Definition and characteristics

How did you get on? Here are some definitions of an ‘institution’

  • ‘A custom or practice that has existed for a long time and is accepted as an important part of a society.’ For example, the institution of marriage1
  • ‘An organization, establishment, foundation, society, or similar, devoted to the promotion of a particular cause or programme, especially one of a public, educational, or charitable character’2 – NHS, UNICEF, Oxford University, FIFA
  • Extending to a building, practice or even a person!

What is the purpose of an institution? What do they look like? Here are some characteristics:

  • They are a means of controlling individuals.
  • They regulate the conduct of people in society.
  • Rules which must be compulsory obeyed by individuals. Institutions like religion, law, legislation control the behaviour of people.
  • Procedures and customs that prescribe the way of doing things.
  • They are rigid and are unlikely to be subject to rapid change.
  • They often last a long time.
  • They exist in all societies and are embedded in human history.
  • They are dependent upon the collective activities of the people.
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