that every subsystemof a society is itselfa
social system.As such it must have its own values, but the values of the
subsystemmust somehow be understoodto be articulatedwith those of
the societyas a whole and, of course,beyond that,those of the particular
societywithstilllargersystemsofsocieties.
We have stated above the general theorem of institutionalization,
namely,that the interestsof participatingunits,thatis, what theydesire,
shouldbe consideredto be in conformity withthe standardsof desirability
which are involvedin the value patterns.If thistheoremis correct,it is so
undercertainextremelyimportantconditions.The veryfirstoftheseis that
in the process of social interactionby and large sanctionscontingently ad-
ministeredby others should reinforcethe directionof interestof acting

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262 SocialScienceQuarterly

participants,whetherthese participantsbe individual or collectiveunits.


This set of conditionshas been classicallyformulatedin thosebranchesof
economictheorythatdefinethe conditionsof a competitivemarketsystem
where it is said to be in fact to the interestof participatingfirmsto con-
formwiththe "rulesof the game/'8Since,however,politicalpower in the
analyticalsense is cyberneticallyhigherthan economic interest,the crux
of the interestproblemand the integrationof interestwiththe institution-
alization of values lies at the level of the political intereststructure.
It has forverylong been the contentionof what mightbe called the dis-
sidentschools of social theoryin modernsocietythat integrationon this
level was not possible exceptunderthe conditionsof a drasticrevolution-
ary overturn.This is to say it is contendedthat under modernconditions
there will necessarilybe drastic differencesof political power which in
turnare in varyingways functionsof economicdifferences, especiallywith
respect to controlof productiveresources.It is then furthercontended
thatsuch differences of power will always and inherentlybe used exploi-
tatively- that is, on the part of the more powerfulto repressor "oppress"
the less powerful.We may raise some pointsof skepticismwithrespectto
the inevitabilityof what fromthe point of view of interestsof "social
justice" mightbe called the abuse of power, but even where the con-
tentionthat this will indeed occur is justified,there is also ground for
skepticismthat the revolutionaryoverturnwhich is so frequentlyadvo-
cated will lead to the automaticinstallationof a regimeof perfectsocial
justice.
There seems to be at least the theoreticalpossibilitythat value systems
withsufficiently strongemphasison patternsof equality on the one hand,
certaintypesof freedomon the other,can at least substantiallymitigate
these pessimisticallydiagnosed consequences of the undoubted empirical
importanceof political power and its inequalitiesin human society.That
such values have indeed characterizedAmericansociety has been very
widely contended by a great diversityof observers.In certainrespects,
theywere writteninto the foundingdocumentsof the Republic, notably
by Thomas Jefferson. But a particularlyimpressivewitnesswas Tocque-
ville9 and such relativelyrecent observersas Lipset and Smelser have
reinforcedthispattern.10
All of theseobserversI thinkagree thatequalityis cross-cutby a value-
patternwhich is oftenformulatedas that of achievement,that is, the ex-
pectationthatsocial systemunitswill contributeto the best of theircapa-
cities to valued outputsforthe systemas a whole. Since it cannot be as-
sumed that capacities are equally distributed,thougheffortsto equalize
8FrankH. Knight, TheEthicsofCompetition andOtherEssays(New Jersey: Au-
gustus M. Kelley,1951).
9Alexisde Tocqueville, Democracy in America,trans,
byGeorgeLawrence, ed. by
P.
J.10Mayer(GardenCity,N.Y.:Doubleday & Co.,AnchorBooks,1969).
Seymour Martin Lipset,TheFirstNewNation(New York:BasicBooks,1963).
NeilJ.Smelser, ed.,PublicHigher Education inCalifornia-
Growth, Structural
Change
andConflict (Forthcoming).

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CULTURE
ANDSOCIAL
SYSTEM
REVISITED 263

them are certainlypossible, the outcome of the achievementemphasis


certainlytendsto produce what is feltto be relativelyjustifiedinequality.
The main focus of the attemptto integratethese two patternslies in the
conceptof equalityof opportunity, whichis a verycentralone in Western
societygenerallyand thatof the UnitedStatesin particular.
VALUES ANDNORMS
There is a certaintendencyto assume that the categoryof values ex-
hausts the relevantnormativecomponentswhich are institutionalizedin
social systemsand which mustbe classifiedas cultural.To me, however,
it has seemed increasinglyimportantto make a definiteanalyticaldistinc-
tion between values and what in a more technical sense I have called
norms.11 "Norms,"as the termitselfsuggests,is not a categoryof interests
or desires,but a categoryof what in some sense is desirable.Unlikevalues,
however,we conceive of normsas relativelyspecificallysituation-linked.
A fairlycloselysynonymoustermis rules and an obvious fieldof relevance
is the legal. One way ofputtingthe distinctionis to say thatvalues serveto
legitimizemodes of more concreteaction,whereas normsserve to justify
them.12
We may thinkof the enunciationand establishmentof normsas above
all a mechanismthroughwhich a kind of pragmaticconsistencyin the
implementationof values can be approximated.The major premisesof a
normativecomplex may be held to lie at the level of values, but these
values alone do not determinethe more detailed and circumstantialcon-
tent.This is a functionof exigenciesof moreparticularsituations.In par-
ticularthe developmentof normsis a way in whichtherelevanceofvalues
to classes of interestsuch as those in rightsof possessionin the property
sense or of rightsof authorityin the collectivedecision-makingsense can
be established across differentcategories of particular situations and
collectivities.
In particularthe primaryconcretesanctionsthatimpingeon the inter-
ests of acting units are those prescribedin the structureof normsrather
thanvalues as such. Values, thatis to say,carrymuchmoremoralauthority
in Durkheim'ssense and much less "teeth"in the sense of relativelyspe-
cificsituationalsanctions.As such,we considernormsto be an indispensa-
ble bridgebetween the value level of the institutionalizationof normative
cultureand theinterestlevel oftheimpetusto concreteaction.
A particularlyimportantpoint is that in referenceto objects,including
modes of overtaction,values and normsdo notcoincidebut cross-cuteach
other.This is a consequence of the factthat,thoughboth are culturaland

11TalcottParsons, "GeneralIntroduction,"in TalcottParsons,


EdwardShils,Kas-
par D. Naegele,andJesseR. Pitts,eds.,Theories of Society(New York:The Free
Press,1961), pp.3-79.
12TalcottParsons, "Equalityand Inequality in ModernSociety;or,SocialStrati-
fication
Revisited,"Sociological
Inquiry, 40 (Spring,1970),seethetechnical
note,pp.
56-69.

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264 SocialScienceQuarterly

both institutionalizedas part of the structureof social systems,in the


lattercapacitytheysubservedifferent functions.When we have spokenof
values as "a directionalcomponent"in the structureof the social system,
we have tended to implya certainprimacyof the culturalemphasis.One
way of sayingthisis thatvalues are a mode or mechanismof maintaining
the culturalintegrity oforientationwithintheexigenciesoftheactual func-
tioningof social life.Norms,on theotherhand,maybe understoodto have
in a correspondingsense a societal primacy.They constitutenormative
mechanismswhich operate to adjust and adapt the requirementsof value
integrityon the one hand to the exigencies of going social life and its
intereststructure on theother.
The distinction, I think,is clearlymarkedin the structureof the Ameri-
can legal system.Though what exactlyconstitutesstatementsof themis
difficultto pin down, what are usually referredto as "constitutional prin-
ciples" may be said to lie predominantlyat the value level. On the other
hand, the vast body of legal precepts,whethertheyhave enteredthe law
by judicial decision or by legislationor indeed by administrativeruling,
would be classed as norms. These fall into such familiarclassificatory
rubricsas thoseofproperty, and thelike.It is important
contract,authority,
to note here thateverygoingsocial organizationhas "problems"in each of
these spheres,regardlessof the respectsin which its largerfunctionsare
differentiated according to the dominantsubvalues to which it is com-
mitted.Thus, thougha businessfirmis concernedwitheconomicproduc-
tion and the imperativeof solvency,whereas a universityis primarilycon-
cernedwithcognitiverationalityand the imperativesof cognitivevalidity
and significance,as ongoingsocial organizationseach has to handle prop-
erty interestsand each has internalstructuresof authority.The norms
regulatingthesein thetwo cases are morelikelyto be similarthantheyare
to be different. The values, however,are morelikelyto be different than
they are to be similar.
CONCLUSION
The above is an exceedinglysketchyoutlineof some highlightsof the
relationsbetween social and culturalsystems.It can be seen that I have
interpretedmy mandate to discuss the relationsof culture to sociology
broadlyto coverthe concernof thestudentofsocial systemswithproblems
of culture.Looking back, I thinkit can be said that in recentyears very
substantialprogresshas been made in clarifyingthis range of extremely
vital problemsof theoryand orientationin social science. I am inclinedto
think,forexample,thatit is legitimateto compare what has happened in
the last generationin social science withwhat happened approximatelya
generationearlier in the biological fields.There an immenseamount of
timeand intellectualenergywas takenup withargumentswhichoftenbe-
came extremelyheated as to the relative prioritiesand importanceof
heredityand environment, with a strongtendencyforthe discussantsto
polarize over the question of heredityversus environment.This type of

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ANDSOCIAL
CULTURE REVISITED
SYSTEM 265

argumenthas almostdisappeared fromthe biological literature.The main


reason,I think,is that the relationsof heredityand environmentare now
so much betterunderstoodthan theywere that it is meaninglessto state
significant problemsin theold form.
Though social scientistsuse the old biological formulaeof heredityand
environment, the argumentmore specificto themwas over the material-
istic interpretationof history;whether"in the last analysis"the course of
social change was determinedby what in Germanywere called the Real-
faktorenor the Idealfaktoren . This argumentrevolvedparticularlyabout
the Marxian scheme but was in fact much more general than the intel-
lectual impact of Marxism alone would suggest. The tendencywas to
relegate anyone who, like Max Weber, became concernedwith the im-
portance and specific role of cultural factorslike religious beliefs and
values in historicsocial processto the "idealistic"school of the philosophy
of historyand to accuse him of being "in the last analysis" one of the
tender-minded ratherthanthe tough-mindedtypeof intellectuals.Indeed,
Weber probablydid morethan any othersingleindividualto break out of
this dilemmaand to make it clear, thoughmany of his subsequent critics
have failedto getthepoint,thatit was a falsedilemma.13
Long beforethe argumentcould have been said to be resolvedwithin
the social sciences on theirown grounds,however,a remarkabledevelop-
menttookplace. This was what amountsto a revolutionin generalscience
theory,one with a numberof different facets,the best-knownof which is
the cyberneticidea. By virtueof thismode of thinkingit could be respect-
able forbiologists,forexample,to treatthe geneticconstitution of organ-
isms as a set of information-bearing mechanismswhich did not constitute
the primaryenergysystemsof the particularorganismor species,but yet
could be the primarydeterminantsof patternand form.The parallel for
the human sciences dealing with culturalmatterscould not forverylong
be missed, especially with the grand-scaleapplication of cyberneticand
information theoryin computertechnology.Anotherveryimportantline
of development,however,was that of the science of linguistics,with its
particularlyclose relations to anthropology,specificallyas a discipline
concernedwith culture.Linguistics,fortunately, originatedas a "tough-
minded" discipline and fell veryreadily into the general cyberneticpat-
ternof analysisand thinking.It seems to me particularlysignificant thata
"tough-minded"anthropologistlike the late Clyde Kluckhohn,who was
verymuch concernedwithlinguistics,but also had fora good manyyears
a long-standinginterestin values, came to look at the end of his life to
linguisticsas providing the most importanttheoreticalmodels for the
analysisnotonlyofvalues but ofculturemoregenerally.
It is my strongfeelingthat,lookingback fromthe vantage point of the
year 2000, historiansof the intellectualdisciplinesin our own time will
13S. N. Eisenstadt,
ed., The ProtestantEthicand Modernization: A Comparative
View(New York:BasicBooks,1968); DavidLittle,Religion , Order, andLaw (New
York:Harper TorchBooks,1969).

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266 SocialScienceQuarterly

evaluate what has happened in the last 10 to 15 yearsin these respectsas


constitutinga genuinelynew phase of theoreticaladvance in these dis-
ciplinesand thatthe capacity to integratethe analysisof cultureas sym-
bolic systems,and thereforeveryspecificallyconcernedwithinformation,
withtheoldertraditionalmodes of analysisof social phenomenaespecially
in economicand politicalcontextswill proveto have been one of the most
importantachievementsofthisgenerationin social science.

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