What is institution?

We explain what an institution is and how they are classified according to the purposes they pursue. In addition, what are the most important institutions.

  1. What is institution?

An institution is  any type of human organization , which involves stable and structured relationships between people , which are maintained over time , in order to meet a series of explicit or implicit objectives.

An institution implies practices, habits and customs , which are regulated either by moral norms or by legal provisions. They can range from a few people to thousands of individuals, depending on their scope. It also usually has a culture common to all its members, who share certain ideas and values that motivate them to be part of it.

Institutions may be formal or informal , and may have a correspondence with one or more physical places where their characteristic activities are carried out. Depending on the degree of formality it achieves, it can develop a cultural autonomy , which is manifested in the creation of its own symbols, in the registration of its own institutional history and even in the formulation of its own language .

Every institution is made up of formal and informal rules at the same time . The formal rules are those that reach a legal character (it can be a law only valid within the institution) and that are usually written in some type of institutional code. Informal rules are moral habits and criteria that do not reach legal character or are written but are obeyed because there are forms of punishment for those who do not comply. Many times, informal rules can be transformed into formal rules or vice versa as the social conditions in which the institution exists change.

In addition, they usually involve a hierarchy , which distributes power asymmetrically among the members of the institution, although there are also a few cases of egalitarian institutions (these are made up of few individuals). This asymmetry implies that some members have more capacity than others to decide on the rules, or to appropriate or manage the resources that the organization possesses.

Generally, institutions are not the result of planning, but rather arise over time in response to the needs of the population or as a result of the struggle for power between individuals or groups. However, once consolidated, institutions often modify elements of themselves to better adapt to changing circumstances, to expand their sphere of action or to strengthen their authority over subjects. This is clearly seen in the laws enacted by the State to regulate its own action on society .

Depending on the purposes they pursue, institutions can be classified as:

  • Political institutions (for example a political party)
  • Economic institutions (for example a bank or a commercial company )
  • Legal institutions (a court of law)
  • Labor institutions (a union )
  • Scientific institutions (a medical research laboratory)
  • Educational institutions (a school or a university)
  • Artistic institutions (a musical orchestra).
  1. Most important institutions

Institution - Family
The family is a clear example of the process of institutional change.
  • The state. It is the most important of all modern institutions, not only because of its enormous scope and the large number of individuals it includes in its daily practice, but because through the law it can regulate the operation of the other institutions. The State is an institution with a high proportion of formal rules, that is to say, that the relations between the officials are clearly established in the codes and laws (what capacity of decision does each individual have, who must obey whom, etc.)
  • The family.  on the other hand, it is an institution formed mostly by informal rules, which includes a much smaller number of members and does not usually have an explicit or formal statement of its objectives (mutual affection and child rearing). The family is a clear example of the process of institutional change, by which as the dominant values ​​in society were modified over time and, as legal and economic conditions changed, it went from the traditional family monogamous towards different models of families (single parents, of the same sex) that coexist today.

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