goal, goals
The end-results towards which an individual or collective action is directed. The term is commonplace in sociology, although its logical and explanatory status varies greatly, according to context and authorship. Numerous typologies exist, so that it is possible to distinguish between (for example) the informal goals of individuals, and the explicitly stated objectives of formal organizations ; between personal and superordinate goals (the former pertaining to individuals and the latter to a common aim which cannot be attained without a co-operative effort between individuals or groups); or between permissive and prescriptive goals (a distinction employed by Talcott Parsons). Most schools of thought in sociology assume that social action is (to a greater or lesser degree) goal-directed, although the terminology of goals is most frequently encountered in normative functionalist writings, where it is generally argued that the ends (goals) of social action are largely set by the institutionalized value-systems of societies (which define the roles and statuses that comprise the social system ). This same literature developed the related concepts of goal differentiation (distinctions between the specific goals that are morally approved for different individuals); goal generalization (the tendency for social systems to define expectations attached to roles in such a way that, whatever the wide variety of particular goals held by individuals within a role, these are channelled into a single kind of role-specific activity); and goal displacement (the process by which the particular means selected to achieve a goal become ends in themselves, as for example in the case of bureaucracies , where adherence to set procedures becomes a primary objective of officials rather than a means by which they can accomplish whatever tasks the organization has been set). See also action theory ; exchange theory ; teleology.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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