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The term social order is used in two senses. Social order refers to a system of linked social structures, values and practices which maintain and enforce certain patterns of behavior. Social order is contrasted to social disorder, and refers to a society in which the existing social order is accepted and maintained by its members. Thomas Hobbes was the first to formulate the problem in his social contract theory. Karl Marx, Talcott Parsons, David Émile Durkheim, and Jürgen Habermas have explained what social order consists of. According to Marx, it is the relations of production or economic structure which is the basis of a social order.
According to Durkheim, social order consists of a set of shared social norms. According to Parsons, social order creates of a set of social institutions regulating pattern of action-orientations, which again are based on a frame of cultural values. Some argue that social order is achieved through outside influence and control, and some argue that social order can only be attained when the individual willingly follows norms and values that they have grown accustomed to and internalised. Social contract theorists seek to demonstrate why a rational individual would voluntarily consent to give up their natural freedom to obtain the benefits of political order.
Social contract theory addresses the questions of the origin of society and the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual. Thomas Schelling studied neighborhood racial segregation. His findings suggest that interaction can produce predictability, but it does not always increase social order. He found that "when all individuals pursue their own preferences, the outcome is segregation rather than social integration," as stated in "Theories of Social Order," edited by Michael Hechter and Christine Horne.