Save Time On Research and Writing
Hire a Pro to Write You a 100% Plagiarism-Free Paper.
Get My Paper

Intro to Sociology

Gender Identity

Directions: Please be sure to complete Part 1 and Part 2. Type in all black, size 12 Times New Roman font. Thanks & happy writing!

“Doing Gender” Part 1/2

Save Time On Research and Writing
Hire a Pro to Write You a 100% Plagiarism-Free Paper.
Get My Paper

Directions: A person is considered to be “doing gender” based on the tasks or characteristics they display.  For this assignment, analyze how you are “doing gender” in your daily life.  Think about how your clothes, hair, music, hobbies, the type of car you drive, the t.v shows you watch, your body language during conversations, say about your gender. 

List 5 Ways You Are “Doing Gender


2. wearing mam




Socialization of Gender Part 2/2

Directions: Select 3 of the 4 factors of socialization (from the gender & sex chapter) to explain how each factor shaped/impacted your gender identity or how you “do gender”. Your explanation for each factor should be no less than 1 paragraph.

List the Factor of Socialization
(Only select 3 factors)

Explain How the Factor of Socialization Shaped/impacted Your Gender Identity, How you Express Your Gender, or Sexual Orientation

Factor of Socialization: Media

Factor of Socialization: Family

Factor of Socialization:

Introduction to Sociology 3e


Rice University
6100 Main Street MS-375
Houston, Texas 77005

To learn more about OpenStax, visit
Individual print copies and bulk orders can be purchased through our website.

©2021 Rice University. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution
4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0). Under this license, any user of this textbook or the textbook contents herein
must provide proper attribution as follows:

– If you redistribute this textbook in a digital format (including but not limited to PDF and HTML), then you must
retain on every page the following attribution:
“Access for free at”
– If you redistribute this textbook in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following
“Access for free at”
– If you redistribute part of this textbook, then you must retain in every digital format page view (including but
not limited to PDF and HTML) and on every physical printed page the following attribution:
“Access for free at”
– If you use this textbook as a bibliographic reference, please include in your citation.

For questions regarding this licensing, please contact

The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, OpenStax CNX logo, OpenStax
Tutor name, Openstax Tutor logo, Connexions name, Connexions logo, Rice University name, and Rice University
logo are not subject to the license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice

HARDCOVER BOOK ISBN-13 978-1-711493-98-5
PAPERBACK BOOK ISBN-13 978-1-951693-37-4
B&W PAPERBACK BOOK ISBN-13 978-1-711493-97-8
DIGITAL VERSION ISBN-13 978-1-951693-36-7
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 MJ 21


OpenStax provides free, peer-reviewed, openly licensed textbooks for introductory college and Advanced
Placement® courses and low-cost, personalized courseware that helps students learn. A nonprofit ed tech
initiative based at Rice University, we’re committed to helping students access the tools they need to complete
their courses and meet their educational goals.


OpenStax, OpenStax CNX, and OpenStax Tutor are initiatives of Rice University. As a leading research
university with a distinctive commitment to undergraduate education, Rice University aspires to path-breaking
research, unsurpassed teaching, and contributions to the betterment of our world. It seeks to fulfill this
mission by cultivating a diverse community of learning and discovery that produces leaders across the
spectrum of human endeavor.


OpenStax is grateful for the generous philanthropic partners who advance our mission to improve educational
access and learning for everyone. To see the impact of our supporter community and our most updated list of
partners, please visit

Arnold Ventures
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
Chegg, Inc.
Arthur and Carlyse Ciocca Charitable Foundation
Digital Promise
Ann and John Doerr
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Girard Foundation
Google Inc.
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
The Hewlett-Packard Company
Intel Inc.
Rusty and John Jaggers
The Calvin K. Kazanjian Economics Foundation
Charles Koch Foundation
Leon Lowenstein Foundation, Inc.
The Maxfield Foundation
Burt and Deedee McMurtry
Michelson 20MM Foundation
National Science Foundation
The Open Society Foundations
Jumee Yhu and David E. Park III
Brian D. Patterson USA-International Foundation
The Bill and Stephanie Sick Fund
Steven L. Smith & Diana T. Go
Stand Together
Robin and Sandy Stuart Foundation
The Stuart Family Foundation
Tammy and Guillermo Treviño
Valhalla Charitable Foundation
White Star Education Foundation

Study where you want, what
you want, when you want.
Access. The future of education.
When you access your book in our web view, you can use our new online
highlighting and note-taking features to create your own study guides.
Our books are free and flexible, forever.
Get started at

Preface 1
An Introduction to Sociology 7
Introduction 7
1.1 What Is Sociology? 8
1.2 The History of Sociology 10
1.3 Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology 17
1.4 Why Study Sociology? 23
Key Terms 26
Section Summary 27
Section Quiz 27
Short Answer 29
Further Research 30
References 30
Sociological Research 35
Introduction 35
2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research 36
2.2 Research Methods 40
2.3 Ethical Concerns 53
Key Terms 56
Section Summary 57
Section Quiz 58
Short Answer 60
Further Research 61
References 61
Culture 65
Introduction 65
3.1 What Is Culture? 66
3.2 Elements of Culture 73
3.3 High, Low, Pop, Sub, Counter-culture and Cultural Change 80
3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture 84
Key Terms 87
Section Summary 88
Section Quiz 89
Short Answer 92
Further Research 93
References 93
Society and Social Interaction 97
Introduction 97

4.1 Types of Societies 98
4.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Society 103
4.3 Social Constructions of Reality 109
Key Terms 114
Section Summary 114
Section Quiz 115
Short Answer 117
Further Research 117
References 118
Socialization 119
Introduction 119
5.1 Theories of Self-Development 121
5.2 Why Socialization Matters 124
5.3 Agents of Socialization 127
5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course 133
Key Terms 138
Section Summary 138
Section Quiz 139
Short Answer 141
Further Research 142
References 142
Groups and Organization 147
Introduction 147
6.1 Types of Groups 148
6.2 Group Size and Structure 153
6.3 Formal Organizations 159
Key Terms 164
Section Summary 165
Section Quiz 165
Short Answer 168
Further Research 169
References 169
Deviance, Crime, and Social Control 173
Introduction 173
7.1 Deviance and Control 174
7.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Deviance and Crime 178
7.3 Crime and the Law 186
Key Terms 193
Section Summary 194
Section Quiz 194
Short Answer 196
Further Research 197
References 197
Access for free at

Media and Technology 201
Introduction 201
8.1 Technology Today 202
8.2 Media and Technology in Society 207
8.3 Global Implications of Media and Technology 214
8.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Media and Technology 219
Key Terms 224
Section Summary 224
Section Quiz 225
Short Answer 228
Further Research 229
References 229
Social Stratification in the United States 235
Introduction 235
9.1 What Is Social Stratification? 236
9.2 Social Stratification and Mobility in the United States 242
9.3 Global Stratification and Inequality 249
9.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Social Stratification 251
Key Terms 255
Section Summary 255
Section Quiz 256
Short Answer 258
Further Research 259
References 260
Global Inequality 263
Introduction 263
10.1 Global Stratification and Classification 264
10.2 Global Wealth and Poverty 271
10.3 Theoretical Perspectives on Global Stratification 278
Key Terms 280
Section Summary 280
Section Quiz 281
Short Answer 283
Further Research 284
References 284
Race and Ethnicity 289
Introduction 289
11.1 Racial, Ethnic, and Minority Groups 290
11.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity 294
11.3 Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism 296
11.4 Intergroup Relationships 301
11.5 Race and Ethnicity in the United States 305
Key Terms 319
Section Summary 319

Section Quiz 320
Short Answer 323
Further Research 323
References 324
Gender, Sex, and Sexuality 329
Introduction 329
12.1 Sex, Gender, Identity, and Expression 330
12.2 Gender and Gender Inequality 341
12.3 Sexuality 351
Key Terms 356
Section Summary 356
Section Quiz 357
Short Answer 359
Further Research 360
References 360
Aging and the Elderly 367
Introduction 367
13.1 Who Are the Elderly? Aging in Society 368
13.2 The Process of Aging 377
13.3 Challenges Facing the Elderly 385
13.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Aging 390
Key Terms 397
Section Summary 398
Section Quiz 398
Short Answer 401
Further Research 402
References 402
Relationships, Marriage, and Family 409
Introduction 409
14.1 What Is Marriage? What Is a Family? 410
14.2 Variations in Family Life 416
14.3 Challenges Families Face 422
Key Terms 430
Section Summary 430
Section Quiz 431
Short Answer 433
Further Research 433
References 434
Religion 441
Introduction 441
15.1 The Sociological Approach to Religion 442
15.2 World Religions 448
15.3 Religion in the United States 455
Access for free at

Key Terms 460
Section Summary 460
Section Quiz 461
Short Answer 463
Further Research 463
References 464
Education 467
Introduction 467
16.1 Education around the World 469
16.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Education 475
16.3 Issues in Education 482
Key Terms 487
Section Summary 487
Section Quiz 488
Short Answer 490
Further Research 490
References 491
Government and Politics 495
Introduction 495
17.1 Power and Authority 496
17.2 Forms of Government 501
17.3 Politics in the United States 507
17.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Government and Power 509
Key Terms 513
Section Summary 513
Section Quiz 514
Short Answer 517
Further Research 518
References 518
Work and the Economy 521
Introduction to Work and the Economy 521
18.1 Economic Systems 523
18.2 Globalization and the Economy 537
18.3 Work in the United States 540
Key Terms 550
Section Summary 550
Section Quiz 551
Short Answer 553
Further Research 554
References 554
Health and Medicine 559
Introduction 559
19.1 The Social Construction of Health 560

19.2 Global Health 563
19.3 Health in the United States 565
19.4 Comparative Health and Medicine 571
19.5 Theoretical Perspectives on Health and Medicine 575
Key Terms 578
Section Summary 578
Section Quiz 579
Short Answer 582
Further Research 583
References 583
Population, Urbanization, and the Environment 589
Introduction 589
20.1 Demography and Population 591
20.2 Urbanization 599
20.3 The Environment and Society 604
Key Terms 614
Section Summary 615
Section Quiz 615
Short Answer 618
Further Research 618
References 619
Social Movements and Social Change 625
Introduction to Social Movements and Social Change 625
21.1 Collective Behavior 627
21.2 Social Movements 631
21.3 Social Change 638
Key Terms 643
Section Summary 644
Section Quiz 644
Short Answer 646
References 647
Answer Key 651
Index 653
Access for free at

About OpenStax
OpenStax is a non-profit organization committed to improving student access to quality learning materials.
Our free textbooks are developed and peer-reviewed by educators to ensure they are readable, accurate, and
meet the scope and sequence requirements of modern college courses. Unlike traditional textbooks, OpenStax
resources live online and are owned by the community of educators using them. Through our partnerships
with companies and foundations committed to reducing costs for students, OpenStax is working to improve
access to higher education for all. OpenStax is an initiative of Rice University and is made possible through the
generous support of several philanthropic foundations.
About OpenStax Resources
Introduction to Sociology 3e is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY)
license, which means that you can distribute, remix, and build upon the content, as long as you provide
attribution to OpenStax and its content contributors.
Because our books are openly licensed, you are free to use the entire book or select only the sections that are
most relevant to the needs of your course. Feel free to remix the content by assigning your students certain
chapters and sections in your syllabus, in the order that you prefer. You can even provide a direct link in your
syllabus to the sections in the web view of your book.
Instructors also have the option of creating a customized version of their OpenStax book. The custom version
can be made available to students in low-cost print or digital form through their campus bookstore. Visit the
Instructor Resources section of your book page on for more information.
Art attribution
In Introduction to Sociology 3e, most photos and third-party illustrations contain attribution to their creator,
rights holder, host platform, and/or license within the caption. Because the art is openly licensed, anyone may
reuse the art as long as they provide the same attribution to its original source. To maximize readability and
content flow, some art does not include attribution in the text. This art is part of the public domain or under a
CC0 or similar license, and can be reused without attribution. For illustrations (e.g. graphs, charts, etc.) that are
not credited, you may assume they are developed by OpenStax and should be attributed as such.
All OpenStax textbooks undergo a rigorous review process. However, like any professional-grade textbook,
errors sometimes occur. In addition, the wide range of topics, data, and legal circumstances in sociology
change frequently, and portions of the textbook may become out of date. Since our books are web-based, we
can make updates periodically when deemed pedagogically necessary. If you have a correction to suggest,
submit it through the link on your book page on Subject matter experts review all errata
suggestions. OpenStax is committed to remaining transparent about all updates, so you will also find a list of
past errata changes on your book page on
You can access this textbook for free in web view or PDF through, and for a low cost in print.
About Introduction to Sociology 3e
Introduction to Sociology 3e aligns to the topics and objectives of many introductory sociology courses. It is
arranged in a manner that provides foundational sociological theories and contexts, then progresses through
various aspects of human and societal interactions. The new edition is focused on driving meaningful and
memorable learning experiences related to critical thinking about society and culture. Students are challenged
Preface 1

to look at events and situations in new ways, and, as often as possible, consider the reasons people behave and
gather in the ways they do. The text includes comprehensive coverage of core concepts, discussions and data
relevant to a diverse audience, and features that draw learners into the discipline in powerful and personal
ways. Overall, Introduction to Sociology 3e aims to center the course and discipline as crucial elements for
understanding relationships, society, and civic engagement; we seek to lay the foundation for students to apply
what they learn throughout their lives and careers.
Changes to the Third Edition
The guiding principle of the revision was to build from the concept that students are not simply observers of
the world, but are participants in it. Many discussions of new or ongoing changes have been improved in tone
and content, based on reviewer feedback, to better reflect student experiences. Of course, much of the
information in the text will be new to students, but the concepts, examples, and data are written in a way that
will encourage students to apply their own experiences and to better consider those outside of their own.
The purpose of these changes, however, is not only to make the book more informative and effective, but more
so to create additional opportunities for instructors to launch relevant and interesting discussions. In concert
with the changes in the text, the accompanying lecture materials have been thoroughly revised and enhanced
to include material beyond what is in the book, in order for instructors–at their discretion–to deepen these
A number of chapter introductions have been revised with substantial vignettes or narratives relating to the
chapter content. Examples include the experience of a teenager in sub-Saharan Africa (chapter 4), a
comparison of the emergence of the Tea Party and the MeToo movements (chapter 6), a more nuanced and
historically accurate view of the issue of marijuana criminalization and legalization (chapter 7), and a
discussion of voter referendums and subsequent governmental responses (chapter 17). Other references and
coverage are meant to relate to students’ careers; these include issues around online privacy, the impacts of
posting offensive content, and new material on adult socialization and workplace culture.
Extensive use of survey outcomes and governmental data is designed to add current perspectives on the
concepts and provide more discussion starters for faculty and students. Some of these outcomes may
challenge preconceived notions, while others may simply be interesting to discuss. For example, poll outcomes
regarding perspectives on “When Does Someone Become Old?” in the chapter on Aging and the Elderly may be
notable on their own, but could be also used to begin reflective discussions or further research. The COVID-19
pandemic is referenced frequently, but its inclusion is meant to offer opportunities for students to share their
own stories, and for instructors to lead into more current outcomes.
Finally, the authors, reviewers, and the entire team worked to build understanding of the causes and impacts
of discrimination and prejudice. Introduction to Sociology 3e contains dozens of examples of discrimination
and its outcomes regarding social science, society, institutions, and individuals. The text seeks to strike a
balance between confronting the damaging aspects of our culture and history and celebrating those who have
driven change and overcome challenges. The core discussion of these topics are present in Chapter 11 on Race
and Ethnicity, and Chapter 12 on Gender, Sex, and Sexuality, but their causes and effects are extensively
discussed in the context of other topics, including education, law enforcement, government, healthcare, the
economy, and so on. Together and when connected by an instructor, these elements have potential for deep
and lasting effects.
Pedagogical Foundation
Learning Objectives
Every module begins with a set of clear and concise learning objectives, which have been thoroughly revised to
be both measurable and more closely aligned with current teaching practice. These objectives are designed to
help the instructor decide what content to include or assign, and to guide student expectations of learning.
2 Preface
Access for free at

After completing the module and end-of-module exercises, students should be able to demonstrate mastery of
the learning objectives.
Key Features
• Sociological Research: Highlights specific current and relevant research studies.
• Sociology in the Real World: Ties chapter content to student life and discusses sociology in terms of the
everyday. New and updated examples include discussions of princess culture, social media employment
consequences, and sports teams with Native American names/mascots.
• Big Picture: Present sociological concepts at a national or international level, including the most recent
mass migration crises, the rise of e-waste, and global differences in education pathways.
• Social Policy and Debate: Discusses political issues that relate to chapter content, such as “The Legalese
of Sex and Gender” and “Is the U.S. Bilingual?”
Section Summaries
Section summaries distill the information in each section for both students and instructors down to key,
concise points addressed in the section.
Key Terms
Key terms are bold and are followed by a definition in context. Definitions of key terms are also listed in the
Glossary, which appears at the end of the chapter.
Section Quizzes
Section quizzes provide opportunities to apply and test the information students learn throughout each
section. Both multiple-choice and short-response questions feature a variety of question types and range of
Further Research
This feature helps students further explore the section topic through links to other information sources or
Introduction to Sociology 3e is based on the work of numerous professors, writers, editors, and reviewers who
are able to bring topics to students in the most engaging way.
We would like to thank all those listed below as well as many others who have contributed their time and
energy to review and provide feedback on the manuscript. Their input has been critical in maintaining the
pedagogical integrity and accuracy of the text.
About the Authors
Senior Contributing Authors
Tonja R. Conerly, San Jacinto College
Kathleen Holmes, Northern Essex Community College
Asha Lal Tamang, Minneapolis Community and Technical College and North Hennepin Community College
Contributing Authors
Heather Griffiths, Fayetteville State University
Jennifer Hensley, Vincennes University
Jennifer L. Trost, University of St. Thomas
Pamela Alcasey, Central Texas College
Kate McGonigal, Fort Hays State University
Preface 3

Nathan Keirns, Zane State College
Eric Strayer, Hartnell College
Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Georgia Perimeter College
Gail Scaramuzzo, Lackawanna College
Tommy Sadler, Union University
Sally Vyain, Ivy Tech Community College
Jeff Bry, Minnesota State Community and Technical College at Moorhead
Faye Jones, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
Karen Sabbah, Los Angeles Pierce College
Nikitah Imani, University of Nebraska – Omaha
Vera Kennedy, West Hills College
Kathryn Kikendall, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Anna Penner, Pepperdine University
Patricia Johnson Coxx, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Mitchell Mackinem, Wingate University
Rick Biesanz, Corning Community College
Cynthia Heddlesten, Metropolitan Community College
Janet Hund, Long Beach City College
Thea Alvarado, College of the Canyons
Daysha Lawrence, Stark State College
Sally Vyain, Ivy Tech Community College
Natashia Willmott, Stark State College
Angela M. Adkins, Stark State College
Carol Jenkins, Glendale Community College
Lillian Marie Wallace, Pima Community College
J. Brandon Wallace, Middle Tennessee State University
Gerry R. Cox, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
David Hunt, Augusta State University
Jennifer L. Newman-Shoemake, Angelo State University, and Cisco College
Matthew Morrison, University of Virginia
Sue Greer-Pitt, Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College
Faye Jones, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
Athena Smith, Hillsborough Community College
Kim Winford, Blinn College
Kevin Keating, Broward College
Russell Davis, University of West Alabama
Kimberly Boyd, Piedmont Virginia Community College
Lynn Newhart, Rockford College
Russell C. Ward, Maysville Community and Technical College
Xuemei Hu, Union County College
Margaret A. Choka, Pellissippi State Community College
Cindy Minton, Clark State Community College
Nili Kirschner, Woodland Community College
Shonda Whetstone, Blinn College
Elizabeth Arreaga, instructor emerita at Long Beach City College
Florencio R. Riguera, Catholic University of America
John B. Gannon, College of Southern Nevada
4 Preface
Access for free at

Gerald Titchener, Des Moines Area Community College
Rahime-Malik Howard, El Centro College, and Collin College
Jeff Bry, Minnesota State Community and Technical College at Moorhead
Cynthia Tooley, Metropolitan Community College at Blue River
Carol Sebilia, Diablo Valley College
Marian Moore, Owens Community College
John Bartkowski, University of Texas at San Antonio
Shelly Dutchin, Western Technical College
Additional Resources
Student and Instructor Resources
We’ve compiled additional resources for both students and instructors, including Getting Started Guides, a test
bank, and lecture slides. Instructor resources require a verified instructor account, which you can apply for
when you log in or create your account on Take advantage of these resources to supplement your
OpenStax book.
Community Hubs
OpenStax partners with the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) to offer
Community Hubs on OER Commons—a platform for instructors to share community-created resources that
support OpenStax books, free of charge. Through our Community Hubs, instructors can upload their own
materials or download resources to use in their own courses, including additional ancillaries, teaching
material, multimedia, and relevant course content. We encourage instructors to join the hubs for the subjects
most relevant to your teaching and research as an opportunity both to enrich your courses and to engage with
other faculty. To reach the Community Hubs, visit
Technology partners
As allies in making high-quality learning materials accessible, our technology partners offer optional low-cost
tools that are integrated with OpenStax books. To access the technology options for your text, visit your book
page on
Preface 5

6 Preface
Access for free at

FIGURE 1.1 Every day, 7.5 million people use the railways around Mumbai, India. The vast majority of them don’t
know each other, but they share much in common as they move together. (Credit: Rajarshi MITRA/flickr)
1.1 What Is Sociology?
1.2 The History of Sociology
1.3 Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology
1.4 Why Study Sociology?
INTRODUCTION A busy commuter train station might seem like a very individualized place. Tens of
thousands or hundreds of thousands of strangers flow through with a singular purpose: to get where they need
to go. Whether walking through main doors at a pace of a dozen people each second, or arriving by train
hundreds at a time, the station can feel a bit like a balloon being pumped too full. Throngs of people cluster in
tight bottlenecks until they burst through corridors and stairways and tunnels to reach the next stage of their
journey. In some stations, walking against the crowd can be a tedious, nearly impossible process. And cutting
across a river of determined commuters can be almost dangerous. Things are fast, relentless, and necessary.
But are those hundred thousand or half a million or, in the case of Tokyo’s Shinjuku station, 3.5 million people
really acting individually? It may seem surprising, but even with those numbers, strangers from across cities
can synch up on the same schedules, use the same doors, take one leg of the trip together every day before
separating into different directions. After just a few months, faces can become familiar, and senses can be
tuned. An experienced commuter can tell where another person is going according to their pace and whatever
announcement just went out; they may slow up a bit to let the other person pass, or hold a door open just a bit
1An Introduction to Sociology

longer than usual, certain that someone will grab the handle behind them. Many regulars don’t need to check
the schedule board; they sense whether a train is running late or whether a track has changed simply by the
movement of the crowd.
And then the customs develop: Which side to walk on, how fast to go, where to stand, how much space to leave
between people on the escalator. When you board early, which seat should you take? When you see someone
running for the train, do you jam the closing door with your foot? How does the crowd treat people who ask for
food or money? What’s the risk level in telling someone to be quiet?
Very few of these behaviors are taught. None are written down. But the transit hub, that pocket of constant flow,
is an echo of its society. It takes on some aspects of the city and country around it, but its people also form an
informal group of their own. Sociologists, as you will learn, may study these people. Sociologists may seek to
understand how they feel about their trip, be it proud or annoyed or just plain exhausted. Sociologists might
study how length of commute relates to job satisfaction or family relationships. They may study the ways that
conditions of a train station affect attitudes about government, or how the difficulty of commuting may lead
people to relocate. This understanding isn’t just a collection of interesting facts; it can influence government
policy and spending decisions, employer interventions, and healthcare practices. The work sociologists do to
understand our society, and the work you will do in learning about it, is meaningful to our lives and our
1.1 What Is Sociology?
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Explain concepts central to sociology.
• Describe how different sociological perspectives have developed.
What Are Society and Culture?
FIGURE 1.2 Sociologists learn about society while studying one-to-one and group interactions. (Credit: GlacierNPS/
Sociology is the scientific and systematic study of groups and group interactions, societies and social
interactions, from small and personal groups to very large groups. A group of people who live in a defined
geographic area, who interact with one another, and who share a common culture is what sociologists call a
Sociologists study all aspects and levels of society. Sociologists working from the micro-level study small
groups and individual interactions, while those using macro-level analysis look at trends among and between
8 1 • An Introduction to Sociology
Access for free at

large groups and societies. For example, a micro-level study might look at the accepted rules of conversation in
various groups such as among teenagers or business professionals. In contrast, a macro-level analysis might
research the ways that language use has changed over time or in social media outlets.
The term culture refers to the group’s shared practices, values, and beliefs. Culture encompasses a group’s
way of life, from routine, everyday interactions to the most important parts of group members’ lives. It
includes everything produced by a society, including all the social rules.
Sociologists often study culture using the sociological imagination, which pioneer sociologist C. Wright Mills
described as an awareness of the relationship between a person’s behavior and experience and the wider
culture that shaped the person’s choices and perceptions. It’s a way of seeing our own and other people’s
behavior in relationship to history and social structure (1959). One illustration of this is a person’s decision to
marry. In the United States, this choice is heavily influenced by individual feelings. However, the social
acceptability of marriage relative to the person’s circumstances also plays a part.
Remember, though, that culture is a product of the people in a society. Sociologists take care not to treat the
concept of “culture” as though it were alive and real. The error of treating an abstract concept as though it has
a real, material existence is known as reification (Sahn, 2013).
Studying Patterns: How Sociologists View Society
All sociologists are interested in the experiences of individuals and how those experiences are shaped by
interactions with social groups and society. To a sociologist, the personal decisions an individual makes do not
exist in a vacuum. Cultural patterns, social forces and influences put pressure on people to select one choice
over another. Sociologists try to identify these general patterns by examining the behavior of large groups of
people living in the same society and experiencing the same societal pressures.
Consider the changes in U.S. families. The “typical” family in past decades consisted of married parents living
in a home with their unmarried children. Today, the percent of unmarried couples, same-sex couples, single-
parent and single-adult households is increasing, as well as is the number of expanded households, in which
extended family members such as grandparents, cousins, or adult children live together in the family home.
While 15 million mothers still make up the majority of single parents, 3.5 million fathers are also raising their
children alone (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020). Increasingly, single people and cohabitating couples are choosing
to raise children outside of marriage through surrogates or adoption.
FIGURE 1.3 Modern U.S. families may be very different in makeup from what was historically typical. (Credit A: Paul
Brody/flickr; B: Tony Alter/Wikimedia Commons)
Some sociologists study social facts—the laws, morals, values, religious beliefs, customs, fashions, rituals, and
cultural rules that govern social life—that may contribute to these changes in the family. Do people in the
1.1 • What Is Sociology? 9

United States view marriage and family differently over the years? Do they view them differently than
Peruvians? Do employment and economic conditions play a role in families? Other sociologists are studying
the consequences of these new patterns, such as the ways children influence and are influenced by them and/
or the changing needs for education, housing, and healthcare.
Sociologists identify and study patterns related to all kinds of contemporary social issues. The “Stop and Frisk”
policy, the emergence of new political factions, how Twitter influences everyday communication—these are all
examples of topics that sociologists might explore.
Studying Part and Whole: How Sociologists View Social Structures
A key component of the sociological perspective is the idea that the individual and society are inseparable. It is
impossible to study one without the other. German sociologist Norbert Elias called the process of
simultaneously analyzing the behavior of individuals and the society that shapes that behavior figuration.
Consider religion. While people experience religion in a distinctly individual manner, religion exists in a larger
social context as a social institution. For instance, an individual’s religious practice may be influenced by what
government dictates, holidays, teachers, places of worship, rituals, and so on. These influences underscore the
important relationship between individual practices of religion and social pressures that influence that
religious experience (Elias, 1978). In simpler terms, figuration means that as one analyzes the social
institutions in a society, the individuals using that institution in any fashion need to be ‘figured’ in to the
Individual-Society Connections
When sociologist Nathan Kierns spoke to his friend Ashley (a pseudonym) about the move she and her partner had
made from an urban center to a small Midwestern town, he was curious about how the social pressures placed on a
lesbian couple differed from one community to the other. Ashley said that in the city they had been accustomed to
getting looks and hearing comments when she and her partner walked hand in hand. Otherwise, she felt that they
were at least being tolerated. There had been little to no outright discrimination.
Things changed when they moved to the small town for her partner’s job. For the first time, Ashley found herself
experiencing direct discrimination because of her sexual orientation. Some of it was particularly hurtful. Landlords
would not rent to them. Ashley, who is a highly trained professional, had a great deal of difficulty finding a new job.
When Nathan asked Ashley if she and her partner became discouraged or bitter about this new situation, Ashley
said that rather than letting it get to them, they decided to do something about it. Ashley approached groups at a
local college and several churches in the area. Together they decided to form the town’s first Gay-Straight Alliance.
The alliance has worked successfully to educate their community about same-sex couples. It also worked to raise
awareness about the kinds of discrimination that Ashley and her partner experienced in the town and how those
could be eliminated. The alliance has become a strong advocacy group, and it is working to attain equal rights for
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBTQ individuals.
Kierns observed that this is an excellent example of how negative social forces can result in a positive response
from individuals to bring about social change (Kierns, 2011).
1.2 The History of Sociology
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Explain why sociology emerged when it did
• Describe how sociology became a separate academic discipline
10 1 • An Introduction to Sociology
Access for free at

FIGURE 1.4 People have been thinking like sociologists long before sociology became a distinct academic
discipline: Plato and Aristotle, Confucius, Khaldun, Voltaire, and Mary Wollenscraft set the stage for modern
sociology. (Credit: A, B, C, and E Wikimedia Commons; D:
For millennia, people have been fascinated by the relationships between individuals and societies. Many topics
studied by ancient philosophers in their desire to describe an ideal society are still studied in modern
sociology, including theories of social conflict, economics, social cohesion, and power in a continued attempt
to describe an ideal society (Hannoum, 2003). Although we are more familiar with western philosophers like
Plato and his student, Aristotle, eastern philosophers also thought about social issues.
Until recently, we have very few texts that are non-religious in nature that theorize about social life. From 4th
century through the 19th century, the Catholic Church was the seat of power from today’s Turkey in the east to
western and northern Europe, including the British Isles. Only monks who were charged with rewriting holy
texts by hand and the aristocracy were literate. Moreover, the Church consolidated power. In the year 800, Pope
Leo III named Charlemagne, the king of Francia (today’s France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany) emperor
of the Holy Roman Empire, giving one individual control over most of Europe. Doing so gave the Catholic
Church the power to maintain its own traditions safeguard them from the influence of people practicing other
religions. If any social patterns challenged any belief of the Church, those practitioners were massacred,
burned at the stake, or labeled heretics. As a result, the records that we have are extremely subjective and do
not offer an unbiased view of social practice.
In the 13th century, Ma Tuan-Lin, a Chinese historian, was the first to record, in his seminal encyclopedia titled
General Study of Literary Remains, the social dynamics underlying and generating historical development.
In the 14th century, the Tunisian historian Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) set the foundation for both modern
sociology and economics. Khaldun proposed a theory of social conflict and provided a comparison of nomadic
and sedentary life, an analysis of political economy, and a study connecting a tribe’s social cohesion to its
capacity for power (Hannoum, 2003). Khaldun often challenged authorities. As sociologists continue to study
and report on social issues and problems, they often find themselves in the center of controversy.
From 1347 to 1522, the bubonic plague ravaged Europe, killing up to 35% of population (Armstrong, 2019).
The plague dealt a major blow to the credibility of the Catholic Church. Out of this chaos emerged the the work
of Copernicus, Galileo, Leonardo, Newton, Linnaeus, and other philosophers whose work sometimes
contradicted church teachings. Events once held to be the product of the divine hand could be analyzed by
human reason and observation and could be explained by scientific, testable, and retestable hypotheses. As
literacy spread through conquests and colonization, more records and literature became available for
sociologists and historians to put social puzzles together.
In the 18th century, Enlightenment philosophers developed general principles that could be used to explain
social life. Thinkers such as John Locke, François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire), Immanuel Kant, and Thomas
Hobbes responded to what they saw as social ills by writing on topics that they hoped would lead to social
reform. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) wrote about women’s conditions in society. Like Harriet Martineau
and Jane Addams, her works were long ignored by the male academic structure, but since the 1970s,
Wollstonecraft has been widely considered the first feminist thinker of consequence. Ideas about economic
1.2 • The History of Sociology 11

systems, the family, health and hygiene, national offense and defense, were among the many concerns of social
The early 19th century saw great changes with the Industrial Revolution, increased mobility, and new kinds of
employment. It was also a period of increased trade, travel, and globalization that exposed many people — for
the first time—to societies and cultures other than their own. Millions of people moved into cities and many
people turned away from their traditional religious beliefs. Ideas spread rapidly, groups were created, political
decisions became public decisions. Among a new generation of philosophers, there were some who believed
they could make sense of it all.
Creating a Discipline: European Theorists
FIGURE 1.5 Early major European theorists. Top row, left to right: Auguste Comte, Harriet Martineau, and Herbert
Spencer. Bottom row, left to right: Goerg Simmel, Émile Durkheim, and Max Weber. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons;
Julius Cornelius Schaarwächter/Public domain.)
Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857)
The term sociology was first coined in 1780 by the French essayist Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès (1748–1836) in
an unpublished manuscript (Fauré et al. 1999). In 1838, the term was reintroduced by Auguste Comte
(1798–1857). Comte originally studied to be an engineer, but later became a pupil of social philosopher Claude
Henri de Rouvroy Comte de Saint-Simon (1760–1825). They both thought that social scientists could study
society using the same scientific methods utilized in natural sciences. Comte also believed in the potential of
social scientists to work toward the betterment of society. He held that once scholars identified the laws that
governed society, sociologists could address problems such as poor education and poverty (Abercrombie et al.
Comte named the scientific study of social patterns positivism. He described his philosophy in a series of
12 1 • An Introduction to Sociology
Access for free at

books called The Course in Positive Philosophy (1830–1842) and A General View of Positivism (1848). He
believed that revealing the laws by which societies and individuals interact would usher in a new “positivist”
age of history. While the field and its terminology have grown, sociologists still believe in the positive impact of
their work.
Harriet Martineau (1802 – 1876)
Harriet Martineau introduced sociology to English speaking scholars through her translation of Comte’s
writing from French to English. She was an early analyst of social practices, including economics, social class,
religion, suicide, government, and women’s rights. Her career began with Illustrations of Political Economy, a
work educating ordinary people about the principles of economics (Johnson, 2003). She later developed the
first systematic methodological international comparisons of social institutions in two of her most famous
sociological works: Society in America (1837) and Retrospect of Western Travel (1838).
Martineau found the workings of capitalism at odds with the professed moral principles of people in the United
States. She pointed out the faults with the free enterprise system in which workers were exploited and
impoverished while business owners became wealthy. She further noted that the belief that all are created
equal was inconsistent with the lack of women’s rights. Much like Mary Wollstonecraft, Martineau was often
discounted in her own time because academic sociology was a male-dominated profession.
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Karl Marx was a German philosopher and economist. In 1848, he and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895)
coauthored the Communist Manifesto. This book is one of the most influential political manuscripts in history.
It also presents Marx’s theory of society, which differed from what Comte proposed.
Marx rejected Comte’s positivism. He believed that societies grew and changed as a result of the struggles of
different social classes over the means of production. At the time he was developing his theories, the Industrial
Revolution and the rise of capitalism led to great disparities in wealth between the owners of the factories and
workers. Capitalism, an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of goods and the
means to produce them, had developed in many nations.
Marx predicted that inequalities of capitalism would become so extreme that workers would eventually revolt.
This would lead to the collapse of capitalism, which would be replaced by communism. Communism is an
economic system under which there is no private or corporate ownership: everything is owned communally
and distributed as needed. Marx believed that communism was a more equitable system than capitalism.
While his economic predictions did not materialize in the time frame he predicted, Marx’s idea that social
conflict leads to change in society is still one of the major theories used in modern sociology.
Herbert Spencer (1820–1903)
In 1873, the English philosopher Herbert Spencer published The Study of Sociology, the first book with the
term “sociology” in the title. Spencer rejected much of Comte’s philosophy as well as Marx’s theory of class
struggle and his support of communism. Instead, he favored a form of government that allowed market forces
to control capitalism. His work influenced many early sociologists including Émile Durkheim (1858–1917).
Spencer, using Charles Darwin’s work as a comparison said, “This survival of the fittest, which I have here
sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection,’ or the
preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.” (Spencer, 1864) The statement is often misinterpreted
and adopted by those who believe in the superiority of one race over another.
Georg Simmel (1858–1918)
Georg Simmel was a German art critic who wrote widely on social and political issues as well. Simmel took an
anti-positivism stance and addressed topics such as social conflict, the function of money, individual identity
in city life, and the European fear of outsiders (Stapley 2010). Much of his work focused on micro-level theories
1.2 • The History of Sociology 13

and analyzed the dynamics of two-person and three-person groups. His work also emphasized individual
culture as the creative capacities of individuals (Ritzer and Goodman 2004).
Émile Durkheim (1858–1917)
Émile Durkheim helped establish sociology as a formal academic discipline by establishing the first European
department of sociology at the University of Bordeaux in 1895 and by publishing his Rules of the Sociological
Method in 1895. In Division of Labour in Society (1893), Durkheim further laid out his theory on how societies
transformed from a primitive state into a capitalist, industrial society. According to Durkheim, people rise to
their proper levels in society based on merit.
Durkheim believed that sociologists could study objective social facts (Poggi, 2000). He also believed that
through such studies it would be possible to determine if a society was “healthy” or “pathological.” Healthy
societies were stable while pathological societies experienced a breakdown in social norms.
In 1897, Durkheim attempted to demonstrate the effectiveness of his rules of social research when he
published a work titled Suicide. Durkheim examined suicide statistics in different police districts to research
differences between Catholic and Protestant communities. He attributed the differences to socio-religious
forces rather than to individual or psychological causes.
Max Weber (1864–1920)
Prominent sociologist Max Weber established a sociology department in Germany at the Ludwig Maximilians
University of Munich in 1919. Weber wrote on many topics related to sociology including political change in
Russia and social forces that affect factory workers. He is known best for his 1904 book, The Protestant Ethic
and the Spirit of Capitalism. The theory that Weber sets forth in this book is still controversial. Some believe
that Weber argued that the beliefs of many Protestants, especially Calvinists, led to the rise of capitalism.
Others interpret it as simply claiming that the ideologies of capitalism and Protestantism are complementary.
Weber believed that it was difficult, if not impossible, to use standard scientific methods to accurately predict
the behavior of groups as some sociologists hoped to do. Weber argued that the influence of culture on human
behavior had to be taken into account. This even applied to the researchers themselves, who should be aware
of how their own cultural biases could influence their research. To deal with this problem, Weber and Wilhelm
Dilthey introduced the concept of verstehen, a German word that means to understand in a deep way. In
seeking verstehen, outside observers of a social world—an entire culture or a small setting—attempt to
understand it from an insider’s point of view.
In The Nature of Social Action, Weber described sociology as striving to “… interpret the meaning of social
action and thereby give a causal explanation of the way in which action proceeds and the effects it produces.”
He and other like-minded sociologists proposed a philosophy of anti-positivism whereby social researchers
would strive for subjectivity as they worked to represent social processes, cultural norms, and societal values.
This approach led to some research methods whose aim was not to generalize or predict (traditional in
science), but to systematically gain an in-depth understanding of social worlds.
The different approaches to research based on positivism or anti-positivism are often considered the
foundation for the differences found today between quantitative sociology and qualitative sociology.
Quantitative sociology uses statistical methods such as surveys with large numbers of participants.
Researchers analyze data using statistical techniques to see if they can uncover patterns of human behavior.
Qualitative sociology seeks to understand human behavior by learning about it through in-depth interviews,
focus groups, and analysis of content sources (like books, magazines, journals, and popular media).
14 1 • An Introduction to Sociology
Access for free at

Should We Raise the Minimum Wage?
During his hard-fought 2020 campaign, President Joe Biden promised Americans that he would raise the federal
minimum wage. Opponents of raising the minimum wage argue that some workers would get larger paychecks while
others would lose their jobs, and companies would be less likely to hire new workers because of the increased cost
of paying them. Biden and other proponents of raising the minimum wage contend that some job loss would be
greatly offset by the positive effects on the standard of living of low-wage workers and reducing the income gap
between the rich and poor.
Sociologists may consider the minimum wage issue from differing perspectives as well. How much of an impact
would a minimum wage raise have for a single mother? Some might study the economic effects, such as her ability
to pay bills and keep food on the table. Others might look at how reduced economic stress could improve family
relationships. Some sociologists might research the impact on the status of small business owners. These could all
be examples of public sociology, a branch of sociology that strives to bring sociological dialogue to public forums.
The goals of public sociology are to increase understanding of the social factors that underlie social problems and
assist in finding solutions. According to Michael Burawoy (2005), the challenge of public sociology is to engage
multiple publics in multiple ways.
Applying the Discipline: American Theorists and Practitioners
FIGURE 1.6 From left to right, William Sumner, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Jane Adams. (Credit A, B, and C: Wikimedia
In the early 1900s, sociology reached universities in the United States. William Sumner held the first
professorship in sociology (Yale University), Franklin Giddings was the first full professor of Sociology
(Columbia University), and Albion Small wrote the first sociology textbook. Early American sociologists tested
and applied the theories of the Europeans and became leaders in social research. Lester Ward (1841 – 1913)
developed social research methods and argued for the use of the scientific method and quantitative data
(Chapter 2) to show the effectiveness of policies. In order for sociology to gain respectability in American
academia, social researchers understood that they must adopt empirical approaches.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois, a Harvard-trained historian, pioneered the use of rigorous
empirical methodology into sociology. His groundbreaking 1896-1897 study of the African American
community in Philadelphia incorporated hundreds of interviews Du Bois conducted in order to document the
familial and employment structures and assess the chief challenges of the community. These new,
comprehensive research methods stood in stark contrast to the less scientific practices of the time, which Du
1.2 • The History of Sociology 15

Bois critiqued as being similar to doing research as if through the window of a moving car. His scientific
approach became highly influential to entire schools of sociological study, and is considered a forerunner to
contemporary practices. Additionally, Du Bois’ 1899 publication provided empirical evidence to challenge
pseudoscientific ideas of biological racism (Morris, 2015; Green & Wortham, 2018), which had been used as
justification to oppress people of different races.
Du Bois also played a prominent role in the effort to increase rights for Black people. Concerned at the slow
pace of progress and advice from some Black leaders to be more accommodating of racism, Du Bois became a
leader in what would later be known as the Niagara Movement. In 1905, he and others drafted a declaration
that called for immediate political, economic, and social equality for African Americans. A few years later, he
helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and served as its
director of publications.
Thorstein Veblen (1857 – 1929)
After a brief stint as an unemployed college graduate, Thorstein Veblen began to study the economy through a
social lens, writing about the leisure class, the business class, and other areas that touched on the idea of
‘working’ itself. He researched the chronically unemployed, the currently unemployed, the working classes,
and the working classes.
Jane Addams (1860-1935)
Jane Addams founded Hull House, a center that served needy immigrants through social and educational
programs while providing extensive opportunities for sociological research. Founded in Chicago, Addams
worked closely with University of Chicago’s Chicago School of Sociology. This school of thought places much
importance on environment in which relationships and behaviors develop. Research conducted at Hull House
informed child labor, immigration, health care, and other areas of public policy.
Charles Herbert Cooley (1864-1929)
Charles Herbert Cooley posited that individuals compare themselves to others in order to check themselves
against social standards and remain part of the group. Calling this idea ‘the looking-glass self,’ Cooley argued
that we ‘see’ ourselves by the reactions of others with whom we interact. If someone reacts positively to our
behavior, theoretically we will continue that behavior. He wrote substantially on what he saw as the order of life
in Human Nature and the Social Order (1902) followed by Social Organization in 1909. He was very concerned
with the increasing individualism and competitiveness of US society, fearing it would disrupt families as
primary groups lost their importance.
George Herbert Mead (1863–1931)
George Herbert Mead was a philosopher and sociologist whose work focused on the ways in which the mind
and the self were developed as a result of social processes (Cronk, n.d.). He argued that how an individual
comes to view himself or herself is based to a very large extent on interactions with others. Though Mead
adopted Cooley’s concept of ‘looking-glasses,’ Mead felt that an individual’s reaction to a positive or negative
reflection depended on who the ‘other’ was. Individuals that had the greatest impact on a person’s life were
significant others while generalized others were the organized and generalized attitude of a social group.
Mead often shares the title of father of symbolic interactionism with Cooley and Erving Goffman.
Robert E. Park (1864-1944)
Robert E. Park is best known as the founder of social ecology. Attached to the Chicago School, Park focused on
how individuals lived within their environment. One of the first sociologists to focus on ethnic minorities, he
wrote on the Belgian oppression of the Congolese. When he returned to the US, he and Ernest Burgess
researched the inner city to show that no matter who lived there, social chaos was prevalent. As such, it was
not the residents who caused the chaos but the environment.
16 1 • An Introduction to Sociology
Access for free at

1.3 Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology
By the end of this section you should be able to:
• Describe the ways that sociological theories are used to explain social institutions.
• Differentiate between functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.
FIGURE 1.7 Sociologists develop theories to explain social occurrences such as protest rallies. (Credit: David
Sociologists study social events, interactions, and patterns, and they develop theories to explain why things
work as they do. In sociology, a theory is a way to explain different aspects of social interactions and to create a
testable proposition, called a hypothesis, about society (Allan 2006).
For example, although suicide is generally considered an individual phenomenon, Émile Durkheim was
interested in studying the social factors that affect it. He studied social solidarity, social ties within a group,
and hypothesized that differences in suicide rates might be explained by religious differences. Durkheim
gathered a large amount of data about Europeans and found that Protestants were more likely to commit
suicide than Catholics. His work supports the utility of theory in sociological research.
Theories vary in scope depending on the scale of the issues that they are meant to explain. Macro-level
theories relate to large-scale issues and large groups of people, while micro-level theories look at very specific
relationships between individuals or small groups. Grand theories attempt to explain large-scale
relationships and answer fundamental questions such as why societies form and why they change.
Sociological theory is constantly evolving and should never be considered complete. Classic sociological
theories are still considered important and current, but new sociological theories build upon the work of their
predecessors and add to them (Calhoun, 2002).
In sociology, a few theories provide broad perspectives that help explain many different aspects of social life,
and these are called paradigms. Paradigms are philosophical and theoretical frameworks used within a
discipline to formulate theories, generalizations, and the experiments performed in support of them. Three
paradigms have come to dominate sociological thinking because they provide useful explanations: structural
functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.
1.3 • Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology 17

Level of
Focus Analogies Questions that
might be asked
Macro or
The way each part of society
functions together to contribute
to the functioning of the whole.
How each organ works to
keep your body healthy
(or not.)
How does
education work
to transmit
The way inequities and
inequalities contribute to social,
political, and power differences
and how they perpetuate power.
The ones with the most
toys wins and they will
change the rules to the
games to keep winning.
Does education
transmit only
the dominant
The way one-on-one interactions
and communications behave.
What’s it mean to be an
How do
students react
to cultural
messages in
TABLE 1.1 Sociological Theories or Perspectives Different sociological perspectives enable sociologists to view
social issues through a variety of useful lenses.
Functionalism, also called structural-functional theory, sees society as a structure with interrelated parts
designed to meet the biological and social needs of the individuals in that society. Functionalism grew out of
the writings of English philosopher and biologist, Herbert Spencer, who saw similarities between society and
the human body. He argued that just as the various organs of the body work together to keep the body
functioning, the various parts of society work together to keep society functioning (Spencer, 1898). The parts of
society that Spencer referred to were the social institutions, or patterns of beliefs and behaviors focused on
meeting social needs, such as government, education, family, healthcare, religion, and the economy.
Émile Durkheim applied Spencer’s theory to explain how societies change and survive over time. Durkheim
believed that society is a complex system of interrelated and interdependent parts that work together to
maintain stability (Durkheim, 1893), and that society is held together by shared values, languages, and
symbols. He believed that to study society, a sociologist must look beyond individuals to social facts such as
laws, morals, values, religious beliefs, customs, fashion, and rituals, which all serve to govern social life
(Durkheim, 1895). Alfred Radcliff-Brown (1881–1955) defined the function of any recurrent activity as the
part it played in social life as a whole, and therefore the contribution it makes to social stability and continuity
(Radcliff-Brown 1952). In a healthy society, all parts work together to maintain stability, a state called dynamic
equilibrium by later sociologists such as Parsons (1961).
Durkheim believed that individuals may make up society, but in order to study society, sociologists have to
look beyond individuals to social facts. . Each of these social facts serves one or more functions within a
society. For example, one function of a society’s laws may be to protect society from violence, while another is
to punish criminal behavior, while another is to preserve public health.
Another noted structural functionalist, Robert Merton (1910–2003), pointed out that social processes often
have many functions. Manifest functions are the consequences of a social process that are sought or
18 1 • An Introduction to Sociology
Access for free at

anticipated, while latent functions are the unsought consequences of a social process. A manifest function of a
college education, for example, includes gaining knowledge, preparing for a career, and finding a good job that
utilizes that education. Latent functions of your college years include meeting new people, participating in
extracurricular activities, or even finding a spouse or partner. Another latent function of education is creating
a hierarchy of employment based on the level of education attained. Latent functions can be beneficial,
neutral, or harmful. Social processes that have undesirable consequences for the operation of society are
called dysfunctions. In education, examples of dysfunction include getting bad grades, truancy, dropping out,
not graduating, and not finding suitable employment.
One criticism of the structural-functional theory is that it can’t adequately explain social change even though
the functions are processes. Also problematic is the somewhat circular nature of this theory: repetitive
behavior patterns are assumed to have a function, yet we profess to know that they have a function only
because they are repeated. Furthermore, dysfunctions may continue, even though they don’t serve a function,
which seemingly contradicts the basic premise of the theory. Many sociologists now believe that functionalism
is no longer useful as a macro-level theory, but that it does serve a useful purpose in some mid-level analyses.
A Global Culture?
FIGURE 1.8 Some sociologists see the online world contributing to the creation of an emerging global culture.
Are you a part of any global communities? This Indiana rabbi is participating in what was recognized as the
longest Zoom meeting, which started in Australia after the Sabbath and proceeded through each of the world’s
time zones, effectively lasting much longer than a day. (Credit: Chabad Lubavitch/flickr)
Sociologists around the world look closely for signs of what would be an unprecedented event: the emergence of
a global culture. In the past, empires such as those that existed in China, Europe, Africa, and Central and South
America linked people from many different countries, but those people rarely became part of a common culture.
They lived too far from each other, spoke different languages, practiced different religions, and traded few goods.
Today, increases in communication, travel, and trade have made the world a much smaller place. More and more
people are able to communicate with each other instantly—wherever they are located—by telephone, video, and
1.3 • Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology 19

text. They share movies, television shows, music, games, and information over the Internet. Students can study
with teachers and pupils from the other side of the globe. Governments find it harder to hide conditions inside
their countries from the rest of the world.
Sociologists research many different aspects of this potential global culture. Some explore the dynamics involved
in the social interactions of global online communities, such as when members feel a closer kinship to other
group members than to people residing in their own countries. Other sociologists study the impact this growing
international culture has on smaller, less-powerful local cultures. Yet other researchers explore how international
markets and the outsourcing of labor impact social inequalities. Sociology can play a key role in people’s abilities
to understand the nature of this emerging global culture and how to respond to it.
Conflict Theory
Conflict theory looks at society as a competition for limited resources. This perspective is a macro-level
approach most identified with the writings of German philosopher and sociologist Karl Marx, who saw society
as being made up of individuals in different social classes who must compete for social, material, and political
resources such as food and housing, employment, education, and leisure time. Social institutions like
government, education, and religion reflect this competition in their inherent inequalities and help maintain
the unequal social structure. Some individuals and organizations are able to obtain and keep more resources
than others, and these “winners” use their power and influence to maintain social institutions. The
perpetuation of power results in the perpetuation of oppression.
Several theorists suggested variations on this basic theme like Polish-Austrian sociologist Ludwig Gumplowicz
(1838–1909) who expanded on Marx’s ideas by arguing that war and conquest are the bases of civilizations. He
believed that cultural and ethnic conflicts led to states being identified and defined by a dominant group that
had power over other groups (Irving, 2007).
German sociologist Max Weber agreed with Marx but also believed that, in addition to economic inequalities,
inequalities of political power and social structure cause conflict. Weber noted that different groups were
affected differently based on education, race, and gender, and that people’s reactions to inequality were
moderated by class differences and rates of social mobility, as well as by perceptions about the legitimacy of
those in power. A reader of Marx, Georg Simmel believed that conflict can help integrate and stabilize a society.
He said that the intensity of the conflict varies depending on the emotional involvement of the parties, the
degree of solidarity within the opposing groups, and the clarity and limited nature of the goals. Simmel also
showed that groups work to create internal solidarity, centralize power, and reduce dissent. The stronger the
bond, the weaker the discord. Resolving conflicts can reduce tension and hostility and can pave the way for
future agreements.
In the 1930s and 1940s, German philosophers, known as the Frankfurt School, developed critical theory as an
elaboration on Marxist principles. Critical theory is an expansion of conflict theory and is broader than just
sociology, incorporating other social sciences and philosophy. A critical theory is a holistic theory and
attempts to address structural issues causing inequality. It must explain what’s wrong in current social reality,
identify the people who can make changes, and provide practical goals for social transformation (Horkeimer,
More recently, inequality based on gender or race has been explained in a similar manner and has identified
institutionalized power structures that help to maintain inequality between groups. Janet Saltzman Chafetz
(1941–2006) presented a model of feminist theory that attempts to explain the forces that maintain gender
inequality as well as a theory of how such a system can be changed (Turner, 2003). Similarly, critical race
theory grew out of a critical analysis of race and racism from a legal point of view. Critical race theory looks at
structural inequality based on white privilege and associated wealth, power, and prestige.
20 1 • An Introduction to Sociology
Access for free at

Farming and Locavores: How Sociological Perspectives Might View Food Consumption
The consumption of food is a commonplace, daily occurrence. Yet, it can also be associated with important
moments in our lives. Eating can be an individual or a group action, and eating habits and customs are influenced by
our cultures. In the context of society, our nation’s food system is at the core of numerous social movements,
political issues, and economic debates. Any of these factors might become a topic of sociological study.
A structural-functional approach to the topic of food consumption might analyze the role of the agriculture industry
within the nation’s economy and how this has changed from the early days of manual-labor farming to modern
mechanized production. Another might study the different functions of processes in food production, from farming
and harvesting to flashy packaging and mass consumerism.
A conflict theorist might be interested in the power differentials present in the regulation of food, by exploring where
people’s right to information intersects with corporations’ drive for profit and how the government mediates those
interests. Or a conflict theorist might examine the power and powerlessness experienced by local farmers versus
large farming conglomerates, such as the documentary Food Inc., which depicts as resulting from Monsanto’s
patenting of seed technology. Another topic of study might be how nutrition varies between different social classes.
A sociologist viewing food consumption through a symbolic interactionist lens would be more interested in
microlevel topics, such as the symbolic use of food in religious rituals, or the role it plays in the social interaction of a
family dinner. This perspective might also explore the interactions among group members who identify themselves
based on their sharing a particular diet, such as vegetarians (people who don’t eat meat) or locavores (people who
strive to eat locally produced food).
Just as structural functionalism was criticized for focusing too much on the stability of societies, conflict
theory has been criticized because it tends to focus on conflict to the exclusion of recognizing stability. Many
social structures are extremely stable or have gradually progressed over time rather than changing abruptly as
conflict theory would suggest.
Symbolic Interactionist Theory
Symbolic interactionism is a micro-level theory that focuses on the relationships among individuals within a
society. Communication—the exchange of meaning through language and symbols—is believed to be the way in
which people make sense of their social worlds. Theorists Herman and Reynolds (1994) note that this
perspective sees people as being active in shaping the social world rather than simply being acted upon.
George Herbert Mead is considered a founder of symbolic interactionism though he never published his work
on it (LaRossa and Reitzes, 1993). Mead’s student, Herbert Blumer (1900-1987), coined the term “symbolic
interactionism” and outlined these basic premises: humans interact with things based on meanings ascribed
to those things; the ascribed meaning of things comes from our interactions with others and society; the
meanings of things are interpreted by a person when dealing with things in specific circumstances (Blumer
1969). If you love books, for example, a symbolic interactionist might propose that you learned that books are
good or important in the interactions you had with family, friends, school, or church. Maybe your family had a
special reading time each week, getting your library card was treated as a special event, or bedtime stories
were associated with warmth and comfort.
Social scientists who apply symbolic-interactionist thinking look for patterns of interaction between
individuals. Their studies often involve observation of one-on-one interactions. For example, while a conflict
theorist studying a political protest might focus on class difference, a symbolic interactionist would be more
interested in how individuals in the protesting group interact, as well as the signs and symbols protesters use
1.3 • Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology 21

to communicate their message.
The focus on the importance of symbols in building a society led sociologists like Erving Goffman (1922-1982)
to develop a technique called dramaturgical analysis. Goffman used theater as an analogy for social
interaction and recognized that people’s interactions showed patterns of cultural “scripts.” He argued that
individuals were actors in a play. We switched roles, sometimes minute to minute—for example, from student
or daughter to dog walker. Because it can be unclear what part a person may play in a given situation, he or she
has to improvise his or her role as the situation unfolds (Goffman, 1958).
Studies that use the symbolic interactionist perspective are more likely to use qualitative research methods,
such as in-depth interviews or participant observation, because they seek to understand the symbolic worlds
in which research subjects live.
Constructivism is an extension of symbolic interaction theory which proposes that reality is what humans
cognitively construct it to be. We develop social constructs based on interactions with others, and those
constructs that last over time are those that have meanings which are widely agreed-upon or generally
accepted by most within the society. This approach is often used to examine what’s defined as deviant within a
society. There is no absolute definition of deviance, and different societies have constructed different
meanings for deviance, as well as associating different behaviors with deviance.
One situation that illustrates this is what you believe you’re to do if you find a wallet in the street. In the United
States, turning the wallet in to local authorities would be considered the appropriate action, and to keep the
wallet would be seen as deviant. In contrast, many Eastern societies would consider it much more appropriate
to keep the wallet and search for the owner yourself. Turning it over to someone else, even the authorities,
would be considered deviant behavior.
Research done from this perspective is often scrutinized because of the difficulty of remaining objective.
Others criticize the extremely narrow focus on symbolic interaction. Proponents, of course, consider this one
of its greatest strengths.
Sociological Theory Today
These three approaches still provide the main foundation of modern sociological theory though they have
evolved. Structural-functionalism was a dominant force after World War II and until the 1960s and 1970s. At
that time, sociologists began to feel that structural-functionalism did not sufficiently explain the rapid social
changes happening in the United States at that time. The women’s movement and the Civil Rights movement
forced academics to develop approaches to study these emerging social practices.
Conflict theory then gained prominence, with its emphasis on institutionalized social inequality. Critical
theory, and the particular aspects of feminist theory and critical race theory, focused on creating social change
through the application of sociological principles. The field saw a renewed emphasis on helping ordinary
people understand sociology principles, in the form of public sociology.
Gaining prominence in the wake of Mead’s work in the 1920s and 1930s, symbolic interactionism declined in
influence during the 1960s and 1970s only to be revitalized at the turn of the twenty-first century (Stryker,
1987). Postmodern social theory developed in the 1980s to look at society through an entirely new lens by
rejecting previous macro-level attempts to explain social phenomena. Its growth in popularity coincides with
the rise of constructivist views of symbolic interactionism.
22 1 • An Introduction to Sociology
Access for free at

1.4 Why Study Sociology?
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Explain why it is worthwhile to study sociology.
• Identify ways sociology is applied in the real world.
FIGURE 1.9 The research of Kenneth and Mamie Clark helped the Supreme Court decide to end “separate but
equal” racial segregation in schools in the United States. (Credit: University of Texas)
When Elizabeth Eckford tried to enter Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September 1957, she
was met by an angry crowd and was turned away by authorities. But she knew she had the law on her side.
Three years earlier in the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education decision, the U.S. Supreme Court had
overturned twenty-one state laws that allowed Black and White people to be taught in separate school systems
as long as the school systems were “equal.” The decision was nothing short of momentous, not only for
education, but for a number of other segregation and discrimination issues that have lasted into this decade.
And in that momentous decision, the Supreme Court cited the research of the husband-and-wife team of social
scientists, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, as evidence that segregation generates in minority students a feeling of
inferiority. In the ‘doll test,’ for example, the Clarks showed children four dolls, two with white skin and yellow
hair and two with brown skin and black hair. When asked which doll they preferred, the majority of Black
children chose the doll with the light skin doll, and they assigned positive characteristics to it. Most of the
Black children discarded the doll with the brown skin—the one that had a closer resemblance to themselves.
When asked to choose the doll that looked like them, many children left the room, started to cry, and/or
became depressed. The Clarks’ research contributed to the Supreme Court’s conclusion that separate but
equal was damaging to students, and that separate facilities are unequal.
Sociology and a Better Society
Since it was first founded, many people interested in sociology have been driven by the scholarly desire to
contribute knowledge to this field, while others have seen it as way not only to study society but also to improve
it. Besides desegregation, sociology has played a crucial role in many important social reforms, such as equal
opportunity for women in the workplace, improved treatment for individuals with mental handicaps or
learning disabilities, increased accessibility and accommodation for people with physical handicaps, the right
of native populations to preserve their land and culture, and prison system reforms.
The predominant American sociologist, the late Peter L. Berger (1929–2017), in his 1963 book, Invitation to
Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective, describes a sociologist as “someone concerned with understanding
society in a disciplined way.” He asserts that sociologists have a natural interest in the monumental moments
of people’s lives, as well as a fascination with banal, everyday occurrences. Berger also describes the “aha”
1.4 • Why Study Sociology? 23

moment when a sociological theory becomes applicable and understood:
[T]here is a deceptive simplicity and obviousness about some sociological investigations. One reads
them, nods at the familiar scene, remarks that one has heard all this before and don’t people have
better things to do than to waste their time on truisms—until one is suddenly brought up against an
insight that radically questions everything one had previously assumed about this familiar scene. This
is the point at which one begins to sense the excitement of sociology. (Berger, 1963)
Sociology can be exciting because it teaches people ways to recognize how they fit into the world and how
others perceive them. Looking at themselves and society from a sociological perspective helps people see
where they connect to different groups based on the many different ways they classify themselves and how
society classifies them in turn. It raises awareness of how those classifications—such as economic and status
levels, education, ethnicity, or sexual orientation—affect perceptions.
Sociology teaches people not to accept easy explanations. It teaches them a way to organize their thinking so
that they can ask better questions and formulate better answers. It makes people more aware that there are
many different kinds of people in the world who do not necessarily think the way they do. It increases their
willingness and ability to try to see the world from other people’s perspectives. This prepares them to live and
work in an increasingly diverse and integrated world.
Sociology in the Workplace
Employers continue to seek people with what are called “transferable skills.” This means that they want to hire
people whose knowledge and education can be applied in a variety of settings and whose skills will contribute
to various tasks.
Studying sociology can provide people with this wide knowledge and a skill set that can contribute to many
workplaces, including
• an understanding of social systems and large bureaucracies;
• the ability to devise and carry out research projects to assess whether a program or policy is working;
• the ability to collect, read, and analyze statistical information from polls or surveys;
• the ability to recognize important differences in people’s social, cultural, and economic backgrounds;
• skills in preparing reports and communicating complex ideas; and
• the capacity for critical thinking about social issues and problems that confront modern society.
(Department of Sociology, University of Alabama-Huntsville)
Sociology prepares people for a wide variety of careers. Besides actually conducting social research or training
others in the field, people who graduate from college with a degree in sociology are hired by government
agencies and corporations in fields such as social services, counseling (e.g., family planning, career, substance
abuse), community planning, health services, marketing, market research, and human resources. Even a small
amount of training in sociology can be an asset in careers like sales, public relations, journalism, teaching, law,
and criminal justice.
Social Networking Consequences
You’ve probably heard a cautionary story that goes something like this: A high school student spent years working
hard, engaging in their community, helping others, and generally growing into a positive and promising young adult.
During senior year, they start the college application process, and after a couple of interviews and other interactions,
things are looking bright at several of their top choices. But when the time arrives for those fateful notifications
about acceptance or rejection, the student and their family are shocked to get rejected from all schools but one.
Inquiries from family members and guidance counselors had no results. The only news came in the form of a letter
24 1 • An Introduction to Sociology
Access for free at

three weeks later from the one school that had accepted the student.
“…After an initial investigation, the University has determined that several posts attributed to you violate our
policies, and are offensive and troubling…”
The letter’s remaining two pages detailed the ongoing investigation and outlined the potential outcomes. But that
one statement said it all: The student had posted something offensive on social media, and their prospective
colleges had found it.
Two years earlier, at the beginning of sophomore year, the student had posted two comments and a meme that
mocked a classmate who had been assaulted at a party. Even thought the student had removed them within a few
days, the posts lived on in other forums and on a few friends’ pages; there was also the possibility that someone had
screen-grabbed them. While social media posts are protected forms of speech in relation to the government,
colleges can review them as they evaluate applicants. Employers can do the same, as can romantic partners or even
volunteer organizations.
You may believe that a 15-year-old’s social media comments should not impact them years later. Or you may feel
that someone who jokes about assault may be a risk to commit a similar act or fail to stop or report one. Sociologists
may consider all of those assumptions, and may seek answers or information through research to uncover the
impacts, risks, tendencies, and outcomes on the different groups involved. For example, a sociologist might work to
discover answers to the following questions:
• Is abusive speech or assault less likely to occur at colleges that screen applicants’ social media posts?
• Do sensitivity trainings or cultural competency programs have an effect on online speech?
• Do colleges treat all community members equally when they discover someone has posted offensive comments or
other content?
• Are algorithms and artificial intelligence used to detect problematic comments biased against certain people or
None of these questions could be answered by a single study or even a group of them. But like the Supreme Court’s
use of Mamie and Kenneth Clarke’s research, college administrators, high school counselors, and technology
companies can use the outcomes of research and analysis to make decisions or implement programs.
1.4 • Why Study Sociology? 25

Key Terms
antipositivism the view that social researchers should strive for subjectivity as they worked to represent
social processes, cultural norms, and societal values
conflict theory a theory that looks at society as a competition for limited resources
constructivism an extension of symbolic interaction theory which proposes that reality is what humans
cognitively construct it to be
culture a group’s shared practices, values, and beliefs
dramaturgical analysis a technique sociologists use in which they view society through the metaphor of
theatrical performance
dynamic equilibrium a stable state in which all parts of a healthy society work together properly
dysfunctions social patterns that have undesirable consequences for the operation of society
figuration the process of simultaneously analyzing the behavior of an individual and the society that shapes
that behavior
function the part a recurrent activity plays in the social life as a whole and the contribution it makes to
structural continuity
functionalism a theoretical approach that sees society as a structure with interrelated parts designed to
meet the biological and social needs of individuals that make up that society
generalized others the organized and generalized attitude of a social group
grand theories an attempt to explain large-scale relationships and answer fundamental questions such as
why societies form and why they change
hypothesis a testable proposition
latent functions the unrecognized or unintended consequences of a social process
macro-level a wide-scale view of the role of social structures within a society
manifest functions sought consequences of a social process
micro-level theories the study of specific relationships between individuals or small groups
paradigms philosophical and theoretical frameworks used within a discipline to formulate theories,
generalizations, and the experiments performed in support of them
positivism the scientific study of social patterns
qualitative sociology in-depth interviews, focus groups, and/or analysis of content sources as the source of
its data
quantitative sociology statistical methods such as surveys with large numbers of participants
reification an error of treating an abstract concept as though it has a real, material existence
significant others specific individuals that impact a person’s life
social facts the laws, morals, values, religious beliefs, customs, fashions, rituals, and all of the cultural rules
that govern social life
social institutions patterns of beliefs and behaviors focused on meeting social needs
social solidarity the social ties that bind a group of people together such as kinship, shared location, and
society a group of people who live in a defined geographical area who interact with one another and who
share a common culture
sociological imagination the ability to understand how your own past relates to that of other people, as well
as to history in general and societal structures in particular
sociology the systematic study of society and social interaction
symbolic interactionism a theoretical perspective through which scholars examine the relationship of
individuals within their society by studying their communication (language and symbols)
theory a proposed explanation about social interactions or society
verstehen a German word that means to understand in a deep way
26 1 • Key Terms
Access for free at

Section Summary
1.1 What Is Sociology?
Sociology is the systematic and scientific study of society and social interaction. In order to carry out their
studies, sociologists identify cultural patterns and social forces and determine how they affect individuals and
groups. They also develop ways to apply their findings to the real world.
1.2 The History of Sociology
Sociology was developed as an academic and scientific way to study and theorize about the changes to society
brought on by the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some of the earliest
sociologists thought that societies and individuals’ roles in society could be studied using the same scientific
methodologies that were used in the natural sciences, while others believed that is was impossible to predict
human behavior scientifically, and still others debated the value of such predictions. Those perspectives
continue to be represented within sociology today.
1.3 Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology
Sociologists develop theories to explain social events, interactions, and patterns. A theory is a proposed
explanation of those social interactions. Theories have different scales. Macro-level theories, such as structural
functionalism and conflict theory, attempt to explain how societies operate as a whole. Micro-level theories,
such as symbolic interactionism, focus on interactions between individuals.
1.4 Why Study Sociology?
Studying sociology is beneficial both for the individual and for society. By studying sociology people learn how
to think critically about social issues and problems that confront our society. The study of sociology enriches
students’ lives and prepares them for careers in an increasingly diverse world. Society benefits because people
with sociological training are better prepared to make informed decisions about social issues and take
effective action to deal with them.
Section Quiz
1.1 What Is Sociology?
1. Which of the following best describes sociology as a subject?
a. The study of individual behavior
b. The study of cultures
c. The study of society and social interaction
d. The study of economics
2. C. Wright Mills once said that sociologists need to develop a sociological __________ to study how society
affects individuals.
a. culture
b. imagination
c. method
d. tool
3. A sociologist defines society as a group of people who reside in a defined area, share a culture, and who:
a. interact
b. work in the same industry
c. speak different languages
d. practice a recognized religion
1 • Section Summary 27

4. Seeing patterns means that a sociologist needs to be able to:
a. compare the behavior of individuals from different societies
b. compare one society to another
c. identify similarities in how social groups respond to social pressure
d. compare individuals to groups
1.2 The History of Sociology
5. Which of the following was a topic of study in early sociology?
a. Astrology
b. Economics
c. Physics
d. History
6. Which founder of sociology believed societies changed due to class struggle?
a. Emile Comte
b. Karl Marx
c. Plato
d. Herbert Spencer
7. Weber believed humans could not be studied purely objectively because they were influenced by:
a. drugs
b. their culture
c. their genetic makeup
d. the researcher
1.3 Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology
8. Which of these theories is most likely to look at the social world on a micro level?
a. Structural functionalism
b. Conflict theory
c. Positivism
d. Symbolic interactionism
9. Who believed that the history of society was one of class struggle?
a. Emile Durkheim
b. Karl Marx
c. Erving Goffmann
d. George Herbert Mead
10. Who coined the phrase symbolic interactionism?
a. Herbert Blumer
b. Max Weber
c. Lester F. Ward
d. W. I. Thomas
11. A symbolic interactionist may compare social interactions to:
a. behaviors
b. conflicts
c. human organs
d. theatrical roles
28 1 • Section Quiz
Access for free at

12. Which research technique would most likely be used by a symbolic interactionist?
a. Surveys
b. Participant observation
c. Quantitative data analysis
d. None of the above
1.4 Why Study Sociology?
13. Kenneth and Mamie Clark used sociological research to show that segregation was:
a. beneficial
b. harmful
c. illegal
d. of no importance
14. What did the Clark’s use in their experiment noted in question 15?
a. children and dogs
b. adults and dolls
c. children and dolls
d. adults and pets
15. Studying sociology helps people analyze data because they learn:
a. interview techniques
b. to apply statistics
c. to generate theories
d. all of the above
16. Berger describes sociologists as concerned with:
a. monumental moments in people’s lives
b. common everyday life events
c. both a and b
d. none of the above
17. Berger writes that sociology
a. is not an academic discipline
b. makes the strange familiar
c. makes the familiar strange
d. is not a science
Short Answer
1.1 What Is Sociology?
1. What do you think C. Wright Mills meant when he said that to be a sociologist, one had to develop a
sociological imagination?
2. Describe a situation in which a choice you made was influenced by societal pressures.
1.2 The History of Sociology
3. What do you make of Karl Marx’s contributions to sociology? What perceptions of Marx have you been
exposed to in your society, and how do those perceptions influence your views?
4. Do you tend to place more value on qualitative or quantitative research? Why? Does it matter what topic you
are studying?
1 • Short Answer 29

1.3 Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology
5. Which theory do you think better explains how societies operate—structural functionalism or conflict
theory? Why?
6. Do you think the way people behave in social interactions is more like the behavior of animals or more like
actors playing a role in a theatrical production? Why?
1.4 Why Study Sociology?
7. How do you think taking a sociology course might affect your social interactions?
8. What sort of career are you interested in? How could studying sociology help you in this career?
Further Research
1.1 What Is Sociology?
Sociology is a broad discipline. Different kinds of sociologists employ various methods for exploring the
relationship between individuals and society. Check out more about sociology at this website.
( .
1.2 The History of Sociology
Many sociologists helped shape the discipline. To learn more, check out this site featuring prominent
sociologists and how they changed sociology. (
1.3 Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology
People often think of all conflict as violent, but many conflicts can be resolved nonviolently. To learn more
about nonviolent methods of conflict resolution check out the Albert Einstein Institution
( .
1.4 Why Study Sociology?
Social communication is rapidly evolving due to ever improving technologies. Check out this website to learn
more about how sociologists study the impact of these changes (
1.1 What Is Sociology?
Chily, M. (2013). Kids of Tarashing, Astore District, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. [Photograph]. Retrieved from
Elias, N. (1978). What Is Sociology? New York: Columbia University Press.
Kierns, N. (2010). Ashley’s Alliance, unpublished presentation. Ohio State University.
Ludden, J. (2012). “Single Dads By Choice: More Men Going It Alone.” National Public Radio. Retrieved from
Mills, C. Wright. (2000 [1959]). The Sociological Imagination. 40th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
Roggi, S. (2014). Storia di un genitore che ama troppo [Photograph]. immagini tratte da Google Immagini.
(Trans: Story of a parent who loves too much [Photograph]. Images taken from Google Images).
Sahn, R. (2013). “The Dangers of Reification.” The Contrary Perspective. Retrieved from
Unknown Photographer. 2013. Million People March in Laneta Park, Manila, Philippines. [Photograph] This
30 1 • Further Research
Access for free at

Photo by is licensed under CC BY-SA. Retrieved from
Unknown Photographer. 2013. The Young Family in NJ hosted Sarah from France in 2012-13. Attribution 2.0
Generic (CC BY 2.0) Retrieved from
Unknown Photographer. 2017. Zairean Students. [Photograph]. Retrieved from
U.S. Census Bureau. 2020. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2020.” Retrieved from
1.2 The History of Sociology
Abercrombie, N., S. Hill, & B. S. Turner. (2000). The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. London: Penguin.
Armstrong, D. (2019) 1215: The Year That Changed Everything. The Teaching Company.
Buroway, M. (2005). “2004 Presidential Address: For Public Sociology.” American Sociological Review 70
(February): 4–28. Retrieved from,%20Live/Burawoy .
Cronk, G. n.d. “George Herbert Mead.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: A Peer-Reviewed Academic
Resource. Retrieved from
Daileader, P. (2007). The Early Middle Ages. The Teaching Company.
Datar, R., Alatas, S., van den Bent, J., & Irwin, R. (2019). The Forum. Ibn Khaldun: 14th Century Sage. Retrieved
Durkheim, É. (1964 [1895]). The Rules of Sociological Method, edited by J. Mueller, E. George & E. Caitlin. 8th
ed. Translated by S. Solovay. New York: Free Press.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020). Ma Duanlin Chinese Historian. Retrieved from
Fauré, C., J. Guilhaumou, J. Vallier, & F. Weil. (2007 [1999]). Des Manuscrits de Sieyès, 1773–1799, Volumes I
and II. Paris: Champion.
Green, D.S. and Wortham, R.A. (2018), The Sociological Insight of W.E.B. Du Bois. Sociological Inquiry, 88:
56-78. Retrieved January 10, 2021, from
Hannoum, A. (2003). Translation and the Colonial Imaginary: Ibn Khaldun Orientalist. Middletown, CT:
Wesleyan University. Retrieved from
Hill, M. (1991). “Harriet Martineau.” Women in Sociology: A Bio-Bibliographic Sourcebook, edited by Mary Jo
Deegan. New York: Greenwood Press.
Johnson, B. (2003). “Harriet Martineau: Theories and Contributions to Sociology.” Education Portal. Retrieved
Morris, A. (2015). The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology. Oakland, California:
University of California Press. Retrieved January 10, 2021, from
Poggi, Gianfranco. (2000). Durkheim. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Ritzer, G. & Goodman, D. (2004). Sociological Theory, 6th Edition. New York: McGraw Hill Education.
Stapley, Pierre. (2010). “Georg Simmel.” Cardiff University School of Social Sciences. Retrieved from
U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. (2010). Women and the Economy, 2010: 25 Years of Progress But
1 • References 31

Challenges Remain. August. Washington, DC: Congressional Printing Office. Retrieved from
1.3 Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology
Allan, K. Contemporary Social and Sociological Theory: Visualizing Social Worlds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine
Forge Press.
Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Broce, G. (1973). History of Anthropology. Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company.
Calhoun, C. (2002). Classical Sociological Theory. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Cooley, C. (1902). Human nature and the social order. NY: Charles Schribner’s Sons. Retrieved from

Charles H. Cooley

Durkheim, É. (1984 [1893]). The Division of Labor in Society. New York: Free Press.
Durkheim, É. (1964 [1895]). The Rules of Sociological Method, edited by J. Mueller, E. George and E. Caitlin. 8th
ed. Translated by S. Solovay. New York: Free Press.
Goffman, E. (1958). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, Social
Sciences Research Centre.
Goldschmidt, W. (1996). “Functionalism” in Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 2, edited by D.
Levinson and M. Ember. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Henry, S. (2007). “Deviance, Constructionist Perspectives.” Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Retrieved
Herman, N. & Reynolds, L. (1994). Symbolic Interaction: An Introduction to Social Psychology. Lanham, MD:
Altamira Press.
Horkeimer, M. (1982). Critical Theory. New York: Seabury Press.
Hurst, A. (n.d.) Classical Sociological Theory and Foundations of American Sociology. Retrieved from


Irving, J. (2007). Fifty Key Sociologists: The Formative Theorists. New York: Routledge.
LaRossa, R. & Reitzes, D. (1993). “Symbolic Interactionism and Family Studies.” Pp. 135–163 in Sourcebook of
Family Theories and Methods: A Contextual Approach, edited by P. G. Boss, et al. New York: Springer.
Maryanski, A. & Turner, J. (1992). The Social Cage: Human Nature and the Evolution of Society. Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press.
Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1998 [1848]). The Communist Manifesto. New York: Penguin.
Parsons, T. (1961). Theories of Society: Foundations of Modern Sociological Theory. New York: Free Press.
Pew Research Center. (2012). “Mobile Technology Fact Sheet.” Pew Research Internet Project, April 2012.
Retrieved from
Radcliffe-Brown, A.R. (1952). Structure and Function in Primitive Society: Essays and Addresses. London:
Cohen and West.
Spencer, Herbert. (1894). The Principles of Biology. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
Stanford University. (2016). George Herbert Mead. Retrieved from
32 1 • References
Access for free at

Stanford University. (2017). Max Weber. Retrieved from
Stryker, Sheldon (1987). The Vitalization of Symbolic Interactionism. Social Psychology Quarterly, 50(1),
Turner, J. (2003). The Structure of Sociological Theory. 7th ed. Belmont, CA: Thompson/Wadsworth.
UCLA School of Public Affairs. (n.d.) “What is Critical Race Theory?” UCLA School of Public Affairs: Critical
Race Studies. Retrieved from
1.4 Why Study Sociology?
Berger, P. (1963). Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective. New York: Anchor Books.
Department of Sociology, University of Alabama. (n.d.) Is Sociology Right for You? Huntsville: University of
Alabama. Retrieved from
1 • References 33

34 1 • References
Access for free at

FIGURE 2.1 Many believe that crime rates go up during the full moon, but scientific research does not support this
conclusion. (Credit: Arman Thanvir/flickr.)
2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research
2.2 Research Methods
2.3 Ethical Concerns
As sociology made its way into American universities, scholars developed it into a science
that relies on research to build a body of knowledge. Sociologists began collecting data (observations and
documentation) and applying the scientific method or an interpretative framework to increase understanding
of societies and social interactions.
Our observations about social situations often incorporate biases based on our own views and limited data. To
avoid subjectivity, sociologists conduct experiments or studies that gather and analyze empirical evidence
from direct experience. Peers review the conclusions from this research and often repeat the experiments or
studies or apply them to other contexts in order to validate these conclusions. Examples of peer-reviewed
research are found in scholarly journals.
Consider a study on the relationship between COVID-19 and crime rates published in Crime Science, a
scholarly journal. Researchers hypothesized that COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions would lead to a drop
both in street crimes and home burglaries. Researchers collected the data Swedish police used to track and
2Sociological Research

project future crimes. They found that assaults, pickpocketing and burglary had decreased significantly
(Gerell, Kardell, and Kindgren, 2020). In this way, researchers used empirical evidence and statistical analysis
to answer the question how did COVID-19 restrictions impact crime rates. In this chapter, we will explore the
approaches and methods sociologists use to conduct studies like this one.
2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Define and describe the scientific method.
• Explain how the scientific method is used in sociological research.
• Describe the function and importance of an interpretive framework.
• Describe the differences in accuracy, reliability and validity in a research study.
When sociologists apply the sociological perspective and begin to ask questions, no topic is off limits. Every
aspect of human behavior is a source of possible investigation. Sociologists question the world that humans
have created and live in. They notice patterns of behavior as people move through that world. Using
sociological methods and systematic research within the framework of the scientific method and a scholarly
interpretive perspective, sociologists have discovered social patterns in the workplace that have transformed
industries, in families that have enlightened family members, and in education that have aided structural
changes in classrooms.
Sociologists often begin the research process by asking a question about how or why things happen in this
world. It might be a unique question about a new trend or an old question about a common aspect of life. Once
the question is formed, the sociologist proceeds through an in-depth process to answer it. In deciding how to
design that process, the researcher may adopt a scientific approach or an interpretive framework. The
following sections describe these approaches to knowledge.
The Scientific Method
Sociologists make use of tried and true methods of research, such as experiments, surveys, and field research.
But humans and their social interactions are so diverse that these interactions can seem impossible to chart or
explain. It might seem that science is about discoveries and chemical reactions or about proving ideas right or
wrong rather than about exploring the nuances of human behavior.
However, this is exactly why scientific models work for studying human behavior. A scientific process of
research establishes parameters that help make sure results are objective and accurate. Scientific methods
provide limitations and boundaries that focus a study and organize its results.
The scientific method involves developing and testing theories about the social world based on empirical
evidence. It is defined by its commitment to systematic observation of the empirical world and strives to be
objective, critical, skeptical, and logical. It involves a series of six prescribed steps that have been established
over centuries of scientific scholarship.
36 2 • Sociological Research
Access for free at

FIGURE 2.2 The Scientific Method. 6 steps of the scientific method are an essential tool in research.
Sociological research does not reduce knowledge to right or wrong facts. Results of studies tend to provide
people with insights they did not have before—explanations of human behaviors and social practices and
access to knowledge of other cultures, rituals and beliefs, or trends and attitudes.
In general, sociologists tackle questions about the role of social characteristics in outcomes or results. For
example, how do different communities fare in terms of psychological well-being, community cohesiveness,
range of vocation, wealth, crime rates, and so on? Are communities functioning smoothly? Sociologists often
look between the cracks to discover obstacles to meeting basic human needs. They might also study
environmental influences and patterns of behavior that lead to crime, substance abuse, divorce, poverty,
unplanned pregnancies, or illness. And, because sociological studies are not all focused on negative behaviors
or challenging situations, social researchers might study vacation trends, healthy eating habits, neighborhood
organizations, higher education patterns, games, parks, and exercise habits.
Sociologists can use the scientific method not only to collect but also to interpret and analyze data. They
deliberately apply scientific logic and objectivity. They are interested in—but not attached to—the results. They
work outside of their own political or social agendas. This does not mean researchers do not have their own
personalities, complete with preferences and opinions. But sociologists deliberately use the scientific method
to maintain as much objectivity, focus, and consistency as possible in collecting and analyzing data in research
With its systematic approach, the scientific method has proven useful in shaping sociological studies. The
scientific method provides a systematic, organized series of steps that help ensure objectivity and consistency
in exploring a social problem. They provide the means for accuracy, reliability, and validity. In the end, the
scientific method provides a shared basis for discussion and analysis (Merton 1963). Typically, the scientific
method has 6 steps which are described below.
Step 1: Ask a Question or Find a Research Topic
The first step of the scientific method is to ask a question, select a problem, and identify the specific area of
interest. The topic should be narrow enough to study within a geographic location and time frame. “Are
societies capable of sustained happiness?” would be too vague. The question should also be broad enough to
have universal merit. “What do personal hygiene habits reveal about the values of students at XYZ High
School?” would be too narrow. Sociologists strive to frame questions that examine well-defined patterns and
In a hygiene study, for instance, hygiene could be defined as “personal habits to maintain physical appearance
(as opposed to health),” and a researcher might ask, “How do differing personal hygiene habits reflect the
2.1 • Approaches to Sociological Research 37

cultural value placed on appearance?”
Step 2: Review the Literature/Research Existing Sources
The next step researchers undertake is to conduct background research through a literature review, which is
a review of any existing similar or related studies. A visit to the library, a thorough online search, and a survey
of academic journals will uncover existing research about the topic of study. This step helps researchers gain a
broad understanding of work previously conducted, identify gaps in understanding of the topic, and position
their own research to build on prior knowledge. Researchers—including student researchers—are responsible
for correctly citing existing sources they use in a study or that inform their work. While it is fine to borrow
previously published material (as long as it enhances a unique viewpoint), it must be referenced properly and
never plagiarized.
To study crime, a researcher might also sort through existing data from the court system, police database,
prison information, interviews with criminals, guards, wardens, etc. It’s important to examine this information
in addition to existing research to determine how these resources might be used to fill holes in existing
knowledge. Reviewing existing sources educates researchers and helps refine and improve a research study
Step 3: Formulate a Hypothesis
A hypothesis is an explanation for a phenomenon based on a conjecture about the relationship between the
phenomenon and one or more causal factors. In sociology, the hypothesis will often predict how one form of
human behavior influences another. For example, a hypothesis might be in the form of an “if, then statement.”
Let’s relate this to our topic of crime: If crime unemployment increases, then the crime rate will increase.
In scientific research, we formulate hypotheses to include an independent variables (IV), which are the cause
of the change, and a dependent variable (DV), which is the effect, or thing that is changed. In the example
above, unemployment is the independent variable and the crime rate is the dependent variable.
In a sociological study, the researcher would establish one form of human behavior as the independent
variable and observe the influence it has on a dependent variable. How does gender (the independent variable)
affect rate of income (the dependent variable)? How does one’s religion (the independent variable) affect family
size (the dependent variable)? How is social class (the dependent variable) affected by level of education (the
independent variable)?
Hypothesis Independent
The greater the availability of affordable housing, the lower the
homeless rate.
Affordable Housing Homeless Rate
The greater the availability of math tutoring, the higher the math
Math Tutoring Math Grades
The greater the police patrol presence, the safer the neighborhood.
Police Patrol
The greater the factory lighting, the higher the productivity. Factory Lighting Productivity
TABLE 2.1 Examples of Dependent and Independent Variables Typically, the independent variable causes the
dependent variable to change in some way.
38 2 • Sociological Research
Access for free at

Hypothesis Independent
The greater the amount of media coverage, the higher the public
Observation Public Awareness
TABLE 2.1 Examples of Dependent and Independent Variables Typically, the independent variable causes the
dependent variable to change in some way.
Taking an example from Table 12.1, a researcher might hypothesize that teaching children proper hygiene (the
independent variable) will boost their sense of self-esteem (the dependent variable). Note, however, this
hypothesis can also work the other way around. A sociologist might predict that increasing a child’s sense of
self-esteem (the independent variable) will increase or improve habits of hygiene (now the dependent
variable). Identifying the independent and dependent variables is very important. As the hygiene example
shows, simply identifying related two topics or variables is not enough. Their prospective relationship must be
part of the hypothesis.
Step 4: Design and Conduct a Study
Researchers design studies to maximize reliability, which refers to how likely research results are to be
replicated if the study is reproduced. Reliability increases the likelihood that what happens to one person will
happen to all people in a group or what will happen in one situation will happen in another. Cooking is a
science. When you follow a recipe and measure ingredients with a cooking tool, such as a measuring cup, the
same results is obtained as long as the cook follows the same recipe and uses the same type of tool. The
measuring cup introduces accuracy into the process. If a person uses a less accurate tool, such as their hand,
to measure ingredients rather than a cup, the same result may not be replicated. Accurate tools and methods
increase reliability.
Researchers also strive for validity, which refers to how well the study measures what it was designed to
measure. To produce reliable and valid results, sociologists develop an operational definition, that is, they
define eacj concept, or variable, in terms of the physical or concrete steps it takes to objectively measure it. The
operational definition identifies an observable condition of the concept. By operationalizing the concept, all
researchers can collect data in a systematic or replicable manner. Moreover, researchers can determine
whether the experiment or method validly represent the phenomenon they intended to study.
A study asking how tutoring improves grades, for instance, might define “tutoring” as “one-on-one assistance
by an expert in the field, hired by an educational institution.” However, one researcher might define a “good”
grade as a C or better, while another uses a B+ as a starting point for “good.” For the results to be replicated and
gain acceptance within the broader scientific community, researchers would have to use a standard
operational definition. These definitions set limits and establish cut-off points that ensure consistency and
replicability in a study.
We will explore research methods in greater detail in the next section of this chapter.
Step 5: Draw Conclusions
After constructing the research design, sociologists collect, tabulate or categorize, and analyze data to
formulate conclusions. If the analysis supports the hypothesis, researchers can discuss the implications of the
results for the theory or policy solution that they were addressing. If the analysis does support the hypothesis,
researchers may consider repeating the experiment or think of ways to improve their procedure.
However, even when results contradict a sociologist’s prediction of a study’s outcome, these results still
contribute to sociological understanding. Sociologists analyze general patterns in response to a study, but they
2.1 • Approaches to Sociological Research 39

are equally interested in exceptions to patterns. In a study of education, a researcher might predict that high
school dropouts have a hard time finding rewarding careers. While many assume that the higher the
education, the higher the salary and degree of career happiness, there are certainly exceptions. People with
little education have had stunning careers, and people with advanced degrees have had trouble finding work. A
sociologist prepares a hypothesis knowing that results may substantiate or contradict it.
Sociologists carefully keep in mind how operational definitions and research designs impact the results as
they draw conclusions. Consider the concept of “increase of crime,” which might be defined as the percent
increase in crime from last week to this week, as in the study of Swedish crime discussed above. Yet the data
used to evaluate “increase of crime” might be limited by many factors: who commits the crime, where the
crimes are committed, or what type of crime is committed. If the data is gathered for “crimes committed in
Houston, Texas in zip code 77021,” then it may not be generalizable to crimes committed in rural areas
outside of major cities like Houston. If data is collected about vandalism, it may not be generalizable to assault.
Step 6: Report Results
Researchers report their results at conferences and in academic journals. These results are then subjected to
the scrutiny of other sociologists in the field. Before the conclusions of a study become widely accepted, the
studies are often repeated in the same or different environments. In this way, sociological theories and
knowledge develops as the relationships between social phenomenon are established in broader contexts and
different circumstances.
Interpretive Framework
While many sociologists rely on empirical data and the scientific method as a research approach, others
operate from an interpretive framework. While systematic, this approach doesn’t follow the hypothesis-
testing model that seeks to find generalizable results. Instead, an interpretive framework, sometimes referred
to as an interpretive perspective, seeks to understand social worlds from the point of view of participants,
which leads to in-depth knowledge or understands about the human experience.
Interpretive research is generally more descriptive or narrative in its findings. Rather than formulating a
hypothesis and method for testing it, an interpretive researcher will develop approaches to explore the topic at
hand that may involve a significant amount of direct observation or interaction with subjects including
storytelling. This type of researcher learns through the process and sometimes adjusts the research methods
or processes midway to optimize findings as they evolve.
Critical Sociology
Critical sociology focuses on deconstruction of existing sociological research and theory. Informed by the work
of Karl Marx, scholars known collectively as the Frankfurt School proposed that social science, as much as any
academic pursuit, is embedded in the system of power constituted by the set of class, caste, race, gender, and
other relationships that exist in the society. Consequently, it cannot be treated as purely objective. Critical
sociologists view theories, methods, and the conclusions as serving one of two purposes: they can either
legitimate and rationalize systems of social power and oppression or liberate humans from inequality and
restriction on human freedom. Deconstruction can involve data collection, but the analysis of this data is not
empirical or positivist.
2.2 Research Methods
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Recall the 6 Steps of the Scientific Method
• Differentiate between four kinds of research methods: surveys, field research, experiments, and secondary data
• Explain the appropriateness of specific research approaches for specific topics.
40 2 • Sociological Research
Access for free at

Sociologists examine the social world, see a problem or interesting pattern, and set out to study it. They use
research methods to design a study. Planning the research design is a key step in any sociological study.
Sociologists generally choose from widely used methods of social investigation: primary source data
collection such as survey, participant observation, ethnography, case study, unobtrusive observations,
experiment, and secondary data analysis, or use of existing sources. Every research method comes with
plusses and minuses, and the topic of study strongly influences which method or methods are put to use.
When you are conducting research think about the best way to gather or obtain knowledge about your topic,
think of yourself as an architect. An architect needs a blueprint to build a house, as a sociologist your blueprint
is your research design including your data collection method.
When entering a particular social environment, a researcher must be careful. There are times to remain
anonymous and times to be overt. There are times to conduct interviews and times to simply observe. Some
participants need to be thoroughly informed; others should not know they are being observed. A researcher
wouldn’t stroll into a crime-ridden neighborhood at midnight, calling out, “Any gang members around?”
Making sociologists’ presence invisible is not always realistic for other reasons. That option is not available to a
researcher studying prison behaviors, early education, or the Ku Klux Klan. Researchers can’t just stroll into
prisons, kindergarten classrooms, or Klan meetings and unobtrusively observe behaviors or attract attention.
In situations like these, other methods are needed. Researchers choose methods that best suit their study
topics, protect research participants or subjects, and that fit with their overall approaches to research.
As a research method, a survey collects data from subjects who respond to a series of questions about
behaviors and opinions, often in the form of a questionnaire or an interview. The survey is one of the most
widely used scientific research methods. The standard survey format allows individuals a level of anonymity in
which they can express personal ideas.
FIGURE 2.3 Questionnaires are a common research method. (Credit: CDC Global/flickr)
At some point, most people in the United States respond to some type of survey. The 2020 U.S. Census is an
excellent example of a large-scale survey intended to gather sociological data. Since 1790, United States has
conducted a survey consisting of six questions to received demographical data pertaining to residents. The
questions pertain to the demographics of the residents who live in the United States. Currently, the Census is
received by residents in the United Stated and five territories and consists of 12 questions.
Not all surveys are considered sociological research, however, and many surveys people commonly encounter
focus on identifying marketing needs and strategies rather than testing a hypothesis or contributing to social
science knowledge. Questions such as, “How many hot dogs do you eat in a month?” or “Were the staff
helpful?” are not usually designed as scientific research. The Nielsen Ratings determine the popularity of
television programming through scientific market research. However, polls conducted by television programs
such as American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance cannot be generalized, because they are administered to
an unrepresentative population, a specific show’s audience. You might receive polls through your cell phones
or emails, from grocery stores, restaurants, and retail stores. They often provide you incentives for completing
2.2 • Research Methods 41

the survey.
FIGURE 2.4 Real-time surveys are common in classrooms, live-audience events, and even popular media. Twitter
polls have often replaced physical devices such as the one pictured. (Credit: Sam Howzit/flickr)
Sociologists conduct surveys under controlled conditions for specific purposes. Surveys gather different types
of information from people. While surveys are not great at capturing the ways people really behave in social
situations, they are a great method for discovering how people feel, think, and act—or at least how they say they
feel, think, and act. Surveys can track preferences for presidential candidates or reported individual behaviors
(such as sleeping, driving, or texting habits) or information such as employment status, income, and education
A survey targets a specific population, people who are the focus of a study, such as college athletes,
international students, or teenagers living with type 1 ( juvenile-onset) diabetes. Most researchers choose to
survey a small sector of the population, or a sample, a manageable number of subjects who represent a larger
population. The success of a study depends on how well a population is represented by the sample. In a
random sample, every person in a population has the same chance of being chosen for the study. As a result, a
Gallup Poll, if conducted as a nationwide random sampling, should be able to provide an accurate estimate of
public opinion whether it contacts 2,000 or 10,000 people.
After selecting subjects, the researcher develops a specific plan to ask questions and record responses. It is
important to inform subjects of the nature and purpose of the survey up front. If they agree to participate,
researchers thank subjects and offer them a chance to see the results of the study if they are interested. The
researcher presents the subjects with an instrument, which is a means of gathering the information.
A common instrument is a questionnaire. Subjects often answer a series of closed-ended questions. The
researcher might ask yes-or-no or multiple-choice questions, allowing subjects to choose possible responses
to each question. This kind of questionnaire collects quantitative data—data in numerical form that can be
counted and statistically analyzed. Just count up the number of “yes” and “no” responses or correct answers,
and chart them into percentages.
Questionnaires can also ask more complex questions with more complex answers—beyond “yes,” “no,” or
checkbox options. These types of inquiries use open-ended questions that require short essay responses.
Participants willing to take the time to write those answers might convey personal religious beliefs, political
views, goals, or morals. The answers are subjective and vary from person to person. How do plan to use your
college education?
Some topics that investigate internal thought processes are impossible to observe directly and are difficult to
discuss honestly in a public forum. People are more likely to share honest answers if they can respond to
questions anonymously. This type of personal explanation is qualitative data—conveyed through words.
Qualitative information is harder to organize and tabulate. The researcher will end up with a wide range of
42 2 • Sociological Research
Access for free at

responses, some of which may be surprising. The benefit of written opinions, though, is the wealth of in-depth
material that they provide.
An interview is a one-on-one conversation between the researcher and the subject, and it is a way of
conducting surveys on a topic. However, participants are free to respond as they wish, without being limited by
predetermined choices. In the back-and-forth conversation of an interview, a researcher can ask for
clarification, spend more time on a subtopic, or ask additional questions. In an interview, a subject will ideally
feel free to open up and answer questions that are often complex. There are no right or wrong answers. The
subject might not even know how to answer the questions honestly.
Questions such as “How does society’s view of alcohol consumption influence your decision whether or not to
take your first sip of alcohol?” or “Did you feel that the divorce of your parents would put a social stigma on
your family?” involve so many factors that the answers are difficult to categorize. A researcher needs to avoid
steering or prompting the subject to respond in a specific way; otherwise, the results will prove to be
unreliable. The researcher will also benefit from gaining a subject’s trust, from empathizing or commiserating
with a subject, and from listening without judgment.
Surveys often collect both quantitative and qualitative data. For example, a researcher interviewing prisoners
might receive quantitative data, such asdemographics – race, age, sex, that can be analyzed statistically. For
example, the researcher might discover that 20 percent of prisoners are above the age of 50. The researcher
might also collect qualitative data, such as why prisoners take advantage of educational opportunities while
they serve and other explanatory information.
The survey can be carried out online, over the phone, by mail, or face-to-face. When researchers collect data
outside a laboratory, library, or workplace setting, they are conducting field research, which is our next topic.
Field Research
The work of sociology rarely happens in limited, confined spaces. Rather, sociologists go out into the world.
They meet subjects where they live, work, and play. Field research refers to gathering primary data from a
natural environment. To conduct field research, the sociologist must be willing to step into new environments
and observe, participate, or experience those worlds. In field work, the sociologists, rather than the subjects,
are the ones out of their element.
The researcher interacts with or observes people and gathers data along the way. The key point in field
research is that it takes place in the subject’s natural environment, whether it’s a coffee shop or tribal village, a
homeless shelter or the DMV, a hospital, airport, mall, or beach resort.
2.2 • Research Methods 43

FIGURE 2.5 Sociological researchers travel across countries and cultures to interact with and observe subjects in
their natural environments. (Credit: IMLS Digital Collections and Content/flickr)
While field research often begins in a specific setting, the study’s purpose is to observe specific behaviors in
that setting. Field work is optimal for observing how people think and behave. It seeks to understand why they
behave that way. However, researchers may struggle to narrow down cause and effect when there are so many
variables floating around in a natural environment. And while field research looks for correlation, its small
sample size does not allow for establishing a causal relationship between two variables. Indeed, much of the
data gathered in sociology do not identify a cause and effect but a correlation.
Beyoncé and Lady Gaga as Sociological Subjects
FIGURE 2.6 Researchers have used surveys and participant observations to accumulate data on Lady Gaga and
Beyonce as multifaceted performers. (Credit a: John Robert Chartlon/flickr, b: Kristopher Harris/flickr.)
Sociologist have studied Lady Gaga and Beyoncé and their impact on music, movies, social media, fan participation,
44 2 • Sociological Research
Access for free at

and social equality. In their studies, researchers have used several research methods including secondary analysis,
participant observation, and surveys from concert participants.
In their study, Click, Lee & Holiday (2013) interviewed 45 Lady Gaga fans who utilized social media to communicate
with the artist. These fans viewed Lady Gaga as a mirror of themselves and a source of inspiration. Like her, they
embrace not being a part of mainstream culture. Many of Lady Gaga’s fans are members of the LGBTQ community.
They see the “song “Born This Way” as a rallying cry and answer her calls for “Paws Up” with a physical expression
of solidarity—outstretched arms and fingers bent and curled to resemble monster claws.”
Sascha Buchanan (2019) made use of participant observation to study the relationship between two fan groups,
that of Beyoncé and that of Rihanna. She observed award shows sponsored by iHeartRadio, MTV EMA, and BET that
pit one group against another as they competed for Best Fan Army, Biggest Fans, and FANdemonium. Buchanan
argues that the media thus sustains a myth of rivalry between the two most commercially successful Black women
vocal artists.
Participant Observation
In 2000, a comic writer named Rodney Rothman wanted an insider’s view of white-collar work. He slipped into
the sterile, high-rise offices of a New York “dot com” agency. Every day for two weeks, he pretended to work
there. His main purpose was simply to see whether anyone would notice him or challenge his presence. No one
did. The receptionist greeted him. The employees smiled and said good morning. Rothman was accepted as
part of the team. He even went so far as to claim a desk, inform the receptionist of his whereabouts, and attend
a meeting. He published an article about his experience in The New Yorker called “My Fake Job” (2000). Later,
he was discredited for allegedly fabricating some details of the story and The New Yorker issued an apology.
However, Rothman’s entertaining article still offered fascinating descriptions of the inside workings of a “dot
com” company and exemplified the lengths to which a writer, or a sociologist, will go to uncover material.
Rothman had conducted a form of study called participant observation, in which researchers join people and
participate in a group’s routine activities for the purpose of observing them within that context. This method
lets researchers experience a specific aspect of social life. A researcher might go to great lengths to get a
firsthand look into a trend, institution, or behavior. A researcher might work as a waitress in a diner, live as a
homeless person for several weeks, or ride along with police officers as they patrol their regular beat. Often,
these researchers try to blend in seamlessly with the population they study, and they may not disclose their
true identity or purpose if they feel it would compromise the results of their research.
2.2 • Research Methods 45

FIGURE 2.7 Is she a working waitress or a sociologist conducting a study using participant observation? A field
researcher may take a job or take other steps to get firsthand knowledge of their subjects. (Credit: Gareth Williams/
At the beginning of a field study, researchers might have a question: “What really goes on in the kitchen of the
most popular diner on campus?” or “What is it like to be homeless?” Participant observation is a useful
method if the researcher wants to explore a certain environment from the inside.
Field researchers simply want to observe and learn. In such a setting, the researcher will be alert and open
minded to whatever happens, recording all observations accurately. Soon, as patterns emerge, questions will
become more specific, observations will lead to hypotheses, and hypotheses will guide the researcher in
analyzing data and generating results.
In a study of small towns in the United States conducted by sociological researchers John S. Lynd and Helen
Merrell Lynd, the team altered their purpose as they gathered data. They initially planned to focus their study
on the role of religion in U.S. towns. As they gathered observations, they realized that the effect of
industrialization and urbanization was the more relevant topic of this social group. The Lynds did not change
their methods, but they revised the purpose of their study.
This shaped the structure of Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture, their published results (Lynd &
Lynd, 1929).
The Lynds were upfront about their mission. The townspeople of Muncie, Indiana, knew why the researchers
were in their midst. But some sociologists prefer not to alert people to their presence. The main advantage of
covert participant observation is that it allows the researcher access to authentic, natural behaviors of a
group’s members. The challenge, however, is gaining access to a setting without disrupting the pattern of
others’ behavior. Becoming an inside member of a group, organization, or subculture takes time and effort.
Researchers must pretend to be something they are not. The process could involve role playing, making
46 2 • Sociological Research
Access for free at

contacts, networking, or applying for a job.
Once inside a group, some researchers spend months or even years pretending to be one of the people they are
observing. However, as observers, they cannot get too involved. They must keep their purpose in mind and
apply the sociological perspective. That way, they illuminate social patterns that are often unrecognized.
Because information gathered during participant observation is mostly qualitative, rather than quantitative,
the end results are often descriptive or interpretive. The researcher might present findings in an article or
book and describe what he or she witnessed and experienced.
This type of research is what journalist Barbara Ehrenreich conducted for her book Nickel and Dimed. One day
over lunch with her editor, Ehrenreich mentioned an idea. How can people exist on minimum-wage work? How
do low-income workers get by? she wondered. Someone should do a study. To her surprise, her editor
responded, Why don’t you do it?
That’s how Ehrenreich found herself joining the ranks of the working class. For several months, she left her
comfortable home and lived and worked among people who lacked, for the most part, higher education and
marketable job skills. Undercover, she applied for and worked minimum wage jobs as a waitress, a cleaning
woman, a nursing home aide, and a retail chain employee. During her participant observation, she used only
her income from those jobs to pay for food, clothing, transportation, and shelter.
She discovered the obvious, that it’s almost impossible to get by on minimum wage work. She also experienced
and observed attitudes many middle and upper-class people never think about. She witnessed firsthand the
treatment of working class employees. She saw the extreme measures people take to make ends meet and to
survive. She described fellow employees who held two or three jobs, worked seven days a week, lived in cars,
could not pay to treat chronic health conditions, got randomly fired, submitted to drug tests, and moved in and
out of homeless shelters. She brought aspects of that life to light, describing difficult working conditions and
the poor treatment that low-wage workers suffer.
The book she wrote upon her return to her real life as a well-paid writer, has been widely read and used in
many college classrooms.
2.2 • Research Methods 47

FIGURE 2.8 Field research happens in real locations. What type of environment do work spaces foster? What would
a sociologist discover after blending in? (Credit: Lyncconf Games/flickr)
Ethnography is the immersion of the researcher in the natural setting of an entire social community to
observe and experience their everyday life and culture. The heart of an ethnographic study focuses on how
subjects view their own social standing and how they understand themselves in relation to a social group.
An ethnographic study might observe, for example, a small U.S. fishing town, an Inuit community, a village in
Thailand, a Buddhist monastery, a private boarding school, or an amusement park. These places all have
borders. People live, work, study, or vacation within those borders. People are there for a certain reason and
therefore behave in certain ways and respect certain cultural norms. An ethnographer would commit to
spending a determined amount of time studying every aspect of the chosen place, taking in as much as
A sociologist studying a tribe in the Amazon might watch the way villagers go about their daily lives and then
write a paper about it. To observe a spiritual retreat center, an ethnographer might sign up for a retreat and
attend as a guest for an extended stay, observe and record data, and collate the material into results.
Institutional Ethnography
Institutional ethnography is an extension of basic ethnographic research principles that focuses intentionally
on everyday concrete social relationships. Developed by Canadian sociologist Dorothy E. Smith (1990),
institutional ethnography is often considered a feminist-inspired approach to social analysis and primarily
considers women’s experiences within male- dominated societies and power structures. Smith’s work is seen
to challenge sociology’s exclusion of women, both academically and in the study of women’s lives
(Fenstermaker, n.d.).
Historically, social science research tended to objectify women and ignore their experiences except as viewed
from the male perspective. Modern feminists note that describing women, and other marginalized groups, as
subordinates helps those in authority maintain their own dominant positions (Social Sciences and Humanities
48 2 • Sociological Research
Access for free at

Research Council of Canada n.d.). Smith’s three major works explored what she called “the conceptual
practices of power” and are still considered seminal works in feminist theory and ethnography
(Fensternmaker n.d.).
The Making of Middletown: A Study in Modern U.S. Culture
In 1924, a young married couple named Robert and Helen Lynd undertook an unprecedented ethnography: to
apply sociological methods to the study of one U.S. city in order to discover what “ordinary” people in the United
States did and believed. Choosing Muncie, Indiana (population about 30,000) as their subject, they moved to the
small town and lived there for eighteen months.
Ethnographers had been examining other cultures for decades—groups considered minorities or outsiders—like
gangs, immigrants, and the poor. But no one had studied the so-called average American.
Recording interviews and using surveys to gather data, the Lynds objectively described what they observed.
Researching existing sources, they compared Muncie in 1890 to the Muncie they observed in 1924. Most Muncie
adults, they found, had grown up on farms but now lived in homes inside the city. As a result, the Lynds focused
their study on the impact of industrialization and urbanization.
They observed that Muncie was divided into business and working class groups. They defined business class as
dealing with abstract concepts and symbols, while working class people used tools to create concrete objects.
The two classes led different lives with different goals and hopes. However, the Lynds observed, mass production
offered both classes the same amenities. Like wealthy families, the working class was now able to own radios,
cars, washing machines, telephones, vacuum cleaners, and refrigerators. This was an emerging material reality of
the 1920s.
As the Lynds worked, they divided their manuscript into six chapters: Getting a Living, Making a Home, Training
the Young, Using Leisure, Engaging in Religious Practices, and Engaging in Community Activities.
When the study was completed, the Lynds encountered a big problem. The Rockefeller Foundation, which had
commissioned the book, claimed it was useless and refused to publish it. The Lynds asked if they could seek a
publisher themselves.
Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture was not only published in 1929 but also became an instant
bestseller, a status unheard of for a sociological study. The book sold out six printings in its first year of
publication, and has never gone out of print (Caplow, Hicks, & Wattenberg. 2000).
Nothing like it had ever been done before. Middletown was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times.
Readers in the 1920s and 1930s identified with the citizens of Muncie, Indiana, but they were equally fascinated
by the sociological methods and the use of scientific data to define ordinary people in the United States. The
book was proof that social data was important—and interesting—to the U.S. public.
2.2 • Research Methods 49

FIGURE 2.9 A classroom in Muncie, Indiana, in 1917, five years before John and Helen Lynd began researching
this “typical” U.S. community. (Credit: Don O’Brien/flickr)
Case Study
Sometimes a researcher wants to study one specific person or event. A case study is an in-depth analysis of a
single event, situation, or individual. To conduct a case study, a researcher examines existing sources like
documents and archival records, conducts interviews, engages in direct observation and even participant
observation, if possible.
Researchers might use this method to study a single case of a foster child, drug lord, cancer patient, criminal,
or rape victim. However, a major criticism of the case study as a method is that while offering depth on a topic,
it does not provide enough evidence to form a generalized conclusion. In other words, it is difficult to make
universal claims based on just one person, since one person does not verify a pattern. This is why most
sociologists do not use case studies as a primary research method.
However, case studies are useful when the single case is unique. In these instances, a single case study can
contribute tremendous incite. For example, a feral child, also called “wild child,” is one who grows up isolated
from human beings. Feral children grow up without social contact and language, which are elements crucial to
a “civilized” child’s development. These children mimic the behaviors and movements of animals, and often
invent their own language. There are only about one hundred cases of “feral children” in the world.
As you may imagine, a feral child is a subject of great interest to researchers. Feral children provide unique
information about child development because they have grown up outside of the parameters of “normal”
growth and nurturing. And since there are very few feral children, the case study is the most appropriate
method for researchers to use in studying the subject.
At age three, a Ukranian girl named Oxana Malaya suffered severe parental neglect. She lived in a shed with
dogs, and she ate raw meat and scraps. Five years later, a neighbor called authorities and reported seeing a girl
who ran on all fours, barking. Officials brought Oxana into society, where she was cared for and taught some
human behaviors, but she never became fully socialized. She has been designated as unable to support herself
and now lives in a mental institution (Grice 2011). Case studies like this offer a way for sociologists to collect
data that may not be obtained by any other method.
You have probably tested some of your own personal social theories. “If I study at night and review in the
morning, I’ll improve my retention skills.” Or, “If I stop drinking soda, I’ll feel better.” Cause and effect. If this,
then that. When you test the theory, your results either prove or disprove your hypothesis.
50 2 • Sociological Research
Access for free at

One way researchers test social theories is by conducting an experiment, meaning they investigate
relationships to test a hypothesis—a scientific approach.
There are two main types of experiments: lab-based experiments and natural or field experiments. In a lab
setting, the research can be controlled so that more data can be recorded in a limited amount of time. In a
natural or field- based experiment, the time it takes to gather the data cannot be controlled but the information
might be considered more accurate since it was collected without interference or intervention by the
As a research method, either type of sociological experiment is useful for testing if-then statements: if a
particular thing happens (cause), then another particular thing will result (effect). To set up a lab-based
experiment, sociologists create artificial situations that allow them to manipulate variables.
Classically, the sociologist selects a set of people with similar characteristics, such as age, class, race, or
education. Those people are divided into two groups. One is the experimental group and the other is the
control group. The experimental group is exposed to the independent variable(s) and the control group is
not. To test the benefits of tutoring, for example, the sociologist might provide tutoring to the experimental
group of students but not to the control group. Then both groups would be tested for differences in
performance to see if tutoring had an effect on the experimental group of students. As you can imagine, in a
case like this, the researcher would not want to jeopardize the accomplishments of either group of students, so
the setting would be somewhat artificial. The test would not be for a grade reflected on their permanent record
of a student, for example.
And if a researcher told the students they would be observed as part of a study on measuring the effectiveness
of tutoring, the students might not behave naturally. This is called the Hawthorne effect—which occurs when
people change their behavior because they know they are being watched as part of a study. The Hawthorne
effect is unavoidable in some research studies because sociologists have to make the purpose of the study
known. Subjects must be aware that they are being observed, and a certain amount of artificiality may result
(Sonnenfeld 1985).
An Experiment in Action
FIGURE 2.10 Sociologist Frances Heussenstamm conducted an experiment to explore the correlation between
traffic stops and race-based bumper stickers. This issue of racial profiling remains a hot-button topic today.
(Credit: dwightsghost/flickr)
2.2 • Research Methods 51

A real-life example will help illustrate the experiment process. In 1971, Frances Heussenstamm, a sociology
professor at California State University at Los Angeles, had a theory about police prejudice. To test her theory,
she conducted an experiment. She chose fifteen students from three ethnic backgrounds: Black, White, and
Hispanic. She chose students who routinely drove to and from campus along Los Angeles freeway routes, and
who had had perfect driving records for longer than a year. Those were her independent variables—students,
good driving records, same commute route.
Next, she placed a Black Panther bumper sticker on each car. That sticker, a representation of a social value, was
the independent variable. In the 1970s, the Black Panthers were a revolutionary group actively fighting racism.
Heussenstamm asked the students to follow their normal driving patterns. She wanted to see whether seeming
support for the Black Panthers would change how these good drivers were treated by the police patrolling the
highways. The dependent variable would be the number of traffic stops/citations.
The first arrest, for an incorrect lane change, was made two hours after the experiment began. One participant
was pulled over three times in three days. He quit the study. After seventeen days, the fifteen drivers had
collected a total of thirty-three traffic citations. The experiment was halted. The funding to pay traffic fines had
run out, and so had the enthusiasm of the participants (Heussenstamm, 1971).
Secondary Data Analysis
While sociologists often engage in original research studies, they also contribute knowledge to the discipline
through secondary data analysis. Secondary data does not result from firsthand research collected from
primary sources, but are the already completed work of other researchers or data collected by an agency or
organization. Sociologists might study works written by historians, economists, teachers, or early sociologists.
They might search through periodicals, newspapers, or magazines, or organizational data from any period in
Using available information not only saves time and money but can also add depth to a study. Sociologists
often interpret findings in a new way, a way that was not part of an author’s original purpose or intention. To
study how women were encouraged to act and behave in the 1960s, for example, a researcher might watch
movies, televisions shows, and situation comedies from that period. Or to research changes in behavior and
attitudes due to the emergence of television in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a sociologist would rely on new
interpretations of secondary data. Decades from now, researchers will most likely conduct similar studies on
the advent of mobile phones, the Internet, or social media.
Social scientists also learn by analyzing the research of a variety of agencies. Governmental departments and
global groups, like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics or the World Health Organization (WHO), publish studies
with findings that are useful to sociologists. A public statistic like the foreclosure rate might be useful for
studying the effects of a recession. A racial demographic profile might be compared with data on education
funding to examine the resources accessible by different groups.
One of the advantages of secondary data like old movies or WHO statistics is that it is nonreactive research (or
unobtrusive research), meaning that it does not involve direct contact with subjects and will not alter or
influence people’s behaviors. Unlike studies requiring direct contact with people, using previously published
data does not require entering a population and the investment and risks inherent in that research process.
Using available data does have its challenges. Public records are not always easy to access. A researcher will
need to do some legwork to track them down and gain access to records. To guide the search through a vast
library of materials and avoid wasting time reading unrelated sources, sociologists employ content analysis,
applying a systematic approach to record and value information gleaned from secondary data as they relate to
the study at hand.
Also, in some cases, there is no way to verify the accuracy of existing data. It is easy to count how many drunk
52 2 • Sociological Research
Access for free at

drivers, for example, are pulled over by the police. But how many are not? While it’s possible to discover the
percentage of teenage students who drop out of high school, it might be more challenging to determine the
number who return to school or get their GED later.
Another problem arises when data are unavailable in the exact form needed or do not survey the topic from
the precise angle the researcher seeks. For example, the average salaries paid to professors at a public school
is public record. But these figures do not necessarily reveal how long it took each professor to reach the salary
range, what their educational backgrounds are, or how long they’ve been teaching.
When conducting content analysis, it is important to consider the date of publication of an existing source and
to take into account attitudes and common cultural ideals that may have influenced the research. For example,
when Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd gathered research in the 1920s, attitudes and cultural norms
were vastly different then than they are now. Beliefs about gender roles, race, education, and work have
changed significantly since then. At the time, the study’s purpose was to reveal insights about small U.S.
communities. Today, it is an illustration of 1920s attitudes and values.
2.3 Ethical Concerns
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Understand why ethical standards exist
• Investigate unethical studies
• Demonstrate awareness of the American Sociological Association’s Code of Ethics
Sociologists conduct studies to shed light on human behaviors. Knowledge is a powerful tool that can be used
to achieve positive change. As a result, conducting a sociological study comes with a tremendous amount of
responsibility. Like all researchers, sociologists must consider their ethical obligation to avoid harming human
subjects or groups while conducting research.
Pioneer German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920) identified another crucial ethical concern. Weber
understood that personal values could distort the framework for disclosing study results. While he accepted
that some aspects of research design might be influenced by personal values, he declared it was entirely
inappropriate to allow personal values to shape the interpretation of the responses. Sociologists, he stated,
must establish value neutrality, a practice of remaining impartial, without bias or judgment, during the
course of a study and in publishing results (Weber, 1949). Sociologists are obligated to disclose research
findings without omitting or distorting significant data.
Is value neutrality possible? Many sociologists believe it is impossible to retain complete objectivity. They
caution readers, rather, to understand that sociological studies may contain a certain amount of value bias.
This does not discredit the results, but allows readers to view them as one form of truth—one fact-based
perspective. Some sociologists attempt to remain uncritical and as objective as possible when studying social
institutions. They strive to overcome personal biases, particularly subconscious biases, when collecting and
analyzing data. They avoid skewing data in order to match a predetermined outcome that aligns with a
particular agenda, such as a political or moral point of view. Investigators are ethically obligated to report
results, even when they contradict personal views, predicted outcomes, or widely accepted beliefs.
The American Sociological Association, or ASA, is the major professional organization of sociologists in North
America. The ASA is a great resource for students of sociology as well. The ASA maintains a code of
ethics—formal guidelines for conducting sociological research—consisting of principles and ethical standards
to be used in the discipline. These formal guidelines were established by practitioners in 1905 at John Hopkins
University, and revised in 1997. When working with human subjects, these codes of ethics require
researchers’ to do the following:
1. Maintain objectivity and integrity in research
2.3 • Ethical Concerns 53

2. Respect subjects’ rights to privacy and dignity
3. Protect subject from personal harm
4. Preserve confidentially
5. Seek informed consent
6. Acknowledge collaboration and assistance
7. Disclose sources of financial support
Unfortunately, when these codes of ethics are ignored, it creates an unethical environment for humans being
involved in a sociological study. Throughout history, there have been numerous unethical studies, some of
which are summarized below.
FIGURE 2.11 Participants in the Tuskegee study were denied important information about their diagnosis, leading
to significant health issues. (Credit: Centers for Disease Control)
The Tuskegee Experiment: This study was conducted 1932 in Macon County, Alabama, and included 600
African American men, including 399 diagnosed with syphilis. The participants were told they were diagnosed
with a disease of “bad blood.” Penicillin was distributed in the 1940s as the cure for the disease, but
unfortunately, the African American men were not given the treatment because the objective of the study was
to see “how untreated syphilis would affect the African American male” (Caplan, 2007)
Henrietta Lacks: Ironically, this study was conducted at the hospital associated with Johns Hopkins University,
where codes of the ethics originated. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks was receiving treatment for cervical cancer at
John Hopkins Hospital, and doctors discovered that she had “immortal” cells, which could reproduce rapidly
and indefinitely, making them extremely valuable for medical research. Without her consent, doctors collected
and shared her cells to produce extensive cell lines. Lacks’ cells were widely used for experiments and
treatments, including the polio vaccine, and were put into mass production. Today, these cells are known
worldwide as HeLa cells (Shah, 2010).
Milgram Experiment: In 1961, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment at Yale University. Its
purpose was to measure the willingness of study subjects to obey an authority figure who instructed them to
perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. People in the role of teacher believed they were
administering electric shocks to students who gave incorrect answers to word-pair questions. No matter how
concerned they were about administering the progressively more intense shocks, the teachers were told to
keep going. The ethical concerns involve the extreme emotional distress faced by the teachers, who believed
they were hurting other people. (Vogel 2014).
Philip Zimbardo and the Stanford prison experiment: In 1971, psychologist Phillip Zimbardo conducted a
54 2 • Sociological Research
Access for free at

study involving students from Stanford University. The students were put in the roles of prisoners and guards,
and were required to play their assigned role accordingly. The experiment was intended to last two weeks, but
it only last six days due to the negative outcome and treatment of the “prisoners.” Beyond the ethical concerns,
the study’s validity has been questioned after participants revealed they had been coached to behave in
specific ways.
Laud Humphrey: In the 1960s, Laud Humphrey conducted an experiment at a restroom in a park known for
same-sex sexual encounters. His objective was to understand the diversity of backgrounds and motivations of
people seeking same-sex relationships. His ethics were questioned because he misrepresented his identity
and intent while observing and questioning the men he interviewed (Nardi, 1995).
2.3 • Ethical Concerns 55

Key Terms
accuracy using a tool makes the measuring more precise.
case study in-depth analysis of a single event, situation, or individual
code of ethics a set of guidelines that the American Sociological Association has established to foster
ethical research and professionally responsible scholarship in sociology
content analysis applying a systematic approach to record and value information gleaned from secondary
data as it relates to the study at hand
correlation when a change in one variable coincides with a change in another variable, but does not
necessarily indicate causation
debunking looking beyond the obvious to expose falseness by examining merit, logic, and evidence.
dependent variables a variable changed by other variables
empirical evidence evidence that comes from direct observations, scientifically gathered data, or
ethnography participating and observing thinking and behavior in a social setting
experiment the testing of a hypothesis under controlled conditions
field research gathering data from a natural environment without doing a lab experiment or a survey
Hawthorne effect when study subjects behave in a certain manner due to their awareness of being
observed by a researcher
hypothesis a testable educated guess about predicted outcomes between two or more variables
independent variables variables that cause changes in dependent variables
interpretive framework a sociological research approach that seeks in-depth understanding of a topic or
subject through observation or interaction; this approach is not based on hypothesis testing
interview a one-on-one conversation between the researcher and the subject
literature review a scholarly research step that entails identifying and studying all existing studies on a
topic to create a basis for new research
nonreactive research using secondary data, does not include direct contact with research subjects and
does not alter or influence people’s behaviors
operational definitions specific explanations of abstract concepts that a researcher plans to study
participant observation when a researcher immerses herself in a group or social setting in order to make
observations from an “insider” perspective
population a defined group serving as the subject of a study
primary data data that are collected directly from firsthand experience
qualitative data non-numerical, descriptive data that is often subjective and based on what is experienced
in a natural setting
quantitative data data collected in numerical form that can be counted and analyzed using statistics
random sample a study’s participants being randomly selected to serve as a representation of a larger
reliability a measure of a study’s consistency that considers how likely results are to be replicated if a study
is reproduced
samples small, manageable number of subjects that represent the population
scientific method an established scholarly research that involves asking a question, researching existing
sources, forming a hypothesis, designing a data collection method, gathering data, and drawing
secondary data analysis using data collected by others and applying new interpretations
surveys collect data from subjects who respond to a series of questions about thinking, behaviors, and
opinions, often in the form of a questionnaire
validity the degree to which a sociological measure accurately reflects the topic of study
value neutrality a practice of remaining impartial, without bias or judgment during the course of a study
and in publishing results
56 2 • Key Terms
Access for free at

Section Summary
2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research
Using the scientific method, a researcher conducts a study in six phases: asking a question, researching
existing sources, formulating a hypothesis, research design, collecting & analyzing data, and drawing
conclusions. The scientific method is useful in that it provides a clear method of organizing a study. Some
sociologists conduct research through an interpretive framework rather than employing the scientific method.
Scientific sociological studies often observe relationships between variables. Researchers study how one
variable influences another. Prior to conducting a study, researchers are careful to apply operational
definitions to their terms and to establish dependent and independent variables.
2.2 Research Methods
Sociological research is a fairly complex process. As you can see, a lot goes into even a simple research design.
There are many steps and much to consider when collecting data on human behavior, as well as in interpreting
and analyzing data in order to form conclusive results. Sociologists use the scientific methods for good
reasons. The scientific method provides a system of organization to help researchers plan and conduct a study
to ensure data and results are reliable, valid, and objective.
The many methods available to researchers—including experiments, surveys, participant observation,
ethnography, case study, and secondary data analysis—all come with advantages and disadvantages. The
strength of a study can depend on the choice and implementation of the appropriate method of gathering data.
Depending on the topic, a study might use a single method or a combination of methods. It is important to plan
a research design before undertaking a study. The information gathered may in itself be surprising, and the
study design should provide a solid framework in which to analyze predicted and unpredicted data.
Method Implementation Advantages Challenges
• Questionnaires
• Interviews
• Yields many
• Can survey a large
• Quantitative data
are easy to chart
• Can be time consuming
• Can be difficult to encourage
participant response
• Captures what people think and
believe but not necessarily how
they behave in real life
Field Work
• Participant observation
• Ethnography
• Case study
• Yields detailed,
accurate real-life
• Time consuming
• Data captures how people behave
but not what they think and
• Qualitative data is difficult to
• Deliberate
manipulation of social
customs and mores
• Tests cause and
effect relationships
• Hawthorne Effect
• Ethical concerns about people’s
TABLE 2.2 Main Sociological Research Methods Sociological research methods have advantages and
2 • Section Summary 57

Method Implementation Advantages Challenges
• Analysis of government
data (census, health,
crime statistics)
• Research of historic
• Makes good use of
• Data could be focused on a
purpose other than yours
• Data can be hard to find
TABLE 2.2 Main Sociological Research Methods Sociological research methods have advantages and
2.3 Ethical Concerns
Sociologists and sociology students must take ethical responsibility for any study they conduct. They must first
and foremost guarantee the safety of their participants. Whenever possible, they must ensure that participants
have been fully informed consent before participating ina study.
The American Sociological Association (ASA) establishes parameters for ethical guidelines that sociologists
must take into account as they conduct research. The guidelines address conducting studies, properly using
existing sources, accepting funding, and publishing results. Unfortunately, the code of ethics were not in
existence and in some cases researchers did not adhere to ASA guidelines resulting in unethical practices in
which humans were caused either physical or psychological harm.
Sociologists must try to maintain value neutrality. They must gather and analyze data objectively and set aside
their personal preferences, beliefs, and opinions. They must report findings accurately, even if they contradict
personal values and convictions.
Section Quiz
2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research
1. The 1st step of the scientific method:
a. Collect and analyze data
b. Summarize the articles
c. Ask a question about a topic
d. Create a hypothesis
2. A measurement is considered ________ if it actually measures what it is intended to measure, according to
the topic of the study.
a. reliable
b. sociological
c. valid
d. quantitative
3. Sociological studies test relationships in which change in one ________ causes change in another.
a. test subject
b. behavior
c. variable
d. operational definition
58 2 • Section Quiz
Access for free at

4. In a study, a group of ten-year-old boys are fed doughnuts every morning for a week and then weighed to
see how much weight they gained. Which factor is the dependent variable?
a. The doughnuts
b. The boys
c. The duration of a week
d. The weight gained
5. Which statement provides the best operational definition of “childhood obesity”?
a. Children who eat unhealthy foods and spend too much time watching television and playing video
b. A distressing trend that can lead to health issues including type 2 diabetes and heart disease
c. Body weight at least 20 percent higher than a healthy weight for a child of that height
d. The tendency of children today to weigh more than children of earlier generations
2.2 Research Methods
6. Which materials are considered secondary data?
a. Photos and letters given to you by another person
b. Books and articles written by other authors about their studies
c. Information that you have gathered and now have included in your results
d. Responses from participants whom you both surveyed and interviewed
7. Why is choosing a random sample an effective way to select participants?
a. Participants do not know they are part of a study
b. The researcher has no control over who is in the study
c. It is larger than an ordinary sample
d. Everyone has the same chance of being part of the study
8. What research method did John S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd mainly use in their Middletown study?
a. Secondary data
b. Survey
c. Participant observation
d. Experiment
9. Which research approach is best suited to the scientific method?
a. Questionnaire
b. Case study
c. Ethnography
d. Secondary data analysis
10. The main difference between ethnography and other types of participant observation is:
a. ethnography isn’t based on hypothesis testing
b. ethnography subjects are unaware they’re being studied
c. ethnographic studies always involve minority ethnic groups
d. ethnography focuses on how subjects view themselves in relationship to the community
2 • Section Quiz 59

11. Which best describes the results of a case study?
a. It produces more reliable results than other methods because of its depth
b. Its results are not generally applicable
c. It relies solely on secondary data analysis
d. All of the above
12. Using secondary data is considered an unobtrusive or ________ research method.
a. nonreactive
b. nonparticipatory
c. nonrestrictive
d. nonconfrontive
2.3 Ethical Concerns
13. Which statement illustrates value neutrality?
a. Obesity in children is obviously a result of parental neglect and, therefore, schools should take a
greater role to prevent it
b. In 2003, states like Arkansas adopted laws requiring elementary schools to remove soft drink vending
machines from schools
c. Merely restricting children’s access to junk food at school is not enough to prevent obesity
d. Physical activity and healthy eating are a fundamental part of a child’s education
14. Which person or organization defined the concept of value neutrality?
a. Institutional Review Board (IRB)
b. Peter Rossi
c. American Sociological Association (ASA)
d. Max Weber
15. To study the effects of fast food on lifestyle, health, and culture, from which group would a researcher
ethically be unable to accept funding?
a. A fast-food restaurant
b. A nonprofit health organization
c. A private hospital
d. A governmental agency like Health and Social Services
Short Answer
2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research
1. Write down the first three steps of the scientific method. Think of a broad topic that you are interested in
and which would make a good sociological study—for example, ethnic diversity in a college, homecoming
rituals, athletic scholarships, or teen driving. Now, take that topic through the first steps of the process. For
each step, write a few sentences or a paragraph: 1) Develop a research question about the topic. 2) Do some
research and write down the titles of some articles or books you’d want to read about the topic. 3) Formulate
a hypothesis.
2. Explain the correlation between accuracy, validity, and reliability in the research method.
60 2 • Short Answer
Access for free at

2.2 Research Methods
3. What type of data do surveys gather? For what topics would surveys be the best research method? What
drawbacks might you expect to encounter when using a survey? To explore further, ask a research question
and write a hypothesis. Then create a survey of about six questions relevant to the topic. Provide a rationale
for each question. Now define your population and create a plan for recruiting a random sample and
administering the survey.
4. Imagine you are about to do field research in a specific place for a set time. Instead of thinking about the
topic of study itself, consider how you, as the researcher, will have to prepare for the study. What personal,
social, and physical sacrifices will you have to make? How will you manage your personal effects? What
organizational equipment and systems will you need to collect the data?
5. Create a brief research design about a topic in which you are passionately interested. Now write a letter to a
philanthropic or grant organization requesting funding for your study. How can you describe the project in
a convincing yet realistic and objective way? Explain how the results of your study will be a relevant
contribution to the body of sociological work already in existence.
2.3 Ethical Concerns
6. Why do you think the American Sociological Association (ASA) crafted such a detailed set of ethical
principles? What type of study could put human participants at risk? Think of some examples of studies
that might be harmful. Do you think that, in the name of sociology, some researchers might be tempted to
cross boundaries that threaten human rights? Why?
7. Would you willingly participate in a sociological study that could potentially put your health and safety at
risk, but had the potential to help thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people? For example, would
you participate in a study of a new drug that could cure diabetes or cancer, even if it meant great
inconvenience and physical discomfort for you or possible permanent damage?
Further Research
2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research
For a historical perspective on the scientific method in sociology, read “The Elements of Scientific Method in
Sociology” by F. Stuart Chapin (1914) in the American Journal of Sociology. (
2.2 Research Methods
For information on current real-world sociology experiments, visit the Everday Sociology Blog.
2.3 Ethical Concerns
Founded in 1905, the American Sociological Association is a nonprofit organization located in Washington, DC,
with a membership of 14,000 researchers, faculty members, students, and practitioners of sociology. Its
mission is “to articulate policy and implement programs likely to have the broadest possible impact for
sociology now and in the future.” Learn more about this organization here ( .
Arkowitz, Hal, and Scott O. Lilienfeld. 2009. “Lunacy and the Full Moon: Does a full moon really trigger strange
behavior?” Scientific American. Retrieved December 30, 2014 (
2 • Further Research 61

Bradbury Jones, C. and Isham, L. (2020), The pandemic paradox: The consequences of COVID 19 on domestic
violence. J Clin Nurs, 29: 2047-2049. doi:10.1111/jocn.15296
Gerell, M., Kardell, J., & Kindgren, J. (2020, May 2). Minor covid-19 association with crime in Sweden, a ten
week follow up.
Rotton, James, and Ivan W. Kelly. 1985. “Much Ado about the Full Moon: A Meta-analysis of Lunar-Lunacy
Psychological Bulletin 97 (no. 2): 286–306.
2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research
Arkowitz, Hal, and Scott O. Lilienfeld. 2009. “Lunacy and the Full Moon: Does a full moon really trigger strange
behavior?” Scientific American. Retrieved October 20, 2014 (
Berger, Peter L. 1963. Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective. New York: Anchor Books.
Merton, Robert. 1968 [1949]. Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press.
“Scientific Method Lab,” the University of Utah, (
2.2 Research Methods
Butsch, Richard. 2000. The Making of American Audiences: From Stage to Television, 1750–1990. Cambridge:
Cambridge UP.
Caplow, Theodore, Louis Hicks, and Ben Wattenberg. 2000. “The First Measured Century: Middletown.” The
First Measured Century. PBS. Retrieved February 23, 2012 (
Click, M., Lee, H., & Holladay, H. (2013). Making monsters: Lady Gaga, fan identification, and social media.
Popular Music and Society, 36(3), 360–379.
Dilling-Hansen, Lise. 2015. “Affective Fan Experiences of Lady Gaga.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no.
Durkheim, Émile. 1966 [1897]. Suicide. New York: Free Press.
Fenstermaker, Sarah. n.d. “Dorothy E. Smith Award Statement” American Sociological Association. Retrieved
October 19, 2014 (
Franke, Richard, and James Kaul. 1978. “The Hawthorne Experiments: First Statistical Interpretation.”
American Sociological Review 43(5):632–643.
Grice, Elizabeth. “Cry of an Enfant Sauvage.” The Telegraph. Retrieved July 20, 2011
Griffin, F. J. (2011). At last . . . ? : Michelle obama, beyoncé, race & history. Daedalus, 140(1), 131-141,8.
Retrieved from
Heussenstamm, Frances K. 1971. “Bumper Stickers and Cops” Trans-action: Social Science and Modern
Society 4:32–33.
Igo, Sarah E. 2008. The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press.
Kumari, A. (2016), “Yoü and I”: Identity and the Performance of Self in Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. J Pop Cult, 49:
403-416. doi:10.1111/jpcu.12405
62 2 • References
Access for free at

Jang, S. M., & Lee, H. (2014). When Pop Music Meets a Political Issue: Examining How “Born This Way”
Influences Attitudes Toward Gays and Gay Rights Policies. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media,
58(1), 114–130.
Lynd, Robert S., and Helen Merrell Lynd. 1959. Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture. San Diego,
CA: Harcourt Brace Javanovich.
Lynd, Staughton. 2005. “Making Middleton.” Indiana Magazine of History 101(3):226–238.
Mihelich, John, and John Papineau. Aug 2005. “Parrotheads in Margaritaville: Fan Practice, Oppositional
Culture, and Embedded Cultural Resistance in Buffett Fandom.” Journal of Popular Music Studies
Pew Research Center. 2014. “Ebola Worries Rise, But Most Are ‘Fairly’ Confident in Government, Hospitals to
Deal with Disease: Broad Support for U.S. Efforts to Deal with Ebola in West Africa.” Pew Research Center for
the People & the Press, October 21. Retrieved October 25, 2014 (
Rothman, Rodney. 2000. “My Fake Job.” Pp. 120 in The New Yorker, November 27.
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. n.d. “Institutional Ethnography.” Retrieved
October 19, 2014 (
Sonnenfeld, Jeffery A. 1985. “Shedding Light on the Hawthorne Studies.” Journal of Occupational Behavior
Sascha Buchanan. (2019). Competition and controlling images as the fuel igniting Beyoncé and Rihanna
fandom fights. Transformative Works and Cultures, 29.
Turbek, S.P., Chock, T.M., Donahue, K., Havrilla, C.A., Oliverio, A.M., Polutchko, S.K., Shoemaker, L.G. and
Vimercati, L. (2016), Scientific Writing Made Easy: A Step by Step Guide to Undergraduate Writing in the
Biological Sciences. Bull Ecol Soc Am, 97: 417-426. doi:10.1002/bes2.1258
2.3 Ethical Concerns
Caplain, Arthur (2007). Bad blood: The Tuskegee syphilis experiment. BioSocieties, 2(2).
Code of Ethics. 1999. American Sociological Association. Retrieved July 1, 2011 (
Khan FA. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. J IMA. 2011;43(2):93-94. doi:10.5915/43-2-8609
Nardi, P. (1995). “The Breastplate of Righteousness”: Twenty-Five Years After Laud Humphreys’ Tearoom
Trade; Impersonal Sex in Public Places. Journal of Homosexuality, 30(2), 1–10.
Rossi, Peter H. 1987. “No Good Applied Social Research Goes Unpunished.” Society 25(1):73–79.
Shah, S. (2010). Henrietta Lacks’ story. The Lancet, 375(9721), 1154–1154.
Valentine, Austin, “A Look Into the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male in Macon County,
Alabama“ (2019). Student Scholarship & Creative Works. 9.
Vogels, S. (2014). The Milgram experiment: Its impact and interpretation.
Weber, Max. 1949. Methodology of the Social Sciences. Translated by H. Shils and E. Finch. Glencoe, IL: Free
2 • References 63

Wikipedia contributors. (2020, June 28). Milgram experiment. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved
19:33, July 18, 2020, from
Wikipedia contributors. (2020, July 14). Laud Humphreys. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved
21:24, July 18, 2020, from
Zimbardo, P., & Musen, K. (2004). Quiet Rage The Stanford Prison Experiment. Philip G. Zimbardo and
Stanford University.
64 2 • References
Access for free at

FIGURE 3.1 Martial arts has a strong tradition of deep respect for one’s opponent, as these judo competitors
display after a match. Even in other styles and other venues such as professional boxing or mixed martial arts, it is
common to see opponents showing extreme courtesy and concern for each other despite the level of vitriol before a
fight or the violence during it. While certainly echoed in other competitive arenas, this practice is a significant part of
combat sports culture. (Credit: Special Olympics Nationale/flickr)
3.1 What Is Culture?
3.2 Elements of Culture
3.3 High, Low, Pop, Sub, Counter-culture and Cultural Change
3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
If you passed someone in a hallway, joined a video conference, or even called into a radio
show, it’s likely you and the other people involved would exchange some version of the following question :
“How are you?” One of you may ask the other. You may exchange a greeting and the question or one of its
variants. Generally, we do not consider our responses to these acquaintances as rules. We simply say, “Hello!”
and ask, “How was your weekend?” or some other trivial question meant to be a friendly greeting.
We all adhere to various rules, expectations, and standards that are created and maintained in our specific
culture. These rules and expectations have meaning, and there are many ways by which the meanings can be
misinterpreted or misunderstood. When we do not meet those expectations, we may receive some form of

disapproval such as a look or comment informing us that we did something unacceptable.
Consider what would happen if you stopped and informed everyone who asked “Hi, how are you?” exactly how
you were doing that day, and in detail. In U.S. society, you would violate norms of ‘greeting.’ Perhaps if you were
in a different situation, such as having coffee with a good friend, that question might warrant a detailed
These examples are all aspects of culture, which is comprised of shared values (ideals), beliefs which
strengthen the values, norms and rules that maintain the values, language so that the values can be taught,
symbols that form the language people must learn, arts and artifacts, and the people’s collective identities and
memories. Sociologically, we examine in which situation and context a certain behavior is expected and in
which it is not. People who interact within a shared culture create and enforce these expectations. Sociologists
examine these circumstances and search for patterns.
In everyday conversation, people in the U.S. rarely distinguish between the terms culture and society, but the
terms have different meanings, and the distinction is important to a sociologist. A culture represents the
values, beliefs, norms, language, symbols, and practices of a group, while society represents the people who
share a culture. Neither society or culture could exist without the other.
Within the U.S., many groups of people share a community and a culture. By “community,” sociologists refer to
a definable region of a society, real terra firma—as small as a neighborhood (Brooklyn, or “the east side of
town”), as large as a country (Ethiopia, Nepal or the U.S.), or somewhere in between (in the U.S., this might
include someone who identifies with Southern or Midwestern society).
In this chapter, we examine the relationship between culture and society in greater detail and pay special
attention to the elements and forces that shape culture, including diversity and social changes. A final
discussion examines the theoretical perspectives from which sociologists research culture.
3.1 What Is Culture?
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Differentiate between culture and society
• Explain material versus nonmaterial culture
• Discuss the concept of cultural universals as it relates to society
• Compare and contrast ethnocentrism and xenocentrism
Humans are social creatures. According to Smithsonian Institution research, humans have been forming
groups for almost 3 million years in order to survive. Living together, people formed common habits and
behaviors, from specific methods of childrearing to preferred techniques for obtaining food.
Almost every human behavior, from shopping to marriage, is learned. In the U.S., marriage is generally seen as
an individual choice made by two adults, based on mutual feelings of love. In other nations and in other times,
marriages have been arranged through an intricate process of interviews and negotiations between entire
families. In Papua New Guinea, almost 30 percent of women marry before the age of 18, and 8 percent of men
have more than one wife (National Statistical Office, 2019). To people who are not from such a culture,
arranged marriages may seem to have risks of incompatibility or the absence of romantic love. But many
people from cultures where marriages are arranged, which includes a number of highly populated and
modern countries, often prefer the approach because it reduces stress and increases stability (Jankowiak
Being familiar with unwritten rules helps people feel secure and at ease. Knowing to look left instead of right
for oncoming traffic while crossing the street can help avoid serious injury and even death. Knowing unwritten
rules is also fundamental in understanding humor in different cultures. Humor is common to all societies, but
what makes something funny is not. Americans may laugh at a scene in which an actor falls; in other cultures,
66 3 • Culture
Access for free at

falling is never funny. Most people want to live their daily lives confident that their behaviors will not be
challenged or disrupted. But even an action as seemingly simple as commuting to work evidences a great deal
of cultural propriety, that is, there are a lot of expected behaviors. And many interpretations of them.
FIGURE 3.2 How would a visitor from a rural region act and feel on this crowded Hong Kong train? (Credit: Eric
Take the case of going to work on public transportation. Whether people are commuting in Egypt, Ireland,
India, Japan, and the U.S., many behaviors will be the same and may reveal patterns. Others will be different.
In many societies that enjoy public transportation, a passenger will find a marked bus stop or station, wait for
the bus or train, pay an agent before or after boarding, and quietly take a seat if one is available. But when
boarding a bus in Cairo, Egypt, passengers might board while the bus is moving, because buses often do not
come to a full stop to take on patrons. In Dublin, Ireland, bus riders would be expected to extend an arm to
indicate that they want the bus to stop for them. And when boarding a commuter train in Mumbai, India,
passengers must squeeze into overstuffed cars amid a lot of pushing and shoving on the crowded platforms.
That kind of behavior might be considered rude in other societies, but in Mumbai it reflects the daily
challenges of getting around on a train system that is taxed to capacity.
Culture can be material or nonmaterial. Metro passes and bus tokens are part of material culture, as are the
buses, subway cars, and the physical structures of the bus stop. Think of material culture as items you can
touch-they are tangible. Nonmaterial culture, in contrast, consists of the ideas, attitudes, and beliefs of a
society. These are things you cannot touch. They are intangible. You may believe that a line should be formed
to enter the subway car or that other passengers should not stand so close to you. Those beliefs are intangible
because they do not have physical properties and can be touched.
Material and nonmaterial aspects of culture are linked, and physical objects often symbolize cultural ideas. A
metro pass is a material object, but it represents a form of nonmaterial culture, namely, capitalism, and the
acceptance of paying for transportation. Clothing, hairstyles, and jewelry are part of material culture, but the
appropriateness of wearing certain clothing for specific events reflects nonmaterial culture. A school building
3.1 • What Is Culture? 67

belongs to material culture symbolizing education, but the teaching methods and educational standards are
part of education’s nonmaterial culture.
As people travel from different regions to entirely different parts of the world, certain material and
nonmaterial aspects of culture become dramatically unfamiliar. What happens when we encounter different
cultures? As we interact with cultures other than our own, we become more aware of the differences and
commonalities between others and our own. If we keep our sociological imagination awake, we can begin to
understand and accept the differences. Body language and hand gestures vary around the world, but some
body language seems to be shared across cultures: When someone arrives home later than permitted, a parent
or guardian meeting them at the door with crossed arms and a frown on their face means the same in Russia
as it does in the U.S. as it does in Ghana.
Cultural Universals
Although cultures vary, they also share common elements. Cultural universals are patterns or traits that are
globally common to all societies. One example of a cultural universal is the family unit: every human society
recognizes a family structure that regulates sexual reproduction and the care of children. Even so, how that
family unit is defined and how it functions vary. In many Asian cultures, for example, family members from all
generations commonly live together in one household. In these cultures, young adults continue to live in the
extended household family structure until they marry and join their spouse’s household, or they may remain
and raise their nuclear family within the extended family’s homestead. In the U.S., by contrast, individuals are
expected to leave home and live independently for a period before forming a family unit that consists of
parents and their offspring. Other cultural universals include customs like funeral rites, weddings, and
celebrations of births. However, each culture may view and conduct the ceremonies quite differently.
Anthropologist George Murdock first investigated the existence of cultural universals while studying systems
of kinship around the world. Murdock found that cultural universals often revolve around basic human
survival, such as finding food, clothing, and shelter, or around shared human experiences, such as birth and
death or illness and healing. Through his research, Murdock identified other universals including language,
the concept of personal names, and, interestingly, jokes. Humor seems to be a universal way to release
tensions and create a sense of unity among people (Murdock, 1949). Sociologists consider humor necessary to
human interaction because it helps individuals navigate otherwise tense situations.
Is Music a Cultural Universal?
Imagine that you are sitting in a theater, watching a film. The movie opens with the protagonist sitting on a park
bench with a grim expression on their face. The music starts to come in. The first slow and mournful notes play in
a minor key. As the melody continues, the heroine turns her head and sees a man walking toward her. The music
gets louder, and the sounds don’t seem to go together – as if the orchestra is intentionally playing the wrong
notes. You tense up as you watch, almost hoping to stop. The character is clearly in danger.
Now imagine that you are watching the same movie – the exact same footage – but with a different soundtrack.
As the scene opens, the music is soft and soothing, with a hint of sadness. You see the protagonist sitting on the
park bench with a grim expression. Suddenly, the music swells. The woman looks up and sees a man walking
toward her. The notes are high and bright, and the pace is bouncy. You feel your heart rise in your chest. This is a
happy moment.
Music has the ability to evoke emotional responses. In television shows, movies, commercials, and even the
background music in a store, music has a message and seems to easily draw a response from those who hear it –
joy, sadness, fear, victory. Are these types of musical cues cultural universals?
68 3 • Culture
Access for free at

In 2009, a team of psychologists, led by Thomas Fritz of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain
Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, studied people’s reactions to music that they’d never heard (Fritz et al., 2009). The
research team traveled to Cameroon, Africa, and asked Mafa tribal members to listen to Western music. The
tribe, isolated from Western culture, had never been exposed to Western culture and had no context or
experience within which to interpret its music. Even so, as the tribal members listened to a Western piano piece,
they were able to recognize three basic emotions: happiness, sadness, and fear. Music, the study suggested, is a
sort of universal language.
Researchers also found that music can foster a sense of wholeness within a group. In fact, scientists who study
the evolution of language have concluded that originally language (an established component of group identity)
and music were one (Darwin, 1871). Additionally, since music is largely nonverbal, the sounds of music can cross
societal boundaries more easily than words. Music allows people to make connections, where language might be
a more difficult barricade. As Fritz and his team found, music and the emotions it conveys are cultural universals.
Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism
Although human societies have much in common, cultural differences are far more prevalent than cultural
universals. For example, while all cultures have language, analysis of conversational etiquette reveals
tremendous differences. In some Middle Eastern cultures, it is common to stand close to others in
conversation. Americans keep more distance and maintain a large “personal space.” Additionally, behaviors as
simple as eating and drinking vary greatly from culture to culture. Some cultures use tools to put the food in
the mouth while others use their fingers. If your professor comes into an early morning class holding a mug of
liquid, what do you assume they are drinking? In the U.S., it’s most likely filled with coffee, not Earl Grey tea, a
favorite in England, or Yak Butter tea, a staple in Tibet.
Some travelers pride themselves on their willingness to try unfamiliar foods, like the late celebrated food
writer Anthony Bourdain (1956-2017). Often, however, people express disgust at another culture’s cuisine.
They might think that it’s gross to eat raw meat from a donkey or parts of a rodent, while they don’t question
their own habit of eating cows or pigs.
Such attitudes are examples of ethnocentrism, which means to evaluate and judge another culture based on
one’s own cultural norms. Ethnocentrism is believing your group is the correct measuring standard and if
other cultures do not measure up to it, they are wrong. As sociologist William Graham Sumner (1906)
described the term, it is a belief or attitude that one’s own culture is better than all others. Almost everyone is a
little bit ethnocentric.
A high level of appreciation for one’s own culture can be healthy. A shared sense of community pride, for
example, connects people in a society. But ethnocentrism can lead to disdain or dislike of other cultures and
could cause misunderstanding, stereotyping, and conflict. Individuals, government, non-government, private,
and religious institutions with the best intentions sometimes travel to a society to “help” its people, because
they see them as uneducated, backward, or even inferior. Cultural imperialism is the deliberate imposition of
one’s own cultural values on another culture.
Colonial expansion by Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, and England grew quickly in the fifteenth century was
accompanied by severe cultural imperialism. European colonizers often viewed the people in these new lands
as uncultured savages who needed to adopt Catholic governance, Christianity, European dress, and other
cultural practices.
A modern example of cultural imperialism may include the work of international aid agencies who introduce
agricultural methods and plant species from developed countries into areas that are better served by
indigenous varieties and agricultural approaches to the particular region. Another example would be the
deforestation of the Amazon Basin as indigenous cultures lose land to timber corporations.
3.1 • What Is Culture? 69

FIGURE 3.3 Experiencing an entirely new practice may lead to a high degree of interest or a level of criticism. The
Indegenous people of Sagada, in the Philippines, have for thousands of years placed the bodies of deceased people
into coffins hung on the cliffs near their villages. Some visitors may find this practice admirable, while others may
think it’s inappropriate. (Credit: Arian Zwegers/flickr)
When people find themselves in a new culture, they may experience disorientation and frustration. In
sociology, we call this culture shock. In addition to the traveler’s biological clock being ‘off ’, a traveler from
Chicago might find the nightly silence of rural Montana unsettling, not peaceful. Now, imagine that the
‘difference’ is cultural. An exchange student from China to the U.S. might be annoyed by the constant
interruptions in class as other students ask questions—a practice that is considered rude in China. Perhaps the
Chicago traveler was initially captivated with Montana’s quiet beauty and the Chinese student was originally
excited to see a U.S.- style classroom firsthand. But as they experience unanticipated differences from their
own culture, they may experience ethnocentrism as their excitement gives way to discomfort and doubts about
how to behave appropriately in the new situation. According to many authors, international students studying
in the U.S. report that there are personality traits and behaviors expected of them. Black African students
report having to learn to ‘be Black in the U.S.’ and Chinese students report that they are naturally expected to
be good at math. In African countries, people are identified by country or kin, not color. Eventually, as people
learn more about a culture, they adapt to the new culture for a variety of reasons.
Culture shock may appear because people aren’t always expecting cultural differences. Anthropologist Ken
Barger (1971) discovered this when he conducted a participatory observation in an Inuit community in the
Canadian Arctic. Originally from Indiana, Barger hesitated when invited to join a local snowshoe race. He knew
he would never hold his own against these experts. Sure enough, he finished last, to his mortification. But the
tribal members congratulated him, saying, “You really tried!” In Barger’s own culture, he had learned to value
victory. To the Inuit people, winning was enjoyable, but their culture valued survival skills essential to their
environment: how hard someone tried could mean the difference between life and death. Over the course of
his stay, Barger participated in caribou hunts, learned how to take shelter in winter storms, and sometimes
went days with little or no food to share among tribal members. Trying hard and working together, two
nonmaterial values, were indeed much more important than winning.
During his time with the Inuit tribe, Barger learned to engage in cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the
practice of assessing a culture by its own standards rather than viewing it through the lens of one’s own
culture. Practicing cultural relativism requires an open mind and a willingness to consider, and even adapt to,
70 3 • Culture
Access for free at

new values, norms, and practices.
However, indiscriminately embracing everything about a new culture is not always possible. Even the most
culturally relativist people from egalitarian societies—ones in which women have political rights and control
over their own bodies—question whether the widespread practice of female genital mutilation in countries
such as Ethiopia and Sudan should be accepted as a part of cultural tradition. Sociologists attempting to
engage in cultural relativism, then, may struggle to reconcile aspects of their own culture with aspects of a
culture that they are studying. Sociologists may take issue with the practices of female genital mutilation in
many countries to ensure virginity at marriage just as some male sociologists might take issue with scarring of
the flesh to show membership. Sociologists work diligently to keep personal biases out of research analysis.
Sometimes when people attempt to address feelings of ethnocentrism and develop cultural relativism, they
swing too far to the other end of the spectrum. Xenocentrism is the opposite of ethnocentrism, and refers to
the belief that another culture is superior to one’s own. (The Greek root word xeno-, pronounced “ZEE-no,”
means “stranger” or “foreign guest.”) An exchange student who goes home after a semester abroad or a
sociologist who returns from the field may find it difficult to associate with the values of their own culture after
having experienced what they deem a more upright or nobler way of living. An opposite reaction is
xenophobia, an irrational fear or hatred of different cultures.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for sociologists studying different cultures is the matter of keeping a
perspective. It is impossible for anyone to overcome all cultural biases. The best we can do is strive to be aware
of them. Pride in one’s own culture doesn’t have to lead to imposing its values or ideas on others. And an
appreciation for another culture shouldn’t preclude individuals from studying it with a critical eye. This
practice is perhaps the most difficult for all social scientists.
Overcoming Culture Shock
During her summer vacation, Caitlin flew from Chicago, Illinois to Madrid, Spain to visit Maria, the exchange student
she had befriended the previous semester. In the airport, she heard rapid, musical Spanish being spoken all around
Exciting as it was, she felt isolated and disconnected. Maria’s mother kissed Caitlin on both cheeks when she
greeted her. Her imposing father kept his distance. Caitlin was half asleep by the time supper was served—at 10
p.m. Maria’s family sat at the table for hours, speaking loudly, gesturing, and arguing about politics, a taboo dinner
subject in Caitlin’s house. They served wine and toasted their honored guest. Caitlin had trouble interpreting her
hosts’ facial expressions, and did not realize she should make the next toast. That night, Caitlin crawled into a
strange bed, wishing she had not come. She missed her home and felt overwhelmed by the new customs, language,
and surroundings. She’d studied Spanish in school for years—why hadn’t it prepared her for this?
What Caitlin did not realize was that people depend not only on spoken words but also on body language, like
gestures and facial expressions, to communicate. Cultural norms and practices accompany even the smallest
nonverbal signals (DuBois, 1951). They help people know when to shake hands, where to sit, how to converse, and
even when to laugh. We relate to others through a shared set of cultural norms, and ordinarily, we take them for
For this reason, culture shock is often associated with traveling abroad, although it can happen in one’s own country,
state, or even hometown. Anthropologist Kalervo Oberg (1960) is credited with first coining the term “culture
shock.” In his studies, Oberg found that most people are excited at first to encounter a new culture. But bit by bit,
they become stressed by interacting with people from a different culture who speak another language and use
different regional expressions. There is new food to digest, new daily schedules to follow, and new rules of etiquette
to learn. Living with this constant stress can make people feel incompetent and insecure. People react to frustration
3.1 • What Is Culture? 71

in a new culture, Oberg found, by initially rejecting it and glorifying one’s own culture. An American visiting Italy
might long for a “real” pizza or complain about the unsafe driving habits of Italians.
It helps to remember that culture is learned. Everyone is ethnocentric to an extent, and identifying with one’s own
country is natural. Caitlin’s shock was minor compared to that of her friends Dayar and Mahlika, a Turkish couple
living in married student housing on campus. And it was nothing like that of her classmate Sanai. Sanai had been
forced to flee war-torn Bosnia with her family when she was fifteen. After two weeks in Spain, Caitlin had developed
more compassion and understanding for what those people had gone through. She understood that adjusting to a
new culture takes time. It can take weeks or months to recover from culture shock, and it can take years to fully
adjust to living in a new culture.
By the end of Caitlin’s trip, she had made new lifelong friends. Caitlin stepped out of her comfort zone. She had
learned a lot about Spain, but discovered a lot about herself and her own culture.
FIGURE 3.4 Experiencing new cultures offers an opportunity to practice cultural relativism. (Credit: OledSidorenko/
72 3 • Culture
Access for free at

3.2 Elements of Culture
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Differentiate values, beliefs, and norms
• Explain the significance of symbols and language to a culture
• Explain the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
• Discuss the role of social control within culture
Values and Beliefs
The first, and perhaps most crucial, elements of culture we will discuss are values and beliefs. Value does not
mean monetary worth in sociology, but rather ideals, or principles and standards members of a culture hold in
high regard. Most cultures in any society hold “knowledge” (education) in high regard. Values are deeply
embedded and are critical for learning a culture’s beliefs, which are the tenets or convictions that people hold
to be true. Individual cultures in a society have personal beliefs, but they also shared collective values. To
illustrate the difference, U.S. citizens may believe in the American Dream—that anyone who works hard
enough will be successful and wealthy. Underlying this belief is the American value that wealth is important. In
other cultures, success may be tied less to wealth and more to having many healthy children. Values shape a
society by suggesting what is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, sought or avoided.
Consider the value that the U.S. places upon youth. Children represent innocence and purity, while a youthful
adult appearance signifies sexuality. Shaped by this value, individuals spend millions of dollars each year on
cosmetic products and surgeries to look young and beautiful. The U.S. also has an individualistic culture,
meaning people place a high value on individuality and independence. In contrast, many other cultures are
collectivist, meaning the welfare of the group takes priority over that of the individual. Fulfilling a society’s
values can be difficult. Marital monogamy is valued, but many spouses engage in infidelity. Cultural diversity
and equal opportunities for all people are valued in the U.S., yet the country’s highest political offices have
been dominated by white men.
Values often suggest how people should behave, but they don’t accurately reflect how people do behave. Values
portray an ideal culture, the standards society would like to embrace and live up to. But ideal culture differs
from real culture. In an ideal culture, there would be no traffic accidents, murders, poverty, or racial tension.
But in real culture, police officers, lawmakers, educators, and social workers constantly strive to prevent or
address these issues. American teenagers are encouraged to value celibacy. However, the number of
unplanned pregnancies among teens reveals that the ideal alone is not enough to spare teenagers the potential
consequences of having sex.
One of the ways societies strive to maintain its values is through rewards and punishments. When people
observe the norms of society and uphold its values, they are often rewarded. A boy who helps an elderly
woman board a bus may receive a smile and a “thank you.” A business manager who raises profit margins may
receive a quarterly bonus. People sanction unwanted or inappropriate behaviors by withholding support,
approval, or permission, or by implementing sanctions. We may think of ‘sanction’ as a negative term, but
sanctions are forms of social control, ways to encourage conformity to cultural norms or rules. Sometimes
people conform to norms in anticipation or expectation of positive sanctions. Receiving good grades, for
instance, may mean praise from parents and teachers. Sanctions can also be negative. . A boy who shoves an
elderly woman aside to board the bus first may receive frowns or even a scolding from other passengers. A
business manager who drives away customers will likely be fired. Breaking norms and rejecting values can
lead to cultural sanctions such as earning a negative label like ‘lazy’ or to legal sanctions, such as traffic tickets,
fines, or imprisonment. Utilizing social control encourages most people to conform regardless of whether
authority figures (such as law enforcement) are present.
Values are not static. They change across time and between groups as people evaluate, debate, and change
3.2 • Elements of Culture 73

collective social beliefs. Values also vary from culture to culture. For example, cultures differ in their values
about what kinds of physical closeness are appropriate in public. It’s rare to see two male friends or coworkers
holding hands in the U.S. where that behavior often symbolizes romantic feelings. But in many nations,
masculine physical intimacy is considered natural in public. This difference in cultural values came to light
when people reacted to photos of former president G.W. Bush holding hands with the Crown Prince of Saudi
Arabia in 2005. Simple gestures, such as hand-holding, carry great symbolic differences across cultures.
FIGURE 3.5 In many parts of Africa and the Middle East, it is considered normal for men to hold hands in friendship.
How would US citizens react to these two soldiers? (Credit: Geordie Mott/Wikimedia Commons)
So far, many of the examples in this chapter have described how people are expected to behave in certain
situations—for example, buying food or boarding a bus. These examples describe the visible and invisible rules
of conduct through which societies are structured, or what sociologists call norms. Norms are behaviors that
reflect compliance with what cultures and societies have defined as good, right, and important. Most members
adhere to them.
Formal norms are established, written rules existing in all societies. They support many social institutions,
such as the military, criminal justice and healthcare systems, and public schools. Functionalists may question
what purpose these norms serve, conflict theorists might be interested in who creates, benefits, and suffers
under these formal norms, and symbolic interactionists wonder about how a group that benefits interacts.
Laws are formal norms, but so are employee manuals, college entrance exam requirements, and “no running”
signs at swimming pools. Formal norms are the most specific and clearly stated of the various types of norms,
and they are the most strictly enforced. But they are enforced to varying degrees.
For example, private property is highly valued in the U.S. Thieves can be fined, imprisoned, or both. People
safeguard valuable possessions by locking their doors, buying a safe, and installing alarm systems on homes
and cars. A less strictly enforced social norm is driving while intoxicated. While it’s against the law to drive
drunk, drinking is for the most part an acceptable social behavior. And though there are laws to punish drunk
driving, there are few systems in place to prevent the crime.
There are plenty of formal norms, but the list of informal norms—casual behaviors that are generally and
widely conformed to—is longer. People learn informal norms by observation, imitation, and general
socialization. Some informal norms are taught directly— “Kiss your Aunt Edna” or “Use your napkin”—while
others are learned by observation, including understanding consequences when someone else violates a
norm. Informal norms dictate appropriate behaviors without the need of written rules, and so may be difficult
to learn when you are new to or not familiar with the culture.
74 3 • Culture
Access for free at

Although informal norms define personal interactions, they extend into other systems as well. In the U.S.,
there are informal norms regarding behavior at fast food restaurants. Customers line up to order their food
and leave when they are done. They don’t sit down at a table with strangers, sing loudly as they prepare their
condiments, or nap in a booth. Most people don’t commit even harmless breaches of informal norms.
Breaching Experiments
Sociologist Harold Garfinkel (1917–2011) studied people’s customs in order to find out how societal rules and
norms not only influence behavior but also shape social order. He believed that members of society together
create a social order (Weber, 2011). His resulting book, Studies in Ethno-methodology (1967) discusses people’s
assumptions about the social makeup of their communities.
One of Garfinkel’s research methods was known as a “breaching experiment,” in which the researcher behaves in
a socially awkward manner in order to test the sociological concepts of social norms and conformity. The
participants are not aware an experiment is in progress, but their response is recorded. For example, if the
experimenter is, say, a man in a business suit, and he skips down the sidewalk or hops on one foot, a passersby is
likely to stare at him with surprised expressions. But the experimenter does not simply “act weird” in public.
Rather, the point is to deviate from a specific social norm in a small way, to subtly break some form of social
etiquette, and see what happens.
For example, he set up a simple game of tic-tac-toe. One player was asked beforehand to mark Xs and Os not in
the boxes but on the lines dividing the spaces instead. The other player, in the dark about the study, was
flabbergasted and did not know how to continue. The second player’s outrage, anger, puzzlement, or other
emotion suggested that a cultural norms had been violated.
There are many rules about speaking with strangers in public. It is okay to tell a woman you like her shoes. It is
not okay to ask if you can try them on. It is okay to stand in line behind someone at the ATM. It is not okay to look
over his shoulder as he makes a transaction. It is okay to sit beside someone on a crowded bus. It’s weird to sit
beside a stranger in a half-empty bus.
For some breaches, the researcher directly engages with innocent bystanders. An experimenter might strike up a
conversation in a public bathroom, where it’s common to respect each other’s privacy. In a grocery store, an
experimenter might take a food item out of another person’s grocery cart, saying, “That looks good! I think I’ll try
it.” An experimenter might sit down at a table with others in a fast-food restaurant or follow someone around a
museum and study the same paintings. In those cases, the bystanders are pressured to respond, and their
discomfort illustrates how much we depend on social norms. Breaching experiments uncover and explore the
many unwritten social rules we live by.
Norms may be further classified as either mores or folkways. Mores (mor-ays) are norms that embody the
moral views and principles of a group. They often have a religious foundation. Violating them can have serious
consequences. The strongest mores are protected with laws and other formal sanctions. In most societies, for
instance, homicide is considered immoral, and it’s punishable by law (a formal norm). But more often, mores
are judged and guarded by public sentiment (an informal norm). People who violate mores are seen as
shameful. They can even be shunned or banned from some groups.
The mores of the U.S. school system require that a student’s writing be in the student’s own words or use
special forms (such as quotation marks and a whole system of citation) for crediting other writers. Submitting
or publishing another person’s words as if they are one’s own has a name—plagiarism. The consequences for
violating this norm are often severe and can result in expulsion from school or termination from employment.
Unlike mores, folkways are norms without any moral underpinnings. Rather, folkways direct appropriate
3.2 • Elements of Culture 75

behavior in the day-to-day practices and expressions of a culture. We can think of them as ‘traditions’—things
we do because we ‘always have.’ They indicate whether to shake hands or kiss on the cheek when greeting
another person. They specify whether to wear a tie and blazer or a T-shirt and sandals to an event. In Canada,
women can smile and say hello to men on the street. In Egypt, that’s not acceptable. In regions in the southern
U.S., bumping into an acquaintance means stopping to chat. It’s considered rude not to, no matter how busy
one is. In other regions, people guard their privacy and value time efficiency. A simple nod of the head is
enough. Other accepted folkways in the U.S. may include holding the door open for a stranger or giving
someone a gift on their birthday. The rules regarding these folkways may change from culture to culture. A
folkway in one culture could be extremely rude in another.
Folkways are actions that people everywhere take for granted. People need to act without thinking in order to
get seamlessly through daily routines. They can’t stop and analyze every action (Sumner, 1906). Folkways
might be small actions, learned by observation and imitated, but they are by no means trivial. An important
folkway in many cultures is kissing Grandmother on the cheek. Fail to do so and you will likely be scolded.
Symbols and Culture
Humans, consciously and subconsciously, are always striving to make sense of their surrounding world.
Symbols—such as gestures, signs, objects, signals, and words—help people understand that world. They
provide communication methods to understanding experiences by conveying recognizable meanings that are
shared by societies.
The world is filled with symbols. Sports uniforms, company logos, and traffic signs are symbols. In some
cultures, a gold ring is a symbol of marriage. Some symbols are highly functional; stop signs, for instance,
provide useful instruction. As physical objects, they belong to material culture, but because they function as
symbols, they also convey nonmaterial cultural meanings. Some symbols are valuable only in what they
represent. Trophies, blue ribbons, or gold medals, for example, represent accomplishments. But many objects
have both material and nonmaterial symbolic value.
FIGURE 3.6 Some road signs are universal. But how would you interpret the signage on the right? (Credit: (a)
Andrew Bain/flickr; (b) HonzaSoukup/flickr)
76 3 • Culture
Access for free at

Symbols often get noticed when they are out of context. Used unconventionally, they convey strong messages.
A stop sign placed on the door of a college building makes a political statement, as does a camouflage military
jacket worn in an antiwar protest. Together, the semaphore signals for “N” and “D” represent nuclear
disarmament—and form the well-known peace sign (Westcott, 2008). Some college students wear pajamas and
bedroom slippers to class, clothing that was formerly associated only with privacy and bedtime. By wearing the
outfit, students are defying traditional cultural norms.
Some symbols represent only one side of the story and elicit strong emotions, which can lead to social unrest.
Their presence is a reminder of a nation’s worst times and not something to celebrate. Many of these symbols
are targets of vandalism as the destruction of these representations is symbolic. Effigies representing public
figures are burned to demonstrate anger at certain leaders. In 1989, crowds tore down the Berlin Wall, a
decades-old symbol of the division between East and West Germany, communism, and capitalism. In the U.S.
beginning in 2019, statues associated with slavery and the Civil War were removed from state capitols, college
campuses, and public parks. In Germany, any display of Hitler or Nazi memorabilia or to deny the Holocaust is
While different cultures have varying systems of symbols, one system is common to all: language. Whatever its
form, people learn social and cultural norms through it.
Language and Symbols
Language is a system that uses symbols with which people communicate and through which culture is
transmitted. Letters (which make up words), pictographs, and hand gestures are all symbols that create a
language used for communication. Sign language, for example, requires an intimate knowledge not only of an
alphabet but also of signs that represent entire words and the meaning indicated by certain facial expressions
or postures. Its grammar differs from the spoken language. As spoken language is different across regions,
nations and cultures, and can even differ by the age of the person, so too does sign language.
All language systems contain the same basic elements that are effective in communicating ideas – object,
subject, action. A written language system consists of symbols that refer to spoken sound. Taken together,
these symbols convey specific meanings. The English language uses a combination of twenty-six letters to
create words. These twenty-six letters make up over 600,000 recognized words (OED Online, 2011). We can
compare the reliance on tone and inflection to Mandarin Chinese. It contains over 8,000 characters, but the
same character may symbolize different concepts depending on the tone used.
English today contains an English and French version for the same concept. For example, in the English
version, one eats, but in French version, one dines. In the English version, we meet someone. In the French
version, we encounter someone. Readers of American English may be surprised by the inclusion of a ‘u’ in
some spellings of words like ‘behaviour’ or ‘flavour.’ Americans have dropped that ‘u’ that writers of British
English include. Billions of people speak English, and there are almost as many pronunciations of it.
Rules for speaking and writing vary even within cultures, most notably by region. Do you eat a grinder, a sub, or
a hero/gyro? Do you refer to a can of carbonated liquid as “soda” or “pop”? Is a household entertainment room
a “family room,” “rec room,” or “den”? When leaving a restaurant, do you ask your server for a “check,” the
“ticket,” or your “bill”? Language is constantly evolving and adding new words as societies create new ideas. In
this age of technology, many cultures have adapted almost instantly to new nouns such as “e-mail” and
“Internet,” and verbs such as “downloading,” “texting,” and “blogging.” These would have considered nonsense
words just the world twenty-five years ago.
Language and Culture
Even while it constantly evolves, language shapes our perception of reality and our behavior. In the 1920s,
linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf advanced this idea which became known as Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis or linguistic relativity. It is based on the idea that people experience their world through their
3.2 • Elements of Culture 77

language, and therefore understand their world through the cultural meanings embedded in their language.
The hypothesis suggests that language shapes thought and thus behavior (Swoyer, 2003). For example, words
have attached meanings beyond their definition that can influence thought and behavior. In the U.S. where the
number thirteen is associated with bad luck, many high-rise buildings do not have a 13th floor. In Japan,
however, the number four is considered unlucky, since it is pronounced similarly to the Japanese word for
Many sociologists believe that language can have a broad and lasting impact on perception. In 2002, Lera
Boroditsky and her colleagues conducted experiments on native German and Spanish speakers in English.
Unlike English, these languages assign genders to nouns. In German, for example, the word for sun, die Sonne,
is feminine, but the word for moon, der Mond, is masculine. The team chose a set of nouns with opposite
genders in German and Spanish and asked participants to provide adjectives to describe them. They found
that German speakers used more masculine adjectives than Spanish speakers when describing a noun that
was grammatically masculine in German but feminine in Spanish. For example, the word for key is masculine
in German and feminine in Spanish. German speakers described keys as hard, heavy, jagged, metal, serrated,
and useful, while Spanish speakers used the adjectives, golden, intricate, little, lovely, shiny, and tiny. The team
concluded that gender perceptions acquired in a person’s native language carry forward to how they see the
world even when they switch to a language without grammatical genders (Boroditsky, Schmidt, and Phillips,
Some sociologists also believe the structure of language can have consequences on both individual and group
behavior. For example, a series of studies have found that Finland has a significantly higher rate of workplace
accidents than Sweden despite the fact that the languages have similar workplace regulations (Salminen &
Johansson, 2000). John A. Lucy explained this discrepancy through differences in the structure of these
languages. Swedish places a greater emphasis on the timing of movement in three-dimensional space.
Consequently, Lucy argued, the Swedish factories are physically arranged in a manner that supports the
smooth running of the product process. Finnish factors experience frequent disruptions, so that workers must
rush and have more accidents (Lucy, 1997).
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has been interpreted to suggest that if a word does not exist in a language then
users of that language cannot have the experience. Studies have shown, for instance, that unless people have
access to the word “ambivalent,” they don’t recognize having conflicting positive and negative feelings about
an issue as ‘ambivalence.’ However, the hypothesis should not suggest that people do not have conflicting
feelings but rather that they interpret the feelings differently.
In addition to using spoken language, people communicate without words. Nonverbal communication is
symbolic, and, as in the case of language, is learned through one’s culture. Some gestures are nearly universal;
some are not. Smiles often indicate positive reinforcement in the U.S., whereas in some cultures it is rude as
you do not know the person. A thumbs-up in Russia and Australia is an offensive curse (Passero, 2002). Other
gestures vary in meaning depending on the situation and the person. A wave of the hand can mean many
things, depending on how it’s done and for whom. It may mean “hello,” “goodbye,” “no thank you,” or “I’m
royalty.” Winks convey a variety of messages, including “We have a secret,” “I’m only kidding,” or “I’m attracted
to you.” From a distance, a person may “read” the emotional situation of people just by watching their body
language and facial expressions. However, many cultures communicate with lots of physicality, which people
outside that culture may interpret as an argument. So, for example, you might believe two people are arguing
when, in fact, they are simply having a regular conversation.
Is the U.S. Bilingual?
When she was six, Lucy and her family immigrated to the United States and attended a school that allowed for the
78 3 • Culture
Access for free at

use of both English and Spanish. Lucy’s teacher and many staff were bilingual (fluent in English and Spanish), and
the district offered books in both languages. While she was being driven to learn English, the dual-language option
helped to ensure that she did not become lost and get behind in her learning of all subjects. Having math, science,
and computing taught in both languages helped her understand those concepts and skills. Within two years of
enrolling in the school, Lucy was getting nearly all of her instruction in English, and rarely used the Spanish-language
books or resources. While she still had trouble with some intricacies of English, her math progress was above grade
level and she did well in other subjects as well.
Some people might believe that Lucy would have learned faster had she been instructed only in English. But
research indicates that is not the case. Johns Hopkins University, researchers conducted a series of studies on the
effects of bilingual education across multiple subjects (Slavin et al. 2008). They found that students taught in both
their native tongue and English make better progress than those taught only in English.
Legally, the U.S. has no official language. But many believe English to be the rightful language of the U.S., and over
thirty states have passed laws specifying English as their official tongue. Proponents of English-only laws suggest
that a national ruling will save money on translation, printing, and human resource costs, including funding for
bilingual teachers. They argue that setting English as the official language will encourage non-English speakers to
learn English faster and adapt to the culture of the U.S. more easily (Mount 2010). Groups such as the American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU) oppose making English the official language and claim that it violates the rights of non-
English speakers. English-only laws, they believe, deny the reality of our nation’s diversity and unfairly target non-
English speakers. They point to the fact that much of the debate on this topic has risen since 1970, a period during
which the U.S. has experienced new waves of immigration from Asia and Mexico.
Today, a lot of product information gets written in multiple languages. Enter a store like Home Depot and you’ll find
signs in both English and Spanish. Buy a children’s product and the safety warnings could be presented in multiple
languages. While marketers are financially motivated to reach the largest number of consumers possible, this trend
also may help people become accustomed to a culture of bilingualism.
Studies show that most US immigrants eventually abandon their native tongues and become fluent in English.
Bilingual education helps with that transition. Today, Lucy is an ambitious and high-achieving college student. Fluent
in both English and Spanish, Lucy is studying law enforcement—a field that seeks bilingual employees. The same
bilingualism that contributed to her success in grade school will help her thrive professionally as a law officer
serving her community.
FIGURE 3.7 Many signs—on streets and in stores—include both English and Spanish. What effect does this have on
3.2 • Elements of Culture 79

members of society? What effect does it have on our culture? (Credit: istolethetv/flickr)
3.3 High, Low, Pop, Sub, Counter-culture and Cultural Change
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Discuss the roles of both high culture and pop culture within society
• Differentiate between subculture and counterculture
• Explain the role of innovation, invention, and discovery in culture
• Describe the role of cultural lag and globalization in cultural change
It may seem obvious that there are a multitude of cultural differences between societies in the world. After all,
we can easily see that people vary from one society to the next. It’s natural to think that a young woman from a
village in rural Kenya in Eastern Africa would have a different view of the world from a young woman from
urban Mumbai, India—one of the most populated cities in the world.
Additionally, each culture has its own internal variations. Sometimes the differences between cultures are not
as large as the differences within cultures. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu wrote about cultural capital, which
consists of material goods, non-material attitudes, and knowledge that are specific to a certain economic class.
Bourdieu grouped cultural capital into three categories: embodied (a regional dialect), objectified
(possessions), and institutionalized (academic credentials). In the U.S., some group culture into three
categories as well: high, low, and pop (for popular).
High, Low, and Popular Culture
Can you identify the Chief Financial Officer of three major corporations? How about the name of the server at
three local hangouts? How many books do you own? How many social media sites do you visit? Is your family
listed on the Social Register©? Have you ever heard of the Social Register©? In each pair, one type of knowledge
is considered high culture and the other low culture.
This could be considered stereotyping by economic class rather than by race or gender, but sociologists use the
term high culture to describe the pattern of cultural experiences and attitudes that exist in the highest or elite
class segments of a society. People often associate high culture with intellectualism, political power, and
prestige. In America, high culture also tends to be associated with wealth. Events considered high culture can
be expensive, formal, and exclusive – attending a ballet, seeing a play, listening to a live symphony
performance, or attending a prestigious university. Similarly, low culture is associated with the pattern of
cultural experiences and attitudes that exist in the lowest class segments of a society.
The term popular culture refers to the pattern of cultural experiences and attitudes that exist in mainstream
society. Popular culture events might include a parade, a baseball game, or the season finale of a television
show. Music, anime, and cosplay are pieces of popular culture. Popular culture is accessible by most and is
expressed and spread via commercial and social media outlets such as radio, television, movies, the music
industry, publishers, and corporate-run websites. You can share a discussion of favorite football teams with a
new coworker or comment on a reality show when making small talk in line at the grocery store. But if you
tried to launch into a deep discussion on the classical Greek play Antigone, few members of U.S. society today
would be familiar with it. Although high culture may be considered by some as superior to popular culture, the
lines between high culture and popular culture vary over time and place. Shakespearean plays, considered to
be popular culture when they were written, are now part of our society’s high culture. Five hundred years from
now, will our descendants consider Dancing with the Stars as fine performance art?
80 3 • Culture
Access for free at

Subculture and Counterculture
FIGURE 3.8 Cosplayers are a distinct subculture (a smaller cultural group within the larger culture) in the United
States. And within the larger subculture are subgroups, such as this one emulating D.C. Comics characters. (Credit:
Pat Loika)
A subculture is just what it sounds like—a smaller cultural group within a larger culture. People of a subculture
are part of the larger culture but also share a specific identity within a smaller group.*
Thousands of subcultures exist within the U.S. Ethnic and racial groups share the language, food, and customs
of their heritage. Other subcultures are formed through shared experiences. Biker culture revolves around an
interest in motorcycles. Some subcultures are formed by people who possess traits or preferences that differ
from the majority of a society’s population. The body modification community embraces aesthetic additions to
the human body, such as tattoos, piercings, and certain forms of plastic surgery. But even as members of a
subculture band together, they still identify with and participate in the larger society.
Sociologists distinguish subcultures from countercultures, which reject some of the larger culture’s norms
and values. In contrast to subcultures, which operate relatively smoothly within the larger society,
countercultures might actively defy larger society by developing their own set of rules and norms to live by,
sometimes even creating communities that operate outside of greater society. Counterculture members are
‘against’ the dominant ruling culture and want to install their own values. Sub-culture members may want to
change some things but established procedures are followed.
Cults, a word derived from culture, are also considered counterculture groups. The group “Yearning for Zion”
(YFZ) in Eldorado, Texas, existed outside the mainstream and the limelight, until its leader was accused of
statutory rape and underage marriage. The sect’s formal norms clashed too severely to be tolerated by US law,
and in 2008, authorities raided the compound and removed more than two hundred women and children from
the property. Many cults claim to be spiritual, often establishing themselves as a religion. When each of the
three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) in the world began, they were treated as cults and
suffered much oppression because of it.
Cultural Change
Cultures continually change because new items are added to material culture every day and in turn, meanings
are assigned to them (non-material), which affects other cultural components. For example, a new technology,
such as railroads or smartphones, might introduce new ways of traveling or communicating. New ideas, such
as flash mobs or crowdfunding, enter a culture . Sociologists identify two broad categories of change as
3.3 • High, Low, Pop, Sub, Counter-culture and Cultural Change 81

innovation (meaning new) and diffusion (to spread out). Material cultural change happens when new items
are discovered or invented or enter a culture as a result of globalization.
Innovation: Discovery and Invention
An innovation refers to an object or concept’s initial appearance in society—it is innovative because it is new.
Innovations are discovered or invented. Discoveries make known previously unknown but existing aspects of
reality. In 1610, when Galileo looked through his telescope and discovered Saturn, the planet was already
there, but until then, no one had known about it. When Christopher Columbus encountered Hispaniola, the
island was, of course, already well known to its inhabitants. However, his discovery was new knowledge for
Europeans, and it opened the way to changes in European culture, as well as to the cultures of the discovered
lands. For example, new foods such as potatoes and tomatoes transformed the European diet, and horses
brought from Europe changed hunting practices of Great Plains Native Americans.
Inventions result when something new is formed from existing objects or concepts—when things are put
together in an entirely new manner. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, electric appliances were invented at an
astonishing pace. Cars, airplanes, vacuum cleaners, lamps, radios, telephones, and televisions were all new
inventions. Inventions may shape a culture by replacing older ways of carrying out tasks, being integrated into
current practices, or creating new activities. Their adoption reflects (and may shape) cultural values, and their
use may introduce new norms and practices.
Consider the rise of mobile phones. As more and more people began carrying these devices, phone
conversations no longer were restricted to homes, offices, and phone booths. People on trains, in restaurants,
and in other public places became annoyed by listening to one-sided conversations. New norms and behaviors
were needed for cell phone use. Some people pushed for the idea that those who are out in the world should
pay attention to their companions and surroundings. Fortunately, technology found a workaround: texting,
which enables quiet communication surpassed phone conversations as the primary way to communicate
anywhere, everywhere.
When the pace of innovation increases, it can lead to generation gaps. Technological gadgets that catch on
quickly with one generation are sometimes dismissed by an older generation that is skeptical or struggles to
adopt them. The older generation might tune into a musician performing on public television while the
younger generation prefers a livestream. A culture’s objects and ideas can cause not just generational but
cultural gaps. Material culture tends to diffuse more quickly than nonmaterial culture; technology can spread
through society in a matter of months, but it can take generations for the ideas and beliefs of society to change
including methods for researching or learning information (e.g., library versus Internet search).
FIGURE 3.9 Technology Adoption Lifecycle — Sociologist Everett Rogers (1962) developed a model of the diffusion
of innovations. As consumers gradually adopt a new innovation, the item grows toward 100 percent usage, or
complete saturation within a society. This graph is frequently used in business, sales, technology, and cultural
innovations. It can be used to describe how quickly different groups adopt (or begin using) a new technology or a
new slang word, but note it is just a framework: not every innovation follows this exact pattern, but it provides a
82 3 • Culture
Access for free at

good foundation for discussion and prediction. (Graph attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY
4.0 license)
Coined by sociologist William F. Ogburn (1957), the term culture lag refers to the time that passes between the
introduction of a new item of material culture and its social acceptance. Culture lag can also cause tangible
problems. The infrastructure of the U.S., built a hundred years ago or more, is having trouble supporting
today’s more heavily populated and fast-paced life. Yet there is a lag in conceptualizing solutions to
infrastructure problems. Municipalities struggle with traffic control, increased air pollution, and limited
parking, which are all symptoms of culture lag. Although people are becoming aware of the consequences,
overuse, or lack of resources, addressing these needs takes time.
Diffusion and Globalization
Another way material and nonmaterial culture crosses borders is through diffusion. Like a gas in a laboratory
experiment, the item or idea spreads throughout. Diffusion relates to the process of the integration of cultures
into the mainstream while globalization refers to the promotion and increase of interactions between
different regions and populations around the globe resulting in the integration of markets and
interdependence of nations fostered through trade.
Ideas concepts, or artifacts are often diffused, or spread, to individuals and groups, resulting in new social
practices. People might develop a new appreciation of Thai noodles or Italian gelato (ice cream). Access to
television and the Internet has brought the lifestyles and values portrayed in U.S. sitcoms into homes around
the globe and vice versa. Twitter feeds from public demonstrations in one nation have encouraged political
protesters in other countries. When this kind of diffusion occurs, ideas from one culture are introduced into
another, often before the associated material objects. The graph above displays when diffusion typically
occurs, essentially driving an innovation to spread beyond its earliest adopters to the wider majority of people.
FIGURE 3.10 Officially patented in 1893 as the “clasp locker” (left), the zipper did not diffuse through society for
many decades. Today, it is immediately recognizable around the world. (Credit: (a) US Patent Office/Wikimedia
Commons; (b) Rabensteiner/Wikimedia Commons).
3.3 • High, Low, Pop, Sub, Counter-culture and Cultural Change 83

3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
By the end of this section you should be able to:
• Discuss the major theoretical approaches to cultural interpretation
Music, fashion, technology, and values—all are products of culture. But what do they mean? How do
sociologists perceive and interpret culture based on these material and nonmaterial items? Let’s finish our
analysis of culture by reviewing them in the context of three theoretical perspectives: functionalism, conflict
theory, and symbolic interactionism.
Functionalists view society as a system in which all parts work—or function—together to create society as a
whole. They often use the human body as an analogy. Looking at life in this way, societies need culture to exist.
Cultural norms function to support the fluid operation of society, and cultural values guide people in making
choices. Just as members of a society work together to fulfill a society’s needs, culture exists to meet its
members’ social and personal needs.
Functionalists also study culture in terms of values. For example, education is highly valued in the U.S. The
culture of education—including material culture such as classrooms, textbooks, libraries, educational
technology, dormitories and non-material culture such as specific teaching approaches—demonstrates how
much emphasis is placed on the value of educating a society’s members. In contrast, if education consisted of
only providing guidelines and some study material without the other elements, that would demonstrate that
the culture places a lower value on education.
FIGURE 3.11 This statue of Superman stands in the center of Metropolis, Illinois. His pedestal reads
“Truth—Justice—The American Way.” How would a functionalist interpret this statue? What does it reveal about the
values of American culture? (Credit: David Wilson/flickr)
Functionalists view the different categories of culture as serving many functions. Having membership in a
culture, a subculture, or a counterculture brings camaraderie and social cohesion and benefits the larger
society by providing places for people who share similar ideas.
84 3 • Culture
Access for free at

Conflict theorists, however, view social structure as inherently unequal, based on power differentials related to
issues like class, gender, race, and age. For a conflict theorist, established educational methods are seen as
reinforcing the dominant societal culture and issues of privilege. The historical experiences of certain groups—
those based upon race, sex, or class, for instance, or those that portray a negative narrative about the dominant
culture—are excluded from history books. For a long time, U.S. History education omitted the assaults on
Native American people and society that were part of the colonization of the land that became the United
States. A more recent example is the recognition of historical events like race riots and racially based
massacres like the Tulsa Massacre, which was widely reported when it occurred in 1921 but was omitted from
many national historical accounts of that period of time. When an episode of HBO’s Watchmen showcased the
event in stunning and horrific detail, many people expressed surprise that it had occurred and it hadn’t been
taught or discussed (Ware 2019).
Historical omission is not restricted to the U.S. North Korean students learn of their benevolent leader without
information about his mistreatment of large portions of the population. According to defectors and North
Korea experts, while famines and dire economic conditions are obvious, state media and educational agencies
work to ensure that North Koreans do not understand how different their country is from others (Jacobs 2019).
Inequities exist within a culture’s value system and become embedded in laws, policies, and procedures. This
inclusion leads to the oppression of the powerless by the powerful. A society’s cultural norms benefit some
people but hurt others. Women were not allowed to vote in the U.S. until 1920, making it hard for them to get
laws passed that protected their rights in the home and in the workplace. Same-sex couples were denied the
right to marry in the U.S. until 2015. Elsewhere around the world, same-sex marriage is only legal in 31 of the
planet’s 195 countries.
At the core of conflict theory is the effect of economic production and materialism. Dependence on technology
in rich nations versus a lack of technology and education in poor nations. Conflict theorists believe that a
society’s system of material production has an effect on the rest of culture. People who have less power also
have fewer opportunities to adapt to cultural change. This view contrasts with the perspective of
functionalism. Where functionalists would see the purpose of culture—traditions, folkways, values—as helping
individuals navigate through life and societies run smoothly, conflict theorists examine socio-cultural
struggles, including the power and privilege created for some by using and reinforcing a dominate culture that
sustains their position in society
Symbolic interactionism is the sociological perspective that is most concerned with the face-to-face
interactions and cultural meanings between members of society. It is considered a micro-level analysis.
Instead of looking how access is different between the rich and poor, interactionists see culture as being
created and maintained by the ways people interact and in how individuals interpret each other’s actions. In
this perspective, people perpetuate cultural ways. Proponents of this theory conceptualize human interaction
as a continuous process of deriving meaning from both objects in the environment and the actions of others.
Every object and action has a symbolic meaning, and language serves as a means for people to represent and
communicate interpretations of these meanings to others. Symbolic interactionists perceive culture as highly
dynamic and fluid, as it is dependent on how meaning is interpreted and how individuals interact when
conveying these meanings. Interactionists research changes in language. They study additions and deletions
of words, the changing meaning of words, and the transmission of words in an original language into different
3.4 • Theoretical Perspectives on Culture 85

FIGURE 3.12 Sometimes external observers may believe that people from a culture dress a certain way based on
images from a parade or special event. In reality, these two people may wear business suits or jeans and T-shirts
when they are not participating in a flower parade. While people may not always outwardly express their cultural
identity or use items related to their culture, special events often bring out those expressions. (Credit: John
We began this chapter by asking, “What is culture?” Culture is comprised of values, beliefs, norms, language,
practices, and artifacts of a society. Because culture is learned, it includes how people think and express
themselves. While we may like to consider ourselves individuals, we must acknowledge the impact of culture
on us and our way of life. We inherit language that shapes our perceptions and patterned behavior, including
those of family, friends, faith, and politics.
To an extent, culture is a social comfort. After all, sharing a similar culture with others is precisely what
defines societies. Nations would not exist if people did not coexist culturally. There could be no societies if
people did not share heritage and language, and civilization would cease to function if people did not agree on
similar values and systems of social control.
Culture is preserved through transmission from one generation to the next, but it also evolves through
processes of innovation, discovery, and cultural diffusion. As such, cultures are social constructions. The
society approves or disapproves of items or ideas, which are therefore included or not in the culture. We may
be restricted by the confines of our own culture, but as humans we have the ability to question values and
make conscious decisions. No better evidence of this freedom exists than the amount of cultural diversity
around the world. The more we study another culture, the better we become at understanding our own.
86 3 • Culture
Access for free at

Key Terms
alarm reaction first stage of the general adaptation syndrome; characterized as the body’s immediate
physiological reaction to a threatening situation or some other emergency; analogous to the fight-or-flight
beliefs tenets or convictions that people hold to be true
cortisol stress hormone released by the adrenal glands when encountering a stressor; helps to provide a
boost of energy, thereby preparing the individual to take action
countercultures groups that reject and oppose society’s widely accepted cultural patterns
culture shared beliefs, values, and practices
culture lag the gap of time between the introduction of material culture and nonmaterial culture’s
acceptance of it
diffusion the spread of material and nonmaterial culture from one culture to another
discoveries things and ideas found from what already exists
distress bad form of stress; usually high in intensity; often leads to exhaustion, fatigue, feeling burned out;
associated with erosions in performance and health
eustress good form of stress; low to moderate in intensity; associated with positive feelings, as well as
optimal health and performance
fight-or-flight response set of physiological reactions (increases in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration
rate, and sweat) that occur when an individual encounters a perceived threat; these reactions are
produced by activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the endocrine system
folkways direct, appropriate behavior in the day-to-day practices and expressions of a culture
formal norms established, written rules
general adaptation syndrome Hans Selye’s three-stage model of the body’s physiological reactions to stress
and the process of stress adaptation: alarm reaction, stage of resistance, and stage of exhaustion
globalization the integration of international trade and finance markets
health psychology subfield of psychology devoted to studying psychological influences on health, illness,
and how people respond when they become ill
high culture the cultural patterns of a society’s elite
hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis set of structures found in both the limbic system
(hypothalamus) and the endocrine system (pituitary gland and adrenal glands) that regulate many of the
body’s physiological reactions to stress through the release of hormones
ideal culture the standards a society would like to embrace and live up to
informal norms casual behaviors that are generally and widely conformed to
innovations new objects or ideas introduced to culture for the first time
inventions a combination of pieces of existing reality into new forms
language a symbolic system of communication
mores the moral views and principles of a group
norms the visible and invisible rules of conduct through which societies are structured
popular culture mainstream, widespread patterns among a society’s population
primary appraisal judgment about the degree of potential harm or threat to well-being that a stressor might
real culture the way society really is based on what actually occurs and exists
sanctions a way to authorize or formally disapprove of certain behaviors
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis the way that people understand the world based on their form of language
secondary appraisal judgment of options available to cope with a stressor and their potential effectiveness
social control a way to encourage conformity to cultural norms
society people who live in a definable community and who share a culture
stage of exhaustion third stage of the general adaptation syndrome; the body’s ability to resist stress
becomes depleted; illness, disease, and even death may occur
3 • Key Terms 87

stage of resistance second stage of the general adaptation syndrome; the body adapts to a stressor for a
period of time
stress process whereby an individual perceives and responds to events that one appraises as overwhelming
or threatening to one’s well-being
stressors environmental events that may be judged as threatening or demanding; stimuli that initiate the
stress process
subcultures groups that share a specific identification, apart from a society’s majority, even as the
members exist within a larger society
symbols gestures or objects that have meanings associated with them that are recognized by people who
share a culture
values a culture’s standard for discerning what is good and just in society
Section Summary
3.1 What Is Culture?
Though “society” and “culture” are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings. A society is a
group of people sharing a community and culture. The term culture generally describes the shared values,
beliefs, norms, language, practices, and artifacts of these people, and includes material and nonmaterial
elements. Our experience of cultural difference is influenced by our ethnocentrism ( judging others using your
cultural standards) and Xenocentrism (belief that another culture is superior). Sociologists practice cultural
relativism (assessing others using their own cultural standards) although it is quite difficult.
3.2 Elements of Culture
A culture consists of many elements, such as the values and beliefs of its society. Culture is also governed by
norms, including laws, mores (norms that embody moral views), and folkways (traditions without any moral
underpinnings). The symbols and language of a society are key to developing and conveying culture. In a
nutshell, the four main components are values, beliefs, norms, language, practices, and artifacts.
3.3 High, Low, Pop, Sub, Counter-culture and Cultural Change
Sociologists recognize that there is a dominant culture or cultural practice that is dominant often
characterized as the norm in a society as well as different types of cultures within societies. Societies also
consist of many subcultures (a smaller cultural group within a larger culture). Some arese as a result of a
shared identity or interest. Countercultures reject the dominant culture’s values and create their own cultural
rules and norms. Cultural change can happen through invention or discovery. Cultures evolve via new ideas
and new ways of thinking. In many modern cultures, the cornerstone of innovation is technology, the rapid
growth of which can lead to cultural lag (time from creation or introduction to social acceptance). Technology
is also responsible for the spread of both material and nonmaterial culture that contributes to globalization
(the increase of movement and exchange of goods and ideas all over the planet).
3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
There are three major theoretical approaches toward the interpretation of culture. A functionalist perspective
acknowledges that the many parts of culture work together as a system to fulfill society’s needs. Functionalists
view culture as a reflection of society’s values. Conflict theorists see culture as inherently unequal, reinforcing
inequalities in gender, class, race, and age. Symbolic interactionists are primarily interested in culture as
experienced in the daily interactions, interpretations, and exchanges between individuals and the symbols
that comprise a culture. Various cultural and sociological occurrences can be explained by these theories. Each
theory provides a different perspective or lens to help understand culture in societies.
88 3 • Section Summary
Access for free at

Section Quiz
3.1 What Is Culture?
1. The terms _______ and ______ are often used interchangeably, but have nuances that differentiate them.
a. imperialism and relativism
b. culture and society
c. society and ethnocentrism
d. ethnocentrism and Xenocentrism
2. The American flag is a material object that denotes the U.S. However, many associate ideas with the flag,
like bravery and freedom. In this example, what are bravery and freedom?
a. Symbols
b. Language
c. Material culture
d. Nonmaterial culture
3. The belief that one’s culture is inferior to another culture is called:
a. ethnocentrism
b. nationalism
c. xenocentrism
d. imperialism
4. The irrational fear or hatred of another culture is called:
a. ethnocentrism
b. xenophobia
c. xenophile
d. ethnophobia
5. Rodney and Elise are U.S. students studying abroad in Italy. When they are introduced to their host families,
the families kiss them on both cheeks. When Rodney’s host brother introduces himself and kisses Rodney
on both cheeks, Rodney pulls back in surprise. Where he is from, unless they are romantically involved,
men do not kiss one another. This is an example of:
a. culture shock
b. imperialism
c. ethnocentrism
d. xenocentrism
6. Most cultures have been found to identify laughter as a sign of humor, joy, or pleasure. Laughter is an
examples of:
a. relativism
b. ethnocentrism
c. xenocentrism
d. universalism
3 • Section Quiz 89

3.2 Elements of Culture
7. A nation’s flag is:
a. A symbol
b. A value
c. A culture
d. A folkway
8. The existence of social norms, both formal and informal, is one of the main things that inform
___________, otherwise known as encouraging social conformity.
a. values
b. sanctions
c. social control
d. mores
9. The biggest difference between mores and folkways is that
a. mores are linked to morality, whereas folkways are tied to commonplace behaviors
b. mores are absolute, whereas folkways are temporary
c. mores refer to material culture, whereas folkways refer to nonmaterial culture
d. mores refer to nonmaterial culture, whereas folkways refer to material culture
10. The notion that people cannot feel or experience something that they do not have a word for can be
explained by:
a. linguistics
b. Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
c. Ethnographic imagery
d. bilingualism
11. Cultural sanctions can also be viewed as ways that society:
a. Establishes leaders
b. Determines language
c. Regulates behavior
d. Determines laws
3.3 High, Low, Pop, Sub, Counter-culture and Cultural Change
12. An example of high culture is _________, whereas an example of popular culture would be ____________.
a. Dostoevsky style in film; “American Idol” winners
b. medical marijuana; film noir
c. country music; pop music
d. political theory; sociological theory
13. The Ku Klux Klan is an example of what part of culture?
a. Counterculture
b. Subculture
c. Multiculturalism
d. pop culture
90 3 • Section Quiz
Access for free at

14. Modern-day hipsters are an example of:
a. ethnocentricity
b. counterculture
c. subculture
d. high culture
15. Your eighty-three-year-old grandmother has been using a computer for some time now. As a way to keep
in touch, you frequently send emails of a few lines to let her know about your day. She calls after every
email to respond point by point, but she has never emailed a response back. This can be viewed as an
example of:
a. cultural lag
b. Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
c. Ethnographic imagery
d. bilingualism
16. Some jobs today advertise in multinational markets and permit telecommuting in lieu of working from a
primary location. This broadening of the job market and the way that jobs are performed can be attributed
a. cultural lag
b. diffusion
c. discovery
d. globalization
17. The major difference between invention and discovery is:
a. Invention is based on technology, whereas discovery is usually based on culture
b. Discovery involves finding items that already exists, but invention puts things together in a new way
c. Invention refers to material culture, whereas discovery can be material or theoretic, like laws of
d. Invention is typically used to refer to prehistoric objects, whereas discovery refers to local culture
18. McDonald’s restaurants are found in almost every country around the world. What is this an example of?
a. globalization
b. diffusion
c. culture lag
d. xenocentrism
3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
19. A sociologist conducts research into the ways that Hispanic American students are historically
underprivileged in the U.S. education system. What theoretical approach is the sociologist Using?
a. Symbolic interactionism
b. Functionalism
c. Conflict theory
d. Ethnocentrism
3 • Section Quiz 91

20. Members of a counterculture movement believed that the economic disparity between the highest and the
mid to lower economic classes is growing at an exponentially alarming rate. A sociologist who studies that
movement by examining the interactions between its members would most likely use what theoretical
a. Symbolic interactionism
b. Functionalism
c. Conflict theory
d. Ethnocentrism
21. What theoretical perspective views society as having a system of interdependent inherently connected
a. Sociobiology
b. Functionalism
c. Conflict theory
d. Ethnocentrism
22. The “American Dream”—the notion that anybody can be successful and rich if they work hard enough—is
most commonly associated with which sociological theory?
a. Sociobiology
b. Functionalism
c. Conflict theory
d. Ethnocentrism
Short Answer
3.1 What Is Culture?
1. Examine the difference between material and nonmaterial culture in your world. Identify ten objects that
are part of your regular cultural experience. For each, then identify what aspects of nonmaterial culture
(values, beliefs, norms, language, and practices) that these objects represent. What has this exercise
revealed to you about your culture?
2. Do you believe that feelings of ethnocentricity or xenocentric attitudes and practices are prevalent in U.S.
culture? Why do you believe this? What issues or events might influence your ideas about these concepts?
3.2 Elements of Culture
3. What do you think of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? Do you agree or disagree with it? Cite examples or
research to support your point of view.
4. How would the elimination of a social “norm” influence your culture? Describe the positive and negative
3.3 High, Low, Pop, Sub, Counter-culture and Cultural Change
5. Identify several examples of popular culture and describe how they form societal culture. How prevalent is
the effect of these examples in your everyday life?
6. Consider some of the specific issues or concerns of your generation. Are any ideas or concepts
countercultural? What subcultures have emerged from your generation? How have the issues of your
generation expressed themselves culturally? How has your generation made its mark on society’s collective
7. What are some examples of cultural lag that are present in your life? What influence does technology have
on culture? Explain.
92 3 • Short Answer
Access for free at

3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
8. Consider a current social trend that you have witnessed, perhaps situated around family, education,
transportation, or finances. For example, many veterans of the Armed Forces, after completing tours of
duty in the Middle East, are returning to college rather than entering jobs as previous generations did.
Choose a sociological approach—functionalism, conflict theory, or symbolic interactionism—to describe,
explain, and analyze the social issue you choose. Afterward, determine why you chose the approach you
did. Does it suit your own way of thinking? Or does it offer the most relevant method of illuminating the
social issue?
Further Research
3.1 What Is Culture?
Ethnocentrism is a problem in many arenas. In the workplace, it can be hurtful and detrimental to an entire
organization and especially to those who face mistreatment or feel unwelcome. People who exhibit
ethnocentrism in the workplace are not only putting their careers at risk, but missing opportunities to
flourish and advance with colleagues and customers of different backgrounds. In other words, curbing
ethnocentrism is an important personal and societal goal, and it’s important for careers. This guide from an
executive leadership academy ( discusses ways that multicultural teams can
create more success if the people and company undertake the correct practices.
3.2 Elements of Culture
The science-fiction novel, Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delaney was based upon the principles of the Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis. Read an excerpt from Babel-17 here ( .
3.3 High, Low, Pop, Sub, Counter-culture and Cultural Change
Many people believe that the time of the counterculture is over. Like many aspects of culture, it could come
back at any time. In this interview ( , Princeton professor German
Labrador and director of exhibitions at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona discuss the past,
present, and potential future of counterculture.
3.1 What Is Culture? 2020. Search for Humor Studies. “1-16 of over 40,000 results for Books : “humor studies””.
Retrieved October 6, 2020. (
Barger, Ken. 2008. “Ethnocentrism.” Indiana University, July 1. Retrieved May 2, 2011
Darwin, Charles R. 1871. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. London: John Murray.
DuBois, Cora. 1951. “Culture Shock.” Presentation to Panel Discussion at the First Midwest Regional Meeting of
the Institute of International Education.” November 28. Also presented to the Women’s Club of Rio de
Janeiro, Brazil, August 3, 1954.
Fritz, Thomas, S and Jentschke, N. Gosselin, et al. 2009. “Universal Recognition of Three Basic Emotions in
Music.” Current Biology 19(7).
Jankowiak, William and Nelson, Alex. 2021. “Does Love Always Come Before Marriage.” February
11, 2021. (
Murdock, George P. 1949. Social Structure. New York: Macmillan.
National Statistical Office (NSO) [Papua New Guinea] and ICF. 2019. Papua New Guinea Demographic and
3 • Further Research 93

Health Survey 2016-18. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and Rockville, Maryland, USA: NSO and ICF.
Oberg, Kalervo. 1960. “Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments.” Practical Anthropology
Old Dominion University. ‘Journal of International Students’. Accessed October 16, 2020.
Smithsonian Institution. Natural History Museum. What does it mean to be human? Retrieved October 6, 2020.
Sumner, William G. 1906. Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs,
Mores, and Morals. New York: Ginn and Co.
Swoyer, Chris. 2003. “The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited
by E. N. Zalta, Winter. Retrieved May 5, 2011 (
3.2 Elements of Culture
Boroditsky, Lera & Schmidt, Lauren. (2000). Sex, Syntax, and Semantics. Proceedings of the 22nd Annual
Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.
Eberhard, David M., Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2020. Ethnologue: Languages of the World.
Twenty-Third edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version
Lucy, J. (1997). Linguistic Relativity. Annual Review of Anthropology, 26, 291-312. Retrieved January 31, 2021,
Mount, Steve. 2010. “Constitutional Topic: Official Language.”, last modified January 24.
Retrieved January 3, 2012 (
National WWII Museum. 2020. “American Indian Code Talkers”. New Orleans, LA. Retrieved October 11, 2020.
OED Online. 2011. Oxford University Press. Retrieved May 5, 2011 (
Passero, Kathy. 2002. “Global Travel Expert Roger Axtell Explains Why.” Biography July:70–73,97–98.
Salminen S, Johansson A. Occupational accidents of Finnish- and Swedish-speaking workers in Finland: a
mental model view. Int J Occup Saf Ergon. 2000;6(2):293-306. doi: 10.1080/10803548.2000.11076456.
PMID: 10927671
Slavin, R. E., A. Cheung, C. Groff, and C. Lake. 2008. “Effective Reading Programs for Middle and High Schools:
A Best-Evidence Synthesis.” Reading Research Quarterly 43(3):290–322.
Sumner, William G. 1906. Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs,
Mores, and Morals. New York: Ginn and Co.
Swoyer, Chris. 2003. “The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited
by E. N. Zalta, Winter. Retrieved May 5, 2011 (
Vaughan, R. M. 2007. “Cairo’s Man Show.” Utne Reader March–April:94–95.
Weber, Bruce. 2001. “Harold Garfinkel, a Common-Sense Sociologist, Dies at 93.” The New York Times, May 3.
Retrieved February 10, 2012 (
Westcott, Kathryn. 2008. “World’s Best-Known Protest Symbol Turns 50.” BBC News, March 20. Retrieved
January 3, 2012 (
94 3 • References
Access for free at

Weston, J. (Director). (2002). Wild Child: The Story of Feral Children [Motion Picture].
3.3 High, Low, Pop, Sub, Counter-culture and Cultural Change
Ogburn, William F. 1957. “Cultural Lag as Theory.” Sociology & Social Research 41(3):167–174.
Scheuerman, William. 2010. “Globalization.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by E. N.
Zalta, Summer. Retrieved February 10, 2012 (
Social Register Association. 2020. New York.
3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
Jacobs, Harrison. 2019. “North Koreans understand their government lies, but there’s one thing they don’t
know, according to a defector.” Business Insider. (
Ware, Lawrence. 2019. “Watchmen’s Tulsa Massacre Is American History. It’s Also Mine.” Slate. October 25
2019. (
3 • References 95

96 3 • References
Access for free at

FIGURE 4.1 Some aspects of teenage life cross societal boundaries, while others are distinct. (Credit: USAID/flickr)
4.1 Types of Societies
4.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Society
4.3 Social Constructions of Reality
It was a school day, and Inayah woke up at 5:15 a.m, checked her phone, and began a few
chores. Her aunt had gone to work, but had left a pile of vegetables for be cut for dinner. After taking care of
that, Inayah gathered and organized the laundry, then woke up her younger cousin and sister. She led them in
prayers, gave them breakfast, and dressed for school. Inayah was running late, so she didn’t have time to
record a full video. Instead she took a few pictures and posted a good-morning clip, updated her status on
another platform, and went to check on the younger girls.
Twenty minutes later, Inayah was fixing her sister’s uniform and calling to her cousin to hurry along. She
loaded them up with their school bags and one sack of laundry each. The three girls walked the two kilometers
to the bus station, dropping the laundry at the cleaner on the way. The ride to school took about thirty minutes.
Inayah had grown up about sixty kilometers away, where her parents still lived. She usually saw them on
weekends. She had previously attended a boarding school, but those had become dangerous due to
kidnappings or other trouble. Inayah’s new school was not quite as good old one, but she was still learning. She
did particularly well in math and economics.
4Society and Social Interaction

After school and the bus ride back, Inayah sent her sister and her cousin to the house while she stayed in town
with some friends. The girls sat at the picnic tables near the basketball courts, where groups of other teenagers
and some adults usually came to play. She didn’t talk to any of the boys there, but she had met several of them
at her uncle’s store. The girls recorded a few videos together, started on their homework, and after about an
hour, headed home to help with dinner.
How does Inayah’s day compare with yours? How does it compare to the days of teenagers you know? Inayah
interacts with her family and friends based on individual relationships and personalities, but societal norms
and acceptable behaviors shape those interactions. Someone from outside of her community might feel that
her society’s expectations are too challenging, while others may feel they are too lenient. But Inayah may
disagree with both perspectives. She might have taken those societal expectations as her own.
4.1 Types of Societies
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Describe the difference between preindustrial, industrial, and postindustrial societies
• Explain the role of environment on preindustrial societies
• Interpret the ways that technology impacts societal development
FIGURE 4.2 How does technology influence a society? Here, a NASA engineer is working with samples of a coating
typically used in space flight, and which now may play a role in preserving artifacts and scientific specimens on
earth. The space program is expensive, but throughout its history it has provided the U.S. significant advantages in
scientific innovations. (Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr)
In sociological terms, society refers to a group of people who live in a definable community and share the same
culture. On a broader scale, society consists of the people and institutions around us, our shared beliefs, and
our cultural ideas. Typically, many societies also share a political authority.
Consider China and the United States. Both are technologically advanced, have dense networks of
transportation and communications, rely on foreign trading partners for large portions of their economies,
98 4 • Society and Social Interaction
Access for free at

focus on education as a way to advance their citizens, and have large and expensive militaries. Both countries
have citizens that may be largely satisfied with their governments and ways of life, while still holding some
degree of distrust or discontent regarding their leaders. And both have a rural versus urban disparity that can
cause tension and economic inequality among the population. An individual family or even a whole office full
of people in one of the countries may look and act very similarly to families or offices in the other country.
But what is different? In China, a far greater percentage of people may be involved in manufacturing than
America. Many of China’s cities didn’t evolve from ports, transit centers, or river confluences hundreds of
years ago, but are newly created urban centers inhabited by recent transplants from other locations. While
citizens in the U.S. can openly express their dissatisfaction with their government through social activism in
person or, especially, online, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are banned in China, and the press is controlled
by the government. Their appearance might be very similar, but the two countries are very different societies.
Sociologist Gerhard Lenski Jr. (1924–2015) defined societies in terms of their technological sophistication. As
a society advances, so does its use of technology. Societies with rudimentary technology depend on the
fluctuations of their environments, while industrialized societies have more control over the impact of their
surroundings and thus develop different cultural features. This distinction is so important that sociologists
generally classify societies along a spectrum of their level of industrialization—from preindustrial to industrial
to postindustrial.
Preindustrial Societies
Before the Industrial Revolution and the widespread use of machines, societies were small, rural, and
dependent largely on local resources. Economic production was limited to the amount of labor a human being
could provide, and there were few specialized occupations. The very first occupation was that of hunter-
Hunter-gatherer societies demonstrate the strongest dependence on the environment of the various types of
preindustrial societies. As the basic structure of human society until about 10,000–12,000 years ago, these
groups were based around kinship or tribes. Hunter-gatherers relied on their surroundings for survival—they
hunted wild animals and foraged for uncultivated plants for food. When resources became scarce, the group
moved to a new area to find sustenance, meaning they were nomadic. These societies were common until
several hundred years ago, but today only a few hundred remain in existence, such as indigenous Australian
tribes sometimes referred to as “aborigines,” or the Bambuti, a group of pygmy hunter-gatherers residing in
the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hunter-gatherer groups are quickly disappearing as the world’s population
Changing conditions and adaptations led some societies to rely on the domestication of animals where
circumstances permitted. Roughly 7,500 years ago, human societies began to recognize their ability to tame
and breed animals and to grow and cultivate their own plants. Pastoral societies, such as the Maasai villagers,
rely on the domestication of animals as a resource for survival. Unlike earlier hunter-gatherers who depended
entirely on existing resources to stay alive, pastoral groups were able to breed livestock for food, clothing, and
transportation, and they created a surplus of goods. Herding, or pastoral, societies remained nomadic because
they were forced to follow their animals to fresh feeding grounds. Around the time that pastoral societies
emerged, specialized occupations began to develop, and societies commenced trading with local groups.
4.1 • Types of Societies 99

Where Societies Meet—The Worst and the Best
When cultures meet, technology can help, hinder, and even destroy. The Exxon Valdez oil spillage in Alaska nearly
destroyed the local inhabitants’ entire way of life. Oil spills in the Nigerian Delta have forced many of the Ogoni tribe
from their land and forced removal has meant that over 100,000 Ogoni have sought refuge in the country of Benin
(University of Michigan, n.d.). And the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2006 drew great attention as it
occurred in the United States. Environmental disasters continue as Western technology and its need for energy
expands into less developed (peripheral) regions of the globe.
Of course not all technology is bad. We take electric light for granted in the United States, Europe, and the rest of the
developed world. Such light extends the day and allows us to work, read, and travel at night. It makes us safer and
more productive. But regions in India, Africa, and elsewhere are not so fortunate. Meeting the challenge, one
particular organization, Barefoot College, located in District Ajmer, Rajasthan, India, works with numerous less
developed nations to bring solar electricity, water solutions, and education. The focus for the solar projects is the
village elders. The elders agree to select two grandmothers to be trained as solar engineers and choose a village
committee composed of men and women to help operate the solar program.
The program has brought light to over 450,000 people in 1,015 villages. The environmental rewards include a large
reduction in the use of kerosene and in carbon dioxide emissions. The fact that the villagers are operating the
projects themselves helps minimize their sense of dependence.
FIGURE 4.3 Otherwise skeptical or hesitant villagers are more easily convinced of the value of the solar project
when they realize that the “solar engineers” are their local grandmothers. (Credit: Abri le Roux/flickr)
Around the same time that pastoral societies were on the rise, another type of society developed, based on the
newly developed capacity for people to grow and cultivate plants. Previously, the depletion of a region’s crops
or water supply forced pastoral societies to relocate in search of food sources for their livestock. Horticultural
societies formed in areas where rainfall and other conditions allowed them to grow stable crops. They were
100 4 • Society and Social Interaction
Access for free at

similar to hunter-gatherers in that they largely depended on the environment for survival, but since they didn’t
have to abandon their location to follow resources, they were able to start permanent settlements. This created
more stability and more material goods and became the basis for the first revolution in human survival.
While pastoral and horticultural societies used small, temporary tools such as digging sticks or hoes,
agricultural societies relied on permanent tools for survival. Around 3000 B.C.E., an explosion of new
technology known as the Agricultural Revolution made farming possible—and profitable. Farmers learned to
rotate the types of crops grown on their fields and to reuse waste products such as manure as fertilizer, which
led to better harvests and bigger surpluses of food. New tools for digging and harvesting were made of metal,
and this made them more effective and longer lasting. Human settlements grew into towns and cities, and
particularly bountiful regions became centers of trade and commerce.
This is also the age in which people had the time and comfort to engage in more contemplative and thoughtful
activities, such as music, poetry, and philosophy. This period became referred to as the “dawn of civilization”
by some because of the development of leisure and humanities. Craftspeople were able to support themselves
through the production of creative, decorative, or thought-provoking aesthetic objects and writings.
As resources became more plentiful, social classes became more divisive. Those who had more resources
could afford better living and developed into a class of nobility. Difference in social standing between men and
women increased. As cities expanded, ownership and preservation of resources became a pressing concern.
The ninth century gave rise to feudal societies. These societies contained a strict hierarchical system of power
based around land ownership and protection. The nobility, known as lords, placed vassals in charge of pieces
of land. In return for the resources that the land provided, vassals promised to fight for their lords.
These individual pieces of land, known as fiefdoms, were cultivated by the lower class. In return for
maintaining the land, peasants were guaranteed a place to live and protection from outside enemies. Power
was handed down through family lines, with peasant families serving lords for generations and generations.
Ultimately, the social and economic system of feudalism failed and was replaced by capitalism and the
technological advances of the industrial era.
Industrial Society
In the eighteenth century, Europe experienced a dramatic rise in technological invention, ushering in an era
known as the Industrial Revolution. What made this period remarkable was the number of new inventions that
influenced people’s daily lives. Within a generation, tasks that had until this point required months of labor
became achievable in a matter of days. Before the Industrial Revolution, work was largely person- or animal-
based, and relied on human workers or horses to power mills and drive pumps. In 1782, James Watt and
Matthew Boulton created a steam engine that could do the work of twelve horses by itself.
Steam power began appearing everywhere. Instead of paying artisans to painstakingly spin wool and weave it
into cloth, people turned to textile mills that produced fabric quickly at a better price and often with better
quality. Rather than planting and harvesting fields by hand, farmers were able to purchase mechanical seeders
and threshing machines that caused agricultural productivity to soar. Products such as paper and glass
became available to the average person, and the quality and accessibility of education and health care soared.
Gas lights allowed increased visibility in the dark, and towns and cities developed a nightlife.
One of the results of increased productivity and technology was the rise of urban centers. Workers flocked to
factories for jobs, and the populations of cities became increasingly diverse. The new generation became less
preoccupied with maintaining family land and traditions and more focused on acquiring wealth and achieving
upward mobility for themselves and their families. People wanted their children and their children’s children
to continue to rise to the top, and as capitalism increased, so did social mobility.
4.1 • Types of Societies 101

It was during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of the Industrial Revolution that sociology was born. Life
was changing quickly and the long-established traditions of the agricultural eras did not apply to life in the
larger cities. Masses of people were moving to new environments and often found themselves faced with
horrendous conditions of filth, overcrowding, and poverty. Social scientists emerged to study the relationship
between the individual members of society and society as a whole.
It was during this time that power moved from the hands of the aristocracy and “old money” to business-savvy
newcomers who amassed fortunes in their lifetimes. Families such as the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts
became the new power players and used their influence in business to control aspects of government as well.
Eventually, concerns over the exploitation of workers led to the formation of labor unions and laws that set
mandatory conditions for employees. Although the introduction of new technology at the end of the nineteenth
century ended the industrial age, much of our social structure and social ideas—like family, childhood, and
time standardization—have a basis in industrial society.
FIGURE 4.4 John D. Rockefeller, cofounder of the Standard Oil Company, came from an unremarkable family of
salesmen and menial laborers. By his death at age 98, he was worth $1.4 billion. In industrial societies, business
owners such as Rockefeller hold the majority of the power. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Postindustrial Society
Information societies, sometimes known as postindustrial or digital societies, are a recent development.
Unlike industrial societies that are rooted in the production of material goods, information societies are based
on the production of information and services.
Digital technology is the steam engine of information societies, and computer moguls such as Steve Jobs and
Bill Gates are its John D. Rockefellers and Cornelius Vanderbilts. Since the economy of information societies is
driven by knowledge and not material goods, power lies with those in charge of storing and distributing
information. Members of a postindustrial society are likely to be employed as sellers of services—software
programmers or business consultants, for example—instead of producers of goods. Social classes are divided
by access to education, since without technical skills, people in an information society lack the means for
102 4 • Society and Social Interaction
Access for free at

4.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Society
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Describe Durkheim’s functionalist view of society
• Summarize the conflict theorist view of society
• Explain Marx’s concepts of class and alienation
• Identify how symbolic interactionists understand society
FIGURE 4.5 Warren Buffett’s ideas about taxation and spending habits of the very wealthy are controversial,
particularly since they raise questions about America’s embedded system of class structure and social power. The
three major sociological paradigms differ in their perspectives on these issues. (Credit: Medill DC/flickr)
While many sociologists have contributed to research on society and social interaction, three thinkers form
the base of modern-day perspectives. Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Max Weber developed different
theoretical approaches to help us understand the way societies function.
Émile Durkheim and Functionalism
As a functionalist, Émile Durkheim’s (1858–1917) perspective on society stressed the necessary
interconnectivity of all of its elements. To Durkheim, society was greater than the sum of its parts. He asserted
that individual behavior was not the same as collective behavior and that studying collective behavior was
quite different from studying an individual’s actions. Durkheim called the communal beliefs, morals, and
attitudes of a society the collective conscience. In his quest to understand what causes individuals to act in
similar and predictable ways, he wrote, “If I do not submit to the conventions of society, if in my dress I do not
4.2 • Theoretical Perspectives on Society 103

conform to the customs observed in my country and in my class, the ridicule I provoke, the social isolation in
which I am kept, produce, although in an attenuated form, the same effects as punishment” (Durkheim 1895).
Durkheim also believed that social integration, or the strength of ties that people have to their social groups,
was a key factor in social life.
Following the ideas of Comte and Spencer, Durkheim likened society to a living organism, in which each organ
plays a necessary role in keeping the being alive. Even the socially deviant members of society are necessary,
Durkheim argued, as punishments for deviance affirm established cultural values and norms. That is,
punishment of a crime reaffirms our moral consciousness. “A crime is a crime because we condemn it,”
Durkheim wrote in 1893. “An act offends the common consciousness not because it is criminal, but it is
criminal because it offends that consciousness” (Durkheim 1893). Durkheim called these elements of society
“social facts.” By this, he meant that social forces were to be considered real and existed outside the individual.
As an observer of his social world, Durkheim was not entirely satisfied with the direction of society in his day.
His primary concern was that the cultural glue that held society together was failing, and people were
becoming more divided. In his book The Division of Labor in Society (1893), Durkheim argued that as society
grew more complex, social order made the transition from mechanical to organic.
Preindustrial societies, Durkheim explained, were held together by mechanical solidarity, a type of social
order maintained by the collective conscience of a culture. Societies with mechanical solidarity act in a
mechanical fashion; things are done mostly because they have always been done that way. This type of
thinking was common in preindustrial societies where strong bonds of kinship and a low division of labor
created shared morals and values among people, such as hunter-gatherer groups. When people tend to do the
same type of work, Durkheim argued, they tend to think and act alike.
In industrial societies, mechanical solidarity is replaced with organic solidarity, which is social order based
around an acceptance of economic and social differences. In capitalist societies, Durkheim wrote, division of
labor becomes so specialized that everyone is doing different things. Instead of punishing members of a
society for failure to assimilate to common values, organic solidarity allows people with differing values to
coexist. Laws exist as formalized morals and are based on restitution rather than revenge.
While the transition from mechanical to organic solidarity is, in the long run, advantageous for a society,
Durkheim noted that it can be a time of chaos and “normlessness.” One of the outcomes of the transition is
something he called social anomie. Anomie—literally, “without law”—is a situation in which society no longer
has the support of a firm collective consciousness. Collective norms are weakened. People, while more
interdependent to accomplish complex tasks, are also alienated from each other. Anomie is experienced in
times of social uncertainty, such as war or a great upturn or downturn in the economy. As societies reach an
advanced stage of organic solidarity, they avoid anomie by redeveloping a set of shared norms. According to
Durkheim, once a society achieves organic solidarity, it has finished its development.
Karl Marx and Conflict Theory
Karl Marx (1818–1883) is certainly among the most significant social thinkers in recent history. While there
are many critics of his work, it is still widely respected and influential. For Marx, society’s constructions were
predicated upon the idea of “base and superstructure.” This term refers to the idea that a society’s economic
character forms its base, upon which rests the culture and social institutions, the superstructure. For Marx, it
is the base (economy) that determines what a society will be like.
104 4 • Society and Social Interaction
Access for free at

FIGURE 4.6 Karl Marx asserted that all elements of a society’s structure depend on its economic structure.
Additionally, Marx saw conflict in society as the primary means of change. Economically, he saw conflict
existing between the owners of the means of production—the bourgeoisie—and the laborers, called the
Marx maintained that these conflicts appeared consistently throughout history during times of social
revolution. These revolutions or “class antagonisms” as he called them, were a result of one class dominating
another. Most recently, with the end of feudalism, a new revolutionary class he called the bourgeoisie
dominated the proletariat laborers. The bourgeoisie were revolutionary in the sense that they represented a
radical change in the structure of society. In Marx’s words, “Society as a whole is more and more splitting up
into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other—Bourgeoisie and Proletariat”
(Marx and Engels 1848).
In the mid-nineteenth century, as industrialization was booming, industrial employers, the “owners of the
means of production” in Marx’s terms, became more and more exploitative toward the working class. The large
manufacturers of steel were particularly ruthless, and their facilities became popularly dubbed “satanic mills”
based on a poem by William Blake. Marx’s colleague and friend, Frederick Engels, wrote The Condition of the
Working-Class in England in 1844, which described in detail the horrid conditions.
“Such is the Old Town of Manchester, and on re-reading my description, I am forced to admit that instead of
being exaggerated, it is far from black enough to convey a true impression of the filth, ruin, and
uninhabitableness, the defiance of all considerations of cleanliness, ventilation, and health which characterise
the construction of this single district, containing at least twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants. And such a
district exists in the heart of the second city of England, the first manufacturing city of the world.”
Add to that the long hours, the use of child labor, and exposure to extreme conditions of heat, cold, and toxic
chemicals, and it is no wonder that Marx and Engels referred to capitalism, which is a way of organizing an
economy so that the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships,
etc.) are owned by individual people and companies rather than by the government, as the “dictatorship of the
4.2 • Theoretical Perspectives on Society 105

FIGURE 4.7 Karl Marx (left) and Friedrich Engels (right) analyzed differences in social power between “have” and
“have-not” groups. (Credit: (a) Wikimedia Commons; Photo (b) George Lester/Wikimedia Commons)
For Marx, what we do defines who we are. In historical terms, in spite of the persistent nature of one class
dominating another, some element of humanity existed. There was at least some connection between the
worker and the product, augmented by the natural conditions of seasons and the rise and fall of the sun, such
as we see in an agricultural society. But with the bourgeoisie revolution and the rise of industry and capitalism,
the worker now worked for wages alone. His relationship to his efforts was no longer of a human nature, but
based on artificial conditions.
Marx described modern society in terms of alienation. Alienation refers to the condition in which the
individual is isolated and divorced from his or her society, work, or the sense of self. Marx defined four specific
types of alienation.
Alienation from the product of one’s labor. An industrial worker does not have the opportunity to relate to the
product he labors on. Instead of training for years as a watchmaker, an unskilled worker can get a job at a
watch factory pressing buttons to seal pieces together. The worker does not care if he is making watches or
cars, simply that the job exists. In the same way, a worker may not even know or care what product to which he
is contributing. A worker on a Ford assembly line may spend all day installing windows on car doors without
ever seeing the rest of the car. A cannery worker can spend a lifetime cleaning fish without ever knowing what
product they are used for.
Alienation from the process of one’s labor. A worker does not control the conditions of her job because she does
not own the means of production. If a person is hired to work in a fast food restaurant, she is expected to make
the food the way she is taught. All ingredients must be combined in a particular order and in a particular
quantity; there is no room for creativity or change. An employee at Burger King cannot decide to change the
spices used on the fries in the same way that an employee on a Ford assembly line cannot decide to place a
car’s headlights in a different position. Everything is decided by the bourgeoisie who then dictate orders to the
Alienation from others. Workers compete, rather than cooperate. Employees vie for time slots, bonuses, and
job security. Even when a worker clocks out at night and goes home, the competition does not end. As Marx
commented in The Communist Manifesto (1848), “No sooner is the exploitation of the laborer by the
manufacturer, so far at an end, that he receives his wages in cash, than he is set upon by the other portion of
the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker.”
Alienation from one’s self. A final outcome of industrialization is a loss of connectivity between a worker and
her occupation. Because there is nothing that ties a worker to her labor, there is no longer a sense of self.
106 4 • Society and Social Interaction
Access for free at

Instead of being able to take pride in an identity such as being a watchmaker, automobile builder, or chef, a
person is simply a cog in the machine.
Taken as a whole, then, alienation in modern society means that an individual has no control over his life. Even
in feudal societies, a person controlled the manner of his labor as to when and how it was carried out. But why,
then, does the modern working class not rise up and rebel? (Indeed, Marx predicted that this would be the
ultimate outcome and collapse of capitalism.)
Another idea that Marx developed is the concept of false consciousness. False consciousness is a condition in
which the beliefs, ideals, or ideology of a person are not in the person’s own best interest. In fact, it is the
ideology of the dominant class (here, the bourgeoisie capitalists) that is imposed upon the proletariat. Ideas
such as the emphasis of competition over cooperation, or of hard work being its own reward, clearly benefit
the owners of industry. Therefore, workers are less likely to question their place in society and assume
individual responsibility for existing conditions.
In order for society to overcome false consciousness, Marx proposed that it be replaced with class
consciousness, the awareness of one’s rank in society. Instead of existing as a “class in itself,” the proletariat
must become a “class for itself ” in order to produce social change (Marx and Engels 1848), meaning that
instead of just being an inert strata of society, the class could become an advocate for social improvements.
Only once society entered this state of political consciousness would it be ready for a social revolution.
FIGURE 4.8 An assembly line worker installs car parts with the aid of complex machinery. Has technology made
this type of labor more or less alienating? (Credit: Carol Highsmith/Wikimedia Commons)
Max Weber and Symbolic Interactionism
While Karl Marx may be one of the best-known thinkers of the nineteenth century, Max Weber is certainly one
of the greatest influences in the field of sociology. Like the other social thinkers discussed here, he was
concerned with the important changes taking place in Western society with the advent of industrialization.
And, like Marx and Durkheim, he feared that industrialization would have negative effects on individuals.
Weber’s primary focus on the structure of society lay in the elements of class, status, and power. Similar to
Marx, Weber saw class as economically determined. Society, he believed, was split between owners and
laborers. Status, on the other hand, was based on noneconomic factors such as education, kinship, and
4.2 • Theoretical Perspectives on Society 107

religion. Both status and class determined an individual’s power, or influence over ideas. Unlike Marx, Weber
believed that these ideas formed the base of society.
Weber’s analysis of modern society centered on the concept of rationalization. A rational society is one built
around logic and efficiency rather than morality or tradition. To Weber, capitalism is entirely rational.
Although this leads to efficiency and merit-based success, it can have negative effects when taken to the
extreme. In some modern societies, this is seen when rigid routines and strict design lead to a mechanized
work environment and a focus on producing identical products in every location.
Another example of the extreme conditions of rationality can be found in Charlie Chaplin’s classic film Modern
Times (1936). Chaplin’s character performs a routine task to the point where he cannot stop his motions even
while away from the job. Indeed, today we even have a recognized medical condition that results from such
tasks, known as “repetitive stress syndrome.”
Weber was also unlike his predecessors in that he was more interested in how individuals experienced societal
divisions than in the divisions themselves. The symbolic interactionism theory, the third of the three most
recognized theories of sociology, is based on Weber’s early ideas that emphasize the viewpoint of the
individual and how that individual relates to society. For Weber, the culmination of industrialization,
rationalization, and the like results in what he referred to as the iron cage, in which the individual is trapped
by institutions and bureaucracy. This leads to a sense of “disenchantment of the world,” a phrase Weber used
to describe the final condition of humanity. Indeed a dark prediction, but one that has, at least to some degree,
been borne out (Gerth and Mills 1918). In a rationalized, modern society, we have supermarkets instead of
family-owned stores. We have chain restaurants instead of local eateries. Superstores that offer a multitude of
merchandise have replaced independent businesses that focused on one product line, such as hardware,
groceries, automotive repair, or clothing. Shopping malls offer retail stores, restaurants, fitness centers, even
condominiums. This change may be rational, but is it universally desirable?
FIGURE 4.9 Cubicles are used to maximize individual workspace in an office. Such structures may be rational, but
they are also isolating. (Credit: Tim Patterson/flickr)
108 4 • Society and Social Interaction
Access for free at

The Protestant Work Ethic
In a series of essays in 1904, Max Weber presented the idea of the Protestant work ethic, a new attitude toward
work based on the Calvinist principle of predestination. In the sixteenth century, Europe was shaken by the
Protestant Revolution. Religious leaders such as Martin Luther and John Calvin argued against the Catholic
Church’s belief in salvation through obedience. While Catholic leaders emphasized the importance of religious
dogma and performing good deeds as a gateway to Heaven, Protestants believed that inner grace, or faith in God,
was enough to achieve salvation.
John Calvin in particular popularized the Christian concept of predestination, the idea that all events—including
salvation—have already been decided by God. Because followers were never sure whether they had been chosen
to enter Heaven or Hell, they looked for signs in their everyday lives. If a person was hard-working and
successful, he was likely to be one of the chosen. If a person was lazy or simply indifferent, he was likely to be
one of the damned.
Weber argued that this mentality encouraged people to work hard for personal gain; after all, why should one
help the unfortunate if they were already damned? Over time, the Protestant work ethic spread and became the
foundation for capitalism.
4.3 Social Constructions of Reality
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Interpret the sociological concept of reality as a social construct
• Define roles and describe their places in people’s daily interactions
• Explain how individuals present themselves and perceive themselves in a social context
FIGURE 4.10 Who are we? What role do we play in society? According to sociologists, we construct reality through
our interactions with others. In a way, our day-to-day interactions are like those of actors on a stage. (Credit: Jan
Until now, we’ve primarily discussed the differences between societies. Rather than discuss their problems
4.3 • Social Constructions of Reality 109

and configurations, we’ll now explore how society came to be and how sociologists view social interaction.
In 1966 sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann wrote a book called The Social Construction of
Reality. In it, they argued that society is created by humans and human interaction, which they call
habitualization. Habitualization describes how “any action that is repeated frequently becomes cast into a
pattern, which can then be … performed again in the future in the same manner and with the same economical
effort” (Berger and Luckmann 1966). Not only do we construct our own society but we also accept it as it is
because others have created it before us. Society is, in fact, “habit.”
For example, your school exists as a school and not just as a building because you and others agree that it is a
school. If your school is older than you are, it was created by the agreement of others before you. In a sense, it
exists by consensus, both prior and current. This is an example of the process of institutionalization, the act
of implanting a convention or norm into society. Bear in mind that the institution, while socially constructed, is
still quite real.
Another way of looking at this concept is through W.I. Thomas’s notable Thomas theorem which states, “If
men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (Thomas and Thomas 1928). That is,
people’s behavior can be determined by their subjective construction of reality rather than by objective reality.
For example, a teenager who is repeatedly given a label—overachiever, player, bum—might live up to the term
even though it initially wasn’t a part of his character.
Like Berger and Luckmann in their description of habitualization, Thomas states that our moral codes and
social norms are created by “successive definitions of the situation.” This concept is defined by sociologist
Robert K. Merton as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Merton explains that with a self-fulfilling prophecy, even a false
idea can become true if it is acted upon. One example he gives is of a “bank run.” Say for some reason, a
number of people falsely fear that their bank is soon to be bankrupt. Because of this false notion, people run to
their bank and demand all of their cash at once. As banks rarely, if ever, have that much money on hand, the
bank does indeed run out of money, fulfilling the customers’ prophecy. Here, reality is constructed by an idea.
Symbolic interactionists offer another lens through which to analyze the social construction of reality. With a
theoretical perspective focused on the symbols (like language, gestures, and artifacts) that people use to
interact, this approach is interested in how people interpret those symbols in daily interactions. For example,
we might feel fright at seeing a person holding a gun, unless, of course, it turns out to be a police officer.
Interactionists also recognize that language and body language reflect our values. One has only to learn a
foreign tongue to know that not every English word can be easily translated into another language. The same is
true for gestures. While Americans might recognize a “thumbs up” as meaning “great,” in Germany it would
mean “one” and in Japan it would mean “five.” Thus, our construction of reality is influenced by our symbolic
110 4 • Society and Social Interaction
Access for free at

FIGURE 4.11 The story line of a self-fulfilling prophecy appears in many literary works, perhaps most famously in
the story of Oedipus. Oedipus is told by an oracle that he will murder his father and marry his mother. In going out of
his way to avoid his fate, Oedipus inadvertently fulfills it. Oedipus’s story illustrates one way in which members of
society contribute to the social construction of reality. (Credit: Jean-Antoine-Theodore Giroust/Wikimedia
Roles and Status
As you can imagine, people employ many types of behaviors in day-to-day life. Roles are patterns of behavior
that we recognize in each other that are representative of a person’s social status. Currently, while reading this
text, you are playing the role of a student. However, you also play other roles in your life, such as “daughter,”
“neighbor,” or “employee.” These various roles are each associated with a different status.
Sociologists use the term status to describe the responsibilities and benefits that a person experiences
according to their rank and role in society. Some statuses are ascribed—those you do not select, such as son,
elderly person, or female. Others, called achieved statuses, are obtained by choice, such as a high school
dropout, self-made millionaire, or nurse. As a daughter or son, you occupy a different status than as a neighbor
or employee. One person can be associated with a multitude of roles and statuses. Even a single status such as
“student” has a complex role-set, or array of roles, attached to it (Merton 1957). It is important to note that
status refers to the rank in social hierarchy, while role is the behavior expected of a person holding a certain
If too much is required of a single role, individuals can experience role strain. Consider the duties of a parent:
cooking, cleaning, driving, problem-solving, acting as a source of moral guidance—the list goes on. Similarly, a
person can experience role conflict when one or more roles are contradictory. A parent who also has a full-
time career can experience role conflict on a daily basis. When there is a deadline at the office but a sick child
needs to be picked up from school, which comes first? When you are working toward a promotion but your
children want you to come to their school play, which do you choose? Being a college student can conflict with
being an employee, being an athlete, or even being a friend. Our roles in life have a great effect on our
decisions and who we become.
4.3 • Social Constructions of Reality 111

FIGURE 4.12 Parents often experience role strain or role conflict as they try to balance different and often urgent
competing responsibilities. (Credit: Ran Zwigenberg/flickr)
Presentation of Self
Of course, it is impossible to look inside a person’s head and study what role they are playing. All we can
observe is behavior, or role performance. Role performance is how a person expresses his or her role.
Sociologist Erving Goffman presented the idea that a person is like an actor on a stage. Calling his theory
dramaturgy, Goffman believed that we use “impression management” to present ourselves to others as we
hope to be perceived. Each situation is a new scene, and individuals perform different roles depending on who
is present (Goffman 1959). Think about the way you behave around your coworkers versus the way you behave
around your grandparents versus the way you behave with a blind date. Even if you’re not consciously trying to
alter your personality, your grandparents, coworkers, and date probably see different sides of you.
As in a play, the setting matters as well. If you have a group of friends over to your house for dinner, you are
playing the role of a host. It is agreed upon that you will provide food and seating and probably be stuck with a
lot of the cleanup at the end of the night. Similarly, your friends are playing the roles of guests, and they are
expected to respect your property and any rules you may set forth (“Don’t leave the door open or the cat will get
out.”). In any scene, there needs to be a shared reality between players. In this case, if you view yourself as a
guest and others view you as a host, there are likely to be problems.
Impression management is a critical component of symbolic interactionism. For example, a judge in a
courtroom has many “props” to create an impression of fairness, gravity, and control—like their robe and
gavel. Those entering the courtroom are expected to adhere to the scene being set. Just imagine the
“impression” that can be made by how a person dresses. This is the reason that attorneys frequently select the
hairstyle and apparel for witnesses and defendants in courtroom proceedings.
112 4 • Society and Social Interaction
Access for free at

FIGURE 4.13 A judge’s gavel is known as a prop designed to add gravity and ceremony to the proceedings. (Credit:
Brian Turner/flickr)
Goffman’s dramaturgy ideas expand on the ideas of Charles Cooley and the looking-glass self. According to
Cooley, we base our image on what we think other people see (Cooley 1902). We imagine how we must appear
to others, then react to this speculation. We don certain clothes, prepare our hair in a particular manner, wear
makeup, use cologne, and the like—all with the notion that our presentation of ourselves is going to affect how
others perceive us. We expect a certain reaction, and, if lucky, we get the one we desire and feel good about it.
But more than that, Cooley believed that our sense of self is based upon this idea: we imagine how we look to
others, draw conclusions based upon their reactions to us, and then we develop our personal sense of self. In
other words, people’s reactions to us are like a mirror in which we are reflected.
4.3 • Social Constructions of Reality 113

Key Terms
achieved status the status a person chooses, such as a level of education or income
agricultural societies societies that rely on farming as a way of life
alienation an individual’s isolation from his society, his work, and his sense of self
anomie a situation in which society no longer has the support of a firm collective consciousness
ascribed status the status outside of an individual’s control, such as sex or race
bourgeoisie the owners of the means of production in a society
capitalism a way of organizing an economy so that the things that are used to make and transport products
(such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) are owned by individual people and companies rather than by the
class consciousness the awareness of one’s rank in society
collective conscience the communal beliefs, morals, and attitudes of a society
false consciousness a person’s beliefs and ideology that are in conflict with her best interests
feudal societies societies that operate on a strict hierarchical system of power based around land
ownership and protection
habitualization the idea that society is constructed by us and those before us, and it is followed like a habit
horticultural societies societies based around the cultivation of plants
hunter-gatherer societies societies that depend on hunting wild animals and gathering uncultivated plants
for survival
industrial societies societies characterized by a reliance on mechanized labor to create material goods
information societies societies based on the production of nonmaterial goods and services
institutionalization the act of implanting a convention or norm into society
iron cage a situation in which an individual is trapped by social institutions
looking-glass self our reflection of how we think we appear to others
mechanical solidarity a type of social order maintained by the collective consciousness of a culture
organic solidarity a type of social order based around an acceptance of economic and social differences
pastoral societies societies based around the domestication of animals
proletariat the laborers in a society
rationalization a belief that modern society should be built around logic and efficiency rather than morality
or tradition
role conflict a situation when one or more of an individual’s roles clash
role performance the expression of a role
role strain stress that occurs when too much is required of a single role
role-set an array of roles attached to a particular status
roles patterns of behavior that are representative of a person’s social status
self-fulfilling prophecy an idea that becomes true when acted upon
social integration how strongly a person is connected to his or her social group
society a group of people who live in a definable community and share the same culture
status the responsibilities and benefits that a person experiences according to his or her rank and role in
Thomas theorem how a subjective reality can drive events to develop in accordance with that reality,
despite being originally unsupported by objective reality
Section Summary
4.1 Types of Societies
Societies are classified according to their development and use of technology. For most of human history,
people lived in preindustrial societies characterized by limited technology and low production of goods. After
the Industrial Revolution, many societies based their economies around mechanized labor, leading to greater
114 4 • Key Terms
Access for free at

profits and a trend toward greater social mobility. At the turn of the new millennium, a new type of society
emerged. This postindustrial, or information, society is built on digital technology and nonmaterial goods.
4.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Society
Émile Durkheim believed that as societies advance, they make the transition from mechanical to organic
solidarity. For Karl Marx, society exists in terms of class conflict. With the rise of capitalism, workers become
alienated from themselves and others in society. Sociologist Max Weber noted that the rationalization of
society can be taken to unhealthy extremes.
4.3 Social Constructions of Reality
Society is based on the social construction of reality. How we define society influences how society actually is.
Likewise, how we see other people influences their actions as well as our actions toward them. We all take on
various roles throughout our lives, and our social interactions depend on what types of roles we assume, who
we assume them with, and the scene where interaction takes place.
Section Quiz
4.1 Types of Societies
1. Which of the following fictional societies is an example of a pastoral society?
a. The Deswan people, who live in small tribes and base their economy on the production and trade of
b. The Rositian Clan, a small community of farmers who have lived on their family’s land for centuries
c. The Hunti, a wandering group of nomads who specialize in breeding and training horses
d. The Amaganda, an extended family of warriors who serve a single noble family
2. Which of the following occupations is a person of power most likely to have in an information society?
a. Software engineer
b. Coal miner
c. Children’s book author
d. Sharecropper
3. Which of the following societies were the first to have permanent residents?
a. Industrial
b. Hunter-gatherer
c. Horticultural
d. Feudal
4.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Society
4. Organic solidarity is most likely to exist in which of the following types of societies?
a. Hunter-gatherer
b. Industrial
c. Agricultural
d. Feudal
5. According to Marx, the _____ own the means of production in a society.
a. proletariat
b. vassals
c. bourgeoisie
d. anomie
4 • Section Quiz 115

6. Which of the following best depicts Marx’s concept of alienation from the process of one’s labor?
a. A supermarket cashier always scans store coupons before company coupons because she was taught to
do it that way.
b. A businessman feels that he deserves a raise, but is nervous to ask his manager for one; instead, he
comforts himself with the idea that hard work is its own reward.
c. An associate professor is afraid that she won’t be given tenure and starts spreading rumors about one
of her associates to make herself look better.
d. A construction worker is laid off and takes a job at a fast food restaurant temporarily, although he has
never had an interest in preparing food before.
7. The Protestant work ethic is based on the concept of predestination, which states that ________.
a. performing good deeds in life is the only way to secure a spot in Heaven
b. salvation is only achievable through obedience to God
c. no person can be saved before he or she accepts Jesus Christ as his or her savior
d. God has already chosen those who will be saved and those who will be damned
8. The concept of the iron cage was popularized by which of the following sociological thinkers?
a. Max Weber
b. Karl Marx
c. Émile Durkheim
d. Friedrich Engels
9. Émile Durkheim’s ideas about society can best be described as ________.
a. functionalist
b. conflict theorist
c. symbolic interactionist
d. rationalist
4.3 Social Constructions of Reality
10. Mary works full-time at an office downtown while her young children stay at a neighbor’s house. She’s just
learned that the childcare provider is leaving the country. Mary has succumbed to pressure to volunteer at
her church, plus her ailing mother-in-law will be moving in with her next month. Which of the following is
likely to occur as Mary tries to balance her existing and new responsibilities?
a. Role conflict
b. Self-fulfilling prophecy
c. Status conflict
d. Status strain
11. According to Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, society is based on ________.
a. habitual actions
b. status
c. institutionalization
d. role performance
116 4 • Section Quiz
Access for free at

12. Paco knows that women find him attractive, and he’s never found it hard to get a date. But as he ages, he
dyes his hair to hide the gray and wears clothes that camouflage the weight he has put on. Paco’s behavior
can be best explained by the concept of ___________.
a. role strain
b. the looking-glass self
c. role performance
d. habitualization
Short Answer
4.1 Types of Societies
1. In which type or types of societies do the benefits seem to outweigh the costs? Explain your answer, and cite
social and economic reasons.
2. Is Gerhard Lenski right in classifying societies based on technological advances? What other criteria might
be appropriate, based on what you have read?
4.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Society
3. Choose two of the three sociologists discussed here (Durkheim, Marx, Weber), and use their arguments to
explain a current social event such as the Occupy movement. Do their theories hold up under modern
4. Think of the ways workers are alienated from the product and process of their jobs. How can these concepts
be applied to students and their educations?
4.3 Social Constructions of Reality
5. Draw a large circle, and then “slice” the circle into pieces like a pie, labeling each piece with a role or status
that you occupy. Add as many statuses, ascribed and achieved, that you have. Don’t forget things like dog
owner, gardener, traveler, student, runner, employee. How many statuses do you have? In which ones are
there role conflicts?
6. Think of a self-fulfilling prophecy that you’ve experienced. Based on this experience, do you agree with the
Thomas theorem? Use examples from current events to support your answer as well.
Further Research
4.1 Types of Societies
The Maasai are a modern pastoral society with an economy largely structured around herds of cattle. Read
more about the Maasai people and see pictures of their daily lives here ( .
4.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Society
One of the most influential pieces of writing in modern history was Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The
Communist Manifesto. Visit this site to read the original document that spurred revolutions around the
world. (
4.3 Social Constructions of Reality
TV Tropes ( is a website where users identify concepts that are commonly used
in literature, film, and other media. Although its tone is for the most part humorous, the site provides a good
jumping-off point for research. Browse the list of examples under the entry of “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Pay
careful attention to the real-life examples. Are there ones that surprised you or that you don’t agree with?
4 • Short Answer 117

Maasai Association. “Facing the Lion.” Retrieved January 4, 2012 (
4.1 Types of Societies
Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. 2005. “Israel: Treatment of Bedouin, Including Incidents of
Harassment, Discrimination or Attacks; State Protection (January 2003–July 2005)”, Refworld, July 29.
Retrieved February 10, 2012 (
Kjeilen, Tore. “Bedouin.” Retrieved February 17, 2012 (
University of Michigan. n.d. “The Curse of Oil in Ogoniland”. Retrieved January 2, 2015
4.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Society
Durkheim, Émile. 1960 [1893]. The Division of Labor in Society. Translated by George Simpson. New York:
Free Press.
Durkheim, Émile. 1982 [1895]. The Rules of the Sociological Method. Translated by W. D. Halls. New York: Free
Engels, Friedrich. 1892. The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844. London: Swan Sonnenschein
& Co.
Geographia. 1998. “The Bedouin Way.” Retrieved January 4, 2012
Gerth, H. H., and C. Wright Mills. 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 1998 [1848]. The Communist Manifesto. New York: Penguin Group.
4.3 Social Constructions of Reality
Berger, P. L., and T. Luckmann. 1966. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of
Knowledge. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.
Cooley, Charles H. 1902. Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Scribner’s.
Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday.
Merton, Robert K. 1957. “The Role-Set: Problems in Sociological Theory.” British Journal of Sociology
Thomas, W.I., and D.S. Thomas. 1928. The Child in America: Behavior Problems and Programs. New York:
118 4 • References
Access for free at

FIGURE 5.1 Emergency workers are prepared to treat patients with a wide array of illnesses and injuries. Beyond
their medical training, they build skills in decision making, teamwork, communication, and stress management.
These abilities can be extremely valuable throughout the workers’ life and careers, even if they move into other
areas of employment. However, fast and efficient decision making doesn’t always translate to less intense
environments. (Credit: COD Newsroom/Flickr)
5.1 Theories of Self-Development
5.2 Why Socialization Matters
5.3 Agents of Socialization
5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
When Noel was fifteen, they saw a flyer about joining the volunteer ambulance corps. Noel
was intrigued: They had an interest in pursuing medicine, and liked volunteering, but ambulance work
seemed like something for older people with professional training. At the information session, Noel learned
that junior members of the ambulance corps could help with supplies and communications, and were allowed
to ride on ambulance calls to assist the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Noel was thrilled and signed
up right away.
Noel was amazed by how confidently the EMTs—some just a few years older than Noel—made consequential

decisions. The EMTs relied heavily on their training and guidelines, but they did so quickly. And upon arriving
at the hospital with a patient, Noel was similarly impacted by the efficiency of the nurses, doctors, and other
staff. Noel developed a deep level of respect for that level of decisiveness and the expertise it required.
Over their college years, Noel found themselves drawn toward the more strategic aspects of medicine, and
pursued a degree in healthcare administration. Meanwhile, they did get an EMT certification and joined the
college emergency services team; later on, while in grad school, Noel was a part-time professional EMT in a
small city. With good grades and varied experience, Noel was recruited into a great job several states away.
After interning in an urban hospital and spending years as an EMT, Noel had come to expect a degree of
urgency in medicine. Hospital administration was certainly not an ambulance facility, but the slow pace of
Noel’s job was agonizing. Every inventory list, bill of lading, email reply, and even meeting schedule went
through at several people for approval. Noel enjoyed the job, but was used to working more quickly.
One day, Noel was looking over an equipment bill and noticed a serious error that no one else had caught.
Nearly $250,000 in overpayment was about to be paid to a supplier. Noel immediately called the accounting
department. No answer. Then they sent a group Slack message and fired off an email to their boss and a few
other people involved with the billing and payment process. Noel was about to head across the building to
address the issue in person, but finally a message popped up: “Good eye, Noel. We’ll hold this payment until we
clear things up.”
Toward the end of the day, Noel received a message from their manager, Tracy, asking them to stop by. Tracy’s
office was crowded with three other people, including the director of accounting. Expecting to be
congratulated, Noel was shocked when Tracy began outlining all the things Noel had done wrong.
“Your frantic messaging and over-the-top language was incredibly disruptive…almost irresponsible,” Tracy
“But I was right,” Noel replied in a louder voice than they intended.
“Right or wrong,” Tracy said, “you should have told your contact in accounting and waited to see the outcome.
Instead, you panicked.”
“I did call accounting, but when I didn’t hear back, I needed to take the next step. I wasn’t panicking; I was
being decisive.” As Noel said this, they were thinking of all the times they had saved someone’s life by making
good decisions.
Tracy sighed. “Decisiveness isn’t good when it’s disruptive. You caused five people to drop everything and start
investigating. A few thought it was their fault.” Noel started to protest but Tracy shook her head. “I understand
that you are coming from a faster-paced environment, and I can tell you’ve been frustrated. But if you’re going
to work here, you’re going to have to work within our culture. Instead of pushing against how we do things, try
to appreciate them. Otherwise, no one will be happy, least of all you.” Tracy told Noel to take the evening to
think about it and come back for a talk the next morning.
Who was correct in this situation? Noel saved the hospital hundreds of thousands of dollars, or at least the
hours of managing the refund process. Tracy, with broader responsibilities, was considering the long-term
impacts of Noel’s style, and how Noel, as a talented member of the team, will function within the team.
Tracy was concerned about the organization’s culture. Culture, as discussed in the chapter on the topic, is the
shared beliefs, values and practices of a group. Countries, societies, religions, and sports teams all have
culture, and companies do, too. When you interview for a job, it will likely come up. Researchers who study
organizations find that when workers aren’t properly incorporated into the corporate culture, they begin a
cycle of mutual disappointment, where workers are likely to reject company values and ultimately leave or be
fired (Cebollero 2019).
Why didn’t Noel enjoy the job, and why were people put off by Noel’s approach? For the most part, Noel wasn’t
120 5 • Socialization
Access for free at

prepared for the pacing and style; their previous experience was in opposition to the culture of the hospital.
Company culture is easier to learn if someone is predisposed to it, while others might need time to unlearn
past behaviors (Schein 1988). Experts indicate that the responsibility for such adaptation is shared between
the new employee and the company.
How could Noel have learned, and what could Tracy have done to help? Company culture is learned the same
way that other types of culture are learned: through observing and adapting to the norms and values,
understanding and applying beliefs, and, in general, seeking to be productive as a member of the group. Just
like a child learns how to behave during a play-date or school day, people learn to be productive partners
through an ongoing process called socialization.
Socialization is the process through which people are taught to be proficient members of a society. It
describes the ways that people come to understand societal norms and expectations, to accept society’s beliefs,
and to be aware of societal values. Socialization is not the same as socializing (interacting with others, like
family and friends); to be precise, it is a sociological process that occurs through socializing.
While Noel’s story is about a relatively advanced stage of life, socialization is crucial for early childhood. Even
the most basic of human activities are learned. Learning to crawl and then walk are major milestones, but as
any parent, guardian, or family member of a toddler knows, other minor accomplishments can be life-altering
for the child: climbing stairs, safely getting out of bed, sitting in a regular chair, and drinking from a regular
cup. Likewise, family behaviors and values must be learned, sometimes through observation and sometimes
through active instruction.
In the following sections, we will examine the importance of the complex process of socialization and how it
takes place through interaction with many individuals, groups, and social institutions. We will explore how
socialization is not only critical to children as they develop but how it is also a lifelong process through which
we become prepared for new social environments and expectations in every stage of our lives. But first, we will
turn to scholarship about self-development, the process of coming to recognize a sense of self, a “self ” that is
then able to be socialized.
5.1 Theories of Self-Development
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Differentiate psychological and sociological theories of self-development
• Explain the process of moral development
When we are born, we have a genetic makeup and biological traits. However, who we are as human beings
develops through social interaction. Many scholars, both in the fields of psychology and in sociology, have
described the process of self-development as a precursor to understanding how that “self ” becomes socialized.
Psychological Perspectives on Self-Development
Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was one of the most influential modern scientists to put forth a
theory about how people develop a sense of self. He divided the maturation process into stages, and posited
that people’s self-development is closely linked to their early stages of development.
According to Freud, failure to properly engage in or disengage from a specific stage results in emotional and
psychological consequences throughout adulthood.
Psychologist Erik Erikson (1902–1994) created a theory of personality development based, in part, on the work
of Freud. However, Erikson believed the personality continued to change over time and was never truly
finished. His theory includes eight stages of development, beginning with birth and ending with death.
According to Erikson, people move through these stages throughout their lives. In contrast to Freud’s focus on
psychosexual stages and basic human urges, Erikson’s view of self-development gave credit to more social
aspects, like the way we negotiate between our own base desires and what is socially accepted (Erikson 1982).
5.1 • Theories of Self-Development 121

Jean Piaget (1896–1980) was a psychologist who focused on the role of social interactions in child
development. He recognized that the development of self evolved through a negotiation between the world as it
exists in one’s mind and the world that exists as it is experienced socially (Piaget 1954). All three of these
thinkers have contributed to our modern understanding of self-development.
Sociology or Psychology: What’s the Difference?
You might be wondering: if sociologists and psychologists are both interested in people and their behavior, how
are these two disciplines different? What do they agree on, and where do their ideas diverge? The answers are
complicated, but the distinction is important to scholars in both fields.
As a general difference, we might say that while both disciplines are interested in human behavior, psychologists
are focused on how the mind influences that behavior, while sociologists study the role of society in shaping
behavior. Psychologists are interested in people’s mental development and how their minds process their world.
Sociologists are more likely to focus on how different aspects of society contribute to an individual’s relationship
with his world. Another way to think of the difference is that psychologists tend to look inward (mental health,
emotional processes), while sociologists tend to look outward (social institutions, cultural norms, interactions
with others) to understand human behavior.
Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) was the first to make this distinction in research, when he attributed differences in
suicide rates among people to social causes (religious differences) rather than to psychological causes (like their
mental wellbeing) (Durkheim 1897). Today, we see this same distinction. For example, a sociologist studying how
a couple gets to the point of their first kiss on a date might focus her research on cultural norms for dating, social
patterns of sexual activity over time, or how this process is different for seniors than for teens. A psychologist
would more likely be interested in the person’s earliest sexual awareness or the mental processing of sexual
Sometimes sociologists and psychologists have collaborated to increase knowledge. In recent decades, however,
their fields have become more clearly separated as sociologists increasingly focus on large societal issues and
patterns, while psychologists remain honed in on the human mind. Both disciplines make valuable contributions
through different approaches that provide us with different types of useful insights.
Sociological Theories of Self-Development
One of the pioneering contributors to sociological perspectives was Charles Cooley (1864–1929). He asserted
that people’s self understanding is constructed, in part, by their perception of how others view them—a
process termed “the looking glass self ” (Cooley 1902).
Later, George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) studied the self, a person’s distinct identity that is developed through
social interaction. In order to engage in this process of “self,” an individual has to be able to view him or herself
through the eyes of others. That’s not an ability that we are born with (Mead 1934). Through socialization we
learn to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and look at the world through their perspective. This assists us
in becoming self-aware, as we look at ourselves from the perspective of the “other.” The case of Danielle, for
example, illustrates what happens when social interaction is absent from early experience: Danielle had no
ability to see herself as others would see her. From Mead’s point of view, she had no “self.”
How do we go from being newborns to being humans with “selves?” Mead believed that there is a specific path
of development that all people go through. During the preparatory stage, children are only capable of imitation:
they have no ability to imagine how others see things. They copy the actions of people with whom they
regularly interact, such as their caregivers. This is followed by the play stage, during which children begin to
take on the role that one other person might have. Thus, children might try on a parent’s point of view by
122 5 • Socialization
Access for free at

acting out “grownup” behavior, like playing dress-up and acting out the “mom” role, or talking on a toy
telephone the way they see adults do.
During the game stage, children learn to consider several roles at the same time and how those roles interact
with each other. They learn to understand interactions involving different people with a variety of purposes.
For example, a child at this stage is likely to be aware of the different responsibilities of people in a restaurant
who together make for a smooth dining experience (someone seats you, another takes your order, someone
else cooks the food, while yet another clears away dirty dishes).
Finally, children develop, understand, and learn the idea of the generalized other, the common behavioral
expectations of general society. By this stage of development, an individual is able to imagine how he or she is
viewed by one or many others—and thus, from a sociological perspective, to have a “self ” (Mead 1934; Mead
Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development
Moral development is an important part of the socialization process. The term refers to the way people learn
what society considered to be “good” and “bad,” which is important for a smoothly functioning society. Moral
development prevents people from acting on unchecked urges, instead considering what is right for society
and good for others. Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987) was interested in how people learn to decide what is
right and what is wrong. To understand this topic, he developed a theory of moral development that includes
three levels: preconventional, conventional, and postconventional.
In the preconventional stage, young children, who lack a higher level of cognitive ability, experience the world
around them only through their senses. It isn’t until the teen years that the conventional theory develops, when
youngsters become increasingly aware of others’ feelings and take those into consideration when determining
what’s “good” and “bad.” The final stage, called postconventional, is when people begin to think of morality in
abstract terms, such as Americans believing that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness. At this stage, people also recognize that legality and morality do not always match up evenly
(Kohlberg 1981). When hundreds of thousands of Egyptians turned out in 2011 to protest government
corruption, they were using postconventional morality. They understood that although their government was
legal, it was not morally correct.
Gilligan’s Theory of Moral Development and Gender
Another sociologist, Carol Gilligan (1936–), recognized that Kohlberg’s theory might show gender bias since
his research was only conducted on male subjects. Would females study subjects have responded differently?
Would a female social scientist notice different patterns when analyzing the research? To answer the first
question, she set out to study differences between how boys and girls developed morality. Gilligan’s research
suggested that boys and girls do have different understandings of morality. Boys appeared to have a justice
perspective, by placing emphasis on rules and laws. Girls, on the other hand, seem to have a care and
responsibility perspective; they consider people’s reasons behind behavior that seems morally wrong.
While Gilligan is correct that Kohlberg’s research should have included both male and female subjects, her
study has been scientifically discredited due to its small sample size. The results Gilligan noted in this study
also have not been replicated by subsequent researchers. The differences Gilligan observed were not an issue
of the development of morality, but an issue of socialization. Differences in behavior between males and
females is the result of gender socialization that teaches boys and girls societal norms and behaviors expected
of them based on their sex (see “What a Pretty Little Lady”).
Gilligan also recognized that Kohlberg’s theory rested on the assumption that the justice perspective was the
right, or better, perspective. Gilligan, in contrast, theorized that neither perspective was “better”: the two
norms of justice served different purposes. Ultimately, she explained that boys are socialized for a work
environment where rules make operations run smoothly, while girls are socialized for a home environment
5.1 • Theories of Self-Development 123

where flexibility allows for harmony in caretaking and nurturing (Gilligan 1982; Gilligan 1990).
What a Pretty Little Lady!
“What a cute dress!” “I like the ribbons in your hair.” “Wow, you look so pretty today.”
According to Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, most of
us use pleasantries like these when we first meet little girls. “So what?” you might ask.
Bloom asserts that we are too focused on the appearance of young girls, and as a result, our society is socializing
them to believe that how they look is of vital importance. And Bloom may be on to something. How often do you tell
a little boy how attractive his outfit is, how nice looking his shoes are, or how handsome he looks today? To support
her assertions, Bloom cites, as one example, that about 50 percent of girls ages three to six worry about being fat
(Bloom 2011). We’re talking about kindergarteners who are concerned about their body image. Sociologists are
acutely interested in of this type of gender socialization, by which societal expectations of how boys and girls should
be—how they should behave, what toys and colors they should like, and how important their attire is—are reinforced.
One solution to this type of gender socialization is being experimented with at the Egalia preschool in Sweden,
where children develop in a genderless environment. All the children at Egalia are referred to with neutral terms like
“friend” instead of “he” or “she.” Play areas and toys are consciously set up to eliminate any reinforcement of
gender expectations (Haney 2011). Egalia strives to eliminate all societal gender norms from these children’s
preschool world.
Extreme? Perhaps. So what is the middle ground? Bloom suggests that we start with simple steps: when introduced
to a young girl, ask about her favorite book or what she likes. In short, engage with her mind … not her outward
appearance (Bloom 2011).
5.2 Why Socialization Matters
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Describe the importance of socialization both for individuals and society
• Explain the nature versus nurture debate
Socialization is critical both to individuals and to the societies in which they live. It illustrates how completely
intertwined human beings and their social worlds are. First, it is through teaching culture to new members
that a society perpetuates itself. If new generations of a society don’t learn its way of life, it ceases to exist.
Whatever is distinctive about a culture must be transmitted to those who join it in order for a society to
survive. For U.S. culture to continue, for example, children in the United States must learn about cultural
values related to democracy: they have to learn the norms of voting, as well as how to use material objects such
as voting machines. They may learn these through watching their parents or guardians vote, or, in some
schools, by using real machines in student government elections. Of course, some would argue that it’s just as
important in U.S. culture for the younger generation to learn the etiquette of eating in a restaurant or the
rituals of tailgate parties at football games. In fact, there are many ideas and objects that people in the United
States teach children about in hopes of keeping the society’s way of life going through another generation.
124 5 • Socialization
Access for free at

FIGURE 5.2 Can you use your hands to eat? Who should pay? Do you stand when someone else gets up, and is that
dependent on their gender? The dining manners and customs of different cultures are learned by socialization.
(Credit: Kurman Communications/flickr)
Socialization is just as essential to us as individuals. Social interaction provides the means via which we
gradually become able to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and how we learn who we are and how we fit
into the world around us. In addition, to function successfully in society, we have to learn the basics of both
material and nonmaterial culture, everything from how to dress ourselves to what’s suitable attire for a specific
occasion; from when we sleep to what we sleep on; and from what’s considered appropriate to eat for dinner to
how to use the stove to prepare it. Most importantly, we have to learn language—whether it’s the dominant
language or one common in a subculture, whether it’s verbal or through signs—in order to communicate and to
think. As we saw with Danielle, without socialization we literally have no self.
Nature versus Nurture
Some experts assert that who we are is a result of nurture—the relationships and caring that surround us.
Others argue that who we are is based entirely in genetics. According to this belief, our temperaments,
interests, and talents are set before birth. From this perspective, then, who we are depends on nature.
One way researchers attempt to measure the impact of nature is by studying twins. Some studies have followed
identical twins who were raised separately. The pairs shared the same genetics but in some cases were
socialized in different ways. Instances of this type of situation are rare, but studying the degree to which
identical twins raised apart are the same and different can give researchers insight into the way our
temperaments, preferences, and abilities are shaped by our genetic makeup versus our social environment.
For example, in 1968, twin girls were put up for adoption, separated from each other, and raised in different
households. The adoptive parents, and certainly the babies, did not realize the girls were one of five pairs of
twins who were made subjects of a scientific study (Flam 2007).
In 2003, the two women, then age thirty-five, were reunited. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein sat together in
awe, feeling like they were looking into a mirror. Not only did they look alike but they also behaved alike, using
5.2 • Why Socialization Matters 125

the same hand gestures and facial expressions (Spratling 2007). Studies like these point to the genetic roots of
our temperament and behavior.
Though genetics and hormones play an important role in human behavior, sociology’s larger concern is the
effect society has on human behavior, the “nurture” side of the nature versus nurture debate. What race were
the twins? From what social class were their parents? What about gender? Religion? All these factors affected
the lives of the twins as much as their genetic makeup and are critical to consider as we look at life through the
sociological lens.
The Life of Chris Langan, the Smartest Man You’ve Never Heard Of
Bouncer. Firefighter. Factory worker. Cowboy. Chris Langan spent the majority of his adult life just getting by with
jobs like these. He had no college degree, few resources, and a past filled with much disappointment. Chris
Langan also had an IQ of over 195, nearly 100 points higher than the average person (Brabham 2001). So why
didn’t Chris become a neurosurgeon, professor, or aeronautical engineer? According to Macolm Gladwell (2008)
in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Chris didn’t possess the set of social skills necessary to succeed on
such a high level—skills that aren’t innate but learned.
Gladwell looked to a recent study conducted by sociologist Annette Lareau in which she closely shadowed 12
families from various economic backgrounds and examined their parenting techniques. Parents from lower
income families followed a strategy of “accomplishment of natural growth,” which is to say they let their children
develop on their own with a large amount of independence; parents from higher-income families, however,
“actively fostered and accessed a child’s talents, opinions, and skills” (Gladwell 2008). These parents were more
likely to engage in analytical conversation, encourage active questioning of the establishment, and foster
development of negotiation skills. The parents were also able to introduce their children to a wide range of
activities, from sports to music to accelerated academic programs. When one middle-class child was denied
entry to a gifted and talented program, the mother petitioned the school and arranged additional testing until her
daughter was admitted. Lower-income parents, however, were more likely to unquestioningly obey authorities
such as school boards. Their children were not being socialized to comfortably confront the system and speak up
(Gladwell 2008).
What does this have to do with Chris Langan, deemed by some the smartest man in the world (Brabham 2001)?
Chris was born in severe poverty, moving across the country with an abusive and alcoholic stepfather. His genius
went largely unnoticed. After accepting a full scholarship to Reed College, he lost his funding after his mother
failed to fill out necessary paperwork. Unable to successfully make his case to the administration, Chris, who had
received straight A’s the previous semester, was given F’s on his transcript and forced to drop out. After he
enrolled in Montana State, an administrator’s refusal to rearrange his class schedule left him unable to find the
means necessary to travel the 16 miles to attend classes. What Chris had in brilliance, he lacked in practical
intelligence, or what psychologist Robert Sternberg defines as “knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to
say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect” (Sternberg et al. 2000). Such knowledge was never part of
his socialization.
Chris gave up on school and began working an array of blue-collar jobs, pursuing his intellectual interests on the
side. Though he’s recently garnered attention for his “Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe,” he remains
weary of and resistant to the educational system.
As Gladwell concluded, “He’d had to make his way alone, and no one—not rock stars, not professional athletes,
not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone” (2008).
126 5 • Socialization
Access for free at

FIGURE 5.3 Identical twins may look alike, but their differences can give us clues to the effects of socialization.
These twins chose the same career path, but many twins do not. (Credit: Senior Airman Lauren Douglas/U.S. Air
Sociologists all recognize the importance of socialization for healthy individual and societal development. But
how do scholars working in the three major theoretical paradigms approach this topic? Structural
functionalists would say that socialization is essential to society, both because it trains members to operate
successfully within it and because it perpetuates culture by transmitting it to new generations. Without
socialization, a society’s culture would perish as members died off. A conflict theorist might argue that
socialization reproduces inequality from generation to generation by conveying different expectations and
norms to those with different social characteristics. For example, individuals are socialized differently by
gender, social class, and race. As in Chris Langan’s case, this creates different (unequal) opportunities. An
interactionist studying socialization is concerned with face-to-face exchanges and symbolic communication.
For example, dressing baby boys in blue and baby girls in pink is one small way we convey messages about
differences in gender roles.
5.3 Agents of Socialization
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Evaluate the roles of families and peer groups in socialization
• Describe how people are socialized through institutions like schools, workplaces, and the government
Socialization helps people learn to function successfully in their social worlds. How does the process of
socialization occur? How do we learn to use the objects of our society’s material culture? How do we come to
adopt the beliefs, values, and norms that represent its nonmaterial culture? This learning takes place through
interaction with various agents of socialization, like peer groups and families, plus both formal and informal
social institutions.
Social Group Agents
Social groups often provide the first experiences of socialization. Families, and later peer groups,
communicate expectations and reinforce norms. People first learn to use the tangible objects of material
5.3 • Agents of Socialization 127

culture in these settings, as well as being introduced to the beliefs and values of society.
Family is the first agent of socialization. Mothers and fathers, siblings and grandparents, plus members of an
extended family, all teach a child what he or she needs to know. For example, they show the child how to use
objects (such as clothes, computers, eating utensils, books, bikes); how to relate to others (some as “family,”
others as “friends,” still others as “strangers” or “teachers” or “neighbors”); and how the world works (what is
“real” and what is “imagined”). As you are aware, either from your own experience as a child or from your role
in helping to raise one, socialization includes teaching and learning about an unending array of objects and
Keep in mind, however, that families do not socialize children in a vacuum. Many social factors affect the way a
family raises its children. For example, we can use sociological imagination to recognize that individual
behaviors are affected by the historical period in which they take place. Sixty years ago, it would not have been
considered especially strict for a father to hit his son with a wooden spoon or a belt if he misbehaved, but today
that same action might be considered child abuse.
Sociologists recognize that race, social class, religion, and other societal factors play an important role in
socialization. For example, poor families usually emphasize obedience and conformity when raising their
children, while wealthy families emphasize judgment and creativity (National Opinion Research Center 2008).
This may occur because working-class parents have less education and more repetitive-task jobs for which it
is helpful to be able to follow rules and conform. Wealthy parents tend to have better educations and often
work in managerial positions or careers that require creative problem solving, so they teach their children
behaviors that are beneficial in these positions. This means children are effectively socialized and raised to
take the types of jobs their parents already have, thus reproducing the class system (Kohn 1977). Likewise,
children are socialized to abide by gender norms, perceptions of race, and class-related behaviors.
In Sweden, for instance, stay-at-home fathers are an accepted part of the social landscape. A government
policy provides subsidized time off work—480 days for families with newborns—with the option of the paid
leave being shared between mothers and fathers. As one stay-at-home dad says, being home to take care of his
baby son “is a real fatherly thing to do. I think that’s very masculine” (Associated Press 2011). Close to 90
percent of Swedish fathers use their paternity leave (about 340,000 dads); on average they take seven weeks
per birth (The Economist, 2014). How do U.S. policies—and our society’s expected gender roles—compare?
How will Swedish children raised this way be socialized to parental gender norms? How might that be different
from parental gender norms in the United States?
128 5 • Socialization
Access for free at

FIGURE 5.4 The socialized roles of parents and guardians vary by society. (Credit:
Peer Groups
A peer group is made up of people who are similar in age and social status and who share interests. Peer group
socialization begins in the earliest years, such as when kids on a playground teach younger children the norms
about taking turns, the rules of a game, or how to shoot a basket. As children grow into teenagers, this process
continues. Peer groups are important to adolescents in a new way, as they begin to develop an identity separate
from their parents and exert independence. Additionally, peer groups provide their own opportunities for
socialization since kids usually engage in different types of activities with their peers than they do with their
families. Peer groups provide adolescents’ first major socialization experience outside the realm of their
families. Interestingly, studies have shown that although friendships rank high in adolescents’ priorities, this is
balanced by parental influence.
Institutional Agents
The social institutions of our culture also inform our socialization. Formal institutions—like schools,
workplaces, and the government—teach people how to behave in and navigate these systems. Other
institutions, like the media, contribute to socialization by inundating us with messages about norms and
Most U.S. children spend about seven hours a day, 180 days a year, in school, which makes it hard to deny the
importance school has on their socialization (U.S. Department of Education 2004). Students are not in school
only to study math, reading, science, and other subjects—the manifest function of this system. Schools also
serve a latent function in society by socializing children into behaviors like practicing teamwork, following a
schedule, and using textbooks.
5.3 • Agents of Socialization 129

FIGURE 5.5 These kindergarteners aren’t just learning to read and write; they are being socialized to norms like
keeping their hands to themselves, standing in line, and playing together. (Credit: woodleywonderworks/flickr)
School and classroom rituals, led by teachers serving as role models and leaders, regularly reinforce what
society expects from children. Sociologists describe this aspect of schools as the hidden curriculum, the
informal teaching done by schools.
For example, in the United States, schools have built a sense of competition into the way grades are awarded
and the way teachers evaluate students (Bowles and Gintis 1976). When children participate in a relay race or
a math contest, they learn there are winners and losers in society. When children are required to work together
on a project, they practice teamwork with other people in cooperative situations. The hidden curriculum
prepares children for the adult world. Children learn how to deal with bureaucracy, rules, expectations, waiting
their turn, and sitting still for hours during the day. Schools in different cultures socialize children differently
in order to prepare them to function well in those cultures. The latent functions of teamwork and dealing with
bureaucracy are features of U.S. culture.
Schools also socialize children by teaching them about citizenship and national pride. In the United States,
children are taught to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Most districts require classes about U.S. history and
geography. As academic understanding of history evolves, textbooks in the United States have been
scrutinized and revised to update attitudes toward other cultures as well as perspectives on historical events;
thus, children are socialized to a different national or world history than earlier textbooks may have done. For
example, information about the mistreatment of African Americans and Native American Indians more
accurately reflects those events than in textbooks of the past.
Controversial Textbooks
On August 13, 2001, twenty South Korean men gathered in Seoul. Each chopped off one of his own fingers
because of textbooks. These men took drastic measures to protest eight middle school textbooks approved by
Tokyo for use in Japanese middle schools. According to the Korean government (and other East Asian nations),
130 5 • Socialization
Access for free at

the textbooks glossed over negative events in Japan’s history at the expense of other Asian countries.
In the early 1900s, Japan was one of Asia’s more aggressive nations. For instance, it held Korea as a colony
between 1910 and 1945. Today, Koreans argue that the Japanese are whitewashing that colonial history through
these textbooks. One major criticism is that they do not mention that, during World War II, the Japanese forced
Korean women into sexual slavery. The textbooks describe the women as having been “drafted” to work, a
euphemism that downplays the brutality of what actually occurred. Some Japanese textbooks dismiss an
important Korean independence demonstration in 1919 as a “riot.” In reality, Japanese soldiers attacked
peaceful demonstrators, leaving roughly 6,000 dead and 15,000 wounded (Crampton 2002).
The protest affirms that textbooks are a significant tool of socialization in state-run education systems.
The Workplace
FIGURE 5.6 Workplace socialization occurs informally and formally, and may include material and non-material
culture (Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr).
Just as children spend much of their day at school, many U.S. adults at some point invest a significant amount
of time at a place of employment. Although socialized into their culture since birth, workers require new
socialization into a workplace, in terms of both material culture (such as how to operate the copy machine) and
nonmaterial culture (such as whether it’s okay to speak directly to the boss or how to share the refrigerator). In
the chapter introduction, Noel did not fully embrace the culture of their new company. Importantly, the
obligation of such socialization is not simply on the worker: Organizational behavior and other business
experts place responsibility on companies; organizations must have strong onboarding and socialization
programs in order to build satisfaction, productivity, and workplace retention (Cebollero 2019).
Different jobs require different types of socialization. In the past, many people worked a single job until
retirement. Today, the trend is to switch jobs at least once a decade. Between the ages of eighteen and forty-six,
the average Baby Boomer of the younger set held 11.3 different jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014).
This means that people must become socialized to, and socialized by, a variety of work environments.
While some religions are informal institutions, here we focus on practices followed by formal institutions.
Religion is an important avenue of socialization for many people. The United States is full of synagogues,
temples, churches, mosques, and similar religious communities where people gather to worship and learn.
Like other institutions, these places teach participants how to interact with the religion’s material culture (like
a mezuzah, a prayer rug, or a communion wafer). For some people, important ceremonies related to family
5.3 • Agents of Socialization 131

structure—like marriage and birth—are connected to religious celebrations. Many religious institutions also
uphold gender norms and contribute to their enforcement through socialization. From ceremonial rites of
passage that reinforce the family unit to power dynamics that reinforce gender roles, organized religion fosters
a shared set of socialized values that are passed on through society.
Although we do not think about it, many of the rites of passage people go through today are based on age
norms established by the government. To be defined as an “adult” usually means being eighteen years old, the
age at which a person becomes legally responsible for him- or herself. And sixty-five years old is the start of
“old age” since most people become eligible for senior benefits at that point.
Each time we embark on one of these new categories—senior, adult, taxpayer—we must be socialized into our
new role. Seniors must learn the ropes of Medicare, Social Security benefits, and senior shopping discounts.
When U.S. males turn eighteen, they must register with the Selective Service System within thirty days to be
entered into a database for possible military service. These government dictates mark the points at which we
require socialization into a new category.
Mass Media
Mass media distribute impersonal information to a wide audience, via television, newspapers, radio, and the
Internet. With the average person spending over four hours a day in front of the television (and children
averaging even more screen time), media greatly influences social norms (Roberts, Foehr, and Rideout 2005).
People learn about objects of material culture (like new technology and transportation options), as well as
nonmaterial culture—what is true (beliefs), what is important (values), and what is expected (norms).
Girls and Movies
FIGURE 5.7 Some researchers, parents, and children’s advocates are concerned about the effects of raising girls
within what they call “princess culture.” Many place blame on entertainment companies, such as Disney, for its
132 5 • Socialization
Access for free at

portrayals of girls in its movies.
Movies aimed at young people have featured a host of girls and women leads. Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping
Beauty gave way to The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Mulan. In many of those cases, if the character is
not a princess to begin with, she typically ends the movie by marrying a prince or, in the case of Mulan, a military
general. Although not all “princesses” in Disney movies play a passive role in their lives, they typically find
themselves needing to be rescued by a man, and the happy ending they all search for includes marriage.
Alongside this prevalence of princesses, many parents are expressing concern about the culture of princesses that
Disney has created. Peggy Orenstein addresses this problem in her popular book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter.
Orenstein wonders why every little girl is expected to be a “princess” and why pink has become an all-consuming
obsession for many young girls. Another mother wondered what she did wrong when her three-year-old daughter
refused to do “nonprincessy” things, including running and jumping. The effects of this princess culture can have
negative consequences for girls throughout life. An early emphasis on beauty and can lead to reduced interest in
math and science among girls, as well as avoiding educational scenarios that are “typically feminine” (Coyne 2016).
Others acknowledge these issues, but find princess movies and “princess culture” less alarming. Some remind
concerned parents that children have an array of media and activities around them, and the children may be happy
wearing their princess outfit while digging for worms or going to hockey practice, which run counter to feminine
stereotypes (Wagner 2019). Others indicate that rather than disallowing princess movies and merchandise,
engaging with the children as they enjoy them might be more effective. And many people acknowledge that girls and
women are often currently portrayed differently than they were in years past.
Disney seems to have gotten the message about the concerns. Its 2009 Tiana and the Frog was specifically billed as
“a princess movie for people who don’t like princess movies,” and features a talented chef and business owner—who
didn’t need a man to rescue her—as its main character. Brave’s Merida and the title character in Moana seem to go
out of their way to separate themselves from traditional princesses, and undertake great acts of bravery to help
others. Frozen focuses on sisterly love rather than romantic love. And though she was never meant to be a princess,
Star Wars’ Rey was the go-to girls Halloween costume for years after she was introduced in the movies.
5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Explain how socialization occurs and recurs throughout life
• Apply socialization to age-related transition points
• Describe when and how resocialization occurs
Socialization isn’t a one-time or even a short-term event. We aren’t “stamped” by some socialization machine
as we move along a conveyor belt and thereby socialized once and for all. In fact, socialization is a lifelong
In the United States, socialization throughout the life course is determined greatly by age norms and “time-
related rules and regulations” (Settersten 2002). As we grow older, we encounter age-related transition points
that require socialization into a new role, such as becoming school age, entering the workforce, or retiring. For
example, the U.S. government mandates that all children attend school. Child labor laws, enacted in the early
twentieth century, nationally declared that childhood be a time of learning, not of labor. In countries such as
Niger and Sierra Leone, however, child labor remains common and socially acceptable, with little legislation to
regulate such practices (UNICEF 2012).
5.4 • Socialization Across the Life Course 133

Life After High School Around the World
In the United States, recent high school graduates have increasingly been focusing on college attendance. In
recent years, about two-thirds of high school graduates are enrolled in college between their teen years and age
twenty-four. About one-third of the same population primarly participates in the work force, meaning that they
are employed or are looking for employment (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020). Of those who attend college,
most (about 69 percent) are considered immediate enrollers, meaning that they begin college in the first fall
academic term immediately after their high school graduation (NCES 2020).
Other countries, especially high-income nations in Western Europe, have similar trends in college education, but
fewer students start immediately. Gap years, overseas experiences, or mandatory wait times all lead students to
a wide array of pre-college destinations. In Denmark, for example numbers of students who take a “year out” are
so high that the government has sought to give students cash bonuses for attending immediately (Anderson
2009). For several decades, only about 25 percent of Denmark’s high school graduates enrolled in college right
away, and that number continued to drop in the 2010s, with a record low of only 15 percent in 2018 (Ritzau
2019). Compare that to the U.S. numbers mentioned above, where over two thirds of the students enroll in
college immediately. And note that in Denmark, college is almost universally free.
In the United States, this life transition point is socialized quite differently. Taking a year off much less common
than some other countries, but has certainly picked up in recent years. In most cases, U.S. youth are encouraged
to select a few target colleges or potential workforce options by their late teens, and to get started on those
pathways soon after high school. As mentioned above, many U.S. students do not attend college, but most of
those students are in the workforce (including the military).
Other nations have entirely different approaches based on available educational institutions, financial
circumstances, and family needs. In some nations, students often go to college soon after high school, but do so
in other countries (including the U.S.). Dozens of nations require military conscription—military service—for men,
and a few (such as Sweden, Israel, Norway, Eritrea, and Venezuela) for women as well.
How might your life be different if you lived in one of these other countries? Can you think of similar social
norms—related to life age-transition points—that vary from country to country?
Many of life’s social expectations are made clear and enforced on a cultural level. Through interacting with
others and watching others interact, the expectation to fulfill roles becomes clear. While in elementary or
middle school, the prospect of having a boyfriend or girlfriend may have been considered undesirable. The
socialization that takes place in high school changes the expectation. By observing the excitement and
importance attached to dating and relationships within the high school social scene, it quickly becomes
apparent that one is now expected not only to be a child and a student, but also a significant other. Graduation
from formal education—high school, vocational school, or college—involves socialization into a new set of
Educational expectations vary not only from culture to culture, but also from class to class. While middle- or
upper-class families may expect their daughter or son to attend a four-year university after graduating from
high school, other families may expect their child to immediately begin working full-time, as many within their
family have done before.
134 5 • Socialization
Access for free at

The Long Road to Adulthood for Millennials
Socialization differences also vary by generation. As you will see in the chapter on Aging and the Elderly, Millennials
(those born from the early 1980’s to the middle 1990’s) have very different attitudes about when childhood ends,
the prime of life begins, and when people become “old.” (Preview: Millennials thought childhood ended later and
people became old earlier than did Baby Boomers and Gen Xers at the same age.)
Millennials were deeply affected by the financial Recession in 2008. While the recession was in full swing, many
were in the process of entering, attending, or graduating from high school and college. With employment prospects
at historical lows, large numbers of graduates were unable to find work, sometimes moving back in with their
parents and struggling to pay back student loans.
According to the New York Times, this economic stall caused the Millennials to postpone what most Americans
consider to be adulthood: “The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain untethered
to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding
commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America
jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life” (Henig 2010). The term Boomerang Generation describes recent college
graduates, for whom lack of adequate employment upon college graduation often leads to a return to the parental
home (Davidson, 2014).
The five milestones that define adulthood, Henig writes, are “completing school, leaving home, becoming financially
independent, marrying, and having a child” (Henig 2010). These social milestones are taking longer for Millennials
to attain, if they’re attained at all. Sociologists wonder what long-term impact this generation’s situation may have
on society as a whole.
In the process of socialization, adulthood brings a new set of challenges and expectations, as well as new roles to
fill. As the aging process moves forward, social roles continue to evolve. Pleasures of youth, such as wild nights out
and serial dating, become less acceptable in the eyes of society. Responsibility and commitment are emphasized as
pillars of adulthood, and men and women are expected to “settle down.” During this period, many people enter into
marriage or a civil union, bring children into their families, and focus on a career path. They become partners or
parents instead of students or significant others.
Just as young children pretend to be doctors or lawyers, play house, and dress up, adults also engage in
anticipatory socialization, the preparation for future life roles. Examples would include a couple who cohabitate
before marriage or soon-to-be parents who read infant care books and prepare their home for the new arrival. As
part of anticipatory socialization, adults who are financially able begin planning for their retirement, saving money,
and looking into future healthcare options. The transition into any new life role, despite the social structure that
supports it, can be difficult.
About a decade after the nation began to recover from the Recession, it was hit by another. Millennials, who had
entered a very challenging employment situation, were saddled with debt and had very little in savings. By July
2020, the Millennial unemployment rate was 11.5 percent, which was actually higher than their unemployment rate
during the 2008 Recession. Gen Z, the group of people born after the Millennials, fared even worse—with an 18
percent unemployment rate (Hoffower 2020). The cycle of financial insecurity and the potential socialization
impacts may happen again in this decade.
In the process of resocialization, old behaviors that were helpful in a previous role are removed because they
are no longer of use. Resocialization is necessary when a person moves to a senior care center, goes to
boarding school, or serves a sentence in the prison system. In the new environment, the old rules no longer
5.4 • Socialization Across the Life Course 135

apply. The process of resocialization is typically more stressful than normal socialization because people have
to unlearn behaviors that have become customary to them. While resocialization has a specific meaning, many
organizations consider their training or retraining processes to embody elements of resocialization.
The most common way resocialization occurs is in a total institution where people are isolated from society
and are forced to follow someone else’s rules. A ship at sea is a total institution, as are religious convents,
prisons, or some cult organizations. They are places cut off from a larger society. The 6.9 million Americans
who lived in prisons and penitentiaries at the end of 2012 are also members of this type of institution (U.S.
Department of Justice 2012).
Many individuals are resocialized into an institution through a two-part process. First, members entering an
institution must leave behind their old identity through what is known as a degradation ceremony. In a
degradation ceremony, new members lose the aspects of their old identity and are given new identities. The
process is sometimes gentle. To enter a senior care home, an elderly person often must leave a family home
and give up many belongings which were part of his or her long-standing identity. Though caretakers guide the
elderly compassionately, the process can still be one of loss. In many cults, this process is also gentle and
happens in an environment of support and caring.
In other situations, the degradation ceremony can be more extreme. New prisoners lose freedom, rights
(including the right to privacy), and personal belongings. When entering the military, soldiers have their hair
cut short. Their old clothes are removed, and they wear matching uniforms. These individuals must give up
any markers of their former identity in order to be resocialized into an identity as a “soldier.”
FIGURE 5.8 In basic training, members of the Air Force are taught to walk, move, and look like each other. (Credit:
Staff Sergeant Desiree N. Palacios, U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons)
After new members of an institution are stripped of their old identity, they build a new one that matches the
new society. In the military, soldiers go through basic training together, where they learn new rules and bond
with one another. They follow structured schedules set by their leaders. Soldiers must keep their areas clean
for inspection, learn to march in correct formations, and salute when in the presence of superiors.
Learning to deal with life after having lived in a total institution requires yet another process of resocialization.
In the U.S. military, soldiers learn discipline and a capacity for hard work. They set aside personal goals to
136 5 • Socialization
Access for free at

achieve a mission, and they take pride in the accomplishments of their units. Many soldiers who leave the
military transition these skills into excellent careers. Others have significant challenges upon leaving,
uncertain about the outside world and what to do next. The process of resocialization to civilian life is not a
simple one.
Other types of organizations may utilize or extend the concept of resocialization with regard to changing
people’s behaviors. Corporate trainers (and training researchers) sometimes emphasize the need for trainees
to shed their old behaviors and adopt entirely new ones. When the people return to their jobs after training,
they may be called to leave their old behaviors behind. Similarly, if an entire team goes for training, they may
be called to leave their culture behind (Weinbauer-Heidel 2019). Not all such training would apply the
resocialization metaphor, but behavioral or personal-professional areas such as stress management or
priority/project management might borrow from resocialization principles in order to make the training
5.4 • Socialization Across the Life Course 137

Key Terms
anticipatory socialization the way we prepare for future life roles
degradation ceremony the process by which new members of a total institution lose aspects of their old
identities and are given new ones
generalized other the common behavioral expectations of general society
hidden curriculum the informal teaching done in schools that socializes children to societal norms
moral development the way people learn what is “good” and “bad” in society
nature the influence of our genetic makeup on self-development
nurture the role that our social environment plays in self-development
peer group a group made up of people who are similar in age and social status and who share interests
resocialization the process by which old behaviors are removed and new behaviors are learned in their
self a person’s distinct sense of identity as developed through social interaction
socialization the process wherein people come to understand societal norms and expectations, to accept
society’s beliefs, and to be aware of societal values
Section Summary
5.1 Theories of Self-Development
Psychological theories of self-development have been broadened by sociologists who explicitly study the role
of society and social interaction in self-development. Charles Cooley and George Mead both contributed
significantly to the sociological understanding of the development of self. Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol
Gilligan developed their ideas further and researched how our sense of morality develops. Gilligan added the
dimension of gender differences to Kohlberg’s theory.
5.2 Why Socialization Matters
Socialization is important because it helps uphold societies and cultures; it is also a key part of individual
development. Research demonstrates that who we are is affected by both nature (our genetic and hormonal
makeup) and nurture (the social environment in which we are raised). Sociology is most concerned with the
way that society’s influence affects our behavior patterns, made clear by the way behavior varies across class
and gender.
5.3 Agents of Socialization
Our direct interactions with social groups, like families and peers, teach us how others expect us to behave.
Likewise, a society’s formal and informal institutions socialize its population. Schools, workplaces, and the
media communicate and reinforce cultural norms and values.
5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
Socialization is a lifelong process that reoccurs as we enter new phases of life, such as adulthood or senior age.
Resocialization is a process that removes the socialization we have developed over time and replaces it with
newly learned rules and roles. Because it involves removing old habits that have been built up, resocialization
can be a stressful and difficult process.
138 5 • Key Terms
Access for free at

Section Quiz
5.1 Theories of Self-Development
1. Socialization, as a sociological term, describes:
a. how people interact during social situations
b. how people learn societal norms, beliefs, and values
c. a person’s internal mental state when in a group setting
d. the difference between introverts and extroverts
2. The Harlows’ study on rhesus monkeys showed that:
a. rhesus monkeys raised by other primate species are poorly socialized
b. monkeys can be adequately socialized by imitating humans
c. food is more important than social comfort
d. social comfort is more important than food
3. What occurs in Lawrence Kohlberg’s conventional level?
a. Children develop the ability to have abstract thoughts.
b. Morality is developed by pain and pleasure.
c. Children begin to consider what society considers moral and immoral.
d. Parental beliefs have no influence on children’s morality.
4. What did Carol Gilligan believe earlier researchers into morality had overlooked?
a. The justice perspective
b. Sympathetic reactions to moral situations
c. The perspective of females
d. How social environment affects how morality develops
5. What is one way to distinguish between psychology and sociology?
a. Psychology focuses on the mind, while sociology focuses on society.
b. Psychologists are interested in mental health, while sociologists are interested in societal functions.
c. Psychologists look inward to understand behavior while sociologists look outward.
d. All of the above
6. How did nearly complete isolation as a child affect Danielle’s verbal abilities?
a. She could not communicate at all.
b. She never learned words, but she did learn signs.
c. She could not understand much, but she could use gestures.
d. She could understand and use basic language like “yes” and “no.”
5.2 Why Socialization Matters
7. Why do sociologists need to be careful when drawing conclusions from twin studies?
a. The results do not apply to singletons.
b. The twins were often raised in different ways.
c. The twins may turn out to actually be fraternal.
d. The sample sizes are often small.
5 • Section Quiz 139

8. From a sociological perspective, which factor does not greatly influence a person’s socialization?
a. Gender
b. Class
c. Blood type
d. Race
9. Chris Langan’s story illustrates that:
a. children raised in one-parent households tend to have higher IQs.
b. intelligence is more important than socialization.
c. socialization can be more important than intelligence.
d. neither socialization nor intelligence affects college admissions.
5.3 Agents of Socialization
10. Why are wealthy parents more likely than poor parents to socialize their children toward creativity and
problem solving?
a. Wealthy parents are socializing their children toward the skills of white-collar employment.
b. Wealthy parents are not concerned about their children rebelling against their rules.
c. Wealthy parents never engage in repetitive tasks.
d. Wealthy parents are more concerned with money than with a good education.
11. How do schools prepare children to one day enter the workforce?
a. With a standardized curriculum
b. Through the hidden curriculum
c. By socializing them in teamwork
d. All of the above
12. Which one of the following is not a way people are socialized by religion?
a. People learn the material culture of their religion.
b. Life stages and roles are connected to religious celebration.
c. An individual’s personal internal experience of a divine being leads to their faith.
d. Places of worship provide a space for shared group experiences.
13. Which of the following is a manifest function of schools?
a. Understanding when to speak up and when to be silent
b. Learning to read and write
c. Following a schedule
d. Knowing locker room etiquette
14. Which of the following is typically the earliest agent of socialization?
a. School
b. Family
c. Mass media
d. Workplace
140 5 • Section Quiz
Access for free at

5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
15. Which of the following is not an age-related transition point when Americans must be socialized to new
a. Infancy
b. School age
c. Adulthood
d. Senior citizen
16. Which of the following is true regarding U.S. socialization of recent high school graduates?
a. They are expected to take a year “off ” before college.
b. They are required to serve in the military for one year.
c. They are expected to enter college, trade school, or the workforce shortly after graduation.
d. They are required to move away from their parents.
Short Answer
5.1 Theories of Self-Development
1. Think of a current issue or pattern that a sociologist might study. What types of questions would the
sociologist ask, and what research methods might he employ? Now consider the questions and methods a
psychologist might use to study the same issue. Comment on their different approaches.
2. Explain why it’s important to conduct research using both male and female participants. What sociological
topics might show gender differences? Provide some examples to illustrate your ideas.
5.2 Why Socialization Matters
3. Why are twin studies an important way to learn about the relative effects of genetics and socialization on
children? What questions about human development do you believe twin studies are best for answering?
For what types of questions would twin studies not be as helpful?
4. Why do you think that people like Chris Langan continue to have difficulty even after they are helped
through societal systems? What is it they’ve missed that prevents them from functioning successfully in the
social world?
5.3 Agents of Socialization
5. Do you think it is important that parents discuss gender roles with their young children, or is gender a topic
better left for later? How do parents consider gender norms when buying their children books, movies, and
toys? How do you believe they should consider it?
6. Based on your observations, when are adolescents more likely to listen to their parents or to their peer
groups when making decisions? What types of dilemmas lend themselves toward one social agent over
5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
7. Consider a person who is joining a sorority or fraternity, attending college or boarding school, or even a
child beginning kindergarten. How is the process the student goes through a form of socialization? What
new cultural behaviors must the student adapt to?
8. Do you think resocialization requires a total institution? Why, or why not? Can you think of any other ways
someone could be resocialized?
5 • Short Answer 141

Further Research
5.1 Theories of Self-Development
Lawrence Kohlberg was most famous for his research using moral dilemmas. He presented dilemmas to boys
and asked them how they would judge the situations. Visit this site to read about Kohlberg’s most famous
moral dilemma, known as the Heinz dilemma. ( .
5.2 Why Socialization Matters
Check out this article about other sets of twins who grew up apart and discovered each other later in life
( .
5.3 Agents of Socialization provides reviews of companies and also articles on finding the correct fit. Take a look at what’s blog ( has to say on these topics and explore some
companies you might like in order to learn about their corporate culture and worker experience.
5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
Homelessness is an endemic problem among veterans. Many soldiers leave the military or return from war
and have difficulty resocializing into civilian life. Learn more about this problem at the National Coalition
for Homeless Veterans’ website ( .
Cebollero, Chris. 2019. “Organizational Socialization: What Businesses Often Forget When Onboarding New
Employees.” Forbes Coaches Council Blog. February 26, 2019. (
onboarding-new-employees/?sh=6db8c89e4faf )
Schein, Edgar H. 1988. “Organizational Socialization and the Profession of Management.” MIT Sloan Review.
October 15 1988. (
5.1 Theories of Self-Development
Cooley, Charles Horton. 1902. “The Looking Glass Self.” Pp. 179–185 in Human Nature and Social Order. New
York: Scribner’s.
Bloom, Lisa. 2011. “How to Talk to Little Girls.” Huffington Post, June 22. Retrieved January 12, 2012
Erikson, Erik. 1982. The Lifecycle Completed: A Review. New York: Norton.
Durkheim, Émile. 2011 [1897]. Suicide. London: Routledge.
Freud, Sigmund. 2000 [1904]. Three Essays on Theories of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books.
Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Gilligan, Carol. 1990. Making Connections: The Relational Worlds of Adolescent Girls at Emma Willard School.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Haney, Phil. 2011. “Genderless Preschool in Sweden.” Baby & Kids, June 28. Retrieved January 12, 2012
142 5 • Further Research
Access for free at

Harlow, Harry F. 1971. Learning to Love. New York: Ballantine.
Harlow, Harry F., and Margaret Kuenne Harlow. 1962. “Social Deprivation in Monkeys.” Scientific American
Kohlberg, Lawrence. 1981. The Psychology of Moral Development: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages.
New York: Harper and Row.
Mead, George H. 1934. Mind, Self and Society, edited by C. W. Morris. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mead, George H. 1964. On Social Psychology, edited by A. Strauss. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Piaget, Jean. 1954. The Construction of Reality in the Child. New York: Basic Books.
5.2 Why Socialization Matters
Brabham, Denis. 2001. “The Smart Guy.” Newsday, August 21. Retrieved January 31, 2012
( ).
Flam, Faye. 2007. “Separated Twins Shed Light on Identity Issues.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 9.
Retrieved January 31, 2012 ( ).
Gladwell, Malcolm. 2008. “The Trouble With Geniuses, Part 2.” Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little,
Brown and Company.
Spratling, Cassandra. 2007. “Nature and Nurture.” Detroit Free Press. November 25. Retrieved January 31,
2012 (
Sternberg, R.J., G.B. Forsythe, J. Hedlund, J. Horvath, S. Snook, W.M. Williams, R.K. Wagner, and E.L.
Grigorenko. 2000. Practical Intelligence in Everyday Life. New York: Cambridge University Press.
5.3 Agents of Socialization
Associated Press. 2011. “Swedish Dads Swap Work for Child Care.” The Gainesville Sun, October 23. Retrieved
January 12, 2012 (
Barnes, Brooks. 2010. “Pixar Removes Its First Female Director.” The New York Times, December 20. Retrieved
August 2, 2011 (
Bowles, Samuel, and Herbert Gintis. 1976. Schooling in Capitalistic America: Educational Reforms and the
Contradictions of Economic Life. New York: Basic Books.
Coyne, Sarah M. and Ruh Lindner, Jennifer and Rasmussen, Eric E. and Nelson, David A. and Birkbeck,
Victoria. 2016. “Pretty as a Princess: Longitudinal Effects of Engagement With Disney Princesses on Gender
Stereotypes, Body Esteem, and Prosocial Behavior in Children.” Child Development. Volume 87, Issue 6.
Crampton, Thomas. 2002. “The Ongoing Battle over Japan’s Textbooks.” New York Times, February 12.
Retrieved August 2, 2011 (
Kohn, Melvin L. 1977. Class and Conformity: A Study in Values. Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press.
National Opinion Research Center. 2007. General Social Surveys, 1972–2006: Cumulative Codebook. Chicago:
National Opinion Research Center.
O’Connor, Lydia. 2011. “The Princess Effect: Are Girls Too ‘Tangled’ in Disney’s Fantasy?” Annenberg Digital
News, January 26. Retrieved August 2, 2011 (
5 • References 143

Roberts, Donald F., Ulla G. Foehr, and Victoria Rideout. 2005. “Parents, Children, and Media: A Kaiser Family
Foundation Survey.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved February 14, 2012
( ).
Rose, Steve. 2011. “Studio Ghibli: Leave the Boys Behind.” The Guardian, July 14. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
“South Koreans Sever Fingers in Anti-Japan Protest.” 2001. The Telegraph. Retrieved January 31, 2012
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2014. “Number of Jobs Held, Labor Market Activity, and Earnings Growth
Among the Youngest Baby Boomers.” September 10. Retrieved Oct. 27th, 2012 (
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 2004. “Average Length of School Year
and Average Length of School Day, by Selected Characteristics: United States, 2003-04.” Private School
Universe Survey (PSS). Retrieved July 30, 2011 (
Wagner, Jennifer. 2016. “So What If My Daughter Loves To Play Princess.” September 27, 2016.
“Why Swedish Men take so much Paternity Leave.” 2014. The Economist. Retrieved Oct. 27th, 2014.
5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
Andersen. 2009. “Committee proposes cash incentives for speedy students. Jyllands-Posten. The Copenhagen
Post 5 May 2009.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2020. “College Enrollment and Work Activity of Recent High School and College
Graduates Summary” April 28 2020. (
Davidson, Adam. 2014. “It’s Official, the Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave.” New York Times, June 20. Retrieved
October 27, 2014 (
Henig, Robin Marantz. 2010. “What Is It About Twenty-Somethings?” New York Times, August 18. Retrieved
December 28, 2011 (
Hoffawer, Hillary. 2020. “One chart shows just how badly young adults are getting slammed by the coronavirus
recession.” Business Insider. August 12 2020. (
NCES. 2020. “Fast Facts: Immediate Transition to College.” National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved
April 6 2020. (
Ritzau. 2019. “Rekordfå studenter læser videre med det samme” (English title translation: “Record few
students move on immediately.”) Ritzau News Agency. June 11 2019. (
Settersten, Richard A., Jr. 2002. “Socialization in the Life Course: New Frontiers in Theory and Research.” New
Frontiers in Socialization, Vol. 7. Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science Ltd.
UNICEF. 2011. “Percentage of Children Aged 5–14 Engaged in Child Labour.” Retrieved December 28, 2011
UNICEF. 2012. “Percentage of Children Aged 5-14 Engaged in Child Labour.” Retrieved Oct. 27th, 2014
144 5 • References
Access for free at

U.S. Department of Justice. 2012. “Corrections Populations in the US, 2012.” Retrieved October 27, 2014
( ).
Weinbauer-Heidel, Ina and Ibeschitz-Manderbach, Masha. 2019. “What Makes Training Really Work.”
Tredition Publishing. January 24 2019. Page 37.
5 • References 145

146 5 • References
Access for free at

FIGURE 6.1 The national tour of the Tea Party Express visited Minnesota and held a rally outside the state capitol
building. Tarana Burke, who originated the term “me too” in the context of supporting or acknowledging sexual
harassment or assault victims, has spoken frequently on the evolution and issues regarding the MeToo movement.
(Credit: a. Fibonacci Blue/flickr; b Marco Verch)
6.1 Types of Groups
6.2 Group Size and Structure
6.3 Formal Organizations
Throughout the history of the United States, individuals have formed groups in order to
achieve goals and bring about change. Some groups are loosely defined, while others have highly organized
structure and mission. And in some cases, groups can have significant influence on culture, society, the
economy, and government.
In 2009, people protesting government spending held a series of “tea parties,” referencing the Boston Tea
Party, an anti-taxation event that led up to the Revolutionary War. Tea Party activists also opposed big
government, high taxes, and political corruption and supported gun rights and traditional family values. They
called for “awareness to any issue which challenges the security, sovereignty, or domestic tranquility of our
beloved nation, the United States of America” (Tea Party, Inc. 2021). The movement grew into a major political
force, with chapters popping up in nearly every community across the country.
By 2010, Tea Party candidates had won seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate,
demonstrating the political power of the group and its message. As grassroots activism faded, the Tea Party
gained influence within the Republican Party. Many of its ideas have been assimilated into the mainstream
conservative movement and Republican Party platform.
6Groups and Organization

In 2016, highly successful Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Fox chairman, Roger Ailes,
for sexual harassment. The suit led other women to come forward with similar allegations against Ailes and
others in the entertainment industry. Soon after, actress Alyssa Milano posted this statement on Twitter: “If all
the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a
sense of the magnitude of the problem.” The phrase, “Me Too” had been first used in this context in 2006 by
activist Tarana Burke, in an effort to empower women of color. Within a day of Milano’s post, the “Me Too”
phrase or hashtag was used over 500,000 times on Twitter, and was used in over 12 million posts by 4.7 million
people on Facebook. Thousands of people, including other celebrities, shared their own stories of sexual
harassment, abuse, or assault. (, 2020) The “MeToo” movement became the lead story on
many newscasts and talk shows. Over the months that followed, the movement sparked reforms within
companies and governments to combat sexual harassment and better support women. The movement
inspired abuse victims to come forward and led to the sanction or removal of prominent individuals accused of
serial harassment or abuse in academia, media, government, and other industries.
The Tea Party evolved into an organization. From a loosely associated set of local chapters, it developed into
several closely affiliated nonprofits (filed with the IRS), a political faction within the Republican Party, and a
caucus within Congress. What about the MeToo movement? Burke started it in 2006 and was working to enact
change long before the hashtag sparked more awareness and new policies. The MeToo has brought together
people to work in groups, but it has yet to form into a permanent MeToo organization.
As enduring social units, groups help foster shared value systems and are key to the structure of society as we
know it. There are three primary sociological perspectives for studying groups: Functionalist, Conflict, and
Interactionist. We can look at the Tea Party and the MeToo movements through the lenses of these methods to
better understand the roles and challenges that they offer.
The Functionalist perspective is a big-picture, macro-level view that looks at how different aspects of society
are intertwined. This perspective is based on the idea that society is a well-balanced system with all parts
necessary to the whole, and it studies the roles these parts play in relation to the whole. A Functionalist might
look at the macro-level needs that each movement serves. For example, a Structural Functionalist might ask
how the Tea Party arose to voice the concerns of a large sector of society that felt politically underrepresented,
or how MeToo drove people to pay attention to sexual harassment and gender inequality. This approach might
look at how each group enabled the voicing of discontent and so stabilized society.
The Conflict perspective is another macroanalytical view, one that focuses on the genesis and growth of
inequality. A conflict theorist studying the Tea Party Movement might look at how it checked interests that
have manipulated the political system over the last 30 years. Or this perspective might explore how MeToo
challenged organizations that have allowed sexual harassment to persist in order to protect those in power.
A third perspective is the Symbolic Interaction or Interactionist perspective. This method of analyzing groups
takes a micro-level view. Instead of studying the big picture, these researchers look at the day-to-day
interactions of groups. Studying these details, the Interactionist looks at issues like leadership style and group
dynamics. In the case of the Tea Party Movement, Interactionists might ask, “How does the Tea Party dynamic
in New York differ from that in Atlanta?” Or, in the case of the MeToo, researchers may seek to learn about who
defines the agenda and approach within the movement.
6.1 Types of Groups
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Differentiate between primary and secondary groups.
• Recognize in-groups and out-groups as subtypes of primary and secondary groups
• Define reference groups
Most of us feel comfortable using the word “group” without giving it much thought. Often, we mean different
148 6 • Groups and Organization
Access for free at

things when using that word. We might say that a group of kids all saw the dog, and it could mean 250 students
in a lecture hall or four siblings playing on a front lawn. In everyday use, it can be a generic term, although it
carries important clinical and scientific meanings. Moreover, the concept of a group is central to much of how
we think about society and human interaction. So how can we hone the meaning more precisely for
sociological purposes?
Defining a Group
The term group is an amorphous one and can refer to a wide variety of gatherings, from just two people (think
about a “group project” in school when you partner with another student), a club, a regular gathering of
friends, or people who work together or share a hobby. In short, the term refers to any collection of at least two
people who interact with some frequency and who share a sense that their identity is somehow aligned with
the group. Of course, every time people are gathered, it is not necessarily a group. A rally is usually a one-time
event, for instance, and belonging to a political party doesn’t imply interaction with others. People who happen
to be in the same place at the same time but who do not interact or share a sense of identity—such as a bunch
of people standing in line at Starbucks—are considered an aggregate, or a crowd.
Another example of a nongroup is people who share similar characteristics but are not tied to one another in
any way. These people are considered a category, and as an example all children born from approximately
1980–2000 are referred to as “Millennials.” Why are Millennials a category and not a group? Because while
some of them may share a sense of identity, they do not, as a whole, interact frequently with each other.
Interestingly, people within an aggregate or category can become a group. During disasters, people in a
neighborhood (an aggregate) who did not know each other might become friendly and depend on each other at
the local shelter. After the disaster when people go back to simply living near each other, the feeling of
cohesiveness may last since they have all shared an experience. They might remain a group, practicing
emergency readiness, coordinating supplies for next time, or taking turns caring for neighbors who need extra
Similarly, there may be many groups within a single category. Consider teachers, for example. Within this
category, groups may exist like teachers’ unions, teachers who coach, or staff members who are involved with
the PTA.
Types of Groups
Sociologist Charles Horton Cooley (1864–1929) suggested that groups can broadly be divided into two
categories: primary groups and secondary groups (Cooley 1909). According to Cooley, primary groups play
the most critical role in our lives. The primary group is usually fairly small and is made up of individuals who
generally engage face-to-face in long-term emotional ways. This group serves emotional needs: expressive
functions rather than pragmatic ones. The primary group is usually made up of significant others, those
individuals who have the most impact on our socialization. The best example of a primary group is the family.
Secondary groups are often larger and impersonal. They may also be task-focused and time-limited. These
groups serve an instrumental function rather than an expressive one, meaning that their role is more goal- or
task-oriented than emotional. A classroom or office can be an example of a secondary group.
Neither primary nor secondary groups are bound by strict definitions or set limits. In fact, people can move
from one group to another. A group of coworkers, for example, can start as a secondary group, but as the
employees work together over the years, they may find common interests and strong ties that transform them
into a primary group. As we will discuss in the chapter on Media and Technology, even online networks of
people with common interests can sometimes move from secondary to primary group status.
6.1 • Types of Groups 149

Best Friends She’s Never Met
Writer Allison Levy worked alone. While she liked the freedom and flexibility of working from home, she sometimes
missed having a community of coworkers, both for the practical purpose of brainstorming and socializing. Levy did
what many do in the Internet age: she found a group of other writers online through a web forum. Over time, a group
of approximately twenty writers, who all wrote for a similar audience, broke off from the larger group and started a
private invitation-only forum. While writers in general represent all genders, ages, and interests, this group ended up
being a collection of twenty- and thirty-something women who all wrote fiction for children and young adults.
At first, the writers’ forum was clearly a secondary group united by the members’ professions and work situations.
As Levy explained, “On the Internet, you can be present or absent as often as you want. No one is expecting you to
show up.” It was a useful place to research information about publishers, recently-published books and authors,
and industry trends. But as time passed, Levy found it served a different purpose. Since the group shared other
characteristics beyond their writing (such as age and gender), their conversation naturally turned to matters such as
child-rearing, aging parents, health, and exercise. Levy found it was a sympathetic place to talk about any number of
subjects, not just writing. Further, when people didn’t post for several days, others expressed concern, asking
whether anyone had heard from the missing writers. It reached a point where most members would tell the group if
they were traveling or needed to be offline for awhile.
The group continued to share. One member on the site who was going through a difficult family illness wrote, “I
don’t know where I’d be without you women. It is so great to have a place to vent that I know isn’t hurting anyone.”
Others shared similar sentiments.
So is this a primary group? Most of these people have never met each other. They live in Hawaii, Australia,
Minnesota, and across the world. They may never meet. Levy wrote recently to the group, saying, “Most of my ‘real-
life’ friends and even my husband don’t really get the writing thing. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Despite
the distance and the lack of physical contact, the group clearly fills an expressive need.
FIGURE 6.2 Engineering and construction students gather around a job site. How do your academic interests define
150 6 • Groups and Organization
Access for free at

your in- and out-groups? (Credit: USACEpublicaffairs/flickr)
In-Groups and Out-Groups
One of the ways that groups can be powerful is through inclusion, and its inverse, exclusion. The feeling that
we belong in an elite or select group is a heady one, while the feeling of not being allowed in, or of being in
competition with a group, can be motivating in a different way. Sociologist William Sumner (1840–1910)
developed the concepts of in-group and out-group to explain this phenomenon (Sumner 1906). In short, an
in-group is the group that an individual feels she belongs to, and she believes it to be an integral part of who
she is. An out-group, conversely, is a group someone doesn’t belong to; often we may feel disdain or
competition in relationship to an out-group. Sports teams, unions, and sororities are examples of in-groups
and out-groups. Primary groups consist of both in-groups and out-groups, as do secondary groups.
While group affiliations can be neutral or positive, the concept of in-groups and out-groups can also explain
some negative human behavior, such as white supremacist movements. By defining others as “not like us” and
inferior, in-groups can end up practicing ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, ageism, and heterosexism—manners
of judging others negatively based on their culture, race, sex, age, or sexuality.
Often, in-groups can form within a secondary group. For instance, a workplace can have cliques of people,
from senior executives who play golf together, to engineers who write code together, to young singles who
socialize after hours. While these in-groups might show favoritism and affinity for other in-group members,
the overall organization may be unable or unwilling to acknowledge it. Therefore, it pays to be wary of the
politics of in-groups, since members may exclude others as a form of gaining status within the group.
Bullying and Cyberbullying: How Technology Has Changed the Game
Most of us know that the old rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is
inaccurate. Words can hurt, and never is that more apparent than in instances of bullying. Bullying often reaches
extreme levels of cruelty in children and young adults. People at these stages of life are especially vulnerable to
opinions of others and deeply invested in their peer groups. Today, cyberbullying is on the rise. Cyberbullying can
involve sending threatening texts, harassing someone in a public forum (such as Facebook), hacking someone’s
account and pretending to be him or her, posting embarrassing images online, and so on. A study by the
Cyberbullying Research Center found that 28 percent of teens have been a victim of cyberbullying (Hinduja and
Patchin, 2019). Severe bullying can lead students to commit or contemplate suicide. A 2010 study found that 20
percent of middle school students admitted to “seriously thinking about committing suicide” as a result of online
bullying (Hinduja and Patchin 2010). Whereas bullying face-to-face requires willingness to interact with your
victim, cyberbullying allows bullies to harass others from the privacy of their homes without witnessing the
damage firsthand. This form of bullying is particularly dangerous because it’s widely accessible and therefore
easier to carry out.
Cyberbullying first made international headlines in 2010 when a fifteen-year-old girl, Phoebe Prince, in South
Hadley, Massachusetts, committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied by girls at her school. In the aftermath
of her death, the bullies were prosecuted and the state passed anti-bullying legislation. This marked a significant
change in how bullying, including cyberbullying, is viewed in the United States. Now there are numerous
resources for schools, families, and communities to provide education and prevention on this issue. The White
House hosted a Bullying Prevention summit in March 2011, and President and First Lady Obama have used
Facebook and other social media sites to discuss the importance of the issue.
According to a report released in 2013 by the National Center for Educational Statistics, close to 1 in every 3
(27.8 percent) students report being bullied by their school peers. Seventeen percent of students reported being
the victims of cyberbullying.
6.1 • Types of Groups 151

Will legislation change the behavior of would-be cyberbullies? That remains to be seen. But we can hope
communities will work to protect victims before they feel they must resort to extreme measures.
Reference Groups
FIGURE 6.3 Athletes are often viewed as a reference group for young people. (Credit: nonorganical/ flickr)
A reference group is a group that people compare themselves to—it provides a standard of measurement. In
U.S. society, peer groups are common reference groups. Kids and adults pay attention to what their peers wear,
what music they like, what they do with their free time—and they compare themselves to what they see. Most
people have more than one reference group, so a middle school boy might look not just at his classmates but
also at his older brother’s friends and see a different set of norms. And he might observe the behaviors of his
favorite athletes for yet another point of reference.
Some other examples of reference groups can be one’s cultural center, workplace, family gathering, and even
parents. Often, reference groups convey competing messages. For instance, on television and in movies, young
adults often have wonderful apartments and cars and lively social lives despite not holding a job. In music
videos, young women might dance and sing in a sexually aggressive way that suggests experience beyond their
years. At all ages, we use reference groups to help guide our behavior and establish our social norms. So how
important is it to surround yourself with positive reference groups? You may not recognize a reference group,
but it still influences the way you act. Identifying your reference groups can help you understand the source of
the social identities you aspire to or want to distance yourself from.
152 6 • Groups and Organization
Access for free at

College: A World of In-Groups, Out-Groups, and Reference Groups
FIGURE 6.4 Which fraternity or sorority would you fit into, if any? Sorority recruitment day offers students an
opportunity to learn about these different groups. (Credit: Texas A&M/flickr)
For a student entering college, the sociological study of groups takes on an immediate and practical meaning. After
all, when we arrive someplace new, most of us glance around to see how well we fit in or stand out in the ways we
want. This is a natural response to a reference group, and on a large campus, there can be many competing groups.
Say you are a strong athlete who wants to play intramural sports, and your favorite musicians are a local punk band.
You may find yourself engaged with two very different reference groups.
These reference groups can also become your in-groups or out-groups. For instance, different groups on campus
might solicit you to join. Are there fraternities and sororities at your school? If so, chances are they will try to
convince students—that is, students they deem worthy—to join them. And if you love playing soccer and want to play
on a campus team, but you’re wearing shredded jeans, combat boots, and a local band T-shirt, you might have a
hard time convincing the soccer team to give you a chance. While most campus groups refrain from insulting
competing groups, there is a definite sense of an in-group versus an out-group. “Them?” a member might say.
“They’re all right, but their parties are nowhere near as cool as ours.” Or, “Only serious engineering geeks join that
group.” This immediate categorization into in-groups and out-groups means that students must choose carefully,
since whatever group they associate with might define their friends for several years to come.
6.2 Group Size and Structure
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Explain the ways that size influences group dynamics
• Differentiate among styles of leadership
• Interpret the impact of groups on individual behavior
6.2 • Group Size and Structure 153

FIGURE 6.5 Cadets illustrate how strongly conformity can define groups. (Credit: West Point — The U.S. Military
Dyads, Triads, and Large Groups
A small group is typically one where the collection of people is small enough that all members of the group
know each other and share simultaneous interaction, such as a nuclear family, a dyad, or a triad. Georg
Simmel (1858–1915) wrote extensively about the difference between a dyad, or two-member group, and a
triad, which is a three-member group (Simmel 1902). In the former, if one person withdraws, the group can no
longer exist. We can think of a divorce, which effectively ends the “group” of the married couple or of two best
friends never speaking again. In a triad, however, the dynamic is quite different. If one person withdraws, the
group lives on. A triad has a different set of relationships. If there are three in the group, two-against-one
dynamics can develop, and a majority opinion may form on any issue.
Small groups generally have strong internal cohesiveness and a sense of connection. Small groups may face
challenges when trying to achieve large goals. They can struggle to be heard or to be a force for change if they
are pushing against larger groups.
It is difficult to define exactly when a small group becomes a large group. Perhaps it occurs when one group
grows so large that there are too many people to join in a simultaneous discussion. Sometimes it occurs when
a group joins with other groups as part of a movement. These larger groups may share a geographic space,
such as a fraternity or sorority on the same campus, or they might be spread out around the globe. The larger
the group, the more attention it can garner, and the more pressure members can put toward whatever goal
they wish to achieve. At the same time, the larger the group becomes, the more the risk grows for division and
lack of cohesion.
Group Leadership
Often, larger groups require some kind of leadership. In small, primary groups, leadership tends to be
informal. After all, most families don’t take a vote on who will rule the group, nor do most groups of friends.
This is not to say that de facto leaders don’t emerge, but formal leadership is rare. In secondary groups,
leadership is usually more overt. They often outline roles and responsibilities, with a chain of command to
follow. Some secondary groups, like the military, have highly structured and clearly understood chains of
command, and sometimes lives depend on those. After all, how well could soldiers function in a battle if
different people were calling out orders and if they had no idea whom to listen to? Other secondary groups, like
a workplace or a classroom, also have formal leaders, but the styles and functions of leadership can vary
154 6 • Groups and Organization
Access for free at

Leadership function refers to the main goal of the leader, which may be instrumental or expressive. An
instrumental leader is one who is goal-oriented and largely concerned with accomplishing set tasks. We can
imagine that an army general or a Fortune 500 CEO would be an instrumental leader. In contrast, expressive
leaders are more concerned with promoting emotional strength and health, and ensuring that people feel
supported. Social and religious leaders—rabbis, priests, imams, directors of youth homes and social service
programs—are often perceived as expressive leaders. Sometimes people expect men to take on instrumental
roles and women to assume expressive roles. Women and men who exhibit the other-gender manner can be
seen as deviants and can encounter resistance. Yet, both men and women prefer leaders who use a
combination of expressive and instrumental leadership (Boatwright and Forrest, 2000).
Sociologists recognize three leadership styles. Democratic leaders encourage group participation in all
decision making. They work hard to build consensus before choosing a course of action and moving forward.
This type of leader is particularly common, for example, in a club where the members vote on which activities
or projects to pursue. Democratic leaders can be well liked, but there is often a danger that decisions will
proceed slowly since consensus building is time-consuming. A further risk is that group members might pick
sides and entrench themselves into opposing factions rather than reaching a solution.
In contrast, a laissez-faire (French for “leave it alone”) leader is hands-off, allowing group members to self-
manage and make their own decisions. An example of this kind of leader might be an art teacher who opens
the art cupboard, leaves materials on the shelves, and tells students to help themselves and make some art.
While this style can work well with highly motivated and mature participants who have clear goals and
guidelines, it risks group dissolution and a lack of progress.
Finally, authoritarian leaders issue orders and assign tasks with little to no feedback from group members.
These leaders are often instrumental leaders with a strong focus on meeting goals. Often, entrepreneurs fall
into this mold, like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Not surprisingly, authoritarian leaders risk alienating
the workers. When decisions need to made quickly or informed by a high level of expertise, however, this style
of leadership can be required.
In different circumstances, each of these leadership styles can be effective and successful. Consider what
leadership style you prefer. Why? Do you like the same style in different areas of your life, such as a classroom,
a workplace, and a sports team?
6.2 • Group Size and Structure 155

Women Political Candidates
FIGURE 6.6 Kamala Harris, like many other women leaders, faces unique and sometimes conflicting
expectations. She may want to lead, but some care more about whether she is liked. (Credit: California National
Kamala Harris broke a significant barrier when she became the first woman and first person of Black and South
Asian descent to be elected vice president of the United States. A prominent presidential candidate in her own
right during the 2020 primary election, Harris was asked by then-candidate Joe Biden to be his running mate in
order to secure his electoral victory.
You may be surprised, however, to learn that more than ten other women were on the ballot for president or vice
president on November 3, 2020. Many were not on the ballot in every state, and at least one (Ricki Sue King)
actually encouraged people not to vote for her. Shirley Chisholm, Lenora Fulani, Jill Stein, Hillary Clinton and
many other women have been candidates, but the United States has yet to elect a woman to the presidency.
Researchers and political analysts have long established that gender plays a significant role in how political
leaders (both candidates and elected officials) are perceived. As a starting point, research indicates that, even
among women, the public prefer masculine qualities in presidents. For example, a study in which subjects
completed the Bem Sex-Role Inventory and Implicit Leadership Inventory found that the hypothetical “Ideal”
president possessed more masculine qualities than feminine qualities (Powell and Butterfield 2011).
Beyond the implicit preference toward masculine qualities, women candidates face what is sometimes referred
to the “likability trap.” Essentially, the public expects and prefers certain qualities from its leaders, and also
expects and prefers certain qualities based on the candidates’ gender. For women presidential candidates, these
expectations often conflict. For example, when a male candidate ranks low on feminine qualities, their likeability
is not significantly affected. But when a female candidate, like Hillary Clinton, ranks low on feminine qualities,
their likability is significantly impacted. Interestingly, the same survey found that Kamala Harris had a much more
balanced gender quality rating than Clinton did. The researchers qualified that since Kamala Harris ran for vice
president, rather than president, the ratings cannot be directly compared to Clinton’s. This difference, though,
may indicate why many women are elected to legislative and gubernatorial roles, but not to the presidency
156 6 • Groups and Organization
Access for free at

(Conroy, Martin, and Nadler, 2020).
These same perceptions present themselves in the workplace. Prescriptive stereotypes—that is, ideas about how
men or women should behave—limit women’s advancement to leadership positions. Men are often appreciated
for being ambitious, while women who exhibit assertive behavior are generally perceived as selfish or overly
competitive (Baldoni, 2020). Furthermore, when men help out in the workplace, their contribution is appreciated
while the same task carried out by women goes unacknowledged. Scholars observe that women are
underrepresented in the top levels of U.S. businesses and Fortune 500 companies (Heilman 2012).
FIGURE 6.7 This gag gift demonstrates how female leaders may be viewed if they violate social norms. (Credit:
We all like to fit in to some degree. Likewise, if we want to stand out, then we want to choose how we stand out
and for what reasons. For example, a person who loves cutting-edge fashion might dress in thought-provoking
new styles to set a new trend.
Conformity is the extent to which an individual complies with group norms or expectations. As you might
recall, we use reference groups to assess and understand how to act, to dress, and to behave. Not surprisingly,
young people are particularly aware of who conforms and who does not. A high school boy whose mother
makes him wear ironed button-down shirts might protest that everyone else wears T-shirts and he will look
stupid. Another high school boy might like wearing those shirts as a way of standing out. How much do you
6.2 • Group Size and Structure 157

enjoy being noticed? Do you consciously prefer to conform to group norms so as not to be singled out? Are
there people in your class who immediately come to mind when you think about those who don’t want to
Psychologist Solomon Asch (1907–1996) conducted experiments that illustrated how great the pressure to
conform is, specifically within a small group (1956). Read about his work in the Sociological Research feature
and consider what you would do in Asch’s experiment. Would you speak up? What would help you speak up
and what would discourage it?
Conforming to Expectations
In 1951, psychologist Solomon Asch sat a small group of about eight people around a table. Only one of the
people sitting there was the true subject; the rest were associates of the experimenter. However, the subject was
led to believe that the others were all, like him, people brought in for an experiment in visual judgments. The
group was shown two cards, the first card with a single vertical line, and the second card with three vertical lines
differing in length. The experimenter polled the group and asked each participant one at a time which line on the
second card matched up with the line on the first card.
However, this was not really a test of visual judgment. Rather, it was Asch’s study on the pressures of conformity.
He was curious to see what the effect of multiple wrong answers would be on the subject, who presumably was
able to tell which lines matched. In order to test this, Asch had each planted respondent answer in a specific
way. The subject was seated in such a way that he had to hear almost everyone else’s answers before it was his
turn. Sometimes the nonsubject members would unanimously choose an answer that was clearly wrong.
So what was the conclusion? Asch found that thirty-seven out of fifty test subjects responded with an “obviously
erroneous” answer at least once. When faced by a unanimous wrong answer from the rest of the group, the
subject conformed to a mean of four of the staged answers. Asch revised the study and repeated it, wherein the
subject still heard the staged wrong answers, but was allowed to write down his answer rather than speak it
aloud. In this version, the number of examples of conformity––giving an incorrect answer so as not to contradict
the group––fell by two thirds. He also found that group size had an impact on how much pressure the subject felt
to conform.
The results showed that speaking up when only one other person gave an erroneous answer was far more
common than when five or six people defended the incorrect position. Finally, Asch discovered that people were
far more likely to give the correct answer in the face of near-unanimous consent if they had a single ally. If even
one person in the group also dissented, the subject conformed only a quarter as often. Clearly, it was easier to be
a minority of two than a minority of one.
Asch concluded that there are two main causes for conformity: people want to be liked by the group or they
believe the group is better informed than they are. He found his study results disturbing. To him, they revealed
that intelligent, well-educated people would, with very little coaxing, go along with an untruth. He believed this
result highlighted real problems with the education system and values in our society (Asch 1956).
Stanley Milgram, a Yale psychologist, had similar results in his experiment that is now known simply as the
Milgram Experiment. In 1962, Milgram found that research subjects were overwhelmingly willing to perform acts
that directly conflicted with their consciences when directed by a person of authority. In the experiment, subjects
were willing to administer painful, even supposedly deadly, shocks to others who answered questions incorrectly.
To learn more about similar research, visit
158 6 • Groups and Organization
Access for free at

The Bystander Effect and Diffusion of Responsibility
Social psychologists have recognized that other people’s presence influences our behavior, whether we are
aware of it or not. One example is the bystander effect, a situation in which people are less likely to interfere
during an emergency or when a social norm is being violated if there are others around. They feel less
responsible because of the presence of other bystanders (Beyer et al., 2017). This is known as diffusion of
Most of the time people report that they don’t want to get involved and that’s why they don’t respond when they
see something wrong. They assume someone else will step up and help. Researchers have found that people
are less likely to help if they don’t know the victim (Cherry 2020).
Think about it this way, you’re walking to class and there are several students around. Someone falls on the
ground having a seizure. What would you do? The bystander effect suggests that unless you know the person
who has fallen, you are more likely to walk away than help. However, social psychologists believe that you are
much more likely to help, or at least stop and check, if you are the only one around.
6.3 Formal Organizations
By the end of this section, you should be able to:
• Distinguish the types of formal organizations
• Recognize the characteristics of bureaucracies
• Identify the impact of the McDonaldization of society
A complaint of modern life is that society is dominated by large and impersonal secondary organizations.
From schools to businesses to healthcare to government, these organizations, referred to as formal
organizations, are highly bureaucratized. Indeed, all formal organizations are, or likely will become,
bureaucracies. We will discuss the purpose of formal organizations and the structure of their bureaucracies.
Types of Formal Organizations
FIGURE 6.8 Girl Scout troops and correctional facilities are both formal organizations. (Credit: (a) moonlightbulb/
flickr; (b) CxOxS/flickr)
Sociologist Amitai Etzioni (1975) posited that formal organizations fall into three categories. Normative
organizations, also called voluntary organizations, are based on shared interests. As the name suggests,
joining them is voluntary. People find membership rewarding in an intangible way. They receive non-material
benefits. The Audubon Society and a ski club are examples of normative organizations.
Coercive organizations are groups that we must be coerced, or pushed, to join. These may include prison or a
rehabilitation center. Symbolic interactionist Erving Goffman states that most coercive organizations are total
institutions (1961). A total institution is one in which inmates or military soldiers live a controlled lifestyle and
6.3 • Formal Organizations 159

in which total resocialization takes place.
The third type is utilitarian organizations, which, as the name suggests, are joined because of the need for a
specific material reward. High school and the workplace fall into this category—one joined in pursuit of a
diploma, the other in order to make money.
Normative or Voluntary Coercive Utilitarian
Benefit of Membership Intangible benefit Corrective benefit Tangible benefit
Type of Membership Volunteer basis Required Contractual basis
Feeling of Connectedness Shared affinity No affinity Some affinity
TABLE 6.1 Table of Formal Organizations This table shows Etzioni’s three types of formal
organizations. (Credit: Etzioni 1975)
The Structure of Bureaucracies
Bureaucracies are an ideal type of formal organization. By ideal, sociologists don’t mean “best.” Rather,
bureaucracies have a collection of characteristics that most of them exhibit. Pioneer sociologist Max Weber
characterized a bureaucracy as having a hierarchy of authority, a clear division of labor, explicit rules, and
impersonality (1922). People often complain about bureaucracies––declaring them slow, rule-bound, difficult
to navigate, and unfriendly. Let’s take a look at terms that define a bureaucracy to understand what they mean.
Hierarchy of authority refers to the chain of command that places one individual or office in charge of
another, who in turn must answer to her own superiors. For example, as an employee at Walmart, your shift
manager assigns you tasks. Your shift manager answers to his store manager, who must answer to her regional
manager, and so on, up to the CEO who must answer to the board members, who in turn answer to the
stockholders. Everyone in this bureaucracy follows the chain of command.
Bureaucracies have a clear division of labor: each individual has a specialized task to perform. For example,
at a university, psychology professors teach psychology, but they do not attempt to provide students with
financial aid forms. The Office of Admissions often takes on this task. In this case, it is a clear and
commonsense division. But what about in a restaurant where food is backed up in the kitchen and a hostess is
standing nearby texting on her phone? Her job is to seat customers, not to deliver food. Is this a smart division
of labor?
Bureaucracies have explicit rules, rules that are outlined, written down, and standardized. For example, at
your college or university, the student guidelines are contained within the Student Handbook. As technology
changes and campuses encounter new concerns like cyberbullying, identity theft, and other problems that
arise, organizations scramble to ensure their explicit rules cover these emerging issues.
Finally, bureaucracies are also characterized by impersonality, which takes personal feelings out of
professional situations. This characteristic grew, to some extent, out of a desire to avoid nepotism, backroom
deals, and other types of favoritism, while simultaneously protecting customers and others served by the
organization. Impersonality Bureaucracies can effectively and efficiently serve volumes of customers quickly.
However, explicit rules, clear division of labor, and a strict hierarchy of authority does not allow them to easily
adjust to unique or new situations. As a result, customers frequently complain that stores with bureaucratic
structures, like Walmart, care little about individuals, other businesses, and the community at large.
Bureaucracies are often meritocracies, meaning that hiring and promotion is based on proven and
documented skills, rather than on nepotism or random choice. In order to get into a prestigious college, you
160 6 • Groups and Organization
Access for free at

need to perform well on the SAT and have an impressive transcript. In order to become a lawyer and represent
clients, you must graduate law school and pass the state bar exam. Of course, there are many well-documented
examples of success by those who did not proceed through traditional meritocracies. Think about technology
companies with founders who dropped out of college, or performers who became famous after a YouTube
video went viral.
In addition, organizations that aspire to become meritocracies encounter challenges. How well do you think
established meritocracies identify talent? Wealthy families hire tutors, interview coaches, test-prep services,
and consultants to help their kids get into the best schools. This starts as early as kindergarten in New York
City, where competition for the most highly-regarded schools is especially fierce. Are these schools, many of
which have copious scholarship funds that are intended to make the school more democratic, really offering
all applicants a fair shake?
There are several positive aspects of bureaucracies. They are intended to improve efficiency, ensure equal
opportunities, and serve a large population. And there are times when rigid hierarchies are needed. But
remember that many of our bureaucracies grew large at the same time that our school model was
developed––during the Industrial Revolution. Young workers were trained, and organizations were built for
mass production, assembly line work, and factory jobs. In these scenarios, a clear chain of command was
critical. Now, in the information age, this kind of rigid training and adherence to protocol can actually decrease
both productivity and efficiency.
Today’s workplace requires a faster pace, more problem solving, and a flexible approach to work. Too much
adherence to explicit rules and a division of labor can leave an organization behind. And unfortunately, once
established, bureaucracies can take on a life of their own. Maybe you have heard the expression “trying to turn
a tanker around mid-ocean,” which refers to the difficulties of changing direction with something large and set
in its ways. State governments and current budget crises are examples of this challenge. It is almost impossible
to make quick changes, leading states to fail, year after year, to address increasingly unbalanced budgets.
Finally, bureaucracies, grew as institutions at a time when privileged white males held all the power. While
ostensibly based on meritocracy, bureaucracies can perpetuate the existing balance of power by only
recognizing the merit in traditionally male and privileged paths.
Michels (1911) suggested that all large organizations are characterized by the Iron Rule of Oligarchy, wherein
an entire organization is ruled by a few elites. Do you think this is true? Can a large organization be
FIGURE 6.9 This McDonald’s storefront in Egypt shows the McDonaldization of society. (Credit: s_w_ellis/flickr)
6.3 • Formal Organizations 161

The McDonaldization of Society
The McDonaldization of Society (Ritzer 1993) refers to the increasing presence of the fast food business
model in common social institutions, including government, education, and even relationships. The term itself
isn’t widely used in publications, research, or common conversation, but its effects are very familiar, even
commonplace. The McDonald’s model includes efficiency (the division of labor), predictability, calculability,
and control (monitoring). For example, in your average chain grocery store, people at the register check out
customers while stockers keep the shelves full of goods and deli workers slice meats and cheese to order
(efficiency). Whenever you enter a store within that grocery chain, you receive the same type of goods, see the
same store organization, and find the same brands at the same prices (predictability). You will find that goods
are sold by the pound, so that you can weigh your fruit and vegetable purchase rather than simply guessing at
the price for that bag of onions. The employees use a timecard to calculate their hours and receive overtime
pay (calculability). Finally, you will notice that all store employees are wearing a uniform, and usually a name
tag, so that they can be easily identified. There are security cameras to monitor the store, and some parts of the
store, such as the stockroom, are generally considered off-limits to customers (control). This approach is so
common in chain stores that you might not even notice it; in fact, if you went to a large-chain resturant or a
store like Walmart, seeing a worker or a process that didn’t have these uniform characteristics would seem
While McDonaldization has resulted in improved profits and an increased availability of various goods and
services to more people worldwide, it has also reduced the variety of goods available in the marketplace while
rendering available products uniform, generic, and bland. Think of the difference between a mass-produced
shoe and one made by a local cobbler, between a chicken from a family-owned farm and a corporate grower, or
between a cup of coffee from the local diner and one from Starbucks. Some more contemporary efforts can be
referred to as “de-McDonaldization”: farmers markets, microbreweries, and various do-it-yourself trends. And
with recent advertising and products emphasizing individuality, even McDonald’s seems to be de-
McDonaldizing itself.
The corporate impact of this phenomenon is interesting on its own, but sociologists and ordinary citizens are
often more concerned about its echoes in other areas of society. A primary example, discussed extensively
later on in this text, is education. Curricula and teaching practices were long the domain of local districts
under state guidance. Some experts felt that this led to both inefficiency and underperformance. Starting in
the 1990s and especially in the early 2000s with the No Child Left Behind law, national standards began to
override local approaches. But the desired outcome (improved education) is difficult to measure and far more
difficult to achieve. Due to funding gaps, difficult standards, and intense public and local government
opposition, the law was largely seen as having limited impact and was eventually phased out.
Healthcare has also gone to a mass production and efficiency model. As you will explore later in the text, U.S.
healthcare providers and insurers faced overwhelming increases in demand, partly the result of America’s
aging and less healthy population. In the 1990s, providers consolidated in what was called hospital “merger
mania.” Local hospitals and even small doctors’ offices were merged or acquired by larger systems (Fuchs
1997). The trend continued with new growth in providers like urgent care offices. Other efficiency and
standardization methods include telemedicine, new types of healthcare professionals, insurance mandates,
and artificial intelligence.
Secrets of the McJob
We often talk about bureaucracies disparagingly, and no organization takes more heat than fast food restaurants.
Several books and movies, such as Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schossler, paint
an ugly picture of what goes in, what goes on, and what comes out of fast food chains. From their environmental
162 6 • Groups and Organization
Access for free at

impact to their role in the U.S. obesity epidemic, fast food chains are connected to numerous societal ills.
Furthermore, working at a fast food restaurant is often disparaged, and even referred to dismissively, as having a
McJob rather than a real job.
But business school professor Jerry Newman went undercover and worked behind the counter at seven fast food
restaurants to discover what really goes on there. His book, My Secret Life on the McJob, documents his experience.
Unlike Schossler, Newman found that these restaurants offer much good alongside the bad. Specifically, he asserted
that the employees were honest and hardworking, that management was often impressive, and that the jobs
required a lot more skill and effort than most people imagined. In the book, Newman cites a pharmaceutical
executive who says a fast-food service job on an applicant’s résumé is a plus because it indicates the employee is
reliable and can handle pressure.
Businesses like Chipotle, Panera, and Costco attempt to combat many of the effects of McDonaldization. In fact,
Costco is known for paying its employees an average of $20 per hour, or slightly more than $40,000 per year. Nearly
90% of their employees receive health insurance from Costco, a number that is unheard of in the retail sector.
While Chipotle is not known for the high wages of its employees, it is known for attempting to sell high-quality foods
from responsibly sourced providers. This is a different approach from what Schossler describes among burger
chains like McDonalds.
So, what do you think? Are these McJobs and the organizations that offer them still serving an important role in the
economy and people’s careers? Or are they dead-end jobs that typify all that is negative about large bureaucracies?
Have you ever worked in one? Would you?
6.3 • Formal Organizations 163

Key Terms
aggregate a collection of people who exist in the same place at the same time, but who don’t interact or
share a sense of identity
authoritarian leader a leader who issues orders and assigns tasks
bureaucracies formal organizations characterized by a hierarchy of authority, a clear division of labor,
explicit rules, and impersonality.
category people who share similar characteristics but who are not connected in any way
clear division of labor the fact that each individual in a bureaucracy has a specialized task to perform
coercive organizations organizations that people do not voluntarily join, such as prison or a mental
conformity the extent to which an individual complies with group or societal norms
democratic leader a leader who encourages group participation and consensus-building before moving
into action
dyad a two-member group
explicit rules the types of rules in a bureaucracy; rules that are outlined, recorded, and standardized
expressive function a group function that serves an emotional need
expressive leader a leader who is concerned with process and with ensuring everyone’s emotional
formal organizations large, impersonal organizations
group any collection of at least two people who interact with some frequency and who share some sense of
aligned identity
hierarchy of authority a clear chain of command found in a bureaucracy
impersonality the removal of personal feelings from a professional situation
in-group a group a person belongs to and feels is an integral part of his identity
instrumental function being oriented toward a task or goal
instrumental leader a leader who is goal oriented with a primary focus on accomplishing tasks
Iron Rule of Oligarchy the theory that an organization is ruled by a few elites rather than through
laissez-faire leader a hands-off leader who allows members of the group to make their own decisions
leadership function the main focus or goal of a leader
leadership style the style a leader uses to achieve goals or elicit action from group members
McDonaldization of Society the increasing presence of the fast food business model in common social
meritocracy a bureaucracy where membership and advancement is based on merit—proven and
documented skills
normative or voluntary organizations organizations that people join to pursue shared interests or because
they provide some intangible rewards
out-group a group that an individual is not a member of, and may even compete with
primary groups small, informal groups of people who are closest to us
reference groups groups to which an individual compares herself
secondary groups larger and more impersonal groups that are task-focused and time limited
total institution an organization in which participants live a controlled lifestyle and in which total
resocialization occurs
triad a three-member group
utilitarian organizations organizations that are joined to fill a specific material need
164 6 • Key Terms
Access for free at

Section Summary
6.1 Types of Groups
Groups largely define how we think of ourselves. There are two main types of groups: primary and secondary.
As the names suggest, the primary group is the long-term, complex one. People use groups as standards of
comparison to define themselves—both who they are and who they are not. Sometimes groups can be used to
exclude people or as a tool that strengthens prejudice.
6.2 Group Size and Structure
The size and dynamic of a group greatly affects how members act. Primary groups rarely have formal leaders,
although there can be informal leadership. Groups generally are considered large when there are too many
members for a simultaneous discussion. In secondary groups there are two types of leadership functions, with
expressive leaders focused on emotional health and wellness, and instrumental leaders more focused on
results. Further, there are different leadership styles: democratic leaders, authoritarian leaders, and laissez-
faire leaders.
Within a group, conformity is the extent to which people want to go along with the norm. A number of
experiments have illustrated how strong the drive to conform can be. It is worth considering real-life examples
of how conformity and obedience can lead people to ethically and morally suspect acts.
6.3 Formal Organizations
Large organizations fall into three main categories: normative/voluntary, coercive, and utilitarian. We live in a
time of contradiction: while the pace of change and technology are requiring people to be more nimble and
less bureaucratic in their thinking, large bureaucracies like hospitals, schools, and governments are more
hampered than ever by their organizational format. At the same time, the past few decades have seen the
development of a trend to bureaucratize and conventionalize local institutions. Increasingly, Main Streets
across the country resemble each other; instead of a Bob’s Coffee Shop and Jane’s Hair Salon there is a Dunkin
Donuts and a Supercuts. This trend has been referred to as the McDonaldization of society.
Section Quiz
6.1 Types of Groups
1. What does a Functionalist consider when studying a phenomenon like the Tea Party movement?
a. The minute functions that every person at the protests plays in the whole
b. The internal conflicts that play out within such a diverse and leaderless group
c. How the movement contributes to the stability of society by offering the discontented a safe, controlled
outlet for dissension
d. The factions and divisions that form within the movement
2. What is the largest difference between the Functionalist and Conflict perspectives and the Interactionist
a. The former two consider long-term repercussions of the group or situation, while the latter focuses on
the present.
b. The first two are the more common sociological perspective, while the latter is a newer sociological
c. The first two focus on hierarchical roles within an organization, while the last takes a more holistic
d. The first two perspectives address large-scale issues facing groups, while the last examines more
detailed aspects.
6 • Section Summary 165

3. What role do secondary groups play in society?
a. They are transactional, task-based, and short-term, filling practical needs.
b. They provide a social network that allows people to compare themselves to others.
c. The members give and receive emotional support.
d. They allow individuals to challenge their beliefs and prejudices.
4. When a high school student gets teased by her basketball team for receiving an academic award, she is
dealing with competing ______________.
a. primary groups
b. out-groups
c. reference groups
d. secondary groups
5. Which of the following is not an example of an in-group?
a. The Ku Klux Klan
b. A fraternity
c. A synagogue
d. A high school
6. What is a group whose values, norms, and beliefs come to serve as a standard for one’s own behavior?
a. Secondary group
b. Formal organization
c. Reference group
d. Primary group
7. A parent who is worrying over her teenager’s dangerous and self-destructive behavior and low self-esteem
may wish to look at her child’s:
a. reference group
b. in-group
c. out-group
d. All of the above
6.2 Group Size and Structure
8. Two people who have just had a baby have turned from a _______ to a _________.
a. primary group; secondary group
b. dyad; triad
c. couple; family
d. de facto group; nuclear family
9. Who is more likely to be an expressive leader?
a. The sales manager of a fast-growing cosmetics company
b. A high school teacher at a reform school
c. The director of a summer camp for chronically ill children
d. A manager at a fast-food restaurant
166 6 • Section Quiz
Access for free at

10. Which of the following is not an appropriate group for democratic leadership?
a. A fire station
b. A college classroom
c. A high school prom committee
d. A homeless shelter
11. In Asch’s study on conformity, what contributed to the ability of subjects to resist conforming?
a. A very small group of witnesses
b. The presence of an ally
c. The ability to keep one’s answer private
d. All of the above
12. Which type of group leadership has a communication pattern that flows from the top down?
a. Authoritarian
b. Democratic
c. Laissez-faire
d. Expressive
6.3 Formal Organizations
13. Which is not an example of a normative organization?
a. A book club
b. A church youth group
c. A People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protest group
d. A study hall
14. Which of these is an example of a total institution?
a. Jail
b. High school
c. Political party
d. A gym
15. Why do people join utilitarian organizations?
a. Because they feel an affinity with others there
b. Because they receive a tangible benefit from joining
c. Because they have no choice
d. Because they feel pressured to do so
16. Which of the following is not a characteristic of bureaucracies?
a. Coercion to join
b. Hierarchy of authority
c. Explicit rules
d. Division of labor
17. What are some of the intended positive aspects of bureaucracies?
a. Increased productivity
b. Increased efficiency
c. Equal treatment for all
d. All of the above
6 • Section Quiz 167

18. What is an advantage of the McDonaldization of society?
a. There is more variety of goods.
b. There is less theft.
c. There is more worldwide availability of goods.
d. There is more opportunity for businesses.
19. What is a disadvantage of the McDonaldization of society?
a. There is less variety of goods.
b. There is an increased need for employees with postgraduate degrees.
c. There is less competition so prices are higher.
d. There are fewer jobs so unemployment increases.
Short Answer
6.1 Types of Groups
1. How has technology changed your primary groups and secondary groups? Do you have more (and separate)
primary groups due to online connectivity? Do you believe that someone, like Levy, can have a true primary
group made up of people she has never met? Why, or why not?
2. Compare and contrast two different political groups or organizations, such as the MeToo and Tea Party
movements. How do the groups differ in terms of leadership, membership, and activities? How do the
group’s goals influence participants? Are any of them in-groups (and have they created out-groups)?
Explain your answer.
3. The concept of hate crimes has been linked to in-groups and out-groups. Can you think of an example
where people have been excluded or tormented due to this kind of group dynamic?
6.2 Group Size and Structure
4. Think of a scenario where an authoritarian leadership style would be beneficial. Explain. What are the
reasons it would work well? What are the risks?
5. Describe a time you were led by a leader using, in your opinion, a leadership style that didn’t suit the
situation. When and where was it? What could she or he have done better?
6. Imagine you are in Asch’s study. Would you find it difficult to give the correct answer in that scenario? Why
or why not? How would you change the study now to improve it?
7. What kind of leader do you tend to be? Do you embrace different leadership styles and functions as the
situation changes? Give an example of a time you were in a position of leadership and what function and
style you expressed.
6.3 Formal Organizations
8. What do you think about the recent spotlight on fast food restaurants? Do you think they contribute to
society’s ills? Do you believe they provide a needed service? Have you ever worked a job like this? What did
you learn?
9. Do you consider today’s large companies like General Motors, Amazon, or Facebook to be bureaucracies?
Why, or why not? Which of the main characteristics of bureaucracies do you see in them? Which are
10. Where do you prefer to shop, eat out, or grab a cup of coffee? Large chains like Walmart or smaller
retailers? Starbucks or a local restaurant? What do you base your decisions on? Does this section change
how you think about these choices? Why, or why not?
168 6 • Short Answer
Access for free at

Further Research
6.1 Types of Groups
For more information about cyberbullying causes and statistics, check out this website on cyberbullying
research ( .
6.2 Group Size and Structure
What is your leadership style? This leadership style quiz ( helps you find out.
6.3 Formal Organizations
As mentioned above, the concept of McDonaldization is a growing one. Check out this article discussing the
phenomenon of McDonaldization further ( .
Cabrel, Javier. 2011. “NOFX – Occupy LA.”, November 28. Retrieved February 10, 2012
( westcoastsound/2011/11/nofx_-_occupy_la_-_11-28-2011.php) ).
Tea Party, Inc. 2014. “Tea Party.” Retrieved December 31, 2020 (, 2021. “History and Inception.” Retrieved December 31, 2020. (
6.1 Types of Groups
Cooley, Charles Horton.1963 [1909]. Social Organizations: A Study of the Larger Mind. New York: Shocken.
Cyberbullying Research Center. n.d. Retrieved November 30, 2011 (
Hinduja, Sameer, and Justin W. Patchin.2010. “Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide.”Archives of Suicide
Research 14(3): 206–221.
Hinduja, Sameer, and Justin W. Patchin.2019. “Summary of Our Cyberbullying Research (2007-2019).”
Cyberbullying Research Center,
Retrieved February 14, 2021
Khandaroo, Stacy T. 2010. “Phoebe Prince Case a ‘Watershed’ in Fight Against School Bullying.” Christian
Science Monitor, April 1. Retrieved February 10, 2012 (
Occupy Wall Street. Retrieved November 27, 2011. (
Schwartz, Mattathias. 2011. “Pre-Occupied: The Origins and Future of Occupy Wall St.” New Yorker Magazine,
November 28.
Sumner, William. 1959 [1906]. Folkways. New York: Dover.
“Times Topics: Occupy Wall Street.” New York Times. 2011. Retrieved February 10, 2012
We Are the 99 Percent. Retrieved November 28, 2011 (
6.2 Group Size and Structure
Asch, Solomon. 1956. “Studies of Independence and Conformity: A Minority of One Against a Unanimous
6 • Further Research 169

Majority.” Psychological Monographs 70(9, Whole No. 416).
Baldoni, John. 2020. “Double-edged workplace ambition: Good for men, bad for women.” SmartBrief. August 7,
Boatwright, K.J., and L. Forrest. 2000. “Leadership Preferences: The Influence of Gender and Needs for
Connection on Workers’ Ideal Preferences for Leadership Behaviors.” The Journal of Leadership Studies
7(2): 18–34.
Beyer, F., Sidarus, N., Bonicalzi, S., & Haggard, P. (2017). Beyond self-serving bias: diffusion of responsibility
reduces sense of agency and outcome monitoring. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 12(1),
Cherry, K. 2020. “The Diffusion of Responsibility Concept in Psychology.” Very Well Mind. Retrieved October
28, 2020 (
Conroy, M,, Martin, D. J., and Nalder. KL. (2020). “Gender, Sex, and the Role of Stereotypes in Evaluations of
Hillary Clinton and the 2016 Presidential Candidates.” Journal of Women, Politics & Policy 41(2): 194-218.
Cox, Ana Marie. 2006. “How Americans View Hillary: Popular but Polarizing.” Time, August 19. Retrieved
February 10, 2012 (,9171,1229053,00.html).
Dowd, Maureen. 2008. “Can Hillary Cry Her Way to the White House?” New York Times, January 9. Retrieved
February 10, 2012 (
Heilman, Madeline E. 2012. “Gender stereotypes and workplace bias.” Research in Organizational Behavior.
32: 113-135
HeroicImagination TV. (2011, September 28). The Bystander Effect. [Video]. YouTube.
Click to view content (

Kurtieben, Danielle. 2010. “Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Women in Politics.” US News and
World Report, September 30. Retrieved February 10, 2012 (
Milgram, Stanley. 1963. “Behavioral Study of Obedience.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 67:
Simmel, Georg. 1950. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press.
Weeks, Linton. 2011. “The Feminine Effect on Politics.” National Public Radio (NPR), June 9. Retrieved
February 10, 2012 (
6.3 Formal Organizations
Di Meglio, Francesca. 2007. “Learning on the McJob.” Bloomberg Businessweek, March 22. Retrieved February
10, 2012 (
Etzioni, Amitai. 1975. A Comparative Analysis of Complex Organizations: On Power, Involvement, and Their
Correlates. New York: Free Press.
Fuchs, Victor R.. 1997. “Managed Care and Merger Mania,” JAMA 277.11 (920-921).
Goffman, Erving. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. Chicago,
IL: Aldine.

An error occurred.