DEFINITION: Pattern variable is a framework through which Parsons tries to understand how the actor negotiates with the action situation and manifest a particular kind of behaviour.


Parsons speaks about pattern variable in his book ‘the structure of social action’.  Man is a bundle of impulses but is bound by compulsions i.e. he wants to do something but culture and norms bind him to do something else. Parsons talks about the interconnectivity between

  • Actor
  • Social structure
  • Cultural structure

Pattern variables talks about the successful negotiation between the above three. Parsons had sought to identify the choices between alternatives that an actor confronts in a given situation and the relative premises assigned to such choices


Prior to Parsons, the study of modernity had been the centrality to sociological inquiry. In his study of modernity. Parsons is influenced by the work of Ferdinand Tonnies (Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft), Durkheim and Weber.

Parsons as defender of modernity indicated that modernity is not just the production of culture, social structure or social action, rather the negation between the personality, social and cultural system and its outcomes sufficiently explain the possibility of modernity in a given society. He develops the theory of pattern variables to explain modernity, recognizing the fact that modernity

  • Is a product of actor understanding the demands of action situation
  • Negotiating with other actors, confirming to the normative and value system differently
  • Realizing the dilemma in an action situation
  • Making attempts to neutralize this dilemma
  • The outcomes of all these discourses manifest the possibility, degree, form and content of modernity in a given society.

Hence, pattern variable is a mega theoretical framework where parsons defines, how in an action situation

  • An actor identifies the counter actors
  • The degree of emotional relationship appropriate in an action situation
  • Range of obligation of actor towards counter actors
  • Form of attachment between the actor and counter actor
  • Benefits/results coming out of interaction


Parsons develops two sets of pattern variables

  • It is a product of expressive orientation demanding the gratification of needs.
  • Emphasizing on aesthetic and emotive criteria.
  • It is the essence of traditional society
  • Demands objective, rational, goal oriented actions driven by instrumental mode of orientation.
  • It is a reflection of a modern society.


To explain this further, he develops 5 different pairs of Pattern Variables. Through this he explains the mode of orientation of actor, demands of action situation, dilemma in action situation, how it is resolved and what the outcomes of it.

Therefore his pattern variable theory is designed to explain microscopic, mesoscopic and macroscopic situation to explain the negotiation between social actor and the influence of cultural and social system on his behaviour in different social situations and its outcomes.


This pattern is affective when an organized action system emphasizes gratification i.e. when an actor tries to avoid pain and to maximize pleasure. This relates to the degree of emotion appropriate to social relationship in a given situation. The pattern is affectively neutral when it imposes discipline, and renouncement or deferment of some gratification in favour of others interests.


This classification was first used by Ralph Linton. He says ascription is the most important value in traditional society as it gives rises to persistence without the element of change. Achievement is a modern trait. Parsons says through assumption and achievement we talk of identity of the actor.

Ascription– who the actor is

Achievement– what the actor is capable of doing


The former refers to standards determined by an actor’s particular relations with a particular object, the later refers to value standards that are highly generalized. It talks about the benefits of action and interaction in meant for a particular community or all the members of a society.


Range of obligation appropriate in a relationship i.e. what should our range of obligation be towards the counter actors. This is the dilemma of defining the relation borne by object to actor as indefinitely wide in scope, infinitely broad in involvement, morally obliging and significant in pluralistic situations (diffuseness) and; or specifically limited in scope and involvement (specificity).


This dichotomy depends on social norms or shared expectations which define as legitimate the pursuit of the actor’s private interests or obligate him to act in the interests of the group.

Self-orientation– Utilitarianism and Egoism

Collective orientation– Altruism


Based on the above discussion we may say that every action situation has the following steps



Sociology / Marx-Theory of Alienation.


BASIC DEFINITION: Alienation as a concept was developed by several classical and contemporary theorists, it is “a condition in social relationships reflected by a low degree of integration or common values and a high degree of distance or isolation between individuals, or between an individual and a group of people in a community or work environment”.


The development of the notion of alienation may be traced to Hegelian idealism. But it was Marx who first made use of the concept as a powerful diagnostic tool for sociological inquiry. For Marx, the history of mankind is not only a history of class struggle but also of the increasing alienation of man. 

The introduction of modern manufacturing technology results in the accumulation of surplus/profit by the capitalist through exploitation of labour. Though they produce the surplus, yet they do not benefit from it. Accumulation means increase in demand of labour, therefore one may think that increase in demand of labour may result in the increase of wages. But the contradiction is that wages go down due to high unemployment created by technology.

This is where Marx talks about the unemployed reserved army. And when there is so much unemployment it creates a condition called pauperization. Till the time there is chronic pauperization in society it leads to polarization i.e. convergence of wealth on one end of the pole an accumulation of poverty on the other.

In his early works Marx called the distortions of human nature that are caused by the domination of the worker by the “alien will” of the capitalist alienation. Although it is the worker who feels alienated in capitalist society, Marx’s basic analytical concern was with the structures of capitalism that cause alienation. Marx offers a theory of alienation rooted in social structure.


While alienation is commonplace in capitalistic society and dominates every institutional sphere such as religion, economy and polity, its predominance in the work place assumes an overriding importance for Marx. The estranged or alienated labour involves four aspects;

Alienation from the ACT OF PRODUCTION: Such that the work becomes a meaningless activity, offering little or no intrinsic satisfaction. The workers do not work for themselves in order to satisfy their own needs. Instead they work for capitalists, who pay them a subsistence wage in return for the right to use the workers in any way they see fit.

Alienation from the PRODUCT ITSELF: The product of their labour does not belong to the workers, to be used by them in order to satisfy basic needs. Instead, the product, like the process that resulted in its production, belongs to the capitalists, who may use it in any way they wish. Thus the workers are alienated not only from the productive activities but also from the objects of those activities.

Alienation from their FELLOW WORKERS: Since capitalism reduces labour to a commodity to be traded on the market rather than a social relationship, workers, often strangers are forced to work side by side. Even if workers on the assembly line a close friends, the nature of the technology makes for a great deal of isolation. The workers are often forced into outright competition with each other in order to extract maximum profit and to prevent development of any social relationship.

Alienation from their own HUMAN POTENTIAL: Individuals perform less and less like human beings as they are reduced in their work to animals, beasts of burden, or inhuman machines.



  1. Structure of manufacturing turns workers into crippled monstrosities by forcing them to work on minute details rather than allowing them to use all their capabilities.
  2. Natural relationship with head and hand broken in capitalism so that only few do headwork most do handwork.
  3. The monotony of doing the same specialized task over and over again.
  4. Human beings no longer creative but are oriented solely toward owning and possessing objects.

According to Marx alienation can be seen as the opposite of what people can potentially be. Marx argued that capitalism is an inverted world, in which those who should be on the top are relegated to the bottom. The reality of life in capitalism is hidden while illusion is seen as a fact.

As a result of alienation;

  • Work is reduced to mere labour
  • Individual does not affirm himself but denies himself
  • Worker doesn’t feel content, but unhappy
  • Does not develop his mental and physical energy
  • Mortifies his body and ruins his mind

Thus, labour in capitalism is very different from genuine human activity.

Therefore, we can say that the worker is the victim of exploitation at the hands of the bourgeois. The works sinks to the level of a commodity and becomes indeed the most wretched of commodities. The more the works spends himself, the less he has of himself. The worker puts his life into the object he creates but the very object becomes an instrument of alien purpose and strengthens the hand of his exploiters. In short the worker spends his life and produces everything not for himself but for the powers that manipulate him. While labour may produce beauty, luxury and intelligence, for the worker it produces only the opposite-deformity, misery and uncertainty.







Components Of Alienation !



More to Come !