Institutions : Meaning, Characteristics, Features And Function


Institutions are formal or informal social structures that govern or regulate certain aspects of human behavior. They are created and maintained by human beings to serve specific social functions and are an integral part of every society. Social institutions are systems of established and organized social norms, values, beliefs, and practices that shape and guide behavior within a society.

Under social institutions, there are several types of institutions, including educational institutions, political institutions, religious institutions, economic institutions, and family institutions. Each of these institutions serves a specific purpose and plays a crucial role in shaping society.

One of the primary functions of social institutions is to provide social order and stability by regulating and controlling behavior within society. They also provide individuals with a sense of belonging and identity, as well as a framework for understanding and interpreting the world around them.

Institutions can be either formal or informal. Formal institutions are created through legal or official means, such as laws or government regulations, while informal institutions are established through social norms and customs that are not necessarily codified in law.

Institutions are also subject to change and adaptation over time, as societal values, beliefs, and practices evolve. Institutions can be reformed or replaced when they no longer serve the needs of society or when new challenges arise.


Acc. to Maclver " an institution is a set of formal, regular and established procedures characteristic of a group or a number of groups that perform a similar function within a society. In short, ab institution is an organized way of doing something."


  1. PERMANENCE : One of the key characteristics of institutions is their permanence. Institutions are long-lasting social structures that persist over time and are not easily changed or replaced. They are deeply rooted in a society's culture, history, and traditions, and are often seen as an essential part of its identity. For example, political institutions, such as the constitution or the system of government, are designed to endure and provide a stable framework for governance over an extended period.
  2. SOCIAL USAGE : Institutions are created and maintained to serve specific social purposes. They are designed to meet the needs of society and address issues that are important to its members. For example, educational institutions serve the purpose of imparting knowledge and skills to individuals, while religious institutions provide a framework for spirituality and moral guidance.
  3. DEFINITE TRADITIONS : Institutions have well-established traditions that are passed down through generations. These traditions include norms, values, and practices that shape and guide behavior within the institution. For example, in the case of a legal institution, traditions may include rules of evidence, procedures for adjudication, and legal precedents.
  4. WELL-DEFINED OBJECTIVES : Institutions have well-defined objectives or goals that guide their activities. These objectives are often related to the social purpose of the institution and are designed to serve the needs of society. For example, the primary objective of a health care institution is to provide medical care to patients and promote public health.

In conclusion, institutions are characterized by their permanence, social usage, definite traditions, and well-defined objectives. These characteristics reflect the important role that institutions play in shaping and guiding behavior within a society, as well as their ability to adapt and evolve over time to meet changing societal needs.


  1. GIVES STATUS AND ROLE TO INDIVIDUALS : One of the essential functions of institutions is to assign status and roles to individuals within society. Institutions provide a framework for individuals to understand their place in society and the expectations that come with their position. For example, educational institutions assign students the role of learners, while political institutions assign citizens the role of voters.
  2. SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR : Institutions play a critical role in shaping social behavior by setting norms and standards for acceptable behavior within society. Institutions help to establish what is considered appropriate behavior, and they provide a framework for enforcing these standards. For example, religious institutions provide guidelines for moral behavior, while legal institutions set standards for acceptable conduct.
  3. SOCIAL CONTROL : Institutions also serve as mechanisms for social control, regulating and enforcing behavior within society. Institutions establish rules and norms for acceptable behavior and provide a framework for enforcing these rules through sanctions and punishment. For example, legal institutions use the criminal justice system to punish individuals who violate the law.
  4. STIMULANT : Institutions can also serve as stimulants for social change and progress. Institutions can introduce new ideas, technologies, and practices that help to advance society. For example, educational institutions can introduce new technologies and teaching methods that promote innovation and progress, while scientific institutions can introduce new discoveries and technologies that help to advance human knowledge and understanding.

In conclusion, institutions serve multiple functions within society, including assigning status and roles to individuals, shaping social behavior, providing social control, and acting as stimulants for social change and progress. These functions reflect the essential role that institutions play in shaping and guiding human behavior within society.


Institutions are social structures that provide stability, structure, and order to society. They are characterized by a set of common features that distinguish them from other social structures. Here are some of the key features of institutions:

  1. FORMAL STRUCTURE : Institutions have a formal structure that defines their organization and operation. This structure may include rules, regulations, and procedures that guide behavior within the institution.
  2. PERMANENCE : Institutions are typically long-lasting and endure beyond the individuals who establish them. They have a degree of permanence that enables them to survive over time and through changes in leadership and membership.
  3. SOCIAL PURPOSE : Institutions are created to serve a social purpose or fulfill a societal need. They are designed to address specific problems or challenges that cannot be adequately addressed by individuals alone.
  4. COLLECTIVE ACTION : Institutions involve collective action, where individuals work together to achieve a common goal. The success of the institution is dependent on the ability of its members to work together towards this common goal.
  5. NORMATIVE FRAMEWORK : Institutions operate within a normative framework that includes a set of formal and informal rules, norms, and customs that define behavior within the institution. These rules may be explicit, such as legal statutes or formal policies, or implicit, such as cultural practices or social expectations.
  6. AUTHORITY AND POWER : Institutions often involve the exercise of authority and power, with certain individuals or groups holding positions of authority or influence within the institution. This authority may be formal, such as a position in a hierarchy, or informal, such as social influence or expertise.
  7. SYMBOLISM : Institutions often have symbolic meaning and significance within society. They may be associated with specific values or beliefs and are often viewed as important markers of social identity and cultural heritage.
  8. LEGITIMACY : Institutions derive their legitimacy from their ability to fulfill a social purpose and provide benefits to society. They are often subject to scrutiny and evaluation, and their legitimacy can be challenged if they fail to meet the expectations of their stakeholders.

In conclusion, institutions are complex social structures that serve a social purpose and provide stability and order to society. They are characterized by a set of common features, including formal structure, permanence, social purpose, collective action, normative frameworks, authority and power, symbolism, and legitimacy. Understanding these features is critical for understanding how institutions operate and how they shape behavior within society.


Institutions are an essential part of society and play a critical role in shaping and guiding human behavior. They are characterized by their permanence, social usage, definite traditions, and well-defined objectives. Institutions serve multiple functions, including assigning status and roles to individuals, shaping social behavior, providing social control, and acting as stimulants for social change and progress. Institutions help to establish social order, stability, and a framework for understanding and interpreting the world around us. As society evolves and changes over time, institutions must adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs of society.