Social Science Learning Portal


The Science of Society

Scientific Study of Society

Sociology is a field of science that concentrates on the study of society, and of social processes

Sociology is an historic academic discipline that first arose with unique theories separated from philosophy in the 1820s through the positivist work of Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer.


Large Scale Social Processes

Major Topics Include:
  • Social Institutions
  • Social Class and Culture
  • Marriage & Family
  • Socioeconomic Processes


Small Scale Social Processes

Topics Include:
  • Social Interaction
  • Social Groups
  • Dramaturgy
  • Language

Units of Study

Chemist Brew

The Sociological Perspective and Methods of Inquiry

This domain introduces students to the study of sociology and the sociological perspective. Sociology’s core theoretical and methodological cont...More
View from the Stage

Social Structure: Culture, Institutions, and Society

This domain introduces students to the core concepts that sociologists use to explain human social behavior, including how sociologists use cult...More
Sidewalk Shadows

Social Relationships: Self, Groups, and Socialization

This domain addresses students’ needs to understand their social contexts in order to understand themselves. The processes of socializatio...More
Priority Seating

Stratification and Inequality

This domain encourages students to evaluate systems of stratification and how socialization and group memberships affect individuals’ social sta...More


Post Modernity


A process of cultural transformation initiated by contacts between different cultures; the process by which people adapt to or adopt a culture that is not their own.

At a global level, acculturation takes place as societies experience the transforming impact of international cultural contact. The global trend towards modern economic organization and developed market economies has been accompanied by a process of cultural transformation. A key change is towards a transformation of economic organization, the great majority of individuals come to generate their income through employment or running businesses, rather than from economic bonds with family and community. In the modern world, there is great ease of international communication and interaction between cultures, but sociologists have generally focused attention on the global impact of the capitalist western world on other societies. While each society experiences a unique process of cultural and economic transformation, there are some common trends that appear to be linked to the development of complex market economies, a wage employment system and urbanization. Individuals experience acculturation when their social roles and socialization are shaped by norms and values that are largely foreign to their native culture. Educational and occupational experiences are the primary agents of the individual's acculturation process. Some sociologists use the term to refer simply to the process of learning and absorbing a culture, making it synonymous with socialization, but ‘enculturation’ is a more appropriate word for that meaning.

affluent society, affluence

Wealthy; an affluent society is one in which there is an abundance of material or consumer goods.

 The term affluent society was popularized by economist John Kenneth Galbraith in 1964, and it is often used to describe the U.S. and other flourishing Western societies.


This term is linked to sociologies which focus on the individual as a subject and view social action as something purposively shaped by individuals within a context to which they have given meaning. This view is usually contrasted with those sociologies which focus on social structure and imply the individual is shaped and constrained by the structural environment in which they are located.

amplification of deviance

Deviance amplification refers to the unintended outcome of moral panics or social policies designed to prevent or reduce deviance. Typically, the attention given to deviance by the media and moral entrepreneurs serves to attract new recruits and provides them with a definition of what the public expects, thus amplifying the amount of deviance in society.

anomic division of labour

Where the division of labor in the workplace is based on power and social and economic status, rather than on differentiations of individual ability or effort. In such circumstances, according to Emile Durkheim (1858—1917), the division of labor cannot command normative consensus and may become a source of anomie and breakdown of social solidarity.


A concept developed by Emile Durkheim (1858—1917) to describe an absence of clear societal norms and values. Individuals lack a sense of social regulation: people feel unguided in the choices they have to make.

 Anomie can occur in several different situations. For example, the undermining of traditional values may result from cultural contact. The concept can be helpful in partially understanding the experience of colonized Aboriginal peoples as their traditional values are disrupted, yet they do not identify with the new cultural values imposed upon them: they lose a sense of authoritative normative regulation. Durkheim was also concerned that anomie might arise from a lack of consensus over social regulation of the workplace. 


state ruled by noble class (especially land owners)

A government that is controlled by a small ruling class. Also refers to that class itself, sometimes called simply the upper class. The aristocracy may owe its position to wealth, social position, or military power, or another form of influence or training. These attributes are usually inherited.


Where an ethnic group loses distinctiveness and becomes absorbed into a majority culture.

Some sociologists suggest that the process can create a new culture resulting from the fusion of the cultures of different ethnic groups into a new blend, but the term integration is usually chosen by sociologists to suggest this blending of divergent cultures. The concept of assimilation is useful when discussing the persistence of minority cultures within host societies. In Canada, for example, visible minorities have experienced slower and less comprehensive assimilation than many western European ethnic minorities. Canada's official government policy of multiculturalism implies resistance to assimilation and support for a society where people preserve their cultural distinctiveness, yet join together for common pursuits and agree on fundamental values.


A group of individuals attending to a common media. They receive communication from the same source, but are not active participants and do not communicate with each other. In sociology, the term is used to draw attention to the way that media corporations develop audiences of readers, listeners and viewers with the business objective of selling access to this audience to advertisers. In this perspective the creation and maintenance of an audience (rather than the activity of communication) is the prime goal of media enterprises.

Baby Boom

The substantial increase in the birth rate (from 1947 to approximately 1966), following the Second World War creating a population bulge slowly working its way through the age structure of society and affecting everything from classroom space, chances of promotion and pension funds. 30 million war babies were born between 1942 and 1950.

Baby Bust

The rapid decline in birth rate following the baby boom years of 1947 to 1966. The baby bust generation then followed from 1967 to 1979 as the fertility rate of women declined to less than half of the rate during the boom years. After 1979 women born in the boom years began to have children leading to an echo boom or echo generation.

Bedroom Community

Refers to a type of suburb where people typically only "sleep" (reside) while they make their living by commuting to another location elsewhere (usually a city).


The degree to which an individual believes in conventional values, morality, and the legitimacy of law. In Travis Hirschi's work, aspects of the ‘social bond’.


An inclination or prejudice that prevents objective judgment of something, as in hiring practices showed a bias against minorities.

grand theory

A term for the structural—functionalist theory of Talcott Parsons; coined by C. Wright Mills, the term stuck precisely because Parsons' theory is so sweeping: categorically comprehensive, Parsons' tried to integrate all of the theories of the founders of sociology into one coherent whole.

bourgeois class

From the French meaning a citizen of a city or burgh. In feudal time the cities had become the place of business and residence of a growing class of merchants, professionals and crafts persons, who came to be seen as having a social status between the peasant class and the land owning or aristocratic class. Hence the idea that they were the middle class. This new middle class came to feel oppressed by the traditions and restrictions of feudalism and aristocratic rule and eventually were able to grasp power and transform social values. They are associated with the bloodless revolution of Great Britain in 1688 and the French Revolution in 1789. This new class also had a distinctive life style that came to be referred to as ‘bourgeois’. The term bourgeois class, or bourgeoisie, was used by Marx to refer to the corporate or capitalist class in modern societies that is thought, particularly in socialist ideas, to be also a ruling class.

Broken Window Theory

The title of a 1982 article by criminologist James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. This simple theory argues that a broken window left unrepaired will make a building look uncared for or abandoned and soon attract vandals to break all the other windows. If this is so, then prevention of crime will be accomplished by steps like painting over graffitti, keeping buildings in good repair, maintaining clean streets and parks and responding effectively to petty street crime. These actions make citizens feel safer and when they frequent public places criminal activity is less likely to occur. Many jurisdictions in North America have adopted practices based on this perspective.


The administration of a government; all government offices taken together; all the officials of a government. The administration of a government; all government offices taken together; all the officials of a government.A formal organization with defined objectives, a hierarchy of specialized roles and systematic processes of direction and administration.

According to Max Weber, a hierarchical authority structure that uses task specialization, operates on the merit principle, and behaves with impersonality. It governs modern states.


A status group, within a system of hierarchical social stratification, in which membership is hereditary; an exclusive, often hereditary, class or group. Caste differentiations are usually based on religious and mythical traditions and caste membership determines occupational roles, place of residence and legal and customary rights and duties. Caste is maintained from generation to generation by the practice of within—caste marriage (endogamy) and strict formality in social interaction with other castes.

Hindus in India live in a caste system, with four distinct classes, or castes, who traditionally are not allowed to mix with each other.

charisma, charismatic authority

leadeship by personality, magnetism

In political speech refers to a person's flair and personal magnetism, his or her ability to inspire voters. Charismatic candidates exude charm and power; they excite people and can persuade them to be devoted to their cause. To say a politician lacks charisma is virtually to say he is dull.

Examples of charismatic leaders include President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


An institution composed of members sharing some common religious and ethical views and joining them together in religious celebration and social activities. Churches, as distinct from sects or cults, tend to be established and culturally accepted and broadly supportive of the surrounding institutions of society, to be hierarchical and to have a priesthood or set of authorized office holders.


A closeknit social group held together by ties of kinship (as in clans in the Scottish Highlands) or other common interests. Sometimes writers refer to large or wellknown political families such the Kennedy clan, etc.


A definable group within society generally grouped according to various economic and political attributes.

The term is used in various ways in sociology. a number of people or things grouped together; a group of people that are linked together because of certain things held in common, such as occupation, social status, economic background: ruling class, middle class, working class, etc.

It usually implies a group of individuals sharing a common situation within a social structure, usually their shared place in the structure of ownership and control of the means of production. Karl Marx (1818-1883), for example, distinguished four classes in capitalist societies, a bourgeois class who own and control the means of production, a petite bourgeoisie of small business and professionals, a proletariat of wage workers and a lumpenproletariat of people in poverty and social disorganization who are excluded from the wage earning economy.

In land based economies, class structures are based on individual's relationship to the ownership and control of land. Class can also refer to groups of individuals with a shared characteristic relevant in some socio-economic measurement or ranking (for example all individuals earning over $50,000 a year): it then has a statistical meaning rather than being defined by social relationships. While class is extensively used in discussing social structure, sociologists also rely on the concept of status, which offers a more complex portrait in which individuals within a class can be seen as having quite differentiated social situations.

class consciousness

The awareness of individuals in a particular social class that they share common interests and a common social situation. Class consciousness is associated with the development of a ‘class—for—itself’ where individuals within the class unite to pursue their shared interests.

class crystallization

Where the divisions between social classes become obvious and somewhat fixed: it is difficult for individuals to change their social class because their whole life situation — income, wealth, education, status — is shaped by their class location.

closed-class society

A society where it is improbable that individuals will be able to change their social class location usually because class location is ascribed. The opposite of social mobility.

cluttered nest

A recent term capturing the phenomenon of young adults returning to live with their parents or choosing to remain at home past the customary age for leaving home. This practice is connected to deterioration of employment opportunities for young adults.

collective solidarity

Similar in meaning to Emile Durkheim's term ‘mechanical solidarity’ this refers to a state of social bonding or interdependency which rests on similarity of beliefs and values, shared activities, and ties of kinship and cooperation among members of a community.


The smallest territorial district in some European countries. More commonly used to denote a small group of people living communally, working together and sharing proceeds, etc.


A society where peoples relations with each other are direct and personal and where a complex web of ties link people in mutual bonds of emotion and obligation. In the social sciences, especially sociology, the idea of community has provided a model to contrast to the emergence of more modern less personal societies where cultural, economic and technological transformation has uprooted tradition and where complexity has created a less personal and more rationalized and goal—directed social life.

conduct norms

Specifications of proper and appropriate behavior generally supported and shared in by members of a group. Societies contain different groups whose conduct norms are to some extent divergent.

conflict perspectives

Sociological perspectives that focus on the inherent divisions of societies with social inequality and the way these social divisions give rise to different and competing interests. The central assumption is that social structures and cultural ideas tend to reflect the interests only of some members of society rather than society as a whole. This contrasts with consensus or functionalist perspectives which assume a foundation of common interest among all members of society. Marxism and feminism are examples of conflict perspectives.

conspicuous consumption

Refers to consumption of goods or services that is mainly designed to show off one's wealth. The term has been used to convey the idea of a society where social status is earned and displayed by patterns of consumption, rather than by what an individual does or makes.

The term was coined by <strong>Thorstein Veblen</strong> in the 1890s, who said that all classes in society, indulged in conspicuous consumption, even the poor (who, like the wealthy, sometimes buy something that is not essential and which is beyond their means). According to Veblen, the way to decide whether a certain item belongs in the category of conspicuous consumption is to ask, "whether, aside from acquired tastes and from the canons of usage and conventional decency, its result is a net gain in comfort or in the fullness of life." The public display of individual possession and consumption of expensive goods and services. 

Content Analysis

A research method involving the gathering of data capturing one or more variables descriptive of the content of a cultural expression such as movies, newspaper stories, speeches, cartoons or advertisements. A researcher may, for example, analyze stories of sexual assault to determine how blame is allocated in such stories, or may examine the covers of popular magazines such as Time, or Maclean's to see which sex or racial group is typically depicted or to observe differences in the depiction of men and women.


An extensive urban area formed when two or more cities, originally separate, coalesce to form a continuous metropolitan region. Several adjacent metropolitan areas with form a huge urban area. Megalopolis. EXAMPLE: Baltimore—Washington


A segment of society that holds views opposed to the dominant, mainstream culture.

(1) A set of cultural ideas that, to some extent, differ from and conflict with, those generally upheld in the society. A counter—culture develops when members of groups identify common values that distinguish them from others. These groups may be based on common appearance, ethnic group, sexuality, status or social behavior. The term is close in meaning to subculture, but the concept of counterculture stresses the idea of an open and active opposition to dominant cultural values.

(2) The term given to the youth movement of the 1960s, which rejected many aspects of mainstream American culture. The counterculture had both a political and a personal dimension. Politically, it was left-wing. 


Any form of human behavior that is designated by law as criminal and subject to a penal sanction. While crime is the central focus of criminology and a major topic of the sociology of deviance, there is no consensus on how to define the term. While the everyday use of the term seems to refer to intentional violations of criminal law or public law in general, many sociologists look at crime as a social construction, or a label, and look at crime being created through the passing of laws and the application of those laws.


This concept was originally developed as one component of a typology: churches, denominations, sects and cults. Churches and denominations are seen as established forms of religious organization while sects were groups that had broken away from established groups in order to preserve what they thought were central traditions or orthodoxy. Cults on the other hand were religious forms and expressions which were unacceptable or outside cultural norms and thus seen as the first stage of forming a new religion. However, the term now has a rather negative meaning, suggesting strange beliefs, charismatic leadership, manipulation of members, strong emotional bonding, and slavish devotion to the group.


Design for Living

(1) The generally shared knowledge, beliefs and values of members of society. Culture is conveyed from generation to generation through the process of socialization. While culture is made up of ideas, some sociologists also argue that it is not exclusively ideational but can be found in human-made material objects. They define a separate “material culture”. This distinction appears weak, since human-made material objects must embody human ideas. Culture and social structure are considered as the two key components of society and are therefore the foundation concepts of sociology. (2)Features constructed by man that are under, on, or above the ground which are delineated on a map. These include roads, trails, buildings, canals, sewer systems, and boundary lines. In a broad sense, the term also applies to all names, other identification, and legends on a map. (3)The belief systems, attitudes, languages, social relationships, institutions, and material goods transmitted within a society. The accumulated habits, attitudes, and beliefs of a group of people that define for them their general behavior and way of life; the total set of learned activities of a people.

culture hearth

The area from which the culture of a group diffused.

culture shock

Where an individual encounters a new and different culture and experiences a major disruption of their normal assumptions about social values and behavior. Their old values seem unable to provide guidance in the new situation, yet the new culture seems strange and unacceptable. It is experienced by individuals who travel to a very different society and discover cultural ideas and practices that differ very much from their own. It is common among immigrant groups and can sometimes affect whole societies if they are swept up in rapid social change. The concept has been applied to the experiences of aboriginal people following colonial contact.



The theory that examination of one or more definable factors allows for a complete explanation and prediction of the characteristics of society or the individual. For example, to argue that societies gain all their central characteristics from the psychological drives of human beings is a form of psychological determinism; to explain the social roles and behavior of men and women by reference chiefly to their sex is biological determinism.


Commonly refers to violations of social norms (including legal norms) but many sociologists reject this behavioral or normative definition of deviance and see deviance instead as simply a label. Deviance in this view is that which we react to, through social control responses, as deviance.

deviation, primary

Where the individual commits deviant acts but does not adopt a primary self—identity as a deviant.

deviation, secondary

Where the individual commits deviant acts and although recognizing that these acts are socially defined as deviant remains committed to continue them. This results in the adoption of a deviant self identity that confirms and stabilizes the deviant life style.

diffuseness of roles

A characteristic of relatively simple societies where people encounter each other in a variety of overlapping roles, there is little occupational specialization and no clear separation of private and public spheres of life. People are continuously reminded of their extensive bonds with others.

division of labor

The increasing tendency for work to become specialized, and for humans to take upon specialized roles of work, requiring more special skills and knowledge.

A method of production on which modern industrial economies are based. It relies on specialization. Each worker performs only one, often very narrow task, in the production process. The division of labor is considered to be more efficient than other methods, in that workers do not waste time changing tasks, and can acquire more skill by specialization.

The disadvantages of the division of labor is that work often becomes repetitive and boring, especially when the division of labor is carried to extremes, as in the modern auto plant, where tasks can be as narrow as the repeated tightening of nuts and bolts, all day, every day.



A term used largely in medical sociology and describing the study of the occurrence and distribution of diseases. Such investigations look for changes in the frequency of occurrence (or incidence) and association of diseases with particular physical or social locations. Epidemiological research can be conducted on crime — viewed as analogous to a disease of society — and a host of social problems.


Someone who is a member of an ethnic group (a group distinguished from others by race, customs, language, etc.), particularly a member of a minority group within a larger community.

The U.S. is composed of a large number of ethnic groups. The extent to which an ethnic group should subordinate its heritage in order to become an "American" is a controversial issue in the 1990s. Sometimes ethnic groups that are comparatively recent arrivals in the U.S., largely those from Asia and Africa, are accused of clinging on to their ethnic heritage and refusing to become assimilated into mainstream culture, unlike earlier, largely European immigrants, have done.

Such is the thinking behind the rightwing demand that English should be the official language of the U.S. to prevent the nation losing its coherence and breaking down into a patchwork quilt of ethnic groups. Ethnic divisions have an influence on U.S. politics, not only with the obviously highly charged issue of racism against blacks and Hispanics, but more subtly, as when a politician will give a twist to a policy to win favor with a particular ethnic group.

For example, when President Clinton agreed to grant a visa to Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, which has close links to the terrorist organization the Irish Republican Army, critics accused him of doing so merely to win the support of Irish-Americans.


cultural self—centeredness

Belief in the inherent superiority of one's own cultural, ethnic, or political group.

ethno= "culture" + centrism= "centered"

  • Ethnocentrism probably begins at the most elemental level of "in-group" / "out-group". Humans tend to define themselves by membership in groups. Some groups can be porous or flexible in membership requirements while others draw the boundaries tightly. The largest groupings, "society" tend to have "borders" that are are practically porous (people can migrate in and out fairly easily) but ideologically rigid (boundaries and definitions are distinct). People who are ideologically outside of this circle are the "other"-- outsiders.
  • The assumption that the culture of one's own group is moral, right and rational and that other cultures are inferior.
  • When confronted with a different culture, individuals judge it with reference to their own standards and make no attempt to understand and evaluate it from the perspective of its members.
  • Sometimes ethnocentrism will be combined with racism, the belief that individuals can be classified into distinct racial groups and that there is a biologically-based hierarchy of these races. In principle, however, one can reject a different culture without in any way assuming the inherent inferiority of its members.
  • Ethnocentrism is so basic to culture, that there probably is no such thing as a society that does not feel superior. Because culture is always an "adaptation" to the living conditions presented to a people group, it is natural for groups to want to define their efforts as "successful."


A sociological theory developed by Harold Garfinkel and building on the influence of phenomenologists such as Edmund Husserl and Alfred Schutz and more recent linguistic philosophers. Roughly translated the term means the study of people's practices or methods. There are three central strands to ethnomethodology: mundane reason analysis, membership categorization and conversational (or sequential) analysis. This is a micro—perspective and it does not see the social world as an objective reality but as something that people must build and rebuild constantly in their thoughts and actions. Rather than treating ordinary members of society as ‘cultural dopes’, driven by society, it tries to uncover the methods and practices that are used by people as they create the taken—for—granted—world.

exchange theory

A theory associated with the work of George Homans and Peter Blau and built on the assumption that all human relationships can be understood in terms of an exchange of roughly equivalent values. These exchanges are seldom monetary, rather they are frequently intangibles like intimacy, status, connections.


The custom of seeking a mate or marriage partner outside of ones own kinship group or class, religion, ethnic group or area of residence.

empirical evidence

Evidence that can be observed through the senses, it can be seen, touched, heard, smelled, tasted and, to some extent, measured. This is the only form of evidence acceptable to positivism which describes social science as the study of a social world deemed to be external to the observer and proceeding with the researcher being a neutral ‘observer’ of that external world.


The philosophical belief that sensory input (seeing, touching, hearing, etc.) is the sole source and test of knowledge.

Empty Nesters

Those parents who have seen their children mature and establish residences of their own. Sociologists have noted a number of changes related to this stage of the family life cycle: movement to smaller homes, women returning to paid work, changes in attitudes, changes in relations to children, increased social involvement in community matters, the potential for psychological feelings of rolelessness.


The practice of seeking a mate or marriage partner from within a group defined by social status, ethnic identity, family relationship or area of residence or some other distinct social characteristic. For example, people tend to marry within their own status or class, religion or ethnic group. Some societies have rules of endogamy that specify marriage to a particular kinship—related partner. A low rate of endogamy suggests that a group is being assimilated into the surrounding society. The opposite of endogamy is exogamy. Both practices are defined by values and norms that vary cross—culturally.


An aggregate of individuals having some characteristic in common. They may be distinguished from others by appearance, language, socio—economic status or cultural values and practices.

A group is often characterized by a sense of common identity, shared interests and goals among its members, but a group may exist simply because its members share some objective characteristic and are defined as a group by others.

extended family

A family that includes three or more generations. Normally, that would include grandparents, their sons or daughters, and their children, as opposed to a "nuclear family," which is only a married couple and their offspring.


A region or district that lies outside a city and usually beyond its suburbs.

Feminist Theory

While there is not a single feminist theory, central to all such theories is an attempt to understand the social, economic and political position of women in society, with a view to liberation. Feminist theory has challenged the claims to objectivity of previous social science and by examining society from women's position has called much social science into question as being male—centred and a component of the hegemonic rule of patriarchy.

feral child

A child who, in legend or in fact, has been raised and protected from infancy by animals. The most famous example is the ‘Wild Boy of Averon’ who was discovered in 1800 at the age of eleven or twelve after having apparently been raised by animals. Although considerable effort was made to ‘civilize’ the young man, there was little success and only a few words were mastered. The case is offered in the social sciences to emphasize the importance of socialization and the social nature of the human species. A more recent example of a child growing up in isolation from human contact is found in the story of Genie (Curtiss 1977).

folk society

A society of primary communal relationships with little complexity, minimal division of labor and largely insulated from contact with other societies. The term is an ideal type associated with American anthropologist/sociologist Robert Redfield (1897—1958) and it is closely related to F. Tonnies' (1855—1936) concept of Gemeinschaft.

functionalist explanation

The explanations offered by functionalists or structural functionalists have a property referred to as teleology — explaining things in terms of their end results or purposes. Functionalist tend to explain features of social life in terms of their function (the part they play) in social life. These kinds of explanations are found in biology as well and it is not surprising that functionalists like Durkheim adopted an organic metaphor. The lungs, for example, are explained in terms of what they do in and for the human body. The classic example of this reasoning is found in Durkheim's discussion of the functions of crime in any society. He argues that as darkness needs light, a moral society needs immorality as a way to make morality visible. Others have argued that crime or deviance also help the society by clarifying the moral boundaries of the group. Many would argue that these are not explanations at all, but are logically circular.


Close, emotional, face—to—face ties; attachment to place, ascribed social status; a homogenous and regulated community.

A German word, translated as ‘community’, used by sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies (1855—1936) to define an ‘ideal type’, or model, society where social bonds are personal and direct and there are strong shared values and beliefs. Characteristic of small scale, localized societies, it is in contrast to Gesellschaft which refers to complex, impersonal societies. American sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902—1979) amplified the contrasts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft with his ‘pattern variable’ value alternatives.

gender roles

Social roles ascribed to individuals on the basis of their sex. The term gender differs from sex because it refers specifically to the cultural definition of the roles and behavior appropriate to members of each sex rather than to those aspects of human behavior that are determined by biology. Thus giving birth is a female sex role, while the role of infant nurturer and care giver (which could be performed by a male) is a gender role usually ascribed to females.

general deterrence

As used in criminal justice, refers to crime prevention achieved through instilling fear in the general population through the punishment of offenders.

generalized other

A term used by George Herbert Mead (1863—1931) to refer to an individual's recognition that other members of their society hold specific values and expectations about behavior. In their behavior and social interaction individuals react to the expectations of others thus orienting themselves to the norms and values of their community or group.

Generation X

Those people born approximately between the years 1960 and 1974 at the end of the baby boom and caught in the forces of economic restructuring and globalization. Also referred to as the ‘thirty somethings’ (they will of course become ‘forty somethings’).

The term was coined by Canadian author Douglas Coupland (1991) as the title of a novel exploring the experience of growing up in the ‘shadow’ of the baby boom generation.

Generation Y

Those people born approximately between the years 1974 and 1990; the "Digital Generation" I terms of the phenomenon of growing up with personal computers in the home and workplace.


A German word, translated as ‘society—association’, used by Ferdinand Tonnies (1855—1936) to refer to an ‘ideal type’, or model, of a society where social bonds are primarily impersonal, instrumental and narrow. Characteristic of large scale, complex societies, with a strict division between private and public spheres of life, it contrasts to the community—oriented life of the Gemeinschaft.

American sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902—1979) amplified the contrast of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft with his ‘pattern variable’ value alternatives.

group, primary

A circle of individuals with whom a person is extensively involved: they have bonds of common activity and emotional commitment.

People interact in primary groups as whole person to whole person: relationships are comprehensive and emotionally charged. Examples include the family and small traditional communities. Term was developed by C.W.Cooley (1864-1929) and contains echoes of ‘Gemeinschaft’.

group, reference

A term from social psychology identifying that group to which people refer or make reference in evaluating themselves.

One may make reference to ‘social science students’ when contemplating what political party to vote for or one might refer to ‘feminists’ when deciding to change or not to change one's name after marriage.

group, secondary

A number of individuals jointly linked by some common instrumentally—related characteristic.

The members of the group have some specialized and specific relationship to each other. Examples include a professional association, colleagues in the workplace, a political party, a tennis club. Term was developed by C.W. Cooley and contains echoes of ‘Gesellschaft’.


Ranking, order by type.

An organization with people ranked in order of grade, rank, etc. A structuring of social statuses and roles within an organization or society ranked according to differentiations of power, authority, wealth, income, etc.

An executive, for example, would be high in the company hierarchy; a sales clerk would be low in that hierarchy.

I & Me

The term was introduced by George Herbert Mead (1863—1931) to refer to the aspect of identity, or self, that reacts in social interaction to the expectations of others. In social interaction individuals are aware of the expectations of others, but they do not necessarily conform to these expectations in their reactions. This spontaneous, never entirely predictable, element of individual personality makes each individual a unique social actor.

ideal type

An abstract model of a classic, pure, form of social phenomenon. It is a model concept and does not necessarily exist in exact form in reality. An example is Ferdinand Tonnies's dichotomy Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft . Tonnies described two opposite, or polar types, of social association, one personal and committed (community) one impersonal and unemotional (society—association). These two formal types then provide a benchmark for the analysis and comparison of actually existing societies. Max Weber also used this method of analysis with his ideal types of bureaucracy, authority and social action.


ideas, belief system

A linked set of ideas and beliefs that act to uphold and justify an existing or desired arrangement of power, authority, wealth and status in a society. For example, a socialist ideology advocates the transformation of society from capitalism to collective ownership and economic equality. In contrast, a liberal ideology associated with capitalist societies upholds that system as the best, most moral, most desirable form of social arrangement. Patriarchal ideology also has this characteristic of asserting claims and beliefs that justify a social arrangement: in this case, male social domination of women. Another example is a racist ideology claiming that people can be classified into distinct races and that some races are inferior to others. Racist ideologies are used as justifications for systems of slavery or colonial exploitation. Although there is often a dominant ideology in a society, there can also be counter-ideologies that advocate transformation of social relationships.


A philosophy of incarceration that argues that some offenders might have to be incarcerated not for what they have done but to prevent future harm to the community. This depends on the community's ability to identify those that might re—offend. Some also argue that it is unfair to punish people for what they might do, rather than for what they have done. Selective incapacitation is provided for under dangerous offender legislation.

incest, incest taboo

Sexual intercourse between individuals who are culturally regarded as too closely related for sexual intimacy to be legitimate or moral. 

Incest rules vary cross culturally, but generally all cultures forbid intercourse between parents and children, between siblings and between grandparents and grandchildren. Rare historical exceptions to the rules are ancient Egypt and traditional Hawaii where siblings were favoured marriage partners among the royal family and probably other members of the aristocracy and the wealthy. Many cultures have mythical or religious stories that warn of the terrible consequences of violating incest rules.


As used by ethnomethodologists refers to the contextual nature of behavior and talk.

Talk for example is indexical in the sense that it has no meaning without a context or can take on various meanings dependent on the context. As we construct talk or listen to talk we all must engage in the interpretive process of constructing a context. With this context we give the talk a sense of concreteness or definiteness. There is no way to avoid indexicality, however, nor a way to remove it, since talk about context itself is also indexical. For this reason constructing a sense of reality is an ongoing accomplishment of social members.

inductive reasoning

Developing a theory or reaching a conclusion after consideration of several empirical observations.

A style of reasoning that starts with the particular instances and builds up to general theories and hypotheses.


The process of developing an economy founded on the mass manufacturing of goods.

Industrialization is associated with the urbanization of society, an extensive division of labor, a wage economy, differentiation of institutions, and growth of mass communication and mass markets. Many western societies are now described as post-industrial since much economic activity is based on the production of services, knowledge or symbols.

inequality of condition

Where individuals have very different amounts of wealth, status and power. This is a characteristic of all complex modern societies, however equality of condition is often present in small—scale, hunter—gatherer societies.

inequality of opportunity

Where differences in individual possession of wealth, status and power result in definite advantages and disadvantages in the pursuit of personal success.


Refers to the process of imposing a stigmatized or inferiorized identity on a group of people. The people stigmatized tend to adopt a sense of inferiority that leads to a sapping of confidence and ability, inhibits political organization and results in a host of personal and collective social problems. This concept can be linked to the theory of a ‘culture of poverty’.


institution, social

A pattern of social interaction, having a relatively stable structure, that persists over time. Institutions have structural properties — they are organized — and they are shaped by cultural values. Thus, for example, the ‘institution of marriage’, in western societies, is structurally located in a cohabiting couple and regulated by norms about sexual exclusiveness, love, sharing, etc. There is not full agreement about the number or designation of social institutions in a society but the following would typically be included: family, economy, politics, education, health care, media.

institution, total

A social institution which encompasses the individual, cutting them off from significant social interaction outside its bounds. These institutions are frequently involved in the process of resocialization whereby individuals are detached from their previous sense of identity and re—shaped to accept and absorb new values and behavior. Examples include religious orders, prisons and army training camps.

institutional completeness

The condition of a group within a larger society where the major institutions ——economy, politics, family, schooling, —— are reproduced thus enabling the smaller group to have little social connection with the larger group.


Where social interaction is predictably patterned within relatively stable structures regulated by norms. For example, seeking a diagnosis for a physical illness or obtaining advise or a cure is institutionalized within the ‘health care’ institution. Conflict over values or interests is institutionalized within the ‘political system’; sexual access and raising children is institutionalized within the ‘family’.

integration, social

(1) The joining of different ethnic groups within a society into a common social life regulated by generally accepted norms and values. This process need not involve the obliteration of distinct ethnic identity, which would be assimilation, but it implies that ethnic identity does not limit or constrain commitment to the common activities, values and goals of the society. (2) In the work of Emile Durkheim (1858—1917) the term refers to the density of connection between individuals and social institutions. He assumes that a society requires intense individual participation in a wide range of institutions for it to maintain social integration and provide individuals with a sense of meaning and belonging.

Kinsey report

Two volumes on the Sexual Behavior of the Human Male (1948) and the Sexual Behavior of the Human Female (1953) by researcher Alfred C. Kinsey (1894—1956). These two volumes stirred a storm of criticism as the results about the frequency of sexual activity such as premarital intercourse and masturbation were seen as alarming. Further, the report provided what was the first scientific enumeration of homosexual activity and suggested that this sexual preference was very common and must be regarded as normal.

kinship structure

The structure of relationships of individuals related by blood or marriage.

A term referring to the way social relationships between individuals related by blood, affinal ties or socially defined (fictive) connection are organized and normatively regulated. Kinship is the central organizational principle of many traditional societies, since it is through the kinship structure that social placement, cultural transmission and many functional necessities for life will be met. Extent of relevant kinship connection differs greatly from society to society. Kinship bonds are generally defined more broadly and extensively in traditional societies than in modern capitalist societies.

Kula Ring

A complex system of visits and exchanges among the Trobriand Islanders of the western Pacific first described by Bronislaw Malinowski in 1922. Necklaces were exchanged in one direction among the residents of a chain of islands and armbands exchanged in the opposite direction (hence the notion of a ring). These exchanges did not serve primarily an economic function but served to create social obligations among peoples which could be depended upon at various times in an individual's life. The person who gave the most gifts would create the most obligations and in this sense create the most wealth by forming a relational net which could be depended upon.


The portion of time workers and other people spend not being compensated for work performed when they actively engage in the production of goods and services. In other words, this is the time people spend off the job. 

Leisure activities can include resting at home, working around the house (without compensation), engaging in leisure activities (such as weekend sports, watching movies), or even sleeping. Leisure time pursuits becomes increasingly important for economies as they become more highly developed. 

leisure class

Any group of people who do not have to work for a living, or who work very little and have time for leisure and recreation. Despite predictions in the 1950s and 1960s that new technology would mean that people would have to work less hours, this hasn't happened: Americans now spend more time working than they did several decades ago. The leisure class has not gotten any bigger.

life cycle stage

A period of uneven length in which the relative dependence of an individual on others helps define a complex of basic social relations that remains relatively consistent throughout the period.

Looking Glass Self

Developed by C.H. Cooley (1864—1929) to describe the social nature of the self and the link between society and individual. In this formulation social interaction is like a mirror, it allows us to see ourselves as others see us. This was an early formulation of symbolic interactionism but less influential than that of George Herbert Mead.

lower-class culture

It has been argued by some that the lower class have developed and transmit to their children, a different set of cultural values and expectations. They argue further that this culture is a barrier to their success in society. Used in this way it is associated with the ‘culture of poverty thesis’. More recently sociologists have rejected this emphasis on values and argue that structural barriers create the conditions which might generate these values and expectations. If this is so, the solution is to transform the structures and not to blame the poor.


The performance of routines, usually in a fixed or rigid manner, designed to influence the future, persuade the ‘gods’ or shape fate. The ball player who believes that wearing the same sweater or eating the same meal before a game will determine whether the teams wins or not is performing magic.


Refers to the theory of <strong>Thomas Malthus</strong>, an eighteenth century British clergyman and professor of political economy, whose <em>Essay on the Principle of Population</em> (1798) developed the theory that the world's population tended to grow faster than its food supply. If the population continued to increase, there would be mass starvation. 

Malthus thought that famine, poverty, and war were natural checks against population growth and should not be alleviated by misguided compassion. Malthus also advocated restraint on the size of families. Although Malthus was proved incorrect as far as Western industrial society is concerned, the dramatic world population growth in the twentieth century, and the fact that some Third World nations cannot feed their rising populations, has led to a renewed interest in Malthusian theories in some circles.

Malthusian Crisis

Refers to the ideas of Thomas Malthus (1766—1834) who argued that while populations grow exponentially the rate of increase in the food supply is much less. This creates a natural limit on populations and produces miserable conditions for society and inevitable mass starvation, unless of course individuals practice birth control. Malthus didn't advocate contraceptives, rather he advocated reducing sexual intercourse.

Malthus' central idea concerned the population explosion that was already becoming evident in the late 18th century, and argued that the number of people would increase faster than the food supply. Population would eventually reach a resource limit (overpopulation). Any further increase would result in a population crash, caused by famine, disease, or war.

mass culture

A set of cultural values and ideas that arise from common exposure of a population to the same cultural activities, communications media, music and art, etc. Mass culture becomes possible only with modern communications and electronic media. A mass culture is transmitted to individuals, rather than arising from people's daily interactions, and therefore lacks the distinctive content of cultures rooted in community and region. Mass culture tends to reproduce the liberal value of individualism and to foster a view of the citizen as consumer.

mass society

Refers to a society with a mass culture and large—scale, impersonal, social institutions. Even the most complex and modern societies have lively primary group social relationships, so the concept can be thought of as an ‘ideal type’, since it does not exist in empirical reality. It is intended to draw attention to the way in which life in complex societies, with great specialization and rationalized institutions, can become too anonymous and impersonal and fail to support adequate bonds between the individual and the community. The concept reflects the same concern in sociology — loss of community — that Tonnies expressed in his idea of Gesellschaft.

master status

A status that overrides all others in perceived importance. 

Whatever other personal or social qualities the individual possesses they are judged primarily by this one attribute.  A master status can also arise from other achieved or ascribed roles.


A society that is dominated by women, the opposite of patriarchy. Women possess most of the power and authority. Also refers to a society or tribe where inheritance is passed down through the female line.

While there is some dispute among social scientists, there is no clear evidence of matriarchal societies existing in the world in either the past or the present. Individual families, however, have frequently exhibited matriarchal structure with women clearly possessing dominant authority and control. The term must be distinguished from matrilineal which refers to the system of tracing descent through the blood lines of women and which exists in a number of world societies.

mechanical solidarity

A term used by Emile Durkheim (1858—1917) to refer to a state of community bonding or interdependency which rests on a similarity of beliefs and values, shared activities, and ties of kinship and cooperation.


Several adjacent metropolitan areas with form a huge urban area. Conurbation.


A big idea that purports to explain large segments of history and experience. Often these are ideologies used to support present arrangements of society. A story, narrative or theory which claims to be above the ordinary or local accounts of social life.

Postmodernists claim that the majority of the writings of Marx, Durkheim, Weber are offered as metanarratives, presented as capturing universal properties of social life and thus superior to local or more grounded stories. Postmodernist social theorists argue for a return to the local, the rejection of grand theory and a privileged position for science and its narratives, and an acknowledgment of the inherently political nature of all narratives.

metropolis-hinterland theory

A theory of social and economic development that examines how economically advanced societies, through trade and colonialism, distort and retard the economic development of less developed societies and regions.

A metropolis is identified as the centre of political and economic power, as having a more advanced labor market, more skilled and educated workers, an abundance of value-added production, higher standard of living, etc.

A hinterland would be less able to withstand the political and economic interference of the metropolis, would have an abundance of resource extraction industries, fewer skilled and educated workers, a lower standard of living and in many ways would emulate the culture of the metropolis. For more than a century Ontario, or even more narrowly the Toronto region, was seen as the metropolis to a vast Canadian hinterland and the United States has been seen as the metropolis for a Canadian hinterland.

middle-class measuring rod

A phrase suggesting that children and young people from the lower class often find themselves in situations in which they are measured against middle—class standards. The school, for example, rests on the middle—class values of reading and writing and the teachers are primarily middle—class. Lower—class children often realize they are never going to ‘measure up’ so anticipate failure, become frustrated, or drop out of school. They may also begin to move towards other marginal students in the school and become engaged in deviant or criminal activity.

minority group

A group distinguished by being on the margins of power, status or the allocation of resources within the society. ‘Visible minority’ refer to those racial or ethnic groups in a society which are marginal from the power and economic structure of society, not to those which are few in number. In South Africa, Blacks are the statistical majority but were for countless decades a social minority. Women can also be identified as a social minority group.


The hatred of women.

mobility, social

The ability of individuals or groups to modify their status; to go up or down within a social stratification system.

The movement of an individual or group from one class or social status to another. Usually, the point of reference is an individual's class or status of social origin and social mobility occurs when later class or status positions differ from those of origin. Social mobility would be high where individuals have equal opportunity to achieve new statuses and low where there are inequalities of opportunity and processes of status ascription.


This are often thought of as a physiological or biological requirement for maintaining life, such as the need for air, water, food, shelter, and sleep. Satisfaction is achieved by fulfilling needs. Physiological needs should be contrasted with psychological wants that make life more enjoyable but are not necessary to stay alive. However, when push comes to shove, and the nitty gets down to the gritty, it matters very little to markets if people need goods or want goods, so long as they are motivated to satisfy them. This motivation is what drives economic activity.


A culturally established rule prescribing appropriate social behavior. Norms are relatively specific and precise and elaborate the detailed behavioral requirements that flow from more general and overarching social values . For example, it is a value in Western society that one should respect the dead, it is a norm that one should dress in dark colours for a funeral.

open class ideology

This is a component part of liberal ideology : the key claim is that an individual has meaningful opportunity to rise (or fall) in social class and status as a result of personal ability, hard work and individual merit. The concept therefore claims that society's status system is based on achievement and not on ascription.

opportunity structure

A shortened phrase referring to the notion that opportunity, the chance to gain certain rewards or goals, is shaped by the way the society or an institution is organized (or structured). The opportunity for girls to succeed in mathematics may be structured by the fact that all of the mathematics teachers are men, all teachers tend to discourage such an endeavor or suggest that girls are not good at this subject. There may be a sexist structure in the school which shapes opportunity.

organic solidarity

A term used by Emile Durkheim (1858—1917) to refer to a state of interdependency created by the specialization of roles and in which individuals and institutions become acutely dependent on others in a complex division of labor. The basis of solidarity is abstract and may be weakened by anomie when people fail to comprehend the ties that bind them to others.


Definition of all members "outside" of one's own grouping.

Coined by William Graham Sumner in his classic 1906 study of Folkways, out-group and in-group are probably two of the most basic and useful categories within sociology.

in-group: any group, especially "small", in which individuals have membership. This is different than a reference group, one in which individuals may not have any defined membership but which they, nevertheless, refer to in terms of their subjective definitions of "who they are." In-groups typically involve close, intimate, face-to-face interaction patterns in which the individuals share a larege degree of affinity in their beliefs, attitudes, role-definitions and cultural values.

out-group: any generalized outsider, as distinct from the in-group. Individuals within an in-group tend to differentiate among those who are not "members" within their own group. Physical, cultural, political and economic differences are magnified, and those within the in-group reaffirm their own status as members with unique and semi-permanent relationships.

"in-group/out-group" distinctions typically are competitive.


A model or set of assumptions

A framework used in thinking about and organizing an understanding of natural or social phenomena.

All societies, and the individuals within them, tend to have relatively fixed assumptions about how to understand and interpret the world, but there is great variation in these assumptions from place to place and from time to time.

For many centuries, for example, natural phenomena like the eclipse of the sun, thunder , lightning or flood were explained within a paradigm of religious belief and myth, today they fall within the paradigm of science. As sets of assumptions change over time this process can be referred to as a paradigm shift: there emerges a new way of looking at the world.

The term came into social science vocabulary from the writings of Thomas Kuhn (1970), a historian of science. He challenged the conventional wisdom of history that claimed that science was a long, slow process of building on previous knowledge. Rejecting this view Kuhn argued that the history of science can be seen rather as a history of dominant paradigms and paradigm shifts. A paradigm in his presentation was a set of assumptions about the kinds of questions to ask in science and how to go about looking for answers. As a particular body of knowledge builds up there are a growing number of anomalies which can only be forced with difficulty into the dominant theory. At some point people begin to see things differently and to ask different questions in an attempt to explain their observations and they eventually arrive at a new theory which is a better way to account for the anomalies.

participatory research

Distinguished from other research techniques in that the subjects, usually oppressed or exploited groups, are fully involved in the research, from the designing of topics to the analysis of data. While the findings of such research may be useful and indeed emancipatory, the process of community or neighborhood building during the carrying out of the research is of equal importance.


Literally "rule by the father", but more generally it refers to a social situation where men are dominant over women in wealth, status and power. Patriarchy is associated with a set of ideas, a ‘patriarchal ideology’ that acts to explain and justify this dominance and attributes it to inherent natural differences between men and women. A society that is dominated by men. 

In anthropology, the term refers to a form of social organization in which the father is the head of the family or tribe, and descent and kinship is through the male line.

Sociologists tend to see patriarchy as a social product and not as an outcome of innate differences between the sexes and they focus attention on the way that gender roles in a society affect power differentials between men and women.

pay equity

Generally refers to laws and public and corporate policies that have as their objective the elimination of pay differentials linked to gender, ethnic identity or particular minority status.

Pay equity is usually concerned with correcting gender —based labor market inequality experienced by women. (In principle such policies could apply also to men, but there is little evidence of gendered disadvantage for men in the labor market.) Two issues are addressed. First, is the problem of relatively direct discrimination: women being paid less than men for the same or essentially similar work.

plural society

A situation in which two or more culture groups occupy the same territory but maintain their separate cultural identities.

polarization of classes

In Marxian analysis the inevitable historical process of the class structure becoming increasingly polarized. Over time, it is argued, the secondary classes of capitalism (the self—employed, the residual aristocracy, etc.) will disappear and be absorbed into either the bourgeoisie class or the proletariat. The class structure will come to consist only of these two classes.

police state

A state in which the police, particularly the secret police, have wide and arbitrary power to survey, harrass and intimidate the citizenry, who are denied their civil rights and cannot protest thier treatment or seek redress through the normal administrative or judicial channels of government. Such is the case in totalitarian societies, which rule by force rather than law.

popular culture

Intellectual opinions of popular culture, the culture of the masses, have been deeply shaped by critical theory. Since the Frankfurt School, which identified with the ‘high culture’ of the intellectual classes, popular culture has been seen as trivial, demeaning and commercialized, serving the interests of the capitalist system. Post—modernist theorists, however, no longer accept the belief that there is some objectively superior high culture setting a standard from which to make evaluations of others. They have been more interested in popular culture as representing the voices of the previously silent, and by adopting the methods of film analysis or literary criticism they examine the way popular culture is produced and the underlying assumptions upon which its meaning rests.


All elements which a researcher wishes to generalize to. Or, all members of given class or set.

For example, adult Canadian, teenagers, Canadian inmates, criminal offenders, can each be thought of as populations. Populations are difficult to study because we cannot find all of the members (eg: heroin addicts or male prostitutes) or because of the expense (eg: surveying all teenagers). Social scientists avoid this problem by gathering a sample from the population and then generalizing from the sample to the population.

poverty line

That division, arbitrarily arrived at and usually based on income, which divides the poor from the non—poor.

There is considerable controversy about how this line should be determined and Statistics Canada uses the term low incomes rather than poverty and calculates low—income cutoffs. This line or cutoff can be determined in a variety of ways. One method is to determine the minimum income required to purchase a basket of goods and services thought to be necessary to maintain a minimum standard of living. Another alternative is to look at expenditures on the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing. Poverty or a low income may be determined when a family spend 20% more of their income on these necessities than does the average family. This method has been used by Statistics Canada. A third method would be to assert that a family is in poverty if its income is less than 50% of the median family income, adjusted for family size. Changes to Statistics Canada policy in the late 1990's reduced the extent of poverty considerably by redefining the concept.

Presentation of Self

As used by Erving Goffman (1922—1982), refers to the methodical as well as the unintentional practices of presenting or displaying ones ‘self’ in ways that create a particular definition of the situation. This presentation may include verbal messages as well as gestures, clothing style, hair style, posture, etc. A person may try to present their self in a particular way by ‘dressing up’ to go to court or they may find themselves the victim of a jury's definition of the situation derived from the accused's appearance. The presentation of self is usually done front stage, while in the back stage the actor can let their guard down and ‘act themselves’.

primary group

primitive society

A term to denote simple human societies that are assumed to represent how human beings lived in communities in the earliest times of history.

The dictionary defines the word as ‘belonging to the beginning or to the first times’. The term is now out of favour in both sociology and anthropology because it appears to denigrate these simple societies by suggesting they are less civilized than modern societies. While ‘primitive’ can be used in its formal sense to describe simple societies, the favoured term today is ‘hunter-gatherer society’.


A latin word that was first used by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, when he established the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda, a commission designed to spread the Catholic faith worldwide. Since then propaganda has taken on a much broader meaning, and refers toexcept by those who oppose its content or message. Any group that advocates its cause with the intent of influencing opinion might be said to be practising propagandaespecially if its methods are blatently biased or misrepresent facts.

public interest

The common good or welfare of all. In practice it would be difficult to find complete agreement on what is in the "public interest." Once one gets beyond generalities and platitudes (it is not in the public interest to allow drunk drivers on the highway) one comes up against differences in the values people hold; sometimes by appealing to the public interest politicians try to universalize what are merely personal beliefs and values (or the interests of a section of the community) that may not in fact find common assent.

qualitative research

Research using methods such as participant observation or case studies which result in a narrative, descriptive account of a setting or practice. Sociologists using these methods typically reject positivism and adopt a form of interpretive sociology.

quantitative research

Research using methods allowing for the measurement of variables within a collection of people or groups and resulting in numerical data subjected to statistical analysis. By its very nature this is a form of positivism.


A classification of humans beings into different categories on the basis of their biological characteristics.

There have been a variety of schemes for race classification based on physical characteristics such as skin color, head shape, eye color and shape, nose size and shape etc.

A common classification system uses four major groups: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid and Australoid.

The term was once popular in anthropology, but has now fallen into disrepute, because the idea of racial classification has become associated with racism - the claim that there is hierarchy of races.

The idea of race categories also appears to be unscientific, since humans are able to mate across all "races" and have done so throughout history, creating an enormous variety of human genetic inheritance.

In addition the defining characteristics of "race" do not appear in all members of each so-called race, but merely occur with some degree of statistical frequency. If the defining characteristic of each "race" does not appear in all members of each "race" then the whole definition is clearly inadequate.


Differentiations within society based on "race".

  1. An ideology based on the idea that humans can be separated into distinct racial groups and that these groups can be ranked on a hierarchy of intelligence, ability, morality etc.
  2. The discrimination against a person or group solely because of their race.
  3. Any political doctrine that claims the superiority of one race over another.
Racism is roughly related to ethnocentrism in that it involves both a feeling (or belief) of superiority, and deals with the outsider--someone who is different.

Racism is as old as the physical and cultural differences that have existed among humans, but became escalated in the modern era for a number of reasons:

  • In the era of imperialism, those who sought to dominate reached for ideological legitimacy
  • Various political ideologies of the 20th century, especially Nazism, tried to define their views in terms of a "Master race" (Aryanism, KKK, etc.)
  • With escalated conflict between differentiated groups, racism increasingly took on the characteristic of "hatred."
Race is however, problematic. While there are several broad categories of race recognized by social scientists (Caucasian, Negroid, Mongoloid, etc.), the most recent bio-genetic research indicates that in terms of our core set of genetic sequence, we are 99.97% the same. Only the remaining (infinitessimally small) .03% accounts for differences in hair, eye and skin color, height, body shape, etc. This may point theoretically that we are all members of the human race, and indeed, we share a pretty small and lonely planet.

Most "racial" categorizations can probably be stripped away to reveal the real differences: cultural. Humans latch onto race as a way to give form to their cultural differentiations, because race is often more manifest and obvious. This is especially the case in the modern era, when the intensity of contact between previously distant geographical and cultural zones has been brought increasingly under an amalgamation of westernization in language, technology, trade, etc.

recidivism (criminal)

Repetition of criminal behavior by an offender previously convicted and punished for an offence. Recidivism is a measure of the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs or the deterrent effect of punishment. While an important concept in evaluation research, criminologists have great difficulty in determining just how to measure recidivism. For example, is it recidivism to commit a less serious offence than the previous offence? Is it recidivism to be returned to prison for a violation of the terms of parole (ie: a criminal offence has not been committed)?

reference group


As used by ethnomethodologists the term means that an object or behavior and the description of this can not be separated one from the other, rather they have a mirror—like relationship. Reflexivity and indexicality are properties of behavior, settings and talk which make the ongoing construction of social reality necessary. Both of these properties question the objectivity of accounts, descriptions, explanations, etc. An ethnographic description of a setting is reflexive in that the description seeks to explain features of a particular setting (eg: village life) but the setting itself is what is employed to make sense of the description.


Rather profound change or transformation of personality arising from being placed within a situation or environment no longer conducive to maintaining a previous identity. Some choose this kind of transformation by entering a monastery or nunnery while others have it forced on them by being sentenced to penitentiary. The new identity is a product of these environments and comes from interacting with others and performing the roles required in these settings.


An action performed because of its symbolic significance and its ability to evoke the emotions of those engaged in the performance.

These actions are usually clearly specified by the group and there are additional rules about who can perform the ritual, and when the ritual should be performed. Ritual may be important in maintaining the values of a group or in strengthening group ties. Examples of ritual include communion, aspects of the marriage ceremony, or singing the national anthem before sports events.


A position, or status, within a social structure.

Shaped by relatively precise behavioral expectations (norms), role has been described as the active component of status. The individual, placed within a status in a social structure, performs their role in a way shaped by normative expectations. Individuals have varying ideas about normative standards and their own unique values, so role behavior is not standardized, however radical departure from expected role behavior will usually result in social sanctions.A role is the expected behavior associated with a particular status position - what the individual or group occupying a particular status position is supposed to do.


An aspect of one explanation for the rising crime rate among women: their roles have converged with (become similar to) those of men.


The act of presenting your ‘self’ as being removed or at a distance from the role you are being required to play. For example, by keeping your eyes open when asked to pray or say grace, you communicate to the group that you are making no commitment to the role. A concept from dramaturgical sociology.


Where an individual plays at or pretends to occupy the role of another. This concept is useful for understanding the socialization of children and in particular that stage during which they play at being mothers, fathers, doctors, nurses, or truck drivers. It is during this playing that they master the ability to engage in reflexive role—taking and thus to develop their own sense of self.


Captures the stress or tension that may arise from the performance of a role.

role theory, gender

The theory that women's lesser involvement in crime can be attributed to their socialization into traditional roles within the family and in society.

role-taking, reflexive

Where an individual looks at their own role performance from the perspective of another person. In taking the view point of another, they are able to see themselves as an object, as if from the outside. When we ask: ‘Am I talking too much?’, or, ‘Am I being responsible?’ we are engaging in reflexive role—taking: we are using outside standards —the point of view of another — to look at ourselves.


Emile Durkheim (1858—1917) claimed that all religions divide objects or phenomena into the sacred and the profane. Sacred objects are those which are extraordinary and are treated as if set apart from the routine course of events in daily life. The profane are those objects or phenomena seen as ordinary and constituting the reality of everyday living. Durkheim believed that the celebration of religious beliefs and sacred ritual united the community and integrated individuals and that it enhanced the sharing of collective sentiments and solidarity in profane areas of social life. The secularization and rationalization of Western societies has reduced the realm of the sacred.


A positive or negative response by an individual or group to behavior and designed to encourage or discourage that behavior. Positive sanction would include rewards, compliments, applause, or smiles, while negative sanctions would include punishments, frowns, avoidance, or gossip. Sanctions can be informal (coming from friends and neighbors) or formal (coming from authorized institutions like the police, the government, the school), and must be seen as forms of social control.

secondary deviance

As used by Edwin Lemert secondary deviance refers to deviant behavior which flows from a stigmatized sense of self; the deviance is thought to be consistent with the character of the self. A person's self can be stigmatized or tainted by public labeling. Secondary deviance is contrasted to primary deviance which may be behaviorally identical to secondary deviance but is incorporated into a ‘normal’ sense of self. One may, for example, get drunk several times because one sees oneself as enjoying a party. However, if one notices that friends are hiding their liquor during visits to their house, one may come to see oneself as a ‘drunk’ and then continue to get drunk because one is a drunk. The first acts are primary deviance and the second act is secondary deviance.

secondary group


section, faction—— usually applied to a "breakaway" group from the larger "orthodox" viewpoint.

A religious group that breaks away from a mainstream church. The Branch Davidians, for example, are a sect. Can also refer to any group of people that have a common philosophy and common leadership.

Usually contrasted with churches or denominations, sects are thought to be small and inward-looking religious or spiritual groups which reject the values of the wider society. Examples would be the Jehovah's Witnesses, Salvation Army, Christian Science. These groups typically begin with a charismatic leader who articulates a strong rejection of the compromises made with the secular world by other religions. Over time, as leadership is routinized and members experience some upward mobility, there tends to be more acceptance of worldly matters and secular values.


The process of becoming secular; the separation of civil or educational institutions from ecclesiastical control. The process of organizing society or aspects of social life around non—religious values or principles.

The term is linked closely to Max Weber's concept of a growing ‘disenchantment of the world’ as the sphere of the magical, sacred and religious retreats in cultural significance before the driving force of rationalization of culture and social institutions powered by emergent capitalism.

social bond

The degree to which an individual is integrated into ‘the social’.

Do they have binding ties to the family, to the school, to the workplace, to the community ? While Durkheim first focused on the importance of the social bond it has gained wide acceptance in the theory and research of Travis Hirschi. Hirschi argues that as the socal bond is weakened the degree of deviant involvement goes up.

Social Construction of Reality

An aspect of many micro—interpretive perspectives in sociology and must be understood as a contrast to positivistic and structural sociology. Rejecting the notion that events or social phenomena have an independent and objective existence, they examine the methods that members of society use to create or construct reality. Durkheim, for example was a positivist and a structuralist and argued that suicide had an objective existence, independent of himself and others. That is, there was something about the way of death that constituted something as a suicide. An advocate of the social construction of reality perspective would argue that suicide is just a label for a death and is constituted, or created, by the accounts that people like police, family, or coroners give of the death. Our accounting methods then construct reality rather than there being some independent reality which we can describe or explain. This phrase was used in 1966 by Peter Berger and T. Luckmann.

social control theory

Attempts to explain why it is that all of us do not commit crime. Or to put this another way: why are most people law—abiding? The answer lies in dimensions of social control. The many ways in which people are controlled by family, schools, work situations, conscience, etc. Most conventional theories, by contrast try to explain why individuals commit crime.

social disorganization theory

The theory that crime and other deviant behavior is most likely to occur where social institutions are not able to direct and control groups of individuals. It is argued that gangs will arise spontaneously in social contexts that are weakly controlled. Some criminologists think that the concept of social disorganization just reflects middle—class failure to comprehend organization different from their own.

social mobility

The ability of individuals or groups to modify their status; to go up or down within a social stratification system.

Upward or downward movement within a stratification system. Liberal theory claims that capitalist societies are open-class and therefore one can expect a high degree of social mobility. According to liberal theory this movement within a stratification system should result from a person's achievements and should not be based on ascribed characteristics such as sex, race, region of birth, and parent's class position. Social mobility is typically measured by comparing the status positions of adult children to that of their parents (intergenerational mobility), but it can be measured by comparing a person's status position over their own lifetime (intragenerational mobility). Sociologists see social mobility as a useful way to measure equality of opportunity.

social structure

The patterned and relatively stable arrangement of roles and statuses found within societies and social institutions. The idea of social structure points out the way in which societies, and institutions within them, exhibit predictable patterns of organization, activity and social interaction. This relative stability of organization and behavior provides the quality of predictability that people rely on in every day social interaction. Social structures are inseparable from cultural norms and values that also shape status and social interaction.


A political system in which the means of production, distribution and exchange are mostly owned by the state, and used, at least in theory, on behalf of the people.

In theory, an economy that is a transition between capitalism and communism. It is based on——(1) government, rather than individual, ownership of resources, (2) worker control of the government, such that workers, rather than capitalist, control capital and other productive resources, (3) income allocated on need rather than on resource ownership or contribution to production (using the needs standard rather than the contributive standard).

A political doctrine that upholds the principle of collectivity, rather than individualism, as the foundation for economic and social life. Socialists favour state and co—operative ownership of economic resources, equality of economic condition and democratic rule and management of economic and social institutions.


The process by which individuals adapt themselves to the norms, values and common needs of the society.

(1) A process of social interaction and communication in which an individual comes to learn and internalize the culture of their society or group. Socialization begins immediately at birth, with the conditioning influences of infant handling, and continues throughout an individual's lifetime. Sociologists recognize the limitless variety of individual experiences of socialization, but have given much attention to general patterns of socialization found in individual societies and groups within them. The sociological use of the term refers to the learning and absorption of culture and not simply to the process of interacting with others. (2) The term is also sometimes used to refer to the collective ownership and management of economic resources eg: a nationalized industry or resource, or to publicly provided and financed services eg: ‘socialized medicine’ (medicare).


Any group of people who collectively make up an interdependent community.

A human community, usually with a relatively fixed territorial location, sharing a common culture and common activities. There is cultural and institutional interdependence between members of the society and they are, to some extent, differentiated from other communities and groups. Societies are generally identified as existing at the level of nation states, but there can be regional and cultural communities within nation states that possess much of the cultural distinctiveness and relative self-sufficiency of societies.

status, socioeconomic (SES)

Position within a stratification system.

A term which is often contrasted with that of social class. Socioeconomic status, largely an American usage, has developed as a way to operationalize or measure social class on the assumptions that class groupings are not real groups. It is a rather arbitrary category and is developed by combining the position or score of persons on criteria such as income, amount of education, type of occupation held, or neighborhood of residence. The scores can then be arbitrarily divided so as to create divisions such as upper class, middle class, lower class. Sociologists are interested in socioeconomic status, as they are in class, since it is assumed that this status affects life chances in numerous ways.

Sociological Imagination

As used by C.W. Mills (1916—1962) this term refers to the ability to imagine and understand the intersection between personal biography and historical social structures. This is indeed the essence of sociology: imagining that every individual's life is given meaning, form and significance within historically specific cultures and ways of organizing social life. Having a sociological imagination then is identical with being a good sociologist: it is a standard against which to judge sociology.


As used by Michel Foucault (1926—1884) refers to what psychologists mean by the psyche, the self, subjectivity or human consciousness. Foucault argues, for example, that the development of the penitentiary in the early 19th century resulted in a shift from punishing the body to punishing the soul.


A position in a social structure regulated by norms and usually ranked according to power and prestige.

Status differs from class in that it is a measure of a person's social standing or social honor in a community. Individuals who share the same social class may have very divergent status. For example, people's status is affected by ethnic origin, gender and age as well as their level of recognition in the community. While status is statistically related to class it is common for individuals to have inconsistent class and status locations.

status offense

A delinquency or crime that can only be committed by people occupying a particular status. The Juvenile Delinquents Act (replaced in 1984) for example, created criminal offences of school truancy, incorrigibility, sexual immorality and violations of liquor laws. Only young people could be charged with or found to be in a state of delinquency because of these behaviors. It was found that approximately 20% of young girls coming to youth court did so because of their sexual behavior while few boys were brought to court on these grounds.

status, achieved

A position in a social structure that has been attained by the individual as a result of their individual abilities, work and personal involvements. While occupational statuses are generally achieved, often in a competitive process, one can also achieve more personal statuses, for example ‘married’ is an achieved status.

status, ascribed

A status that is automatically transmitted to an individual at birth or at a particular time in the life cycle. An individual is accorded this status through inheritance or as a result of such characteristics as sex, ethnicity or physical features.


As used by Erving Goffman (1922—1982), a differentness about an individual which is given a negative evaluation by others and thus distorts and discredits the public identity of the person. For example, physical disabilities, facial disfigurement, stuttering, a prison record, being obese, or not being able to read, may become stigmatized attributes. The stigma may lead to the adoption of a self—identity that incorporates the negative social evaluation.


Physical signs of some special moral position. While having Christian origins, Lombroso used the term to refer to physical signs of the state of atavism (a morally and biologically inferior person). The stigmata of criminality for Lombroso were things like the shape of ears, length of fingers and the slope of the forehead.


A concept central to a functionalist approach or to systems theory, both of which assume that society is like an organism or mechanical system. This system is sustained by harmony and integration. However, if something begins to go wrong this is a sign of a fault in the system, or of strain. The system has to find ways to adapt to this strain or correct it or it will lead to the transformation of the system. 

Robert Merton's theory of crime (anomie) in an example of strain theory. He claims that there is often a strain between the culturally defined goals we all strive for and the legitimate means provided for us to achieve those goals.


The layering of a society, in the sense that some people will be above others in the social scale, in terms of class, income, education etc. For example, societies in which a class system is strongly present can be said to be highly stratified.

A social division of individuals into various hierarchies of wealth, status and power. There is disagreement about how to describe stratification systems, some sociologists favour the concept of class and others discuss status differentiations.

structural functionalism

A perspective used to analyze societies and their component features that focuses on their mutual integration and interconnection. Functionalism analyses the way that social processes and institutional arrangements contribute to the effective maintenance and stability of society. The fundamental perspective is opposition to major social change.

structuralist approach

An approach to understanding the role of the state within a conflict or Marxist perspective. The state is seen as captured by the structure of capitalism and while having a degree of autonomy or freedom from the dominant class of society finds it must act so as to reproduce the economic and social structures of capitalism. This approach typically sees the state doing this through attending to three functions: capital accumulation, legitimation and coercion.


A culture—within—a—culture; the somewhat distinct norms, values and behavior of particular groups located within society.

The concept of subculture implies some degree of group self-sufficiency such that individuals may interact, find employment, recreation, friends and mates within the group.


In traditional positivistic and macro—structural sociology, the subjectivity of the researcher and of the subjects is seen as something to be avoided.

The preferred stance for the researcher is objectivity, making the assumption that the observation of the world can occur in a neutral fashion without being influenced by theory or cultural or personal assumptions. The subjectivity of the subjects being studied is to be avoided since it is assumed that peoples lives are shaped by structural and cultural forces of which the subject may be unaware.


Peripheral population center beyond the typical boundaries of a city.

Symbolic Interactionism

A sociological perspective that stresses the way societies are created through the interactions of individuals. Unlike both the consensus (structural functionalist) and conflict perspectives, it does not stress the idea of a social system possessing structure and regularity, but focuses on the way that individuals, through their interpretations of social situations and behavioral negotiation with others, give meaning to social interaction. George H. Mead (1863—1931), a founder of symbolic interactionism, saw interaction as creating and recreating the patterns and structures that bring society to life, but more recently there has been a tendency to argue that society has no objective reality aside from individual interaction. This latter view has been criticized for ignoring the role of culture and social structure in giving shape, direction and meaning to social interaction.


A prohibition or restriction that results from tradition or custom. A polynesian word, first encountered by Captain Cook, meaning literally ‘marked off’. It refers to those special articles or symbols within a culture that are given a distinct status as either sacred, metaphysical or dangerous. Incest is a taboo most are familiar with.


Literally, a lover of technology. Likely to be a person who sees the positive benefits deriving from technology and advocating increased use of technology as a solution to economic, social and political problems within the society.


Literally, the fear of technology.


All sciences use theory as a tool to explain. It is useful to think of theory as a conceptual model of some aspect of life. We may have a theory of mate selection, or the emergence of capitalist societies, or of criminal behavior, or of the content of dreams. In each case the theory consists of a set of concepts and their nominal definition, assertions about the relationships between these concepts, assumptions and knowledge claims. Carl Jung's theory of the self, for examples, begins by asserting the key concepts ——introversion and extroversion, and the relationship between these two components —— one is dominant and the other subordinate. It assumes that the dominant characteristic will be displayed in behavior and the subordinate one in our dreams or unconscious. The content of dreams can be explained by bringing Jung's model to the inquiry. In the classic model of how science is conducted, the scientist begins with a theory, deduces a hypothesis about the real world from the theory and then engages in the necessary research to determine if the hypothesis is true or false. In this way science is always about theory testing.

total institution


A group of three persons.

Has a high possibility of breakdown if two of the members overwhelm and override the third.


A term similar in use to Marx's concept of Lumpenproletariat. A group that is not in a regular economic or social relationship with the rest of the community. Refers to the chronically unemployed, those who live on the proceeds of petty crime, panhandlers, or bag ladies. American sociologists use this term since a large underclass is thought to pose a threat to the stability of society because they are not adequately connected to the institutional and cultural regulation that is experienced by most social members.


The built—up, non—rural area in a region.


Similar to the notion of modernity, this term refers to the form of social organization and values typically found in large urban settings. The central values are those of individualism and impersonality and the major characteristics of social organization are a developed division of labor, high rates of geographic and social mobility and predominance of impersonality in social interactions despite the acute social interdependence.


An increase of people moving to urban areas .


Relatively general cultural prescriptions of what is right, moral and desirable. Values provide the broad foundations for specific normative regulation of social interaction.


Associated with the writing of Max Weber (1864—1920), verstehen is now seen as a concept and a method central to a rejection of positivistic social science (although Weber appeared to think that the two could be united). Verstehen refers to understanding the meaning of action from the actor's point of view. It is entering into the shoes of the other, and adopting this research stance requires treating the actor as a subject, rather than an object of your observations. It also implies that unlike objects in the natural world human actors are not simply the product of the pulls and pushes of external forces. Individuals are seen to create the world by organizing their own understanding of it and giving it meaning. To do research on actors without taking into account the meanings they attribute to their actions or environment is to treat them like objects.


This is often thought of as a psychological desire which makes life just a little more enjoyable, but which is not physiological necessary to life. You need oxygen, but you want a hot fudge sundae. Satisfaction is achieved by fulfilling wants.


Use of Western Europe as a model for change (especially arts, culture, etc.)

The adopting of Western habits, customs, forms of government and social organization, often applied to Third World countries seeking to modernize and industrialize their economies. Westernization can have a backlash, however, if it is done too quickly or without respect for local culture. A classic example is Iran under the Shah, who from 1953 to the 1970s tried to westernize the country but only succeeded in igniting Islamic traditionalists against him.

Whorf-Sapir hypothesis

The assertion that the concepts and structure of languages profoundly shape the perception and world view of speakers. Rather than just being a means of expressing thought, language is claimed to form thought. Thus, people of different language communities will see and understand in different ways. Developed by Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir in the 1930 and grew out of contact with the Native languages of North America. Most sociologists regard the theory as too deterministic and stress the dynamic way in which language responds to social and technical transformation of society.

Wild Boy of Aveyron

Around 1800 a feral, naked child emerged from the woods near Avignon, France, and eventually became comfortable enough to be "adopted" by a doctor who studied his "wild" nature. He could not speak or understand language, and seemed to have been living on his own since he was a small boy. 

The doctor experimented with minimal success in teaching him manners and language. While he came to understand a lot of what was said to him, he never really demonstrated mastery of speaking and using more that a few words.

His case is perhaps the most famous of all of those that have been tracked. Typically, children are either abandoned/abused, are orphaned due to was or sickness, or simply run away. Many suffer from a genetic abnormality or birth defect, while others are mentally ill (either due to their experience, or were born with a cognitive deficit.

working class

Industrial workers, and others, skilled and unskilled, who work in manual occupations, as a class. In Marxist thought, the working class is referred to as the proletariat. This term has been found more frequently in Britain and while having an imprecise meaning, generally includes skilled and unskilled manual workers (perhaps synonymous with blue—collar workers) and sometimes lower levels of white—collar workers. Is similar in meaning to lower class unless it is used in a more Marxian sense to refer to those who work for a living ie: the proletariat.


Irrational dislike of foreign people and foreign things. An individual's irrational and obsessive hatred of people perceived as different and foreign. Related to the concepts of racism and ethnocentrism. All of these can be overcome by the study of the social sciences and coming to appreciate the ideas of culture and social structure as tools for understanding ourselves and others.


After the modern age.

A controversial theme surrounding the late 20th century; a theory involving social critique of the modern era and the increasing tendency to view "modernity" as being "over".


The action of objectively taking on a different or new role in order to experience it or learn from it. Often times the objective action is limited and instead, the role—taking is subjectively experienced through dialogic contact with someone who actively plays the role.


Often unexpected change in roles—— unanticipated or unwanted, leaving an individual to perform the role without always receiving the corresponding status or effectively executing the expected behavior sets which adjoin the role. Role—reversal commonly leads to strain and can have dramatic effects on individual's self—satisfaction.


The actual behavior of people who occupy a status.


The occupant of a status in relation to whom we perform roles.


A set of roles attached to a status.

dramaturgical, dramaturgy

The study of social interaction as theater in which actors play roles before audiences.

As used by Erving Goffman (1922—1982) and symbolic interactionists since, this is a metaphor for understanding human interaction and how humans present their self in society. All the world is conceived as a stage and individuals are seen as actors who present a show of their self by putting their ‘best foot forward." The metaphor is extended by Goffman through concepts such as ‘front stage’, ‘back stage,"‘presentation of self’.


The practice of avoiding occupying statuses for which specific individuals are role partners for more than one of our roles.


Incompatibility of enactment of two or more different roles that one person can enact at a certain time or place. The role conflict can be of short duration, tied to a certain situation, or long—lived. An example of role conflict would be a husband and father who is also Chief of Police. If a tornado strikes the small town he is living in, the man has to decide if he should go home and be with his family and fulfill the role of being a good husband and father or remain and fulfill the duties of a "good" Chief of Police because the whole town needs his expertise.


Rule by the Wealthy.

(1) government by the wealthy, (2) a controlling class of the wealthy. Distinct from "Aristocracy" where land-ownership is the basic component of access to power.


more mor-ay

Industrial Revolution

The industrial and technological changes that started in England around 1760 and spread rapidly to other countries.

The industrial revolution laid the foundations of the modern industrial system. Its main features were the invention of new machinery, which led to largescale factory production; the rise of industrialists who headed large enterprises; the rise of a wage-earning class; the expansion of trade; the growth of cities and the depopulation of the countryside.

The production of goods for trade and profit using machines to enhance the productivity of labor. The term is used to describe the profound technological changes that began in England in the mid 18th century. Before the 18th century there was very little power machinery except wind and water mills and production was carried out with hand tools and hard human labor. The industrial revolution introduced technologies that could employ power from water, steam, gas, coal, electricity and oil to replace or enhance human labor. This made possible a level of economic productivity that had never before been achieved and it initiated a process of unending technological transformation and social change. Socially, the industrial revolution is associated with the rational organization of work, a transformation from a society of self sufficient producers to a society of employed wage workers and the spread of a market-driven system of allocation of resources. Social scientists continue to be interested in how this technological transformation affected social relations, politics, community life, family structure, and women's role in society. Many people argue that the computerization of society is bringing with it a set of changes equal in importance to the industrial revolution.

sacred canopy

Referring to the system of socially constucted objective and subjective meaning systems which help human societies organize their mundane worlds with significance and purpose.

A term first coined by sociologists Peter Berger & Thomas Luckmann to refer to religion as a socially constructed reality designed to protect humans from the "unknowable" seemingly blind and capricious forces of the universe.

exogamous marriage

"out—marriage"— marrying outside of one's tribe or group, especially as procribed by law or custom.

gamous = "marriage" in Greek.

endogamous marriage

"in—marriage"— marrying within the same tribe or group.

gamous = "marriage" in Greek.

Scientific Method

logical procedure for gathering and testing scientific ideas

The methods and techniques of investigation and analysis used in the sciences to develop theories and design experiments. Usually scientific methods attempt to discover the causes of things and the relationships between variables. The key assumption of scientific method is that a claim or theory can be tested by discoverable and measurable evidence. Scientific experiment and research has led to the development of many laws : mechanics, electrical energy, light, transfer of heat, relativity etc.

Generally, scientific method involves the steps of gathering of data, by observation and research, formulation of hypotheses, testing by experiment, replication of tests to ensure consistent results, and avoidance of personal bias and pre-judgement. A theory or hypothesis must be stated in a testable form to have scientific status: it must be clear enough that it can be disproven.

Custom, customary

traditional landholdings, rights, and rents on a MANOR which were invariable

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

British, developed a system of philosophy based on the theory of evolution, believed in the primacy of personal freedom and reasoned thinking. Sought to develop a system whereby all human endeavours could be explained rationally and scientifically.

Sunbelt versus Frostbelt

A trend wherein people moved from the northern and eastern states to the south and southwest region from Virginia to California.


Kinship is the recognition of a relationship between persons based on descent or marriage. If the relationship between one person and another is considered by them to involve descent, the two are consanguines ("blood") relatives. If the relationship has been established through marriage, it is affinal.

The socially recognized relationship between people in a culture who are or are held to be biologically related or who are given the status of relatives by marriage, adoption, or other ritual. Kinship is the broad-ranging term for all the relationships that people are born into or create later in life and that are considered binding in the eyes of their society. Although customs vary as to which bonds are accorded greater weight, their very acknowledgment defines individuals and the roles that society expects them to play. Kinship is a system of social relationships that are expressed in a biological idiom, using terms like "mother", "son," and so on. It is best visualized as a mass of networks of relatedness, not two of which are identical, that radiate from each individual. Kinship is the basic organizing principle in small-scale societies like those of the Aborigines and provides a model for interpersonal behavior (Tonkinson, 1991:57).

agents of socialization

Families, schools, tv, peer groups, and other influences that contribute to political socialization by shaping formal and (especially) informal learning about politics.


an economic system based on private ownership of capital

elite and class theory

A theory of government and politics contending that societies are divided along class lines and that an upper-class elite will rule, regardless of the formal niceties of governmental organization.

income distribution

the "shares" of the national income earned by various groups

potential group

All the people who might be interest group members because they share some common interest. It is almost always larger than an actual group.

Contextual explanation

A form of explanation that relies on the particular context for its validity. This can often be the context of a particular place or location.

Deductive reasoning

A process of reasoning that starts from a general hypothesis or statement and works toward specific conclusions.

empiricism, empirical

An approach that emphasizes observation and experimentation over theory.

The philosophical belief that sensory input (seeing, touching, hearing, etc.) is the sole source and test of knowledge.

Environmental determinism

A set of ideas, dominant in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century geography, that asserts that environmental (natural, climatic) conditions determine and delimit human life. Associated with Ellen Semple, Ellsworth Huntingdon, and Griffith Taylor.


What society makes out of sexual difference – ideas and practices of masculinity and femininity.


Refers to both the thought of the period following (or at the end of) modernism and to theory that is opposed to thought associated with modernity – particularly the rigid certainties of forms of science, planning, and structuralism.

Productive forces

A Marxist term for the sum of technologies of labor (knowledge, tools, arrangements of space, etc.) and labor power at a given moment in a society’s development. Together with the relations of production they form the mode of production, the development of which is seen as the prime driver of history.

Social constructionism

A view that asserts that particular objects or categories are products of particular social arrangements rather than objects of nature with inherent qualities. Often opposed to “essentialism.”

Social theory

Theories which are used to describe and explain social phenomena. Often these take normative positions and seek to critique traditional social thought.


A deep generative arrangement or mechanism (such as the relations of production, or patriarchy, for instance) that produces or determines everyday actions.


Any non-kin based group, organized for a specific purpose.

Archaic/Catholic: typically a religious fraternity. A fellowship.

macrosociology, microsociology



Sociology Internet Sites

It is interesting that there are few general sociology sites of any kind of quality. This probably reflects both the waning interest in the discipline, as well as its fragmentation between the major theoretical perspectives once a student gets to the graduate level. Many of the general sites that ambitiously began during the early days of the internet are gone, or filled with broken links. The best sites remain those of the major university departments— publishing papers and other perspectives. Also sociology is alive and doing very well in Europe, so many of the stronger sites are not of strong use for students who only read English.

Resources for Sociology Students