Adaptation Sociology Definition


The process through which social systems, including family units, corporations, and states, “manage” or react to their surroundings is known as adaptation. According to Talcott Parsons, adaptation is one of four functional requirements that all social systems must meet to exist. He contends that in modern civilizations, the economy, a specialized subsystem, has grown to meet the demand for adaptation.

The process of altering one’s conduct to fit the standards and ideals of a particular culture, class, or social group is known as adaptation. The socialization process and social control mechanisms, such as peer pressure and government regulation, facilitates this process.


“Adaptation” refers to how social structures (the family, an organization like a school, or the nation-state) react to their surroundings. According to structural-functionalism, it is one of the four functional requirements that all social systems must meet to operate.

One of Parsons’ functional requirements is the term adaptation, which is a word to explain how civilizations modify their external environments to further their objectives. Practically speaking, Parsons was referring to industrial structures like factories.

Parsons outlined four systemic demands for society, abbreviated as AGIL, which include adaptation, goal-attainment, integration, and latency.

According to Talcott Parson, civilizations advance through their “ability for generalized adaptation” to their surroundings, much like biological organisms do. This is accomplished mostly through structural differentiation processes or the creation of specialized institutions to fulfill the social duties required to satisfy ever-more-specialized wants. It is the way that social systems respond to their surroundings. Any social structure, whether a nation-state, a business, or a family, needs to adapt to its surroundings to function. 

In the middle of the 20th century, Talcott Parsons popularized this sociological definition of the word. A part of Parsons’ theory of social system survival is this concept. Adaptation is characterized as a heritable physical, physiological, or behavioral feature that improves an individual’s chances of survival and reproductive success by G. C. Williams in his seminal work Adaptation and Natural Selection (1966). This improved the comprehension of how natural selection shapes social behavior.

Paul Allison expanded the idea of benevolence based on cultural relatednesses, such as physical proximity or a common cultural marker, in his work “The Cultural Evolution of Beneficent Norms. This helps to explain why gene-culture coevolution appears to promote a propensity for social group membership, the ability to distinguish between “insiders” and “outsiders,” and the ability to protect the in-group against outsiders with the same passion as parents defending their children. This model also demonstrates how evolutionary theories created to explain biological adaptation can be expanded to account for social and cultural development. The development of languages, religions, laws, organizations, and institutions are a few notable examples.


Social adaptation assumes increasing importance when substantial parts of life are impacted by social change in comparably short periods. These processes include population migration, age changes, fast industrial growth, and significant population transfers from rural to urban areas.

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