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Sociological perspective

understanding human behavior by placing it within its broader social context.


people who share a culture and a territory

Social location

the group memberships that people have because of their location in history and society.


the application of systematic methods to obtain knowledge and the knowledge obtained by those methods.

Natural sciences

the intellectual and academic disciplines designed to comprehend, explain, and predict events in our natural environments.

Social sciences

the intellectual and academic disciplines designed to understand the social world objectively by means of controlled and repeated observations.


a statement that goes beyond the individual case and is applied to a broader group or situation.

Common sense

those things that "everyone knows" are true.

Scientific method

the use of objective systematic observations to test theories.


the application of the scientific approach to the social world.


the scientific study of society and human behavior.

Auguste Comte

credited as the founder of sociology, began to analyze the bases of the social order. Although he stressed that the scientific method should be applied to the study of society, he did not apply it himself.

Herbert Spencer

sometimes called the second founder of sociology, coined the term "survival of the fittest." Spencer thought that helping the poor was wrong, that this merely helped the "less fit" survive.

Karl Marx

believed that the roots of human misery lay in class conflict, the exploitation of workers by those who own the means of production. Social change, in the form of the overthrow of the capitalists by the workers (proletariat), was inevitable from Marx's perspective. Although Marx did not consider him-self a sociologist, his ideas have influenced many sociologists, particularly conflict theorists.

Class conflict

Marx's term for the struggle between capitalists and workers


Marx's term for capitalists, those who own the means of production.


Marx's term for the exploited class, the mass of workers who do not own the means of production.

Emile Durkheim

contributed many important concepts to sociology. His comparison of the suicide rates of several counties revealed an underlying social factor: People are more likely to commit suicide if their ties to others in their communities are weak. Durkheim's identification of the key role of social integration in social life remains central to sociology today.

Social integration

the degree to which members of a group or a society feel united by shared values and other social bonds; also known as social cohesion.

Max Weber

early sociologist who left a profound impression on sociology. He used cross-cultural and historical materials to trace the causes of social change and to determine how social groups affect people's orientations to life.

Value free

the view that a sociologist's personal values or biases should not influence social research.


the standards by which people define what is desirable or undesirable, good or bad, beautiful or ugly.


value neutrality in research.


the repetition of a study in order to test its findings


a German word used by Weber that is perhaps best understood as "to have insight into someone's situation".

Subjective meanings

the meanings that people give their own behavior.

Social facts

Durkheim's term for a group's patterns of behavior.

W.E.B. Du Bois

spent his lifetime studying relations between African Americans and whites. Like many early North Americans sociologists, Du Bois combined the role of academic sociologist with that of social reformer. He was also the editor of Crisis, an influential journal of the time.

Jane Addams

recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace, worked on behalf of poor immigrants. With Ellen G. Starr, she founded Hull-House, a center to help immigrants in Chicago. She was also a leader in women's rights (women's suffrage), as well as the peace movement of World War I.

C. Wright Mills

controversial figure in sociology because of his analysis of the role of the power elite in U.S. society. Today, his analysis is taken for granted by many sociologists and members of the public.

Basic (or pure) sociology

sociological research for the purpose of making discoveries about life in human groups, not for making changes in those groups.

Applied sociology

the use of sociology to solve problems, from the micro level of family relationships to the macro level of global pollution.


a statement about how some parts of the world fit together and how they work; an explanation of how two or more facts are related to one another.

Symbolic interactionism

a theoretical perspective in which society is viewed as composed of symbols that people use to establish meaning, develop their views of the world, and communicate with one another.

George Mead

one of the founders of symbolic interactionism, a major theoretical perspective in sociology. He taught at the University of Chicago, where his lectures were popular. Although he wrote little, after his death students compiled his lectures into an influential book, Mind, Self, and Society.

Functional analysis

a theoretical framework in which society is viewed as composed of various parts, each with a function that, when fulfilled, contributes to society's equilibrium; also known as functionalism and structural functionalism.

Robert Merton

spent most of his academic career at Columbia University, was a major proponent of functionalism, one of the main theoretical perspectives in sociology

Conflict theory

a theoretical framework in which society is viewed as composed of groups that are competing for scarce resources.

Macro-level analysis

an examination of large-scale patterns of society.

Micro-level analysis

an examination of small-scale patterns of society.

Social interaction

what people do when they are in one another's presence.

Nonverbal interaction

communication without words through gestures, use of space, silence, and so on.

Public sociology

sociology being used for the public good; especially the sociological perspective (of how things are related to one another) guiding politicians and policy makers.


the extensive interconnections among nations due to the expansion of capitalism.

Globalization of capitalism

capitalism (investing to make profits within a rational system) becoming the globe's dominant economic system.

When did sociology first appear as a separate discipline?

Sociology emerges as a separate discipline in the mid-1800s in western Europe, during the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Industrialization affected all aspects of human existence - where people lived, the nature of their work, their relationships, and how they viewed life. Early sociologists who focused on these social changes include Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, Emile Durheim, Max Weber, Harriet Martineau, and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Should the purpose of social research be only to advance human understanding or also to reform society?

Sociologists agree that research should be objective, that is, that the researcher's values and beliefs should not agree on the uses and purposes of social research. Some say that its purpose should be only to advance understanding of human behavior; others, that its goal should be to reform harmful social arrangements.

How do sociologists use Verstehen and social facts to study human behavior?

According to Weber, to understand why people act as they do, sociologists must try to put themselves in their shoes. He used the German verb Verstehen, "to grasp by insight," to describe this essentially subjective approach. Although not denying the importance of Verstehen, Emile Durkheim emphasized the importance of uncovering social facts, social conditions that influence how people behave. Contemporary sociologists use both approaches to understand human behavior.

When were the first academic departments of sociology established in the United Sates?

The earliest departments of sociology were established in the late 1800s at the universities of Kansas, Chicago, and Atlanta. In sociology's early years, the contributions of women and minorities were largely ignored.

What was the position of women and minorities in early sociology?

Sociology developed during a historical period of deep sexism and racism. The few women, such as Harriet Marineau, and minorities, such as W.E.B. Du Bois who received the education necessary to become sociologists felt the sting of discrimination.

What is the difference between basic (or pure) and applied sociology?

Basic (or pure) sociology is sociological research whose purpose is to make discoveries. In contrast, applied sociology is the use of sociology to solve problems.

What is a theory?

A theory is a general statement about how facts are related to one another. A theory provides a conceptual framework for interpreting facts.

What are sociology's major theoretical perspectives?

Symbolic interactionists
Conflict theorists

Symbolic interactionists

examine how people use symbols to develop and share their views of the world. Symbolic interactionists usually focus on the micro level - on a small scale, face-to-face interaction.


focus on the macro level - on large scale patterns of society. They stress that a social system is made up of interrelated parts. When working properly, each part fulfills a function that contributes to the system's stability.

Conflict theorists

focus on large-scale patterns of society. They stress that society is composed of competing groups that struggle for scarce resources.

What trends are likely to have an impact on sociology?

Sociology has gone through three phases: the first was an emphasis on reforming society; the second had its focus on basic sociology; the third, today's phase, is taking us closer to our roots of applying sociology to social change. Public sociology is the most recent example of this change. A second major trend, globalization, is likely to broaden sociological horizons, refocusing research and theory away from its concentrations on U.S. society.


the language, beliefs, values, norms, behaviors, and even material objects that characterize a group and are passed from one generation to the next.

Material culture

the material objects that distinguish a group of people, such as their art, buildings, weapons, utensils, machines, hairstyles, clothing, and jewelry.

Nonmaterial culture

(also called symbolic culture) a group's way of thinking (including beliefs, values, norms, and other assumptions about the world) and doing (its common patterns of behavior; including language and other forms of interaction)


recurring characteristics or events.

Culture shock

the disorientation that people experience when they come in contact with a fundamentally different culture and can no longer depend on their taken-for-granted assumptions about life.


the use of one's own culture as a yard-stick for judging the ways of other individuals or societies, generally leading to a negative evaluation of their values, norms, and behaviors.

Cultural relativism

not judging a culture but trying to understand it on its own terms.

Symbolic culture

another term for nonmaterial culture.


something to which people attach meanings and then use to communicate with others.


the ways in which people use their bodies to communicate with one another.


a system of symbols that can be combined in an infinite number of ways and can represent not only objects but also abstract thought.

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf's hypothesis that language creates ways of thinking and perceiving.


the standards by which people define what is desirable or undesirable, good or bad, beautiful or ugly.


expectations, or rules of behavior, that reflect and enforce behavior.


either expressions of approval given to people for upholding norms or expressions of disapproval for violating them.

Positive sanctions

a reward or positive reaction for following norms, ranging from a smile to a material reward.

Negative sanctions

an expression of disapproval for breaking a norm, ranging from a mild, informal reaction such as a frown to a formal reaction such as a prison sentence or an exclusion.


norms that are not strictly enforced.


norms that are strictly enforced because they are thought essential to core values or to the well-being of the group.


a norm so strong that it brings extreme sanctions and even revulsion if someone violates it.


the values and related behaviors of a group that distinguish its members from the larger culture; a world within a world.


a group whose values, beliefs, norms, and related behaviors place its members in opposition to the broader culture.

Pluralistic society

a society made up of many different groups, with contrasting values and orientations to life.

Value cluster

values that together form a larger whole.

Value contradiction

values that contradict one another; to follow the one means to come into conflict with the other.

Ideal culture

people's ideal values and norms; the goals held out for them.

Real culture

the norms and values that people actually follow.

Cultural universal

a value, norm, or other cultural trait that is found in every group.


a framework of thought that views human behavior as the result of natural selection and considers biological factors to be the fundamental cause of human behavior.


in its narrow sense, tools; its broader sense includes the skills or procedures necessary to make and use those tools.

New technology

the emerging technologies of an era that have a significant impact on social life.

Cultural lag

Ogburn's term for human behavior lagging behind technology.

Cultural diffusion

the spread of cultural traits from one group to another; includes both material and nonmaterial cultural traits.

What is Culture?

All human groups possess culture - language, beliefs, values, norms, and material objects that are passed from one generation to the next. Material culture consists of objects (art, buildings, clothing, weapons, tools). Nonmaterial (or symbolic) culture is a group's way of thinking and its patterns of behavior. Ideal culture is a group's ideal values, norms, and goals. Real culture is people's actual behavior, which often falls short of their .

What are cultural relativism and ethnocentrism?

People are ethnocentric; that is, they use their own culture as a yardstick for judging the ways of others. In contrasts, those who embrace cultural relativism try to understand other cultures on those cultures terms.

What are the components of nonmaterial culture?

The central component is symbols, anything to which people attach meaning and that they use to communicate with others. Universally, the symbols of nonmaterial culture are gestures, language, values, norms, sanctions, folkways, and mores.

Why is language so significant to culture?

Language allows human experience to be goal-directed, cooperative, and cumulative. It also lets humans move beyond the present and share a past, future, and other common perspectives. According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, language even shapes our thoughts and perceptions.

How do values, norms, sanctions, folkways, and mores reflect culture?

All groups have values, standards by which they define what is desirable or undesirable, and norms, rules or expectations about behavior. Groups use positive sanctions to show approval of those who follow their norms and negative sanctions to show disapproval of those who do not. Norms that are not strictly enforced are called folkways, while mores are norms to which groups demand conformity because they reflect core values.

How do subcultures and countercultures differ?

A subculture is a group whose values and related behaviors distinguish its members from the general culture. A counterculture holds some values that stand in opposition to those of the dominant culture.

What are some core U.S. values?

Although the United States is a pluralistic society, made up of many groups, each with its own set of values, certain values dominate: achievement and success, individualism, hard work, efficiency and practicality, science and technology, material comfort, freedom, democracy, equality, group superiority, education, religiosity, and romantic love. Some values cluster together (value clusters) to form a larger whole. Value contradictions (such as equality, sexism, and racism) indicate areas of tension, which are likely points of social change. Leisure, self-fulfillment, physical fitness, youthfulness, and concern for the environment are emerging core values. Core values do not change without opposition.

Do cultural universals exist?

Cultural universals are values, norms, or other cultural traits that are found in all cultures. Although all human groups have customs concerning cooking, childbirth, funerals, and so on, because these customs differ from one culture to another, there are no cultural universals.

How is technology changing culture?

William Ogburn coined the term cultural lag to describe how a group's nonmaterial culture lags behind its changing technology. With today's technological advances in travel and communications, cultural diffusion is occurring rapidly. This leads to cultural leveling, groups becoming similar as they adopt items from other cultures. Much of the richness of the world's diverse cultures is being lost in the process.

Social environment

the entire human environment including direct contact with others.

Feral children

children assumed to have been raised by animals, in the wilderness, isolated from humans.


the process by which people learn the characteristics of their group - the knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, and actions thought appropriate for them.


the unique human capacity of being able to see ourselves "from the outside"; the views we internalize of how others see us.

Looking glass self

a term coined by Charles Cooley to refer to the process by which our self develops through internalizing others' reactions to us.

Taking the role of the other

putting oneself in someone else's shoes; understanding how someone else feels and thinks and thus anticipating how that person will act.

Significant other

an individual who significantly influences someone else's life.

Generalized other

the norms, values, attitudes, and expectations of people "in general"; the child's ability to take the role of the generalized other is a significant step in the development of a self.


Freud's term for our inborn basic drives


Freud's term for a balancing force between the id and the demands of society.


Freud's term for the conscience; the internalized norms and values of our social groups.


the behaviors and attitudes that a society considers proper for its males and females; masculinity or femininity.

Gender socialization

the ways in which society sets children on different paths in life because they are male or female.

Peer group

a group of individuals of roughly the same age who are linked by common interests.

Mass media

forms of communication, such as radio, newspapers, television, and blogs that are directed to mass audiences.

Gender role

the behaviors and attitudes expected of people because they are female or male.

Social inequality

a social condition in which privileges and obligations are given to some but denied to others.

Agents of socialization

individuals or groups that affect our self-concept, attitudes, behaviors, or to their orientations toward life.

Manifest functions

the intended beneficial consequences of people's actions.

Latent functions

unintended beneficial consequences of people's actions.

Anticipatory socialization

the process of learning in advance of an anticipated future role or status.


the process of learning new norms, values, attitudes, and behaviors.

Total institution

a place that is almost totally controlled by those who run it, in which people are cut off from the rest of society and the society is mostly cut off from them.

Degradation ceremony

a term coined by Harold Garfinkel to refer to a ritual whose goal is to strip away someone's position (social status); in doing so, a new social and self-identity is stamped on the individual.

Life course

the stages of our life as we go from birth to death.

Transitional adulthood

a term that refers to a period following high school when young adults have not yet taken on the responsibilities ordinarily associated with adulthood; also called adultolescence.

How much of our human characteristics come from "nature" (heredity) and how much come from "nurture" (the social environment)?

Observations of isolated, institutionalized, and feral children help to answer the nature-nurture question, as do experiments with monkeys that were raised in isolation. Language and intimate social interaction - aspects of "nurture" - are essential to the development of what we consider to be human characteristics.

How do we acquire a self?

Humans are born with the capacity to develop a self, but the self must be socially constructed; that is, its contents depend on social interaction. According to Charles Cooley's concept of the looking-glass self, our self develops as we internalize others' reaction to us. George Mead identified the ability to take the role of the other as essential to the development of the self. Mead concluded that even the mind is a social product.

How do children develop reasoning skills?

Jean Piaget identified four stages that children go through as the develop the ability to reason:
(1) sensorimotor, in which understanding is limited to sensory stimuli such as touch and sight;
(2) preoperational, the ability to use symbols;
(3) concrete operational, in which reasoning ability is more complex but not yet capable of complex abstractions; and
(4) formal operational, or abstract thinking.

How do sociologists evaluate Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality development?

Sigmund Freud viewed personality development as the result of our id (inborn, self-centered desires) clashing with the demands of society. The ego develops to balance the id and the superego, the conscience. Sociologists, in contrast, do not examine inborn or subconscious motivations, but, instead, consider how social factors - social class, gender, religion, education, and so forth - underlie personality.

How do people develop morality?

Children are born without morality. Lawrence Kohlberg identified four stages children go through as they learn morality: amoral, preconventional, conventional, and postconventional. As they make moral decisions, both men and women use personal relationships and abstract principles.

How does socialization influence emotions?

Socialization influences not only how we express our emotion but also what emotions we feel. Socialization into emotions is one the means by which society produces conformity.

How does gender socialization affect our sense of self?

Gender socialization - sorting of males and females into different roles - is a primary means of controlling human behavior. Children receive messages about gender even in infancy. A society's ideals of sex-linked behaviors are reinforced by its social institutions.

What are the agents of socialization?

The agents of socialization include the family, neighborhood, religion, day care, school, peer groups, the mass media, and the workplace. Each has its particular influences in socializing us into becoming full-fledged members of society.

What is resocialization?

Resocialization is the process of learning new norms, values, attitudes, and behavior. Most resocialization is voluntary, but some, as with residents of total institutions, is involuntary.

Does socialization end when we enter adulthood?

Socialization occurs throughout the life course. In industrialized societies, the life course can be divided into childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, the middle years, and the older years. The West is adding a new stage, transitional adulthood. Life course pattern vary by geography, history, gender, race - ethnicity, and social class, as well as by individual experiences such as health and age at marriage.

Are We Prisoners of Socialization?

Although socialization is powerful, we are not merely the sum of our socialization experiences. Just as socialization influences human behavior, so humans act on their environment and influence even their self-concept.


analysis of social life that focuses on broad feature of society, such as social class and the relationships of groups to one another; usually used by functionalists and conflict theorists.


analysis of social life that focuses on social interaction; typically used by symbolic interactionists.

Social interaction

what people do when they are in one another's presence.

Social structure

the framework (or typical patterns) that surrounds us, consisting of the relationships of people and groups to one another, which gives direction to and sets limits on behavior.

Social class

according to Weber, a large group of people who rank close to one another in property power, and prestige; according to Marx, one of two groups: capitalists who own the means of production or workers who sell their labor.


the position that someone occupies in a social group.

Status set

all the statuses or positions that an individual occupies.

Ascribed status

a position an individual either inherits at birth or receives involuntarily later in life.

Achieved status

a position that is earned, accomplished, or involves at least some effort or activity on the individual's part.

Status symbols

items used to identify status.

Master status

a status that cuts across the other statuses that an individual occupies.

Status inconsistency

ranking high on some dimensions of social class and low on others, also called status discrepancy.


the behaviors, obligations, and privileges attached to a status.

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