Meaning and Function of Social Institutions in Africa

Meaning and Function of Social Institutions in Africa

Meaning and Function of Social Institutions in Africa -The people of Africa are a group of persons of African descent. They have diverse ethnic affiliations, differing cultures and numerous languages. For example, we have the ‘Oromos’ in Ethiopia and Kenya; the ‘Hutus’ and ‘Tutsis’ in Burundi and Rwanda; the ‘Igbos’, ‘Yorubas’ and ‘Hausas’ in Nigeria; the ‘Madinkas’ in The Gambia; the ‘Zulus’ in South Africa and so on.

 The Meaning of Social Institutions

Social institutions are the organised means through which a society develops to meet its basic needs. They are organised ways of doing things. Social institutions are generally agreed upon by members of a society. By agreeing on these things, members of each society use these to order their lives and enhance communal interactions.

A social institution is one of the complex and integrated social norms organised around the preservation of social values. It is a system of organization that works to meet basic social needs and connects individual members of society to the larger culture. According to Eitzen and Baca- Zinn (2001), social institutions are social arrangements that channel behaviour in prescribed ways in important areas of social life. Anthony Giddens (1984) defined social institutions as “…the more enduring features of social life”. Social institutions serve as regulatory agencies, channelling behaviour in culturally prescribed ways. Although social institutions are distinct aspects of culture, they are elements of culture.

 Different Forms Of Social Institutions In Africa

The social institutions in Africa and other countries of the world are many. There are five basic social institutions on which society revolves. These are the marriage and family institutions, economic institutions and religious institutions. Others are the educational institutions and political institutions. A sixth one that will also be treated in this course is a legal institution. These are by no means all the social institutions present in societies. Social institutions vary from country to country and from place to place. The needs and factors peculiar to each society dictate the institutions that will be formed. Each institution has various functions it performs in the society. Let us use the family institution and the economic institution as examples. The reproduction and care of the young are served by the institutions of marriage and family.  Marriage and family also prescribe behaviors expected of husband/father, wife/mother, child and so on. The marriage and family institution is also required to regulate and control sexual behaviours in the society. The economic institutions regulate how the resources in the society are sourced and used. It regulates trade and transactions among its members. It provides methods for the production of goods and services and methods of the distribution of goods and services amongst others.

Function Of Social Institutions

You have read a little about some functions the family and economic institutions perform. We will now touch on the functions of the other four social institutions mentioned in the section above.

The educational institution is dedicated to teaching skills and knowledge to members of a society. It also serves as a means of transmitting culture and also as a means of preparing individuals for occupational roles. Also, it serves as a means of socialising the members of a society.

Religion as a social institution performs the function of providing solutions to unexplainable occurrences in the society. It also serves as a means of controlling the natural world. Furthermore, religion plays a role in curbing behavioural excesses among members of the society and also, like the educational institution, serves as an instrument of socialization in the society.

The political institutions and legal institutions are embedded in government. One of the major functions of these institutions is the maintenance of law and order in the society. Another function they perform is to protect the society from external threats and protect members of the society.

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