This last week of class

Part 1 asks to define terms, answer them in sociology manner (use class book attached)

part 2 answer in one paragraph of 5-6 sentences

part 3 has two parts, answer each part with one paragraph of 5-6 sentences

Sociology 100

Part 1

Objectives:

1. Review key sociological terms and concepts

2. Collaborate to generate a final report of key sociological terms and concepts

Guidelines:

1. Define the following terms: (17 terms)

Structural-functional theory, Segregation, Conflict theory, Minority group, Symbolic interaction

theory, White privilege, Feminist theory, Audit study, Social facts, Sex, Social institution, Gender,

Sociological imagination, Gender stratification, Norms, Gendered institution

2. All definitions are accurate, clear, and proofread

Part 2

Guidelines:

What makes a good team? Provide two (2) characteristics or qualities of a good team, and relate at least

one example of how these characteristics led to a successful working team in your experience. Note that

group members should not overlap in characteristics or qualities.

Answer in one paragraph (i.e., five to six sentences)

Sociology 250

Part 3 involves two parts please do all of them

Guidelines:

Part 1:

Based on the content we reviewed from this week (see week 6 lecture file), discuss (in detail) ways we
can support others in our diverse community. That community can be local, state, regional, national,
global. Feel free to share things you have done in the past or seen others do. Your answer can include
descriptions of major social movements or events that have taken place as long as you make sure to tie
your answer to what YOU can do to be an ally for someone based on that example OR what from this
week’s content reminds you of or can be connected to your example.

Part 2:

Using content and discussion from this semester (you been doing my assignement so review those week
posts for part 3), identify a diversity research project you would be interested in conducting. Be sure to
identify if you are interested in doing a qualitative or quantitative study and why you would want to
conduct such a project and include specific concepts and terms from class. For example, if you want to
conduct studies on age, you might want to explore the impact of elderspeak on identity through qualitative

interviews, or if you are interested in exploring shared experiences and sense of identity based on
social/economic class, you might want to distribute a quantitative survey asking people their preferences,
familiarity, access to various services, amenities, and activities in their communities, as well as their
annual household income and other demographic questions. Perhaps you are interested in collecting
both – maybe you want to use data from your survey on access to resources in their community to
connect with people to conduct qualitative interviews about their experiences and opinions related to
access to resources. (For those of you interested in research later in life, the ideal would be to have the
qualitative and quantitative data speak to each other.).

Answer in one paragraph (i.e., five to six sentences)

Emory Bogardus and the Origins of the Social Distance Scale

Author(s): Colin Wark and John F. Galliher

Source: The American Sociologist , Dec., 2007, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Dec., 2007), pp. 383-395

Published by: Springer

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Am Soc (2007) 38:383-395
DOI 10.1007/S12108-007-9023-9

Emory Bogardus and the Origins of the Social
Distance Scale

Colin Wark John F. Galliher

Published online: 4 December 2007

) Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2007

Abstract This article provides some history of sociology by focusing on the origins
of the Bogardus Social Distance Scale. The scale was developed by Emory Bogardus
in 1924 and is still widely used in measuring prejudice. It has been translated into
several languages, and used in many countries in measuring attitudes toward a variety

of groups. The authors use primary and secondary7 data, including an interview with

one of Bogardus’s colleagues, Thomas Lasswell, and the Bogardus archive at
the University of Southern California. American racial and ethnic conflict, and the
increasing scientific emphasis in sociology help explain the genesis of the scale. The
personal biography of Bogardus is examined along with trends in sociology during
his training at the University of Chicago and developments throughout American
society. This study shows how the social environment of Bogardus influenced his
personal life circumstances that help account for his creation of the scale.

Keywords Bogardus Social Distance Scale Sociology Social environment
Attitude scales

Introduction

This article provides some history of sociology as it responded to racial issues by
focusing on the origins of the Bogardus Social Distance Scale. According to Mills
(1959) the promise of the sociological imagination allows the investigator to link an
individual’s culture with both their personal life and professional career. Inves
tigators can switch their focus between these two levels and involves an

Thanks are due to a group that includes Thomas Lasswell, Jon Miller, Patricia Adolph, Susan Hikida,

Claude Zachaiy, Ruth Chananie, Ann Hunter, Margaret Johnson, James Aho, Donald Granberg, Steve
Kroll-Smith, and Nancy Turner Myers.

C. Wark J. F. Galliher (SI)
335 Middlebush Hall University of Missouri Columbia, Columbia, MO 65211-6100, USA
e-mail: [email protected]

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384 Am Soc (2007) 38:383-395

understanding of the relationship between biography and history. This article uses
Mills’ idea of the sociological imagination to explain the attempt to present the
discipline as scientific, the early life experiences of Emory Bogardus, the culture in
which he lived and the creation of the Social Distance Scale.

Our analysis is based primarily on information from an interview with Thomas E.

Lasswell who was a friend and colleague of Bogardus, the autobiography of Bogardus
(1962), his personal correspondence and other materials written by Bogardus. Much
of the written material is found in the Emory Bogardus Papers at the University of
Southern California Archives. We also examine the 1920s at the University of
Chicago’s sociology department when Bogardus worked on his Ph.D. there, the
history of the city of Chicago, as well as other parts of the United States. This
analysis will help explain the increased interest in race relations in American society
and among American sociologists at the time that Bogardus was beginning his
academic career. The discipline was also trying to be scientific as opposed to what
Levine (1995:92) called “a vehicle for social reform and social work” or what Faris
(1967:3) called “moral philosophy.” Chicago professor William Ogbum was a
prominent proponent of the statistical method that was making headway at Chicago
and in sociology as a whole (Duncan 1964). We discuss Bogardus’s biography,
focusing primarily on the factors leading to the invention of the Social Distance
Scale and conclude with a discussion of the significance of this scale.

Ethnic Conflict and Immigration

At the time that Bogardus developed the Social Distance Scale conflict was caused
by a surge of non-Protestant immigration. Prior to 1880 the majority of people
immigrating to the United States were from Germany, Scandinavia, or the British
Isles. These immigrants are often called the “first wave” (Uschan 1999:27). The
“second wave” immigrants were mainly from Italy, Poland, Russia, Austria
Hungary, and other countries in Southern and Eastern Europe. The first wave
immigrants who were primarily Protestant rejected the second wave because they
imported “strange” languages, customs, and religions (Uschan 1999:27). The

majority of these newer European immigrants settled in the ever-expanding slum
areas of large industrial cities and joined others with similar racial or ethnic
backgrounds. People who lived in the slum areas in cities faced rampant disease and
terrible living conditions. Many “older” Americans wanted to stop this immigration.

At the beginning of the twentieth century many Asians emigrated from their
homelands to the West Coast where they faced severe discrimination. In 1905, for
example, San Francisco officials forced Japanese children to attend segregated
schools, stimulating further anti-Japanese prejudice in the area. Many Anglos wanted

to stop Japanese immigration or even deport all Japanese people, believing that the
influx of Japanese “picture brides” meant that the Japanese would reproduce and
eventually dominate the United States (Handlin 1972:268). In 1907-1908, President
Theodore Roosevelt made an informal “Gentlemen’s Agreement” with the Japanese
government in which he could prevent Japanese laborers from entering the country
and in return the U.S. government would refrain from labeling Japanese people as
inferior (Handlin 1972).

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Am Soc (2007) 38:383-395 385

This arrangement did not satisfy some on the West Coast. In 1913, soon after
Bogardus began his career at the USC, California passed an “alien land law” which
prohibited Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Asian Indian immigrants from purchasing
land or leasing it for more than 3 years (Chan 1991). At the same time several other
states enacted similar laws. In 1920, California passed a second law that totally
prevented Asian immigrants from leasing land. Finally, in 1922, the United States
Supreme Court ruled that Japanese people were “aliens ineligible to citizenship,” and
therefore did not have the right to become naturalized (Wilson and Hosokawa
1980:137). At the same time the Hearst Press became increasingly critical of
Japanese people in the United States. In addition to the Japanese, many other groups
also endured prejudice and discrimination. In California, for example, Filipinos were
classified as “Mongolians” and were therefore not allowed to marry Anglos (Handlin
1972:268). Moreover, Mexican immigrants were forced to live in segregated
neighborhoods and given only the most menial job opportunities.

Beginning in 1910 United States immigration personnel attempted to restrict
Indian nationals from entering the United States. In 1917, Congress created the
“Asiatic barred zone” which was a clause in the 1917 Immigration Act that enabled
immigration officials to stop their entry completely (Handlin 1972:268). In 1921, a
federal law limited immigration from non-Protestant countries by means of a quota
system. The quota limited the number of residents coming from each country “to 3%

of the foreign-born persons of that nationality found to be resident in the United
States in 1910″ (Wilson and Hosokawa 1980:136). When the 1921 bill passed
immigration dropped by 50%. Nevertheless, some still complained about the influx
of immigrants from non-Protestant countries. Therefore, Congress passed a second
law in 1924 (the “National Origins Act”) that lowered the quota to 2% and based this
limit on figures from the 1890 census (Hanson 1999:59).

In addition to the other sources of hatred, World War I stimulated anti-German
sentiment. Efforts to eliminate German cultural influences were especially visible in
Chicago. In 1916, for example, the German Day Parade was cancelled. Moreover,
the Chicago City Council changed the names of many local streets that bore German
names. Although Bogardus was then living in Southern California, because he had
lived in Chicago for many years, these events were likely significant to him. And
during the 1910s and 1920s much of the criminal activity that occurred in the United

States was attributed to “alien radicals” (Hanson 1999:61). In the fall of 1919, for
example, an outbreak of bombings and bomb threats occurred. Although authorities
were unable to identify the perpetrators, many people believed that the crimes were a

result of “radical political activity by foreign agitators” (Hanson 1999:61). The
public became increasingly concerned with these events. In 1920, the United States
Attorney General directed a number of raids against people he labeled “dangerous
aliens” which resulted in the arrest of several thousand men in cities throughout the
United States (Hanson 1999:61).

Migration

In the 1910s and 1920s the northern industrial cities of the U. S. experienced an
influx of black Americans from the rural South. Chicago was no exception and

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386 Am Soc (2007) 38:383-395

during the 1910s Chicago’s black population doubled. At the same time black people
also began moving to western states, especially California. World War I had a major
influence in this mass migration. Because travel restrictions drastically cut European
immigration, employers could no longer rely on European immigrants as a cheap
source of labor. At the same time, many young wiiite men were forced to leave their

jobs for the military. The ensuing labor shortage led to higher wages (Uschan 1999).
Southern black sharecroppers typically earned S2 to $3 per week while northern
blacks were paid on average $2 to $2.50 per day.

Northern blacks also were given civil liberties that they were not allowed in the
South, including the right to vote and to send their children to school. Although they

did not face southern segregation laws, northern blacks were still not treated equal to

whites. They were forced to live in segregated neighborhoods in the slum areas of
the large industrial cities. During World War I more than 370,000 black people
served in the military, where they were also segregated. During the summer of 1919
several race riots broke out across the United States. The largest and most destructive

occurred in Chicago (Spinney 2000). The Chicago riot lasted 6 days and did not end
until the Illinois National Guard intervened. Although the event probably shocked
people across the country it may have been particularly troubling to Bogardus
because it occurred in the city where he had been educated.

During the riot 38 people were killed, 537 were injured, and more than 1,000
homes were demolished. The riot occurred when white people began to sense that
blacks were posing a significant threat in the competition for scarce resources,
especially jobs and housing. This caused a re-emergence of groups that terrorized
many people. One of the strongest of such groups was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). At
one point the KKK claimed a membership of 4 million people in the United States.
A 1922 rally in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park attracted “twenty-five thousand
Klan members and sympathizers” (Spinney 2000:175). Much of this conflict
surrounding immigration and migration occurred at the time that Bogardus was
being educated. Both sociologists and the general public showed an increased
interest in race relations.

Sociology and Race

The original social science studies often focused on “racial mental capacities and a
related eugenics concern” (Faris 1967:68-69). When Bogardus entered the
profession there was little interest among sociologists in racism or racial conflict
(McKee 1993). At the beginning of the 20th century the flagship journal of the
profession was the American Journal of Sociology (AJS). It published only one
article per year on these issues. For this generation of sociologists racial conflict was
simply considered inevitable.

But perhaps as a result of the swirling ethnic and racial conflicts in the early
twentieth century several sociologists began to criticize the view that mental capacity

varied with race. For example, in 1918 Ellsworth Faris published an article that
disputed some of the widely accepted views on this subject. In 1908, the same year
that Bogardus began his graduate studies at the University of Chicago one of his

mentors, W. I. Thomas, convinced a “wealthy Chicago heiress” to donate S50,000 to

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Am Soc (2007) 38:383-395 387

study race relations (Collins and Makowsky 1978:184). This was the first major
American social science research grant. Thomas used the money to study Chicago’s
Polish immigrants. Although he originally planned to study other groups as well, his
desire for “empirical thoroughness” caused him to narrow his focus (Collins and
Makowsky 1978:184).

When Thomas began this study Polish-Americans were Chicago’s largest
immigrant minority. At the time local newspaper articles complained about “Polish
Crime” (Collins and Makowsky 1978:184). They described how Polish-Americans
presumably were prone to an “unpredictable outburst of violence” (Collins and
Makowsky 1978:184). The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (Thomas and
Znaniecki 1927) set out to criticize this stereotype. It was also the first major
American attempt to collect data on theoretical issues and signifies the beginning of
a concern with research methods. It convinced both Robert Park and Ernest Burgess
to continue studying this topic. Thomas played a role in stimulating the Park and

Miller (1921) study of acculturation in (? World Traits Transplanted . Burgess, on
the other hand, turned his attention to the life of Russian peasants (Faris 1967:107).
This developing concern with race and ethnicity was clearly found at the University
of Chicago when Bogardus was completing his Ph.D.

The Early Life and Education of Emory Bogardus

Bogardus was born in 1882 and completed his undergraduate education at
Northwestern, graduating in 1908 with a degree in psychology. During his first year
of graduate school at Northwestern Bogardus received a fellowship that required him
to live and work at the university’s settlement house. While living there he learned
about a variety of social problems including poverty, juvenile delinquency, and
alcoholism. He also met Professor Edward A. Ross of the University of Wisconsin
who stimulated his interest in sociology. Bogardus eventually considered pursuing a
career in sociology after Ross reported that it focused on “the underlying social
processes according to which people strive to live and to make life worth while”
(Bogardus 1962:44). But first Bogardus pursued psychology.

By the time he finished his bachelor’s degree, Bogardus had obtained a surplus of
academic credits. He was able to use his settlement house experience as the basis for
his master’s thesis on the psychology of adolescence. While preparing his thesis
Bogardus familiarized himself with research methods, learning how to accurately
and objectively gather, classify, and report data. And he learned how to be objective
when making inferences. He was awarded a master’s degree in psychology from
Northwestern in 1909.

During his first year of graduate school Bogardus determined that teaching might
be his best career option. He initially considered becoming a high school teacher,
both to try out the field of teaching and to save money for graduate school. Instead,

according to Thomas Lasswell, Bogardus took the advice of a friend and spoke to
Albion Small, head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago
who urged him to apply for a scholarship. Bogardus was awarded the scholarship for
1 year and had it renewed the following year. This gave him enough money to
complete 2 years of doctoral study in sociology. It was then that he was introduced

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388 Am Soc (2007) 38:383-395

to the fundamentals of sociological theory. Small also made him aware of “‘the
ongoing of the social process,’ universal and powerful yet subject in some ways to
human direction” (Bogardus 1962:47).

In addition to Small, Bogardus took classes from W. I. Thomas (Bogardus
1962:48). The book of Thomas (1909) on Social ?gins was published the same

year that Bogardus began his doctoral studies. It may have been Thomas who
stimulated Bogardus’s interest in quantitatively measuring attitudes toward racial and

ethnic groups, having introduced the sociological concept of race prejudice in a
highly influential 1904 paper (McKee 1993). Thomas is also known for his work on
social attitudes as well as his prominent role in the attempt to create a scientific
sociology (Faris 1967). Chicago professor Robert Park also had a profound impact
on Bogardus. Park published numerous articles on race during the teens (Hughes et al.

1950) while Bogardus was studying at Chicago. And Bogardus (1928) repeatedly
cited Park’s work on race in his later book immigration and Race Attitudes.

Another factor that influenced the development of the Bogardus Social Distance
Scale was the nature of academic sociology. At the time that Bogardus was being
educated professional sociologists were trying to present their discipline to the academic

community as well as the general public as a form of scientific inquiry. To be sure, the

importance of scientific objectivity for social inquiry had been recognized since the
1880s when sociology first became an academic discipline. The goal was first
articulated by Auguste Comte, the person who coined the term “sociology.” In the late

nineteenth century American scholars followed suit adding to Comte ‘s aspiration a
desire to apply sociology to “human welfare and the survival of …civilization” (Faris
1967:3). However, unable to engage in “slow, calm, objective research,” these men
failed to establish a truly scientific image for sociology, leaving the task to the newly

established Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago (Faris 1967:6). The
Bogardus Social Distance Scale is one result of their efforts. It displays “the 1920s
craze for measurement” coupled with clear reformist values (Bannister 1987:10).

Entering Sociology

In the spring of 1911, Bogardus received his Ph.D. in sociology and had begun the
search for a college faculty position. At the time there were very few openings for
full time sociologists. Eventually, however, he was able to find one in South Dakota,
and another at USC. Although South Dakota was closer to Chicago, he accepted the
USC position because it “was in a more promising location from the standpoint of
both a growing community and a region of complicated social problems calling for
sociological research” (Bogardus 1962:51). Bogardus began at USC with an
appointment in the Department of Economics and Sociology. While he primarily
taught sociology courses, during his first semester he was assigned a course in

Money and Banking (Bogardus 1962). In 1915 he was asked to found the
Department of Sociology at USC and became its first chair, retaining this position
until 1946.

In 1916 Bogardus established and became the editor of America’s second
sociological journal, Sociological Monographs, which later became known as the
Journal of Applied Sociology (Lasswell 1973). In 1920 he was promoted to direct

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Am Soc (2007) 38:383-395 389

the USC Division of Social Work. It was then that he organized Alpha Kappa Delta, the

sociological honor society. In 1921 Bogardus established the USC School of Social
Work (USC archives). He did all this while publishing three books: Introduction to the
Social Sciences (Bogardus 1913), Essentials of Social Psychology (Bogardus 1918)
and Essentials of Americanwtion (Bogardus 1919). Bogardus published two more
books in 1922: Introduction to Sociology (Bogardus 1922a) and A Htory of Social
Thought (Bogardus 1922b), as well as many other later books. In 1931 he was elected
president of the American Sociological Association.

Bogardus became involved with a social settlement organization called the All
Nations Foundation of Los Angeles. It was founded in 1914 to serve immigrants in
the impoverished east-central section of the city. By “good fortune” the foundation
requested that he survey boys and the challenges they face (Bogardus 1962:58). The
subjects were not just from the poverty-stricken neighborhood in which All Nations

was functioning, but also included children from middle-class and upper-class
neighborhoods. The results were published in a Bogardus (1925) book about the
lives of boys in Los Angeles. Bogardus always had a great deal of appreciation for
ethnic and racial diversity. His w7ork for the All Nations Foundation reflects this, as

does his participation in the International Institute of Los Angeles. The Institute was
founded in 1914 to assist immigrants in adjusting to American society (Bogardus
1962). According to Lasswell a commitment to diversity is also indicated by the
number of early graduate students working with Bogardus who were from foreign
countries, especially those from Asia. Bogardus also had a strong interest in seeing
“women and minorities” enter the field of sociology, Lasswell claimed. Above all,
Bogardus was more than just an academic student of race relations; he also made an
effort to improve them.

In a letter to Episcopal Dean Dillard Robinson of the Trinity Cathedral in Newark
Bogardus wrote, “As a sociologist I learned long ago that the human race is one,
with similar problems and with a universal need for encouragement of many kinds”
(USC Bogardus Papers, November 16, 1970). As it happens, Dillard Robinson was
the first African-American Episcopal Dean in the United States. In another letter to
an unknown party Bogardus argued that people who cannot read or write should be
given the opportunity to obtain these skills, and that people of all races should have
at least some knowledge about their “civic and community responsibilities and
opportunities” (USC Bogardus Papers, October 12, 1965). In still another letter
Bogardus discussed his experience at a conference in Indianapolis: “We had a great
time in Indianapolis. The address on ‘Race Attitudes’ was given to the Inter-racial
Committee with about 100 present?half Negroes and half Whites” (USC Bogardus
Papers, April 19, 1932).

Scale is Born

Bogardus was introduced to the concept of social distance by Robert Park.
According to Park (1923:39) the concept refers to “an attempt to reduce to
something like measurable terms the grades and degrees of understanding and
intimacy which characterize personal and social relations generally.” It is “the degree
of intimacy and understanding” that exists between individuals or social groups

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390 Am Soc (2007) 38:383-395

(Hughes et al. 1950:88). Prejudice is in turn the “more or less instinctive and
spontaneous disposition to maintain social distances” from other groups (Park
1923:343).

Park got these ideas from Georg Simmel whose lectures he attended while in
graduate school in Berlin. This was the only formal instmction in sociology that
Park ever received. According to Hinkle (1994:284) “Park was Simmel’s champion
at the University of Chicago.” In fact, a textbook written by Park and Burgess (1921)

{Introduction to the Science of Sociology) contains more selections from Georg
Simmel than from any other author. One of these selections is titled “The Stranger.”
In this essay Simmel outlined the problematic aspects of group membership. The
stranger is a person who has come into contact with a racial or cultural group, but is

nevertheless excluded from membership. The stranger may not even be concerned
with obtaining membership. Simmel describes the stranger as being, in the words of
Park and Burgess, “the combination of the near and the far” (Park and Burgess 1921,
in Levine et al. 1976:836).

The stranger, Simmel writes, first appears as a trader, one who is not fixed in
space, yet settles for a time in the community?a “potential wanderer.” He unites in
his person the qualities of “nearness and remoteness, concern and indifference.”…

This conception of the stranger pictures him as one who is not intimately and
personally concerned with the social life about him (Levine et al. 1976:830).

Park believed that the concept of social distance as illustrated by Simmel in “The
Stranger” could be used to study race and ethnic relations. In his 1924 survey of
Japanese-Americans Park attempted to do just that. This was called the “Pacific Coast
Race Relations Survey” with Bogardus as its regional director (Bogardus 1959:Preface).
Park asked Bogardus to design a “quantitative indicator of social distance” (Harvey
1987:80). In 1924 Bogardus created the first edition of the Social Distance Scale, a

pioneering statistical measure in the field of race and ethnic relations (Faris 1967:108).

Bogardus was clearly concerned with racial issues before he invented the Social
Distance Scale. In his 1922 book, A Htory of Social Thought , Bogardus expressed
concern with what he referred to as “the race problem” which he acknowledged to be

one of the major social dilemmas confronting America (Owen et al. 1981:80).
Bogardus hoped that the Thomas social survey method could shed light on this
problem, and could potentially be used to propose solutions. In particular, he
believed that by combining Thomas’s social survey with “appropriate statistical
analyses,” scholars could cast “a flood of light” on here-to-fore hidden aspects of
society (Owen et al. 1981:80).

Some historians claim that the increased interest in race relations nationwide was

largely due to the influx of Asian immigrants in the far west (Levine et al.
1976:836). Indeed, in a document that discusses the Pacific Sociological Association
(University of Southern California Bogardus Archive, Los Angeles) that Bogardus
founded, one author argues that race relations’ interest “came to a climax in 1924 with

the passing of anti-Japanese legislation in California in that year” (USC Bogardus
Archives). What he is referring to is the 1924 Immigration Act that prohibited “aliens

ineligible to citizenship” from entering the United States (Chan 1991:55).
The Bogardus notes on file at the USC Archives show that he considered the

distinction between social distance and spatial distance. He noted that in rural areas
there is much more spatial distance between people compared to urban areas. On the

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Am Soc (2007) 38:383-395 391

other hand in urban areas there are typically greater class distinctions and thus more

social distance. In another note he drew four concentric circles undoubtedly based on
the concentric zone theory of crime and delinquency that was so prominent at the

University of Chicago. In the smallest circle there are “close relations” and next come
“friends.” The next even larger circle includes “acquaintances,” then “strangers” and
the largest circle includes “enemies.” While there is a certain logic to this Bogardus
drawing it does not provide a ready scale for mapping individual perceptions of social

distance. On another page he drew a triangle that he used to display “triangular
personal distance” between teachers, parents and pupils at each intersection of the
triangle. The triangle also provides no scale to measure personal perceptions.

In any case, with the help of faculty members from 25 universities and colleges
Bogardus administered the first Social Distance Scale survey in 1926 with race as the
focus of interest, and he subsequently used it every 10 years through 1966, with the
exception of 1936 when he was traveling abroad (Bogardus 1967:3). By using the same
survey instrument at regular intervals he was able to trace the evolution of America’s

experience with diversity and difference through four decades. This remains one of the

most celebrated historical social psychological tools in American intellectual history.

Uses of the Bogardus Social Distance Scale

The Bogardus Social Distance Scale is one of the oldest psychological attitude
scales. According to Campbell (1952:322) “only the Harper test of liberalism
conservatism is older among attitude tests that have been used beyond the research
in which they were originally presented.” The Bogardus Social Distance Scale is still
a commonly used method of measuring prejudice. Published research using the scale
has appeared in professional journals and conference papers as recently as 2006 (See
for example: Doell 2006; Morgan 2006; Sakuragi 2006). Additionally, Schaefer
(1987:30) claims that the Social Distance Scale is “so widely used…that it is
frequently referred to as the Bogardus scale.” Newcomb (1950:164) refers to the
Bogardus Social Distance Scale as “one of the landmarks in the history of attitude
measurement.” It has been used in several disciplines including sociology, political
science, psychology, language studies, and education.

The scale has been translated into a variety of languages, including Czech
(Rysavy 2003), French (Lambert 1952), Japanese (Smythe and Kono 1953), Serbo
Croatian (Culig 2005) and Spanish (Betancor et al. 2002). The Social Distance Scale
has also been used in a variety of countries including Australia (McAllister and
Moore 1991), Egypt (Sell 1990). Ethiopia (Brown 1967), France (Lambert 1952),
India (Chatterjea and Basu 1978; Singh 1965; Subramanian et al. 1973), Israel
(Pirojnikoff, Hadar and Hadar 1971), Jamaica (Richardson 1983), Lebanon (Starr
1978), New Zealand (McCreary 1952), Nigeria (Adewuya and Makanjuola 2005;

Ogunlade 1972), Pakistan (Zaidi 1967a, b), The Philippines (Yenko 1970), South
Africa (Groenewald and Heaven 1977; Oipen 1973), Surinam (Brinkerhoff and
Jacob 1994) and Taiwan (Maykovich 1980; Hunt 1956). Finally, the scale can be
used with both children (Morgan 2006) and adults (Sakuragi 2006).

According to Sartain and Bell (1949:85) the items used in the Social Distance
Scale “are of the ‘generalized’ variety” and can therefore be applied to any social

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392 Am Soc (2007) 38:383-395

group, not just races. In order to find examples of studies that utilize the scale we
searched the Education Full Text, Psyclnfo, Sociological Abstracts, and the Web of
Science databases. With the latter database we limited the search to publications from
the year 2006 and used the Boolean terms TS = (social AND distance AND scale). With
the former databases we used the phrase Bogardus Social Distance Scale and did not
limit our search. The database searches returned eight results from Education Full Text,

72 results from Psyclnfo, 29 results from Sociological Abstracts, and 28 results from the

Web of Science. These included journal articles, dissertations and conference papers and

dealt with analyses of attitudes toward the mentally ill (Adewuya and Makanjuola
2005), religious groups (Nataraj 1965; Hunt 1956), ethnic groups (Sakuragi 2006;
Parillo and Donoghue 2005; Randall and Delbridge 2005), racial groups (Morgan
2006; Kinloch 1973; Morsbach and Morsbach 1967), disabled people (Eisenman
1986; Benton et al. 1968), people with specific diseases (Benton et al. 1968),
homosexuals (Staats 1978), nationality groups (Morsbach and Morsbach 1967; Zaidi
1967a; Hunt 1956) and finally, occupational groups (Singh 1965). The scale can also
be used to show which groups in a community are most prejudiced (Morgan 2006;
Randall and Delbridge 2005; McAllister and Moore 1991; Sell 1990). The following
table provides an illustration of a Bogardus Social Distance Scale (Table 1).

The Social Distance Scale is an example of a Guttman scale in that it is
unidimensional and cumulative. The unidimensional aspect means that the scale
items can be used to measure a single theoretical concept and only that concept. For
example, in a scale composed of items that measure prejudice, items that measure a
different concept would not be included. The items contained in a unidimensional
scale can be placed on a continuum. In this sense, the scale is also cumulative. The
Social Distance Scale usually consists of five to seven statements that express
progressively more or less intimacy toward the group considered. Typical scale
anchors are “would have to live outside of my country (7)” and “would marry (1)”
(Cover 1995:403). In this case, a respondent who accepts item “seven” would be

more prejudiced than a respondent who marks item “one” or any other item on the
scale. The cumulative aspect also means that a respondent who expresses a given
degree of intimacy will endorse items expressing less intimacy. A respondent willing
to accept a member of a group in their neighborhood will also accept that same group in

their country. Conversely, those who refuse to accept a group in their country will also

refuse to accept them in their neighborhood. A scale is indeed unidimensional and

Table 1 Bogardus Social Distance Scale

Mexicans Germans
To close kinship by marriage
To my club as personal chums
To my street as neighbors
Employment in my occupation
Citizenship in my country

1. Place an “X” in the box indicating the most intimate relationship that you are willing to accept with a
member of each of the groups indicated.

2. Think of each group as a whole, and not the best or the worst member(s) that you have encountered.
3. Please provide your first feeling reaction in each case.
Scale items taken from Miller (1991).

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Am Soc (2007) 38:383-395 393

cumulative if at any point on the scale a respondent’s attitudes change from accepting to

not accepting, then there will be no further changes in response. The respondent willing

to allow a minority into their nation, but not into their neighborhood or occupation will

in addition not accept a member of the group in marriage.

Conclusion

In the spirit of Mills this article has shown how the invention of the Bogardus Social

Distance Scale was the result of a unique convergence of biographical and historical
circumstances. The sociologist who invented the scale, Emory Bogardus, was
influenced by factors that permeated his own unique experiences, the discipline of
sociology, as well as the larger societal context in which he and his fellow sociologists

lived. A primary factor that affected the invention of the Scale was the phenomena of

race conflict and the attempts by early American sociologists to present then discipline

as a form of scientific inquiry. The atmosphere in sociology at the University of Chicago

clearly had a profound impact on Bogardus. Without the direct leadership of Park it is

doubtful that Bogardus would have created the Social Distance Scale. In addition, there

was the racial turmoil in Chicago during the years Bogardus lived there as a student. The

racist treatment of Asian immigrants in California occurred as Bogardus began his
career at USC. Trouble almost seemed to follow him around.

This research.also shows how qualitative historical and biographical information
can be utilized by sociologists to learn more about their profession to fulfill the
promise of what Mills called “the sociological imagination” to determine how an
individual’s historical and cultural environment influences his or her “inner life” and

“external career” Mills (1959:5). Just as their historical and cultural environments
influence individuals, they also influence this environment. Both things seem to be
true for Bogardus. The circumstances of Bogardus’s personal life combined with the
societal and academic environment in which he was educated played a significant
role in the development of the Social Distance Scale. The Social Distance Scale has,
in turn, had a profound influence on the landscape of American sociology.

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Sociology 100

Part 1

Objectives:

1. Review key sociological terms and concepts

2. Collaborate to generate a final report of key sociological terms and concepts

Guidelines:

1. Define the following terms: (17 terms)

Structural-functional theory, Segregation, Conflict theory, Minority group, Symbolic interaction

theory, White privilege, Feminist theory, Audit study, Social facts, Sex, Social institution, Gender,

Sociological imagination, Gender stratification, Norms, Gendered institution

2. All definitions are accurate, clear, and proofread

Part 2

Guidelines:

What makes a good team? Provide two (2) characteristics or qualities of a good team, and relate at least

one example of how these characteristics led to a successful working team in your experience. Note that

group members should not overlap in characteristics or qualities.

Answer in one paragraph (i.e., five to six sentences)

Sociology 250

Part 3 involves two parts please do all of them

Guidelines:

Part 1:

Based on the content we reviewed from this week (see week 6 lecture file), discuss (in detail) ways we
can support others in our diverse community. That community can be local, state, regional, national,
global. Feel free to share things you have done in the past or seen others do. Your answer can include
descriptions of major social movements or events that have taken place as long as you make sure to tie
your answer to what YOU can do to be an ally for someone based on that example OR what from this
week’s content reminds you of or can be connected to your example.

Part 2:

Using content and discussion from this semester (you been doing my assignement so review those week
posts for part 3), identify a diversity research project you would be interested in conducting. Be sure to
identify if you are interested in doing a qualitative or quantitative study and why you would want to
conduct such a project and include specific concepts and terms from class. For example, if you want to
conduct studies on age, you might want to explore the impact of elderspeak on identity through qualitative

interviews, or if you are interested in exploring shared experiences and sense of identity based on
social/economic class, you might want to distribute a quantitative survey asking people their preferences,
familiarity, access to various services, amenities, and activities in their communities, as well as their
annual household income and other demographic questions. Perhaps you are interested in collecting
both – maybe you want to use data from your survey on access to resources in their community to
connect with people to conduct qualitative interviews about their experiences and opinions related to
access to resources. (For those of you interested in research later in life, the ideal would be to have the
qualitative and quantitative data speak to each other.).

Answer in one paragraph (i.e., five to six sentences)

03083_SIND_ptg01.indd 460 18/08/15 10:52 AM

  iAustralia ● Brazil ● Mexico ● Singapore ● United Kingdom ● United States

Sociology
the essentials

Margaret L. Andersen
University of Delaware

Howard F. Taylor
Princeton University

With

Kim A. Logio
Saint Joseph’s University

9e

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Margaret L. Andersen, Howard F. Taylor,
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WCN: 02-200-203

  iii

Brief Contents

PART ONE Introducing the Sociological Imagination

1 The Sociological Perspective 3

PART TWO Studying Society and Social Structure

2 Culture 27
3 Doing Sociological Research 57
4 Socialization and the Life Course 77
5 Social Structure and Social Interaction 103
6 Groups and Organizations 125
7 Deviance and Crime 147

PART THREE Social Inequalities

8 Social Class and Social Stratification 169
9 Global Stratification 201

10 Race and Ethnicity 227
11 Gender 253
12 Sexuality 281

PART FOUR Social Institutions

13 Families and Religion 307
14 Education and Health Care 339
15 Economy and Politics 363

PART FIVE Social Change

16 Environment, Population, and Social Change 393

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iv  

PART ONE Introducing the Sociological Imagination

Contents

The Sociological Perspective 3

What Is Sociology? 4
The Sociological Perspective 6

Discovering Unsettling Facts 8
Debunking in Sociology 9
Establishing Critical Distance 11

The Significance of Diversity 11
Defining Diversity 11
Society in Global Perspective 13

The Development of Sociological
Theory 14

The Influence of the Enlightenment 14
Classical Sociological Theory 15
Sociology in the United States 17

Theoretical Frameworks in Sociology 18
Functionalism 20
Conflict Theory 21

Symbolic Interaction 21
Feminist Theory 22

Chapter Summary 24

Key Sociological Concepts 5

What Would a Sociologist Say?
Getting Pregnant: A Very Social Act 6

Doing Sociological Research
Debunking the Myths of Black Teenage
Motherhood 10

Understanding Diversity
Become a Sociologist 12

What Would a Sociologist Say?
Suicide among Veterans 16

Careers in Sociology 22

1

PART TWO Studying Society and Social Structure

Culture 272
Defining Culture 28

The Power of Culture: Ethnocentrism,
Cultural Relativism, and Culture
Shock 30

Characteristics of Culture 32

The Elements of Culture 34
Language 34
Norms 36
Beliefs 37
Values 37

Cultural Diversity 39
Dominant Culture 40
Subcultures 41
Countercultures 42
The Globalization of Culture 42

The Mass Media and Popular Culture 43
The Organization of Mass Media 45
The Media and Popular Culture 46
Race, Gender, and Class

in the Media 47

Theoretical Perspectives
on Culture and the Media 49

Culture and Group Solidarity 49
Culture, Power, and Social Conflict 50
Symbolic Interaction and the Study

of Culture 51
Feminist Theory and Culture 52

Cultural Change 52
Culture Lag 53
Sources of Cultural Change 53

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

Co nTen TS   v

Contents
Chapter Summary 54

Doing Sociological Research
Tattoos: Status Risk or Status Symbol? 33

Understanding Diversity
The Social Meaning of Language 38

A Sociological Eye on the Media
Death of a Superstar 44

What Would a Sociologist Say?
Classical Theorists on Hip-Hop! 51

Doing Sociological Research 573
The Research Process 58

Sociology and the Scientific
Method 58

Inductive and Deductive
Reasoning 58

Research Design 59
Developing a Research Question 59
Creating a Research Design 60
Quantitative versus Qualitative

Research 61
Gathering Data 64
Analyzing the Data 65
Reaching Conclusions and Reporting

Results 65

The Tools of Sociological Research 66
The Survey: Polls, Questionnaires,

and Interviews 66

Participant Observation 66
Controlled Experiments 67
Content Analysis 68
Historical Research 70
Evaluation Research 71

Research Ethics: Is Sociology
Value Free? 72
Chapter Summary 74

A Sociological Eye on the Media
Research and the Media 62

Statistics in Sociology 68

Doing Sociological Research
The “Baby einstein” Program: A Farce? 71

Doing Sociological Research
A Cop in the Hood: Participant observation 73

Socialization and the Life Course 774
The Socialization Process 78

The Nature–Nurture Controversy 79
Socialization as Social Control 80
Conformity and Individuality 80
The Consequences of

Socialization 80

Agents of Socialization 81
The Family 82
The Media 83
Peers 83
Religion 85
Sports 85
Schools 85

Theories of Socialization 86
Social Learning Theory 87
Functionalism 87
Conflict Theory 87
Symbolic Interaction Theory 87

Growing Up in a Diverse Society 90

Aging and the Life Course 90
Childhood 91
Adolescence 91
Adulthood 92
Age and Aging 94
Rites of Passage 97

Resocialization 98
The Process of Conversion 99
The Brainwashing Debate 99

Chapter Summary 100

Understanding Diversity
International Adoption and Interracial
Families 79

What Would a Sociologist Say?
Interaction in Cyberspace 84

Doing Sociological Research
Race Socialization among Young Adults 92

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vi  ConT en TS

Social Structure and Social Interaction 1035
What Is Society? 104

Macroanalysis and Microanalysis 104
Social Institutions 105
Social Structure 106

What Holds Society Together? 106
Mechanical and Organic

Solidarity 106
Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft 107

Types of Societies 107
Preindustrial Societies 108
Industrial Societies 109
Postindustrial Societies 110

Social Interaction and Society 110
Groups 110
Status 111
Roles 112
Everyday Social Interaction 113

Theories about Analyzing Social
Interaction 117

The Social Construction of Reality 117
Ethnomethodology 117
Impression Management

and Dramaturgy 119
Social Exchange Theory 120

Interaction in Cyberspace 120
Chapter Summary 122

Doing Sociological Research
Vegetarians versus omnivores: A Case Study
of Impression Management 118

What Would a Sociologist Say?
Text Messaging in High School 119

Doing Sociological Research
Age Stereotypes on Facebook 120

Groups and Organizations 1256
Types of Groups 126

Dyads and Triads: Group
Size Effects 127

Primary and Secondary Groups 127
Reference Groups 129
In-Groups, Out-Groups,

and Attribution Error 130
Social Networks 131
Social Networks as “Small

Worlds” 132

Social Influence in Groups 133
The Asch Conformity Experiment 134
The Milgram Obedience Studies 134
The Iraqi Prisoners at Abu Ghraib:

Research Predicts Reality? 136
Groupthink 136
Risky Shift 137

Formal Organizations
and Bureaucracies 137

Types of Organizations 138
Bureaucracy 139
Bureaucracy’s “Other Face” 140
Problems of Bureaucracies 140
The McDonaldization of Society 141
Diversity in Organizations 142

Functionalism, Conflict Theory,
and Symbolic Interaction: Theoretical
Perspectives 143
Chapter Summary 144

Doing Sociological Research
Sharing the Journey 128

What Would a Sociologist Say?
Finding a Job: The Invisible Hand 132

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Co nTen TS   vii

Deviance and Crime 1477
Defining Deviance 148

Sociological Perspectives
on Deviance 148

The Social Construction of Deviance 150
The Medicalization of Deviance 150

Sociological Theories of Deviance 151
Functionalist Theories of Deviance 151
Conflict Theories of Deviance 154
Symbolic Interaction Theories

of Deviance 156

Crime and Criminal Justice 159
Measuring Crime: How Much

Is There? 160
Types of Crime 160

Race, Class, Gender, and Crime 163
The Criminal Justice System:

Police, Courts, and the Law 164

Chapter Summary 166

What Would a Sociologist Say?
Drugs as Deviance or Crime 149

Doing Sociological Research
The Rich Get Richer and the Poor
Get Prison 157

A Sociological Eye on the Media
Images of Violent Crime 161

Social Class and Social Stratification 169

PART THREE Social Inequalities

Social Differentiation
and Social Stratification 170

Estate, Caste, and Class 172

The Class Structure of
the United States: Growing
Inequality 173
The Distribution of Income and
Wealth 175
Analyzing Social Class 179

Class as a Ladder 179
Class Conflict 182
Diverse Sources of Stratification 183

Social Mobility: Myths and
Realities 185

Defining Social Mobility 186
The Extent of Social Mobility 186
Class Consciousness 187

Why Is There Inequality? 187
Karl Marx: Class and Capitalism 187

Max Weber: Class, Status,
and Party 188

Functionalism and Conflict Theory:
The Continuing Debate 189

Poverty 190
Defining Poverty 191
Who Are the Poor? 191
Causes of Poverty 194
Welfare and Social Policy 196

Chapter Summary 197

What Would a Sociologist Say?
Social Class and Sports 171

Understanding Diversity
The Student Debt Crisis 177

Doing Sociological Research
The Fragile Middle Class 178

A Sociological Eye on the Media
Reproducing Class Stereotypes 186

8

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viii  ConT en TS

Global Stratification 201

Global Stratification 202
Rich and Poor 203
Global Networks of Power

and Influence 206
Race and Global Inequality 208

Theories of Global Stratification 208
Modernization Theory 208
Dependency Theory 209
World Systems Theory 210

Consequences of Global
Stratification 212

Population 212
Health and the Environment 213
Education and Illiteracy 214
Gender Inequality 214
War and Terrorism 215

World Poverty 216
Who Are the World’s Poor? 218
Women and Children in Poverty 219
Poverty and Hunger 221
Causes of World Poverty 221

Globalization and Social Change 223
Chapter Summary 224

Doing Sociological Research
Servants of Globalization: Who Does
the Domestic Work? 207

What Would a Sociologist Say?
Human Trafficking 219

Understanding Diversity
War, Childhood, and Poverty 222

9

Race and Ethnicity 22710
Race and Ethnicity 228

Ethnicity 228
Defining Race 228
Minority and Dominant Groups 232

Racial Stereotypes 232
Stereotypes and Salience 232
The Interplay among Race, Gender,

and Class Stereotypes 233

Prejudice and Discrimination 234
Prejudice 234
Discrimination 234

Racism 236
Theories of Prejudice and Racism 238
Diverse Groups, Diverse Histories 240

Native Americans: The First
of This Land 241

African Americans 241
Latinos 242
Asian Americans 244
Middle Easterners 245
White Ethnic Groups 246

Attaining Racial and Ethnic Equality:
The Challenge 247

The Civil Rights Movement 247
The Black Power Movement 248

Chapter Summary 250

What Would a Sociologist Say?
What exactly Is “Race” Anyway? 231

Doing Sociological Research
American Apartheid 236

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

Co nT enTS   ix

Gender 25311
The Social Construction of Gender 254

Defining Sex and Gender 254
Sex Differences: Nature

or Nurture? 255

Gender Socialization 257
The Formation of Gender Identity 257
Sources of Gender Socialization 258
The Price of Conformity 260
Gender Socialization

and Homophobia 261
Race, Gender, and Identity 263
The Institutional Basis of Gender 263

Gender Stratification 264
Sexism: The Biased Consequences

of Beliefs 264
Women’s Worth: Still Unequal 266
The Devaluation of Women’s Work 270
Balancing Work and Family 271

Theories of Gender 271
Feminist Theory and the Women’s

Movement 273

Gender in Global Perspective 274
Gender and Social Change 275

Contemporary Attitudes 276
Legislative Change 277

Chapter Summary 278

A Sociological Eye on the Media
Women in the Media: Where Are
Women’s Voices? 256

Doing Sociological Research
eating Disorders: Gender, Race,
and the Body 262

What Would a Sociologist Say? 
The end of Men? 276

Sexuality 281

Sex and Culture 282
Sex: Is It Natural? 282
The Social Basis of Sexuality 283

Contemporary Sexual Attitudes and
Behavior 285

Changing Sexual Values 285
Sexual Practices of the U.S. Public 286

Sex and Inequality: Gender, Race,
and Class 286
Sexuality: Sociological
and Feminist Theory 288

Sex: Functional or Conflict-Based? 288
Symbolic Interaction and the Social

Construction of Sexual Identity 289
Feminist Theory: Sex, Power,

and Inequality 290
A Global Perspective on Sexuality 291

Understanding Gay
and Lesbian Experience 293
Sex and Social Issues 294

Birth Control 294
New Reproductive Technologies 295

Abortion 296
Pornography and the Sexualization of

Culture 297
Teen Pregnancy 298
Sexual Violence 301

Sex and Social Change 303
The Sexual Revolution: Is It Over? 303
Technology, Sex, and Cybersex 304
Commercializing Sex 304

Chapter Summary 304

What Would a Sociologist Say?
Sex and Popular Culture 287

Doing Sociological Research
Teens and Sex: Are Young People Becoming
More Sexually Conservative? 289

Doing Sociological Research
Is Hooking Up Bad for Women? 292

Understanding Diversity
Sexuality and Disability: Understanding
“Marginalized” Masculinity 294

12

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x  Conte nts

Families and Religion 307

PART FOUR Social Institutions

Defining the Family 309
Extended Families 309
Nuclear Families 310

Sociological Theory and Families 312
Functionalist Theory and Families 312
Conflict Theory and Families 312
Symbolic Interaction Theory

and Families 313
Feminist Theory and Families 313

Diversity among Contemporary
American Families 314

Female-Headed Households 314
Married-Couple Families 315
Stepfamilies 315
Gay and Lesbian Households 316
Single People 317

Marriage and Divorce 317
Marriage 318
Divorce 319

Family Violence 321
Domestic Violence and Abuse 322
Child Abuse 322
Incest 322
Elder Abuse 322

Changing Families in a Changing
Society 323

Global Changes in Family Life 324

Families and Social Policy 324
Balancing Work and Family 325
Child Care 325
Elder Care 326

Defining Religion 326
The Significance of Religion in the
United States 328

The Dominance of Christianity 328
Measuring Religious Faith 328
Forms of Religion 329

Sociological Theories of Religion 330
Emile Durkheim: The Functions

of Religion 330
Max Weber: The Protestant Ethic

and the Spirit of Capitalism 331
Karl Marx: Religion, Social Conflict,

and Oppression 331
Symbolic Interaction: Becoming

Religious 332

Diversity and Religious Belief 332
The Influence of Race and Ethnicity 332

Religious Organizations 334
Religion and Social Change 336
Chapter Summary 336

Understanding Diversity
Interracial Dating and Marriage 311

A Sociological Eye on the Media
Idealizing Family Life 315

Doing Sociological Research
Men’s Caregiving 320

What Would a Sociologist Say?
the Rise of Religious Fundamentalism 335

13

Education and Health Care 339

Schooling and Society 340
The Structure of Education 340
Education in Global Perspective 341

The Sociology of Education: Theoretical
Perspectives 341

Functionalist Theory 341
Conflict Theory 342
Symbolic Interaction Theory 342

Does Schooling Matter? 344
Education and Social Mobility 345
Testing and Accountability 346

Education and Inequality 348
Segregation and Resegregation 348

Educational Reform 350
Health Care in the United States 351

Health and Illness 351
The Social Organization of Health

Care 352
Health and Inequality 354

Race and Health Care 354
Social Class and Health Care 355
Gender and Health Care 355

14

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

Co n ten ts   xi

Health and Disability 355
Age and Health Care 356

Theoretical Perspectives
of Health Care 356

Functionalist Theory 356
Conflict Theory 357
Symbolic Interaction Theory 357

Health Care Reform 357
The Cost of Health Care 357
Health Care for All? 358

Chapter Summary 359

Doing Sociological Research
Homeroom security 343

Understanding Diversity
social Class and the College Party
scene 346

What Would a Sociologist Say?
When should treatment stop?: Issues
for end-of-Life Care 353

Economy and Politics 363

Economy and Society 364
The Industrial Revolution 364
Comparing Economic Systems 364

The Changing Global Economy 365
A More Diverse Workplace 365
Deindustrialization 366
Technological Change 366
Immigration 368

Social Organization
of the Workplace 368

The Division of Labor 369
The Occupational System

and the Labor Market 369

Diverse Groups/Diverse Work
Experiences 371

Unemployment and Joblessness 372
Sexual Harassment 373
Gays and Lesbians

in the Workplace 374
Disability and Work 374

Sociological Theories
of Economy and Work 375

Functionalism 375
Conflict Theory 375
Symbolic Interaction Theory 376

Power, Politics,
and Government 376

State and Society 376
The State and Social Order 377
Global Interdependence

and the State 377

Power, Authority,
and Bureaucracy 377

Types of Authority 378
The Growth of Bureaucracies 378

Theories of Power 379
The Pluralist Model 379
The Power Elite Model 380
The Autonomous State Model 381
Feminist Theories of the State 381

Government: Power and Politics
in a Diverse Society 382

Diverse Patterns of Political
Participation 382

Political Power: Who’s in Charge? 385
Women and Minorities

in Government 385

The Military as a Social Institution 388
Race and the Military 388
Women in the Military 389
Gays and Lesbians in the Military 390
Military Veterans 390

Chapter Summary 390

Doing Sociological Research
Precarious Work: the shifting Conditions
of Work in society 367

What Would a Sociologist Say?
the tea Party and the American Dream 386

Understanding Diversity
Diversity in the Power elite 387

15

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

xii  ConTen TS

Environment, Population, and Social Change 393

PART FIVE Social Change

A Climate in Crisis: Environmental
Sociology 394

Society at Risk: Air, Water,
and Energy 394

Disasters: At the Interface of Social
and Physical Life 398

Environmental Inequality
and Environmental Justice 399
Counting People: Population Studies 400

Counting People: Demographic
Processes 400

Diversity and Population Change 403
Population Growth: Are There Too
Many People? 406

A Population Bomb? 406
Demographic Transition Theory 406

Change: A Multidimensional Process 407
Sources of Social Change 408

Theories of Social Change 412
Functionalist Theory 412
Conflict Theory 412
Symbolic Interaction Theory 413

Globalization and Modernization:
Shaping Our Lives 413

From Community to Society 414
Urbanization 414
Social Inequality, Powerlessness,

and the Individual 415

Chapter Summary 416

What Would a Sociologist Say?
The end of the White Majority? 404

Doing Sociological Research
Who Cares and Why? Fair Trade
and organic Food 410

Understanding Diversity
The Cosmopolitan Canopy 415

Glossary 418

References 425

name Index 445

Subject Index 451

16

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

  xiii

Features

Debunking the Myths of Black Teenage
Motherhood 10

Tattoos: Status Risk or Status Symbol? 33
The “Baby Einstein” Program: A Farce? 71
A Cop in the Hood: Participant Observation 73
Race Socialization among Young Adults 92
Vegetarians versus Omnivores: A Case Study

of Impression Management 118
Age Stereotypes on Facebook 120
Sharing the Journey 128
The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison 157
The Fragile Middle Class 178

doing sociological research

Servants of Globalization: Who Does the
Domestic Work? 207

American Apartheid 236
Eating Disorders: Gender, Race, and the Body 262
Teens and Sex: Are Young People Becoming More

Sexually Conservative? 289
Is Hooking Up Bad for Women? 292
Men’s Caregiving 320
Homeroom Security 343
Precarious Work: The Shifting Conditions

of Work in Society 367
Who Cares and Why? Fair Trade and Organic Food 410

Getting Pregnant: A Very Social Act 6
Suicide among Veterans 16
Classical Theorists on Hip-Hop! 51
Interaction in Cyberspace 84
Text Messaging in High School 119
Finding a Job: The Invisible Hand 132
Drugs as Deviance or Crime 149
Social Class and Sports 171
Human Trafficking 219

what would a sociologist say?

What Exactly Is “Race” Anyway? 231
The End of Men? 276
Sex and Popular Culture 287
The Rise of Religious Fundamentalism 335
When Should Treatment Stop?: Issues

for End-of-Life Care 353
The Tea Party and the American Dream 386
The End of the White Majority? 404

Become a Sociologist 12
The Social Meaning of Language 38
International Adoption and Interracial

Families 79
The Student Debt Crisis 177
War, Childhood, and Poverty  222

understanding diversity

Sexuality and Disability: Understanding
“Marginalized” Masculinity 294

Interracial Dating and Marriage 311
Social Class and the College Party Scene 346
Diversity in the Power Elite 387
The Cosmopolitan Canopy 415

Death of a Superstar 44
Research and the Media 62
Images of Violent Crime 161

a sociological eye on the media

Reproducing Class Stereotypes 186
Women in the Media: Where Are Women’s Voices? 256

Idealizing Family Life 315

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

xiv  FeAT U ReS

Mapping America’s Diversity
MAP 1.1 A Changing Population 13
MAP 2.1 English Language Not Spoken at Home 40
MAP 8.1 Poverty in the United States 193
MAP 10.1 Foreign-Born Population 248
MAP 13.1 Religious Diversity in the United States 333
MAPS 15.1 and 15.2 Electoral Vote by State and County 384
MAP 12.1 Teen Births by State 299

maps

Viewing Society in Global Perspective
MAP 3.1 Human Development Index 64
MAP 9.1 Rich and Poor 204
MAP 9.2 The Gini Coefficient 206
MAP 9.3 World Poverty 217
MAP 9.4 The World As Seen through the Distribution

of Wealth 218
MAP 11.1 Where’s the Best Place to Be a Woman? 275
MAP 13.2 World Religions 334
MAP 15.3 Women Heads of State 385
MAP 16.1 Global Warming: Viewing the Earth’s

Temperature 395

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  xv

Sociology: The Essentials is a book that teaches stu-
dents the basic concepts, theories, and insights of the
sociological perspective. With each new edition come
new challenges—challenges that stem from new gen-
erations of students with different learning styles; chal-
lenges that stem from the diversity among students
who will study this book; and challenges that stem from
the changes that are taking place in society. One of the
most important changes taking place today is how stu-
dents learn and how they are engaged with their course
material, often in the form of online learning resources.
With that in mind, Sociology: The Essentials, ninth edi-
tion, takes full advantage of this revolutionary change
by having a fully electronic version of the book avail-
able, which allows for personalized, fully online digital
learning—a platform of content, assignments, and
learning resources that will engage students in an inter-
active mode, while also offering instructors the oppor-
tunity to make individualized configurations of course
work. Some will want to continue using the printed
version of the book, still enhanced with various peda-
gogical features. Those who want to enhance their cur-
riculum through online resources will be able to utilize
the new MindTap Sociology in the way that best suits
their course.

However the book is used, we have updated it to
reflect the latest social changes and developments in
sociological scholarship. We are somewhat amazed,
even as sociologists, to see how much change occurs,
even in the relatively short period of time between edi-
tions. Our book adapts to new research that appears at
an amazing pace, as well as addresses the significant
changes that occur in society between editions.

In this edition, we have maintained the themes
that have been the book’s hallmark from the start: a
focus on diversity in society, attention to society as
both enduring and changing, the significance of social
context in explaining human behavior, the increasing
impact of globalization on all aspects of society, and
a focus on critical thinking and an analysis of society
fostered through sociological research and theory. We
know that studying sociology opens new ways of look-
ing at the world. As we teach our students, sociology is
grounded in careful observation of social facts, as well
as analyses of how society operates. For students and
faculty alike, studying sociology can be exciting, inter-
esting, and downright fun, even though it also deals
with sobering social issues, such as the growing ine-
quality that marks our time, as one example.

In this book, we try to capture the excitement of the
sociological perspective, while introducing students to
how sociologists do research and how they theoretically
approach their subject matter. We know that most stu-
dents in an introductory course will not become sociol-
ogy majors, although we hope, of course, that our book
and their teacher encourage them to do so. We want
to give students, no matter their area of study, a way of
thinking about the world that is not immediately appar-
ent. We especially want students to understand how
sociology differs from the individualistic and common-
sense thinking that tends to predominate. This is show-
cased in the box feature in every chapter entitled, “What
Would a Sociologist Say?” Here, we take a common
topic and, with informal writing, briefly discuss how a
sociological perspective would approach understand-
ing on that particular issue. We think this feature helps
students see the unique ways that sociologists view eve-
ryday topics—things as commonplace as the funeral of
a superstar, finding a job, or sports in popular culture.

We want our book to be engaging and accessible
to undergraduate readers, while also preserving the
integrity of sociological research and theory. Our expe-
rience in teaching introductory students shows us that
students can appreciate the revelations of sociological
research and theory if they are presented in an engag-
ing way that connects to their lives. We have kept this
in mind throughout this revision and have focused on
material that students can understand and apply to
their own social worlds.

Critical Thinking
and Debunking
We use the theme of debunking in the manner first
developed by Peter Berger (1963) to look behind the
facades of everyday life, challenging the ready-made
assumptions that permeate commonsense thinking.
Debunking is a way for students to develop their criti-
cal thinking, and we use the debunking theme to help
students understand how society is constructed and
sustained. This theme is highlighted in the Debunking
Society’s Myths feature found throughout each chapter.

We want students to understand the rigor that is
involved with sociological research, whether quanti-
tative research or qualitative. The box feature Doing
Sociological Research presents a diverse array of
research studies, presented to students so they can

Preface

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xvi  PReFACe

see the question being asked, the method of inves-
tigation, the research results, and the study’s con-
clusions. This feature also includes critical thinking
questions (“Questions to Consider”) to help students
think further about the implications of the research
presented.

We also include a feature to help students see the
relevance of sociology in their everyday lives. The box
feature See for Yourself allows students to apply a
sociological concept to observations from their own
lives, thus helping them develop their critical abilities
and understand the importance of the sociological
perspective.

Critical thinking is a term widely used but often
vaguely defined. We use it to describe the process by
which students learn to apply sociological concepts to
observable events in society. Throughout the book, we
ask students to use sociological concepts to analyze and
interpret the world they inhabit. This is reflected in the
Thinking Sociologically feature that is also present in
most chapters.

Because contemporary students are so strongly
influenced by the media, we also encourage their critical
thinking through the box feature called A Sociological
Eye on the Media. These boxes examine sociological
research that challenges some of the ideas and images
portrayed in the media. This not only improves students’
critical thinking skills but also shows them how research
can debunk these ideas and images.

A Focus on Diversity
When we first wrote this book, we did so because we
wanted to integrate the then new scholarship on race,
gender, and class into the core of the sociological
field. We continue to see race, class, and gender—or,
more broadly, the study of inequality—as one of the
core insights of sociological research and theory. With
that in mind, diversity, and the inequality that some-
times results, is a central theme throughout this book.
A boxed theme, Understanding Diversity, highlights
this feature, but you will find that analysis of inequality,
especially by race, gender, and class, is woven through-
out the book.

Social Change
The sociological perspective helps students see society
as characterized both by constant change and social
stability. Throughout this book, we analyze how soci-
ety changes and how events, both dramatic and sub-
tle, influence change. We have added new material
throughout the text that shows students how socio-
logical research can help them understand that social
changes are influencing their lives, even if students
think of these changes as individual problems.

Global Perspective
One of the main things we hope students learn in an
introductory course is how broad-scale conditions
influence their everyday lives. Understanding this idea
is a cornerstone of the sociological perspective. We use
a global perspective to examine how global changes
are affecting all parts of life within the United States,
as well as other parts of the world. This means more
than including cross-cultural examples. It means, for
example, examining phenomena such as migration
and immigration or helping students understand that
their own consumption habits are profoundly shaped
by global interconnections. The availability of jobs, too,
is another way students can learn about the impact of
an international division of labor on work within the
United States. Our global perspective is found in the
research and examples cited throughout the book, as
well as in various chapters that directly focus on the
influence of globalization on particular topics, such
as work, culture, and crime. The map feature Viewing
Society in Global Perspective also brings a global per-
spective to the subject matter.

New to the Ninth Edition
We have made various changes to the ninth edition to
reflect new developments in sociological research and
current social issues. These revisions should make the
ninth edition easier for instructors to teach and even
more accessible and interesting for students.

Sociology: The Essentials is organized into five
major parts: “Introducing the Sociological Imagina-
tion” (Chapter 1); “Studying Society and Social Struc-
ture” (Chapters 2 through 7); “Social Inequalities”
(Chapters 8 through 12); “Social Institutions” (Chapters
13 through 15); and “Social Change” (Chapter 16).

Part I, “Introducing the Sociological Imagina ‑
tion,” introduces students to the unique perspective of
sociology, differentiating it from other ways of studying
society, particularly the individualistic framework stu-
dents tend to assume. Within this section, Chapter 1,
“The Sociological Perspective,” introduces students
to the sociological perspective. The theme of debunk-
ing is introduced, as is the sociological imagination,
as developed by C. Wright Mills. This chapter briefly
reviews the development of sociology as a discipline,
with a focus on the classical frameworks of sociological
theory, as well as contemporary theories, including an
expanded discussion of feminist theory. There is a stron-
ger discussion of how sociology differs from psychology.
The ninth edition adds examples from current events
to capture student interest, including new research on
growing inequality, the high rate of suicide among vet-
erans, the influence of social media, and new research
on how friendship patterns influence the likelihood of
pregnancy.

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PR eFACe  xvii

In Part II, “Studying Society and Social Structure,”
students learn some of the core concepts of sociology. It
begins with the study of culture in Chapter 2, “Culture”
that includes much discussion of social media as a force
shaping contemporary culture. This includes research on
social media usage both by young and older people. There
is new material on the vast growth of digital viewing, but
also new work on body images and some of the popular
titles that influence young people. Some of the material
on ethnocentrism, cultural relativism, and culture shock
was reorganized to integrate it better with other chapter
material. Chapter 3, “Doing Sociological Research,”
contains a discussion of the research process and the
tools of sociological research—the survey, participant
observation, controlled experiments, content analysis,
historical research, and evaluation research. The chap-
ter was somewhat reorganized to give better attention to
the different types and tools of sociological research. As
in the previous edition, we place the chapter on research
methods after the chapter on culture as a way of capturing
student interest early. Chapter 4, “Socialization and the
Life Course,” contains material on socialization theory
and research, including agents of socialization such as the
media, family, and peers. There is new material on mili-
tary identities, especially in transition to civilian life. More
material on child-rearing practices is included, as well as
more discussion of the socialization of college students.

Chapter 5, “Social Structure and Social Interac‑
tion,” emphasizes how changes in the macrostructure
of society influence the micro level of social interaction.
We do this by focusing on technological changes that
are now part of students’ everyday lives and making
the connection between changes at the societal level in
the everyday realities of people’s lives. New material on
social media usage is included, including how people
create identities online and use social media websites
to interact with others. The discussion of social inter-
action includes contemporary examples of romantic
relationships, police interviews, and group interactions,
such as Comic-Con.

In Chapter 6, “Groups and Organizations,” we
study social groups and bureaucratic organizations,
using sociology to understand the complex processes
of group influence, organizational dynamics, and the
bureaucratization of society. The chapter includes a
discussion of organizational culture, McDonaldization,
and the significance of social networks.

Chapter 7, “Deviance and Crime,” includes the
study of sociological theories and research on deviance
and crime. The core material is illustrated with contem-
porary events, such as police shootings of young, Black
men, as well as school rampages. There is new mate-
rial on gender-based violence, identity theft, human
trafficking, and terrorism. The chapter also maintains
a focus on race, class, and gender inequality in the
criminal justice system, including mass incarceration of
Black Americans and Hispanics.

In Part III, “Social Inequalities,” each chapter
explores a particular dimension of stratification in soci-
ety. Beginning with the significance of class, Chapter 8,
“Social Class and Social Stratification,” provides an
overview of basic concepts central to the study of class
and social stratification. The chapter has a substan-
tial emphasis on growing inequality. New research on
extreme poverty and on the connection between pov-
erty and immigration is included. There is updated data
throughout and new data on the likelihood of social
mobility in the United States compared to other nations.

Chapter 9, “Global Stratification,” follows with a
particular emphasis on understanding the significance
of global stratification, the inequality that has devel-
oped among, as well as within, various nations. There is
new material on world poverty and the Ebola outbreak,
as well as new examples to show students how the
clothing they wear is linked to global stratification. Data
and examples are updated throughout. Chapter  10,
“Race and Ethnicity,” is a comprehensive review of
the significance of race and ethnicity in society. We
have added new material on colorblind racism and the
significance of implicit bias, as well as updating exam-
ples in this important and growing field of sociological
research.

Chapter 11, “Gender,” focuses on gender as a cen-
tral concept in sociology closely linked to systems of
stratification in society. This edition was reorganized to
better present material on nature–nurture and biological
sex differences. There is a more thorough and new dis-
cussion of research on transgender people, as well as
new work on Black and Latino men’s gender identities.
More material is included on Title IX and the national
concern with sexual assault on college campuses.
There is new material on immigrant women, as well.
Chapter  12, “Sexuality,” treats sexuality as a social
construction and a dimension of social stratification
and inequality. We have emphasized the influence of
feminist theory on the study of sexuality. The chapter
also includes new research on pornography and vio-
lence against women, as well as the link between rape
myths and the sexual double standard. There is new
data throughout on topics such as abortion rates, teen
pregnancy, and contraception usage.

Part IV, “Social Institutions,” includes three chap-
ters, each focusing on basic institutions within society.
Chapter 13, “Families and Religion,” maintains its
inclusion of important topics in the study of families,
such as interracial dating, same-sex marriage, father-
hood, gender roles within families, and family violence.
We have added new material on women’s employment
and divorce rates, gender and housework sharing,
as well as the impact of economic stress on families.
Chapter 14, “Education and Health Care,” has been
substantially reorganized to emphasize inequality.
There is updated information on school segregation,
including the impact of choice and charter schools on

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xviii  PR eFACe

segregation. In the section on health, details about the
Affordable Care Act have been included, including the
increased usage. Data on both education and health
care is updated throughout. Chapter 15, “Economy
and Politics,” analyzes the state, power, authority, and
bureaucratic government. It also contains a detailed
discussion of theories of power in addition to coverage
of the economy seen globally and characteristics of the
labor force. The new edition includes more informa-
tion on Native American unemployment, as well as new
research on LGBT experiences in the workplace. The
section on politics was substantially revised to show the
influence of super-PACs and the Citizens United court
case on political elections, as well as more emphasis on
the influence of power elites in politics.

Part V, “Social Change,” includes Chapter 16,
“Environment, Population, and Social Change.” This
chapter has been substantially revised for this edition
so that a sociological analysis of environmental issues
frames the chapters. The chapter focuses on sustain-
ability and climate change. There is an updated discus-
sion of population growth as well as recent examples
from disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. The social
movements section includes an illustration from the
“Black Lives Matter” movement that followed the police
shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and other places.

Features and Pedagogical 
Aids
The special features of this book flow from its major
themes: diversity, current theory and research, debunk-
ing and critical thinking, social change, and a global
perspective. The features are also designed to help stu-
dents develop critical thinking skills so that they can
apply abstract concepts to observed experiences in
their everyday life and learn how to interpret different
theoretical paradigms and approaches to sociological
research questions.

Critical Thinking Features
The feature Thinking Sociologically takes concepts
from each chapter and asks students to think about
these concepts in relationship to something they can
easily observe in an exercise or class discussion. The fea-
ture Debunking Society’s Myths takes certain common
assumptions and shows students how the sociological
perspective would inform such assumptions and beliefs.

See for Yourself
The feature See for Yourself provides students with the
chance to apply sociological concepts and ideas to their
own observations. This feature can also be used as the
basis for writing exercises, helping students improve
both their analytic skills and their writing skills.

An Extensive and Content‑Rich
Map Feature
We use the map feature that appears throughout the
book to help students visualize some of the ideas pre-
sented, as well as to learn more about regional and
international diversity. One map theme is Mapping
America’s Diversity and the other is Viewing Society
in Global Perspective. These maps have multiple uses
for instructional value, beyond instructing students
about world and national geography. The maps have
been designed primarily to show the differentiation by
county, state, and/or country on key social facts.

High‑Interest Theme Boxes
We use high-interest themes for the box features that
embellish our focus on diversity and sociological
research throughout the text. Understanding Diversity
boxes further explore the approach to diversity taken
throughout the book. In most cases, these box fea-
tures provide personal narratives or other information
designed to teach students about the experiences of dif-
ferent groups in society.

Because many are written as first-person narratives,
they can invoke students’ empathy toward groups other
than those to which they belong—something we think
is critical to teaching about diversity. We hope to show
students the connections between race, class, and other
social groups that they otherwise find difficult to grasp.

The box feature Doing Sociological Research is
intended to show students the diversity of research ques-
tions that form the basis of sociological knowledge and,
equally important, how the questions researchers ask
influence the methods used to investigate the questions.

We see this as an important part of sociological
research—that how one investigates a question is deter-
mined as much by the nature of the question as by alle-
giance to a particular research method. Some questions
require a more qualitative approach; others, a more
quantitative approach. In developing these box features,
we ask: What is the central question sociologists are ask-
ing? How did they explore this question using sociologi-
cal research methods? What did they find? What are the
implications of this research? We deliberately selected
questions that show the full and diverse range of sociolog-
ical theories and research methods, as well as the diver-
sity of sociologists. Each box feature ends with Questions
to Consider to encourage students to think further about
the implications and applications of the research.

What Would a Sociologist Say? boxes take a topic
of interest and examine how a sociologist would likely
interpret this subject. The topics are selected to cap-
ture student interest, such as a discussion of veteran
suicides, hip-hop culture, and sex and popular culture.
We think this box brings a sociological perspective to
commonplace events.

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

PReFAC e  xix

The feature A Sociological Eye on the Media,
found in several chapters, examines some aspect of
how the media influence public understanding of some
of the subjects in this book. We think this is important
because sociological research often debunks taken-
for-granted points of view presented in the media, and
we want students to be able to look at the media with
a more critical eye. Because of the enormous influence
of the media, we think this is increasingly important in
educating students about sociology. In addition to the
features just described, we offer an entire set of learning
aids within each chapter that promotes student mastery
of the sociological concepts.

In‑Text Learning Aids
Learning Objectives. We have added learning objec-
tives to this edition, which appear near the beginning of
every chapter. Matched to the major chapter headings,
these objectives identify what we expect students to
learn from the chapter. Faculty may choose to use these
learning objectives to assess how well students com-
prehend the material. We tried to develop the learning
objectives based on different levels of understanding
and analysis, recognizing the various paths that stu-
dents take in how they learn material.

Chapter Outlines. A concise chapter outline at the
beginning of each chapter provides students with an
overview of the major topics to be covered.

Key Terms. Key terms and major concepts appear
in bold when first introduced in the chapter. A list of
the key terms is found at the end of the chapter, which
makes study more effective. Definitions for the key
terms are found in the glossary.

Theory Tables. Each chapter includes a table that
summarizes different theoretical perspectives by com-
paring and contrasting how these theories illuminate
different aspects of different subjects.

Chapter Summary in Question-and-Answer
Format. Questions and answers highlight the major
points in each chapter and provide a quick review of
major concepts and themes covered in the chapter.

A Glossary and complete References for the whole
text are found at the back of the book.

MindTap Sociology: The Personal
Learning Experience
MindTap Sociology for Sociology: The Essentials, ninth
edition, powered by Knewton from Cengage Learning
represents a new approach to a highly personalized,
online learning platform. A fully online learning solu-
tion, MindTap Sociology combines all of a student’s

learning tools—readings, multimedia, activities, and
assessments—into a singular learning path that guides
students through an introduction to sociology course.
Instructors personalize the experience by customizing
the presentation of these learning tools for their students,
even seamlessly introducing their own content into the
learning path via “apps” that integrate into the MindTap
platform. Learn more at www.cengage.com/mindtap.

MindTap Sociology for Sociology: The Essentials,
ninth edition, powered by Knewton, is easy to use and
saves instructors’ time by allowing them to:

●● Seamlessly deliver appropriate content and technol-
ogy assets from a number of providers to students, as
they need them.

●● Break course content down into movable objects to
promote personalization, encourage interactivity,
and ensure student engagement.

●● Customize the course—from tools to text—and make
adjustments “on the fly,” making it possible to inter-
twine breaking news into their lessons and incorpo-
rate today’s teachable moments.

●● Bring interactivity into learning through the inte-
gration of multimedia assets (apps from Cengage
Learning and other providers) and numerous
in-context exercises and supplements; student
engagement will increase, leading to better student
outcomes.

●● Track students’ use, activities, and comprehension
in real time, which provides opportunities for early
intervention to influence progress and outcomes.
Grades are visible and archived so students and
instructors always have access to current standings
in the class.

●● Assess knowledge throughout each section: after
readings, in activities, homework, and quizzes.

●● Automatically grade all homework and quizzes.
●● MindTap Sociology for Sociology: The Essentials,

ninth edition, features Aplia assignments, which
help students learn to use their sociological imagi-
nation through compelling content and thought-
provoking questions. Students complete interactive
activities that encourage them to think critically in
order to practice and apply course concepts. These
valuable critical thinking skills help students become
thoughtful and engaged members of society.

Instructor Resources
Sociology: The Essentials, ninth edition, is accompanied
by a wide array of supplements prepared to create the
best learning environment inside as well as outside the
classroom for both instructors and students. All the con-
tinuing supplements for Sociology: The Essentials, ninth
edition, have been thoroughly revised and updated.
We invite you to take full advantage of the teaching and
learning tools available to you.

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

xx  PReFACe

Instructor’s Resource Manual. This supplement
offers instructors brief chapter outlines, student learn-
ing objectives, American Sociological Association rec-
ommendations, key terms and people, detailed chapter
lecture outlines, lecture/discussion suggestions, stu-
dent activities, chapter worksheets, video suggestions,
video activities, and Internet exercises. The ninth edi-
tion also includes a syllabus to help instructors easily
organize learning tools and create lesson plans.

Cengage Learning Testing Powered by Cognero.
This flexible, online system allows teachers to author,
edit, and manage test bank content from multiple
Cengage Learning solutions, create multiple test ver-
sions in an instant, and deliver tests from your LMs,
your classroom, or wherever you want.

PowerPoint Slides. Preassembled Microsoft® Power-
Point® lecture slides with graphics from the text make it
easy for you to assemble, edit, publish, and present cus-
tom lectures for your course.

Acknowledgments
We relied on the comments of many reviewers to
improve the book, and we thank them for the time
they gave in developing very thoughtful commentar-
ies on the different chapters. Thanks to Mark Beisler,
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College; Andrew Butz,

Portland Community College; Nancy Dimonte, SUNY–
Farmingdale; Maureen Erickson, Cayuga Community
College; Kathryn J.  Fox, University of Vermont; Jamie
Gusrang, Community College of Philadelphia; Caroll
Hodgson, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College; Traci
Sullivan, Lakeland Community College; Nicole Vadino,
Community College of Philadelphia; Stan Weeber,
McNeese State University; Gailynn White, Citrus
College; and Porscha Orndof of Asheville Buncombe
Technical College.

We appreciate the efforts of many people who make
this project possible. We are fortunate to be working
with a publishing team with great enthusiasm for this
project. We thank all of the people at Cengage Learn-
ing who have worked with us on this and other projects,
especially John Chell who shepherded this edition
through important revisions. His attention to detail is
especially appreciated. We were also fortunate to have
the guidance of Marta Lee-Perriard during a transi-
tion to a new editor. Cheri Palmer, once again, oversaw
the many aspects of production that are critical to the
book’s success. We especially thank Jill Traut of MPS
Limited and Heather McElwain for their work in the
production process. Thanks to Nazveena Begum Syed
for photographic research. Finally, our special thanks
also go to our spouses Richard Morris Rosenfeld,
Patricia Epps Taylor, and Jim Rau for their ongoing love
and willingness to put up with us when we are frazzled
by the project details!

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

  xxi

About the Authors

Margaret L. Andersen is the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosen-
berg Professor of sociology at the University of Delaware where she also holds
joint appointments in women’s studies and Black American studies. She is
the author of Thinking about Women: Sociological Perspectives on Sex and
Gender; Race, Class and Gender (with Patricia Hill Collins); Race and Eth-
nicity in Society: The Changing Landscape (with Elizabeth Higginbotham);
On Land and On Sea: A Century of Women in the Rosenfeld Collection; and
Living Art: The Life of Paul R. Jones, African American Art Collector. She is
a recipient of the American Sociological Association’s Jessie Bernard Award
and the Merit Award of the Eastern Sociological Society. She is the former vice
president of the American Sociological Association, former president of the
Eastern Sociological Society, and a recipient of the University of Delaware’s
Excellence in Teaching Award and the College of Arts and Sciences Award for
Outstanding Teaching.

Co
ur

te
sy

o
f M

ar
ga

re
t A

nd
er

se
n

Howard F. Taylor was raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated Phi Beta
Kappa from Hiram College and has a Ph.D. in sociology from Yale University.
He has taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Syracuse University, and
Princeton University, where he is presently professor of sociology and for-
mer director of the Center for African American studies. He has published
over fifty articles in sociology, education, social psychology, and race rela-
tions. His books include The IQ Game (Rutgers University Press), a critique
of hereditarian accounts of intelligence; Balance in Small Groups (Van No-
strand Reinhold), translated into Japanese; and the forthcoming The SAT Tri-
ple Whammy: Race, Gender, and Social Class Bias. He has appeared widely
before college, radio, and TV audiences, including ABC’s Nightline. He is past
president of the Eastern Sociological Society, and a member of the Ameri-
can Sociological Association and the Sociological Research Association, an
honorary society for distinguished research. He is a winner of the DuBois-
Johnson-Frazier Award, given by the American Sociological Association
for distinguished research in race and ethnic relations, and the President’s
Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton University. He lives in
Pennington, New Jersey, with his wife, a corporate lawyer.

Co
ur

te
sy

o
f H

ow
ar

d
Ta

yl
or

Kim A. Logio is currently associate professor and chair of sociology at Saint
Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has been interviewed
for local television and National Public Radio for her work on body image and
race, class, and gender differences in nutrition and weight control behavior.
She teaches research methods and data analysis courses, guiding students
through the completion of their undergraduate thesis projects. She has been
awarded a teaching award at Saint Joseph’s University. She lives in Delaware
County, Pennsylvania, with her husband and three children.

Co
ur

te
sy

o
f K

im
A

. L
og

io

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

Ch
ar

le
s

Co
ok

/G
et

ty
Im

ag
es

1

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3

Imagine you had been switched with another infant at birth. How different would your life be? What if your accidental family was very poor … or very rich? How might this have
affected the schools you attended, the health care you
received, and the possibilities for your future career? If you
had been raised in a different religion, would this have affected
your beliefs, values, and attitudes? Taking a greater leap, what
if you had been born another sex or a different race? What
would you be like now?

We are talking about changing the basic facts of your
life—your family, social class, education, religion, sex, and
race. Each has major consequences for who you are and
how you will fare in life. These factors play a major part in
writing your life script. Your social location (meaning a per-
son’s place in society) establishes the limits and possibilities
of a life.

Consider this:
●● The people least likely to attend college are those most

likely to benefit from it (Brand and Xie 2010).
●● In the past, marriages in which wives had more education

than their husbands were more likely than other marriages
to end in divorce. This is no longer true (Schwartz and
Han 2014).

●● Fourteen percent of households in the United States
(18 million households) are considered “food insecure,”
meaning that they do not have the money for an adequate
amount of food (Piontak and Schulman 2014).

●● Gender and racial diversity in for-profit business organiza-
tions is associated with increased sales revenues, more
customers, and higher profits (Herring 2009).

These conclusions, drawn from current sociological
research, describe some consequences of particular social
locations in society. Although we may take our place in soci-
ety for granted, our social location has a profound effect on
our chances in life. The power of sociology is that it teaches
us to see how society influences our lives and the lives of

The Sociological
Perspective

●● Illustrate what is meant
by saying that human
behavior is shaped by
social structure

●● Question individualistic
explanations of human
behavior

●● Describe the significance
of studying diversity in
contemporary society

●● Explain the origins of
sociological thought

●● Compare and contrast
the major frameworks
of sociological theory

in this chapter, you will learn to:

What Is Sociology? 4

The Sociological Perspective 6

The Significance of Diversity 11

The Development of
Sociological Theory 14

Theoretical Frameworks
in Sociology 18

Chapter Summary 24

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4   CH aPTEr 1

others, and it helps us explain the consequences
of different social arrangements.

Sociology also has the power to help us
understand the influence of major changes on
people. Currently, rapidly developing technolo-
gies, increasing globalization, a more diverse
population in the United States, and changes in
women’s roles are affecting everyone, although
in different ways. How are these changes affect-
ing your life? Perhaps you rely on social media to
keep in touch with friends. Maybe your commu-
nity is witnessing an increase in immigrants from
other places. Perhaps you see women and men
trying hard to manage the demands of both work
and family life. All of these are issues that guide
sociological questions. Sociology explains some
of the causes and consequences of these changes.

Although society is always changing, it is also remarkably stable. People generally follow established
patterns of human behavior, and you can often anticipate how people will behave in certain situations.
You can even anticipate how different social conditions will affect different groups of people in society.
This is what sociologists find so interesting: Society is marked by both change and stability. Societies con-
tinually evolve, creating the need for people to adapt to change while still following generally established
patterns of behavior.

What Is Sociology?
Sociology is the study of human behavior in society.
Sociologists are interested in the study of people and
have learned a fundamental lesson: Human behavior,
even when seemingly “natural” or taken for granted, is
shaped by social structures—structures that have their
origins beyond the immediately visible behaviors of
everyday life. In other words, all human behavior occurs
in a social context. That context—the institutions and
culture that surround us—shapes what people do and
think. In this book, we will examine the dimensions of
society and analyze the elements of social context that
influence human behavior.

Sociology is a scientific way of thinking about soci­
ety and its influence on human groups. Observation,
reasoning, and logical analysis are the tools of sociolo­
gists. Sociology is inspired by the fascination people
have for observing people, but it goes far beyond casual
observations. It builds from objective analyses that oth­
ers can validate as reliable.

Every day, the media in their various forms (televi­
sion, film, video, digital, and print) bombard us with so ­
cial commentary. Media commentators provide endless

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Sociology is the study of human behavior. What social
behaviors do you see here?

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THE SoCIologICal P ErS PECTIvE  5

opinion about the various and sometimes bizarre forms
of behavior in society. Sociology is different. Sociologists
often appear in the media, and they study some of the
same subjects that the media examine, such as crime,
violence, or income inequality, but sociologists use spe­
cific research techniques and well­tested theories to
explain social issues. Indeed, sociology can provide the
tools for testing whether the things we hear about society
are actually true. Much of what we hear in the media and
elsewhere about society, although delivered with per­
fect earnestness, is misstated and sometimes completely
wrong, as you will see in some of the “Debunking Soci­
ety’s Myths” examples featured throughout this book.

→Thinking Sociologically
Q: What do the following people have in common?

First Lady Michelle Obama
Robin Williams (actor, comedian)
Ronald Reagan (former president)
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Regis Philbin (TV personality)
Reverend Jesse Jackson
Saul Bellow (novelist; Nobel Prize recipient)
Joe Theismann (former football player

and TV personality)
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (from California)
Senator Barbara Mikulski (from Maryland)

A: They were all sociology majors!

Source: Compiled by Peter Dreier, Occidental College.

The subject matter of sociology is everywhere.
This is why people sometimes wrongly believe that
sociology just explains the obvious. Sociologists bring
a unique perspective to understanding social behav­
ior and social change. Even though sociologists often
do research on familiar topics, such as youth cul­
tures or racial inequality, they do so using particular
research tools and specific frames of analysis (known
as sociological theory). Psychologists, anthropolo­
gists, political scientists, economists, social workers,
and others also study social behavior, although each
has a different perspective or “angle” on people in
society.

Students often wonder what makes sociology dif­
ferent from psychology. After all, both study people
and both identify some of the social forces that shape
our lives. There is, however, a difference. Psycholo­
gists study groups. Research in psychology can inform
some sociological analyses, but the focus in psychol­
ogy is more on individuals—what makes individuals
do what they do and how individual minds and emo­
tions work. Increasingly, psychology is also influ­
enced by the studies of the brain that are emerging
from the techniques of neuroscience. Sociology, on
the other hand, though it can learn from psychologi­
cal research, is more interested in the broader social
forces that shape society as a whole and the people
within it. (See the box “What Would a Sociologist
Say?” for an example.) Together, these various social
sciences provide compelling, though different, views
of human behavior.

As you build your sociological perspective, you must learn
certain key concepts to begin understanding how sociolo­
gists view human behavior. Social structure, social institu­
tions, social change, and social interaction are not the only
sociological concepts, but they are fundamental to grasping
the sociological perspective.

Social Interaction. Sociologists see social interaction as
behavior between two or more people that is given mean­
ing. Through social interaction, people react and change,
depending on the actions and reactions of others. Because
society changes as new forms of human behavior emerge,
change is always in the works.

Social Structure. We define social structure as the orga­
nized pattern of social relationships and social institutions
that together constitute society. Social structure is not a
“thing,” but refers to the fact that social forces not always
visible to the human eye guide and shape human behav­
ior. Acknowledging that social structure exists does not
mean that humans have no choice in how they behave,

only that those choices are largely conditioned by one’s
location in society.

Social Institutions. In this book, you will also learn about the
significance of social institutions, defined as established and
organized systems of social behavior with a particular and rec­
ognized purpose. Family, religion, marriage, government, and
the economy are examples of major social institutions. Social
institutions confront individuals at birth and transcend indi­
vidual experience, but they still influence individual behavior.

Social Change. As you can tell, sociologists are also interested
in the process of social change, the alteration of society
over time. As much as sociologists see society as producing
certain outcomes, they do not see society as fixed, nor do
they see humans as passive recipients of social expectations.
Sociologists view society as stable but constantly changing.

As you read this book, you will see that these key con­
cepts—social interaction, social structure, social institu­
tions, and social change—are central to the sociological
imagination.

Key Sociological Concepts

Sociology is the study of human behavior. What social
behaviors do you see here?

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6   CH aPT Er 1

When does a woman get pregnant?
Simple, you might think—it’s biological.
Of course, you can think of pregnancy
from a biological perspective, explain-
ing the process of fertilization. Or,
you might think of pregnancy from a
psychological perspective, analyzing
the desire to have a child as deeply
rooted in emotion and individual
decision-making processes. You might
even think about pregnancy from a
cross-cultural or historical perspective,

Getting Pregnant: A Very Social Act
analyzing childbirth in different cul-
tural contexts or analyzing historical
changes in how pregnancy is managed
by the medical profession. But, what
would a sociologist say about getting
pregnant?

From a sociological perspective,
pregnancy is deeply social behavior.
There would be many sociological angles
for studying pregnancy. An example
from recent research reveals the power
of sociological thinking. Sociological

researchers have found that the likeli-
hood of becoming pregnant increases
significantly in the two years following
a friend’s having had a child. As the
researchers conclude, even such per-
sonal decisions as the decision to have a
child result from the web of social rela-
tionships in which people are embedded
(Balbo and Barban 2014). Pregnancy
may seem like a very personal decision,
but it is fertile ground for sociological
study. What other social forces do you
think might influence the likelihood of
getting pregnant?

what would a sociologist say?

The Sociological
Perspective
Think back to the chapter opening where we asked you
to imagine yourself growing up under different circum­
stances. Our goal in that passage was to make you feel
the stirring of the sociological perspective—the ability to
see societal patterns that influence individual and group
life. The beginnings of the sociological perspective can
be as simple as the pleasures of watching people or won­
dering how society influences people’s lives. Indeed,
many students begin their study of sociology because
they are “interested in people.” Sociologists convert this
curiosity into the systematic study of how society influ­
ences different people’s experiences within it.

C. Wright Mills (1916–1962) was one of the first to
write about the sociological perspective in his classic
book, The Sociological Imagination (1959). He wrote
that the task of sociology was to understand the rela­
tionship between individuals and the society in which
they live. He defined the sociological imagination as
the ability to see the societal patterns that influence
the individual as well as groups of individuals. Soci­
ology should be used, Mills argued, to reveal how the
context of society shapes our lives. He thought that to
understand the experience of a given person or group
of people, one had to have knowledge of the social and
historical context in which people lived.

Think, for example, about the time and effort that
many people put into their appearance. You might ordi­
narily think of this as merely personal grooming or an
individual attempt to “look good,” but this behavior has
significant social origins. When you stand in front of a
mirror, you are probably not thinking about how soci­
ety is present in your reflection. As you look in the mir­
ror, though, you are seeing how others see you and are

very likely adjusting your appearance with that in mind,
even if not consciously.

This seemingly individual behavior is actually a
very social act. If you are trying to achieve a particular
look, you are likely doing so because of social forces that
establish particular ideals. These ideals are produced
by industries that profit enormously from the prod­
ucts and services that people buy, even when people
do so believing they are making an individual choice.
Some industries suggest that you should be thinner or
curvier, your pants should be baggy or straight, your
breasts should be minimized or maximized—either
way, you need more products. Maybe you should have
a complete makeover! Many people go to great lengths
to try to achieve a constantly changing beauty ideal, one
that is probably not even attainable (such as flawless
skin, hair always in place, perfectly proportioned body
parts). Sometimes trying to meet these ideals can even
be hazardous to your physical and mental health.

The point is that the alleged standards of beauty
are produced by social forces that extend far beyond an
individual’s concern with personal appearance. Beauty
ideals, like other socially established beliefs and prac­
tices, are produced in particular social and historical
contexts. People may come up with all kinds of per­
sonal strategies for achieving these ideals: They may
buy more products, try to lose more weight, get a Botox
treatment, or even become extremely depressed and
anxious if they think their efforts are failing. These per­
sonal behaviors may seem to be only individual issues,
but they have basic social causes. The sociological
imagination permits us to see that something as seem­
ingly personal as how you look arises from a social con­
text, not just individual behavior.

Sociologists are certainly concerned about indi­
viduals, but they are attuned to the social and historical

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THE SoCIologICal P ErS PECTIv E  7

context that shapes individual and group experiences.
The sociological imagination distinguishes between
troubles and issues. Troubles are privately felt problems
that spring from events or feelings in a person’s life.
Issues affect large numbers of people and have their
origins in the institutional arrangements and history of
a society (Mills 1959). This distinction is the crux of the
difference between individual experience and social
structure, defined as the organized pattern of social rela­
tionships and social institutions that together constitute
society. Issues shape the context within which troubles
arise. Sociologists employ the sociological perspective to
understand how issues are shaped by social structures.

Mills used the example of unemployment to explain
the meaning of troubles versus issues—an example that
still has resonance given people’s concerns about find­
ing work. When an individual person becomes unem­
ployed—or cannot find work—he or she has a personal
trouble, such as the worry that many college graduates
have experienced in trying to find work following grad­
uation. The personal trouble unemployment brings
may include financial problems as well as the person
feeling a loss of identity, becoming depressed, or having
to uproot a family and move. College students may have
to move back home with parents after graduation.

The problem of unemployment, however, is deeper
than the experience of any one person. Unemployment
is rooted in the structure of society; this is what interests
sociologists. What societal forces cause unemployment?
Who is most likely to become unemployed at different
times? How does unemployment affect an entire com­
munity (for instance, when a large plant shuts down)
or an entire nation (such as when recessions hit)?

Sociologists know that unemployment causes per­
sonal troubles, but understanding unemployment is
more than understanding one person’s experience. It
requires understanding the social structural conditions
that influence people’s lives.

→Thinking Sociologically
Troubles and Issues
Personal troubles are everywhere around us: alcohol
abuse or worries about money or even being upset about
how you look. at an individual level, these things can be
deeply troubling, and people sometimes need personal
help to deal with them. But most personal troubles, as
C. Wright Mills would say, also have their origins in societal
arrangements. Take the example of alcohol abuse.

What are some of the things about society—not just
individuals—that might influence this personal trouble?
Is there a culture of drinking on your campus that gener-
ates peer pressure to drink? Do people drink more when
they are unemployed? Is drinking more common among
particular groups or at different times in history? Who
profits from people’s drinking? Thinking about these
questions can help you understand the distinction that
Mills makes between personal troubles and social issues.

The specific task of sociology, according to Mills, is
to comprehend the whole of human society—its personal
and public dimensions, historical and contemporary—
and its influence on the lives of human beings. Mills
had an important point: People often feel that things are
beyond their control, meaning that people are shaped
by social forces larger than their individual lives. Social
forces influence our lives in profound ways, even though
we may not always know how. Consider this: Sociologists
have noted a current trend, popularly labeled “the boo­
merang generation” or “accordion families” (Newman
2012). These terms refer to the pattern whereby many
young people, after having left their family home to attend
college, are returning home after graduation. Although
this may seem like an individual decision to save money
on housing or live “free” while paying off student loans,
when a whole generation experiences this living arrange­
ment, there are social forces at work that extend beyond
individual decisions. In other words, people feel the
impact of social forces in their personal lives, even though
they may not always know the full dimensions of those
forces. This is where sociology comes into play—revealing
the social structures that shape the different dimensions
of our day­to­day lives. Social structure is a lot like air: You
cannot directly “see” it, but it is essential to living our lives.

Sociologists see social structures through careful
and systematic observation. This makes sociology an
empirical discipline. Empirical refers to careful observa­
tion, not just conjecture or opinion. In this way, sociology

Personal troubles are felt by individuals who are experienc-
ing problems; social issues arise when large numbers of
people experience problems that are rooted in the social
structure of society.

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

8   CH apt er 1

is very different from common sense. For empirical
observations to be useful to others, they must be gathered
and recorded rigorously. Sociologists are also obliged
to reexamine their assumptions and conclusions con-
stantly. Although the specific methods that sociologists
use to examine different problems vary, as we will see in
Chapter 3 on sociological research methods, the empiri-
cal basis of sociology is what distinguishes it from mere
opinion or other forms of social commentary.

Discovering Unsettling Facts
In studying sociology, it is crucial to examine the most
controversial topics and to do so with an open mind,
even when you see the most disquieting facts. The facts
we learn through sociological research can be “incon-
venient” because the data can challenge familiar ways
of thinking. Consider the following:

●● Many think of the Internet as promoting more
impersonal social interaction. Sociological research,
however, finds that people with Internet access
are actually more likely to have romantic part-
ners because of the ease of meeting people online
(Rosenfeld and Thomas 2012).

●● Despite the widespread idea promoted in the media
that well-educated women are opting out of profes-
sional careers to become “stay-at-home moms,” the
proportion of college-educated White women who stay
home with children has actually declined; those who
opt out of work do so more typically because of frustra-
tion with how they are treated at work (Stone 2007).

●● The number of women prisoners has increased at
almost twice the rate of increase for men; two-thirds
of women and half of men in prison are parents (Glaze
and Maruschak 2008; Sabol and Couture 2008).

These facts provide unsettling evidence of persistent
problems in the United States, problems that are embed-
ded in society, not just in individual behavior. Sociolo-
gists try to reveal the social factors that shape society
and determine the chances of success for different
groups. Some never get the chance to go to college; oth-
ers are unlikely to ever go to jail. These divisions persist
because of people’s placement within society.

▲ Figure 1.1 provides graphic evidence of how
changes in society might determine the opportunities
for success of different groups. This image shows what
percentage of income growth went to the top 10 percent
and the bottom 90 percent of the U.S. population since
World War II. This was a period of great economic
expansion in the United States. How was income growth
distributed over this time period and who benefitted?
As you can see in this image, since 2000, the bottom
90 percent of the population has actually experienced
a rather dramatic decline in income growth. How does
this affect opportunity for people like you? How might it
help explain the growing concern with class inequality?
We will discuss these changes more in Chapter 8, but for
now, perhaps you can begin to understand how sociolo-
gists study the broad social forces that shape people’s life
chances. Something as simple as being born in a par-
ticular generation can shape the course of your lifetime.

Debunking Society’s Myths←
Myth: anyone who works hard enough in the United
States can get ahead.
Sociological Research: there are periods in society
when some groups are able to move ahead. as examples,
the Black middle class expanded following changes in civil
rights laws in the 1960s; the White middle class also grew

220%

0%

20%

40%

60%

80%

100%

120%

1949–
1953

1954–
1957

1958–
1960

1961–
1969

1970–
1973

1975–
1979

1982–
1990

1991–
2000

2001–
2007

2009–
2012

Bottom 90 Top 10

▲ Figure 1.1
Distribution of average
Income Growth during
economic expansions
This figure shows how the
bottom 90 percent and top
10 percent of the popula-
tion experience change in
their income during periods
of economic expansion.
What trends do you see
here and how might they be
affecting people’s personal
troubles and social issues?
Source: Tcherneva, Pavlina
R. 2014. Growth for Whom?
Levy Economics Institute of
Bard College. Retrieved April 1,
2015. www.levyinstitute.org
/pubs/op_47.pdf

03083_ch01_ptg01.indd 8 19/08/15 1:58 PM

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

THE SoCIologICal P ErS PECTIv E  9

in the post-World War II period as the result of such things
as gI benefits for returning vets and government support
for home ownership. However, although there are excep-
tions, most people do not change their social class posi-
tion from that in which they were born. as Figure 1.1 shows
you, at times groups may even fall further behind as the
result of conditions in society (Piketty 2014; Noah 2013).

Sociologists study not just the disquieting side of soci­
ety. Sociologists may also study questions that affect every­
day life, such as how young boys and men are affected by
changing gender roles (Kimmel 2008), worker–customer
dynamics in nail salons (Kang 2010), or the expectations
that young women and men have for combining work
and family life (Gerson 2010). There are also many intrigu­
ing studies of unusual groups, such as cyberspace users
(Kendall 2002), strip clubs and dancers (Price­Glynn 2010;
Barton 2006), or competitive eaters (Ferguson 2014). The
subject matter of sociology is vast. Some research illumi­
nates odd corners of society; other studies address urgent
problems of society that may affect the lives of millions.

Debunking in Sociology
The power of sociological thinking is that it helps us
see everyday life in new ways. Sociologists question
actions and ideas that are usually taken for granted.
Peter Berger (1963) calls this process “debunking.”
Debunking refers to looking behind the facades of every­
day life—what Berger called the “unmasking tendency”
of sociology (1963: 38). In other words, sociologists look
at the behind­the­scenes patterns and processes that
shape the behavior they observe in the social world.

Take schooling, for example: We can see how the soci­
ological perspective debunks common assumptions about
education. Most people think that education is primarily a
way to learn and get ahead. Although this is true, a socio­
logical perspective on education reveals something more.
Sociologists have concluded that more than learning takes
place in schools; other social processes are at work. Social
cliques are formed where some students are “insiders”
and others are excluded “outsiders.” Young schoolchildren
acquire not just formal knowledge but also the expecta­
tions of society and people’s place within it. Race and class
conflicts are often played out in schools (Lewis 2003). Poor
children seldom have the same resources in schools as
middle­class or elite children, and they are often assumed
to be incapable of doing schoolwork and are treated
accordingly. The somber reality is that schools may actu­
ally stifle the opportunities of some children rather than
launch all children toward success (Kozol 2006).

Debunking is sometimes easier to do when looking
at a culture or society different from one’s own. Consider
how behaviors that are unquestioned in one society
may seem positively bizarre to an outsider. For a thou­
sand years in China, it was usual for the elite classes to

bind the feet of young girls to keep the feet from grow­
ing bigger—a practice allegedly derived from a mistress
of the emperor. Bound feet were a sign of delicacy and
vulnerability. A woman with large feet (defined as more
than 4 inches long!) was thought to bring shame to her
husband’s household. The practice was supported by
the belief that men were highly aroused by small feet,
even though men never actually saw the naked foot.
If they had, they might have been repulsed, because a
woman’s actual foot was U­shaped and often rotten and
covered with dead skin (Blake 1994). Outside the social,
cultural, and historical context in which it was practiced,

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Cultural practices that seem bizarre to outsiders may be
taken for granted or defined as appropriate by insiders.

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10   CH aPT Er 1

foot binding seems bizarre, even dangerous. Feminists
have pointed out that Chinese women were crippled by
this practice, making them unable to move about freely
and more dependent on men (Chang 1991).

This is an example of outsiders debunking a prac­
tice that was taken for granted by those within the cul­
ture. Debunking can also call into question practices in
one’s own culture that may normally go unexamined.
Strange as the practice of Chinese foot binding may
seem to you, how might someone from another cul­
ture view wearing shoes that make it difficult to walk?
Or piercing one’s tongue or eyebrow? Many take these
practices of contemporary U.S. culture for granted, just
as they do Chinese foot binding. Until these cultural
processes are debunked, seen as if for the first time,
they might seem normal.

Debunking Society’s Myths←
Myth: Email scams promising to deliver a large sum of
cash from some african bank if you contact the email
deliverer prey on people who are just stupid or old.
Sociological Research: Studies of these email scams
indicate that americans and Brits are especially sus-
ceptible to such scams because they play on widely
held cultural stereotypes about africa (that these are
economically unsophisticated nations in which people
are unable to manage money). These scams also exploit
the american cultural belief that it is possible to “get
rich quick”—reflecting a belief in individualism and the
belief that anyone who tries hard enough can get ahead
(Smith 2009).

Research Question: Sociologist Elaine
Bell Kaplan knew that there was a
stereotypical view of Black teen mothers
that they had grown up in fatherless
households where their mothers had no
moral values and no control over their
children. The myth of Black teenage
motherhood also depicts teen mothers
as unable to control their sexuality, as
having children to collect welfare checks,
and as having families who condone
their behavior. Is this true?

Research Method: Kaplan did extensive
research in two communities in the San
Francisco Bay area—East Oakland and
Richmond—both communities with a
large African American population and
typical of many inner-city, poor neighbor-
hoods. Once thriving Black communities,
East Oakland and Richmond are now
characterized by high rates of unemploy-
ment, poverty, inadequate schools, crime,
drug-related violence, and high numbers
of single-parent households. Having grown
up herself in Harlem, Kaplan knew that
communities like those she studied have
not always had these problems, nor have
they condoned teen pregnancy. She spent
several months in these communities,
working as a volunteer in a community
teen center that provided educational pro-
grams, day care, and counseling to teen

Debunking the Myths of Black Teenage Motherhood

parents, and “hanging out” with a core
group of teen mothers. She did extensive
interviews with thirty-two teen mothers,
supplementing them when she could with
interviews with their mothers and, some-
times, the fathers of their children.

Research Results: Kaplan found that
teen mothers adopt strategies for survival
that help them cope with their environ-
ment, even though these same strategies
do not help them overcome the problems
they face. Unlike what the popular
stereotype suggests, she did not find
that the Black community condones teen
pregnancy; quite the contrary, the teens
felt embarrassed and stigmatized by
being pregnant and experienced tension
and conflict with their mothers, who saw
their pregnancy as disrupting the hopes
they had for their daughters’ success.
These conclusions run directly counter
to the public image that such women do
not value success and live in a culture that
promotes welfare dependency.

Conclusions and Implications: Instead
of simply stereotyping these teens as
young and tough, Kaplan sees them as
struggling to develop their own gender
and sexual identity. Like other teens,
they are highly vulnerable, searching for
love and aspiring to create a meaningful

life. Often locked out of the job market,
the young women’s struggle to develop
an identity is compounded by the disrup-
tive social and economic conditions in
which they live.

Kaplan’s research is a fine example
of how sociologists debunk some of the
commonly shared myths that surround
contemporary issues. Carefully placing
her analysis in the context of the social
structural changes that affect these
young women’s lives, Kaplan provides an
excellent example of how sociological
research can shed new light on some of
our most pressing social problems.

Questions to Consider
1. Suppose that Kaplan had studied

middle-class teen mothers. What
similarities and differences would
you predict in the experiences of
middle-class and poor teen moth-
ers? Does race matter? In what ways
does your answer debunk myths
about teen pregnancy?

2. Make a list of the challenges you
would face were you to be a teen
parent. Having done so, indicate those
that would be considered personal
troubles and those that are social
issues. How are the two related?

Source: Kaplan, Elaine Bell. 1996. Not Our Kind
of Girl: Unraveling the Myths of Black Teenage
Motherhood. Berkeley, CA: University of
California Press.

doing sociological research

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THE SoCIologICal PE rS PECTIv E  11

◆ Table 1.1 U.S. Population Projections, 2010–2050

2010 2020 2030 2040 2050

White 79.5% 78.0% 76.6% 75.3% 74.0%

Black 12.9% 13.0% 13.1% 13.0% 13.0%

american Indian and
alaskan Native

1.0% 1.1% 1.2% 1.2% 1.2%

asian 4.6% 5.5% 6.3% 7.1% 7.8%

Native Hawaiian and
other Pacific Islander

0.2% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3%

Two or more races 1.8% 2.1% 2.7% 3.2% 3.7%

Note: The U.S. census counts race and Hispanic ethnicity separately. Thus, Hispanics may
fall into any of the race categories. Those who identified themselves as Hispanic were
16 percent of the total U.S. population in the 2010 census.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. National Population Projections: Summary Table.
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, www.census.gov

Establishing Critical
Distance
Debunking requires critical distance—
that is, being able to detach from the
situation at hand and view things with
a critical mind. The role of critical dis­
tance in developing a sociological imag­
ination is well explained by the early
sociologist Georg Simmel (1858–1918).
Simmel was especially interested in
the role of strangers in social groups.
Strangers have a position both inside
and outside social groups. They are part
of a group without necessarily sharing
the group’s assumptions and points of
view. Because of this, the stranger can
sometimes see the social structure of a
group more readily than can people who
are thoroughly imbued with the group’s worldview.
Simmel suggests that the sociological perspective
requires a combination of nearness and distance.
One must have enough critical distance to avoid
being taken in by the group’s definition of the situ­
ation, but be near enough to understand the group’s
experience.

Sociologists are not typically strangers to the
society they study. You can acquire critical distance
through a willingness to question the forces that shape
social behavior. Often, sociologists become interested
in things because of their own experiences. The biog­
raphies of sociologists are rich with examples of how
their personal lives informed the questions they asked.
Among sociologists are former ministers and nuns
now studying the sociology of religion, women who
have encountered sexism who now study the signifi­
cance of gender in society, rock­and­roll fans studying
music in popular culture, and sons and daughters of
immigrants now analyzing race and ethnic relations
(see the box “Understanding Diversity: Becoming a
Sociologist”).

The Significance
of Diversity
The analysis of diversity is a central theme of sociology.
Differences among groups, especially differences in the
treatment of groups, are significant in any society, but
they are particularly compelling in a society as diverse
as that in the United States.

Defining Diversity
Today, the United States includes people from all
nations and races. In 1900, one in eight Americans was
not White; today, racial and ethnic minority groups

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In an increasingly diverse society, valuing and understanding
diversity is a part of fully understanding society.

(including African Americans, Hispanics, American
Indians, Native Hawaiians, Asian Americans, and
people of more than one race) represent 27 percent
of Americans, and that proportion is growing (see
◆ Table 1.1 and ■ Map 1.1).

Perhaps the most basic lesson of sociology is that
people are shaped by the social context around them.
In the United States, with so much cultural diversity,
people will share some experiences, but not all. Experi­
ences not held in common can include some of the most
important influences on social development, such as

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1 2   CH aPTEr 1

Individual biographies often have a great
influence on the subjects sociologists
choose to study. The authors of this book
are no exception. Margaret Andersen, a
White woman, now studies the sociology
of race and women’s studies. Howard Tay-
lor, an African American man, studies race,
social psychology, and especially race and
intelligence testing. Here, each of them
writes about the influence of their early
experiences on becoming a sociologist.

Margaret Andersen As I was growing up
in the 1950s and 1960s, my family moved
from California to Georgia, then to Massa-
chusetts, and then back to Georgia. Moving
as we did from urban to small-town environ-
ments and in and out of regions of the coun-
try that were very different in their racial
character, I probably could not help becom-
ing fascinated by the sociology of race. Oak-
land, California, where I was born, was highly
diverse; my neighborhood was mostly White
and Asian American. When I moved to a
small town in Georgia in the 1950s, I was
ten years old, but I was shocked by the racial
norms I encountered. I had always loved rid-
ing in the back of the bus—our major mode
of transportation in Oakland—and could not
understand why this was no longer allowed.
Labeled by my peers as an outsider because
I was not southern, I painfully learned what
it meant to feel excluded just because of
“where you are from.”

When I moved again to suburban
Boston in the 1960s, I was defined by
Bostonians as a southerner and was ridi-
culed. Nicknamed “Dixie,” I was teased for
how I talked. Unlike in the South, where
Black people were part of White people’s

Become a Sociologist
daily lives despite strict racial segregation,
Black people in Boston were even less
visible. In my high school of 2500 or so
students, Black students were rare. To
me, the school seemed not much differ-
ent from the strictly segregated schools I
had attended in Georgia. My family soon
returned to Georgia, where I was an
outsider again; when I later returned to
Massachusetts for graduate school in the
1970s, I worried about how a southerner
would be accepted in this “Yankee” envi-
ronment. Because I had acquired a south-
ern accent, I think many of my teachers
stereotyped me and thought I was not as
smart as the students from other places.

These early lessons, which I may have
been unaware of at the time, must have
kindled my interest in the sociology of race
relations. As I explored sociology, I won-
dered how the concepts and theories of
race relations applied to women’s lives. So
much of what I had experienced growing up
as a woman in this society was completely
unexamined in what I studied in school. As
the women’s movement developed in the
1970s, I found sociology to be the frame-
work that helped me understand the signifi-
cance of gender and race in people’s lives.
To this day, I write and teach about race and
gender, using sociology to help students
understand their significance in society.

Howard Taylor I grew up in Cleveland,
Ohio, the son of African American profes-
sional parents. My mother, Murtis Taylor,
was a social worker and the founder and
then president of a social work agency
called the Murtis H. Taylor Human Services
Center in Cleveland, Ohio. She is well
known for her contributions to the city of
Cleveland and was an early “superwoman,”
working days and nights, cooking, caring
for her two sons, and being active in many
professional and civic activities. I think
this gave me an early appreciation for the
roles of women and the place of gender in
society, although I surely would not have
articulated it as such at the time.

My father was a businessman in a then
all-Black life insurance company. He was

also a “closet scientist,” always doing
physics experiments, talking about scien-
tific studies, and bringing home scientific
gadgets. He encouraged my brother and
me to engage in science, so we were
always experimenting with scientific stud-
ies in the basement of our house. In the
summers, I worked for my mother in the
social service agency where she worked,
as a camp counselor, and in other jobs.
Early on, I contemplated becoming a
social worker, but I was also excited by
science. As a young child, I acquired my
father’s love of science and my mother’s
interest in society. In college, the one
field that would gratify both sides of me,
science and social work, was sociology. I
wanted to study human interaction, but
I also wanted to be a scientist, so the
appeal of sociology was clear.

At the same time, growing up
African American meant that I faced
the consequences of race every day. It
was always there, and like other young
African American children, I spent much
of my childhood confronting racism and
prejudice. When I discovered sociology,
in addition to bridging the scientific and
humanistic parts of my interests, I found
a field that provided a framework for
studying race and ethnic relations. The
merging of two ways of thinking, cou-
pled with the analysis of race that sociol-
ogy has long provided, made sociology
fascinating to me.

Today, my research on race, class, gen-
der, and intelligence testing seems rooted
in these early experiences. I do quantita-
tive research in sociology and see sociol-
ogy as a science that reveals the workings
of race, class, and gender in society.

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understanding diversity

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THE SoCIologICal PErS PECTI vE  1 3

language, religion, and the traditions of family and com­
munity. Understanding diversity means recognizing this
diversity and making it central to sociological analyses.

In this book, we use the term diversity to refer to
the variety of group experiences that result from the
social structure of society. Diversity is a broad con­
cept that includes studying group differences in soci­
ety’s opportunities, the shaping of social institutions
by different social factors, the formation of group and
individual identity, and the process of social change.
Diversity includes the study of different cultural ori­
entations, although diversity is not exclusively about
culture.

Understanding diversity is crucial to understanding
society because fundamental patterns of social change
and social structure are increasingly patterned by
diverse group experiences. There are numerous sources
of diversity, including race, class, gender, and others as
well. Age, nationality, sexual orientation, and region
of residence, among other factors, also differentiate
the experience of diverse groups in the United States.

As the world is increasingly interconnected through
global communication and a global economy, the study
of diversity also encompasses a global perspective—that
is, an understanding of the international connections
existing across national borders and the impact of such
connections on life throughout the world.

→Thinking Sociologically
What are some of the sources of diversity on your
campus? How does this diversity affect social relations
on campus?

Society in Global Perspective
No society can be understood apart from the global
context that now influences the development of all
societies. The social and economic system of any one
society is increasingly intertwined with those of other
nations. Coupled with the increasing ease of travel and

Minority Population as a Percentage of County Population

50.0 or more
36.3 to 49.9
25.0 to 36.2
10.0 to 24.9
Less than 10.0

Percentage

U.S.
percent

36.3

0 5050 Miles0 100 Miles0 200 Miles

Mapping America’s Diversity: A Changing Population
The nation is becoming increasingly
diverse, but the distribution of minority
groups differs in various regions of the

country. Looking at this map, what
factors do you think influence the
distribution of the population?

Data: U.S. Census Bureau. 2010.
www.census.gov

map 1.1

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1 4   CH aPT Er 1

telecommunication, a global perspective is necessary
to understand change both in the United States and in
other parts of the world.

To understand globalization, you must look beyond
the boundaries of your own society to see how patterns
in any given society are increasingly being shaped by
the connections between societies. Comparing and
contrasting societies across different cultures is valu­
able. It helps you see patterns in your own society that
you might otherwise take for granted, and it enriches
your appreciation of the diverse patterns of culture
that mark human society and human history. A global
perspective, however, goes beyond just comparing dif­
ferent cultures; it also helps you see how events in one
society or community may be linked to events occur­
ring on the other side of the globe.

For instance, return to the example of unemploy­
ment that C. Wright Mills used to distinguish between
troubles and issues. One man may lose his job in Peo­
ria, Illinois, and a woman in Los Angeles may employ
a Latina domestic worker to take care of her child while
she pursues a career. On the one hand, these are indi­
vidual experiences for all three people, but they are
linked in a pattern of globalization that shapes the lives
of all three. The Latina domestic may have a family
whom she has left in a different nation so that she can
afford to support them. The corporation for which the
Los Angeles woman works may have invested in a new
plant overseas that employs cheap labor, resulting in the
unemployment of the man in Peoria. The man in Peoria
may have seen immigrant workers moving into his com­
munity. One of his children may have made a friend at
school who speaks a language other than English.

Such processes are increasingly shaping many of
the subjects examined in this book—work, family, edu­
cation, politics, just to name a few. Without a global
perspective, you would not be able to fully understand
the experience of any one of the people just mentioned,
much less how these processes of change and global
context shape society. Throughout this book, we will use
a global perspective to understand some of the develop­
ments shaping contemporary life in the United States.

The Development
of Sociological Theory
Like the subjects it studies, sociology is itself a social
product. Sociology first emerged in western Europe
during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this
period, the political and economic systems of Europe
were rapidly changing. Monarchy, the rule of society
by kings and queens, was disappearing, and new ways
of thinking were emerging. Religion as the system of
authority and law was giving way to scientific author­
ity. At the same time, capitalism grew. Contact between
different societies increased, and worldwide economic
markets developed. The traditional ways of the past
were giving way to a new social order. The time was ripe
for a new understanding.

The Influence of the Enlightenment
The Enlightenment in eighteenth­ and nineteenth­
century Europe had an enormous influence on the
development of modern sociology. Also known as the
Age of Reason, the Enlightenment was characterized
by faith in the ability of human reason to solve society’s
problems. Intellectuals believed that there were natu­
ral laws and processes in society to be discovered and
used for the general good. Modern science was gradu­
ally supplanting traditional and religious explanations

globalization brings diverse cultures together, but it is also
a process by which Western markets have penetrated much
of the world.

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

THE SoCIologICal PErS PECTIv E  1 5

for natural phenomena with theories confirmed by
experiments.

The earliest sociologists promoted a vision of soci­
ology grounded in careful observation. Auguste Comte
(1798–1857), a French philosopher who coined the term
sociology, believed that just as science had discovered
the laws of nature, sociology could discover the laws
of human social behavior and thus help solve society’s
problems. This approach is called positivism, a system of
thought still prominent today, in which scientific obser­
vation and description is considered the highest form
of knowledge, as opposed to, say, religious dogma or
poetic inspiration. The modern scientific method, which
guides sociological research, grew out of positivism.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859), a French citi­
zen, traveled to the United States as an observer begin­
ning in 1831. Tocqueville thought that democratic values
and the belief in human equality positively influenced
American social institutions and transformed personal
relationships. Less admiringly, he felt that in the United
States the tyranny of kings had been replaced by the
tyranny of the majority. He was referring to the ability of
a majority to impose its will on everyone else in a democ­
racy. Tocqueville also felt that, despite the emphasis on
individualism in American culture, Americans had little
independence of mind, making them self­centered and
anxious about their social class position (Collins and
Makowsky 1972).

Another early sociologist is Harriet Martineau
(1802–1876). Like Tocqueville, Martineau, a British cit­
izen, embarked on a long tour of the United States in
1834. She was fascinated by the newly emerging culture
in the United States. Her book Society in America (1837)
is an analysis of the social customs that she observed.
This important work was overlooked for many years,
probably because the author was a woman. It is now
recognized as a classic. Martineau also wrote the first
sociological methods book, How to Observe Morals and
Manners (1838), in which she discussed how to observe
behavior when one is a participant in the situation
being studied.

Classical Sociological Theory
Of all the contributors to the development of sociol­
ogy, the giants of the European tradition were Emile
Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Max Weber. They are classi­
cal thinkers because the ideas they offered more than
150 years ago continue to influence our understanding
of society, not just in sociology but in other fields as well
(such as political science and history).

Emile Durkheim. During the early academic career
of the Frenchman Emile Durkheim (1858–1917),
France was in the throes of great political and religious
upheaval. Anti­Semitism (hatred of Jews) was rampant.
Durkheim, himself Jewish, was fascinated by how the
public degradation of Jews by non­Jews seemed to calm
and unify a large segment of the divided French pub­
lic. Durkheim later wrote that public rituals have a spe­
cial purpose in society. Rituals create social solidarity,
referring to the bonds that link the members of a group.
Some of Durkheim’s most significant works explore
what forces hold society together and make it stable.

According to Durkheim, people in society are glued
together by belief systems (Durkheim 1947/1912). The
rituals of religion and other institutions symbolize and
reinforce the sense of belonging. Public ceremonies
create a bond between people in a social unit. Durkheim
thought that by publicly punishing people, such rituals
sustain moral cohesion in society. Durkheim’s views on
this are further examined in Chapter 7, which discusses
deviant behavior.

Durkheim also viewed society as an entity larger
than the sum of its parts. He described this as society sui
generis (which translates as “thing in itself ”), meaning
that society is a subject to be studied separately from
the sum of the individuals who compose it. Society is
external to individuals, yet its existence is internalized
in people’s minds—that is, people come to believe what
society expects them to believe. Durkheim conceived
of society as an integrated whole—each part contribut­
ing to the overall stability of the system. His work is the
basis for functionalism, an important theoretical per­
spective that we will return to later in this chapter.

One contribution from Durkheim was his concep­
tualization of the social facts. Durkheim created the
term social facts to indicate those social patterns that
are external to individuals. Things such as customs and
social values exist outside individuals, whereas psycho­
logical drives and motivation exist inside people. Social
facts, therefore, are the proper subject of sociology; they
are its reason for being.

A striking illustration of this principle was Dur­
kheim’s study of suicide (Durkheim 1951/1897). He
analyzed rates of suicide in a society, as opposed to
looking at individual (psychological) causes of sui­
cide. He showed that suicide rates varied according

as one of the
earliest observers
of american culture,
Harriet Martineau
used the powers of
social observation to
record and analyze
the social structure
of american society.
long ignored for
her contributions
to sociology, she is
now seen as one
of the founders of
early sociological
thought.Sp

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1 6   CH aPTE r 1

to how clear the norms and customs of the society
were, whether the norms and customs were consis­
tent with each other and not contradictory. Anomie
(the breakdown of social norms) exists where norms
were either grossly unclear or contradictory; the sui­
cide rates were higher in such societies or such parts
of a society. It is important to note that this condi­
tion is in society—external to individuals, but felt by
them (Puffer 2009). In this sense, such a condition is
truly societal.

Durkheim held that social facts, though they
exist outside individuals, nonetheless pose con­
straints on individual behavior. Durkheim’s major
contribution was the discovery of the social basis of
human behavior. He proposed that society could be
known through the discovery and analysis of social

facts. This is the central task of sociology (Coser 1977;
Bellah 1973; Durkheim 1950/1938).

Karl Marx. It is hard to imagine another scholar who
has had as much influence on intellectual history as has
Karl Marx (1818–1883). Along with his collaborator,
Friedrich Engels, Marx not only changed intellectual
history but also world history.

Marx’s work was devoted to explaining how capi­
talism shaped society. He argued that capitalism is an
economic system based on the pursuit of profit and
the sanctity of private property. Marx used a class
analysis to explain capitalism, describing capitalism
as a system of relationships among different classes,
including capitalists (also known as the bourgeois
class), the proletariat (or working class), the petty
bourgeoisie (small business owners and managers),
and the lumpenproletariat (those “discarded” by the
capitalist system, such as the homeless). In Marx’s
view, profit, the goal of capitalist endeavors, is pro­
duced through the exploitation of the working class.
Workers sell their labor in exchange for wages, and
capitalists make certain that wages are worth less
than the goods the workers produce. The difference in
value is the profit of the capitalist. In the Marxist view,
the capitalist class system is inherently unfair because
the entire system rests on workers getting less than
they give.

Marx thought that the economic organization
of society was the most important influence on what
humans think and how they behave. He found that the
beliefs of the common people tended to support the
interests of  the capitalist system, not the interests of
the  workers themselves. Why? The answer is that the
capitalist class controls the production of goods and the
production of ideas. It owns the publishing companies,
endows the universities where knowledge is produced,

Durkheim thought that symbols and rituals were important
in producing social cohesion in society. You can witness this
when shrines are spontaneously created in the aftermath
of tragedies, such as this outpouring of solidarity following
the mass shootings in an elementary school in Newtown,
Connecticut.

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Currently, 6500 veterans commit
suicide each year—more than the total
number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan
and Iraq since the start of those wars
(Williams 2012). Veterans are, in fact,
twice as likely as nonveterans in the gen-
eral population to commit suicide, even
though “natural” causes of death do not
differ between these two groups (Kaplan
et al. 2007). How would a sociologist
explain this?

Suicide among Veterans
Certainly, there are psychological

factors at work—post-traumatic stress,
depression, and, sometimes, substance
abuse—but sociological factors are at
work, too. Durkheim would argue that
this is a good example of anomic sui-
cide. A soldier returning home is likely
to encounter a far less structured envi-
ronment than when in service where
military life is highly structured. This
can be a suicide-prone environment,

what would a sociologist say?
especially if combined with unemploy-
ment, homelessness, or a disability.
If you add to that a lack of social sup-
port services or benefits specifically
to address the risk of suicide, you
can have a potentially lethal social
context.

Although sociologists do not ignore
the psychological dimensions of behav-
ior such as suicide, they see that society
involves other important social factors
that produce this tragic behavior.

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THE SoCIologICal PErS PECTIv E  1 7

and controls information industries—thus shaping
what people think.

Marx considered all of society to be shaped by
economic forces. Laws, family structures, schools, and
other institutions all develop, according to Marx, to suit
economic needs under capitalism. Like other early soci­
ologists, Marx took social structure as his subject rather
than the actions of individuals. It was the system of capi­
talism that dictated people’s behavior. Marx saw social
change as arising from tensions inherent in a capitalist
system—the conflict between the capitalist and work­
ing classes. Marx’s ideas are often misperceived by U.S.
students because communist revolutionaries through­
out the world have claimed Marx as their guiding spirit.
It would be naive to reject his ideas solely on political
grounds. Much that Marx predicted has not occurred—
for instance, he claimed that the “laws” of history made
a worldwide revolution of workers inevitable, and this
has not happened. Still, he left us an important body
of sociological thought springing from his insight that
society is systematic and structural and that class is a
fundamental dimension of society that shapes social
behavior.

Max Weber. Max Weber (1864–1920; pronounced
“vayber”) was greatly influenced by and built upon
Marx’s work. Whereas Marx saw economics as the
basic organizing element of society, Weber theorized
that society had three basic dimensions: political, eco­
nomic, and cultural. According to Weber, a complete
sociological analysis must recognize the interplay
between economic, political, and cultural institutions
(Parsons 1947). Weber is credited with developing a
multidimensional analysis of society that goes beyond
Marx’s more one­dimensional focus on economics.

Weber also theorized extensively about the relation­
ship of sociology to social and political values. He did not
believe there could be a value­free sociology because
values would always influence what sociologists consid­
ered worthy of study. Weber thought sociologists should
acknowledge the influence of values so that ingrained
beliefs would not interfere with objectivity. Weber pro­
fessed that the task of sociologists is to teach students
the uncomfortable truth about the world. Faculty should
not use their positions to promote their political opin­
ions, he felt; rather, they have a responsibility to exam­
ine all opinions, including unpopular ones, and use the
tools of rigorous sociological inquiry to understand why
people believe and behave as they do.

An important concept in Weber’s sociology is ver-
stehen (meaning “understanding” and pronounced
“vershtayen”). Verstehen, a German word, refers to
understanding social behavior from the point of view of
those engaged in it. Weber believed that to understand
social behavior, one had to understand the mean­
ing that a behavior had for people. He did not believe

sociologists had to be born into a group to understand it
(in other words, he didn’t believe “it takes one to know
one”), but he did think sociologists had to develop
some subjective understanding of how other people
experience their world. One major contribution from
Weber was the definition of social action as a behav­
ior to which people give meaning (Weber 1962/1913;
Parsons 1951b; Gerth and Mills 1946), such as placing
a bumper sticker on your car that states pride in U.S.
military troops.

Sociology in the United States
American sociology was built on the earlier work of
Europeans, but unique features of U.S. culture con­
tribute to its distinctive flavor. In the early twentieth
century, as sociology was evolving, most early soci­
ologists in the United States took a reform­based
approach, emphasizing more the importance of
applying knowledge for social change. American
sociologists believed that if they exposed the causes
of social problems, they could alleviate human suf­
fering. The nation in the early twentieth century was
moving to a more urban society, with a new mix of
immigrants and visible problems such as those we
face today: urban blight, hunger, poverty, and racial
segregation. Sociology, it was believed, could explain
how these problems were caused and, therefore, be
used to create change.

Nowhere was the emphasis on application more
evident than at the University of Chicago, where a style
of sociological thinking known as the Chicago School
developed. The Chicago School included scholars who
wanted to understand how society shapes the mind and
identity of people. Sociologists such as George Herbert
Mead and Charles Horton Cooley thought of soci­
ety as a human laboratory where they could observe
and understand human behavior to be better able to
address human needs, and they used the city in which
they lived as a living laboratory. You will study these
thinkers more in Chapter 4.

Robert Park (1864–1944), from the University of
Chicago, was a key founder of sociology. Originally a
journalist who worked in several Midwestern cities,
Park was interested in urban problems and how dif­
ferent racial groups interacted with each other. He was
also fascinated by the sociological design of cities, not­
ing that cities were typically sets of concentric circles.
At the time, the very rich and the very poor lived in the
middle, ringed by slums and low­income neighbor­
hoods (Coser 1977; Collins and Makowsky 1972; Park
and Burgess 1921). Park would still be intrigued by how
boundaries are defined and maintained in urban neigh­
borhoods. You might notice this yourself. A single street
crossing might delineate a Vietnamese neighborhood
from an Italian one, an affluent White neighborhood

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1 8   CH aPTEr 1

from a barrio. The social structure of cities continues to
be a subject of sociological research.

Many early sociologists of the Chicago School were
women whose work is only now being rediscovered. Jane
Addams (1860–1935) was one of the most renowned
sociologists of her day. Because she was a woman, she
was never given the jobs or prestige that men in her time
received. She was the only practicing sociologist ever
to win a Nobel Peace Prize (in 1931), yet she never had
a regular teaching job. Instead, she used her skills as a
research sociologist to develop community projects that
assisted people in need (Deegan 1988). She was a leader
in the settlement house movement providing services
and doing research to improve the lives of slum dwell­
ers, immigrants, and other poor people.

Another early sociologist, widely noted for her work
in the antilynching movement, was Ida B. Wells-Barnett
(1862–1931). Born a slave, Ida B. Wells­Barnett learned
to read and write at Rust College, a school established
for freed slaves, later receiving her teaching credentials
at Fisk University. She wrote numerous essays on the sta­
tus of African Americans in the United States and was an
active crusader against lynching and for women’s rights,
including the right to vote. Because she was so violently
attacked—in writing and in actual threats—and because
of her passionate work, she often had to write under an
assumed name. Until recently, her contributions to the
field of sociology have been largely unexamined. Inter­
estingly, her grandson, Troy Duster (b. 1936) is now a
faculty member at New York University and the Univer­
sity of California, Berkeley (Giddings 2008; Henry 2008;
Lengermann and Niebrugge­Brantley 1998).

W. E. B. DuBois (1868–1963; pronounced “due
boys”) was one of the most important early sociologi­
cal thinkers in the United States. DuBois was a promi­
nent Black scholar, a cofounder of the NAACP (National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People)
in 1909, a prolific writer, and one of the best Ameri­
can minds. He received the first Ph.D. ever awarded to
a Black person in any field (from Harvard University),
and he studied for a time in Germany, hearing several
lectures by Max Weber (Morris 2015).

DuBois was deeply troubled by the racial divisive­
ness in society, writing in a classic essay published in 1901
that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem
of the color line” (DuBois 1901: 354). Like many of his
women colleagues, he envisioned a community­based,
activist profession committed to social justice (Deegan
1988); he was a friend and collaborator with Jane Addams.
He believed in the importance of a scientific approach to
sociological questions, but he also thought that convic­
tions always directed one’s studies. Were he alive today,
he might no doubt note that the problem of the color line
still persists well into this, the twenty­first century.

Much of DuBois’s work focused on the social struc­
ture of Black communities, one of his classic studies being
of the city of Philadelphia. His book, The Philadelphia
Negro, published in 1899, remains a classic study of Afri­
can American urban life and its social institutions. One of
the most lasting ideas from DuBois is his concept of “dual
(or double) consciousness.” DuBois saw African Ameri­
cans as always having to see themselves through the eyes
of others, a response that would be typical among any
group oppressed by others. For DuBois, this dual con­
sciousness led African Americans to always be alert to
how others see them, and at the same time, to develop a
strong collective identity of themselves as “Black” or, as
we would say now, African American (DuBois 1903).

Theoretical Frameworks
in Sociology
The founders of sociology have established theoretical
traditions that ask basic questions about society and
inform sociological research. The idea of theory may
seem dry to you because it connotes something that is
only hypothetical and divorced from “real life.” Socio­
logical theory though is one of the tools that sociologists
use to interpret real life. Sociologists use theory to orga­
nize their observations and apply them to the broad
questions sociologists ask, such as: How are individu­
als related to society? How is social order maintained?
Why is there inequality in society? How does social
change occur? (See ◆ Table 1.2.)

Jane addams, the only
sociologist to win the
Nobel Peace Prize, used
her sociological skills to
try to improve people’s
lives. The settlement
house movement
provided social services
to groups in need, while
also providing a social
laboratory in which to
observe the sociological
dimensions of problems
such as poverty.Be

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Ida B. Wells-Barnett
is now well known for
her brave campaign
against the lynching of
african american people.
less known are her
early contributions to
sociological thought. Be

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THE SoCIologICal P ErS PECTIv E  1 9

◆ Table 1.2 Classical Theorists Reflect on the Economic Recession

Major Concepts What’s the Big Idea?
An Applied Example:
The Economic Recession

EMIlE DUrKHEIM
(1858–1917)

Society sui generis

Social solidarity

Social facts

Social structures produce
social forces that impinge
on individuals even when
they are not immediately
visible; social solidarity
is produced through
identifying some as “other”
or not belonging.

In times of economic crises,
people may blame others, such
as immigrants or “foreigners” for
taking jobs from those perceived
as citizens.

Karl MarX
(1818–1883)

Capitalism

Class conflict

Capitalism is built on the
exploitation of laboring
groups for the profit of
others. Class conflict is
embedded in the system of
capitalism that then shapes
other social institutions.

It is no surprise that inequality is
growing; the forces of capitalism
mean that the rich will amass the
most resources, with everyone
else becoming worse off.

MaX WEBEr
(1864–1920)

Multidimensional
analysis

verstehen

Cultural values interact
with economic and political
systems to produce society;
no one factor determines
the character of society.

Even when the economy is
stagnant, cultural beliefs in hard
work and the Protestant ethic
mean that people will blame
individuals, not the system,
for failure.

W. E. B. DUBoIS
(1868–1963)

Color line

Double
consciousness

racial inequality structures
social institutions in the
United States. Those who are
oppressed by race develop
a dual consciousness, ever
aware of their status in the
eyes of others but also having
a collective identity as african
american.

The “problem of the color line”
extends into the twenty-first
century, as african american
people and other people of
color are those most likely to be
disadvantaged by economic
stress.

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2 0   CH aPTEr 1

◆ Table 1.3 Manifest and Latent Functions:
The Family

Manifest Functions
(explicit, deliberate)

Latent Functions
(unintended, unrecognized)

reproduction Sexual relations outside of
the traditional family may be
judged as deviant

Transmission of cultural
values

risk of intolerance of different
cultures/groups

Care of the young Neglect of public policies to
support working parents

Emotional support Silence around conflicts that
occur within families

Consumption of goods Transmission of inequality
across generations as wealth
and property is passed on for
some and not others

Different theoretical frameworks within sociol­
ogy make different assumptions and provide different
insights about the nature of society. In the realm of
macrosociology are theories that strive to understand
society as a whole. Durkheim, Marx, and Weber were
macrosociological theorists. Theoretical frameworks
that center on face­to­face social interaction are known
as microsociology. Some of the work derived from the
Chicago School—research that studies individuals
and group processes in society—is microsociological.
Although sociologists draw from diverse theoretical
perspectives to understand society, four theoretical tra­
ditions form the major theoretical perspectives: func­
tionalism, conflict theory, symbolic interaction, and,
more recently, feminist theory.

Functionalism
Functionalism has its origins in the work of Durkheim,
who you will recall was especially interested in how
social order is possible and how society remains rela­
tively stable. Functionalism interprets each part of
society in terms of how it contributes to the stability
of the whole. As Durkheim suggested, functional­
ism conceptualizes society as more than the sum of
its component parts. Each part is “functional” for
society—that is, contributes to the stability of the whole.
The different parts are primarily the institutions of
society, each of which is organized to fill different
needs and each of which has particular consequences
for the form and shape of society. The parts each then
depend on one another.

The family as an institution, for example, serves
multiple functions. At its most basic level, the fam­
ily has a reproductive role. Within the family, infants
receive protection and sustenance. As they grow older,
they are exposed to the patterns and expectations of
their culture. Across generations, the family supplies
a broad unit of support and enriches individual expe­
rience with a sense of continuity with the past and
future. All these aspects of family can be assessed by
how they contribute to the stability and prosperity of
society. The same is true for other institutions.

The functionalist framework emphasizes the con­
sensus and order that exist in society, focusing on social
stability and shared public values. From a functional­
ist perspective, disorganization in the system, such as
an economic collapse, leads to change because societal
components must adjust to achieve stability. This is a
key part of functionalist theory—that when one part of
society is not working (or is dysfunctional, as they would
say), it affects all the other parts and creates social
problems. Change may be for better or worse. Changes
for the worse stem from instability in the social sys­
tem, such as a breakdown in shared values or a social

institution no longer meeting people’s needs (Eitzen
and Baca Zinn 2012; Merton 1968).

Functionalism was a dominant theoretical per­
spective in sociology for many years, and one of its
major theorists was Talcott Parsons (1902–1979). In
Parsons’s view, all parts of a social system are inter­
related, with different parts of society having different
basic functions. Functionalism was further developed
by Robert Merton (1910–2003). Merton saw that
social practices often have consequences for society
that are not immediately apparent. He suggested that
human behavior has both manifest and latent func­
tions. Manifest functions are the stated and intended
goals of social behavior. Latent functions are neither
stated nor intended. The family, for example, has both
manifest and latent functions, as demonstrated in
◆ Table 1.3.

→Thinking Sociologically
What are the manifest functions of grades in college?

What are the latent functions?

Critics of functionalism argue that its empha­
sis on social stability understates the roles of power
and conflict in society. Critics also disagree with the
explanation of inequality offered by functionalism—
that it persists because social inequality creates
a system for the fair and equitable distribution of
societal resources (discussed further in Chapter 8).
Functionalists argue that it is fair and equitable that

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THE SoCIologICal PErS PECTIv E  2 1

the higher social classes earn more money because
they are more important (functional) to society. Crit­
ics disagree, saying that functionalism is too accept­
ing of the status quo. From a functionalist perspective
though, inequality serves a purpose in society: It
provides an incentive system for people to work and
promotes solidarity among groups linked by their
common social standing.

Conflict Theory
Conflict theory emphasizes the role of coercion and
power in society and the ability of some to influ­
ence and control others. Functionalism emphasizes
cohesion within society. Conflict theory emphasizes
strife and friction. Conflict theory pictures society
as comprised of groups that compete for social and
economic resources. Social order is maintained not
by consensus but by domination, with power in
the hands of those with the greatest political, eco­
nomic, and social resources. When consensus exists,
according to conflict theorists, it is attributable to
people being united around common interests, often
in opposition to other groups (Dahrendorf 1959;
Mills 1956).

According to conflict theory, inequality exists
because those in control of a disproportionate share
of society’s resources actively defend their advan­
tages. The masses are not bound to society by their
shared values but by coercion at the hands of the
powerful. In conflict theory, the emphasis is on social
control, not on consensus and conformity. Those
with the most resources exercise power over others;
inequality and power struggles are the result. Con­
flict theory gives great attention to class, race, gender,
and sexuality in society because these are seen as the
grounds of the most pertinent and enduring struggles
in society.

Conflict theorists see inequality as inherently
unfair, persisting only because groups who are eco­
nomically advantaged use their social position to
their own betterment. Their dominance even extends
to the point of shaping the beliefs of other mem­
bers of the society by controlling public information
and holding power in institutions such as educa­
tion and religion that shape what people think and
know. From the conflict perspective, power struggles
between conflicting groups are the source of social
change. Those with the greatest power are typically
able to maintain their advantage at the expense of
other groups.

Conflict theory has been criticized for neglecting
the importance of shared values and public consensus
in society while overemphasizing inequality. Like func­
tionalist theory, conflict theory finds the origins of social

behavior in the structure of society, but it differs from
functionalism in emphasizing the importance of power.

Symbolic Interaction
The third major framework of sociological theory is
symbolic interaction. Instead of thinking of society
in terms of abstract institutions, symbolic interaction
emphasizes immediate social interaction as the place
where “society” exists. Because of the human capacity
for reflection, people give meaning to their behavior.
The creation of meaning is how they interpret the differ­
ent behaviors, events, or things that happen in society.

As its name implies, symbolic interaction relies
extensively on the symbolic meaning that people
develop and employ in the process of social interaction.
Symbolic interaction theory emphasizes face­to­face
interaction and thus is a form of microsociology,
whereas functionalism and conflict theory are more
macrosociological.

Derived from the work of the Chicago School, sym­
bolic interaction theory analyzes society by addressing
the subjective meanings that people impose on objects,
events, and behaviors. Subjective meanings are impor­
tant because, according to symbolic interaction, people
behave based on what they believe, not just on what
is objectively true. Symbolic interaction sees society
as socially constructed through human interpretation
(Blumer 1969; Berger and Luckmann 1967; Shibutani
1961). Social meanings are constantly modified through
social interaction.

People interpret one another’s behavior; these
interpretations form social bonds. These interpretations
are called the “definition of the situation.” For example,
why would young people smoke cigarettes even though
all objective medical evidence points to the danger of
doing so? The answer is in the definition of the situation
that people create. Studies find that teenagers are well
informed about the risks of tobacco, but they also think
that “smoking is cool,” that they themselves will be safe
from harm, and that smoking projects an image—a
positive identity for boys as a “tough guy” and for girls
as fun­loving, mature, and glamorous. Smoking is also
defined by young women as keeping you thin—an ideal
constructed through dominant images of beauty. In
other words, the symbolic meaning of smoking over­
rides the actual facts regarding smoking and risk.

→Thinking Sociologically
Think about the example given about smoking, and using
symbolic interaction, how would you explain other risky
behaviors, such as steroid use among athletes or eating
disorders among young women?

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2 2   CH aPTE r 1

Now that you understand a bit more what sociology is
about, you may ask, “What can I do with a degree in
sociology?” This is a question we often hear from students.
There is no single job called “sociologist” like there is
“engineer” or “nurse” or “teacher,” but sociology prepares
you well for many kinds of jobs, whether with a bachelor’s
degree or a postgraduate education. The skills you acquire
from your sociological education are useful for jobs in busi­
ness, health care, criminal justice, government agencies,
various nonprofit organizations, and other job venues.

For example, the research skills one gains through
sociology can be important in analyzing business data or
organizing information for a food bank or homeless shelter.
Students in sociology also gain experience working with
and understanding those with different cultural and social
backgrounds; this is an important and valued skill that
employers seek. Also, the ability to dissect the different
causes of a social problem can be an asset for jobs in vari­
ous social service organizations.

Some sociologists have worked in their communities to
deliver more effective social services. Some are employed
in business organizations and social services where they
use their sociological training to address issues such as pov­
erty, crime and delinquency, population studies, substance

abuse, violence against women, family social services,
immigration policy, and any number of other important
issues. Sociologists also work in the offices of U.S. repre­
sentatives and senators, doing background research on the
various issues addressed in the political process.

These are just a few examples of how sociology can
prepare you for various careers. A good way to learn more
about how sociology prepares you for work is to consider
doing an internship while you are still in college.

For more information about careers in sociology, see
the booklet, “21st Century Careers with an Undergraduate
Degree in Sociology,” available through the American
Sociological Association (www.asanet.org).

Critical Thinking Exercise
1. Read a national newspaper over a period of one week

and identify any experts who use a sociological per­
spective in their commentary. What does this suggest to
you as a possible career in sociology? What are some of
the different subjects about which sociologists provide
expert information?

2. Identify some of the students from your college who
have finished degrees in sociology. What different ways
have they used their sociological knowledge?

Careers in Sociology

Symbolic interaction interprets social order as
constantly negotiated and created through the inter­
pretations people give to their behavior. In observing
society, symbolic interactionists see not simply facts
but “social constructions,” the meanings attached to
things, whether those are concrete symbols (like a cer­
tain way of dress or a tattoo) or nonverbal behaviors.
In symbolic interaction theory, society is highly subjec­
tive—existing in the minds of people, even though its
effects are very real.

Feminist Theory
Contemporary sociological theory has been greatly
influenced by the development of feminist theory.
Prior to the emergence of second­wave feminism (the
feminist movement emerging in the 1960s and 1970s),
women were largely absent and invisible within most
sociological work—indeed, within most academic
work. When seen, they were strongly stereotyped in
traditional roles as wives and mothers. Feminist theory
developed to understand the status of women in society
and with the purpose of using that knowledge to better
women’s lives.

Feminist theory has created vital new knowl­
edge about women and has also transformed what is

Symbolic interaction theory can help explain why people
might do things that otherwise seem contrary to what one
might expect.

Fl
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THE SoCIologICal PErS PECTIvE  23

understood about men. Feminist scholarship in sociol­
ogy, by focusing on the experiences of women, provides
new ways of seeing the world and contributes to a more
complete view of society.

Feminist theory takes gender as a primary lens
through which to view society. Beyond that, feminist
theory makes the claim that without considering gen­
der in society, one’s analysis of any social behavior
is incomplete and, thus, incorrect. At the same time,
feminist theory purports to analyze society with an
eye to improving the status of women. Men are not
excluded from feminist theory. In fact, feminist the­
ory, as we will see in various chapters that follow also
argues that men are gendered subjects too. We can­
not understand society without understanding how
gender is structured in society and in women’s and
men’s lives.

Feminist theory is a now vibrant and rich perspec­
tive in sociology, and it has added much to how people
understand the sociology of gender—and its connec­
tion to other social factors, such as race, sexuality, age,
and class. Along with the classical traditions of sociol­
ogy, feminist theory is included throughout this book in
the context of particular topics.

Functionalism, conflict theory, symbolic interac­
tion, and feminist theory are by no means the only
theoretical frameworks in sociology. For some time,
however, they have provided the most prominent gen­
eral explanations of society. Each has a unique view
of the social realm. None is a perfect explanation of
society, yet each has something to contribute. Func­
tionalism gives special weight to the order and cohe­
sion that usually characterizes society. Conflict theory
emphasizes the inequalities and power imbalances in
society. Symbolic interaction emphasizes the mean­
ings that humans give to their behavior. Feminist
theory takes gender as a primary lens through which
to understand society, especially in relation to other
structures of inequality. Together, these frameworks
provide a rich, comprehensive perspective on soci­
ety, individuals within society, and social change (see
◆ Table 1.4).

Whatever the theoretical framework used, theory
is evaluated in terms of its ability to explain observed
social facts. The sociological imagination is not a single­
minded way of looking at the world. It is the ability to
observe social behavior and interpret that behavior in
light of societal influences.

◆ Table 1.4 Comparing Sociological Theories

Basic Questions Functionalism Conflict Theory Symbolic Interaction Feminist Theory

What is the relationship
of individuals to society?

Individuals occupy
fixed social roles.

Individuals are subordi-
nated to society.

Individuals and society
are interdependent.

Women and men are
bound together in
a system of gender
relationships that shape
identities and beliefs.

Why is there inequality? Inequality is inevitable
and functional
for society.

Inequality results from
a struggle over scarce
resources.

Inequality is demon-
strated through the
importance of symbols.

Inequality stems from
the matrix of domina-
tion that links gender,
race, class, and sexuality.

How is social order
possible?

Social order stems
from consensus on
public values.

Social order is main-
tained through power
and coercion.

Social order is sustained
through social interac-
tion and adherence to
social norms.

Patriarchal social orders
are maintained by the
power that men hold
over women.

What is the source
of social change?

Society seeks equi-
librium when there is
social disorganization.

Change comes through
the mobilization of
people struggling for
resources.

Change evolves from
an ever-evolving set
of social relationships
and the creation of new
meaning systems.

Social change comes
from the mobilization of
women and their allies
on behalf of women’s
liberation.

Major Criticisms

This is a conservative
view of society that
underplays power dif-
ferences among and
between groups.

The theory understates
the degree of cohesion
and stability in society.

There is little analysis
of inequality, and it over-
states the subjective
basis of society.

Feminist theory has too
often been anchored
in the experiences of
White, middle-class
women.

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24   CH aPTEr 1

Chapter Summary
What is sociology?
Sociology is the study of human behavior in society.
The sociological imagination is the ability to see soci­
etal patterns that influence individuals. Sociology is an
empirical discipline, relying on careful observations as
the basis for its knowledge.

What is debunking?
Debunking in sociology refers to the ability to look
behind things taken for granted, looking instead to the
origins of social behavior.

Why is diversity central to the study of sociology?
One of the central insights of sociology is its analysis of
social diversity and inequality. Understanding diversity
is critical to sociology because it is necessary to analyze
social institutions and because diversity shapes most of
our social and cultural institutions.

When and how did sociology emerge as a field
of study?
Sociology emerged in western Europe during the
Enlightenment and was influenced by the values of crit­
ical reason, humanitarianism, and positivism. Auguste
Comte, one of the earliest sociologists, emphasized

sociology as a positivist discipline. Alexis de Tocqueville
and Harriet Martineau developed early and insightful
analyses of American culture.

What are some of the basic insights of classical
sociological theory?
Emile Durkheim is credited with conceptualizing soci­
ety as a social system and with identifying social facts as
patterns of behavior that are external to the individual.
Karl Marx showed how capitalism shaped the develop­
ment of society. Max Weber sought to explain society
through cultural, political, and economic factors. W.E.B.
DuBois saw racial inequality as the greatest challenge
in U.S. society.

What are the major theoretical frameworks
in sociology?
Functionalism emphasizes the stability and integra­
tion in society. Conflict theory sees society as organized
around the unequal distribution of resources and held
together through power and coercion. Symbolic interac-
tion emphasizes the role of individuals in giving mean­
ing to social behavior, thereby creating society. Feminist
theory is the analysis of women and men in society and
is intended to improve women’s lives.

conflict theory 20
debunking 9
diversity 13
empirical 7
Enlightenment 14

feminist theory 22
functionalism 19
issues 7
positivism 15
social change 5

social facts 15
social institution 5
social interaction 5
social structure 7
sociological imagination 6

sociology 4
symbolic interaction 20
troubles 7
verstehen 17

Key Terms

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27

In one contemporary society known for its technological sophistication, people—especially the young—walk around with plugs in their ears. The plugs are connected to small wires that
are themselves coated with a plastic film. These little plastic-
covered wires are then connected to small devices made of
metal, plastic, silicon, and other modern components, although
most people who use them have no idea how they are made.
When turned on, these devices put music into people’s ears or,
in some cases, show pictures and movies on a screen not much
larger than a bar of soap. Some people who use these devices
wouldn’t even consider walking around without them. It is as if
the devices shield them from other elements of their culture.

The same people who carry these devices around have
other habits that, when seen from the perspective of someone
unfamiliar with this culture, might seem peculiar and certainly
highly ritualized. Apparently, when young people in this society
go away to school, most take a large number of various techno-
logical devices along with them. Many sleep with one of these
devices turned on all night. They look like a large box—some
square, others flat—and project pictures and sound when users
click buttons on another small device that, though detached
from the bigger box, can be placed anywhere in the room. If you
click the buttons on this portable device, the pictures and sound
from the larger box will change possibly hundreds of times,
revealing a huge assortment of images that seem to influence
what people in this culture believe and, in many cases, how they
behave. They say that in over 40 percent of the households in
this culture, this device is turned on 24 hours a day (Gitlin 2002)!
Indeed, it seems that everything these young people do involves
looking at some kind of screen, enough so that one of the
authors of this book has labeled their generation “screenagers.”

Not everyone in this culture has access to all of these
devices, although many want them. Indeed, having more devices
seems to be a mark of one’s social status, that is, how you are
regarded in this culture, but very few people know where the
devices are made, what they are made of, or how they work.
The young also often ridicule older people for not understand-
ing how the devices work or why they are so important to
young people. From outside the culture, these practices seem
strange, yet few within the culture think the behaviors associ-
ated with these devices are anything but perfectly ordinary.

Culture

●● Define culture
●● Recall the elements

of culture
●● Explain the significance

of cultural diversity
●● Relate the influence

of the mass media and
popular culture

●● Compare and contrast
theoretical explanations
of culture and the media

●● Discuss the components
of cultural change

in this chapter, you will learn to:

Defining Culture 28

The Elements of Culture 34

Cultural Diversity 39

The Mass Media and Popular
Culture 43

Theoretical Perspectives on
Culture and the Media 49

Cultural Change 52

Chapter Summary 54

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2 8   CH aPTER 2

You have surely guessed that the practices described here are taken from U.S. culture: iPads, smart-
phones, television/video use. These are such daily practices that they practically define modern American
culture. Unless they are somehow interrupted, most people do not think much about their influence on
society, on people’s relationships, or on people’s definitions of themselves.1

When viewed from the outside, cultural habits that seem perfectly normal often seem strange. Take an
example from a different culture. The Tchikrin people—a remote culture of the central Brazilian rain forest—
paint their bodies in elaborate designs. Painted bodies communicate to others the relationship of the per-
son to his or her body, to society, and to the spiritual world. The designs and colors symbolize the balance
the Tchikrin people think exists between biological powers and the integration of people into the social
group. The Tchikrin also associate hair with sexual powers; lovers get a special thrill from using their teeth
to pluck an eyebrow or eyelash from their partner’s face (Sanders and Vail 2008; Turner 1969). To Tchikrin
people, these practices are no more unusual or exotic than the daily habits we practice in the United States.

To study culture, to analyze it and measure its significance in society, we must separate ourselves
from judgments such as “strange” or “normal.” We must see a culture as insiders see it, but we cannot be
completely taken in by that view. We should know the culture as insiders and understand it as outsiders.

Cultural practices may seem strange to outsiders, but may be taken for granted by those within the culture. How might some
contemporary cultural practices in the United States look strange to people from a very different culture?

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Defining Culture
Culture is the complex system of meaning and behavior
that defines the way of life for a given group or society.
It includes beliefs, values, knowledge, art, morals, laws,
customs, habits, language, and dress, among other
things. Culture includes ways of thinking as well as pat-
terns of behavior. Observing culture involves studying
what people think, how they interact, and the objects
they use.

In any society, culture defines what is perceived
as beautiful and ugly, right and wrong, good and bad.

Culture helps hold society together, giving people a
sense of belonging, instructing them on how to behave,
and telling them what to think in particular situations.

Culture is both material and nonmaterial. Material
culture consists of the objects created in a given
society—its buildings, art, tools, toys, literature, and
other tangible objects, such as those discussed in the
chapter opener. In the popular mind, material arti-
facts constitute culture because they can be collected
in museums or archives and analyzed for what they
represent. These objects are significant because of the
meaning they are given. A temple, for example, is not
merely a building, nor is it only a place of worship. Its
form and presentation signify the religious meaning
system of the faithful.

Nonmaterial culture includes the norms, laws,
customs, ideas, and beliefs of a group of people. Non-
material culture is less tangible than material culture,

1This introduction is inspired by a classic article on the “Nacirema”—
American, backward—by Horace Miner (1956). But it is also written
based on essays students at the University of Delaware wrote regard-
ing the media blackout exercise described later in this chapter. Stu-
dents have written that, without access to their usual media devices,
they “had no personality” and that the period of the blackout was the
“worst forty-eight hours of my life!”

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CUlTUR E   2 9

but it has an equally strong, if not stronger, presence in
social behavior. Nonmaterial culture is found in pat-
terns of everyday life. For example, in some cultures,
people eat with utensils; in others, people do not. The
eating utensils are part of material culture, but the belief
about whether to use them is nonmaterial culture.

Cultural patterns make humans interesting. Some
animal species develop what we might call culture.
Chimpanzees, for example, learn behavior through
observing and imitating others, a point proved by
observing different eating practices among chimpan-
zees in the same species but raised in different groups
(Whiten et al. 1999). Elephants have been observed
picking up and fondling bones of dead elephants, per-
haps evidence of grieving behavior (Meredith 2003).

Dolphins have a complex auditory language. Most peo-
ple also think that their pets communicate with them.
Apparently, humans are not unique in their ability to
develop systems of communication. Are human beings
different from animals? Scientists generally conclude
that animals lack the elaborate symbol-based forms
of knowing and communication that are common in
human societies—in other words, culture.

Understanding culture is critical to knowing how
human societies operate. Culture can even shape
the physical and biological characteristics of human
beings. Nutrition, for instance, is greatly influenced by
the cultural environment. Cultural eating habits will
shape the body height and weight of a given popula-
tion, even though height and weight are also biologi-
cal phenomenon. Without understanding culture, you
cannot understand such things as changes in ideal-
ized images of beauty over time, as the photos on this
page show.

In the 1920s, the ideal woman was portrayed as
curvaceous with an emphasis on her reproductive
characteristics—wide, childbearing hips and large

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Body size ideals have changed dramatically since the 1950s. Jayne Mansfield was a major star and sex symbol in the 1950s; she
was a size 4. Marilyn Monroe was a size 8. When Twiggy became the ideal in the 1960s, she was the equivalent of a size triple
zero! Kate Moss, considered now to be “average” size would wear a size 4 dress. In reality, not the ideal, the average american
woman wears a size 14!

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3 0   CH a PT ER 2

breasts. In more recent years, idealized images of
women have become increasingly thin. Body mass
index (BMI) is a measure of relative size, using height
and weight. In the 1950s, the body mass index of idol-
ized women, such as Marilyn Monroe, was 20. Now
models have a body mass index in the mid-teens, far
below the average BMI for U.S. adult women, which
is 28. The point is that the media communicate that
only certain forms of beauty are culturally valued.
These ideals are not “natural”; they are created within
a society’s culture.

→Thinking Sociologically
Celebrating Your Birthday!
Birthday cake, candles, friends singing “Happy birthday to
you!” Once a year, you feel like the day is yours, and your
friends and family gather to celebrate with you. Some
people give you presents, send cards, and maybe a drink-
ing ritual is associated with turning a particular age. If you
are older, say turning forty or fifty, perhaps people kid
you about “being over the hill” and decorate your office in
black crepe paper. Such are the cultural rituals associated
with birthdays in the United States.

What if you had been born in another culture? Tra-
ditionally in Vietnam everyone’s birthday is celebrated on
the first day of the year, and few really acknowledge the
day they were born. In Russia, you might get a birthday
pie, not a cake, with a birthday message carved into the
crust. In Newfoundland, you might get ambushed and have
butter rubbed on your nose for good luck—the butter is
considered too greasy for bad luck to catch you. Many
of these cultural practices are being changed by the infu-
sion of Western culture, but they show how something
as seemingly “normal” as celebrating your birthday has
strong cultural roots.

What are the norms associated with birthday parties
that you have attended? How do these reflect the values in
U.S. culture?

The Power of Culture:
Ethnocentrism, Cultural
Relativism, and Culture Shock
Would you dice a jellyfish and serve it as a delicacy? Roll
a cabbage through your house on New Year’s Day to
ensure good luck in the year ahead? Peculiar or revolt-
ing as these examples may seem, from within particular
cultures, each seems perfectly normal. Because cul-
ture tends to be taken for granted, it can be difficult for
people within a culture to see their culture as anything
but “the way things are.” Seen from outside the culture,
everyday habits and practices can seem bizarre, cer-
tainly unusual or quirky. Such reactions show just how
deeply influential culture is.

We take our own culture for granted to such a
degree that it can be difficult to view other cultures
without making judgments based on one’s own cultural
views. Ethnocentrism is the habit of seeing things only
from the point of view of one’s own group. An ethno-
centric perspective prevents you from understanding
the world as others experience it, and it can lead to
narrow-minded conclusions about the worth of diverse
cultures.

Any group can be ethnocentric. Ethnocentrism
can be extreme or subtle—as in the example of social
groups who think their way of life is better than that of
any other group. Is there such a ranking among groups
in your community? Fraternities and sororities often
build group rituals around such claims; youth groups
see their way of life as superior to adults; urbanites
may think their cultural habits are more sophisticated
than those of groups labeled “country hicks.” Ethno-
centrism is a powerful force because it combines a
strong sense of group solidarity with the idea of group
superiority.

Ethnocentrism can build group solidarity, but it
can limit intergroup understanding (see, for example,
▲ Figure 2.1). Taken to extremes, ethnocentrism can
lead to overt political conflict, war, terrorism, even
genocide, the mass killing of people based on their
membership in a particular group. You might wonder
how people could believe so much in the righteous-
ness of their religious faith that they would murder
people. Ethnocentrism is a key part of the answer.
Understanding ethnocentrism does not excuse or
fully explain such behavior, but it helps you under-
stand how such murderous behavior can occur.

Contrasting with ethnocentrism is cultural rela-
tivism. Cultural relativism is the idea that something
can be understood and judged only in relation to the
cultural context in which it appears. This does not make
every cultural practice morally acceptable, but it sug-
gests that without knowing the cultural context, it is
impossible to understand why people behave as they do.

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CUlTUR E   3 1

For example, in the United States, burying or cremating
the dead is the cultural practice. It may be difficult for
someone from this culture to understand that in parts
of Tibet, with a ruggedly cold climate and the inability
to dig the soil, the dead are cut into pieces and left for
vultures to eat. Although this would be repulsive (and
illegal) in the United States, this practice is understand-
able within Tibetan culture.

Understanding cultural relativism gives insight into
some controversies, such as the international debate
about the practice of clitoridectomy—a form of geni-
tal mutilation. In a clitoridectomy (sometimes called
female circumcision), all or part of a young woman’s
clitoris is removed, usually not by medical personnel,
often in very unsanitary conditions, and without any
painkillers. Sometimes, the lips of the vagina may be
sewn together. Human rights and feminist organiza-
tions have documented this practice in some coun-
tries on the African continent, in some Middle Eastern
nations, and in some parts of Southeast Asia. Around
two million girls per year worldwide are at risk. This
practice is most frequent in cultures where women’s
virginity is highly prized and where marriage dowries
depend on some accepted proof of virginity.

From the point of view of Western cultures, clito-
ridectomy is genital mutilation—a form of violence
against women. Many have called for international
intervention to eliminate the practice, but there is also
a debate about whether disgust at this practice should
be balanced by a reluctance to impose Western cultural

values on other societies. Should cultures have the right
of self-determination or should cultural practices that
maim people be treated as violations of human rights?
This controversy is unresolved. The point is to see that
understanding a cultural practice requires knowing the
cultural values on which it is based. Even if you want to
change a cultural practice, you will be better able to do
so if you understand its origins.

The power of culture is also revealed when you are
placed into a new cultural situation. The result can be
culture shock, the feeling of disorientation when one
encounters a new or rapidly changed cultural situa-
tion. Even moving from one cultural environment to
another within one’s own society can make a person
feel out of place. The greater the difference is between
cultural settings, the greater the culture shock. Inter-
national students who study in the United States expe-
rience this routinely; just imagine how you might feel
were you to move to a foreign country to enroll in col-
lege. You don’t have to travel to and from a foreign
nation, however, to experience culture shock. Stu-
dents from poor or working-class backgrounds who
attend colleges where middle-class or elite cultures
dominate can experience culture shock. The culture
in such students’ precollege world may be very differ-
ent from cultures they encounter on campus. Culture
shock for them may leave them feeling “different,” thus
isolated or alienated from the culture on their college
campus (Jack 2014). Does this phenomenon occur on
your campus?

How do Muslims in different countries see
people in western countries?

Percent associating people in western countries with this trait

Pakistanis

Egyptians

British Muslims

Turkish

Jordanians

Indonesians

0 20 40

49%
63%

49%
63%

52%

72%

64%
67%

70%
67%
68%

81%

81%

64%

48%

60 80 100

Violent

Arrogant

Selfish

54%

78%

73%

▲ Figure 2.1
Ethnocentrism: The Basis
for Conflict Although not
everyone thinks so, survey
research finds that the majority
of people in the United States
and western Europe see
Muslims as fanatical, violent, and
intolerant. Turning this around,
how do Muslims in other nations
see people from the east? This
chart shows you these views
from Muslims in different parts
of the world. How do such
views exemplify the concept
of ethnocentrism? How do
these views affect international
relations? What do you think can
be done to ease such tensions?
Data: Pew Research Global Attitudes
Project. 2006. The Great Divide: How
Westerners and Muslims View Each
Other. Washington, DC: Pew Research
Project. www.pewglobal.org

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32   CH aPT ER 2

Characteristics of Culture
Across societies, there are common characteristics of
culture, even when the particulars vary. These different
characteristics are:

1. Culture is shared. Culture would have no signifi-
cance if people did not hold it in common. Culture is
collectively experienced and collectively agreed upon.
The shared nature of culture is what makes human
society possible. The shared basis of culture may be
difficult to see in complex societies where groups have
diverse traditions, perspectives, and ways of thinking
and behaving. In the United States, for example, dif-
ferent racial and ethnic groups have unique histories,
languages, and beliefs—that is, different cultures. Even
within these groups, there are different cultural tradi-
tions. Latinos, for example, include many groups with
distinct origins and cultures. Still, there are features of
Latino culture, such as the Spanish language and some
values and traditions that are shared. Latinos also share
a culture that is shaped by their common experiences as
minorities in the United States. Similarly, African Amer-
icans have created a rich and distinct culture that is the
result of their unique experience within the United
States. What identifies African American culture are the
practices and traditions that have evolved from both the
U.S. experience and African and Caribbean traditions.
Placed in another country, such as an African nation,
African Americans would likely recognize elements of
their culture, but they would also feel culturally distinct
as Americans.

Within the United States, culture varies by age,
race, region, gender, ethnicity, religion, class, and other
social factors. A person growing up in the South is
likely to develop different tastes, modes of speech, and
cultural interests than is a person raised in the West.
Despite these differences, there is a common cultural
basis to life in the United States. Certain symbols, lan-
guage patterns, belief systems, and ways of thinking
are distinctively American, forming a common culture
even with great cultural diversity.

2. Culture is learned. Cultural beliefs and practices
are usually so well learned that they seem perfectly nat-
ural, but they are learned nonetheless. How do people
come to prefer some foods to others? How is musical
taste acquired? Culture may be taught through direct
instruction, such as a parent teaching a child how to
use silverware or teachers instructing children in songs,
myths, and other traditions in school.

Culture is also learned indirectly through observa-
tion and imitation. Think of how a person learns what it
means to be a man or a woman. Although the “proper”
roles for men and women may never be explicitly
taught, one learns what is expected from observing oth-
ers. A person becomes a member of a culture through

both formal and informal transmission of culture. Until
the culture is learned, the person will feel like an out-
sider. Sociologists refer to the process of learning cul-
ture as socialization, discussed in Chapter 4.

3. Culture is taken for granted. Because culture is
learned, members of a given society seldom question
the culture of which they are a part, unless for some
reason they become outsiders or establish some critical
distance from the usual cultural expectations. People
engage unthinkingly in hundreds of specifically cultural
practices every day. Culture makes these practices seem
“normal.” If you suddenly stopped participating in your
culture and questioned each belief and every behavior,
you would soon find yourself feeling detached and per-
haps a little disoriented; you might even become inef-
fective within your group.

You can see this if you travel outside of your culture,
such as visiting a foreign country. Even the simplest things,
such as how you eat or even use the toilet, may seem
strange and have to be learned. As a result, tourists tend
to stand out when in a foreign culture. Even when well
informed, tourists typically approach the society through
the vantage point of their own cultural orientation.

You do not have to leave your home country to
observe this. For example, students who have been
raised in a cultural group that teaches them to be
quiet and not outspoken might be perceived as stupid
or “slow” if in a classroom where they are expected to
assert themselves and be aggressive in debate. Native
American students, for example, may experience this. If
a teacher is not aware of these cultural differences, such
students may be penalized simply for observing their
cultural traditions. You can probably think of many
other examples in which cultural misunderstanding
can lead to isolation of those perceived as different.
Culture binds us together, but lack of communication
across cultures can have negative consequences.

4. Culture is symbolic. The significance of culture
lies in the meaning it holds for people. Symbols are
things or behaviors to which people give meaning. The
meaning in a symbol is not inherent but is bestowed by
the meaning people give it. The U.S. flag, for example,
is literally a decorated piece of cloth. Its cultural signifi-
cance derives not from the cloth of which it is made but
from its meaning as a symbol of freedom and democ-
racy. Desecration of the flag invokes strong emotional
reactions, just as flying it invokes strong feelings of
patriotism and pride.

Symbols can also produce social conflict when
groups define them differently. For many, especially
American Indians, the Native American mascots that
name and represent some sports teams is symbolic of
the exploitation of Native Americans. To Native Ameri-
can activists and their supporters, such symbols are
derogatory and extremely insulting, even when to some

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CUlTUR E   33

sports fans, these very same symbols represent tradition
and team pride. (Think of the Washington Redskins, the
Cleveland Indians, or the Atlanta Braves’ “tomahawk
chop.”) The protests that have developed over contro-
versial symbols are indicative of the enormous influ-
ence of cultural symbols.

Debunking Society’s Myths ←
Myth: The use of Native american names for school mas-
cots is just for fun and is no big deal.
Sociological Perspective: language carries with it
great meaning that reflects the perceived social value of
diverse groups. Research finds that exposure to the trivial
or degrading use of Native american images for such
things as school mascots and sports teams actually lowers
Native american children’s sense of self-worth (Fryberg
and Watts 2010).

The significance of the symbolic value of culture
can hardly be overestimated. Learning a culture means
not just engaging in particular behaviors but also learn-
ing their symbolic meanings within the culture.

5. Culture varies across time and place. Culture
develops as humans adapt to the physical and social
environment around them. Culture is not fixed from
one place to another. Not that long ago, it would have
been unimaginable to think that one could have access
to one’s favorite movie or television series “on demand.”
With the growth of technological innovation, people
can now stream video and music when they wish—
a cultural change that generates other adaptations,
such as how furniture is arranged in people’s homes.
A video screen may now be the focal point for family
gatherings, not the kitchen table of yesteryear. In a dif-
ferent cultural context, news and entertainment might
be simply shared through word of mouth, although,
increasingly, the fast-paced technological changes that
we are experiencing are penetrating even remote areas
of the world.

Culture also varies over time. As people encoun-
ter new situations, the culture that emerges is a mix
of the past and present. Second-generation immi-
grants to the United States are raised in the traditions
of their culture of origin, and children of immigrants
typically grow up with both the traditional cultural
expec tations of their parents’ homeland and the cultural

Research Question: Not so long ago,
tattoos were considered a mark of
social outcasts. They were associated
with gang members, sailors, and juvenile
delinquents. Now tattoos are in vogue—
a symbol of who’s trendy and hip. How
did a once stigmatized activity associ-
ated with the working class become a
statement of middle-class fashion?

Research Method: This is what sociolo-
gist Katherine Irwin wanted to know
when she first noticed the increase in
tattooing among the middle class. Irwin
first encountered the culture of tattooing
when she accompanied a friend getting
a tattoo in a shop she calls Blue Mosque.
She started hanging out in the shop and
began a four-year study using participant
observation, along with interviews of
people getting their first tattoos. Irwin
also interviewed some of the parents of
tattooees and potential tattooees.

Tattoos: Status Risk or Status Symbol?
Research Results: Irwin found that
middle-class tattoo patrons were initially
fearful that their desire for a tattoo
would associate them with low-status
groups, but they reconciled this by
adopting attitudes that associated
tattooing with middle-class values and
norms. They defined tattooing as sym-
bolic of independence, liberation, and
freedom from social constraints. Many of
the women defined tattooing as symbol-
izing toughness and strength—values
they thought rejected more conventional
ideals of femininity.

Some saw tattoos as a way of increas-
ing their attachment to alternative social
groups or to gain entrée into “fringe”
social worlds. Although tattoos held
different cultural meanings to different
groups, people getting tattooed used vari-
ous techniques (what Irwin calls “legitima-
tion techniques”) to counter the negative
stereotypes associated with tattooing.

Conclusions and Implications: Irwin
concludes that people try to align their
behavior with legitimate cultural values
and norms even when that behavior
seemingly falls outside of prevailing
standards.

Questions to Consider
1. Do you think of tattoos as fashion-

able or deviant? What influences
your judgment about this, and how
might your judgment be different
were you in a different culture, age
group, or historical moment?

2. Are there fashion adornments that
you associate with different social
classes? What are they? What judg-
ments (positive and negative) do
people make about them? Where do
these judgments originate? Are they
associated with social class?

Source: Irwin, Katherine. 2001. “Legitimat-
ing the First Tattoo: Moral Passage through
Informal Interaction.” Symbolic Interaction
24 (March): 49–73.

doing sociological research

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3 4   CH aPT ER 2

expectations of a new society. Adapting to the new soci-
ety can create conflict between generations, especially
if the older generation is intent on passing along their
cultural traditions. The children may be more influ-
enced by their peers and may choose to dress, speak,
and behave in ways that are characteristic of their new
society but are unacceptable to their parents.

To sum up, culture is concrete because we can
observe the cultural objects and practices that define
human experience. Culture is abstract because it is a
way of thinking, feeling, believing, and behaving. Cul-
ture links the past and the present because it is the
knowledge that makes us part of human groups. Cul-
ture gives shape to human experience.

The Elements of Culture
Culture is multifaceted, consisting of material and
nonmaterial things. Some parts of culture are abstract;
others, more concrete. The different elements of cul-
ture include language, norms, beliefs, and values
(see ◆ Table 2.1).

Ch
ris

to
ph

er
B

la
ck

/E
ve

re
tt

C
ol

le
ct

io
n

In
c/

A
la

m
y

Tattooing, once considered a working-class symbol, has
now become stylish and common, both among celebrities
and in the general public.

◆ Table 2.1 Elements of Culture

Norms

Values

Language

Beliefs Culture

Definition Examples

Language a set of symbols and
rules that, put together
in a meaningful way,
provides a complex
communication system

English; Spanish;
hieroglyphics

Norms The specific cultural
expectations for how
to behave in a given
situation

Behavior involving
use of personal
space; manners

Folkways General standards of
behavior adhered to
by a group

Cultural forms of
dress; food habits

Mores Strict norms that
control moral and
ethical behavior

Religious doctrines;
formal law

Values abstract standards in
a society or group that
define ideal principles

liberty; freedom

Beliefs Shared ideas about
what is true held
collectively by people
within a given culture

Belief in a higher
being

Language
Language is a set of symbols and rules that, combined
in a meaningful way, provides a complex communica-
tion system. Human culture is made possible by lan-
guage. Learning the language of a culture is essential to
becoming part of society, and it is one of the first things
children learn. Indeed, until children acquire at least a
rudimentary command of language, they seem unable
to acquire other social skills. Language is so important
to human interaction that it is difficult to think of life
without it.

© Cengage Learning

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CUlTUR E   35

Think about the experience of becoming part
of a social group. When you enter a new social group
(or society), you have to learn the group’s language to
become a member of the group. This includes any spe-
cial terms of reference used by the group. Lawyers, for
example, have their own vocabulary and their own way
of constructing sentences called, not always kindly,
“legalese.” Becoming a part of any social group—a
friendship circle, fraternity or sorority, or any other
group—involves learning the language that group
members use. Those who do not share the language of a
group cannot participate fully in its culture.

Language is fluid and dynamic, evolving in
response to social change. Think, for example, of how
the introduction of computers has affected the English
language. People now talk about “downloading apps,”
“hashtags,” and providing “input.” Only a few years ago,
had you said you were going to “text” your friends, no
one would have known what you were talking about.
Text messaging has also introduced its own language:
BFF (best friends forever), LOL (laughing out loud), and
GTG (got to go)—a new language shared among those
in the text-messaging culture. These expressions are
now commonplace—in other words, a new form of cul-
ture. No doubt, by the time you read this, some of these
examples may even feel dated, and new tech lingo will
have emerged and become familiar—evidence of how
culture can change over time.

Does Language Shape Culture? Language is
clearly a big part of culture. Edward Sapir and his stu-
dent Benjamin Whorf thought that language was cen-
tral in determining social thought. The Sapir–Whorf
hypothesis asserts that language determines other
aspects of culture because language provides the cat-
egories through which social reality is defined. The idea
is that language determines what people think because
language forces people to perceive the world in particu-
lar terms (Whorf 1956; Sapir 1921).

If Sapir and Whorf were correct, then speakers of
different languages have different perceptions of reality.
Whorf used the example of the social meaning of time
to illustrate cultural differences in how language shapes
perceptions of reality. He noted that the Hopi Indians
conceptualize time as a slowly turning cylinder, whereas
English-speaking people conceive of time as running
forward in one direction at a uniform pace. Linguistic
constructions of time shape how the two different cul-
tures think about time and therefore how they think
about reality. In Hopi culture, events are located not in
specific moments of time but in “categories of being,”
as if everything is in a state of becoming, not fixed in
a particular time and place (Carroll 1956). In contrast,
the English language locates things in a definite time
and place, placing great importance on verb tense, with
things located precisely in the past, present, or future.

Language does not single-handedly dictate the
perception of reality—but, no doubt, language has a
strong influence on culture. Most scholars now see
two-way causality between language and culture. Ask-
ing whether language determines culture or vice versa
is like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg.
Language and culture are inextricable, each shaping
the other.

Consider again the example of time. Contemporary
Americans think of the week as divided into two parts:
weekdays and weekends, words that reflect how we
think about time. When does a week end? Having lan-
guage that defines the weekend encourages us to think
about the weekend in specific ways. It is a time for rest,
play, chores, and family. In this sense, language shapes
how we think about the passage of time—we look for-
ward to the weekend, we prepare ourselves for the
work week—but the language itself (the very concept
of the weekend) stems from patterns in the culture—
specifically, the work patterns of advanced capitalism.
The capitalist work ethic makes it morally offensive to
merely “pass the time”; instead, time is to be managed.
Concepts of time in preindustrial, agricultural societies
follow a different pattern. In agricultural societies, time
and calendars are based on agricultural and seasonal
patterns; the year proceeds according to this rhythm,
not the arbitrary units of time of weeks and months.
This shows how language and culture shape each other.

Social Inequality in Language. The language of any
culture reflects the nature of that society. In a society with
inequality, language is likely to communicate assump-
tions and stereotypes about different social groups.
What people say—including what people are called—
reinforces patterns of inequality in society (Moore
1992). We see this in what different groups in the United
States are called (see also the box later in this chapter
called, “Understanding Diversity: The Social Meaning
of Language”). What someone is called is significant
because it imposes an identity on that person. This is
why the names for various racial and ethnic groups have
been so heavily debated. Thus, for years, many Native
Americans objected to being called “Indian,” because
White conquerors created the term about them. To
emphasize their native roots in the Americas, the term
Native American was adopted. Now, though many pre-
fer to be called by their actual origin, Native American
and American Indian are also used interchangeably.
Likewise, Asian Americans tend to be offended by
being called “Oriental,” an expression that stemmed
from Western (that is, European and American)
views of Asian nations.

Language reflects the social value placed on differ-
ent groups, and it reflects power relationships, depend-
ing on who gets to name whom. Derogatory terms such
as redneck, white trash, or trailer park trash stigmatize

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3 6   CH aPT ER 2

people based on regional identity and social class. This
is also why it is so demeaning when derogatory terms
are used to describe racial–ethnic groups. For example,
throughout the period of Jim Crow segregation in the
American South, Black men, regardless of their age, were
routinely called “boy” by Whites. Calling a grown man
a “boy” is an insult; it diminishes his status by defining
him as childlike. Referring to a woman as a “girl” has the
same effect. Why are young women, even well into their
twenties, routinely referred to as “girls”? Just as does
calling a man “boy,” this diminishes women’s status.

Debunking Society’s Myths ←
Myth: Bilingual education discourages immigrant children
from learning English and blocks their assimilation into
american culture.
Sociological Perspective: Studies of students who are
fluent bilinguals show that they outperform both English-
only students and students with limited bilingualism.
Moreover, preserving the use of native languages can bet-
ter meet the need for skilled bilingual workers in the labor
market (Portes 2002).

Note, however, that terms such as girl and boy are
pejorative only in the context of dominant and subordi-
nate group relationships. African American women, as
an example, often refer to each other as “girl” in informal
conversation. The term girl used between those of simi-
lar status is not perceived as derogatory, but when used
by someone in a position of dominance, such as when
a male boss calls his secretary a “girl,” it is demeaning.

Likewise, terms such as dyke, fag, and queer are terms
lesbians and gay men sometimes use without offense
in referring to each other, even though the same terms
are offensive to lesbians and gays when others use
them. By reclaiming these terms as positive within their
own culture, lesbians and gays build cohesiveness and
solidarity (Due 1995). These examples show that power
relationships between groups supply the social context
for the connotations of language.

In sum, language can reproduce the inequalities
that exist in society. At the same time, changing the lan-
guage that people use can, to some extent, alter social
stereotypes and thereby change how people think.

Norms
Social norms are another component of culture. Norms
are the specific cultural expectations for how to behave in
a given situation. Society without norms would be chaos.
With norms in place, people know how to act, and social
interactions are consistent, predictable, and learnable.
There are norms governing every situation. Sometimes
norms are implicit—that is, they need not be spelled out
for people to understand them. For example, when join-
ing a line, there is an implicit norm that you should stand
behind the last person, not barge in front of those ahead
of you. At least this is true in the United States, not always
in other cultures. Implicit norms may not be formal rules,
but violation of these norms may nonetheless produce a
harsh response. Implicit norms may be learned through
specific instruction or by observation of the culture.
Norms are part of society’s (or a group’s) customs. Norms
are explicit when the rules governing behavior are writ-
ten down or formally communicated. Typically, specific
sanctions are imposed for violating explicit norms.

→ See for YourSelF ←
Identify a norm that you commonly observe. Construct
an experiment in which you, perhaps with the assistance
of others, violate the norm. Record how others react and
note the sanctions engaged through this norm violation
exercise. Note: Be careful not to do anything that puts you
in danger or causes serious problems for others.

In the early years of sociology, William Graham
Sumner (1906) identified two types of norms: folk-
ways and mores. Folkways are the general standards of
behavior adhered to by a group. Folkways are the ordi-
nary customs of different group cultures. How you dress
is an example of a cultural folkway. Other examples are
how people greet each other, decorate their homes, and
prepare their food. Folkways are loosely defined and
loosely followed. Either way, they structure group cus-
toms and implicitly govern much social behavior.

A
P

Im
ag

es
/P

au
l S

ak
um

a

living in a multicultural society often juxtaposes diverse
cultures, even in public places.

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CUlTUR E   37

Mores (pronounced “more-ays”) are strict norms
that control moral and ethical behavior. Mores provide
strict codes of behavior, such as the injunctions, legal
and religious, against killing others and committing
adultery. Mores are often upheld through laws, the
written set of guidelines that define right and wrong in
society. Basically, laws are formalized mores. Violating
mores can bring serious repercussions. When any social
norm is violated, the violator is typically punished.

Social sanctions are mechanisms of social control
that enforce folkways, norms, and mores. The serious-
ness of a social sanction depends on how strictly the
norms or mores are held. Taboos are those behav-
iors that bring the most serious sanctions. Dressing
in an unusual way that violates the folkways of dress
may bring ridicule but is usually not seriously pun-
ished. In some cultures, the rules of dress are strictly
interpreted, such as the requirement by Islamic fun-
damentalists that women who appear in public have
their bodies cloaked and faces veiled. It would be con-
sidered a taboo for women in this culture to appear in
public without being veiled. The sanctions for doing so
can be as severe as whipping, branding, banishment,
even death.

Sanctions can be positive or negative, that is,
based on rewards or punishment. When children learn
social norms, for example, correct behavior may elicit
positive sanctions; the behavior is reinforced through
praise, approval, or an explicit reward. Early on, for
example, parents might praise children for learning to
put on their own clothes. Later, children might get an
allowance if they keep their rooms clean. Bad behavior
earns negative sanctions, such as getting spanked or
grounded. In society, negative sanctions may be mild
or severe, ranging from subtle mechanisms of control,
such as ridicule, to overt forms of punishment, such as
imprisonment, physical coercion, or death.

One way to study social norms is to observe what
happens when they are violated. Once you become
aware of how social situations are controlled by
norms, you can see how easy it is to disrupt situations
where adherence to the norms produces social order.
Ethnomethodology is a theoretical approach in
sociology based on the idea that you can discover the
normal social order through disrupting it. As a tech-
nique of study, ethnomethodologists often deliberately
disrupt social norms to see how people respond, thus
revealing the ordinary social order (Garfinkel 1967).

In a famous series of ethnomethodological
experiments, college students were asked to pretend
they were boarders in their own homes for a period
of fifteen minutes to one hour. They did not tell their
families what they were doing. The students were
instructed to be polite and impersonal, to use for-
mal terms of address, and to speak only when spo-
ken to. After the experiment, two of the participating

students reported that their families treated the
experiment as a joke; another’s family thought the
daughter was being extra nice because she wanted
something. One family believed that the student was
hiding some serious problem. In all the other cases,
parents reacted with shock, bewilderment, and anger.
Students were accused of being mean, nasty, impolite,
and inconsiderate; the parents demanded explana-
tions for their sons’ and daughters’ behavior. Through
this experiment, the student researchers were able to
see that even the informal norms governing behavior
in one’s home are carefully structured. By violating
the norms of the household, the norms were revealed
(Garfinkel 1967).

Ethnomethodological research teaches us that
society proceeds on an “as if ” basis. That is, society exists
because people behave as if there were no other way to
do so. Usually, people go along with what is expected of
them. Culture is actually “enforced” through the social
sanctions applied to those who violate social norms.
Usually, specific sanctions are unnecessary because
people have learned the normative expectations. When
the norms are violated, their existence becomes appar-
ent (see also Chapter 5).

Beliefs
As important as social norms are the beliefs of people
in society. Beliefs are shared ideas held collectively by
people within a given culture about what is true. Shared
beliefs are part of what binds people together in society.
Beliefs are also the basis for many norms and values of
a given culture. In the United States, belief in God or a
higher power is widely shared.

Some beliefs are so strongly held that people find it
difficult to cope with ideas or experiences that contra-
dict them. Someone who devoutly believes in God may
find atheism intolerable; those who believe in magic
may seem merely superstitious to those with a more
scientific and rational view of the world.

Whatever beliefs people hold, they orient us to the
world. They provide answers to otherwise impondera-
ble questions about the meaning of life. Beliefs provide
a meaning system around which culture is organized.
Whether belief stems from religion, myth, folklore, or
science, it shapes what people take to be possible and
true. Although a given belief may be logically impos-
sible, it nonetheless guides people through their lives.

Values
Deeply intertwined with beliefs are the values of a cul-
ture. Values are the abstract standards in a society or
group that define ideal principles. Values define what
is desirable and morally correct, determining what is
considered right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, good
and bad. Although values are abstract, they provide

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3 8   CH aPTER 2

Language reflects the assumptions of a
culture. This can be seen and exemplified
in several ways:

●● Language affects people’s percep-
tion of reality.
Example: Researchers have found
that using male pronouns, even
when intended to be gender neutral,
produces male-centered imagery and
ideas (Switzer 1990; Hamilton 1988).

●● Language reflects the social and
political status of different groups
in society.
Example: A term such as woman
doctor suggests that men are the
standard and women the exception.
Ask yourself what the term working
man connotes and how this differs
from working woman.

●● Groups may advocate changing
language that refers to them as a
way of asserting a positive group
identity.
Example: Advocates for the disabled
challenge the term handicapped,
arguing that it stigmatizes people
who may have many abilities, even if
they are physically distinctive.

●● Language emerges in specific
historical and cultural contexts.
Example: The naming of so-called
races comes from the social and
historical processes that have
defined different groups as inferior
or superior. The term Caucasian, for

The Social Meaning of Language
example, was coined in the seven-
teenth century when racist thinkers
developed alleged scientific classifica-
tion systems to rank different societal
groups. Alfred Blumenbach used the
label Caucasian to refer to people
from the Caucasus of Russia whom
he thought were more beautiful and
intelligent than any other people in
the world.

●● Language can distort actual group
experience.
Example: The terms Hispanic and
Latino lump together Mexican
Americans, island Puerto Ricans,
U.S.-born Puerto Ricans, as well as
people from Honduras, Panama,
El Salvador, and other Central and
South American countries. Hispanic
and Latino point to the shared experi-
ence of those from Latin cultures, but
like the terms Native American and
American Indian, the terms obscure
the experiences of unique groups,
such as the Lakota, Nanticoke,
Cherokee, Yavapai, or Navajo.

●● Language shapes people’s percep-
tions of groups and events in
society.
Example: Following Hurricane Katrina
in New Orleans, African American
people taking food from abandoned
stores were described as “looting”
and White people as “finding food.”

●● Terms used to define different
groups change over time and can

originate in movements to assert
a positive identity.
Example: In the 1960s, Black American
replaced the term Negro because
the civil rights and Black Power
movements inspired Black pride
and the importance of self-naming
(Smith et al. 1992). Earlier, Negro and
colored were used to define African
Americans. Currently, it is popular to
refer to all so-called racial groups as
“people of color.” This term is meant
to emphasize the common experi-
ences of groups as diverse as African
Americans, Latinos/as*, Asian Ameri-
cans, and American Indians. Some
people find the use of “color” in this
label offensive because it harkens
back to the phrase “colored people,”
a phrase originating in the racist
treatment of African Americans.

In this book, we have tried to be sensi-
tive to the language used to describe
different groups. We recognize that lan-
guage is fraught with cultural and politi-
cal assumptions and that what seems
acceptable now may be offensive later.
The best way to solve this problem is for
different groups to learn as much as they
can about one another, becoming more
aware of the meaning and nuances of
naming and language. Greater sensitivity
to the language used to describe differ-
ent groups is an important step in pro-
moting better intergroup relationships.

*Latina is the feminine form in Spanish and
refers to women; Latino, to men.

understanding diversity

a general outline for behavior. Freedom, for example, is
a value held to be important in U.S. culture, as is democ-
racy. Values are ideals forming the abstract standards
for group behavior, but they are also ideals that may not
be realized in every situation.

Values can be a basis for cultural cohesion, but
they can also be a source of conflict. Some of our most
contested issues can often be traced to value conflicts.
Should sex education be taught in schools? Should pub-
lic schools allow school prayer? Should women have the
right to choose to terminate a pregnancy? These and

numerous other examples you can likely identify are mat-
ters of great debate—debates made more heated by the
value conflicts that lie at the core of these public issues.

Values guide the behavior of people in society; they
also shape social norms. An example of the impact that
values have on people’s behavior comes from an Ameri-
can Indian society known as the Kwakiutl (pronounced
“kwa-kee-YOO-tal”), a group from the coastal region
of southern Alaska, Washington State, and British
Columbia. The Kwakiutl developed a practice known as
potlatch, in which wealthy chiefs would periodically

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CUlTUR E   3 9

pile up their possessions and give them away to
their followers and rivals (Wolcott 1996; Harris 1974;
Benedict 1934). The object of potlatch was to give away
or destroy more of one’s goods than did one’s rivals. The
potlatch reflected Kwakiutl values of reciprocity, the
full use of food and goods, and the social status of
the wealthiest chiefs in Kwakiutl society. Chiefs did not
lose their status by giving away their goods because the
goods were eventually returned in the course of other
potlatches. They would even burn large piles of goods,
knowing that others would soon replace their wealth
through other potlatches.

Compare this practice with patterns of consump-
tion in the United States. Imagine the CEOs of major
corporations regularly gathering up their wealth and
giving it away to their workers and rival CEOs! In the
United States, conspicuous consumption (consuming
for the sake of displaying one’s wealth) celebrates val-
ues similar to those of the potlatch: High-status peo-
ple demonstrate their position by accumulating more
material possessions than those around them (Veblen
1953/1899).

Together, norms, beliefs, and values guide the
behavior of people in society. It is necessary to under-
stand how they operate in a situation to understand
why people behave as they do.

Cultural Diversity
It is rare for a society to be culturally uniform. As soci-
eties develop and become more complex, different
cultural traditions appear. Diversity may be part of a

complex history with different groups having fraught
with conflict. In the United States, diversity stems
from religious, ethnic, and racial differences, as well as
regional, age, gender, and class differences. Currently,
12.5 percent of people in the United States are foreign
born. In a single year, immigrants from more than
100 countries come to the United States (U.S. Census
Bureau 2012a). Whereas earlier immigrants were pre-
dominantly from Europe, now Latin America and Asia
are the greatest sources of new immigrants. Cultural
diversity is clearly a characteristic of contemporary
American society. (See ■ Map 2.1.)

The richness of American culture stems from the
many traditions that different groups have brought

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Cultural values can clash when groups have strongly held, but clashing, value systems. Values can be a source of cultural cohesion,
but also of cultural conflict. What are some of the different values that are being debated in society?

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Cultural diversity increasingly characterizes american
society.

03083_ch02_ptg01.indd 39 18/08/15 10:16 AM

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4 0   CH aPT ER 2

to this society, as well as from the cultural forms that
have emerged through their experience within the
United States. Jazz, for example, is a musical form
indigenous to the United States. An indigenous art
form refers to something that originated in a par-
ticular region or culture. Jazz also has its roots in the
musical traditions of slave communities and African
cultures. Since the birth of jazz, cultural greats such
as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and
numerous others have not only enriched the jazz tra-
dition but have also influenced other forms of music,
including rock and roll.

Native American cultures have likewise enriched
the culture of our society, as have the cultures that
various immigrant groups have brought with them to
the United States. With such great variety, how can
the United States be called one culture? The culture
of the United States, including its languages, arts,
food customs, religious practices, and dress, can be

seen as the sum of the diverse cultures that constitute
this society.

Dominant Culture
Two concepts from sociology help us understand the
complexity of culture in a given society: dominant cul-
ture and subculture. The dominant culture is the cul-
ture of the most powerful group in a society. Although
the dominant culture is not the only culture in a society,
it is commonly believed to be “the” culture of a society,
despite the other cultures present. Social institutions in
the society perpetuate the dominant culture and give it
a degree of legitimacy that other cultures do not share.
Quite often, the dominant culture is the standard by
which other cultures in the society are judged.

A dominant culture need not be the culture of the
majority of people. It is simply the culture of the most
powerful group in society who have the power to define

60.0 or more
35.0 to 59.9
17.9 to 34.9
4.6 to 17.8
0.4 to 4.5

U.S. percent 17.9

0 100 Miles0 100 Miles100 Miles

100 Miles

0

0

Percent of people,
5 years and over, who
speak a language
other than English at
home by county

Mapping America’s Diversity: English Language Not Spoken at Home
With increased immigration and greater
diversity in the U.S. population, evidence
of cultural diversity can be seen in many
homes. This map shows the regional
differences in the percentage of the
population over age 5 who speak a

language other than English at home.
For the United States as a whole, 17.9
percent of the population—almost
one-fifth—fit into this category. Eight
percent of the population say they
speak English less than very well. What

implications does this have for the
regions most affected? How might it
influence relations between different
generations within households?

Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 2010. “American
FactFinder.” www.census.gov

map 2.1

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CUlTUR E   4 1

the cultural framework. On a college campus, for example,
even with a strong system of fraternities and sororities, the
number of students belonging to the Greek system may
be a numerical minority of the total student body. Still,
the campus culture may be dominated by Greek life. In
a society as complex as the United States, it is hard to iso-
late a single dominant culture, although there is a widely
acknowledged “American” culture that is considered to be
the dominant one. Stemming from middle-class values,
habits, and economic resources, this culture is strongly
influenced by the mass media, the fashion industry, and
Anglo-European traditions. It includes diverse elements
such as fast food, Christmas shopping, and professional
sports. It is also a culture that emphasizes achievement
and individual effort—a cultural tradition that we will
later see has a tremendous impact on how many in the
United States view inequality (see Chapter 8).

Subcultures
Subcultures are the cultures of groups whose values
and norms of behavior differ to some degree from those
of the dominant culture. Members of subcultures tend
to interact frequently with one another and share a
common worldview. They may be identifiable by their
appearance (style of clothing or adornments) or perhaps
by language, dialect, or other cultural markers. You can

view subcultures along a continuum of how well they
are integrated into the dominant culture. Subcultures
typically share some elements of the dominant culture
and coexist within it, although some subcultures may
be quite separated from the dominant one. This separa-
tion occurs because they are either unwilling or unable
to assimilate into the dominant culture, that is, to share
its values, norms, and beliefs (Dowd and Dowd 2003).

Rap and hip-hop music first emerged as a subcul-
ture as young African Americans developed their own
style of dress and music to articulate their resistance
to the dominant White culture. Now, rap and hip-hop
have been incorporated into mainstream youth culture.
Indeed, they are now global phenomena, as cultural
industries have turned hip-hop and rap into a profit-
able industry. Even so, rap still expresses an opposi-
tional identity for Black and White youth and other
groups who feel marginalized by the dominant culture
(Morgan 2010, 2009).

Some subcultures retreat from the dominant cul-
ture, such as the Amish, some religious cults, and some
communal groups. In these cases, the subculture is
actually a separate community that lives as indepen-
dently from the dominant culture as possible. Other
subcultures may coexist with the dominant society, and
members of the subculture may participate in both the
subculture and the dominant culture.

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nc

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ta

The amish people form a subculture in the United States, although preserving their traditional way of life can be a challenge in
the context of contemporary society.

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

4 2   CH aPT ER 2

Subcultures also develop when new groups enter
a society. Puerto Rican immigration to the U.S. main-
land, for example, has generated distinct Puerto Rican
subcultures within many urban areas. Although Puerto
Ricans also partake in the dominant culture, their
unique heritage is part of their subcultural experience.
Parts of this culture are now entering the dominant
culture, such as salsa music. The themes in salsa mix
the musical traditions of other Latin music, including
rumba, mambo, and cha-cha. As with other subcul-
tures, the boundaries between the dominant culture
and the subculture are permeable, resulting in cultural
change as new groups enter society.

→Thinking Sociologically
Identify a group on your campus that you would call a sub-
culture. What are the distinctive norms of this group? Based
on your observations of this group, how would you describe
its relationship to the dominant culture on campus?

Countercultures
Countercultures are subcultures created as a reaction
against the values of the dominant culture. Members
of the counterculture reject the dominant cultural val-
ues, often for political or moral reasons, and develop
cultural practices that explicitly defy the norms and
values of the dominant group. Nonconformity to the
dominant culture is often the hallmark of a counter-
culture. Youth groups often form countercultures.
Why? In part, they do so to resist the culture of older
generations, thereby asserting their independence
and identity. Countercultures among youth, like other
countercultures, usually have a unique way of dress,
their own special language, perhaps even different
values and rituals.

Some countercultures directly challenge the dom-
inant society. The white supremacist movement is an
example. People affiliated with this movement have
an extreme worldview, one that is in direct opposition
to dominant values. White supremacist groups have
developed a shared worldview, one based on extreme
hostility to racial minorities, gays, lesbians, and
feminists. Because of their self-contained culture—
one focused on hate—they can be very dangerous
(Ferber 1998).

Countercultures may also develop in situations
where there is political repression and some groups
are forced “underground.” Under a dictatorship, for
example, some groups may be forbidden to practice
their religion or speak their own language. In Spain,
under the dictator Francisco Franco, people were for-
bidden to speak Catalan—the language of the region
around Barcelona. When Franco died in 1975 and

Spain became more democratic, the Catalan lan-
guage flourished—both in public speaking and in
the press.

The Globalization of Culture
The infusion of Western culture throughout the
world seems to be accelerating as the commercial-
ized culture of the United States is marketed world-
wide. One can go to quite distant places in the world
and see familiar elements of U.S. culture, whether it
is McDonald’s in Hong Kong, Old Navy in Japan, or
Disney products in western Europe. From films to fast
food, the United States dominates, largely through
the influence of capitalist markets. The diffusion of a
single culture throughout the world is referred to as
global culture. Despite the enormous diversity of
cultures worldwide, U.S. markets increasingly domi-
nate fashion, food, entertainment, and other cultural
values, thereby creating a more homogenous world
culture. Global culture is increasingly marked by
capitalist interests, squeezing out the more diverse
folk cultures that have been common throughout the
world (Steger 2009).

Does increasing globalization of culture change tra-
ditional cultural values? Some worry that globalization
imposes Western values on non-Western cultures, thus
eroding long-held cultural traditions. Global economic
change can also introduce more tolerant values to cul-
tures that might have had a narrower worldview previ-
ously. As globalization occurs, both economic changes
and traditional cultural values shape the emerging
national culture of different societies.

The conflict between traditional and more commer-
cial values is now being played out in world affairs. Some
of the conflicts in international relations are rooted in
a struggle between the values of the consumer-based,
capitalist Western culture and the traditional values

Cultural diffusion is occurring as U.S. culture is being exported
to other nations, as well as the other way around. This photo
shows the Old Navy store that opened in Tokyo, Japan.

Ky
od

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

CUlTUR E   43

of local communities. As some people resist the influ-
ence of market-driven values, movements to reclaim or
maintain ethnic and cultural identity can intensify, such
as seen among extremist groups in the Middle East,
even while pro-democratic movements also exist there.

The Mass Media
and Popular Culture
Increasingly, culture in the United States and around
the world is dominated and shaped by the mass media.
Indeed, the culture of the United States is so infused
by the media that, when people think of U.S. culture,
they are likely thinking of something connected to the
media—television, film, video, and so forth. The term
mass media refers to the channels of communication
that are available to wide segments of the population—
the print, film, and electronic media.

The mass media have extraordinary power to shape
culture, including what people believe and the infor-
mation available to them. If you doubt this, observe
how much the mass media affect your everyday life. A
YouTube video “goes viral.” Friends may talk about last
night’s episode of a particular show or laugh about the
antics of their favorite sitcom character. You may have
even met your partner or spouse via electronic media.
Your way of dressing, talking, and even thinking has likely
been shaped by the media, despite the fact that most
people deny this, claiming “they are just individuals.”

You can find the mass media everywhere—in liv –
ing rooms, airports, classrooms, bars, restaurants, and
doctor’s offices. Even entering an elevator in a hotel, you
might find CNN or the Weather Channel on twenty-four

hours a day. You may even be born to the sounds and
images of television, because they are turned on in
many hospital delivery rooms. Television is now so ever-
present in our lives that 42 percent of all U.S. house-
holds are called “constant television households”—that
is, households where television is on most of the time
(Gitlin 2002). For many families, TV and video are the
“babysitters.” The average person consumes some form
of media sixty-eight hours a week—more time than is
likely spent in school or at work; thirty-one of these
hours are spent watching television (U.S. Census Bureau
2012a). More than half (59 percent) of young Ameri-
cans (those aged 18 to 29) even report that they spend
too much time on their cell phones and on the Internet
(Newport 2012c). With the growth of digital viewing, the
time people spend with media is increasing, with the
greatest growth among people over 35 and among Asian
and African Americans (Nielsen Report 2014).

One of the truly powerful communicators of culture
is television. For most Americans, television consumes
half of all leisure time (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
2012a). Even with all of the channels and choices avail-
able, television portrays a very homogeneous view of
culture because in seeking the widest possible audi-
ence, networks and sponsors find the most common
ground and take few risks. The mass media also shape
our understanding of social problems by determining
the range of opinion or information that is defined as
legitimate and by deciding which experts will be called
on to elaborate an issue (Gitlin 2002). Turn on a news
talk show, for example, and ask yourself who gets to lead
the public discussion of current events. Are the diverse
groups in society represented at the table? Do some per-
spectives seem off-limits or outside the boundaries of

Instagram

Facebook

Twitter

OnStar

DirectTV

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You can see how strong
cultural monopolies
have become if you
just imagine how
surrounded you are,
even as an individual, by
various devices (many
of them owned by the
same company) that
deliver culture to you.
Photos: Phone, Maxx-Studio/
Shutterstock.com; Satellite Dish,
Roobcio/Shutterstock.com; LCD,
Oleksiy Mark/Shutterstock; Tablet,
Telnov Oleksii/Shutterstock.com

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

4 4   CH aPT ER 2

When Whitney Houston, fabulous super-
star, extraordinary singer, and beautiful
woman, tragically died in February 2012,
millions of people grieved her passing.
Her funeral was broadcast live on several
major national television networks,
with over 14 million people tuning in,
far exceeding the usual number of
television viewers during that time of
day (The New York Times, February 21,
2012). How can people be so moved by

Death of a Superstar
someone’s death, even when they do not
know her personally?

We live in a celebrity culture, one
in which the public seems endlessly
fascinated by the lives of stars, especially
those from the world of entertainment
and popular culture. If you look at media
coverage of the deaths of superstars,
you will likely see a common tale told
through the media coverage: the tragic
and premature loss of someone with

enormous talent who rose from com-
mon origins to soaring heights of wealth,
popularity, and power. The very lyrics in
one of Whitney Houston’s songs, “Didn’t
we almost have it all?” reverberate in the
cultural tale relayed through the media—
that is, the American dream that one can
rise from humble beginnings to “having
it all.” As sociologist Karen Sternheimer
writes, “Celebrity and fame are unique
manifestations of our sense of American
social mobility; they provide the illusion
that material wealth is possible for any-
one” (2011: xiii).

Emile Durkheim would say (as would
functionalist theorists) that celebrity
funerals have a sociological dimension.
That is, they produce the collective
consciousness, thus binding us together
in a cultural system and reaffirming our
collective beliefs and values.

Whitney Houston’s death is not the
first time that the public has grieved
over a superstar (think of Michael
Jackson, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe,
James Dean), nor will it be the last.
But you don’t have to wait for a tragic
death to see the cultural ideal of the
American dream retold through the
media. Observe celebrity culture with a
sociological perspective and ask yourself
where, when, and how you see the
American dream replayed through
various media reports.

a sociological eye on the media

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the media discourse? What age, race, gender, and social
class are those who seem to get the most time on air?

With the advent of smartphone technology, the
public’s viewing habits are also changing. Almost two-
thirds (58 percent) of Americans now have a smart-
phone. Ninety percent have cell phones. Two-thirds of
cell phone owners say they check their phones for mes-
sages, alerts, and calls—even when the phone has not
rung. As recent as this technology is, many think they
cannot now live without it (Smith 2012; Pew Research
Internet Project 2014; see ▲ Figure 2.2)!

The widespread availability of Internet-based blogs,
chat groups, and social networks is, however, radically
changing how people communicate, including about
current events. Young people, especially, spend more
time using computers for games and other leisure

activities than they use for reading (U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics 2012a). Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other
electronic networks have become such a common form
of interaction that they are now referred to as social
media—the term used to refer to the vast networks of
social interaction that new media have inspired (See
▲ Figure 2.3). Such usage increases the possibility of
democratic participation by allowing the open discus-
sion and transmittal of information (Ferdinand 2000). At
the same time, however, these forms of communication
can mean increased surveillance, both by governments
and by hackers. As with other forms of culture, how these
networks are used and controlled is a social process.

Despite the vast reach of the mass media, many—
including you, perhaps—believe that it has little effect
on their beliefs and values, no matter how much they

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CUlTUR E   4 5

enjoy it. The influence of the mass media is made appar-
ent by trying to do without it—even for a brief period of
time. Simply getting away from all of the forms of media
that permeate daily life may be extremely difficult to do,
as you will see if you try the experiment in the “See for
Yourself : Two Days without the Media” box later in this
chapter. Turn it all off for a short period of time, and see
if you feel suddenly “left out” of society. Then ask your-
self how the mass media influence your life, your opin-
ions, your values, and even how you look!

The Organization of Mass Media
Mass media are not only a pervasive part of daily life, but
they are also a huge business. On average, consumers

spend $900 per year on media consumption, most of
which is for television. That may not seem like much until
you realize that the television industry (including cable)
is a multibillion-dollar industry that is organized by pow-
erful economic interests (U.S. Census Bureau 2012a)!

Increasingly, the media are owned by a small num-
ber of companies—companies that form huge media
monopolies. This means that a few very powerful
groups—media conglomerates—are the major producers
and distributors of culture. A single corporation can con-
trol a huge share of television, radio, newspapers, music,
publishing, film, and the Internet. As the production of
popular culture becomes concentrated in the hands of
just a few, there may be less diversity in the content.

67%

100%

90%

80%

70%

60%

50%

40%

30%

20%

10%

0%

Facebook Twitter Instagram Pinterest Linkedln

2012 2013

71%

16%18% 13%
17%

21% 20%
22%

15%

▲ Figure 2.2 Social Media Use among
U.S. adults As you can see, the use of social
media by adults in the United States is both
extensive and changing rapidly. These data
show the change in just one year, indicating
how rapidly culture can change. How might
the data change over the next five years?
Ten?
Source: Pew Internet Project. 2014. www
.pewinternet.org

100%

90%

80%

70%

60%

50%

40%

30%

20%

10%

0%

Hu
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on

P
os

t

Be
at

s

Sp
ot

ify

Tu
m

bl
r

Pi
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es

t
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og

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s

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on

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ca

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Tw
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r

Pa
nd

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a

Sn
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at

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sta

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am

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bo
ok

Te
xti

ng

Yo
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ub
e

▲ Figure 2.3 Young
People’s Use of Social
Media Youth are often the
first to pick up new social
media. Comparing young
people to the data in
Figure 2.3, what differences
do you see? How would you
explain this? Do these pat-
terns hold for your peers?
Source: Thompson, Derek.
2014. “The Most Popular Social
Network for Young People?
Texting.” The Atlantic, June 19.
www.theatlantic.com

High School Graduates’ Use of Social Media

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4 6   CH aPTER 2

The organization of the mass media as a system
of economic interests means that there is enormous
power in the hands of a few to shape the culture of the
whole society. Sociologists refer to the concentration
of cultural power as cultural hegemony (pronounced
“heh-JeM-o-nee”), defined as the pervasive and exces-
sive influence of one culture throughout society. Cul-
tural hegemony means that people may conform to
cultural patterns and interests that benefit powerful
elites, even without those elites overtly forcing people
into conformity. Although there seems to be enor-
mous choice in what media forms people consume,
the cultural messages are largely homogenous (mean-
ing “same”). Cultural monopolies are then a means by
which powerful groups gain the assent of those they
rule. The concept of cultural hegemony implies that
culture is highly politicized, even if it does not appear
to be so. Those who control cultural institutions can
control people’s political awareness by creating cul-
tural beliefs that make the rule of those in power seem
inevitable and right. As a result, political resistance to
the dominant culture is blunted (Gramsci 1971). We
explore this idea further in the discussion on sociologi-
cal theories of culture.

Debunking Society’s Myths ←
Myth: Teens are addicted to social media, isolating them
from face-to-face interaction.
Sociological Perspective: People tend to misuse the
term addiction by referring to activities that people enjoy
and engage in frequently. Teens say they spend more time
on social media than they would like, but policies that
prevent teens from gathering in public places push them
on to social media more than they actually say they would
like (Boyd 2014).

The Media and Popular Culture
Because the mass media pervade the whole society,
the media influence such things as popular styles, lan-
guage, and value systems. Popular culture refers to the
beliefs, practices, and objects that are part of everyday
traditions, such as music and films, mass-marketed
books and magazines, newspapers, and Internet web-
sites. Popular culture is produced for the masses and
thus has a huge impact on the nations’ culture.

Popular culture is distinct from elite culture, which
is shared by only a select few but is highly valued.
Unlike elite culture (sometimes referred to as “high
culture”), popular culture is mass-consumed and has
enormous significance in the formation of public atti-
tudes and values. Popular culture is also supported by
mass consumption, as the many objects associated
with popular culture are promoted and sold to a con-
suming public.

The distinction between popular and elite culture
means that various segments of the population con-
sume culture in different ways. This is affected by pat-
terns of social class, race, and gender in the society.
Although popular culture may be widely available and
relatively cheap for consumers, some groups derive
their cultural experiences from expensive theater
shows or opera performances where tickets may cost
hundreds of dollars. Meanwhile, millions of “ordinary”
citizens get their primary cultural experience from tele-
vision and, increasingly, the Internet. Even something
as seemingly common as Internet usage reflects pat-
terns of social class differences in society, as you can
see in ▲ Figure 2.4. The digital divide is a term used to
refer to persistence of inequality in people’s access to
electronic information. This inequality has led many to
advocate for free wireless service in some cities to make
Internet access more democratic.

Native American

100 20 30 40 50 60

59.1%

39.6%

70 80 90 100

U.S. households with Internet in home

Hispanic

Black

Asian

White

. $150,000

$100,000–149,000

$75,000–99,000

$50,000–74,999

$35,000–49,999

$25,000–34,999

$15,000–24,999

Under $15,000

56.8%

56.8%

82.8%

74.9%

98.0%
96.4%

93.8%

87.1%

77.9%

63.6%

52.6%

▲ Figure 2.4 The Digital
Divide Even with the wide-
spread availability of the Internet,
there are still significant social
class and race differences in
who has household access.
What difference do you think
this makes in the daily lives of
those in different income brack-
ets and in different racial/ethnic
groups? What social policies
might you suggest for remedy-
ing this so that there is less of a
“digital divide”?
Data: U.S. Census Bureau. 2012.
Statistical Abstract 2012. Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Commerce,
p. 723. www.census.gov

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CUlTUR E   47

Race, Gender, and Class
in the Media
Many sociologists argue that the mass media can pro-
mote narrow definitions of who people are and what
they can be. Even though you may think books you read,
movies you see, and so forth are “just for fun,” they can
relay powerful messages about gender roles, race rela-
tions, and class ideals. Take the popular Twilight series of
books, widely read by teen girls. Sociological study of the
books finds that, as entertaining as they are, they repro-
duce stereotypes of girls as weak, passive, and needing
protection. The men in the books are strong, violent,
and dominating. Native Americans are portrayed as ani-
malistic werewolves (Hayes-Smith 2011). Most likely,
young girls reading these novels do not think about the
messages being projected, but when popular culture is
replete with such images, you cannot help but be influ-
enced. This is why it is important for alternative images
to be presented, especially to young people. The trilogy
Hunger Games provides an example. Here the central
female character is strong and self-reliant. Unlike most
popular heroines, she does not wait for men to rescue
her. Such images can provide young women with new
models for their own leadership (McCabe et al. 2011).

Images of beauty in the media send similar mes-
sages. Youth is defined as beautiful; aging, not. Light
skin is promoted as more beautiful than dark skin,
although being tan is seen as more beautiful than being
pale. Models in African American women’s magazines
are often those with Anglo features of light skin, blue
eyes, and straight or wavy hair. European facial features
are also pervasive in the images of Asian women and
Latinas appearing in popular culture.

Content analyses of the media (a research method
discussed in the following chapter) show distinct pat-
terns of how race, gender, and class are depicted in vari-
ous media forms. On prime-time television, men are still
a large majority of the characters shown. Over the years,
there has been an increase in how much women and
people of color are depicted in professional jobs. Still,
these portrayals typically depict professional women
as young (suggesting that career success comes early),
thin, and beautiful. In music videos, women wear sexy
and skimpy clothing and are more often the object of
another’s gaze than is true for their male counterparts;
music videos are especially represented in sexualized
ways (Coy 2014; Collins 2004).

→ See for YourSelF ←
Two Days without the Media
Suppose that you lived for a few days without use of
the mass media that permeate our lives. How would this
affect you? In an intriguing experiment, Charles Gallagher
(a sociologist at la Salle University) has developed a

research project for students in which he asks them to
stage a media blackout in their lives for just forty-eight
hours. You can try this yourself.

Begin by keeping a written log for forty-eight hours
of exactly how much time you spend with some form of
media. Include all time spent watching television, on the
Internet, reading books and magazines, listening to music,
viewing films, even using smartphones—any activity
that can be construed as part of the media monopoly on
people’s time.

Next, eliminate all use of the media, except for that
required for work and school, for a forty-eight-hour period.
Keep a log as you go of what happens, what you are think-
ing, what others say, and how people interact with you.
Warning: If you try the media blackout, be sure to have some
plan in place for having your family and/or friends contact
you in case of an emergency! When one of the authors of
this book (andersen) had her students do this experiment,
they complained even before starting that they wouldn’t be
able to do it! But, they had to try. What happened?

First, andersen’s students had help: The week of the
assignment came during a hurricane on the East Coast
when many were without power for several days. This did
not deter the students from thinking they just had to have
their DVD players, music, TV, and cell phones! Many of the
students said they could not stand being without access
to the media—even for a few hours. Most could not go the
full two days without using the media.

Most reported that they felt isolated during the media
exercise, not just from information, but also mostly from
other people. They were excluded from conversations
with friends about what happened on a given television
episode or about film characters or movie stars profiled in
magazines and from playing video games. One even wrote
that without the media, she felt that she had no personal-
ity! Without their connection to the media, students felt
alienated, isolated, and detached, although most also
reported that they studied more without the distraction
of the media. a most interesting finding was that several
reported that they were much more reflective during this
time and had more meaningful conversations with friends.

after trying this experiment, think about the enor-
mous influence that the mass media have in shaping
everyday life, including your self-concept and your rela-
tionship with other people. What does this exercise teach
you about cultural hegemony? The role of the mass media
in shaping society? How would each of the following theo-
retical frameworks explain what happened during your
media blackout: functionalism, conflict theory, feminist
theory, or symbolic interaction?

Source: Personal correspondence, Charles Gallagher, La Salle University.

African Americans, who watch more television
than do White people (see ▲ Figure 2.5), are generally
confined to a narrow variety of character types in the

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4 8   CH aPTER 2

media. In recent years, the number of African Ameri-
can characters shown in television has come to match
their proportion in the population, but largely because
of their casting in situation comedies and in programs
that are mostly minority. A recent report has found that,
even though Latinos have increased as a share of the
U.S. population, their presence in film and television,
especially as leading actors and actresses, is shockingly
low—even less than in the past. When shown, Latinos
are often stereotyped as criminals, law enforcers, cheap
labor, and hypersexualized or comic figures (Negrón-
Muntaner 2014).

In a similar vein, African American men are most
often seen as athletes and sports commentators, crimi-
nals, or entertainers. Women who work as football sports
commentators are typically on the sidelines, reporting
not so much on the play of the game as on human inter-
est stories or injury reports—suggesting that women’s
role in sports is limited to that of nurturer. It is difficult
to find a single show where Asians are the principal
characters—usually they are depicted in silent roles,
as sidekicks, domestic workers, or behind-the-scenes
characters. Native Americans make occasional appear-
ances, where they usually are depicted as mystics or
warriors. Jewish women are generally invisible on pop-
ular TV programming, except when they are ridiculed
in stereotypical roles. Arab Americans are likewise ste-
reotyped, depicted as terrorists, rich oil magnates, or in
the case of women, as perpetually veiled and secluded
(Read 2003; Mandel 2001).

The popular show, The Bachelor, provides a good
example of how race and gender stereotypes merge in
the mass media. Supposedly, the women all have an
equal chance at being selected as the bachelor’s mate,
but analyst Dubrofsky (2006) shows, women of color are
never chosen as the bachelor’s mate; they are, in fact,
typically eliminated early from the competition. Equally
revealing, Dubrofsky shows how the show’s set suggests
a harem-like quality—multiple women available to

one man, women lounging around on plush furniture,
assembled to resemble a stereotypical harem—with
plush, overstuffed cushions, lush gardens, and often
Middle Eastern tapestries on the walls, thereby produc-
ing stereotypes about the supposed sexual excess and
availability of Middle Eastern women. Research docu-
ments numerous examples of stereotyped portrayals in
the media—stereotypes you will see for yourself if you
step outside of the taken-for-granted views with which
you ordinarily observe the media.

→ See for YourSelF ←
Watch a particular kind of television show (situation
comedy, sports broadcast, children’s cartoon, or news pro-
gram, for example) and make careful written notes on the
depiction of different groups in this show. How often are
women and men or boys and girls shown?

How are they depicted? You could also observe the
portrayal of asian americans, Native americans, african
americans, or latinos. What do your observations tell you
about the cultural ideals that are communicated through
popular culture?

Class stereotypes abound in the media and popular
culture as well, with working-class men typically por-
trayed as being ineffectual, even buffoonish (Dines and
Humez 2002; Butsch 1992). This has been demonstrated
in research by sociologist Laura Grindstaff, who spent
six months working on two popular talk shows. She did
careful participant observation and interviewed the
production staff and talk show guests. She found that to
get airtime, guests had to enact social class stereotypes,
acting vulgar and loud. She concluded that, although
these popular talk shows give ordinary people a place
to air their problems and be heard, the shows exploit
the working class, making a spectacle of their troubles
(Grindstaff 2002; Press 2002).

Even a brief glance at popular television sitcoms
reveals rampant homophobic joking. Recently, how-
ever, representation of gays and lesbians has increased
in the media, after years of being virtually invisible or
only the subject of ridicule. As advertisers have sought
to expand their commercial markets, they are show-
ing more gay and lesbian characters on television. This
makes gays and lesbians more visible, although critics
point out that they are still cast in narrow and stereo-
typical terms, or in comical roles (such as in Modern
Family). Cultural visibility for any group is important
because it validates people and can influence the pub-
lic’s acceptance of and generate support for equal rights
protection (Gamson 1998).

Television is not the only form of popular culture
that influences public consciousness, class, gender, and
race. Music, film, books, and other industries play a

White

Percentage of population watching during prime-time hours

African
American

Hispanic Asian

35.8%
41.3%

34.1%

24.2%

▲ Figure 2.5 Prime-Time Television Usage by Race
and Ethnicity
Source: The Nielsen Company. 2009. Ethnic Trends in Media.
www.blog.nielsen.com

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CUlTUR E   4 9

significant role in molding public consciousness. What
images do these cultural forms produce? You can look
for yourself. Try to buy a birthday card that contains nei-
ther an age nor gender stereotype. Alternatively, watch
TV or a movie and see how different gender and race
groups are portrayed. You will likely find that women
are depicted as trying to get the attention of men; Afri-
can Americans are more likely than Whites to be seen
singing and dancing.

Do these images matter? Studies find that expo-
sure to traditional sexualized imagery in music videos
has a negative effect on college students’ attitudes, for
example, holding more adversarial attitudes about sex-
ual relationships (Kalof 1999). Other studies find that
even when viewers see media images as unrealistic,
they think that others find the images important and
will evaluate them accordingly. Although people do not
just passively internalize media images, such images
form cultural ideals that have a huge impact on people’s
behavior, values, and self-image.

Theoretical Perspectives
on Culture and the Media
Sociologists study culture and the media in a variety of
ways, asking a variety of questions about the relation-
ship of culture to other social institutions and the role
of culture in modern life (see ◆ Table 2.2). One impor-
tant question for sociologists studying the mass media
is: Do the media create popular values or reflect them?

The reflection hypothesis contends that the mass
media reflect the values of the general population
(Tuchman 1979). The media try to appeal to the most
broad-based audience, so they aim for the middle

ground in depicting images and ideas. Maximizing
popular appeal is central to television program devel-
opment; media organizations spend huge amounts
on market research to uncover what people think and
believe and what they will like. Characters are then cre-
ated with whom people will identify. Interestingly, the
images in the media with which we identify are dis-
torted versions of reality. Real people seldom live like
the characters on television, although part of the appeal
of these shows is how they build upon, but then mystify,
the actual experiences of people.

The reflection hypothesis assumes that images and
values portrayed in the media reflect the values existing
in the public, but the reverse can also be true—that is,
the ideals portrayed in the media also influence the atti-
tudes and values of those who see them. This has been
illustrated in research on music videos. In a controlled
experiment, the researchers exposed college men and
women to hip-hop videos with high sexual content.
Following their viewing, men in the sample expressed
greater sexual objectification of women, more sexual
permissiveness, stereotypical gender attitudes, and
acceptance of rape myths; the findings did not hold for
women in the sample (Kistler and Lee 2010). Although
there is not a simple and direct relationship between
the content of mass media images and what people
think, clearly these mass-produced images can have a
significant impact on who we are and what we think.

Culture and Group Solidarity
Many sociologists have studied particular forms of
culture and have provided detailed analyses of the
content of cultural artifacts, such as images in certain
television programs or genres of popular music. Other

◆ Table 2.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture

According to:

Functionalism Conflict Theory Symbolic Interaction New Cultural Studies Feminist Theory

Culture . . .

Integrates people
into groups

Serves the interests
of powerful groups

Creates group identity
from diverse cultural
meanings

Is ephemeral,
unpredictable, and
constantly changing

Reflects the interests
and perspectives of
powerful men

Provides coherence
and stability in society

Can be a source of
political resistance

Changes as people
produce new cultural
meanings

Is a material
manifestation of a
consumer-oriented
society

Is anchored in the
inequality of women

Creates norms and
values that integrate
people in society

Is increasingly controlled
by economic monopolies

Is socially constructed
through the activities
of social groups

Is best understood by
analyzing its artifacts—
books, films, and
television images

Creates images
and values that
reproduce sexist and
racist images

© Cengage learning

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5 0   CH aPTER 2

sociologists take a broader view by analyzing the rela-
tionship of culture to other forms of social organiza-
tion. Beginning with some of the classical sociological
theorists (see Chapter 1), sociologists have studied the
relationship of culture to other social institutions. Max
Weber looked at the impact of culture on the formation
of social and economic institutions. In his classic anal-
ysis of the Protestant work ethic and capitalism, Weber
argued that the Protestant faith rested on cultural
beliefs that were highly compatible with the develop-
ment of modern capitalism. By promoting a strong
work ethic and a need to display material success as
a sign of religious salvation, the Protestant work ethic
indirectly but effectively promoted the interests of an
emerging capitalist economy. (We revisit this issue in
Chapter 13.) In other words, culture influences other
social institutions.

Many sociologists have also examined how culture
integrates members into society and social groups. Func-
tionalist theorists, for example, believe that norms and
values create social bonds that attach people to society.
Culture therefore provides coherence and stability in soci-
ety. Participation in a common culture is an important
social bond—one that unites society (Etzioni et al. 2001).

Classical theoretical analyses of culture have
placed special emphasis on nonmaterial culture—the
values, norms, and belief systems of society. Sociolo-
gists who use this perspective emphasize the integra-
tive function of culture, that is, its ability to give people
a sense of belonging in an otherwise complex social
system (Smelser 1992). In the broadest sense, they see
culture as a major integrative force in society, providing
societies with a sense of collective identity and com-
monly shared worldviews.

Culture, Power, and Social Conflict
Whereas the emphasis on shared values and group
solidarity drives one sociological analysis of culture,
conflict and power drive another. Conflict theorists
(see Chapter 1) analyze culture as a source of power in
society. You can find numerous examples throughout
human history where conflict between different cul-
tures has actually shaped the course of world affairs.
One such example comes from the Middle East and
the situation for the Kurdish people. The Kurds are an
ethnic group (see Chapter 10) who speak their own
language and inhabit an area in the Middle East that
includes parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria, although
they mostly live in northern Iraq. Most are Sunni Mus-
lims, and they have experienced years of political and
economic repression. Numerous examples throughout
history show how intense group hatred and powerful
forms of domination can drive cultural conflict.

Conflict theorists see contemporary culture as pro-
duced within institutions that are based on inequality

and capitalist principles. The cultural values and prod-
ucts that are produced and sold promote the economic
and political interests of the few—those who own or
benefit from these cultural industries. As we have seen,
this is especially evident in the study of the mass media
and popular culture marketed to the masses by entities
with a vast economic stake in distributing their prod-
ucts. Conflict theorists conclude that the cultural prod-
ucts most likely to be produced are those consistent
with the values, needs, and interests of the most power-
ful groups in society. The evening news, for example, is
typically sponsored by major financial institutions and
oil companies. Conflict theorists then ask how this com-
mercial sponsorship influences the content of the news.
If the news were sponsored by labor unions, would
conflicts between management and workers always be
defined as “labor troubles,” or might newscasters refer
instead to “capitalist troubles”?

Conflict theorists see culture as increasingly con-
trolled by economic monopolies. Whether it is books,
music, films, news, or other cultural forms, monopo-
lies in the communications industry (where culture is
increasingly located) have a strong interest in protect-
ing the status quo. As media conglomerates swallow up
smaller companies and drive out smaller, less-efficient
competitors, the control that economic monopolies
have over the production and distribution of culture
becomes enormous. Mega-communications compa-
nies then influence everything—from the movies and
television shows you see to the books you read in school.

Culture can also be a source of political resistance and
social change. Reclaiming an indigenous culture that had
been denied or repressed is one way that groups mobilize
to assert their independence. An example from within the
United States is the repatriation movement among Ameri-
can Indians who have argued for the return of both cultural
artifacts and human remains held in museum collections.
Many American Indians believe that, despite the pub-
lic good that is derived from studying such remains and
objects, cultural independence and spiritual respect out-
weigh such scientific arguments (Thornton 2001). Other
social movements, such as the gay and lesbian move-
ment, have also used cultural performance as a means of
political and social protest. Cross-dressing, drag shows,
and other forms of “gender play” can be seen as cultural
performances that challenge homophobia and traditional
sexual and gender roles (Rupp and Taylor 2003).

A final point of focus for sociologists studying cul-
ture from a conflict perspective lies in the concept of
cultural capital. Cultural capital refers to the cultural
resources that are deemed worthy (such as knowledge
of elite culture) and that give advantages to groups pos-
sessing such capital. This idea has been most developed
by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1984), who
sees the appropriation of culture as one way that groups
maintain their social status.

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CUlTUR E   51

Bourdieu argues that members of the dominant
class have distinctive lifestyles that mark their status
in society. Their ability to display this cultural lifestyle
signals their importance to others; that is, they possess
cultural capital. From this point of view, culture has a
role in reproducing inequality among groups. Those
with cultural capital use it to improve their social and
economic position in society. Sociologists have found a
significant relationship, for example, between cultural
capital and grades in school. Those from the more well-
to-do classes (those with more cultural capital) are able
to parlay their knowledge into higher grades, thereby
reproducing their social position by being more com-
petitive in school admissions and, eventually, in the
labor market (Hill 2001; Treiman 2001).

Symbolic Interaction and
the Study of Culture
Especially productive when applied to the study of cul-
ture has been symbolic interaction theory—a perspective
that analyzes behavior in terms of the meaning people
give it (see Chapter 1). The concept of culture is central
to this orientation. Symbolic interaction emphasizes

the interpretive basis of social behavior, and culture
provides the interpretive framework through which
behavior is understood.

Symbolic interaction also emphasizes that culture,
like all other forms of social behavior, is socially con-
structed. That is, culture is produced through social
relationships and in social groups, such as the media
organizations that produce and distribute culture.
People do not just passively submit to cultural norms.
People actively make, interpret, and respond to the cul-
ture around them. Culture is not one-dimensional; it
contains diverse elements and provides people with a
wide range of choices from which to select how they will
behave (Swidler 1986). Culture, in fact, represents the
creative dimension of human life.

In recent years, a new interdisciplinary field
known as cultural studies has emerged that builds on
the insights of the symbolic interaction perspective in
sociology. Sociologists who work in cultural studies
are often critical of classical sociological approaches
to studying culture, arguing that the classical approach
has overemphasized nonmaterial culture, that is, ideas,
beliefs, values, and norms. The new scholars of cul-
tural studies find that material culture has increasing

Perhaps you are a fan of hip-hop. You
love the beat, the style, and it might even
influence how you dress. Fans of differ-
ent forms of popular culture typically
just “like” it—but sociology also provides
a way to think about popular culture—
where it originates, who and what it
influences, and how it is organized in
social institutions. This gives you a dif-
ferent way of thinking about popular
culture. Suppose some of the classical
theorists of sociology were asked to
comment on the popularity of hip-hop.
What might they say? Here is an imag-
ined conversation among them.

Emile Durkheim: I notice that young
people can name hip-hop musicians that
others in the society do not recognize.
This commonly happens because differ-
ent generations tend to grow up within
a shared music culture. Whether it’s hip-
hop, country, or pop, music cultures bind
groups together by creating a sense of

Classical Theorists on Hip-Hop!
shared and collective identity. For young
people, this makes them feel like part of
a generation instead of being completely
alienated from an otherwise adult-domi-
nated culture.

Karl Marx: It is interesting that White
youth are now the major consumers of
hip-hop. Hip-hop originated from young,
Black youth who are disadvantaged by
the economic system of society. Now
capitalism has appropriated this creative
work and turned it into a highly profit-
able commodity that benefits dominant
groups who control the music indus-
try. As this has happened, the critical
perspective originated by young, Black
urban men has been supplanted by race
and gender stereotypes that support the
interests of the powerful.

Max Weber: Emile and Karl, you just see
it one way. It’s not that you are wrong,
but you have to take a multidimensional
view. Yes, hip-hop is an economic and

a cultural phenomenon, but it is also
linked to power in society. Haven’t you
noticed how political candidates try to
use popular music to appeal to dif-
ferent political constituencies? Don’t
be surprised to find hip-hop artists
performing at political conventions!
That’s what I find so intriguing: Hip-hop
is an economic, cultural, and political
phenomenon.

W. E. B. DuBois: I’ve said that Black
people have a “double consciousness”—
one where they always have to see
themselves through the eyes of a world
that devalues them—American and
“Black” at the same time. But, concur-
rently, the “two-ness” that Black people
experience generates wonderful cultural
forms such as hip-hop that reflect the
unique spirit of African Americans. I once
wrote that “there is no true American
music but the wild sweet melodies of
the Negro slave” (DuBois 1903: 14), but
I wish I had lived to see this new spirited
and soulful form of musical expression!

what would a sociologist say?

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52   CH aPTER 2

importance in modern society (Walters 1999; Crane
1994). This includes cultural forms that are recorded
through print, film, artifacts, or the electronic media.
Postmodernist theory has greatly influenced new cul-
tural studies (see Chapter 1). Postmodernism is based
on the idea that society is not an objective thing; rather,
it is found in the words and images that people use to
represent behavior and ideas. Given this orientation,
postmodernism often analyzes common images and
cultural products found in everyday life.

Classical theorists have tended to study the unify-
ing features of culture; cultural studies researchers tend
to see culture as more fragmented and unpredictable.
To them, culture is a series of images that can be inter-
preted in multiple ways, depending on the viewpoint of
observers. From the perspective of new cultural studies
theorists, the ephemeral and rapidly changing quality of
contemporary cultural forms is reflective of the highly
technological and consumer-based culture on which
the modern economy rests. Modern culture, for exam-
ple, is increasingly dominated by the ever-changing,
but ever-present, images that the media bombard us
with in everyday life. The fascination that cultural stud-
ies theorists have for these images is partially founded
in illusions that such a dynamic and rapidly changing
culture produces.

Feminist Theory and Culture
Feminist theory also adds to our understanding of cul-
ture. Feminist theory analyzes the power that men have
in controlling cultural institutions. In addition, feminist
theory analyses the gendered stereotypes that are cul-
turally reproduced. It is also critical of women’s exclu-
sion from important leadership roles within cultural
institutions. We explore gender and cultural stereo-
types in more detail in Chapter 11, but here it is impor-
tant to understand how culture reflects and reinforces
gendered images that maintain gender inequality.

Feminists also note that changes are appearing in
the dominant culture as women assume more signifi-
cant roles in the production of culture. By and large,
however, even with such changes, men still dominate
both popular and elite culture. Women remain a minor-
ity on the boards of most elite cultural institutions. In
film, television, and the Internet, women’s bodies are
routinely sexualized. When women assume positions
of leadership (such as in roles as news anchors), much
of the commentary about them focuses on their looks
or their roles as mothers—attributes not so frequently
expressed on commentaries about men.

Violence against women is also routinized in the
media—in video games, on crime dramas, and even in
comedy. On any given night, if you only listen to televi-
sion in the background, you might be amazed at how
frequently you will hear women screaming.

Feminist theory analyzes cultural imagery and also
criticizes the taken-for-granted nature of gender stereo-
typing and beliefs in the culture. On the positive side,
feminist theory also encourages the production and dis-
tribution of images that counter and challenge sexism.
Thus, rediscovering artistic works by and for women is
one way that feminism can alter the cultural landscape.
As with conflict theory, feminist theory emphasizes that
the transformation of imagery is an important part of
social movements for human liberation.

Cultural Change
In one sense, culture is a conservative force in society.
Culture tends to be based on tradition and is passed on
through generations, conserving and regenerating the
values and beliefs of society. Culture is also increas-
ingly based on institutions that have an economic inter-
est in maintaining the status quo. People are also often
resistant to cultural change because familiar ways and
established patterns of doing things are hard to give
up. But in other ways, culture is completely taken for
granted, and it may be hard to imagine a society differ-
ent from what is familiar.

Imagine, for example, the United States without
fast food. Can you do so? Probably not. Fast food is so
much a part of contemporary culture that it is hard to
imagine life without it. Consider these facts about fast-
food culture:

●● The average person in the United States consumes
three hamburgers and four orders of French fries
per week.

●● People in the United States spend more money on
fast food than on movies, books, magazines, news-
papers, videos, music, computers, and higher educa-
tion combined.

●● Ninety-six percent of American schoolchildren can
identify Ronald McDonald—only exceeded by the
number who can identify Santa Claus (Schlosser 2001).

Eric Schlosser, who has written about the permeation
of society by fast-food culture, writes that “a nation’s
diet can be more revealing than its art or literature”
(2001: 3). He relates the growth of the fast-food indus-
try to other fundamental changes in American society,
including the vast numbers of women entering the
paid labor market, the development of an automobile
culture, the increased reliance on low-wage service
jobs, the decline of family farming, and the growth of
agribusiness. One result is a cultural emphasis on uni-
formity, not to mention increased fat and calories in
people’s diets.

This example shows how cultures can change over
time, sometimes in ways that are hardly visible to us
unless we take a longer-range view or, as sociologists
would do, question that which surrounds us. Culture is

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CUlTUR E   53

a dynamic, not static, force in society, and it develops as
people respond to various changes in their physical and
social environments.

Culture Lag
Sometimes society adjusts slowly to changing cultural
conditions, and the result can be culture lag (Ogburn
1922). Some parts of culture may change more rapidly
than others. In other words, one aspect of culture may
“lag” behind another. Rapid technological change is
often attended by culture lag because some elements of
the culture do not keep pace with technological inno-
vation. In today’s world, we have the technological
ability to develop efficient, less-polluting rapid transit,
but changing people’s transportation habits is difficult.
This would be an example of people’s attachment to
their cars (a cultural phenomenon) lagging behind the
cultural need to reduce carbon emissions through the
capabilities of technology.

Sources of Cultural Change
There are several causes of cultural change, including
(1) a change in the societal conditions; (2) cultural dif-
fusion; (3) innovation; and (4) the imposition of cultural
change by an outside agency. Let us examine each.

1. Cultures change in response to changed condi-
tions in the society. Economic changes, population
changes, and other social transformations all influence
the development of culture. A change in the makeup of
a society’s population may be enough by itself to cause
a cultural transformation. The high rate of immigra-
tion in recent years has brought many cultural changes
to the United States. Many major cities, such as Miami
and Los Angeles, have a Latin feel because of the large
Hispanic population. Cultural change from immigra-
tion is now apparent in locations throughout the United
States. Markets selling Asian, Mexican, and Middle
Eastern foods are increasingly common; school districts
include students who speak a huge variety of languages;
popular music bears the imprint of different world cul-
tures. This is not the first time U.S. culture has changed
because of immigration. Many national traditions stem
from the patterns of immigration that marked the ear-
lier part of the twentieth century—think of St. Patrick’s
Day parades, Italian markets, and Chinatowns.

2. Cultures change through cultural diffusion. Cul-
tural diffusion is the transmission of cultural elements
from one society or cultural group to another. In our
world of instantaneous communication, cultural dif-
fusion is swift and widespread. This is evident in the
degree to which worldwide cultures have been West-
ernized. Cultural diffusion also occurs when subcul-
tural influences enter the dominant group. Dominant
cultures are regularly enriched by minority cultures.

An example is the influence of Black and Latino music
on other musical forms. Cultural diffusion is one thing
that drives cultural evolution, especially in a society
such as ours that is lush with diversity.

3. Cultures change as the result of innovation,
including inventions and technological develop-
ments. Cultural innovations can create dramatic
changes in society. Think, for example, of how the inven-
tion of trolleys, subways, and automobiles changed the
character of cities. People no longer walked to work;
instead, cities expanded outward to include suburbs.
Furthermore, the invention of the elevator let cities
expand not just out, but also up (see also ▲ Figure 2.6).

Now, the development of computer technology infil-
trates every dimension of life. It is hard to overestimate
the effect of innovation on contemporary cultural change.
Technological innovation is so rapid and dynamic that
one generation can barely maintain competence with
the hardware of the next. The newest handheld com-
puter today weighs hardly more than a few ounces, and
its capabilities rival that of computers that filled entire
buildings only twenty years ago. Technological innova-
tion is now so rapid that it can leave some people in a
state resembling culture shock—a phenomenon that one
of the authors of this book has termed tech-shock, mean-
ing that new devices and applications arrive faster than
some in the public have time to learn and adjust to.

What are some of the social changes that tech-
nology change is creating? People can now work and
be miles—even nations—away from their places of
employment. Families can communicate from multiple
sites; children can be paged; grandparents can receive

Percent using online news

100%

90%

80%

70%

60%

50%

40%

30%

2000 2011

age 30–49
age 18–29

age 50–64
age 65 and older

▲ Figure 2.6 Who Gets News How? For many, reading
the daily newspaper has been a cultural tradition, but this is
changing. Many wonder if print newspapers will actually vanish
over time. How do you get your news? Looking at age and online
news consumption in this figure, what do the data suggest?
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 2012a. Statistical Abstract 2011. Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Commerce. www.census.gov

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54   CH aPT ER 2

live photos of a family event; criminals are tracked via
cellular technology; music can be stolen without even
going into a music store. Conveniences multiply with
the growth of such technology, but so do the invasions
of privacy and, perhaps, identity theft. In such a rap-
idly changing technological world, it is hard to imagine
what will be common in just a few years.

New technological innovations raise interesting
questions for sociological research. Studies of blogs
find, for example, that women are a small proportion of
bloggers—only 10 percent of the bloggers on the most
widely used political sites. Some use blogs as support
systems—for example, a gay person in a very traditional
and isolated community may participate in a blog that
provides a national community of support. One study in
China found that many women are using blogs to sub-
vert traditional concepts of womanhood (Schaffer and
Xianlin 2007; Dolan 2006; Harp and Tremayne 2006).

The use of blogs is a good example of how tech-
nological innovation can create new forms of culture.
Unlike traditional communities, blogging communities
cross vast geographic distances, connecting people who
might never meet face-to-face. Just as town meetings
might have created a sense of community in the past,
cyberspace communities now involve “imagined com-
munities.” Some suggest that blogs can actually create a
more democratic society by directly engaging more peo-
ple in political discussion and activity (Perlmutter 2008).

4. Cultural change can be imposed. Change can
occur when a powerful group takes over a society and

imposes a new culture. The dominating group may arise
internally, as in a political revolution, or it may appear
from outside, perhaps as an invasion. When an external
group takes over the society of a “native,” or indigenous,
group—as White settlers did with Native American
societies—they typically impose their own culture while
prohibiting the indigenous group from expressing its
original cultural ways. Manipulating the culture of a
group is a way of exerting social control. Many have
argued that public education in the United States, which
developed during a period of mass immigration, was
designed to force White, northern European, middle-
class values onto a diverse immigrant population
that was perceived to be potentially unruly and politi-
cally disruptive. Likewise, schools run by the Bureau
of Indian Affairs have been used to impose dominant
group values on Native American children (Snipp 1996).

Resistance to political oppression often takes the
form of a cultural movement that asserts or revives the
culture of an oppressed group. Cultural expression can be
a form of political protest. Identification with a common
culture can be the basis for group solidarity, as found in
the example of the “Black pride” movement in the 1970s,
whose influence is still felt today by having encouraged
Black Americans to celebrate their African heritage with
Afro hairstyles, African dress, and African awareness.
Cultural solidarity has also been encouraged among Lati-
nos through La Raza Unida (meaning “the race,” or “the
people, united”). Cultural change can promote social
change, just as social change can transform culture.

What is culture?
Culture is the complex and elaborate system of meaning
and behavior that defines the way of life for a group or
society. It is shared, learned, taken for granted, symbolic,
and emergent and varies from one society to another.

How do sociologists define norms, beliefs,
and values?
Norms are rules of social behavior that guide every
situation and may be formal or informal. When norms
are violated, social sanctions are applied. Beliefs are
strongly shared ideas about the nature of social reality.
Values are the abstract concepts in a society that define
the worth of different things and ideas.

What is the significance of diversity in human
cultures?
As societies develop and become more complex, cul-
tural diversity can appear. The United States is highly
diverse culturally, with many of its traditions influenced

by immigrant cultures and the cultures of African Amer-
icans, Latinos, and Native Americans. The dominant
culture is the culture of the most powerful group in soci-
ety. Subcultures are groups whose values and cultural
patterns depart significantly from the dominant culture.

What is the sociological significance of the mass
media and popular culture?
Elements of popular culture, such as the mass media,
have an enormous influence on groups’ beliefs and val-
ues, including images associated with racism and sex-
ism. Popular culture includes the beliefs, practices, and
objects of everyday traditions.

What do different sociological theories reveal
about culture?
Sociological theory provides different perspectives
on the significance of culture. Functionalist theory
emphasizes the influence of values, norms, and beliefs
on the whole society. Conflict theorists see culture as

Chapter Summary

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CUlTUR E   55

influenced by economic interests and power relations
in society. Symbolic interactionists emphasize that cul-
ture is socially constructed. This has influenced new
cultural studies, which interpret culture as a series of
images that can be analyzed from the viewpoint of dif-
ferent observers. Feminist theory emphasizes the patri-
archal control of the media and the reproduction of
sexist images that pervade popular culture.

How do cultures change?
There are several sources of cultural change, includ-
ing change in societal conditions, cultural diffusion,
innovation, and the imposition of change by domi-
nant groups. As cultures change, culture lag can result,
meaning that sometimes cultural adjustments are out
of sync with each other. People who experience new
cultural situations may experience culture shock.

beliefs 37
countercultures 42
cultural capital 50
cultural diffusion 53
cultural hegemony 46
cultural relativism 30
culture 28
culture lag 53
culture shock 31

digital divide 46
dominant culture 40
ethnocentrism 30
ethnomethodology 37
folkways 36
global culture 42
laws 37
mass media 43

material culture 28
mores 37
nonmaterial culture 28
norms 36
popular culture 46
reflection hypothesis 49
Sapir–Whorf

hypothesis 35

social media 45
social sanctions 37
subculture 41
symbols 32
taboo 37
values 37

Key Terms

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57

You have now seen some of the interesting things sociol-ogists study through a glimpse into the sociology of cul-ture. You also have a basic foundation in the sociological
perspective and the major concepts in the field. We turn now
to the tools sociologists use to study social phenomena—the
tools of sociological research methods. These tools are varied,
and the best tool to use depends on the sociological question
that is being asked. Let us start with some examples.

Suppose you wanted to do some sociological research on
how homeless people lived. What is life like for them? How
dangerous is it? Where are the homeless to be found? Do
they interact and associate with each other? Do they work
at all, and if so, doing what? Do they feel rejected by society?
Do they really sleep on park benches at night? Sociologist
Mitch Duneier (1999) in his study entitled “Sidewalk” wanted
to know all these things, plus more. So he decided to study
a group of homeless people by living with them, and that is
exactly what he did. He lived with them on their park benches
and in doorways on New York City’s Lower East Side. He spent
four years with them. He interacted with them. He worked
with them—a group consisting largely of African American
men who sold books and magazines on the street. Duneier
himself is White: He tells how becoming accepted into this
society of African American men was itself an interesting and
challenging process.

Contrary to popular belief, he discovered that these men
make up a rather well-organized mini-society, with a social
status structure, rules, norms, and a culture. He discovered
many unknown elements of this “sidewalk society.” Duneier
used a method of sociological research called participant
observation.

Did you ever wonder what happens to people, both
women and men, who are on the lam from the law—perhaps
for committing some sort of crime, such as armed robbery,
burglary, assault, or even something minor such as breaking
a curfew? Sociologist Alice Goffman (2009) in her “On the
Run” study actually lived in secret with several such people

Doing Sociological
Research

●● Understand that
sociological research is a
true scientific endeavor
whether it is quantitative
or qualitative

●● Relate the steps in
research design

●● Note the various research
techniques and their
relative advantages and
disadvantages

●● Explain the role that
ethics have in the research
process

in this chapter, you will learn to:

The Research Process 58

Research Design 59

The Tools of Sociological
Research 66

Research Ethics: Is Sociology
Value Free? 72

Chapter Summary 74

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5 8   CH aPT ER 3

who were fleeing from legal prosecution. Like Duneier’s study, Goffman’s was a participant observation
study. The people she studied lived together in a Philadelphia ghetto. They were not simply an unorga-
nized bunch in a street gang, but instead an organized group of fifteen people who formed a distinct
subculture that informed them about strategies for evading the police and the courts, and that contained
norms pertaining to interpersonal behavior—such as specifying punishment for anyone who “ratted” on
another group member. The point is that the group was in effect an organized small society with its own
membership, social structure, and culture.

In this chapter we examine the participant observation method plus other methods of sociological
research. Each method is different from the others, but they all share a common goal: a deeper under-
standing of how society operates.

The Research Process
Sociological research is the tool sociologists use to
answer questions. There are various methods that soci-
ologists use to do research, all of which involve rigorous
observation and careful analysis.

As we saw in the chapter opener, sociologists
Mitch Duneier (1999) as well as Alice Goffman (2009)
examined several questions about a group of people by
living with them. They were engaged in what is called
participant observation—a sociological research
technique in which the researcher actually becomes
simultaneously both participant in and observer of
that which she or he studies.

In another example of participant observation,
sociologist Peter Moskos (2008), as research for his doc-
toral dissertation, actually went through a police acad-
emy and spent two years as a beat policeman in a major
American city, thus subjecting himself to both the rigid
discipline of the police force and the dangers of the
street in this role (see the “Doing Sociological Research:
A Cop in the Hood” box at the end of this chapter).

There are other kinds of sociological research that
sociologists do as well. Some approaches are more
structured and focused than participant observation,
such as survey research. Other methods may involve
the use of official records or interviews. The different
approaches used reflect the different questions asked
in the first place. Other methods may require statisti-
cal analysis of a large set of quantitative information.
Either way, the chosen research method must be
appropriate to the sociological question being asked.
(In the “Doing Sociological Research” boxes through-
out this book, we explore different research projects
that sociologists have done, showing what question
they started with, how they did their research, and
what they found.)

However it is done, research is an engaging and
demanding process. It requires skill, careful observa-
tion, and the ability to think logically about the things
that spark your sociological curiosity.

Sociology and the Scientific
Method
Sociological research derives from what is called the
scientific method, originally defined and elaborated by
the British philosopher Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626).
The scientific method involves several steps in a
research process, including observation, hypothesis
testing, analysis of data, and drawing conclusions.
Since its beginnings, sociology has attempted to adhere
to the scientific method. To the degree that it has suc-
ceeded, sociology is a science. Yet, there is also an art to
developing sociological knowledge. Sociology aspires
to be both scientific and humanistic, but sociological
research varies in how strictly it adheres to the scientific
method. Some sociologists test hypotheses (discussed
later); others use more open-ended methods, such as
the studies by Duneier and by Goffman.

Science is empirical, meaning it is based on care-
ful and systematic observation, not just on conjec-
ture. Although some sociological studies are highly
quantitative and statistically sophisticated, others are
qualitatively based, that is, based on more interpretive
observations, not statistical analysis. Both quantitative
and qualitative studies are empirical. Sociological stud-
ies may be based on surveys, observations, and many
other forms of analysis, but they always depend on an
empirical underpinning.

Sociological knowledge is not the same as phi-
losophy or personal belief. Philosophy, theology, and
personal experience can deliver insights into human
behavior, but at the heart of the scientific method is the
notion that a theory must be testable. This requirement
distinguishes science from purely humanistic pursuits
such as theology and literature.

Inductive and Deductive Reasoning
One wellspring of sociological insight is deductive
reasoning. When sociologists use deductive reasoning,
they create a specific research question about a focused

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DoINg SoCIologICa l R ES EaRC H  5 9

point that is based on a more general or universal prin-
ciple (see ▲ Figure 3.1). Here is an example of deductive
reasoning: One might reason that because Catholic doc-
trine forbids abortion, Catholics would then be less likely
than other religious groups to support abortion rights. This
notion is “deduced” from a general principle (Catholic
doctrine). You could test this notion (the research ques-
tion) via a survey. As it turns out, the testing of this research
question shows that it is incorrect: Surveys show that Cath-
olics as a group are on average more likely to support abor-
tion rights than are other religious groups. That may come
to you as a bit of a surprise! That is why we do research.

Inductive reasoning—another source of socio-
logical insight—reverses this logic: That is, it arrives at
general conclusions from specific observations. For
example, if you observe that most of the demonstra-
tors protesting abortion in front of a family planning
clinic are evangelical Christians, you might infer that
strongly held religious beliefs are important in deter-
mining human behavior. Again, referring to Figure 3.1,
inductive reasoning would begin with one’s observa-
tions. Either way—deductively or inductively—you are
engaged in research.

Research Design
When sociologists do research, they engage in a process
of discovery. They organize their research questions
and procedures systematically—their research site
being the social world. Through research, sociologists
organize their observations and interpret them.

Developing a Research Question
Sociological research is an organized practice that
can be described in a series of steps (see Figure 3.1).
The first step in sociological research is to develop a
research question. One source of research questions is
past research. For any number of reasons, the sociolo-
gist might disagree with a research finding and decide
to carry out further research or develop a detailed criti-
cism of previous research. A research question can also
begin from an observation that you make in everyday
life, such as wondering about the lives of homeless
people.

Developing a sociological research question typi-
cally involves reviewing existing studies on the subject,
such as past research reports or articles. This process is
often called a literature review. Digital technology has
vastly simplified the task of reviewing past studies, that
is, the “literature.” Researchers who once had to bur-
row through paper indexes and card catalogs to find
material relevant to their studies can now scan much
larger swaths of material in far less time using online
databases. The catalogs of most major libraries in the
world are accessible on the Internet, as are specialized
indexes, professional research journals, discussion
groups, and other research tools developed to assist
sociological researchers.

Increasingly, many journals that report new socio-
logical research are now available online in full-text
format, such as on JSTOR (for “journal storage”), or
Sociological Abstracts. You must be careful using the
Internet for research, however. How do you know when

General theory

Data
collection

Research
design and literature

review

Research
question

Conclusions

Data
analysis

▲ Figure 3.1 The Research Process
Research can begin by asking a research
question derived from general theory or
earlier studies, but it can also begin with an
observation or even from the conclusion of
prior research. One’s research question is the
basis for a research design and the subse-
quent collection of data. As this figure shows,
the steps in the research process flow logi-
cally from what is being asked (figure based
on Babbie 2013; Wallace 1983, 1971).

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60   CH a PT ER 3

something found on the web is valid or true? A lot of
what is found on the web is of questionable accuracy,
that is, unsubstantiated by accurate research or empiri-
cal study. Pay attention, for example, to what person or
group has posted the website. Is it a political organi-
zation? An organization promoting a cause? A person
expressing an opinion? See the box “A Sociological Eye
on the Media: Research and the Media” on pages 62–63
for some guidelines about interpreting what you see on
the web and in the media.

When you review prior research, you may wonder
if the same results would be found if the study were
repeated, perhaps examining a different group or study-
ing the phenomenon at a different time. Research that
is repeated exactly, but on a different group of people or
in a different time or place, is called a replication study.
Suppose earlier research found that women managers
have fewer opportunities for promotion than do men.
You might want to know if this still holds true. You
would then replicate the original study, probably using
a different group of women and men managers, but ask-
ing the same questions that were asked earlier. A repli-
cation study can tell you what changes have occurred
since the original study and may also refine the results
of the earlier work. Research findings should be repro-
ducible: If the research is sound, other researchers who
repeat a study should get the same results, unless, of
course, some identifiable change, or no identifiable
change, has occurred in the interim.

Sociological research questions can also come
from casual observation of human behavior. Perhaps
you have observed the seating patterns in your college
dining hall at lunch and wondered why people sit with
the same group day after day. Does the answer point to
similarity among the people on the basis of race, gen-
der, age, or perhaps political views—or maybe any two
or all of these? Answering this question would be an
example of inductive reasoning—going from a specific

observation (such as seating patterns at lunch) to a
generalization (a theory about the effects of race and
gender). Researcher Beverly Tatum (1997) found that
seating patterns in a college dining room depended
heavily upon race and also gender.

Creating a Research Design
A research design is the overall logic and strategy
underlying a research project. Sociologists engaged
in research may distribute questionnaires, interview
people, or make direct observations in a social set-
ting or laboratory. They might analyze cultural arti-
facts, such as magazines, newspapers, television
shows, or other media. Some do research using his-
torical records. Others base their work on the analy-
sis of social policy. All these are forms of sociological
observation. Research design consists of choosing the
observational technique best suited to a particular
research question.

→Thinking Sociologically
If you wanted to conduct research that would examine the
relationship between student alcohol use and family back-
ground, what measures, or indicators, would you use to get
at the two variables: alcohol use and family background?
How might you design your study?

Suppose you wanted to study the career goals
of student athletes. In reviewing earlier studies, per-
haps you found research discussing how athletics
is related to academic achievement (Messner 2011,
1992; Schacht 1996). You might also have read an
article in your student newspaper reporting that the
rate of graduation for women college athletes is much
higher than the rate for men athletes and wondered
if women athletes are better students than men ath-
letes. In other words, are athletic participation, aca-
demic achievement, and gender interrelated, and if
so, how?

Your research design would lay out a plan for inves-
tigating these questions. Which athletes would you
study? How will you study them? To begin, you will need
to get sound data on the graduation rates of the groups
you are studying to verify that your assumption of better
graduation rates among women athletes is actually true.
Perhaps, you think, the differences between men and
women are not so great when the men and women play
the same sports. Or perhaps the differences depend on
other factors, such as what kind of financial support they
get or whether coaches encourage academic success. To
observe the influence of coaches, you might observe
interactions between coaches and student athletes,
recording what coaches say about class work. As you

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Im

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oc

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The research process involves several operations that can be
performed on the computer, such as entering data in numer-
ical form and writing findings in a research report.

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DoIN g SoCI ologICal R ES EaRC H  61

proceed, you would probably refine your research
design and even your research question. Do coaches
encourage different traits in men and women athletes?
To answer this question, you have to build into your
research design a comparison of coaches interacting
with men and with women. Perhaps you even want to
compare female and male coaches and how they inter-
act with women and men. The details of your research
design flow from the specific questions you ask.

Quantitative versus Qualitative
Research
The research design often involves deciding whether
the research will be qualitative or quantitative or per-
haps some combination of both. Quantitative research
is that which uses numerical analysis. In essence, this
approach reduces the data into numbers, for exam-
ple, the percentage of teenage mothers in California.
Qualitative research is somewhat less structured
than quantitative research, yet still focuses on a central
research question. Qualitative research allows for more
interpretation and nuance in what people say and do
and thus can provide an in-depth look at a particular
social behavior. Both forms of research are useful, and
both are used extensively in sociology.

Some research designs involve the testing of
hypotheses. A hypothesis (pronounced “hy-POTH-i-
sis”) is a prediction or a hunch, a tentative assumption
that one intends to test. If you have a research design

that calls for the investigation of a very specific hunch,
you might formulate a hypothesis. Hypotheses are often
formulated as if–then statements. For example:

Hypothesis: If a person’s parents are racially preju-
diced, then that person will, on average, be more preju-
diced than a person whose parents are relatively free
of prejudice.

This is merely a hypothesis or expectation, not a
demonstration of fact. Having phrased a hypothesis,
the sociologist must then determine if it is true or false.
To test the preceding example, one might take a large
sample of people and determine their prejudice level
by interviews or some other mechanism. One would
then determine the prejudice level of their parents,
perhaps by interviewing their parents. (One would, of
course, have to develop a questionnaire beforehand
that accurately measures “prejudice.”) According to
the hypothesis, one would expect to find more preju-
diced children among prejudiced parents and more
nonprejudiced children among nonprejudiced par-
ents. If this association is found, the hypothesis is sup-
ported. If it is not found, then the hypothesis would be
rejected.

Not all sociological research follows the model of
hypothesis testing, but all research does include a plan
for how data will be gathered. (Note that data is the
plural form; one says, “data are used . . . ,” not “data is
used. . . .”) Data can be qualitative or quantitative; either
way, they are still data. Sociologists often try to convert
their observations into a quantitative form (see the
“Statistics in Sociology” box later in this chapter).

Sociologists frequently design research to test the
influence of one variable on another. A variable is a
characteristic of a person or group that can have more
than one value or score. The notion of “a variable” is
very central to sociological research. A variable can be
relatively straightforward, such as age or income, or a
variable may be more abstract, such as social class or
degree of prejudice. In much sociological research,
variables are analyzed to understand how they influ-
ence each other. With proper measurement techniques
and a good research design, the relationships between
different variables can be discerned. In the example of
student athletes given previously, the variables you use
would likely be student graduation rates, gender, and
perhaps the sport played. In the hypothesis about race
prejudice, parental prejudice and their child’s prejudice
would be the two variables you would study.

An independent variable is one that the researcher
wants to test as the presumed cause of something else.
The dependent variable is one on which there is a pre-
sumed effect. That is, if X is the independent variable,
then X leads to Y, the dependent variable. In the previous
example of the  hypothesis, the amount of prejudice of
the parent is the independent variable, and the amount
of prejudice of the child is the dependent variable.

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Some research is done by analyzing the content of various
cultural artifacts. Content analysis is one tool of sociological
research.

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62   CH aPTER 3

In some sociological research, intervening variables—
variables that fall between the independent and depen-
dent variables (see ▲ Figure 3.2)—are also studied.

Sociological research proceeds through the study
of concepts. A concept is any abstract characteristic or
attribute that can potentially be measured. Social class
and social power are concepts. These are not things that
can be seen directly, although they are key concepts in
the field of sociology. When sociologists want to study
concepts, they must develop ways of “seeing” them.

Variables are sometimes used to show more abstract
concepts that cannot be directly measured, such as the
concept of social class. In such cases the variables stud-
ied are indicators—something that points to or reflects
an abstract concept. An indicator is a way of “seeing”
a concept. An example is shown in ■ Map 3.1 (later in

On any given day, if you watch the news,
read a newspaper, or search the web,
you are likely to learn about various
new research studies purporting some
new finding. How do you know if the
research results reported in the media
are accurate?

Most people are not likely to check
the details of the study or have the
research skills to verify the study’s
claims. But one benefit of learning the
basic concepts and tools of sociological
research is to be able to critically assess
and judge the research frequently
reported in the media. The following
questions will help:

1. What are the major variables in
the study? Are the researchers
claiming a causal connection
between two or more variables?
For example, the press reported
that one way parents can reduce the
chances of their children becom-
ing sexually active at an early age
is to quit smoking (O’Neil 2002).
The researcher who conducted this
study actually claimed there was no
direct link between parental smoking
and teen sex, although she did find
a correlation between parents’ risky
behaviors—smoking, heavy drinking,
and not using seat belts—and
children’s sexual activity. She argued
that parents who engage in unsafe

Research and the Media
activities provide a model for their
children’s own risky behavior (Wilder
and Watt 2002).

Just because there is a link, or
“correlation,” between two variables
does not necessarily mean one
caused the other. Seeing paren-
tal behavior as a model for what
children do is hardly the same thing
as seeing parents’ smoking as the
cause of early sexual activity!

2. How have researchers defined and
measured the major topics of their
study? For example, if someone
claims that 10 percent of all people
are gay, how is “being gay” defined?
Does it mean having had only one
such experience over one’s entire
lifetime or does it mean actually hav-
ing a gay identity? Does the definition
include both gay and lesbian behav-
ior? Does it also include bisexual
behavior? The difference matters
because a particular definition may
inflate the number reported. Some-
times you must look up the original
study, which may be online, to learn
how things are defined or how they
are measured. Ask yourself if the
same conclusions would be reached
had the researchers used different
definitions and measurements.

3. Is the research based on a truly
representative scientific sample,

or is it a biased sample? You might
have to go to the original source of
the study to learn this, but often the
sample will be reported in the press
(even if in nonscientific language).
For example, a study widely reported
in the media had headlines exclaim-
ing “Study Links Working Mothers to
Slower Learning” (Lewin 2002). But
if you read the news report closely,
you will learn that this study included
only White, non-Hispanic families.
Black and Hispanic children were
dropped from some of the published
results because there were too
few cases in the sample to make
meaningful statistical comparisons,
thus resulting in a biased sample
(Brooks-Gunn et al. 2002). Another
study by the same research team
found that there were no significant
effects of mother’s employment on
children’s intellectual development
among African American or Hispanic
children (Waldfogel et al. 2002).
The point is not that the study is
invalid, but that its results have more
limited implications than the head-
lines suggest.

4. Is there false generalization in the
media report? Often a study has
more limited claims in the scientific
version than what is reported in
the media. Using the example just
given about the connection between
maternal employment and children’s

a sociological eye on the media

Independent
variable
(X )

Dependent
variable
(Y )

Intervening
variable
(Z )

▲ Figure 3.2 The analysis of Variables Much socio-
logical research seeks to find out whether some independent
variable (X) affects an intervening variable (Z), which in turn
affects a dependent variable (Y).

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Do INg SoCIologICal R ES EaRC H  63

this chapter) using the United Nations’ Human Devel-
opment Index. Here, the Human Development Index
is composed of several indicators, including life expec-
tancy and educational attainment, combined to show
levels of well-being. “Level of well-being” is the concept.

The validity of a measurement (an indicator) is the
degree to which it accurately measures or reflects a con-
cept. To ensure the validity of their findings, research-
ers usually use more than one indicator for a particular
concept. If two or more chosen measures of a concept
give similar results, it is likely that the measurements are
giving an accurate—that is, valid—depiction of the con-
cept. For example, using a person’s occupation, years of

formal education, and annual earnings—namely, using
three indicators of her or his social class—would likely
be more valid than using only one indicator.

Sociologists also must be concerned with the
reliability of their research results. A measurement
is reliable if repeating the measurement under the
same circumstances gives the same result. If a person
is given a survey or test two or three times and every
time the test gives different results, then the reliability
of the test is poor. One way to ensure that sociological
measurements are reliable is to use measures that have
proved sound in past studies. Another technique is to
have a variety of people gather the data to make certain

learning, it would be a big mistake to
generalize from the study’s results to
all children and families. Remember
that some groups were not included.

5. Can the study be replicated?
“Replication” means “accurately
repeated.” Unless there is full dis-
closure of the research methodology
(that is, how the study was con-
ducted), this will not be possible. But
you can ask yourself how the study
was conducted, whether the pro-
cedures used were reasonable and
logical, and whether the researchers
made good decisions in constructing
their research question and research
design. If possible, you might be able
to obtain the original study upon
which the media coverage was based.

6. Who sponsored the study and do
they have a vested interest in the
study’s results? Find out if a group
or organization with a particular
vested interest in the outcome
sponsors the research. For example,
would you give as much validity to
a study of environmental pollu-
tion that was funded and secretly
conducted by a chemical company
as you would to a study on the same
topic conducted by independent
scientists who openly report their
research methods and results and
who had no connection with the
chemical company? Research spon-
sored by interested parties does not

necessarily negate research findings,
but it can raise questions about
the researchers’ objectivity and the
standards of inquiry they used.

7. Who benefits from the study’s
conclusions? Although this question
does not necessarily challenge the
study’s findings, it can help you think
about whom the findings are likely
to help.

8. What assumptions did the
researchers have to make to
ask the question they did? For
example, if you started from the
assumption that poverty is not the
individual’s fault but is the result of
how society is structured, would
you study the values of the poor or
perhaps the values of policymakers?
When research studies explore mat-
ters where social values influence
people’s opinions, it is especially
important to identify the assump-
tions made by certain questions.

9. What are the implications of the
study’s claims? Thinking through
the policy implications of a given
result can often help you see things
in a new light, particularly given how
the media tend to sensationalize
much of what is reported.

Consider the study of maternal
employment and children’s intellec-
tual development examined in ques-
tion 3 above. If you take the media
headlines at face value, you might

leap to the conclusion that work-
ing mothers hurt their children’s
intellectual development, and you
might then think it would be best if
mothers quit their jobs and stayed
at home. But is this a reasonable
implication of this study? Does the
study not have just as many implica-
tions for day-care policies as it
does for encouraging stay-at-home
mothers? Especially when reported
research studies involve politically
charged topics (such as issues of
“family values”; or even something
like “gun control”), it is important to
ask questions that explore various
implications of social policies.

10. Do these questions mean you
should never believe anything you
hear in the media? Of course not.
Thinking critically about research
does not mean being negative or
cynical about everything you hear
or read. The point is not to reject
all media claims out of hand, but
instead to be able to evaluate good
versus bad research. All research
has limitations. Learning the basic
tools of research, even if you never
conduct research yourself or pursue
career where you would use such
skills, can make you a better-
informed citizen and prevent you
from being duped by claims that are
neither scientifically nor sociologi-
cally valid.

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64   CH aPTER 3

the results are not skewed by the tester’s appearance,
personality, and so forth. The researcher must be sensi-
tive to all factors that affect the reliability of a study.

Sometimes sociologists want to gather data that
would almost certainly be unreliable if the subjects
(the people in the study) knew they were being studied.
Knowing that they are being studied might cause people
to change their behavior, a phenomenon in research
known as the Hawthorne effect, an effect first discovered
while observing work groups at a Western Electric plant
in Hawthorne, Illinois. The work groups mysteriously
increased their productivity (the dependent variable)
right after they were observed by the researchers—an
effect not noticed at first by the researchers themselves.
An example of this effect would be a professor who
wants to measure student attentiveness by observing
how many notes are taken during class. Students who
know they are being scrutinized will magically become
more diligent! (In the natural sciences, such as physics,
the effect of studying or observing something upon that
which is being studied is called the Heisenberg Principle
of Indeterminacy, named after the German physicist

Werner Heisenberg, who first noted it: By studying an
object, you change it and thus cannot know its exact state
before it was studied. Note that in sociology participant
observation of the covert type, for example, is designed
to get around this problem.)

Gathering Data
After research design comes data collection. During this
stage of the research process, the researcher interviews
people, observes behaviors, or collects facts that throw light
on the research question. When sociologists gather origi-
nal material, the product is known as primary data. Exam-
ples include the answers to questionnaires or notes made
while observing group behavior. Sociologists often rely on
secondary data, namely data that have already been gath-
ered and organized by some other party. This can include
national opinion polls, census data, national crime statis-
tics, or data from an earlier study made available by the
original researcher. Secondary data may also come from
official sources, such as university records, city or county
records, national health statistics, or historical records.

Viewing Society in Global Perspective: Human Development Index
Data: United Nations. 2012. International
Human Development Indicators 2013
http://www.undp.org/content/undp
/en/home/librarypage/corporate
/undp_in_action_2010.html

The Human Development Index is
a series of indicators developed by
the United Nations and used to show
the differing levels of well-being in
nations around the world. The index is

calculated using a number of indicators,
including life expectancy, educational
attainment, and standard of living. (Are
these reasonable indicators of well-
being? What else might you use?)

map 3.1

Medium
Low
No data

Very high
High

HDI: Human Development Index (HDI) Value (2011)

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Do INg SoCIologICal R ES EaRC H  65

When gathering data, often the groups that sociolo-
gists want to study are so large or so dispersed that research
on the whole group is impossible. To construct a picture
of the entire group, sociologists take data from a subset of
the group and extrapolate to get a picture of the whole. A
sample is any subset of people (or groups or categories) of
a population. A population is a relatively large collection
of people (or groups or categories) that a researcher stud-
ies and about which generalizations are made. Suppose
a sociologist wants to study the students at your school.
All the students together constitute the population being
studied. A survey could be done that reached every stu-
dent, but conducting a detailed interview with every stu-
dent would be highly impractical. If the sociologist wants
the sort of information that can be gathered only during
a personal interview, she would study only a portion, or
sample, of all the students at your school.

How is it possible to draw accurate conclusions
about a population by studying only part of it? The
secret lies in making sure that the sample is represen-
tative of the population as a whole. The sample should
have the same mix of people as the larger population
and in the same proportions. If the sample is represen-
tative, then the researcher can generalize what she finds
from the sample to the entire population. For example,
if she interviews a sample of 100 students and finds that
10 percent of them are in favor of a tuition increase, and
if the sample is representative of the population, then she
can conclude that about 10 percent of all the students at
your school are in favor of a tuition increase. Note that a
sample of 5 or 6 students would probably result in gener-
alizations of poor quality, because the sample is not large
enough to be representative. A biased (nonrepresenta-
tive) sample can lead to grossly inaccurate conclusions.

The best way to ensure a representative sample is
to make certain that the sample population is selected
randomly. A scientific random sample gives everyone
in the population an equal chance of being selected.
Quite often, striking and controversial research find-
ings prove to be distorted by inadequate sampling. The
man-on-the-street survey, much favored by TV and
radio news reports, and certain other media as well, is
the least scientific type of sample and the least repre-
sentative. (The person-on-the-street sample includes
only those who were available at that particular time
and place and thus ignores those who were not there.)

Analyzing the Data
After the data have been collected, whether primary or
secondary data, they must be analyzed. Data analysis
is the process by which sociologists organize collected
data to discover the patterns and uniformities that the
data reveal. The analysis may be statistical or qualita-
tive. When the data analysis is completed, conclusions
and generalizations can be made.

Data analysis is labor intensive, but it is also an excit-
ing phase of research. Here is where research discover-
ies are made. Sometimes while pursuing one question,
a researcher will stumble across an unexpected finding,
referred to by researchers as serendipity. A serendipi-
tous finding is something that emerges from a study that
was not anticipated, perhaps the discovery of an associ-
ation between two variables that the researcher was not
looking for or some pattern of behavior that was outside
the scope of the research design. Such findings can be
minor sidelines to the researcher’s major conclusions
or, in some cases, lead to major new discoveries. They
are part of the excitement of doing sociological research.

A good example of serendipity involved the “Baby
Einstein” early intervention program (see the box “Doing
Sociological Research: The ‘Baby Einstein’ Program”).
This program promised to dramatically increase early
infant language development by means of exposing very
young children (two years old or younger) to various vid-
eos (DVDs). It was later discovered that the videos actually
inhibited language development in children of this age!

Reaching Conclusions and
Reporting Results
The final stage in research is developing conclusions,
relating findings to sociological theory and past research,
and reporting the findings. An important question
researchers will ask at this stage is whether their find-
ings can be generalized. Generalization is the ability to
draw conclusions from specific data and to apply them
to a broader population. Researchers ask, do my results
apply only to those people who were studied, or do they
also apply to the broader population beyond? Assuming

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it

a census taker interviews a man in his home.

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6 6   CH aPTER 3

that the results have wide application, the researcher can
then ask if the findings refine or refute existing theories
and whether the research has direct application to practi-
cal social issues. Using the earlier example of the relation-
ship between parent and offspring prejudice, if you found
that racially prejudiced people did tend to have racially
prejudiced parents (thus supporting your hypothesis),
then you might report these results in a paper or research
report. You might also ask, what kinds of programs for
reducing prejudice do the results of your study suggest?

The Tools of Sociological
Research
There are several tools or techniques sociologists use
to gather data. Among the most widely used are survey
research, participant observation, controlled experi-
ments, content analysis, historical research, and evalu-
ation research.

The Survey: Polls, Questionnaires,
and Interviews
Whether in the form of a questionnaire, interview, or
telephone poll, surveys are among the most commonly
used tools of sociological research. Questionnaires are
typically distributed to a large group of people. The
return rate is the percentage of questionnaires returned
out of all those distributed or initially requested. A low
return rate introduces possible bias because the small
number of responses may not be representative of the
whole group.

Like questionnaires, interviews provide a struc-
tured way to ask people questions. They may be con-
ducted face to face, by phone, or electronically, as by
mail (email) or even Facebook. Interview questions
may be open-ended or closed-ended, though the open-
ended form is particularly accommodating if respon-
dents wish to elaborate.

Typically, a survey questionnaire will solicit data
about the respondent (the person you are studying),
such as income, occupation or employment status
(employed or unemployed), years of formal education,
yearly income, age, race, and gender, coupled with
additional questions that throw light upon a particular
research question. For closed-ended questions, people
must reply from a list of possible answers, like a multi-
ple-choice test. For open-ended questions, respondents
are allowed to elaborate on their answer. Closed-ended
questions are generally (though not always) analyzed
quantitatively, and open-ended questions are generally
(though not always) analyzed qualitatively. Thus a survey
can involve both qualitative and quantitative research.
Researchers may wish to analyze survey data that have
already been collected by someone else. If a researcher

has access to these original data, then the researcher may
wish to engage in analysis of it. This is called secondary
analysis, namely analysis of data that have already been
collected. Secondary analysis has some advantages over
collecting one’s own data (called primary data analysis):
It generally takes less time to do, and it can permit analy-
sis of a very large sample of people.

As a research tool, surveys make it possible to ask
specific questions about a large number of topics and
then to perform sophisticated analyses to find patterns
and relationships among variables. The disadvantages
of surveys arise from their rigidity. Responses may not
accurately capture the opinions of respondents or may
fail to capture nuances in people’s behavior and atti-
tudes. Also, what people say and what they do are not
always the same. Survey researchers must be persistent
in order to get answers that are truthful—one reason
for allowing respondents to be anonymous. Survey
researchers sometimes get at this problem by asking
essentially the same question in different ways. In this
way, validity is increased.

Participant Observation
A unique and interesting way for sociologists to col-
lect data and study society is to actually become part
of the group they are studying. This is the method of
participant observation. (Nonparticipant observation
is also used as a technique for research. For example,
one may wish to study a work group in a factory with-
out actually participating in the group itself.) Two roles
are played at the same time: subjective participant and
objective observer. Usually, the group is aware that the
sociologist is studying them, but not always. Partici-
pant observation is sometimes called field research, a
term borrowed from anthropology.

Participant observation combines subjective knowl-
edge gained through personal involvement and objec-
tive knowledge acquired by disciplined recording of
what one has seen. The subjective component supplies
a dimension of information that is lacking in survey data.

Debunking Society’s Myths←
Myth: People who are just hanging out together and relax-
ing don’t care much about social differences between them.
Sociological Research: Even casual groups have organized
social hierarchies. That is, they make distinctions within the
group that give some people higher status than others. This
has been shown in participant observation studies such as
Duneier’s (1999) study of the homeless on New York City’s
lower East Side; in anderson’s (1976) study of the people
just hanging out in “Jelly’s Bar”; in anderson’s (1999) “Code
of the Street” study, which showed a rigid hierarchy among
those engaged in street crime; and in alice goffman’s
(2009) study of people “on the run” from the law.

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DoINg SoCIologICa l R ES Ea RC H  67

Street Corner Society (1943), a classic work by
sociologist William Foote Whyte, documents one
of the first qualitative participant observation stud-
ies ever done. Whyte studied the “Cornerville gang,”
a group of Italian American men whose territory
was a street corner in Boston in the late 1930s and
early 1940s. Although not Italian, Whyte learned to
speak the language, lived with an Italian family, and
then infiltrated the gang by befriending the gang’s
leader, whose pseudonym was “Doc.” Doc was the
informant for Whyte, a person with whom the par-
ticipant observer works closely in order to learn about
the group. For the duration of the study, Doc was the
only gang member who knew that Whyte was doing
research on his gang. This represents what is called
covert participant observation, in which the mem-
bers of the group being studied do not know that
they are being researched. This is one means of try-
ing to reduce the Hawthorne effect. (If the group is
told that they are being studied and that they are the
research subjects, then it is called overt participant
observation. Sometimes the group members inad-
vertently find out that they are research subjects and
may become angry because of the discovery. In this
case, covert participant observation is by accident
transformed into overt participant observation.)

Most social scientists of the 1940s and 1950s
thought gangs were socially disorganized, random devi-
ant groups, but Whyte’s study showed otherwise—as
have participant observation studies since then, nota-
bly those of Anderson (1976, 1990, 1999) and Goffman
(2009), as examples. He found that the Cornerville gang,
and by implication other urban street corner gangs as
well, was a highly organized mini-society with its own
social hierarchy (social stratification), morals, prac-
tices, and punishments (sanctions) for deviating from
the norms of the gang.

There are a few built-in weaknesses to partici-
pant observation as a research technique. We already
mentioned that it is very time-consuming. Participant
observers have to cull data from vast amounts of notes.
Such studies usually focus on fairly small groups, posing
problems of generalization. Participant observation can
also pose real physical dangers to the researcher, such
as being “found out” or “outed” if one is studying a street
gang using covert participant observation (Sanchez-
Jankowski 1991). Observers may also lose their objectiv-
ity by becoming too much a part of what they study. If
this happens—the observer becomes so much a part of
the group that she or he is no longer a scientific observer
but rather a participant—it is called “going native” and is
seen as one of the disadvantages of participant observa-
tion research. These limitations aside, participant obser-
vation has been the source of some of the most arresting
and valuable studies in sociology (see for example,
“Doing Sociological Research: A Cop in the Hood”).

Controlled Experiments
Controlled experiments are highly focused ways of
collecting data and are especially useful for determin-
ing a pattern of cause and effect. To conduct a controlled
experiment, two groups are created, an experimental
group, which is exposed to the factor or variable one
is examining, and the control group, which is not. In a
controlled experiment, external influences are either
eliminated or equalized, that is, held constant, between
the experimental and the control group. This is neces-
sary to establish cause and effect.

Suppose you wanted to study whether violent
television programming causes aggressive behavior
in children. You could conduct a controlled experi-
ment to investigate this question. The behavior of
children would be the dependent variable (variable
Y); the independent variable (variable X) is whether
or not the children are exposed to violent program-
ming. To investigate your question, you would expose
an experimental group of children (under monitored
conditions) to a movie containing lots of violence
(ultimate fighting, for example, or gunfighting). The
control group would watch a movie that is free of vio-
lence. Beforehand, the children would be assigned
randomly to the experimental group or the control
group (this is called experimental randomization) in
order to make the composition of the two groups as
much alike as possible. Aggressiveness in the children
(the dependent variable) would be measured twice:
a pretest measurement made before the movies are
shown and a posttest measurement made afterward.
You would take pretest and posttest measures on both
the control and the experimental groups. Studies of
this sort actually find that the children who watched

The men in this bar, as shown by anderson’s (1976) classic
participant observation study of “Jelly’s Bar” in A Place on
the Corner, have status differences among themselves that
they create, such as (in descending status order) “regulars,”
“hoodlums,” and “winos.”

M
ar

k
Ri

ch
ar

ds
/P

ho
to

Ed
it

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6 8   CH aPTER 3

the violent movie are indeed more violent and aggres-
sive afterward than those who watched a movie con-
taining no violence (Taylor et al. 2013; Worchel et al.
2000; Bushman 1998).

Among its advantages, a controlled experiment
can establish causation, and it can zero in on a single
independent variable. On the downside, controlled
experiments can be artificial. They are for the most part
performed in a contrived laboratory setting (unless it
is what is called a field experiment), and they tend to
eliminate many real-life effects. Analysis of controlled

experiments includes making judgments about how
much the artificial setting has affected the results (see
◆ Table 3.1).

Content Analysis
Researchers can learn a vast amount about a society by
analyzing cultural artifacts such as newspapers, maga-
zines, TV programs, Internet, or popular music. Content
analysis is a way of measuring by examining the cultural
artifacts of what people write, say, see, and hear. The

Certain fundamental statistical concepts are basic to socio-
logical research. Although not all sociologists do quantita-
tive research, basic statistics are important to carrying out
and interpreting sociological studies.

A percentage is the same as parts per hundred. To say
that 22 percent of U.S. children are poor tells you that for
every 100 children randomly selected from the whole popu-
lation, approximately 22 will be poor. A rate is the same
as parts per some number, such as per 10,000 or 100,000.
The homicide rate in 2009 was about 7.2, meaning that for
every 100,000 people in the population, approximately 7
were murdered. A rate is meaningless without knowing the
numeric base on which it is founded; it is always the num-
ber per some other number.

A mean is the same as an average. Adding a list of fif-
teen numbers and dividing by fifteen gives the mean. The
median is often confused with the mean but is actually
quite different. The median is the midpoint in a series of
values arranged in numeric order. In a list of fifteen num-
bers arrayed in numeric order, the eighth number (the
middle number) is the median. In some cases, the median
is a better measure than the mean because the mean can
be skewed (“pulled” up or down) by extremes at either
end. Another often-used measure is the mode, which is
simply the value (or score) that appears most frequently
in a set of data.

Let’s illustrate the difference between mean and median
using national income distribution as an example. Suppose
that you have a group of ten people. Two make $10,000 per
year, seven make $40,000 per year, and one makes $1 million
per year. If you calculate the mean (the average), it comes
to $130,000. The median, on the other hand, is $40,000, a
figure that more accurately suggests the income profile of
the group. That single million-a-year earner dramatically
distorts, or skews, the picture of the group’s income. If we
want information about how the group in general lives, we
are wiser to use the median income figure as a rough guide,
not the mean. Note also that in this example the mode is the
same as the median: $40,000.

Sociologists frequently examine the relationship between
two variables. Correlation is a widely used technique for
analyzing the patterns of association, or correlation, between
pairs of variables such as income and education. We might
begin with a questionnaire that asks for annual earnings
(which we designate as the dependent variable, Y) and level of
education (the independent variable, X). Correlation analysis
delivers two types of information: It tells us the “direction” of
the relationship between X and Y and also the “strength” of
that relationship. The direction of a relationship is positive
(that is, a positive correlation exists) if X is low when Y is low
and if X is high when Y is high. But there is also a correlation
if Y is low when X is high (or vice versa); this is a negative, or
inverse, correlation. The strength of a correlation is simply how
closely or tightly the variables are associated, regardless of the
direction of correlation. With this example, you might well
find a positive correlation between education (X) and annual
earnings (Y), and we would also be interested in the strength
of this correlation.

A correlation does not necessarily imply cause and effect.
A correlation is simply an association, one whose cause must
be explained by means other than simple correlation analysis.
A spurious correlation exists when there is no meaningful
causal connection between apparently associated variables.

A good example of a spurious (“false”) correlation is the
finding that the murder rate (Y) in Denver, Colorado, dropped
50 percent as a result of the legalization of marijuana. The con-
clusion that the legalization of marijuana caused the drop in
murder rate could well be—and probably is—spurious (false).
Some third variable, such as a decline in unemployment or a
decrease in domestic violence, could have caused a drop in
the murder rate.

Another widely used method of analyzing sociological
data is cross-tabulation, a way of seeing if two variables are
related by breaking them down into categories for compari-
son. Take the following example. In a Gallup Poll (2012), the
following question was asked: “Do you feel that the laws
covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, or
less strict? “The following results, a cross-tabulation of answers

Statistics in Sociology

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Do INg SoCIologICal R ES EaRC H  69

researcher studies not people but the communications
the people produce as a way of creating a picture of their
society.

Content analysis is frequently used to measure
cultural change and to study different aspects of
culture (Lamont 1992). Sociologists also use con-
tent analysis as an indirect way to determine how
social groups are perceived—they might examine,
for example, how Asian Americans are depicted in
television dramas or how women are depicted in
advertisements.

Children’s books have been the subject of many
content analyses. In acknowledgment of their impact
on the development of youngsters, a team of sociolo-
gists compared images of Black Americans in children’s
books from the 1930s to the present (Pescosolido et al.
1997). They obtained three important findings: First, they
found a declining representation of African Americans
from the 1930s through the 1950s, with practically no rep-
resentation from 1950 through 1964. Beginning in 1964,
an increase in representation lasted until the mid-1970s,
when the appearance of African American characters

to the question (the dependent variable) by gender (the inde-
pendent variable) were obtained:

More Strict: Less Strict:

Women: 74% 26%

Men: 53% 47%

Source: www.gallup.com

As you can see from this cross-tabulation, women and men
differed on the question. In general, women wanted more
strict laws than did men. This means that the two variables—
gender and the answer to the question—are related.

At press time for this edition of this textbook, the
now-infamous massacre of 20 first-grade children in a
Connecticut school with an assault rifle and automatic
pistols had just taken place. This horrific incident is dis-
cussed in Chapter 7. Preliminary evidence suggests that the
percentage of both women and men wanting more strict
gun control will increase.

Statistical information is notoriously easy to misinter-
pret, willfully or accidentally. Examples of some statistical
mistakes include the following:

●● Citing a correlation as a cause. A correlation reveals an
association between things (variables). Correlations do
not necessarily indicate that one causes the other. Sociolo-
gists often say: “Correlation is not proof of causation.”

●● Overgeneralizing. Statistical findings are limited by
the extent to which the sample group actually reflects
or represents the population from which the sample
was obtained. Generalizing beyond the population is a
misuse of statistics. Studying only men and then gener-
alizing conclusions to both men and women would be
an example of overgeneralizing. This kind of mistake is
fairly common in the media and also in some sociologi-
cal research.

●● Interpreting probability as certainty. Probability is
a statement about chance or likelihood only. For

example, in the cross-tabulation given previously,
women are more likely than men to favor strict gun
control. This means that women have a higher prob-
ability (a greater chance) of favoring strict gun control
than men; it does not mean that all women favor strict
gun control or that all men do not.

●● Building in bias. In a famous advertising campaign,
public taste tests were offered between two soft drinks.
A wily journalist verified that in at least one site, the
brand sold by the sponsor of the test was a few degrees
colder (thus presumably better tasting) than its com-
petitor when it was given to the people being tested,
which biased the results. Bias can also be built into
studies by careless wording on questionnaires.

●● Faking data. Perhaps one of the worse misuses of sta-
tistics is actually making up, or faking, data. A famous
instance of this occurred in a study of identical twins
who were separated early in life and raised apart (Burt
1966). The researcher wished to show that despite their
separation, the twins remained highly similar in certain
traits, such as measured intelligence (IQ), thus sug-
gesting that their (identical) genes caused their striking
similarity in intelligence. It was later shown that the
data were fabricated (Mackintosh 1995; Taylor 1980;
Hearnshaw 1979; Kamin 1974).

●● Using data selectively. Sometimes a survey includes
many questions, but the researcher reports on only
a few of the answers. Doing so makes it quite easy to
misstate the findings. Researchers often do not report
findings that show no association between variables,
but these can be just as telling as associations that do
exist. For example, researchers on gender differences
typically report the differences they find between men
and women, but seldom publish their findings when
the results for men and women are identical. This tends
to exaggerate the differences between women and men
and falsely confirms certain social stereotypes about
gender differences.

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70   CH aPTER 3

◆ Table 3.1 Comparison of Six Research Techniques

Technique (Tool)
Qualitative Analysis
or Quantitative Analysis Advantages Disadvantages

The survey (polls,
questionnaires,
interviews)

Usually quantitative,
often qualitative

Permits the study of a large
number of variables; results
can be generalized to a larger
population if sampling is accurate

Difficult to focus in great depth
on a few variables; difficult
to measure subtle nuances
in people’s attitudes

Participant
observation

Usually qualitative Studies actual behavior in its
home setting; affords great
depth of inquiry

Is very time-consuming; dif-
ficult to generalize beyond the
research setting

Controlled
experiment

Usually quantitative Focuses on only two or three
variables; able to study cause
and effect

Difficult or impossible to
measure large number of
variables; may have an
artificial quality

Content analysis Can be either qualitative 
or quantitative

a way of measuring culture limited by studying only
cultural products or artifacts
(music, TV programs, stories,
other), rather than people’s
actual attitudes

Historical research Usually qualitative Saves time and expense in data
collection; takes differences
over time into account

Data often reflect biases of
the original researcher and
reflect cultural norms that were
in effect when the data were
collected

Secondary analysis of
survey data

Can be either qualitative
or quantitative

Permits the study of a large
number of variables without
actually collecting the primary
data on these variables

limited in the number of
variables that can be mea-
sured; maintaining objectivity is
problematic if research is done
or commissioned by adminis-
trators of the program being
evaluated

Evaluation research Can be either qualitative
or quantitative

Evaluates the actual outcomes
of a program or strategy; often
direct policy application

Same as the survey

leveled off. Second, they found that the symbolic images
of African Americans did change significantly over time.
In the 1960s—a period of much racial unrest— African
Americans were mostly portrayed in “safe,” distant
images, such as in secondary and nearly invisible occu-
pational roles. Third, they found few portrayals of Black
adults in intimate, egalitarian, or interracial relationships.
Recent research on stereotyping generally confirms these
three findings (Baumeister and Bushman 2008: 419–421).

Content analysis has the advantage of being unobtru-
sive, or “nonreactive.” The research can have no effect at all
on the person being studied because the cultural artifact
has already been produced. Hence, content analysis will
reveal very little if any Hawthorne effect. Content analysis
is limited in what it can study, however, because it is based
on mass communication—either visual, oral, or written.
It cannot tell us what people think about these images or
whether they affect people’s behavior. Other methods of

research, such as interviewing or participant observation,
would be used to answer these questions. Nonetheless
content analysis can be very insightful.

Historical Research
Historical research examines sociological themes over
time. It is commonly done in historical archives, such as
official records, church records, town archives, private
diaries, or oral histories. The sources of this sort of mate-
rial are critical to its quality and applicability. Oral histo-
ries have been especially illuminating, most dramatically
in revealing the unknown histories of groups that have
been ignored or misrepresented in other historical
accounts. For example, when developing an account of
the spirituality of Native Americans, one would be mis-
guided to rely solely on the records left by Christian mis-
sionaries or U.S. Army officials. These records would give

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Do INg SoCIologICal R ES EaRC H  7 1

Research Question: The claim was that
such exposure would produce earlier and
better language development, compar-
ing a sample of infants before exposure
to several months after exposure. The
implication was that exposure to this
Baby Einstein program would result in
faster and better language develop-
ment than that in infants not exposed
to the program. After all, what could
be more obvious? Of course, early
exposure to the program would result
in better language development than
would nonexposure to the program. How
could the results possibly be otherwise?
Thousands upon thousands of parents
with high hopes purchased the Baby
Einstein products.

Research Method: Several years back
(starting in 1997), the Baby Einstein
program, acquired by Disney Productions
in 2001, advertised that it could greatly
increase language development and
other skills (the dependent variables) by

The “Baby Einstein” Program: A Farce?
subjecting very young children (two years
old or younger) to the various toys, flash
cards, DVDs, and books they marketed.

Research Results: This example shows
precisely why doing research is so impor-
tant! Several years after the Baby Einstein
program was begun, anxious parents
began contacting the founders of the
program and telling them that their infants
were not responding well to the Baby
Einstein DVDs, flash cards, and so on. Fur-
thermore, two University of Washington
professors discovered that, in fact, children
exposed to the program and its gadgets
had actually slowed down their language
development relative to children who
had not been in the program. In addition,
children exposed to the program revealed
greater attention deficit afterward.

Conclusions and Implications: As a test
for these observations, experimental as
well as control conditions for children,
matched on age, were created, and

measures over time of language develop-
ment, reading speed, attention span, and
other dependent variables were carried
out. As it turns out, the findings disproved
what “obvious common sense” told us;
namely, the experimental group babies
(the Baby Einstein conditions) performed
less well on these dependent variables
than did babies in the control conditions
(those not exposed to the program)!

These results were upsetting to
the original founders of the program,
including Disney Productions. Presently
there are class-action lawsuits being
brought against Disney Productions on
the grounds that the “Baby Einstein”
materials were fraudulent and not edu-
cational, as they were initially advertised.
Furthermore, the American Academy of
Pediatrics has since recommended that
children younger than two years of age
not be exposed to the kinds of DVDs and
videos marketed by Baby Einstein.

Source: Lewin, Tamar. 2010. “Baby Einstein
Founder Goes to Court.” The New York Times
(January 13): A15. www.nytimes.com.

doing sociological research

D
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di

t

Controlled experimentation shows that some media violence tends to desen-
sitize children to the effects of violence, including engendering less sympathy
for victims of violence (Baumeister and Bushman 2008; Huesmann et al.
2003; Cantor 2000). Many also think that violent video games (another form
of media) may be a cause of school shootings, where youth go on a rampage
of gunfire against fellow students. Perhaps there is some link here; it is too
simplistic to see a direct causal connection between viewing violence and
actually engaging in it. For one thing, such an argument ignores the broader
social context of violent behavior (including such things as the availability
of guns, family characteristics, youth alienation from school, to name a few
(Taylor et al. 2006; Sternheimer 2007).

a useful picture of how Whites perceived
Native American religion, but they would
be a very poor source for discovering how
Native Americans understood their own
spirituality.

In a similar vein, the writings of
a slave owner can deliver fascinating
insights into slavery, but a slave owner’s
diary will certainly present a different
picture of slavery as a social institution
than will the written or oral histories of
former slaves themselves.

Handled properly, comparative and
historical research is rich with the ability
to capture long-term social changes, and
is the perfect tool for sociologists who
want to ground their studies in historical
or comparative perspectives.

Evaluation Research
Evaluation research assesses the effect
of policies and programs on people in
society. If the research is intended to
produce policy recommendations, then
it is called policy research.

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72   CH aPTER 3

Suppose you want to know if an educational pro-
gram is actually improving student performance. You
could design a study that measured the academic per-
formance of two groups of students, one that partici-
pates in the program and one that does not (a “control”
group). If the academic performance of students in the
program is better than that of those not in the program,
and if the groups are alike in other ways (they are often
matched to accomplish this), you would conclude that
the program was effective. If the academic performance
of the students in the program ended up being the same
(or even worse) as those not in the program, then you
would conclude that the program was not effective.
(See the box “Doing Sociological Research: The ‘Baby
Einstein’ Program’’.) If you use this research to recom-
mend social policy, you would be doing policy research.

Research Ethics: Is
Sociology Value Free?
The topics dealt with by sociology are often controver-
sial. People have strong opinions about social ques-
tions, and in some cases, the settings for sociological
work are highly politicized. Imagine spending time in
an urban precinct house to do research on police bru-
tality or doing research on acquired immune deficiency
syndrome (AIDS) and sex education in a conservative
public school system. Under these conditions, can soci-
ology be scientifically objective? How do researchers

balance their own political and moral commitments
against the need to be objective and open-minded?
Sociological knowledge has an intimate connection to
political values and social views. Often the very pur-
pose of sociological research is to gather data as a step
in creating social policy. Can sociology be value free?
Should it be?

This is an important question without a simple
answer. Most sociologists do not claim to be value free,
but they do try as best they can to produce objective
research. It must be acknowledged that researchers
make choices throughout their research that can influ-
ence their results. The problems sociologists choose to
study, the people they decide to observe, the research
design they select, and the type of media they use to dis-
tribute their research can all be influenced by the per-
sonal values of the researcher.

Sociological research often raises ethical ques-
tions. In fact, ethical considerations of one sort or
another exist with any type of research. In a survey, the
person being questioned is often not told the purpose
of the survey or who is funding the study. Is it ethical to
conceal this type of information?

In controlled experiments, deception is often
employed, as in the now-famous studies by Stanley
Milgram, to be reviewed later in Chapter 6, where peo-
ple were led to believe that they were causing harm to
another, when in fact they were not. Researchers often
reveal the true purpose of an experiment only after it
is completed. This is called debriefing. The deception
is therefore temporary. But does that lessen the poten-
tial ethical violation? Maybe the effects of deception
become longer-lasting. Does deception lessen any
potential damage to the self-concept of the subject or
respondent, or does it actually increase this damage?
(Some damage to the self-concept of subjects in the
Milgram experiments was indeed found when the sub-
jects realized that they were easily duped into causing
what they thought was serious harm to another human.
(See Chapter 6.)

One of the clearest ethical violations in all of the
history of science has come to be known as the Tuske-
gee Syphilis Study. The study was conducted at the
Tuskegee Institute in Macon County, Alabama, a his-
torically Black college. For this study—begun in 1932
by the government’s United States Health Service—a
sample of about 400 Black males who were infected
with the sexually transmitted disease syphilis (this was
the “experimental” group) were allowed to go untreated
medically for over forty years. Another 200 Black males
who had not contracted syphilis were used as a con-
trol group. The purpose of the study was to examine
the effects of “untreated syphilis in the male negro.”
The study was not unlike similar “studies” carried out
against Jews by Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany at the

Here men with syphilis are being examined to determine the
“progress” of syphilis. These unfortunate men were experi-
mental subjects in the U.S. government’s infamous Tuskegee
Syphilis Study, one of the clearest ethical violations in all the
history of science.

Ev
er

et
t C

ol
le

ct
io

n
In

c/
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ge
F

ot
os

to
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DoINg SoCIologICa l R ES EaRC H  73

Research Methodology: An excellent
recent example of participant observa-
tion research of the overt type is sociolo-
gist Peter Moskos’s twenty months as
a bona fide police officer in Baltimore,
Maryland. For his doctoral disserta-
tion research, Moskos, who is White,
underwent the standard six months of
training in the police academy and was
then assigned to Baltimore’s Eastern
District, a heavily African American and
depressed ghetto with a heavy drug
trade. A true participant observer, he
became a police officer. He got to know
and trust the other officers with whom
he worked, and he became familiar
with the social life of the homeless
individuals, drug dealers, and neighbor-
hood residents in East Baltimore. He
lived minute by minute and day by day
with the ever-present extreme dangers
of police work, carried a Glock semiau-
tomatic pistol with a seventeen-shot
clip (which he never had to fire but had
to “show” on occasion), and discovered
that “danger creates a bond” among
police officers. He wrote his field notes
each day after work— numbering overall
350 typed, single-spaced pages. His
study ranks with other classic participant
observation studies in sociology, such as
Whyte’s Street Corner Society (1943),
Anderson’s A Place on the Corner (1976)
and Streetwise (1990), and Duneier’s
Sidewalk (1999).

A Cop in the Hood: Participant Observation
Research Results: Moskos’s study is
important because, among other things,
it dispels a number of myths that the
public has about police officers and
police work. For example, many think
that summoning the police by calling 911
will get a quick solution to the prob-
lem—whether it be a drug deal taking
place, an incident of domestic violence,
or gunfire on the street. Although the
police are indeed generally quick to
respond, in reality the drug deal or the
domestic violence reconvenes imme-
diately after the police leave the scene.
Moskos even concludes that, unfortu-
nately, 911 is “a joke.”

Many assume that if a suspected
drug dealer is standing close to a vial
of cocaine in the street, the observing
police officer will report that he or she
“saw” the dealer throw the vial into the
street. Moskos found, however, that this
was rarely the case: The vast majority of
officers over the vast majority of such
incidents reported “seeing” the dealer
toss the vial only if they indeed saw the
dealer do so and were able to verify this
act by another officer witnessing it. A
veteran officer warned Moskos that “if
you don’t see him drop it, then just kick it
or crush it.”

In his further demystification of
the police and police culture, Moskos
describes his fellow police officers
not as power-hungry, thrill-seeking

bullies, but as hardworking people
who marshal their own weaknesses
and strengths to cope with unique job
conditions.

Also of importance is Moskos’s
discovery of certain elements of social
structure characterizing street drug
trade. For example, virtually each and
every illicit drug transaction on the
street corner involves five social roles
in addition to the person who actually
purchases a drug or drugs: lookouts
(who watch for police cars, the lowest-
status role in the street transaction);
steerers (who “hawk” or advertise their
drug to passersby); moneymen (who
collect the money paid for the drug);
slingers (who actually give the drugs
to the purchaser); and gunmen (who
stand ready in the shadows in case they
feel needed). Engaging in such roles
serves the function of limiting the legal
liability of each individual in the event
of arrests.

Conclusions and Implications: Such
insights into the social structure and
culture of street activity (in this case,
street drug trade) ranks Moskos’s work
with other participant observation stud-
ies that reveal structure and culture—for
example, those of Whyte, Anderson, and
Duneier.

Source: Moskos, Peter. 2008. Cop in the Hood:
My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

doing sociological research

same time—just before and during World War II in the
1930s and early 1940s. Jews who were injected with
debilitating illnesses remained medically untreated.
Untreated syphilis causes blindness, mental retarda-
tion, and death, and this is how many of the untreated
Black men in the Tuskegee study fared over the period
of forty-plus years.

In the 1950s, penicillin was discovered as an effec-
tive treatment for infectious diseases, including syphi-
lis, and was widely available. Nonetheless, the scientists
conducting the study decided not to give penicillin to

the infected men in the study on the grounds that it
would “interfere” with the study of the physical and
mental harm caused by untreated syphilis! The U.S.
government itself authorized the study to be continued
until the early 1970s—that is, until quite recently. By
the mid-1970s pressure from the public and the press
caused the federal government to terminate the study,
but by then it was too late to save approximately 100
men who had already died of the ravages of untreated
syphilis, plus many others who were forced to live with
major mental and physical damage.

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74   CH aPTER 3

Following the ethical horrors of studies such as the
Tuskegee study, the American Sociological Association
(ASA) has since developed a professional code of eth-
ics (see the ASA website for the full Code of Ethics). The
federal government also has many regulations about
the protection of human subjects. Ethical research-
ers adhere to these guidelines and must ensure that
research subjects are not subjected to physical, mental,
or legal harm. Research subjects must also be informed
of the rights and responsibilities of both researcher
and  subject. Sociologists, like other scientists, also

should not involve people in research without what is
called informed consent—that is, getting agreement to
participate from the respondents or subjects after the
purposes of the study are explained in detail to them.
There may be exceptions to the need for informed con-
sent, such as when observing people in public places.
Sociologists also take measures to avoid identifying
their respondents and to assure confidentiality through
the use of pseudonyms or by not using names at all and
by assigning random ID (code) numbers to all respon-
dents during data analysis.

What is sociological research?
Sociological research is used by sociologists to answer
questions and, in many cases, to test hypotheses. The
research method one uses depends upon the question
that is asked.

Is sociological research scientific?
Sociological research is derived from the scientific
method, meaning that it relies on empirical obser-
vation and, at times, the testing of hypotheses. The
research process involves several steps: developing a
research question, designing the research, collecting
data, analyzing data, and developing conclusions.
Different research designs are appropriate to differ-
ent research questions, but sociologists have to be
concerned with the validity, the reliability, and the
generalization of their results. Applying one’s results
obtained from a sample to a broader population is an
example of generalization.

What is the difference between qualitative
research and quantitative research?
Qualitative research is research that is relatively
unstructured, does not rely heavily upon statistics, and
is closely focused on a question being asked. Quanti-
tative research is research that uses statistical methods.
Both kinds of research are used in sociology.

What are some of the statistical concepts
in sociology?
Through research, sociologists are able to make
statements of probability, or likelihood. Sociologists
use percentages and rates. The mean is the same as

an average. The median represents the midpoint in
an array of values or scores. The mode is the most
common value or score. Correlation and cross-tab-
ulation are statistical procedures that allow soci-
ologists to see how two (or more) different variables
are associated. There have been instances of misuse
of statistics in the behavioral and social sciences,
including sociology, and these have resulted in incor-
rect conclusions.

What different tools of research do sociologists
use?
The most common tools of sociological research are
surveys and interviews, participant observation, con-
trolled experiments, content analysis, comparative
and historical research, and evaluation research. Each
method has its own strengths and weaknesses. You
can better generalize from surveys, for example, than
participant observation, but participant observation is
better for capturing subtle nuances and depth in social
behavior.

Can sociology be value free?
Although no research in any field can always be value
free, sociological research nonetheless strives for objec-
tivity while recognizing that the values of the researcher
may have some influence on the work. One of the worst
cases of ethical violation in scientific research was the
Tuskegee Syphilis Study. There are ethical dilemmas
in doing sociological research, such as whether one
should attempt to avoid the Hawthorne effect by col-
lecting data without letting research subjects (people)
know they are being observed.

Chapter Summary

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DoINg SoCIologICal R ES EaRC H  75

concept 62
content analysis 68
controlled experiment 67
correlation 68
covert participant

observation 67
cross-tabulation 68
data 61
data analysis 65
debriefing 72
deductive reasoning 58

dependent variable 61
evaluation research 71
generalization 65
Hawthorne effect 64
hypothesis 61
independent variable 61
indicator 62
inductive reasoning 59
informant 67
informed consent 74
mean 68

median 68
mode 68
overt participant

observation 67
participant

observation 58
percentage 68
population 65
qualitative research 61
quantitative research 61
random sample 65

rate 68
reliability 63
replication study 60
research design 60
sample 65
scientific method 58
serendipity 65
spurious correlation 68
validity 63
variable 61

Key Terms

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

A
rie

l S
ke

lle
y/

Bl
en

d
Im

ag
es

/J
up

ite
r I

m
ag

es

4

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77

Do you think you could define what it means to be human? Biologists, geneticists, and many other natu-ral scientists have attempted to identify the specific
makeup of humans. The Human Genome Project (HGP) had
scientists working on mapping the complex structure of DNA
on high-speed computers to unlock the genetic code of
human life. By April 2003, the HGP had completed a genetic
“blueprint” for building a human being (www.genome.gov).
The stated purpose of the human genome project is to see
how genetics influences the development of disease, but it
raises numerous questions about human cloning and the pos-
sibility of creating human life in the laboratory. Is our genetic
constitution what makes us human? Suppose you created a
human being in the laboratory but left that creature without
social contact. Would the “person” be human?

Knowing the genetic makeup of humans suggests the ability
to make human beings in the laboratory, but without society,
what would humans be like? What is the distinction between
being “biologically” human and being “socially” human? Sociolo-
gists argue that the answer includes the influence of society.
Thanks to the Human Genome Project, we now have an under-
standing of what it means to be “biologically” or “genetically”
human, but is that being fully human? We are born with our
genetic and biological makeup, but it is life experience that
defines the self. As we go from infancy, through the toddler years,
from childhood, through adulthood and old age, our genetic
DNA is unchanging. The ongoing interaction we have with other
human beings over our lifetime is what guides what it truly means
to be part of human society. From the moment of birth, we are
being “taught” what is expected of us to become a social being.

Consider the rare cases of feral children, who have been
raised in the absence of human contact. Such cases, when
a person has little or no social contact, provide clues about
the importance of human contact to human development.
One such case, involved a young girl given the pseudonym of
Genie. When her blind mother appeared (in 1970) in the Los
Angeles County welfare office seeking assistance, casework-
ers first thought the girl was six years old. In fact, she was

●● Explain the socialization
process

●● Identify the different
agents responsible for
socialization over the life
course

●● Compare theories of
socialization

●● Explore how socialization
differs across cultures

●● Identify the stages of life
from childhood to old age

●● Discuss the possibilities for
resocialization throughout
the life course

in this chapter, you will learn to:

The Socialization Process 78

Agents of Socialization 81

Theories of Socialization 86

Growing Up in a Diverse Society 90

Aging and the Life Course 90

Resocialization 98

Chapter Summary 100

Socialization and
the Life Course

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78   CHAPT ER 4

thirteen, although she weighed only 59 pounds
and was 4 feet, 6 inches tall. She was small and
withered, unable to stand up straight, incontinent,
and severely malnourished. Her eyes did not focus,
and she had two nearly complete sets of teeth.
A strange ring of calluses circled her buttocks. She
could not talk. As the case unfolded, it was dis-
covered that the girl had been kept in nearly total
isolation for most of her life, never learning verbal
language or any form of social interaction.

Interacting with other people is a critical part
of becoming human. Another example is the story
of Shin Dong-hyuk who escaped from a North
Korean prison known as Camp 14 in 2005. He was
born in the prison camp and was socialized entirely
into the rules and expectations of prison life. As a
result, he never knew family love, loyalty, or how to interact with others. Not until he met a new prisoner
who described the world beyond the prison boundaries did Shin Dong-hyuk know that he could hope for
something more. After his escape at age 23, his story has been told and offers insight into how socializa-
tion shapes beliefs, behaviors, and expectations for the future (Harden 2012).

Genes may confer skin and bone and brain, but only by learning the values, norms, and roles that culture
bestows on people do we become social beings—literally, human beings. Sociologists refer to this process
as socialization—the subject of this chapter.

The Socialization Process
Socialization is the process through which people
learn the expectations of society. To be a fully social-
ized member of society means to have internalized the
expected norms of that society. Internalization occurs
when behaviors and assumptions are learned so thor-
oughly that people no longer question them, but simply
accept them as correct. The lessons that are internal-
ized can have a powerful influence on behavior and
attitudes.

Let’s start with behavior. Not all human beings act
the same way. In fact, within any one culture, not all
people act the same. Not all Americans act the same;
not all college students act the same. Not even all of
your friends within your social circle act the same. Yet,
the socialization process guides each of us in how to
behave within our given roles. Roles are the expected
behavior associated with a given status in society. When
you occupy a social role, you tend to take on the expec-
tations of others. For example, when you transition from
high school to college, you likely observe the behavior,
the language, the dress, perhaps even the music tastes
of other college students. You likely modify your own
behavior accordingly. Before you know it, you are trans-
formed from high school student to college student,
perhaps socializing the next freshmen class into the

same set of expectations. This can happen throughout
your life course, as you join new groups, such as joining
a new work organization, a club, or, perhaps, forming
a new family. You are socialized to the group’s norms,
taking on your specific role and interacting with the
group in socially acceptable ways.

By means of socialization, people absorb their
culture—customs, habits, laws, practices, and means
of expression. Socialization is the basis for identity:
how one defines oneself. Identity is both personal and
social. To a great extent, our identity is bestowed by oth-
ers, because we come to see ourselves as others see us.
Socialization also establishes personality, defined as a
person’s relatively consistent pattern of behavior, feel-
ings, predispositions, and beliefs. Embracing the iden-
tity of a college student occurs through interaction with
other college students and comes complete with new
behaviors and feelings.

The socialization experience differs for individu-
als, depending on factors such as age, race, gender,
and class, as well as more subtle aspects of personality.
Women and men encounter different socialization pat-
terns as they grow up because each gender brings with it
different social expectations (see Chapter 11). Likewise,
growing up Jewish, Asian, Latino, or African Ameri-
can involves different socialization experiences. In
the “Understanding Diversity: International Adoption

Formal and informal learning, through families, schools, and
other socialization agents, are important elements of the
socialization process. In this photo, a mother teaches her
child how to properly brush teeth.

©
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SoCIALIzATIon AnD THE LI F E CoURS E  79

and Interracial Families” box, we discuss issues that
Chinese children face growing up in White families.
Conflicts between adopted culture and culture of origin
are evident for many interracially adopted children.
Such conflicts can be particularly acute when a person
grows up within different, even overlapping, cultures.

The Nature–Nurture Controversy
Examining the socialization process helps reveal the
degree to which our lives are socially constructed,
meaning that the organization of society and the life
outcomes of people within it are the result of social defi-
nitions and processes. Is it “nature” (what is natural) or
is it “nurture” (what is social)—or both—that makes us
human? This question has been the basis for debate for
many years.

From a sociological perspective, what a person
becomes results more from social experiences than from
innate (inborn or natural) traits, although innate traits do
have some influence on culture, as we saw in Chapter 2.

For example, people may be born with a great capacity
for knowledge, but without a good education; those peo-
ple are unlikely to achieve their full potential and may
not be recognized as intellectually gifted.

From a sociological perspective, nature provides a
certain stage for what is possible, but society provides
the full drama of what we become. Our values and
social attitudes are not inborn; they emerge through
the social relations we have with others and our social
position in society. Such factors as your family environ-
ment, how people of your social group are treated, and
the historic influences of the time all shape how we are
nurtured by society.

Perhaps the best way to understand the nature–
nurture controversy is not that one or the other fully
controls who we become, but that life involves a com-
plex interplay, or interaction, between genetic and
social influences on human beings. The emphasis
in sociology, however, is to see the social realities of
our lives as extremely important in shaping human
experience.

In the United States, interracial families
are on the rise. Interracial families occur
because of interracial marriages and
because of interracial or cross-cultural
adoption. Interracial marriages produce
multiracial children who have one parent
who shares part of their racial–ethnic
identity. Parents teach the child cultural
expectations and traditions. Consider
an internationally adopted child. What
happens, for example, when two White
Americans are raising a child born in
China? How is cultural socialization
different for these families? When
the parents are racially and ethnically
different from an adopted child, the
process of socialization may be very
different. Since 1999, nearly 67,000
U.S. adoptions of children from China
have occurred. In 2011 alone, 2,587
children were adopted from China. This
number represents almost 28 percent of
all intercountry adoptions for that year
(U.S. Department of State 2011).

The parents of these children have
a choice about how to socialize their

International Adoption and Interracial Families
Chinese child into American society.
For some, a “color-blind” approach
seems best. This involves passing on the
parental cultural norms and values with
little regard for the cultural difference
between them and their children.
Research shows the color-blind approach
is less popular today than in years past,
and that parents who adopted from
eastern Europe or Russia are more likely
to employ the color-blind approach to
cultural socialization (Lee et al. 2006).

A second, and increasingly more
common, approach to cultural
socialization of Chinese adopted
children results from the parental
beliefs in enculturation and racialization.
This means that the parents balance
socializing their children into
American culture while also providing
opportunities for them to learn about
and participate in Chinese cultural
activities (Lee et al. 2006). Chinese
schools provide weekend classes for
students to learn Chinese language and
culture. Chinese New Year celebrations

and trips to urban Chinatowns become
part of the family traditions.

Another integral part of raising
children who are racially and ethnically
different from their parents is having
ongoing discussions about race, dis –
crimination, and difference. Parents
discuss potential experiences of racial
discrimination at school and other
places. Some parents even discuss
the adoption with school officials and
teachers (Lee et al. 2006).

Socialization starts within families at
infancy and continues throughout the life
course. Internationally adopted children
face a unique set of challenges at all
stages of socialization. As babies, they
are taken from homes or orphanages
and immersed into American families
and American homes. In addition to
learning about the new people in their
life, they face adjusting to new food,
new language, new styles of dress, and
all the other “newness” of a foreign
culture. From infancy to adolescence
to adulthood, adoptees face challenges
in balancing their place in a new, and
possibly interracial, family.

understanding diversity

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80   CH APTER 4

Socialization as Social Control
Sociologist Peter Berger pointed out that not only do
people live in society but society also lives in people
(Berger 1963). Socialization is, therefore, a mode of
social control. Social control is the process by which
groups and individuals within those groups are brought
into conformity with dominant social expectations.
Sometimes an individual rebels and attempts to resist
this conformity, but because people generally conform
to cultural expectations, socialization gives society a
certain degree of predictability. Patterns are established
that become the basis for social order.

To understand how socialization is a form of social
control, imagine the individual in society as surrounded
by a series of concentric circles (see ▲Figure 4.1). Each
circle is a layer of social controls, ranging from the most
subtle, such as the expectations of others, to the most
overt, such as physical coercion and violence. Coercion
and violence are usually not necessary to extract con-
formity because learned beliefs and the expectations of
others are enough to keep people in line. These social-
izing forces can be subtle because even when a per-
son disagrees with others, he or she can feel pressure
to conform and may experience stress and discomfort
in choosing not to conform. People learn through a
lifetime of experience that deviating from the expecta-
tions of others invites peer pressure, ridicule, and other
social judgments that remind one of what is expected.

Conformity and Individuality
Saying that people conform to social expectations does
not eliminate individuality. We are all unique to some
degree. Our uniqueness arises from different experi-
ences, different patterns of socialization, the choices we
make, and the imperfect ways we learn our roles. People
can resist some of society’s expectations. Sociologists
warn against seeing human beings as totally passive

creatures because people interact with their environment
in creative ways. Yet, most people conform, although to
differing degrees. Socialization is profoundly significant,
but this does not mean that people are robots. Instead,
socialization emphasizes the adaptations people make
as they learn to live in society.

Some people conform too much, for which they pay a
price. Socialization into men’s roles can encourage aggres-
sion and a zeal for risk-taking. Men have a lower life expec-
tancy and higher rate of accidental death than do women,
probably because of the risky behaviors associated with
men’s roles, that is, simply “being a man” (Kimmel and
Messner 2012). Women’s gender roles carry their own
risks. Striving excessively to meet the beauty ideals of the
dominant culture can result in feelings of low self-worth
and may encourage harmful behaviors, such as smoking
or severely restricting eating to keep one’s weight down.
Being a man or woman is not inherently bad for your
health, but conforming to gender roles to an extreme can
compromise your physical and mental health. Women
and girls are more likely than men and boys, for example,
to suffer from eating disorders or to have an unhealthy
self-image (Algars et al. 2010; Neighbors and Sobal 2007).

The Consequences of Socialization
Socialization is a lifelong process with consequences
that affect how we behave toward others and what we
think of ourselves:

1. First, socialization establishes self-concepts. Self-
concept is how we think of ourselves as the result
of the socialization experiences we have over a
lifetime. Socialization is also influenced by vari-
ous social factors, such as gender. ▲ Figure 4.2
shows how students’ self-concepts are different
for men and women. Men rate themselves much
more highly on competitiveness, intellectual self-
confidence, and mathematical ability. Women’s
self-concepts are higher in the areas of artistic abil-
ity, understanding of others, and writing skills.

2. Second, socialization creates the capacity for role-
taking. As we learn societal expectation, we create
the ability to see ourselves through the perspective
of another. Socialization is fundamentally reflec-
tive; that is, it involves self-conscious human beings
seeing and reacting to the expectations of others.
The capacity for reflection and the development of
identity are ongoing. This is how we establish our
roles in society. As we encounter new situations in
life, such as going away to college or getting a new
job, we are able to see what is expected. We adapt to
the situation accordingly, becoming a young adult
student or an employee of a company. Of course,
not all people do so successfully. Unsuccessful
socialization can be the basis for social deviance or
other social and psychological problems.

Coercion: punishment,
imprisonment, violence

Institutions: law, religion,
economy, education, state

Language: cultural
symbols

Peers: ridicule

Family

Self

▲ Figure 4.1 Socialization as Social Control Though
we are all individuals, the process of socialization also keeps
us in line with society’s expectations. This may occur subtly
through peer pressure or, in some circumstances, through
coercion and/or violence.

©
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SoCIALI zATIon AnD THE LI F E Co URS E  81

3. Third, socialization creates the tendency for people
to act in socially acceptable ways. Through social-
ization, people learn the normative expectations
attached to social situations and the expectations
of society in general. As a result, socialization cre-
ates some predictability in human behavior and
brings some order to what might otherwise be
social chaos.

4. Finally, socialization makes people bearers of cul-
ture. Socialization is the process by which peo-
ple learn and internalize the attitudes, beliefs,
and behaviors of their culture. At the same time,
socialization is a two-way process—that is, a per-
son is not only the recipient of culture but also is
the creator of culture, passing cultural expecta-
tions on to others. The main product of socializa-
tion, then, is society itself.

Agents of Socialization
Socialization agents are people, or sources, or struc-
tures who pass on social expectations. Everyone is
a socializing agent because social expectations are
communicated in countless ways and in every inter-
action people have, whether or not intentionally.
When people are simply doing what they consider
“normal,” they are communicating social expecta-
tions to others. When you dress a particular way, you
may not feel you are telling others they must dress
that way. Yet, when everyone in the same environ-
ment dresses similarly, some expectation about
appropriate dress is clearly being conveyed. Peo-
ple feel pressure to become what society expects of
them even though the pressure may be subtle and
unrecognized.

0 20 40 60 80 100

Self-understanding

Social self-confidence

Creativity

Competitiveness

Cooperativeness

Drive to achieve

Academic ability

Understanding of others

Leadership ability

Physical health

Emotional health

Intellectual self-confidence

Mathematical ability

Writing ability

Risk-taking

Computer skills

Spirituality

Popularity

Public speaking

Artistic ability

Percent rating themselves as “highest 10%” or above average for each trait

Men
Women

▲ Figure 4.2 Student
Self-Concepts: The
Difference Gender Makes
Men and women differ in how
they identify certain charac-
teristics of their personality.
What patterns can you see in
these data? Do women’s self-
concepts differ from men’s?
If so, in what ways?
Data: Based on national sample
of first-year college students,
fall 2013.
Source: Eagan, Kevin, et al. 2013.
The American Freshman: National
Norms Fall 2011. Higher Education
Research Institute. Los Angeles,
CA: University of California,
Los Angeles.

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82   CH APT ER 4

→Thinking Sociologically
Think about the first week that you were attending
college. What expectations were communicated to you
and by whom? Who were the most significant socialization
agents during this period? Which expectations were com-
municated formally and which informally? If you were ana-
lyzing this experience sociologically, what would be some
of the most important concepts to help you understand
how one “becomes a college student”? Were there expec-
tations for dress? For transportation around campus?

Socialization does not occur simply between indi-
vidual people; it occurs in the context of social insti-
tutions. Recall from Chapter 1 that institutions are
established patterns of social behavior that persist over
time. Institutions are a level of society above individu-
als. Many social institutions shape the process of social-
ization, including, as we will see, family, media, peers,
religion, sports, and schools.

The Family
For most people, the family is the first source of social-
ization. Through families, children are introduced to
the expectations of society. Children learn to see them-
selves through their parents’ eyes. How parents define
and treat a child is crucial to the development of the
child’s sense of self.

What children learn in families is certainly not uni-
form. Even though families pass on the expectations
of a given culture, families within that culture may
be highly diverse, as we will see in Chapter 13. Some
families may emphasize educational achievement

over physical activity; some may be more permissive,
whereas others emphasize strict obedience and disci-
pline. Even within families, children may experience
different expectations based on gender or birth order
(being born first, second, or third). Researchers find,
for example, that sons are being taught to be tough,
but that both sons and daughters are being taught
egalitarian roles (Epstein and Ward 2011). Living in a
family experiencing the strain of social problems such
as alcoholism, unemployment, domestic violence, or
teen pregnancy also affects how children are social-
ized. The specific effects of different family structures
and processes are the basis for ongoing and extensive
sociological research.

As important as the family is in socializing the
young, it is not the only socialization agent. As chil-
dren grow up, they encounter other socializing influ-
ences, sometimes in ways that might contradict family
expectations. Parents who want to socialize their chil-
dren in less gender-stereotyped ways might be frus-
trated by the influence of the media, which promotes
highly gender-typed toys and activities to boys and
girls. These multiple influences on the socialization
process create more complex attitudes and behaviors
among people.

Conformity at school socializes people into the expectations
of being a student.

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SoCIALIzATI on AnD THE LI F E CoURS E  83

The Media
As we saw in Chapter 2, the mass media increasingly are
important agents of socialization. Television alone has
a huge impact on what we are socialized to believe and
become. Add to that films, music, video games, radio,
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media
outlets, and you begin to see the enormous influence
the media have on the values we form, our images of
society, our desires for ourselves, and our relationships
with others. These images are powerful throughout our
lifetimes, but many worry that their effect during child-
hood may be particularly deleterious.

The high degree of violence in the media resulted
in a rating system for televised programming, movies,
music lyrics, and video games. There is no doubt that
violence is extensive in the media. Analysts estimate
that by age 18, the average child will have witnessed at
least 18,000 simulated murders on television (Wilson
et al. 2002). Research continues to examine the relation-
ship between exposure to media violence and different
types of aggressive behaviors (Gentile, Mathieson, and
Crick 2011).

Media violence also tends to desensitize children
to the effects of violence, including engendering less
sympathy for victims of violence (Baumeister and
Bushman 2008; Huesmann et al. 2003). Many also
think that violent video games (another form of media)
may contribute to school shootings, where an armed
individual—often a student at a particular school—
randomly shoots and wounds or kills one or more
individuals, usually other students but also teachers
(Newman et al. 2006). Media portrayals of violence
desensitize viewers regarding the danger of weapons.
Guns such as the ones used in the school shooting in
Newtown, Connecticut, have deadly consequences;
yet, media images of them pervade society.

Perhaps there is some link here, but it is too sim-
plistic to see a direct causal connection between view-
ing violence and actually engaging in it. For one thing,
such an argument ignores the broader social context
of violent behavior, including such things as the avail-
ability of guns, family characteristics, parental control,
youth alienation from school, to name a few (Newman
et al. 2006).

Violence in the media is not solely to blame for
violent behavior in society. Children do not watch
television in a vacuum. Children live in families where
they learn different values and attitudes about violent
behavior. They observe the society around them, not
just the images they see in fictional representations.
Children are influenced not only by the images of tele-
vised and filmed violence but also by the social context
in which they live. The images of violence in the media
in some ways only reflect the violence in society. The
sociological question is whether or not media reflect

societal reality, or if reality is influenced by the images
presented in the media.

The media expose us to numerous images that
shape our definitions of ourselves and the world
around us. What we think of as beautiful, sexy, politi-
cally acceptable, and materially necessary is strongly
influenced by the media. If every week, as you read a
newsmagazine, someone shows you the new car that
will give you status and distinction, the message is clear
and we begin to think that our self-worth can be mea-
sured by the car we drive. If every weekend, as we watch
televised sports, someone tells us that to have fun we
should drink the right beer, we come to believe that
parties are perceived as better when everyone is drink-
ing. The values represented in the media, whether they
are about violence, racist and sexist stereotypes, or any
number of other social images, have a great effect on
what we think and who we come to be.

Peers
Peers are those with whom you interact on equal terms,
such as friends, fellow students, and coworkers. Among
peers, there are no formally defined superior and sub-
ordinate roles, although status distinctions commonly
arise in peer group interactions. Without peer approval,
most people find it hard to feel socially accepted.

Peers are important agents of socialization. Young
girls and boys learn society’s images of what they are
supposed to be through the socialization process,
and peers are enormously important in that process.
Peer cultures for young people often take the form of
cliques—friendship circles where members identify
with each other and hold a sense of common identity.

Peers are important agents of socialization. Young girls and
boys learn society’s images of what they are supposed to be
through the socialization process.

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84   CHAPTER 4

You probably had cliques in your high school and
may even be able to name them. Did your school have
“jocks,” “goths,” “tech geeks,” “freaks,” “stoners,” and so
forth? Sociologists studying cliques have found that they
are formed based on a sense of exclusive membership,
like in-groups and out-groups. Cliques are cohesive but
also have an internal hierarchy, with certain group lead-
ers having more power and status than other members.
Interaction techniques, like inside jokes and high fives,
produce group boundaries, defining who’s in and who’s
out. The influence of peers is strong in childhood and
adolescence, but it also persists into adulthood.

A phenomenon of concern on high school grounds
and on college campuses is bullying—the systematic,
consistent long-time beating or verbally berating of
a single student, who is chosen to be the victim by a
clique. School bullying is serious business and nothing
to be ignored, because it often has dire consequences.
There are instances in which bullying has resulted in

the suicide of a victim. In 2010, a gay student at Rutgers
University in New Jersey took his own life after his col-
lege roommate posted a video linking him romanti-
cally to another male student. The incident received
national media attention, highlighting the bullying of
gay students. The roommate who filmed the victim was
convicted on fifteen criminal counts, including inva-
sion of privacy and bias intimidation.

As agents of socialization, peers are important
sources of social approval, disapproval, and support.
This is one reason groups without peers of similar sta-
tus are often at a disadvantage in various settings, such
as women in male-dominated professions or minority
students on predominantly White campuses. Being a
“token” or an “only,” as it has come to be called, places
unique stresses on those in settings with relatively few
peers from whom to draw support (Thoits 2009). This
is one reason those who are minorities in a dominant
group context often form same-sex or same-race groups

As a student at a college or university,
you likely do not remember a world
without the Internet. Use of the Internet
started out small but has grown to
include an online version of almost all
activities that can be done face-to-face.
Everything from watching the news,
researching the latest statistics, staying
in touch with friends, and participating
in a class discussion are now possible in
front of a computer screen instead of in
front of another person.

Socialization involves the ongoing
process of learning how to interact with
others and what the social norms are for
communicating. George Herbert Mead
and Charles Horton Cooley, sociolo-
gists you will read about a bit later in
the chapter, explain how a sense of self
develops through the expectations and
judgments of others in a social environ-
ment. Cooley outlined the importance
of the looking-glass self. Identity is
developed by balancing how we think we
appear to others and how those others
judge us. Mead emphasized our differ-
ent roles that we take on as a result of
our relationship to others. Both Cooley

Interaction in Cyberspace
and Mead provided the groundwork for
symbolic interaction theory to explain
how socialization happens within a social
environment.

When communication happens in an
online community, how are norms for
interaction altered? In what ways have
you been socialized into the expected
behavior of online communication?

Research details how participants
in an online discussion group navigate
self-presentation (Lee 2006). Private
information is often concealed with
techniques such as using a false name
or a “user” name that is unidentifiable.
Public information, however, is carefully
revealed through personal narratives
that others in the discussion group can
use to learn about the person. Cooley’s
concept that we develop identity by
how others perceive us takes on new
meaning for online communication. If the
user limits how much private informa-
tion is made public, then the user has
greater control over the perception by
others. Consider your online interactions.
What do your privacy settings on social
networking sites say about what you

are trying to conceal? How much can
you influence the way you are perceived
online?

Additionally, the roles assumed by
participants in an online discussion group
are different than in-class course discus-
sions. Mead argues that there is distinc-
tion between the part of our personality
that is self-defining (the “I”) and the part
of our personality that is conforming
to what others expect of us (the “me”).
If online discussions allow participants
to be unseen, will this change what
contribution will be made to the discus-
sion? Are you more comfortable saying
something contrary in a discussion in
person or online?

Symbolic-interactionist theory pro-
vides a good starting point for how to
think about socialization in online com-
munities. Social interaction is still crucial
to understanding the development
of self. Online communities, through
e-courses, social networking sites, or
digital chat rooms, provide a new forum
for social interaction. Sociologists utilize
core theoretical ideas like the looking-
glass self and role-taking to explain this
type of interaction.

what would a sociologist say?

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SoCIALIzATIon AnD THE LI F E CoURS E  85

for support, social activities, and the sharing of infor-
mation about how to succeed in their environment.

Religion
Religion is another powerful agent of socialization, and
religious instruction contributes greatly to the identi-
ties children construct for themselves. Children tend to
develop the same religious beliefs as their parents. Even
those who renounce the religion of their youth are deeply
affected by the attitudes, images, and beliefs instilled by
early religious training. Very often, those who disavow reli-
gion return to their original faith at some point in their life,
especially if they have strong ties to their family of origin
and if they form families of their own (Wuthnow 2010).

Religious socialization influences a large number
of beliefs that guide adults in how they organize their
lives, including beliefs about moral development and
behavior, the roles of men and women, and sexuality,
to name a few. Higher religiosity is connected to sexist
views, especially among men (Maltby et al. 2010). Reli-
gious socialization also influences beliefs about sexu-
ality, including the likelihood of tolerance for gay and
lesbian sexuality (Whitehead and Baker 2012). Religion
can even influence child-rearing practices, including
the use of physical nurturing and strict discipline.

Sports
Most people perhaps think of sports as something
that is just for fun and relaxation—or perhaps to pro-
vide opportunities for college scholarships and athletic
careers—but sports are also an agent of socialization.
Through sports, men and women learn concepts of self
that stay with them in their later lives.

Sports are also where many ideas about gender
differences are formed and reinforced (Eitzen 2012;
Messner 2009). For men, success or failure as an athlete
can be a major part of a man’s identity. Even for men who
have not been athletes, knowing about and participating
in sports is an important source of men’s gender social-
ization. Men learn that being competitive in sports is
considered a part of manhood. Indeed, the attitude that
“sports builds character” runs deep in American culture.
Sports are supposed to pass on values such as competi-
tiveness, the work ethic, fair play, and a winning attitude.
Sports are considered to be where one learns to be a man.

Debunking Society’s Myths←
Myth: Youth sports are simply games children play
for fun.
Sociological Perspective: Although sports are a form of
entertainment, playing sports, much like playing with dolls,
is also a source for socialization into roles, such as gender
roles (Messner 2002).

Michael Messner’s research on men and sports
reveals the extent to which sports shape masculine
identity. His research shows that, for most men, play-
ing or watching sports is often the context for devel-
oping relationships with fathers, even when the father
is absent or emotionally distant in other areas of life.
Through sports relationships with male peers, more
than anyone else, however, the men’s identity was
shaped. As boys, the men could form “safe” bonds with
other men (Messner 2002).

Part of the socialization of masculine identity in
sports is learning homophobic attitudes (that is, fear
and hatred of homosexuals, discussed in Chapter 11).
“Gay” and “athlete” were rarely words used together.
The socialization of athletes includes the expectation
that men are heterosexual. In April 2013, Jason Collins,
a professional basketball player in the NBA, shocked
the sports world when he announced he was gay. While
retired athletes in the past have come out as homosex-
ual, Collins was the first active player to go public with
his sexuality. Other professional athletes have done the
same, forcing dialogue within the sports media com-
munity about sexuality, gender, and sports.

Still, athletic prowess, highly esteemed in men, is
not tied to cultural images of womanliness. Quite the
contrary, women who excel at sports are sometimes
stereotyped as lesbians, or “butches,” and may be ridi-
culed for not being womanly enough. These stereo-
types reinforce traditional gender roles for women, as
do media images of women athletes that emphasize
family images and the personality of women athletes
(Eitzen 2012; Cavalier 2003). Research in the sociology
of sports shows how activities as ordinary as shooting
baskets on a city lot, playing on the soccer team for
one’s high school, or playing touch football on a Satur-
day afternoon can convey powerful cultural messages
about our identity and our place in the world. Sports
are a good example of the power of socialization in our
everyday lives.

Schools
Once young people enter kindergarten (or, even earlier,
day care), another process of socialization begins. At
home, parents are the overwhelmingly dominant source
of socialization cues. In school, teachers and other stu-
dents are the source of expectations that encourage
children to think and behave in particular ways. The
expectations encountered in schools vary for different
groups of students. These differences are shaped by a
number of factors, including teachers’ expectations for
different groups and the resources that different par-
ents can bring to bear on the educational process. The
parents of children attending elite, private schools, for
example, often have more influence on school policies
and classroom activities than do parents in low-income

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8 6   CHAPT ER 4

communities. In any context, studying socialization
in the schools is an excellent way to see the influence
of gender, class, and race in shaping the socialization
process.

Debunking Society’s Myths←
Myth: Schools are primarily places where young people
learn skills and other knowledge.
Sociological Perspective: There is a hidden curriculum
in schools where students learn expectations associated
with race, class, and gender relations in society as influ-
enced by the socialization process (Henson 1995).

For example, research finds that teachers respond
differently to boys and girls in school. Boys receive
more attention from teachers than do girls. Even when
teachers respond negatively to boys who are misbe-
having, they are paying more attention to the boys
( American Association of University Women 2010).
Social class stereotypes also affect teachers’ interac-
tions with students. Teachers are likely to perceive
working-class children and poor children as less bright
and less motivated than middle-class children; teach-
ers are also more likely to define working-class students
as troublemakers (Dunne and Gazely 2008; Oakes
et al. 2000). These negative appraisals are self-fulfilling
prophecies, meaning that the expectations they create
often become the cause of actual behavior in the chil-
dren; thus they affect the odds of success for children.
(We will return to a discussion of self-fulfilling prophe-
cies in Chapter 14.)

Boys also receive more attention in the cur-
riculum than girls. The characters in texts are more
frequently boys; the accomplishments of boys are
more likely portrayed in classroom materials; and
boys and men are more typically depicted as active
players in history, society, and culture (Sadker and
Zittleman 2009; Loewen 2007). This is called the hid-
den curriculum in the schools—the informal and
often subtle messages about social roles that are con-
veyed through classroom interaction and classroom
materials—roles that are clearly linked to gender,
race, and class.

Socialization in schools influences students in
everything from classroom behavior to subjects they
choose to study. This can differ by gender. Recent
research focused specifically on how children are social-
ized to choose science courses and consider careers in
science. Socialization into science fields differs for stu-
dents when they are not surrounded by members of
the opposite sex. Findings suggest that, although girls
generally study the life sciences and boys study the
physical sciences, choices are different when students
attend same-sex schools. Boys, for example, when not

surrounded by girls, are much more likely to choose the
life sciences. The socialization process differs for boys
in an all-boys school (Sikora 2014).

While in school, young people acquire identities
and learn patterns of behavior that are congruent with
the needs of other social institutions. Sociologists
using conflict theory to understand schools would
say that U.S. schools reflect the needs of a capitalist
society. School is typically the place where children
are first exposed to a hierarchical, bureaucratic envi-
ronment. Not only do schools teach them the skills
of reading, writing, and other subject areas, but they
also train children to respect authority, be punctual,
and follow rules—thereby preparing them for their
future lives as workers in organizations that value
these traits.

→ See for YourSelF ←
Visit a local day-care center, preschool, or elementary
school and observe children at play. Record the activities
they are involved in, and note what both girls and boys
are doing. Do you observe any differences between boys’
and girls’ play? What do your observations tell you about
socialization patterns for boys and girls?

Theories of Socialization
Knowing that people become socialized does not
explain how it happens. People tend to think of social-
ization solely in psychological terms. The influence of
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), for example, permeates
our culture. Perhaps Freud’s greatest contribution was
the idea that the unconscious mind shapes human
behavior. Freud is also known for developing the tech-
nique of psychoanalysis to help discover the causes of
psychological problems in the recesses of troubled
patients’ minds. Freud’s approach depicts the human
psyche in three parts: the id is about impulses; the
superego is about the standards of society and moral-
ity; and the ego is about reason and common sense. The
psychoanalytic perspective interprets human identity
as relatively fixed at an early age in a process greatly
influenced by one’s family.

Psychological theories of socialization hold
much in common with sociology, but increasingly
rely on studies of the brain to understand how people
operate. Within sociology, socialization is explained
using social learning theory, functionalism, con-
flict theory, and symbolic interaction theory. Each
sociological perspective focuses on interactions with
others and within social institutions to explain social-
ization and its effect on the development of the self
(see ◆ Table 4.1).

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SoCIALIzATI on AnD THE LI F E Co URS E  87

Social Learning Theory
Whereas psychoanalytic theory places great impor-
tance on the internal unconscious processes of the
human mind, social learning theory considers the
formation of identity to be a learned response to exter-
nal social stimuli (Bandura and Walters 1963). Social
learning theory emphasizes the societal context of
socialization. Identity is regarded not as the product of
the unconscious but as the result of modeling oneself
(called role modeling) in response to the expectations
of others. According to social learning theory, behav-
iors and attitudes develop in response to reinforcement
and encouragement from those around us. Reinforce-
ment comes to us as positive reinforcement (reward) or
negative reinforcement (punishment). Behavior that
is positively reinforced is more likely to be repeated,
whereas behavior that is negatively reinforced is not.

A major tenant of social learning theory is the prin-
ciple that positive reinforcement plus the presence of
an admired role model makes the particular behavior
highly likely.

Functionalism
The major theoretical frameworks we have intro-
duced are used to understand socialization. From the
vantage point of functionalist theory, socialization
integrates people into society because it is the mecha-
nism through which they internalize social roles and
the values of society. This reinforces social consensus
because it encourages at least some degree of confor-
mity. Thus socialization is one way that society main-
tains its stability.

Conflict Theory
Conflict theorists would see this differently. Because of
the emphasis in conflict theory on the role of power and
coercion in society, conflict theorists thinking about
socialization would be most interested in how group
identity is shaped by patterns of inequality in society. A
person’s or group’s identity always emerges in a context,
and if that context is one marked by different opportu-
nities for different groups, then one’s identity will be
shaped by that fact. This may help you understand why,
for example, women are more likely to choose college
majors in areas of study that have traditionally been
associated with women’s work opportunities.

Symbolic Interaction Theory
Recall that symbolic interaction theory centers on the
idea that human actions are based on the meanings

◆ Table 4.1 Theories of Socialization

Social Learning
Theory Functional Theory Conflict Theory

Symbolic Interaction
Theory

How each theory views:

Individual learning
process

People respond to
social stimuli in their
environment.

People internalize the
role expectations that
are present in society.

Individual and group
aspirations are shaped
by the opportunities
available to different
groups.

Children learn through
taking the role of
significant others.

Formation of self Identity is created
through the interaction
of mental and social
worlds.

Internalizing the values
of society reinforces
social consensus.

Group consciousness is
formed in the context of
a system of inequality.

Identity emerges
as the creative self
interacts with the social
expectations of others.

Influence of society Young children learn the
principles that shape the
external world.

Society relies upon
conformity to maintain
stability and social
equilibrium.

Social control agents
exert pressure to
conform.

Expectations of others
form the social context
for learning social roles.

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8 8   CH APT ER 4

people attribute to behavior; these meanings emerge
through social interaction (Blumer 1969). Symbolic
interaction has been especially important in develop-
ing an understanding of socialization. People learn
identities and values through socialization. For exam-
ple, learning to become a good student means taking
on the characteristics associated with that role. Because
roles are socially defined, they are not real, like objects
or things, but are real because of the meanings people
give them.

For symbolic interactionists, meaning is constantly
reconstructed as people act within their social envi-
ronments. The self is what we imagine we are; it is not
only an interior bundle of drives, instincts, and motives.
Because of the importance attributed to reflection in
symbolic interaction theory, symbolic interactionists
use the term self, rather than the term personality, to
refer to a person’s identity. Symbolic interaction theory
emphasizes that human beings make conscious and
meaningful adaptations to their social environment.
From a symbolic-interactionist perspective, identity is
not something that is unconscious and hidden from

view, but is socially bestowed and socially sustained
(Berger 1963).

Two theorists have greatly influenced the
development of symbolic-interactionist theory in
sociology. Charles Horton Cooley (1864–1929) and
George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) were both sociolo-
gists at the University of Chicago in the early 1900s (see
Chapter 1). Cooley and Mead saw the self developing in
response to the expectations and judgments of others in
their social environment.

Charles Horton Cooley postulated the looking-
glass self to explain how our conception of self arises
through considering our relationships to others (Cooley
1967/1909, 1902). The development of the looking-glass
self emerges from (1) how we think we appear to oth-
ers; (2) how we think others judge us; and, (3) how the
first two make us feel—proud, embarrassed, or other
feelings. The looking-glass self involves perception and
effect, the perception of how others see us and the effect
of others’ judgment on us (see ▲ Figure 4.3).

How others see us is fundamental to the idea of the
looking-glass self. In seeing ourselves as others do, we

respond to the expectations others
have of us. This means that the for-
mation of the self is fundamentally
a social process—one based in the
interaction people have with each
other, as well as the human capacity
for self-examination.

One unique feature of human
life is the ability to see ourselves
through others’ eyes. People can
imagine themselves in relationship
to others and develop a definition of
themselves accordingly. From a sym-
bolic interactionist perspective, the
reflective process is key to the devel-
opment of the self. If you grow up
with others who think you are smart
and sharp-witted, chances are you
will develop this definition of your-
self. If others see you as dull-witted
and withdrawn, chances are good
that you will see yourself this way.
George Herbert Mead agreed with
Cooley that children are socialized
by responding to others’ attitudes
toward them. According to Mead,
social roles are the basis of all social
interaction.

Taking the role of the other is
the process of putting oneself into
the point of view of another. To Mead,
role-taking is a source of self-aware-
ness. As people take on new roles,
their awareness of self changes.

▲ Figure 4.3 The Looking-Glass Self The looking-glass self refers to the
process by which we attempt to see ourselves as others see us. This also helps us
identify what roles we play in society and in relation to others. Drawing conceptual-
ized by Norman Andersen.

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SoCIALIzATIon AnD THE LI F E CoURS E  89

According to Mead, identity emerges from the
roles one plays. He explained this process in detail by
examining childhood socialization, which he saw as
occurring in three stages: the imitation stage, the play
stage, and the game stage (Mead 1934). In each phase
of development, the child becomes more proficient at
taking the role of the other.

In the first stage, the imitation stage, children
merely copy the behavior of those around them. Role-
taking in this phase is nonexistent because the child
simply mimics the behavior of those in the surround-
ing environment without much understanding of the
social meaning of the behavior. Although children in
the imitation stage have little understanding of the
behavior being copied, they are learning to become
social beings. For example, think of young children
who simply mimic the behavior of people around them
(such as pretending to read a book, but doing so with
the book upside down).

In the second stage, the play stage, children begin
to take on the roles of significant people in their envi-
ronment, not just imitating but incorporating their rela-
tionship to the other. Especially meaningful is when
children take on the role of significant others, those
with whom they have a close affiliation. A child pretend-
ing to be his mother may talk to himself as the mother
would. The child begins to develop self- awareness, see-
ing himself or herself as others do.

In the third stage of socialization, the game stage,
children become capable of taking on multiple roles
at the same time. These roles are organized in a com-
plex system that gives the children a more general or
comprehensive view of the self. In this stage, children
begin to comprehend the system of social relation-
ships in which they are located. The children not only
see themselves from the perspective of a significant
other, but also understand how people are related to
each other and how others are related to them. This
is the phase where children internalize (incorpo-
rate into the self ) an abstract understanding of how
society sees them.

Mead compared the lessons of the game stage to a
baseball game. In baseball, all roles together make the
game. The pitcher does not just throw the ball past the
batter as if they were the only two people on the field;
rather, each player has a specific role, and each role
intersects with the others. The network of social roles
and the division of labor in the baseball game is a social
system, like the social systems children must learn as
they develop a concept of themselves in society.

→ See for YourSelF ←
Childhood Play and Socialization
The purpose of this exercise is to explain how childhood
socialization is a mechanism for passing on social norms

and values. Begin by identifying a form of play that you
engaged in as a young child. What did you play? Who did
you play with? Was it structured or unstructured play?
What were the rules? Were they formal or informal, and
who controlled whether they were observed?

1. now think about what norms and values were being
taught to you by way of this play. Do they still affect
you today? If so, how?

2. How does your experience compare to those of
students in your class who differ from you in terms
of gender, race, ethnicity, regional origin, and so
forth. Are there differences in learned norms and
values that can be attributed to these different social
characteristics?

In the game stage, children learn more than just the
roles of significant others in their environment. They
also acquire a concept of the generalized other—the
abstract composite of social roles and social expecta-
tions. In the generalized other, they have an example of
community values and general social expectations that
adds to their understanding of self; however, children
do not all learn the same generalized other. Depend-
ing on one’s social position (that is, race, class, gender,
region, or religion), one learns a particular set of social
and cultural expectations.

If the self is socially constructed through the expec-
tations of others, how do people become individuals?
Mead answered this by saying that the self has two
dimensions: the “I” and the “me.” The “I” is the unique
part of individual personality, the active, creative,
self-defining part. The “me” is the passive, conform-
ing self, the part that reacts to others. In each person,
there is a balance between the I and the me. To Mead,
social identity is always in flux, constantly emerging (or
“becoming”) and dependent on social situations. Over
time, identity stabilizes as one learns to respond consis-
tently to common situations.

Social expectations associated with given roles
change as people redefine situations and as social and
historical conditions change; thus the social expecta-
tions learned through the socialization process are not
permanently fixed. For example, as more women enter
the paid labor force and as men take on additional
responsibilities in the home, the expectations associ-
ated with motherhood and fatherhood are changing.
Men now experience some of the role conflicts that
women have faced in balancing work and family. As
the roles of mother and father are redefined, children
are learning new socialization patterns; however, tra-
ditional gender expectations maintain a remarkable
grip. Despite many changes in family life and organiza-
tion, young girls are still socialized for motherhood and
young boys are still socialized for greater independence
and autonomy.

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9 0   CH A PTER 4

Growing Up in a
Diverse Society
Understanding the institutional context of socializa-
tion is important for understanding how socialization
affects different groups in society. Socialization makes
us members of our society. It instills in us the values of
the culture and brings society into our self-definition,
our perceptions of others, and our understanding of the
world around us. Socialization is not, however, a uni-
form process, as the different examples developed in
this chapter show. In a society as complex and diverse
as the United States, no two people will have exactly
the same experiences. We can find similarities between
us, often across vast social and cultural differences,
but variation in social contexts creates vastly different
socialization experiences.

Furthermore, current changes in the U.S popula-
tion are creating new multiracial and multicultural
environments in which young people grow up. Schools,
as an example, are being transformed in many places
by the large number of immigrant groups entering the
school system. Immigrant children come into contact
with native-born American children who may or may
not be born to immigrant parents. This creates a new
context in which children form their social values and
learn their social identities (see the box “Doing Socio-
logical Research: Race Socialization among Young
Adults” later in this chapter).

One task of the sociological imagination is to exam-
ine the influence of different contexts on socialization.
Where you grow up; how your family is structured; what

resources you have at your disposal; your racial–ethnic
identity, gender, and nationality—all shape the social-
ization experience. Socialization experiences for all
groups are shaped by many factors that intermingle and
intersect to form the context for socialization.

One way that this has been demonstrated is in
research that examines families of different class back-
grounds and how they socialize their children. Jessica
Calarco (2014) studied children from working-class and
middle-class families as they moved from third grade
through fifth grade. She examined how parents social-
ize their children with regard to classroom behavior
and problem solving at school. Additionally, she inter-
viewed children, parents, and teachers and uncovered
clear patterns that distinguish middle-class school stu-
dents from working-class school students. Her research
finds that middle-class parents emphasize a “by-any-
means” approach to problem solving. Middle-class par-
ents teach their children to reach out to teachers, ask
for extra help, giving them a sense of entitlement about
what kind of education they deserve. Working-class par-
ents adopt a “no excuses” approach to problem solving.
Working-class parents socialize children to show con-
straint, not ask for extra help, and simply work harder.
Calarco concludes that these styles of problem solving
and expectations for classroom behavior reinforce class
differences in education, thus showing one of the con-
sequences of socialization differences by class.

Aging and the Life Course
Socialization begins the moment a person is born. As
soon as the sex of a child is known (which now can be
even before birth), parents, grandparents, brothers,
and sisters greet the infant with different expectations,
depending on whether it is a boy or a girl. Socialization
does not come to an end as we reach adulthood. Social-
ization continues through our lifetime. As we enter new
situations, and even as we interact in familiar ones, we
learn new roles and undergo changes in identity.

Sociologists use the term life course to describe and
analyze the connection between people’s personal attri-
butes, the roles they occupy, the life events they experi-
ence, and the social and historical aspects of these events.
The life course perspective underscores the point made
by C. Wright Mills (introduced in Chapter 1) that per-
sonal biographies are linked to specific social- historical
periods. Thus different generations are strongly influ-
enced by large-scale events (such as war, immigration,
economic prosperity, or depression, for example).

The phases of the life course are familiar: childhood,
youth and adolescence, adulthood, and old age. These
phases of the life course define different generations
and define some of life’s most significant events, such as
birth, marriage, retirement, and death. ▲ Figure 4.4 illus-
trates some of the ways we are socialized throughout life.

Children are socialized to behave certain ways in school. Both
families and schools are agents of socialization. Social class
influences parental expectations of classroom behavior and
problem solving, resulting in class differences in academic
performance.

D
an

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afl
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es

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SoCIALI zATIon AnD THE LI F E Co URS E  91

Childhood
During childhood, socialization establishes one’s ini-
tial identity and values. In this period, the family is an
extremely influential source of socialization. Experi-
ences in school, peer relationships, sports, religion, and
the media also have a profound effect. Children acquire
knowledge of their culture through countless subtle
cues that provide them with an understanding of what
it means to live in society.

Socializing cues begin as early as infancy, when
parents and others begin to describe their children
based on their perceptions. Frequently, these percep-
tions are derived from the cultural expectations par-
ents have for children. Parents of girls may describe
their babies as “sweet” and “cuddly,” whereas boys are
described as “strong” and “alert.” Even though it is diffi-
cult to physically identify baby boys and girls when they
are infants, parents in this culture dress even their tiny
infants in colors and styles that typically distinguish one
gender from the other.

Childhood socialization is often very subtle.
Much socialization in early childhood takes place
through play and games. Games that emphasize tra-
ditional gender roles will likely lead to girls growing
up to fulfill feminine roles and boys growing up to
fulfill masculine roles. Social class, family structure,
and race also affect how gender roles are taught to
children. For example, research finds that children
of lesbian or gay parents play games that are less
gender-stereotyped and that children of hetero-
sexual couples played more gender-specific games
(Goldberg et al. 2012).

Beyond understanding how children are socialized
into adult roles, we should consider the importance of
children and childhood to society. In the United States,
we value children as our future leaders, inventors, and
activists. We also recognize that children will likely
become parents. How we treat our children now will
influence future generations. We have strict guidelines
for protecting children, including laws against child

labor. Different cultures may have different protections
for children or none at all.

Adolescence
Only recently has adolescence been thought of as a
separate phase in the life cycle. Until the early twenti-
eth century, children moved directly from childhood
roles to adult roles. It was only when formal educa-
tion was extended to all classes that adolescence
emerged as a particular phase in life when young
people are regarded as no longer children, but not yet
adults. There are no clear boundaries to adolescence,
although it generally lasts from junior high school
until the time one takes on adult roles by getting a job,
forming one’s own family,, and financially support-
ing themselves. Adolescence can include the period
through high school and extend right up through
college graduation.

Erik Erikson (1980), the noted psychologist,
stated that the central task of adolescence is the for-
mation of a consistent identity. Adolescents try to
become independent of their families, but they have
not yet moved into adult roles. Conflict and confusion
can arise as adolescents swing between childhood
and adult maturity. Some argue that adolescence is a
period of delayed maturity. Although society expects
adolescents to behave like adults, they are denied
many privileges associated with adult life. Until age
18, they cannot vote, drink, or marry without per-
mission, and they are considered too young for par-
enthood. They can, however, enlist in the military.
The tensions of adolescence have been blamed for
numerous social problems, such as drug and alco-
hol abuse, youth violence, teen pregnancy, and the
school dropout rate.

The issues that young people face are good barom-
eters of social change across generations. Today’s young
people face an uncertain world where adult roles are
less predictable than in the past. Marriage later in life,
high divorce rates, frequent technological change, and

School

Growing up

Family

Media Peers

▲ Figure 4.4 The Many Agents
of Socialization Throughout the life course,
there are many social influences on how and
what we learn. We internalize the expecta-
tions of society beginning from infancy and
continuing through into old age.

Agents of Socialization

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92   CHAPT ER 4

Many parents teach their children about
their cultural heritage and encourage
cultural pride. In a diverse American
society, parents are also charged with
socializing their children to respond
to potential discrimination. A research
study by Deborah Rivas-Drake shows
that Latinos develop ethnic identities
directly from family socialization and
messages about future discrimination.

Research Questions: How do the warn-
ings issued by parents about discrimina-
tion influence the expectations of young
adults? Rivas-Drake researched Latino
families to understand how young adults
perceive the likelihood of anti-Latino
bias and how that influences their ethnic
identity. She also examined how cultural
socialization regarding ethnic identity
influenced psychological adjustments
as an adult, such as depression and
self-esteem. Rivas-Drake developed a
research project to examine Latino young
adults who are pursuing higher education
and how their ethnic socialization influ-
ences their development.

Research Method: Rivas-Drake sampled
227 Latino students from one university
who were eighteen years of age or older.
The mean age among the sample was
about nineteen years old, and 65 percent

Ethnic Socialization among Young Adults
of the sample were women. Seventy-two
percent of the sample had one parent
who was born in another country. She
administered an online survey in 2008
that asked a series of questions that mea-
sured how parents socialized their children
with regard to ethnicity and whether they
informed them about perceived barriers to
opportunities and ethnic bias.

Research Results: Overall, students had
more socialization from parents regard-
ing culture than they did about expecta-
tions for future bias. Most students in
the sample did agree that discrimination
did exist and that Latinos had fewer
resources and opportunities than White
students. Latino students who reported
greater cultural socialization from par-
ents had stronger ethnic identity. Those
students who reported receiving greater
preparation for racial barriers to oppor-
tunity reported less ethnic identity but
greater understanding of the status of
their ethnic group. Latino students who
were prepared by their parents to expect
ethnic bias were more aware of barriers
to opportunity, and consequently the
students experienced lower self-esteem
and depression.

Conclusions and Implications: This
research highlights how parents socialize

their children and the consequences
of that socialization for Latino young
adults. The college students in this sam-
ple revealed that, if they were socialized
to have strong ethnic identities, their
Latino status was more central to their
identity. They were then better adjusted
as young adults in college. Latinos who
reported having parents who prepared
them for bias and barriers to opportu-
nity were more likely to understand the
status of Latino groups relative to other
American groups. These students faced
greater challenges in their overall well-
being as young adults.

Questions to Consider

1. What is your earliest memory of a
cultural lesson about ethnicity from
your family? Do you remember a
time when you thought your family
traditions were different from other
traditions?

2. How did your upbringing prepare
you for college life? Did your parents
have specific expectations for you
regarding education? What about
other expectations?

Source: Rivas-Drake, Deborah. 2011. “Ethnic-
Racial Socialization and Adjustment among
Latino College Students: The Mediating
Roles of Ethnic Centrality, Public Regard, and
Perceived Barriers to Opportunity.” Journal of
Youth and Adolescence 40: 606–619.

doing sociological research

economic recession all create a confusing environment
for young people. Studies of adolescents find that, in
this context, young people understand the need for flex-
ibility specialization, and, likely, frequent job change.
Although the media stereotype adolescents as slackers,
most teens are willing to work hard, do not engage in
criminal or violent activity, and have high expectations
for an education that will lead to a good job. Many, how-
ever, find that their expectations are out of alignment
with the opportunities that are actually available, par-
ticularly during periods of economic downturn.

Patterns of adolescent socialization vary signifi-
cantly by race, social class, and gender. National surveys
find some intriguing class and race differences in how
young people think about work and play in their lives. In
general, the most economically privileged young people

see their activities as more like play than work, whereas
those less privileged are more likely to define their activ-
ities as work. Additional research finds that adolescents
learn from parents about gender-stereotyped courses
and job options, and often choose a course of study that
will lead to gender-specific careers (Tenenbaum 2009).

Adulthood
Socialization does not end when one becomes an adult.
Building on the identity formed in childhood and ado-
lescence, adult socialization is the process of learning
new roles and expectations in adult life. More than at
earlier stages in life, adult socialization involves learn-
ing behaviors and attitudes appropriate to specific situ-
ations and roles.

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SoCIALIzATIon AnD THE LI F E CoURS E  93

Youths entering college, to take an example from
young adulthood, are newly independent and have new
responsibilities. In college, one acquires not just an edu-
cation but also a new identity. Those who enter college
directly from high school may encounter conflicts with
their family over their newfound status. Older students
who work and attend college may experience difficulties
(defined as role conflict; see Chapter 5) trying to meet
dual responsibilities, especially if their family is not sup-
portive. Meeting multiple and conflicting demands may
require returning students to develop different expecta-
tions about how much they can accomplish or to estab-
lish different priorities about what they will attempt.

Adult life is peppered with events that may require
adults to adapt to new roles. Marriage, a new career, start-
ing a family, entering the military, getting a divorce, or
dealing with a death in the family all transform an indi-
vidual’s previous social identity. In today’s world, these

transitions through the life course are not as orderly as
they were in the past. Where there was once a sequential
and predictable trajectory of schooling, work, and family
roles through one’s twenties and thirties, that is no longer
the case. Younger generations now experience diverse
patterns in the sequencing of work, schooling, and fam-
ily formation—even returning home—than was true
in the past. These changes complicate the life course,
and people have to make different adaptations to these
changing roles.

Becoming a full adult is thus taking longer than
before. This has led some to coin the term “emerg-
ing adulthood” to describe the path of today’s
20- somethings to age 30 (Arnett 2010; Arnett and Tanner
2010). Becoming an adult involves many dimensions,
such as financial independence, completing an edu-
cation, and so forth (see ▲ Figure 4.5). Conditions in
society at any given time can make these aspirations

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Important for becoming an adult

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Achieve by age 30 for adulthood

▲ Figure 4.5 Identifying the Transition
to Adulthood The majority of people, both
women and men, think that the different
indicators of adulthood should be achieved
by age 25, but almost everyone thinks these
things should be achieved by age thirty. As
you can see, though, women and men differ
most about whether marriage is important
by age 30.
Data source: Smith, Tom W., Peter V. Marsden,
Michael Hout, and Jibum Kim. General Social
Surveys, 1972–2012. Chicago: National Opinion
Research Center. www.norc.org

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

94   CHAPTER 4

difficult to achieve. Finishing an education, acquiring
work, becoming independent—all of these desires can
be compromised by the social conditions of the time,
which is further evidence of the impact of societal forces
larger than oneself on the outcome of one’s life.

For example, research shows how the path to adult-
hood has changed since the 1950s and 1960s. Although
young men and women agree that a good job, marriage,
and being able to live on their own are all desirable
adult roles, achieving these milestones is not as auto-
matic as it once was. Working-class young adults, in
particular, are working at insecure service jobs, incur-
ring credit card debt, and finding little time or resources
to build a family of their own (Silva 2014). Socialization
in adulthood varies by social class status.

Another part of learning a new role is anticipatory
socialization, the learning of expectations associ-
ated with a role a person expects to enter in the future.
Anticipatory socialization allows a person to foresee
the expectations associated with a new role and to learn
what is expected in that role in advance. Research on
working-class young adults highlights that they are
prepared to embrace adult roles, despite the economic
obstacles they face in obtaining them.

In the transition from an old role to a new one,
individuals often vacillate between their old and new
identities as they adjust to fresh settings and expecta-
tions. An example is coming out, the process of iden-
tifying oneself as gay or lesbian. This can be either a
public coming out or a private acknowledgment of
sexual orientation. The process can take years and
generally means coming out to a few people, at first
selective family members or friends who are likely to
have the most positive reaction. Coming out is rarely a
single event, but occurs in stages on the way to devel-
oping a new identity.

Age and Aging
Passage through adulthood involves many transitions.
In our society, one of the most difficult transitions is
the passage to old age. We are taught to fear aging in
this society, and many people spend a lot of time and
money trying to keep looking young. Unlike many other
societies, ours does not revere the elderly, but instead
devalues them, making the aging process even more
difficult.

Despite desperate attempts to hide gray hair,
eliminate wrinkles, and reduce middle-aged weight
gain, aging is inevitable. The skin creases and sags, the
hair thins, metabolism slows, and bones become less
dense and more brittle by losing bone mass. Although
aging is a physical process, the social dimensions of
aging are just as important, if not more important, in
determining the aging process. Just think about how
some people appear to age much more rapidly than

others. Some sixty-year-olds look only forty, and some
forty-year-olds look sixty. These differences result
from combinations of biological and social factors,
such as genetics, eating, exercise, stress, smoking hab-
its, pollution in the physical environment, and many
other factors. The social dimensions of aging are what
interest sociologists.

Although the physiology of aging proceeds
according to biological processes, what it means to
grow older is a social phenomenon. Age stereotypes
are preconceived judgments about what different age
groups are like. Stereotypes abound for both old and
young people. Young people, especially teenagers, are
stereotyped as irresponsible, addicted to loud music,
lazy (“slackers”), sloppy, and so on; the elderly are ste-
reotyped as forgetful, set in their ways, mentally dim,
and unproductive. Though like any stereotype, these
stereotypes are largely myths, they are widely believed.
Age stereotypes also differ for different groups. Older
women are stereotyped as having lost their sexual
appeal, contrary to the stereotype of older men as
handsome or “distinguished” and desirable. Gender
is, in fact, one of the most significant factors in age ste-
reotypes. Age stereotypes are also reinforced through
popular culture. Advertisements depict women as
needing creams and lotions to hide “the telltale signs
of aging.” Men are admonished to cover the patches of
gray hair that appear or to use other products to pre-
vent baldness. Entire industries are constructed on the
fear of aging that popular culture promotes. Facelifts,
tummy tucks, and vitamin advertisements all claim to
“reverse the process of aging,” even though the aging
process is a fact of life.

Age Prejudice and Discrimination. Age prejudice
refers to a negative attitude about an age group that is
generalized to all people in that group. Prejudice against
the elderly is prominent. The elderly are often thought
of as childlike and thus incapable of adult responsibil-
ity. Prejudice relegates people to a perceived lower sta-
tus in society and stems from the stereotypes associated
with different age groups.

Age discrimination is the different and unequal
treatment of people based solely on their age. Whereas
age prejudice is an attitude, age discrimination
involves actual behavior. As an example, people may
talk “baby talk” to the elderly. This reinforces the ste-
reotype of the elderly as childlike and incompetent.
Some forms of age discrimination are illegal. The Age
Discrimination in Employment Act, first passed in
1967 but amended several times since, protects peo-
ple from age discrimination in employment. It states
that age discrimination is a violation of the individu-
al’s civil rights. An employer can neither hire nor fire
someone based solely on age, nor segregate or classify
workers based on age.

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SoCIALI zATIon AnD THE LI F E CoURS E  95

Ageism is a term sociologists use to describe the
institutionalized practice of age prejudice and discrimi-
nation. More than a single attitude or an explicit act of
discrimination, ageism is structured into the institu-
tional fabric of society. Like racism and sexism, ageism
encompasses both prejudice and discrimination, but
it is also manifested in the structure of institutions. As
such, it does not have to be intentional or overt to affect
how age groups are treated. Ageism in society means
that, regardless of laws that prohibit age discrimina-
tion, a person’s age is a significant predictor of his or
her life chances. Resources are distributed in society
in ways that advantage some age groups and disadvan-
tage others; cultural belief systems devalue the elderly;
society’s systems of care are often inadequate to meet
people’s needs as they grow old—these are the mani-
festations of ageism, a persistent and institutionalized
feature of society.

Age Stratification. Most societies produce age
hierarchies—systems in which some age groups have
more power and better life chances than others. Age

stratification refers to the hierarchical ranking of dif-
ferent age groups in society. Age stratification exists
because processes in society ensure that people of dif-
ferent ages differ in their access to society’s rewards,
power, and privileges. In the United States and else-
where, age is a major source of inequality. ▲ Figure 4.6
shows the percentage of older Americans living in pov-
erty, and how that differs by gender.

Age is an ascribed status; that is, age is deter-
mined by when you were born. Different from other
ascribed statuses, which remain relatively constant
over the duration of a person’s life, age changes steadily
throughout your life. Still, you remain part of a par-
ticular generation—something sociologists call an age
cohort—an aggregate group of people born during the
same period.

People in the same age cohort share the same
historical experiences—wars, technological develop-
ments, and economic fluctuations—although they
might do so in different ways, depending on other
life factors. Living through the Great Depression,
for example, shaped an entire generation’s attitudes

P
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15%

10%

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55–59 60–64 65–74 751

Men Women

▲ Figure 4.6 Poverty by Age and Gender
(Percentage) Among the old, women are more
likely to be poor than men, particularly among
the oldest old.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 2014. Detailed Poverty
Tables, Table POV01. Washington, DC: U.S. Census
Bureau. www.census.gov

The stresses of life that accompany age can change a person in many ways, as is evident in these photographs of President
Barack obama. The first is from his reelection campaign in 2012, and the second is more recently in 2015.

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9 6   CHAPTER 4

and behaviors, as did growing up in the 1960s, as will
being a member of the contemporary youth genera-
tion. The global war against terrorism, for example,
will likely shape the experiences of the current youth
generation.

Recall from Chapter 1 that C. Wright Mills saw the
task of the sociological imagination as analyzing the
relationship between biography and history. Under-
standing the experiences of different age cohorts is
one way you can do this. People who live through the
same historic period experience a similar impact of
that period in their personal lives. The troubles and
triumphs they experience and the societal issues
they face are rooted in the commonality established
by their age cohort. There is variation in how the old
are treated. In many societies, older people are given
enormous respect. There may be traditions to honor
the elders, and they may be given authority over deci-
sions in society, as they are perceived as most wise.
On the other hand, among some cultures, adults who
can no longer contribute to the society because of
old age or illness may be perceived as extreme bur-
dens and thus may be banished from the society
altogether.

Why does society stratify people on the basis
of age? Functionalist sociologists ask whether the
grouping of individuals contributes in some way to
the common good of society (see ◆ Table  4.2). From
this perspective, adulthood is functional to society
because adults are seen as the group contributing
most fully to it ; the elderly are not. Functionalists
argue that older people are seen as less useful and are
therefore granted lower status in society. Youth are
in between. The constraints and expectations placed
on youth—they are prohibited from engaging in a
variety of “adult” activities, expected to go to school,
not expected to support themselves—are seen to free
them from the cares of adulthood and give them time

and opportunity to learn an occupation and prepare to
contribute to society.

According to the functionalist argument, the
elderly voluntarily withdraw from society by retiring
and lessening their participation in social activities such
as church, civic affairs, and family. Disengagement
theory, drawn from functionalism, predicts that as
people age, they gradually withdraw from participation
in society and are simultaneously relieved of responsi-
bilities. This withdrawal is functional to society because
it provides for an orderly transition from one genera-
tion to the next. The young presumably infuse the roles
they take over from the elderly with youthful energy
and stamina. According to the functionalist argument,
the diminished usefulness of the elderly justifies their
depressed earning power and their relative neglect in
social support networks.

Conflict theory focuses on the competition over
scarce resources between age groups. Among the
most important scarce resources are jobs. Unlike
functionalist theory, conflict theory offers an expla-
nation of why both youth and the elderly are assigned
lower status in society and are most likely to be poor.
Barring youth and the elderly from the labor market
eliminates these groups from competition, improving
the prospects for middle-aged workers. Removed from
competition, both the young and the old have very lit-
tle power, and like other minorities, they are denied
access to the resources they need to change their situ-
ation. Conflict theory also helps explain that competi-
tion can emerge between age groups, such as deciding
whether to limit Social Security payments to save for
future generations.

Symbolic interaction theory analyzes the different
meanings attributed to social entities. Symbolic inter-
actionists ask what meanings become attached to dif-
ferent age groups and to what extent these meanings
explain how society ranks such groups. Definitions of

◆ Table 4.2 Sociological Theories of Aging

Functional Theory Conflict Theory Symbolic Interaction

Age differentiation Contributes to the common
good of society because each
group has varying levels of
utility in society

Results from the different
economic status and power
of age cohorts

occurs in most societies, but the
social value placed on different
age groups varies across diverse
cultures

Age groups Are valued according to their
usefulness in society

Compete for resources
in society, resulting in
generational inequities and
thus potential conflict

Are stereotyped according to
the perceived value of different
groups

Age stratification Results from the functional
value of different age cohorts

Intertwines with inequalities
of class, race, and gender

Promotes ageism, which is
institutionalized prejudice and
discrimination against old people

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SoCIALIzATI on AnD THE L I F E Co URS E  97

aging are socially constructed, as we saw in our discus-
sion of age stereotypes. Moreover, in some societies, the
elderly may be perceived as having higher status than in
other societies. Symbolic interaction considers the role
of social perception in understanding the sociology of
age. Age clearly takes on significant social meaning—
meaning that varies from society to society for a given
age group and that varies within a society for different
age groups.

Growing old in a society such as the United States
with such a strong emphasis on youth means encoun-
tering social stereotypes about the old, adjusting to
diminished social and financial resources, and some-
times living in the absence of social supports, even
when facing some of life’s most difficult transitions,
such as declining health and the loss of loved ones.
Still, many people experience old age as a time of
great satisfaction and enjoy a sense of accomplish-
ment connected to work, family, and friends. The
degree of satisfaction during old age depends to a
great extent on the social support networks estab-
lished earlier in life— evidence of the continuing
influence of socialization.

Rites of Passage
A rite of passage is a ceremony or ritual that marks the
transition of an individual from one role to another.
Rites of passage define and legitimize abrupt role
changes that begin or end each stage of life. The cere-
monies surrounding rites of passage are often dramatic
and infused with awe and solemnity. Examples include
graduation ceremonies, weddings, and religious affir-
mations such as the Jewish ceremony of the bar mitz-
vah for boys or the bat mitzvah for girls, confirmation
for Catholics, and adult baptism for many Christian
denominations.

Formal promotions or entry into some new
careers may also include rites of passage. Complet-
ing police academy training or being handed one’s
diploma are examples. Such rites usually include fam-
ily and friends, who watch the ceremony with pride.
People frequently keep mementos of these rites as
markers of the transition through life’s major stages.
Bridal showers and baby showers have been ana-
lyzed as rites of passage. At a shower, the person who
is being honored is about to assume a new role and
identity—from young woman to wife or mother. Rites
of passage entail public announcement of the new
status for the benefit of both the individual and those
with whom the newly anointed person will interact.
In the absence of such rituals, the transformation of
identity would not be formally recognized, perhaps
leaving uncertainty in the youngster or the commu-
nity about the individual’s worthiness, preparedness,
or community acceptance.

Sociologists have noted that in the U.S. popula-
tion as whole, there is no standard and formalized rite
of passage marking the transition from childhood to
adulthood. As a consequence, the period of adoles-
cence is attended by ambivalence and uncertainty.
As adolescents hover between adult and child status,
they may not have the clear sense of identity that a
rite of passage can provide. Although there is no uni-
versal ceremony in our culture marking the change
from childhood to adulthood, some social class and
ethnic subcultures do mark the occasion. Among
the wealthy, the debutante’s coming-out celebration
is a traditional introduction of a young woman to
adult society. Latinos may celebrate the quinceañera
(fifteenth birthday) of young girls. A tradition of the
Catholic church, this rite recognizes the girl’s coming
of age, while also keeping faith with an ethnic heritage.
Dressed in white, she is introduced by her parents to
the larger community. Formerly associated mostly
with working-class families and other Latinos, the
quinceañera has also become popular among afflu-
ent Mexican Americans, who may match New York
debutante society by spending as much as $50,000 to
$100,000 on the event.

For many, old age is a time for new accomplishments and
achievements. Diana nyad, at age 64, was the first woman
to swim from Cuba to the United States in open waters.
As the population ages better, our stereotypes about age
are changing.

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9 8   CH APT ER 4

Resocialization
Most transitions people experience in their life-
times involve continuity with the former self as it
undergoes gradual redefinition. Sometimes, however,
adults are forced to undergo a radical shift of identity.
Resocialization is the process by which existing social
roles are radically altered or replaced (Fein 1988). Reso-
cialization is especially likely when people enter insti-
tutional settings where the institution claims enormous
control over the individual. Examples include the mili-
tary, prisons, monastic orders, and some cults. When
military recruits enter boot camp, they are stripped of
personal belongings, their heads are shaved, and they
are issued identical uniforms. Although military recruits
do not discard their former identities, the changes
brought about by becoming a soldier can be dramatic
and are meant to make the military one’s primary
group, not one’s family, friends, or personal history. The
military represents an extreme form of resocialization

in which individuals are expected to subordinate their
identity to that of the group.

Resocialization occurs again when soldiers return
to civilian life. Research has found, for example, that
veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghani-
stan face challenges upon their return that make
them feel alien in their own country. The contrast-
ing identities of soldier and civilian mean struggle
with their new autonomy, because they have become
accustomed to (that is socialized into) the hierarchi-
cal authority structure of the military. Coming home
means having to be resocialized into new expectations
(Smith and True 2014).

→Thinking Sociologically
Find three to five adults (young or old) who have just
entered a new stage of life (getting a new or first job,
getting married, becoming a grandparent, retiring, entering

Every culture has important rites of passage that mark the transition from one phase in the life course to another. Here, different
cultural traditions distinguish the rites of passage associated with marriage: a traditional nigerian wedding (upper left); a young
American couple (upper right); a Shinto (Japanese) bride taking a marital pledge by drinking sake (lower left); and a newlywed
orthodox Christian couple in Macedonia (lower right).

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SoCIALIzATI on An D THE LI F E Co URS E  99

a nursing home, and so forth), and ask them to describe
this new experience. Ask questions such as what others
expect of them in this new role, how these expectations
are communicated to them, what changes they see in their
own behavior, and what expectations they have of their
new situation. What do your observations tell you about
adult socialization?

Resocialization also occurs in many settings such
as college sport teams, fraternities, and the military.
During initiation rituals, new members may be given
menial and humiliating tasks and be expected to act
in a subservient manner. Such behaviors reinforce
one’s new identity. Although the participants may not
think of this as resocialization, that is precisely what is
happening.

The Process of Conversion
Resocialization also occurs during what people pop-
ularly think of as conversion. A conversion is a far-
reaching transformation of identity, often related to
religious or political beliefs. People usually think of
conversion in the context of cults, but it happens in
other settings as well.

John Walker Lindh was a U.S. citizen when the
United States entered the Iraq war in 2000. He joined
the Taliban in Afghanistan and was later charged with
conspiring to kill Americans abroad and support-
ing terrorist organizations. Lindh is an example of

an extreme conversion. He was raised Catholic in an
affluent family, but he converted to Islam as a teen-
ager, changing not just his ideas, but also his dress.
Neighbors described him as being transformed from
“a boy who wore blue jeans and T-shirts to an impos-
ing figure in flowing Muslim garb” (Robertson and
Burke 2001). Lindh’s case can now be compared to
the numerous American converts to radical Islam
who have been arrested trying to travel to Syria to join
ISIS and other extremist groups.

As when people join religious cults, these are
extreme conversion, but conversion happens in less
extreme situations, too. People may convert to a dif-
ferent religion, thereby undergoing resocialization by
changing beliefs and religious practices. Or someone
may become strongly influenced by the beliefs of a
social movement, such as the tea party political move-
ment, and abruptly or gradually change beliefs—even
identity—as a result.

The Brainwashing Debate
Extreme examples of resocialization are seen as “brain-
washing.” In the popular view of brainwashing, con-
verts have their previous identities totally stripped.
The transformation is seen as so complete that only
deprogramming can restore the former self. Potential
candidates of brainwashing include people who enter
religious cults, prisoners of war, and hostages. Sociolo-
gists have examined so-called brainwashing to illus-
trate the process of resocialization, but they note that
even with extreme conversions, converts do not neces-
sarily drop their former identity. Resocialization in its
most extreme form can be seen in the radicalization
of youth into terrorist organizations. Terrorist groups
across the globe recruit children and young adults to
join extremist movements, engage in violent acts, and
possibly even detonate “suicide bombs” in the name of
the radical group. Both political and religious doctrines
can be used to resocialize people to radicalized belief
systems (Nawaz 2013).

Forcible confinement and physical torture can be
instruments of extreme resocialization. Under severe
captivity and deprivation, a captured person may
come to identify with the captor; this is known as the
Stockholm syndrome. In traditional psychology, this
same phenomenon was called “identification with the
aggressor.” In such instances, the captured person has
become dependent on the captor. On release, the cap-
tive frequently needs debriefing, or deprogramming.
Prisoners of war and hostages may not lose free will
altogether, but they do lose freedom of movement and
association, which makes prisoners intensely depen-
dent on their captors and therefore vulnerable to the
captor’s influence.

Hazings are good examples of rites of passage that often
accompany induction into a group.

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10 0   CHA PTER 4

What is socialization, and why is it significant
for society?
Socialization is the process by which human beings
learn the social expectations of society. Socialization
creates the expectations that are the basis for people’s
attitudes and behaviors. Through socialization, people
conform to social expectations, although people still
express themselves as individuals.

What are the agents of socialization?
Socialization agents are those who pass on social
expectations. They include the family, the media,
peers, sports, religious institutions, and schools,
among others. The family is usually the first source
of socialization. The media also influence people’s
values and behaviors. Peers are an important source
of individual identity; without peer approval, most
people find it hard to be socially accepted. Schools
also pass on expectations that are influenced by gen-
der, race, and other social characteristics of people
and groups.

What theoretical perspectives do sociologists use
to explain socialization?
Psychoanalytic theory sees the self as driven by uncon-
scious drives and forces that interact with the expecta-
tions of society. Social learning theory sees identity as
a learned response to social stimuli such as reward–
punishment and role models. Functionalism inter-
prets socialization as key to social stability because
socialization establishes shared roles and values.
Conflict theory interprets socialization in the context
of inequality and power relations. Symbolic interac-
tion theory sees people as “constructing” the self as
they interact with the environment and give meaning
to their experience. Charles Horton Cooley described
this process as the looking-glass self. Another soci-
ologist, George Herbert Mead, described childhood

socialization as occurring in three stages: imitation,
play, and games.

Does socialization mean that everyone grows up
the same?
Socialization is not a uniform process. Growing up in
different environments and in such a diverse soci-
ety means that different people and different groups
are exposed to different expectations. Factors such as
family structure, social class, regional differences, and
many others influence how one is socialized.

Does socialization end during childhood?
Socialization continues through a lifetime, although
childhood is an especially significant time for the for-
mation of identity. Adolescence is also a period when
peer cultures have an enormous influence on the for-
mation of people’s self-concepts. Adult socialization
involves the learning of specific expectations associated
with new roles.

What are the social dimensions of the aging
process?
Although aging is a physiological process, its signifi-
cance stems from social meanings attached to aging.
Age prejudice and age discrimination result in the deval-
uation of older people. Age stratification—referring to
the inequality that occurs among different age groups—
is the result.

What does resocialization mean?
Resocialization is the process by which existing social
roles are radically altered or replaced. It can take place
in an organization that maintains strict social control
and demands that the individual conform to the needs
of the group or organization. Examples are religious
conversion, excessive influence via social interaction
(“brainwashing”), and the Stockholm syndrome.

Chapter Summary

The Stockholm syndrome can help explain why
some battered women do not leave their abusing
spouses or boyfriends. Dependent on their abuser both
financially and emotionally, battered women often
develop identities that keep them attached to men
who abuse them, a clear example of identification with
an aggressor. In these cases, outsiders often think the
women should leave instantly, whereas the women

themselves may find leaving difficult, even in the most
abusive situations.

The socialization process begins at birth and con-
tinues throughout life. How we are socialized as chil-
dren defines much of who we are and how we interact
with society. The various agents of socialization influ-
ence the roles we take on as children, young adults, and
into old age.

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SoCIALIzATIon AnD THE LI F E CoURS E  101

age cohort 95
age discrimination 94
age prejudice 94
age stereotype 94
age stratification 95
ageism 95
anticipatory

socialization 94
disengagement theory 96

game stage 89
generalized other 89
identity 78
imitation stage 89
internalization 78
life course 90
looking-glass self 88
peers 83
personality 78

play stage 89
psychoanalytic theory 87
resocialization 98
rite of passage 97
roles 78
self 88
self-concept 80
significant others 89

social control 80
social learning theory 87
socialization 78
socialization agents 81
Stockholm syndrome 99
taking the role of

the other 88

Key Terms

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5

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103

Picture a college classroom on your campus: Students sit, and some are taking notes; others, listening; a few, perhaps, sleeping. The class period ends and students
stand, gathering their books, backpacks, bags, and other gear.
As they stand, many whip out their cell phones, place them
to their ears, and quickly push buttons that connect them to
a friend. As the students exit the room, many are engaged in
social interaction—chatting with their friends: some by phone,
others by texting, some by talking face-to-face. Few, if any, of
them realize that their behavior is at that moment influenced
by society—a society whose influence extends into their
immediate social relationships, even when the contours of that
society—its social structure—are likely invisible to them.

These same students might put ear buds into their ears
as they move on to their next class, possibly tuning in to the
latest sounds while tuning out the sounds of the environment
around them. Some will return to their residences and per-
haps text message friends, download some music, or connect
with “friends” on social media. Surrounding all of this behavior
are social changes that are taking place in society, including
changes in technology, in global communication, and in how
people now interact with each other. How we make sense of
these changes requires an understanding of the connection
between society and social interaction. In this way, a sociologi-
cal perspective can help you see the relationship between
individuals and the larger society of which they are a part.

●● Define society and social
interaction, contrasting
macro- and micro-level
analyses

●● Compare and contrast
different ways society
is held together

●● Identify the different types
of society

●● Explain social interaction
in society, including groups,
status, roles, and everyday
social interactions

●● Compare and contrast the
theories used to analyze
social interaction

●● Examine interaction
in cyberspace

in this chapter, you will learn to:

What Is Society? 104

What Holds Society Together? 106

Types of Societies 107

Social Interaction and Society 110

Theories about Analyzing
Social Interaction 117

Interaction in Cyberspace 120

Chapter Summary 122

Social Structure
and Social Interaction

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10 4   CH ApTE r 5

What Is Society?
In Chapter 2, we studied culture as one force that
holds society together. Culture is the general way of
life, including norms, customs, beliefs, and language.
Human society is a system of social interaction, typi-
cally within geographical boundaries, that includes
both culture and social organization. Within a society,
members have a common culture, even though there
may also be great diversity within it. Members of a soci-
ety think of themselves as distinct from other societ-
ies, maintain ties of social interaction, and have a high
degree of interdependence. The interaction they have,
whether based on harmony or conflict, is one element
of society. Within society, social interaction is behavior
between two or more people that is given meaning by
them. Social interaction is how people relate to each
other and form social bonds.

Social interaction is the foundation of society, but
society is more than a collection of individual social
actions. Emile Durkheim, the classical sociological the-
orist, described society as sui generis—a Latin phrase
meaning “a thing in itself, of its own particular kind.”
To sociologists, seeing society sui generis means that
society is more than just the sum of its parts. Durkheim
saw society as an organism, something comprising
different parts that work together to create a unique
whole. Just as a human body is not just a collection of

organs but is alive as a whole organism with relation-
ships between its organs, society is not only a simple
collection of individuals, groups, or institutions but is a
whole entity that consists of all these elements and their
interrelationships.

This central sociological idea, that society is much
more than the sum of individuals, means that society
takes on a life of its own. It is patterned by humans and
their interactions, but it is something that endures and
takes on shape and structure beyond the immediacy
of any given group of people. This is a basic idea that
guides sociological thinking.

You can think of it this way: Imagine how a pho-
tographer views a landscape. The landscape is not just
the sum of its individual parts—mountains, pastures,
trees, or clouds—although each part contributes to the
whole. The power and beauty of the landscape is that
all its parts relate to each other, some in harmony and
some in contrast, to create a panoramic view. The pho-
tographer who tries to capture this landscape will likely
use a wide-angle lens. This method of photography
captures the breadth and comprehensive scope of what
the photographer sees. Similarly, sociologists try to
picture society as a whole, not only by seeing its indi-
vidual parts but also by recognizing the relatedness of
these parts and their vast complexity.

Macroanalysis and Microanalysis
Sociologists use different lenses to see the different
parts of society. Some views are more macroscopic—
that is, sociologists try to comprehend the whole of
society, how it is organized, and how it changes. This
is called macroanalysis, a sociological approach that
takes the broadest view of society by studying large pat-
terns of social interaction that are vast, complex, and
highly differentiated. You might do this by looking at a
whole society or comparing different total societies to
each other. For example, the technology that allows you
to connect to friends from long distances, through tex-
ting, photo sharing, and video calls allow for immediate
social interaction with other people. This technology
makes our society very different from societies before
cell phones and the Internet.

Other views are more microscopic—that is, the
focus is on the smallest, most immediately visible
parts of social life, such as specific people interacting
with each other. This is called microanalysis. In this
approach, sociologists study patterns of social interac-
tions that are relatively small, less complex, and less
differentiated—the microlevel of society. Using the
example of technology again, a sociologist might exam-
ine how people engage in social interaction through
texting and social media. How are they similar or dif-
ferent, on the basis of age, gender, social class, or race?
For example, do people text (that is, interact) with

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The introduction of new technologies is transforming the
nature of human communication. As more young people
become adept with these tools, what will the future bring?

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SoCIAl STruCTurE An D SoCIAl In TErACTI o n   105

each other within racial groups more than between
racial groups? Observing this would be an example of
microanalysis.

Thus a sociologist who studies social interaction via
texting or on the Internet would be engaging in micro-
analysis but might interpret what is found in the con-
text of macrolevel processes (such as race relations in
society). Just as a photographer might use a wide-angle
lens to photograph a landscape or a telephoto lens for
a closer view, sociologists use both macroanalyses and
microanalyses to reveal different dimensions of society.

In this chapter, we continue our study of sociology
by starting with the macro level of social life (by study-
ing total social structures), then continuing through
the micro level (by studying groups and face-to-face
interaction). The idea is to help you see how large-scale
dimensions of society shape even the most immediate
forms of social interaction.

Sociologists use the term social organization to
describe the order established in social groups at any
level. Specifically, social organization brings regularity
and predictability to human behavior; social organi-
zation is present at every level of interaction, from the
whole society to the smallest groups.

Social Institutions
Societies are identified by their cultural characteristics
and the social institutions that compose each society.
A social institution (or simply an institution) is an estab-
lished and organized system of social behavior with a
recognized purpose. The term refers to the broad sys-
tems that organize specific functions in society. Unlike
individual behavior, social institutions cannot be directly
observed, but their impact and structure can still be seen.
For example, the family is an institution that provides for
the care of the young and the transmission of culture.
Religion is an institution that organizes sacred beliefs.

Education is the institution through which people learn
the information and skills needed to live in the society.

The concept of the social institution is important
to sociological thinking. You can think of social institu-
tions as the enduring consequences of social behavior,
but what fascinates sociologists is how social institu-
tions take on a life of their own. For example, you were
likely born in a hospital, which itself is part of the health
care institution. The simple act of birth, which you might
think of as an individual experience, is shaped by the
structure of this social institution. Thus, you were likely
delivered by a doctor, accompanied by nurses and, per-
haps, a midwife—each of whom exists in a specific social
relationship to the health care institution. Each of these
people is in an institutional role. Moreover, this social
institution also shaped the practices surrounding your
birth. Thus, you might have been initially removed from
your mother and examined by a doctor, which is very dif-
ferent from the institutional practices in other societies.

The major institutions in society include the family,
education, work and the economy, the political institu-
tion (or state), religion, and health care, as well as the
mass media, organized sports, and the military. These
are all complex structures that exist to meet certain
needs that are necessary for society to exist. Function-
alist theorists have traditionally identified these needs
(functions) as follows:

1. The socialization of new members of the society.
This is primarily accomplished by the family,
but involves other institutions as well, such as
education.

2. The production and distribution of goods and
services. The economy is generally the institution
that performs this set of tasks, but this may also
involve the family as an institution—especially
in societies where production takes place within
households.

Birth, though a natural process, occurs within social institutions. These institutions vary in different societies, depending on the
social organization of society. In these photos you see a new mother in the united States, holding her newborn with only the
doctor nearby in a hospital room. Contrast that to a home birth in the South Sudan.

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

10 6   CHA pTE r 5

3. Replacement of society’s members. All societies
must have a means of replacing members who die,
move or migrate away, or otherwise leave the soci-
ety. Families are typically organized to do this.

4. The maintenance of stability and existence. Certain
institutions within a society (such as the govern-
ment, the police force, and the military) contribute
toward the stability and continuance of the society.

5. Providing the members with an ultimate sense of
purpose. Societies accomplish this task by creating
national anthems, for instance, and by encourag-
ing patriotism in addition to providing basic val-
ues and moral codes through institutions such as
religion, the family, and education (Parsons 1951a;
Aberle et al. 1950).

In contrast to functionalist theory, conflict theory fur-
ther notes that because conflict is inherent in most soci-
eties, the social institutions of society do not provide for
all its members equally. Some members are provided
for better than others, thus demonstrating that insti-
tutions affect people by granting more power to some
social groups than to others. The health care institution,
for example, has a hierarchy of power. Thus nurses are
generally subordinate to doctors and doctors to hospital
administrators. And beyond these specific actors within
the health care institutions, different social groups in
society have more or less power within social institu-
tions. Therefore, racial and ethnic minorities, as well as
the poor, have less access to health care than others.

Social Structure
Sociologists use the term social structure to refer to the
organized pattern of social relationships and social
institutions that together compose society. Social struc-
tures are not immediately visible to untrained observ-
ers; nevertheless, they are present, and they affect all
dimensions of human experience in society. Social
structural analysis is a way of looking at society in which
the sociologist analyzes the patterns in social life that
reflect and produce social behavior.

Social class distinctions are an example of a social
structure. Class shapes the access that different groups
have to the resources of society, and it shapes many
interactions people have with each other. People may
form cliques with those who share similar class stand-
ing, or they may identify with certain values associated
with a given class. Class then forms a social structure—
one that shapes and guides human behavior at all levels,
no matter how overtly visible or invisible this structure
is to someone at a given time.

The philosopher Marilyn Frye aptly uses the met-
aphor of a birdcage to describe the concept of social
structure (Frye 1983). She notes that if you look closely
at only one wire in a cage, you cannot see the other
wires. You might then wonder why the bird within

does not fly away. Only when you step back and see the
whole cage instead of a single wire do you understand
why the bird does not escape. Social structure, like the
birdcage, confines people; their motion and mobility
are restricted; their lives are shaped by social structure.
Just as the birdcage is a network of wires, so is society
a network of social structures, both micro and macro.

What Holds Society
Together?
What holds societies together? We ask this question
throughout this chapter. Durkheim argued that people
in society had a collective consciousness, defined as
the body of beliefs common to a community or society
that give people a sense of belonging and a feeling of
moral obligation to its demands and values. Accord-
ing to Durkheim, collective consciousness gives groups
social solidarity because members of a group feel they
are part of one society.

Where does the collective consciousness come
from? Durkheim argued that it stems from people’s par-
ticipation in common activities, such as work, family,
education, and religion—in short, society’s institutions.

Mechanical and Organic Solidarity
According to Durkheim, there are two types of social
solidarity: mechanical and organic. Mechanical
solidarity arises when individuals play similar—rather
than different—roles within the society. Individuals in
societies marked by mechanical solidarity share the
same values and hold the same things sacred. This par-
ticular kind of cohesiveness is weakened when a soci-
ety becomes more complex. Contemporary examples
of mechanical solidarity are rare because most societies
of the world have been absorbed in the global trend for
greater complexity and interrelatedness. Before Euro-
pean conquest, Native American nations were bound
together by at least a partial mechanical solidarity, as
the roles within their society and the values of the soci-
ety are shared by all. Indeed, many Native American
nations are regaining the vestige of mechanical solidar-
ity on which their cultural heritage rests, but they are
finding that the superimposition of White institutions
on Native American life interferes with the adoption of
traditional ways of thinking and being. This can prevent
mechanical solidarity from gaining its original strength.
Although all Native American nations share some
aspects of a common culture, individual tribes form
their own societies with unique cultures.

In contrast, organic (or contractual) solidarity
occurs when people play a great variety of roles, and
unity is based on role differentiation, not similarity. The
United States and other industrial societies are built on

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SoCIAl STruCTurE AnD SoCIAl InTE rACTI o n   107

organic solidarity, and each is cohesive because of the
differentiation within each. Roles are no longer neces-
sarily similar, but they are necessarily interlinked—the
performance of multiple roles is necessary for the exe-
cution of society’s complex and integrated functions.

Durkheim described this state as the division of
labor, defined as the relatedness of different tasks that
develop in complex societies. The labor force within the
contemporary U.S. economy, for example, is divided
according to the kinds of work people do. Within any
division of labor, tasks become distinct from one
another, but they are still woven into a whole.

The division of labor is a central concept in sociology
because it represents how the different pieces of society
fit together. The division of labor in most contemporary
societies is often marked by distinctions such as age, gen-
der, race, and social class. In other words, if you look at
who does what in society, you will see that women and
men tend to do different things; this is the gender divi-
sion of labor. Similarly, old and young to some extent
do different things; this is a division of labor by age. This
is crosscut by the racial division of labor, the pattern
whereby those in different racial–ethnic groups tend
to do different work—or are often forced to do different
work—in society. At the same time, the division of labor is
also marked by class distinctions, with some groups pro-
viding work that is highly valued and rewarded and oth-
ers doing work that is devalued and poorly rewarded. As
you will see throughout this book, gender, race, and class
intersect and overlap in the division of labor in society.

Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft
Different societies are held together by different forms
of solidarity. Some societies are characterized by what
the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies called
gemeinschaft, a German word that means “commu-
nity”; other societies are characterized as gesellschaft,
which literally means “society” (Tönnies 1963/1887).
Each involves a type of solidarity or cohesiveness. Those
societies that are gemeinschafts (communities) are
characterized by a sense of “we” feeling, a very moder-
ate division of labor, strong personal ties, strong family
relationships, and a sense of personal loyalty. The sense
of solidarity between members of the gemeinschaft
society arises from personal ties; small, relatively sim-
ple social institutions; and, a collective sense of loyalty
to the whole society. People tend to be well integrated
into the whole, and social cohesion comes from deeply
shared values and beliefs (often, sacred values). Social
control need not be imposed externally because con-
trol comes from the internal sense of belonging that
members share. You might think of a small community
church as an example.

In contrast, in societies marked by gesellschaft,
importance is placed on the secondary relationships

people have—that is, less intimate and more instrumen-
tal relationships such as work roles instead of family or
community roles. Gesellschaft is characterized by less
prominence of personal ties, a somewhat diminished
role of the nuclear family, and a lessened sense of per-
sonal loyalty to the total society. The solidarity and cohe-
sion remain, and it can be very cohesive, but the cohesion
comes from an elaborated division of labor (thus, organic
solidarity), greater flexibility in social roles, and the
instrumental ties that people have to one another.

Social solidarity under gesellschaft is weaker than
in the gemeinschaft society. Although class conflict is
still present in gemeinschaft, it is less prominent, mak-
ing gesellschaft societies more at risk for class conflict.
Racial–ethnic conflict is also more likely within gesell-
schaft societies because the gemeinschaft tends to be
ethnically and racially very homogeneous, meaning it is
often characterized by only one racial or ethnic group.

In sum, complexity and differentiation are what
make the gesellschaft cohesive, whereas similarity and
unity bond the gemeinschaft society. In a single society,
such as the United States, you can conceptualize the
whole society as gesellschaft, with some internal groups
marked by gemeinschaft.

Types of Societies
In addition to comparing how different societies are
bound together, sociologists are interested in how
social organization evolves in different societies. Sim-
ple things such as the size of a society can also shape
its social organization, as do the different roles that
men and women engage in as they produce goods,
care for the old and young, and pass on societal tradi-
tions. Societies also differ according to their resource
base—whether they are predominantly agricultural or
industrial, for example, and whether they are sparsely
or densely populated.

Thousands of years ago, societies were small,
sparsely populated, and technologically limited. In the
competition for scarce resources, larger and more tech-
nologically advanced societies dominated smaller ones.
Today, we have arrived at a global society with highly
evolved degrees of social differentiation and inequal-
ity, notably along class, gender, racial, and ethnic lines
(Nolan and Lenski 2014).

Sociologists distinguish six types of societies based
on the complexity of their social structure, the amount
of overall cultural accumulation, and the level of their
technology. They are foraging, pastoral, horticultural,
agricultural (these four are called preindustrial soci-
eties), and then industrial and postindustrial societies
(see ◆ Table 5.1). Each type of society can still be found
on Earth, although all but the most isolated societies
are rapidly moving toward the industrial and postin-
dustrial stages of development.

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108   CHA pT E r 5

◆ Table 5.1 Types of Societies

Economic Base Social Organization Examples

Preindustrial Societies Foraging
societies

Economic sustenance
dependent on hunting
and foraging

Gender is important
basis for social
organization, although
division of labor is not
rigid; little accumulation
of wealth

pygmies of central
Africa

Pastoral societies nomadic societies, with
substantial dependence
on domesticated animals
for economic production

Complex social system
with an elite upper class
and greater gender
role differentiation than
in foraging societies

Bedouins of Africa
and Middle East

Horticultural societies Society marked by
relatively permanent
settlement and
production of
domesticated crops

Accumulation of wealth
and elaboration of the
division of labor, with
different occupational
roles (farmers, traders,
craftspeople, and so on)

Ancient Aztecs of
Mexico; Inca Empire
of peru

Agricultural societies livelihood dependent
on elaborate and large-
scale patterns of agri-
culture and increased
use of technology in
agricultural production

Caste system develops
that differentiates the
elite and agricultural
laborers; may include
system of slavery

American South,
pre-Civil War

Industrial Societies Economic system
based on the devel-
opment of elaborate
machinery and a fac-
tory system; economy
based on cash and
wages

Highly differentiated
labor force with a
complex division of
labor and large formal
organizations

nineteenth and most
of twentieth-century
united States and
western Europe

Postindustrial
Societies

Information-based
societies in which
technology plays a
vital role in social
organization

Education increasingly
important to the
division of labor

Contemporary
united States, Japan,
and others

© Cengage Learning

These different societies vary in the basis for their
organization and the complexity of their division of
labor. Some, such as foraging societies, are subsistence
economies, where men and women hunt and gather
food but accumulate very little. Others, such as pasto-
ral societies and horticultural societies, develop a more
elaborate division of labor as the social roles that are
needed for raising livestock and farming become more
numerous. With the development of agricultural societ-
ies, production becomes more large-scale, and strong
patterns of social differentiation develop, sometimes
taking the form of a caste system or even slavery.

The key driving force that distinguishes these dif-
ferent societies from each other is the development
of technology. All societies use technology to help fill
human needs, and the form of technology differs for the
different types of society.

Preindustrial Societies
A preindustrial society is one that directly uses, modi-
fies, and/or tills the land as a major means of survival.
There are four kinds of preindustrial societies, listed
here by degree of technological development: foraging

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SoCIAl STruCTurE AnD SoCIAl InTErACTI o n   10 9

(or hunting–gathering) societies, pastoral societies,
horticultural societies, and agricultural societies (see
Table 5.1).

In foraging (hunting–gathering) societies, the tech-
nology enables the hunting of animals and gathering of
vegetation. The technology does not permit the refrig-
eration or processing of food, hence these individuals
must search continuously for plants and game. Because
hunting and gathering are activities that require large
amounts of land, most foraging societies are nomadic,
constantly traveling as they deplete the plant supply or
follow the migrations of animals. The central institution
is the family, which serves as the means of distributing
food, training children, and protecting its members.
There is usually role differentiation on the basis of gen-
der, although the specific form of the gender division of
labor varies in different societies. The pygmies of cen-
tral Africa are an example of a foraging society.

In pastoral societies, technology is based on the
domestication of animals. Such societies tend to
develop in desert areas that are too arid to provide rich
vegetation. The pastoral society is nomadic, necessi-
tated by the endless search for fresh grazing grounds for
the herds of their domesticated animals. The animals
are used as sources of hard work that enable the cre-
ation of a material surplus. Unlike a foraging society,
this surplus frees some individuals from the tasks of
hunting and gathering and allows them to create crafts,
make pottery, cut hair, build tents, and apply tattoos.
The surplus generates a more complex and differenti-
ated social system with an elite class or an upper class
and more role differentiation on the basis of gender. The
nomadic Bedouins of Africa and the Middle East are
pastoral societies.

In horticultural societies, hand tools are used to
cultivate the land, such as the hoe and the digging
stick. The individuals in horticultural societies practice
ancestor worship and conceive of a deity or deities (God
or gods) as a creator. Horticultural societies recultivate
the land each year and tend to establish relatively per-
manent settlements and villages. Role differentiation
is extensive, resulting in different and interdependent
occupational roles such as farmer, trader, and craftsper-
son. The ancient Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Peru
represent examples of horticultural societies.

The agricultural society is exemplified by the pre-
Civil War American South, a society of slavery. Such
societies have a large and complex economic system
that is based on large-scale farming. Such societies rely
on technologies such as use of the wheel and metals.
Farms tend to be considerably larger than the cultivated
land in horticultural societies. Large and permanent
settlements characterize agricultural societies, which
also create dramatic social inequalities. A rigid caste
system develops, separating the peasants, or slaves,
from the controlling elite caste, which is then freed

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Different types of societies produce different kinds of social
relationships. Some may involve more direct and personal
relationships (called gemeinschafts), whereas others produce
more fragmented and impersonal relationships (called
gesellschafts).

from manual work, allowing time for art, literature, and
philosophy, activities of which they can then claim the
lower castes are incapable. The American pre-Civil War
South and its system of slavery is a good example of an
agricultural society. In fact, some argue that the system
of sharecropping in the American South and Southwest
was a slave-like agricultural society.

Industrial Societies
An industrial society is one that uses machines and other
advanced technologies to produce and distribute goods
and services. The Industrial Revolution began over
250  years ago when the steam engine was invented in
England, delivering previously unattainable amounts of

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110   CHApTEr 5

mechanical power for the performance of work. Steam
engines powered locomotives, factories, and dynamos
and transformed societies as the Industrial Revolution
spread. The growth of science led to advances in farm-
ing techniques such as crop rotation, harvesting, and
ginning cotton, as well as industrial-scale projects such
as dams for generating hydroelectric power. Joining
these advances were developments in medicine, new
techniques to prolong and improve life, and the emer-
gence of birth control to limit population growth.

Unlike agricultural societies, industrial societ-
ies rely on a highly differentiated labor force and the
intensive use of capital and technology. Large formal
organizations are common. The task of holding society
together falls more on the institutions that have a high
division of labor, such as the economy and work, gov-
ernment, politics, and large bureaucracies.

Within industrial societies, the forms of gender
inequality that we see in contemporary U.S. society tend
to develop. With the advent of industrialization, societies
move to a cash-based economy, with labor performed in
factories and mills paid on a wage basis and household
labor remaining unpaid. This introduced what is known
as the family wage economy, in which families become
dependent on wages to support themselves, but work
within the family (housework, child care, and other forms
of household work) is unpaid and therefore increasingly
devalued. In addition, even though women (and young
children) worked in factories and mills from the first
inception of industrialization, the family wage economy is
based on the idea that men are the primary breadwinners.
A system of inequality in men’s and women’s wages was
introduced—an economic system that even today contin-
ues to produce a wage gap between men and women.

Industrial societies tend to be highly productive eco-
nomically, with a large working class of industrial labor-
ers. People become increasingly urbanized as they move
from farmlands to urban centers or other areas where
factories are located. Immigration is common in indus-
trial societies, particularly because industries are form-
ing where there is a high demand for more, cheap labor.

Industrialization has brought many benefits to U.S.
society—a highly productive and efficient economic
system, expansion of international markets, extraordi-
nary availability of consumer products, and for many,
a good working wage. Industrialization has, at the same
time, also produced some of the most serious social
problems that our nation faces: industrial pollution, an
overdependence on consumer goods, wage inequality
and job dislocation for millions, and problems of crime
and crowding in urban areas.

Postindustrial Societies
In the contemporary era, a new type of society is emerg-
ing. Whereas most twentieth-century societies can be

characterized in terms of their making of material
goods, postindustrial society depends economically
on the production and distribution of services, infor-
mation, and knowledge. Postindustrial societies are
information-based societies in which technology plays
a vital role in the social organization. The United States
is fast becoming a postindustrial society, and Japan
may be even further along. Many of the workers provide
services such as administration, education, legal ser-
vices, scientific research, and banking, or they engage
in the development, management, and distribution of
information, particularly in the areas of computer use
and design. Central to the economy of the postindus-
trial society are the highly advanced technologies of
computers, robotics, and genetic engineering. Multi-
national corporations globally link the economies of
postindustrial societies.

The transition to a postindustrial society has a
strong influence on the character of social institutions.
Educational institutions become extremely impor-
tant in the postindustrial society, and science takes an
especially prominent place. For some, the transition
to a postindustrial society means more discretionary
income for leisure activities like tourism and enter-
tainment. Companies that specialize in relaxation and
health (spas, massage centers, and exercise) become
more prominent, at least for people in the upper
classes. As with the United States in the last recession,
the transition to postindustrialism has meant perma-
nent joblessness for many. For others, it has meant the
need to hold down more than one job simply to make
ends meet.

Social Interaction
and Society
You can see by now that society is an entity that exists
above and beyond individuals. Also, different societies
are marked by different forms of social organization.
Although societies differ, emerge, and change, they are
also highly predictable. Your society shapes virtually
every aspect of your life from the structure of its social
institutions to the more immediate ways that you inter-
act with people. This is the micro level of society.

Groups
At the micro level, society is made up of many differ-
ent social groups. At any given moment, each of us is
a member of many groups simultaneously, and we are
subject to their influence: family, friendship groups,
athletic teams, work groups, racial and ethnic groups,
and so on. Groups impinge on every aspect of our lives
and are a major determinant of our attitudes and val-
ues regarding everything from personal issues, such

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SoCIAl STruCTurE AnD SoCIAl InTErACTI o n   111

as sexual attitudes and family values, to major social
issues, such as the death penalty and physician-assisted
suicide.

To sociologists, a group is a collection of individu-
als who

●● interact and communicate with each other;
●● share goals and norms; and,
●● have a subjective awareness of themselves as “we,”

that is, as a distinct social unit.

To be a group, the social unit in question must possess all
three of these characteristics. We will examine the nature
and behavior of groups in greater detail in Chapter 6.

In sociological terms, not all collections of people
are groups. People may be lumped together into social
categories based on one or more shared characteristics,
such as teenagers (an age category) or truck drivers (an
occupational category).

Social categories can become social groups,
depending on the amount of “we” feeling the group has.
Only when there is this sense of common identity, as
defined in the previous characteristics of groups, is a
collection of people an actual group. For example, all
people nationwide watching television programs at
8 o’clock Wednesday evening form a distinct social unit,
an audience, but they are not a group because they do
not interact with one another, nor do they possess an
awareness of themselves as “we.” However, if many
viewers were to come together for a convention where
they could interact and develop a “we” feeling, such as
do fans of comic books who attend Comic-Con, then
they would constitute a group.

We now know that people do not need to be face-
to-face to constitute a group. Online communities, for
example, are people who interact with each other regu-
larly, share a common identity, and think of themselves
as being a distinct social unit. On the Internet commu-
nity Facebook, for example, you may have a group of
“friends,” some of whom you know personally and oth-
ers whom you only know online. These friends, as they
are known on Facebook, make up a social group that
might interact on a regular, indeed, daily basis—possibly
even across great distances.

Groups also need not be small or “close up” and
personal. Formal organizations are highly structured
social groupings that form to pursue a set of goals.
Bureaucracies such as business corporations or munic-
ipal governments or associations such as the National
Parent Teacher Association (PTA) are examples of for-
mal organizations.

Status
Within groups, people occupy different statuses. Status
is an established position in a social structure that car-
ries with it a degree of social rank or value. A status is a

rank in society. For example, the position “vice president
of the United States” is a status, one that carries relatively
high prestige. “High school teacher” is another status; it
carries less prestige than “vice president of the United
States,” but more prestige than, say, “cabdriver.” Statuses
occur within institutions and also within groups. “High
school teacher” is a status within the education institu-
tion. Other statuses in the same institution are “student,”
“principal,” and “school superintendent.” Within a given
group, people may occupy different statuses that can be
dependent on a variety of factors, such as age or seniority
within the group.

Typically, a person occupies many statuses simul-
taneously. The combination of statuses composes a
status set, which is the complete set of statuses occu-
pied by a person at a given time. (Status set is a term
originally introduced by sociological theorist Robert
Merton [1968].) A person may occupy different statuses
in different institutions. Simultaneously, a person may
be a bank president (in the economic institution), voter
(in the political institution), church member (in the
religious institution), and treasurer of the PTA (in the
education institution). Each status may be associated
with a different level of prestige.

Sometimes the multiple statuses of an individual
conflict with one another. Status inconsistency exists
where the statuses occupied by a person bring with
them significantly different amounts of prestige and
thus differing expectations. For example, someone
trained as a lawyer, but working as a cabdriver, expe-
riences status inconsistency. Some recent immigrants
from Vietnam and Korea have experienced status incon-
sistency. Many refugees who had been in high status
occupations in their home country, such as teachers,
doctors, and lawyers, could find work in the United
States only as grocers or technicians—jobs of relatively
lower status than the jobs they left behind. A relatively
large body of research in sociology has demonstrated
that status inconsistency—in addition to low status
itself—can lead to stress and depression (Taylor et al.
2006; Thoits 2009).

Achieved statuses are those attained by virtue of
individual effort. Most occupational statuses—police
officer, pharmacist, or boat builder—are achieved sta-
tuses. In contrast, ascribed statuses are those occupied
from the moment a person is born. Your biological sex
is an ascribed status. Yet, even ascribed statuses are not
exempt from the process of social construction. For most
individuals, race is an ascribed status fixed at birth. But
African American individuals with light skin may appear
to be White and be treated as White people throughout
their lifetime. Finally, ascribed statuses can arise long
after birth, through means beyond an individual’s con-
trol, such as severe disability or chronic illness.

Some seemingly ascribed statuses, such as gender,
can become achieved statuses. Gender, typically thought

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11 2   CH ApTE r 5

of as fixed at birth, is a social construct. You can be born
female or male (this is your sex), but becoming a woman
or a man is the result of social behaviors associated
with your ascribed status. In other words, gender is also
achieved. People who cross-dress, have a sex change, or
develop some characteristics associated with the other
sex are good examples of how gender is achieved, sepa-
rate and apart from your ascribed sex status. All people
“do” gender in everyday life. They put on appearances and
behaviors that are associated with their presumed gen-
der (Andersen 2015; West and Fenstermaker 1995). If you
doubt this, ask yourself what you did today to “achieve”
your gender status. Did you dress a certain way? Wear
“manly” cologne or deodorant? Splash on a “feminine”
fragrance? These behaviors—all performed at the micro
level—reflect the macro level of your gender status.

Debunking Society’s Myths←
Myth: Gender is an ascribed status where one’s gender
identity is established at birth.
Sociological Perspective: Although one’s biological sex
identity is an ascribed status, gender is a social construct
and thus is also an achieved status—that is, accomplished
through routine, everyday behavior, including patterns of
dress, speech, touch, and other social behaviors. Sex is not
the same as gender (Andersen 2015).

The line between achieved and ascribed status can
be hard to draw. Social class, for example, is determined
by occupation, education, and annual income—all of
which are achieved statuses—yet one’s job, education,
and income are known to correlate strongly with the
social class of one’s parents. Hence, one’s social class sta-
tus is at least partly—though not perfectly—determined
at birth. It is an achieved status that includes an insepa-
rable component of ascribed status as well.

Although people occupy many statuses at one time,
it is usually the case that one status is dominant, called
the master status, overriding all other features of the
person’s identity. The master status may be imposed by
others, or a person may define his or her own master sta-
tus. A woman judge, for example, may carry the master
status “woman” in the eyes of others. She is seen not just
as a judge, but as a woman judge, thus making gender a
master status. A master status can completely supplant
all other statuses in someone’s status set. Being in a
wheelchair is another example of a master status. Con-
sider, for example, the case of a person in a wheelchair
who is at the same time a medical doctor, an author, and
a painter. People will see the wheelchair, at least at first,
as the most important, or salient, part of identity, ignor-
ing other statuses that define someone as a person. For
a time, that person will be stereotyped as “that wheel-
chair guy that paints” or “that wheelchair doctor.”

→Thinking Sociologically
Make a list of terms that describe who you are. Which
of these are ascribed statuses and which are achieved
statuses? What do you think your master status is in the
eyes of others? Does one’s master status depend on who
is defining you? What does this tell you about the signifi-
cance of social judgments in determining who you are?

Roles
A role is the behavior others expect from a person asso-
ciated with a particular status. Statuses are occupied;
roles are acted or “played.” The status of police offi-
cer carries with it many expectations; these expected
behaviors comprise the role of police officer. Police offi-
cers are expected to enforce the law, pursue suspected
criminals, assist victims of crime, complete forms for
reports, and obey laws themselves. Usually, people
behave in their roles as others expect them to, but not
always. When a police officer commits a crime, such
as physically brutalizing someone, he or she has vio-
lated the role expectations. Role expectations may vary
according to the role of the observer—whether the per-
son observing the police officer is a member of a minor-
ity group, for example.

As we saw in Chapter 4, social learning theory pre-
dicts that we learn attitudes and behaviors in response
to the positive reinforcement and encouragement
received from those around us. This is important in the
formation of our own identity in society. We embrace
certain statuses, and the roles associated with them,
based on our interactions with others. The “Think-
ing Sociologically” feature suggests you consider your
own status. What is your identity? Are you a college

In role modeling, a person imitates the behavior of an
admired other or attempts to conform to a group.

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

SoCIAl STruCTurE AnD SoCIAl InTErACTI o n   11 3

student first? Are there particular roles you feel identify
you because others see you that way? These identities
are often obtained through role modeling, a process
by which we imitate the behavior of another person
we admire who is in a particular role. A college fresh-
man might admire a senior student in his dorm. The
student’s self-identity is influenced by his attempts to
imitate the senior.

A person may occupy several statuses and roles at
one time. A person’s role set includes all the roles occu-
pied by the person at a given time. Thus a person may
be not only a student, but a store cashier, a roommate,
and an admissions tour guide. Roles can also clash with
each other, a situation called role conflict, wherein
two or more roles are associated with contradictory
expectations. Notice that in ▲ Figure 5.1 some of the
roles diagrammed for this college student may conflict
with others. Can you speculate about which might and
which might not? Can you draw your own role set?

In U.S. society, some of the most common forms of
role conflict arise from the dual responsibilities of job
and family. The parental role demands extensive time
and commitment, and so does the role of worker. Time
given to one role is time taken away from the other.
Although the norms pertaining to working women and
working men have changed over time, it is still true that
women are more often expected to uphold traditional
role expectations associated with their gender role and
are more likely responsible for tending to family issues
even when job and family conflict. The sociologist
Arlie Hochschild captured the predicament of today’s
women when she described the “second shift.” An
employed mother spends time and energy all day on the

job, only to come home to the “second shift” of family
and home responsibilities (Hochschild 2003, 1997;
Hochschild and Machung 1989).

Hochschild’s studies point to the conflict between
two social roles: family roles and work roles. This con-
flict also highlights the sociological concept of role
strain, a condition wherein a single role brings con-
flicting expectations. Different from role conflict, which
involves tensions between two roles, role strain involves
conflicts within a single role. When considering work–
family balance for women, the work role has the expec-
tations traditionally associated with work but also the
expectation that she “love” her work and be as devoted
to it as to her family. The same is expected of men. The
result is role strain. The role of a high school student
also often involves role strain. For example, students are
expected to be focused on academics and performing
their best, yet students also feel pressure to be involved
in sports, music, community service, or other extracur-
ricular activities. The tension between these two com-
peting expectations is an example of role strain.

Everyday Social Interaction
You can see the influence of society in everyday behav-
ior, including such basics as how you talk, patterns of
touch, and who you are attracted to. Although you
might think these things just come “naturally,” they
are deeply patterned by society. The cultural context of
social interaction really matters in our understanding of
what given behaviors mean. An action that is positive
in one culture can be negative in another. For example,
shaking the right hand in greeting is a positive action
in the United States, but the same action in East India
or certain Arab countries might be an insult. Social and
cultural contexts matter. A kiss on the lips is a positive
act in most cultures, yet if a stranger kissed you on the
lips, you would probably consider it a negative act, per-
haps even a crime.

Verbal and Nonverbal Communication. Patterns
of social interaction are embedded in the language we
use, and language is deeply influenced by culture and
society. Furthermore, communication is not just what
you say, but also how you say it and to whom. You can see
the influence of society on how people speak, especially
in different contexts. The gender of the speaker is also
part of that cultural context—there are masculine and
feminine styles of conversation. Japanese women, for
example, are more polite and supportive when speak-
ing to Japanese men. In conversations with English-
speaking men, women are more self-assured and
express their own opinions (Itakura 2014). Americans
may mistakenly believe Japanese women are submis-
sive, not realizing their conversation style changes with
the context, depending on who they are talking to.

▲ Figure 5.1 roles in a College Student’s role Set
Identify the different roles that you occupy and draw a similar
diagram of your own role set. Then identify which roles are
consistent with each other and which might produce role
conflict and role strain.

Part-time
waitress

Asian American
person

Church-goer

Girlfriend

Roommate

Woman

Student
Daughter

Person

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11 4   CH A pT Er 5

Nonverbal communication is also a form of social
interaction and can be seen in various social patterns. A
surprisingly large portion of our everyday communica-
tion with others is nonverbal, although we are gener-
ally only conscious of a small fraction of the nonverbal
“conversations” in which we take part. Consider all the
nonverbal signals exchanged in a casual chat: body
position, head nods, eye contact, facial expressions,
touching, and so on. Studies of nonverbal communi-
cation, like those of verbal communication, show how
it is influenced by social forces, including the relation-
ships between diverse groups of people. The meanings
of nonverbal communications depend heavily on race,
ethnicity, social class, and gender.

For example, patterns of touch (called tactile com-
munication) are strongly influenced by gender. Parents
vary their touching behavior depending on whether
the child is a boy or a girl. Boys tend to be touched
more roughly; girls, more tenderly and protectively.
Such patterns continue into adulthood, where women
touch each other more often in everyday conversation
than do men. Women are on the average more likely to
touch and hug as an expression of emotional support,
whereas men touch and hug more often to assert power
or to express sexual interest (Baumeister and Bushman
2008). Clearly, there are also instances where women
touch to express sexual interest and/or dominance, but
in general, touch is a supportive activity for women and
an expression of sexual interest for men. In the context
of sports, however, men hug and pat other men as a
show of support.

In observing patterns of touch, you can see where
social status influences the meaning of nonverbal
behaviors. Professors, male or female, may pat a man or
woman student on the back as a gesture of approval; stu-
dents will rarely do this to a professor. Male professors
touch students more often than do female professors,
showing the additional effect of gender. Because
such patterns of touching reflect power relationships
between women and men, they can also be offensive
and may even involve sexual harassment.

You can also see the social meaning of interaction
by observing how people use personal space. Proxemic
communication refers to the amount of space between
interacting individuals. Although people are generally
unaware of how they use personal space, usually the
more friendly people feel toward each other, the closer
they will stand. In casual conversation, friends stand
closer to each other than do strangers. People who are
sexually attracted to each other stand especially close,
whether the sexual attraction is gay, lesbian, or hetero-
sexual. According to anthropologist E. T. Hall (1966), we
all carry around us a proxemic bubble that represents
our personal, three-dimensional space. When people
we do not know enter our proxemic bubble, we feel
threatened and may take evasive action. Friends stand

close; enemies tend to avoid interaction and keep far
apart. According to Hall’s theory, we attempt to exclude
from our private space those whom we do not know or
do not like, even though we may not be fully aware that
we are doing so.

→ See for YourSelF ←
Riding in Elevators

1. Try a simple experiment. ride in an elevator and
closely observe the behavior of everyone in the eleva-
tor with you. Write down in a notebook such things as
how far away people stand from each other. note the
differences carefully, even in estimated inches. What
do they look at? Do they tend to stand in the corners?
Do they converse with strangers or the people they
are with? If so, what do they talk about?

2. now return to the same elevator and do something
that breaks the usual norms of elevator behavior,
such as standing too close to someone. (You will have
to get up a lot of nerve to do this!) How did people
react? What did they do? How did you feel? How does
this experiment show how social norms are main-
tained through informal norms of social control?

The proxemic bubbles of different ethnic groups on
average have different sizes. Hispanic people tend to stand
much closer to each other than do White, middle-class
Americans; their proxemic bubble is, on average, smaller.

In a society as diverse as the United States, under-
standing how diversity shapes social interaction is
an essential part of understanding human behavior.

patterns of touch reflect different types of social relation-
ships. In this photo, a young man is helping an older man
with the computer.

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SoCIAl STruCTurE AnD SoCIAl InTE rACTI o n   11 5

Ignorance of the meanings that gestures have in a society
can get you in trouble. For example, some Mexicans and
Mexican Americans may display the right hand held up,
palm inward, all fingers extended, as an obscene gesture
directed at someone in anger. This provocative gesture
has no meaning at all in Anglo (White) society. Instead,
extending the middle finger up, as an aggressive form of
communication, is understood in many societies.

Likewise, people who grow up in urban environ-
ments learn to avoid eye contact on the streets. Staring
at someone for only two or three seconds can be inter-
preted as a hostile act, if done man to man (Anderson
1999). If a woman maintains mutual eye contact with a
male stranger for more than two or three seconds, she
may be assumed by the man to be sexually interested
in him. In contrast, during sustained conversation with
acquaintances, women maintain mutual eye contact
longer than do men (Romain 1999).

Interpersonal Attraction. We have already asked,
“What holds society together?” This was asked at the
macroanalysis level—that is, the level of society. But
what holds relationships together—or, for that mat-
ter, makes them fall apart? You will not be surprised
to learn that formation of relationships has a strong
social structural component—that is, it is patterned by
social forces.

Humans have a powerful desire to be with other
human beings; in other words, they have a strong
need for affiliation. We tend to spend about 75 percent
of our time with other people when doing all sorts of
activities—eating, watching television, studying, doing
hobbies, working, and so on (Cassidy and Shaver 2008).
People who lack all forms of human contact are very
rare in the general population, and their isolation is
usually rooted in psychotic or schizophrenic disor-
ders. Extreme social isolation at an early age causes
severe disruption of mental, emotional, and language
development.

The affiliation tendency has been likened to
imprinting, a phenomenon seen in newborn or newly
hatched animals who attach themselves to the first
living creature they encounter, even if it is of another
species (Lorenz 1966). Studies of geese and squirrels
show that once the young animal attaches itself to a
human experimenter, the process is irreversible. The
young animal prefers the company of the human to
the company of its own species! A degree of imprint-
ing may be discernible in human infant attachment,
but researchers note that the process is more com-
plex, more changeable, and more influenced by social
factors in infants.

Somewhat similar to affiliation is interpersonal
attraction, a nonspecific positive response toward
another person. Attraction occurs in ordinary day-
to-day interaction and varies from mild attraction

(such as thinking your grocer is a “nice person”) all the
way to deep feelings of love. According to one view,
attractions fall on a continuum ranging from hate to
strong dislike to mild dislike to mild liking to strong lik-
ing to love. Another view is that attraction and love are
two different feelings, able to exist separately. In this
view, you can actually like someone a whole lot, but not
be in love. Conversely, you can feel passionate love for
someone, including strong sexual feelings and intense
emotion, yet not really “like” the person.

Can attraction be scientifically predicted? Can
you identify with whom you are most likely to fall in
love? The surprising answer to these questions is “yes,”
with some qualifiers. Most of us have been raised to
believe that love is impossible to measure and certainly
impossible to predict scientifically. We think of love,
especially romantic love, as quick and mysterious—
a lightning bolt. Couples report falling in love at first
sight, thinking that they were “meant for each other.”
Countless novels and stories support this view, but
extensive research in sociology and social psychology
suggests otherwise. Love can be predicted beyond the
level of pure chance.

A strong determinant of your attraction to others is
simply whether you live near them, work next to them,
or have frequent contact with them. (This is a proxemic
determinant.) You are more likely to form friendships
with people from your own city than with people a
thousand miles away. One classic study even showed
that you are more likely to be attracted to someone
on your floor, your residence hall, or your apartment
building than to someone even two floors down or two

Konrad lorenz, the animal behaviorist, shows that adult
greylag geese that have imprinted on him the moment
they were hatched will follow him anywhere, as though he
were their mother goose (from Tweed roosevelt, personal
communication)!

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11 6   CH A pTEr 5

streets over (Festinger et al. 1950). Subsequent studies
continue to show this effect (Baumeister and Bushman
2008). Such is the effect of proximity in the formation of
human friendships.

Now, though the general principle still holds, many
people form relationships without being in close prox-
imity, such as in online dating. In earlier societies, peo-
ple would only date, fall in love, and marry people they
knew from their communities. Now with social media
and the ease in which we interact with one another
across long distances, there is much greater likeli-
hood to form romantic relationships with people far
away. Studies of Internet dating show that people can
form love relationships with people they hardly know
(Rosenfeld and Thomas 2012).

We hear that “beauty is only skin deep.” Apparently,
that is deep enough. To a surprisingly large degree, the
attractions we feel toward people of either gender are
based on our perception of their physical attractive-
ness. Assumptions about gender differences were that
men wanted beautiful women but that women cared
less about attractiveness in their mate. The evidence
suggests, however, that both men and women highly
value attractiveness when pursuing romantic or sexual
relationships (McClintock 2011). Although there are
societal standards for attractiveness, there are individ-
ual preferences. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Men and women see their romantic partners as attrac-
tive, even when others may not (Solomon and Vazire
2014). The point is that romantic relationships are more
likely to develop between people who feel physically
attracted to one another.

Of course, standards of attractiveness vary between
cultures and between subcultures within the same soci-
ety. What is highly attractive in one culture may be repul-
sive in another. In the United States, there is a maxim that

you can never be too thin—a major cause of eating dis-
orders such as anorexia and bulimia, especially among
White women (Hesse-Biber 2007). The maxim is oppres-
sive for women in U.S. society, yet it is clearly highly
culturally relative, even within U.S. culture. What is con-
sidered “overweight” or “fat” is indeed a social construc-
tion (Atkins 2011). Among many African Americans, the
standard of thinness is different, and larger body sizes
are more ideal. Similar cultural norms often apply in
certain U.S. Hispanic populations. The skinny woman is
not necessarily considered attractive. Nonetheless, stud-
ies show that anorexia and bulimia are now increasing
among women of color, showing how cultural norms can
change (Atkins 2011; Warren et al. 2010).

Perceived physical attractiveness may predict who
is attracted to whom initially, but other variables are
better predictors of how long a relationship will last. So,
do “opposites attract”? Not according to the research.
We have all heard that people are attracted to their
“opposite” in personality, social status, background,
and other characteristics. Many of us grow up believing
this to be true. However, if the research tells us one thing
about interpersonal attraction, it is that with only a few
exceptions we are attracted to people who are similar or
even identical to us in socioeconomic status, race, eth-
nicity, religion, perceived personality traits, and general
attitudes and opinions (Taylor et al. 2006). Couples tend
to have similar opinions about political issues of great
importance to them, such as attitudes about abortion,
crime, animal rights, gun violence, and whom to vote
for as president. Overall, couples tend to exhibit strong
cultural or subcultural similarity, not difference.

There are exceptions, of course. We sometimes
fall in love with the exotic—the culturally or socially
different. Novels and movies return endlessly to the
story of the rich young woman who falls in love with a
rough and ready biker, but such a pairing is by far the
exception and not the rule. That rich young woman is
far more likely to fall in love with a rich young man.
When it comes to long-term relationships, including
both friends and lovers (whether heterosexual, lesbian,
gay, or bisexual), humans vastly prefer a great degree
of similarity, even though, if asked, they might deny it.
In fact, the less similar a heterosexual relationship is
with respect to race, social class, age, and educational
aspirations (how far in school the person wants to go),
then the quicker the relationship is likely to break up
(Silverthorne and Quinsey 2000).

Debunking Society’s Myths←
Myth: love is purely an emotional experience that you
cannot predict or control.
Sociological Perspective: Whom you fall in love with can
be predicted beyond chance by such factors as proximity,
how often you see the person (frequency, or mere exposure

romantic love is idealized in this society as something that
“just happens.” Despite research that interpersonal attrac-
tion follows predictable patterns, there is an increase in
interracial couples.

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m

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SoCIAl STruCTurE AnD SoCIAl InTE rACTI o n   11 7

effect), how physically attractive you perceive the person to
be, and whether you are similar (not different) to her or him
in social class, race/ethnicity, religion, age, educational aspi-
rations, and general attitudes, including political attitudes
and beliefs (Taylor et al. 2006).

Theories about Analyzing
Social Interaction
Groups, statuses, and roles form a web of social inter-
action. Sociologists have developed different ways of
conceptualizing and understanding social interaction.
Functionalist theory offers one such concept. Here we
detail four others: the social construction of reality, eth-
nomethodology, impression management, and social
exchange theory (refer to ◆ Table 5.2). The first three
theories come directly from the symbolic interaction
perspective.

The Social Construction of Reality
What holds society together? This is a basic question for
sociologists, one that, as we have seen, has long guided
sociological thinking. Sociologists note that society can-
not hold together without something that is shared—
a shared social reality.

Some sociological theorists have argued convinc-
ingly that there is little actual reality beyond that produced
by the process of social interaction itself. This is the prin-
ciple of the social construction of reality, the idea that our
perception of what is real is determined by the subjective
meaning that we attribute to an experience. This is a prin-
ciple central to symbolic interaction theory (Blumer 1969;
Berger and Luckmann 1967). Hence, there is no objective
“reality” in itself. Things do not have their own intrinsic
meaning. We subjectively impose meaning on things.

A simple example of the social construction of
reality is to consider a desk and chair in a classroom.

We assign meaning to these objects based on the
social context within which we use them. Students
sit in the chair with notebook or computer on the
desk. This is a desk. Now consider these same objects,
but with a tablecloth on the desk and a plate, fork,
knife, and glass set up there. Now this is not a desk
and chair, but a dining table and chair. The meaning
assigned to these things is influenced by the interac-
tion we have to them. Let’s take the same desk and
chair and put them upside down or balancing on the
corners, bolted to a cement base, with an up-light
shining on them. We can paint the surface with bright
colors or add a mosaic of tiles. Now the same objects
are a work of art. The social context and the social
interaction people have with the object give those
objects meaning.

Ethnomethodology
Our interactions are guided by rules that we follow.
Sometimes these rules are nonobvious and subtle.
These rules are the norms of social interaction. Again,
what holds society together? Society cannot hold
together without norms, but what rules do we follow?
How do we know what these rules or norms are? An
approach in sociology called ethnomethodology is a
clever technique for finding out.

Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel 1967), after ethno
for “people” and methodology for “mode of study,” is a
technique for studying human interaction by deliber-
ately disrupting social norms and observing how indi-
viduals attempt to restore normalcy. The idea is that to
study such norms, one must first break them, because
the subsequent behavior of the people involved will
reveal just what the norms were in the first place. In the
“See for Yourself ” elevator example you were asked to
perform previously, an application of ethnomethod-
ology would be standing too close to someone on the
elevator (this is the norm violation) and observing what

◆ Table 5.2 Theories of Social Interaction

The Social Construction
of Reality Ethnomethodology Dramaturgy Social Exchange Theory

Interprets society as: organized around the
subjective meaning that
people give to social
behavior

Held together through
the consensus that
people share around
social norms; you can
discover these norms
by violating them

A stage on which actors
play their social roles
and give impression to
those in their “audience”

A series of interactions
that are based on esti-
mates of rewards and
punishments

Analyzes social
interaction as:

Based on the mean-
ing people give to, or
attribute to, actions in
society

A series of encounters
in which people manage
their impressions in
front of others

Enactment of social
roles played before a
social audience

A rational balancing
act involving perceived
costs and benefits of a
given behavior

© Cengage Learning

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11 8   CHA pT E r 5

that person does as a result (which would be the norm
restoration behavior).

Ethnomethodology is based on the premise that
human interaction takes place within a consensus, and
interaction is not possible without this consensus. The
consensus is part of what holds society together. Accord-
ing to Garfinkel, this consensus will be revealed by
people’s background expectancies, namely, the norms
for behavior that they carry with them into situations of
interaction. The presumption is that these expectancies
are to a great degree shared, and thus studying norms
by deliberately violating them will reveal the norms that
most people bring with them into interaction. The eth-
nomethodologist argues that you cannot simply walk
up to someone and ask what norms the person has and
uses, because most people will not be able to articulate
them. We are not wholly conscious of what norms we
use even though they are shared. Ethnomethodology is
designed to “uncover” those norms.

The recently aired television programs called
“What Would You Do?” employs what is in effect eth-
nomethodology, though in a nonsystematic and rela-
tively uncontrolled way. For example, in one episode,
a father is seen in a restaurant very loudly scolding his
own small child for accidentally dropping a few crumbs
on the floor. The extremely loud scolding represents a
norm violation in this context. The father is in alliance
with the television producers. The point is to see what
the observing people in the restaurant do, namely,
engage in what the ethnomethodologist would call
norm restoration behavior. They found that many peo-
ple looked but did not intervene. A few did intervene,
such as by asking the father why he was so loud, saying
that his punishment was too severe.

Sociological studies that use the ethnomethodology
approach point to the importance of the context within
which the interaction takes place as well as the result
of that interaction. Research on police interrogations

Research Question: Author Jessica
Greenebaum is a vegan. She noticed
tension between herself and her
meat-eating family and friends, possibly
because of stereotypes about vegetar-
ians and vegans. She did research to
ask: How do vegetarians interact with
omnivores to avoid negative impressions
of vegetarians? What tactics do they use
in their presentation of self?

Research Method: Greenebaum
interviewed 19 vegans and 7 vegetarians,
finding her research subjects through a
website for educated, upper-middle-class
adults who identify as vegetarian activists.
She conducted face-to-face interviews
and telephone interviews, averaging about
one hour per interview.

Research Results: Many of the people
she interviewed spoke about avoiding
confrontation. One woman explained
that she used to be “in your face” with
meat eaters, but changed her approach
to be more gentle. Another man
explained that the “activist” approach
makes conversations difficult.

Vegetarians versus Omnivores: A Case Study
of Impression Management

Another key theme in her research
findings was the timing of when to
engage in discussions about vegetari-
anism or veganism. Most respondents
indicated they did not want to be the
first to bring it up in conversation.
Vegetarians used “face-saving” tactics
to make interactions more pleasant.
Respondents did not try to recruit
omnivores to become vegetarian, but
instead emphasized the health benefits
of not eating meat. By focusing on
how healthy they are and how much
better they feel, they encountered
fewer negative impressions of vegetar-
ians and vegans. In conversations with
omnivores, the vegetarians and vegans
turned away from the topic of animal
rights and, instead, highlighted how
well they felt. This meant talking about
how they were strong, healthy, capable
people by no longer eating meat. Face-
saving also occurred by presenting a
no-meat diet as easy to do and joyful.
Greenebaum asserts that “If vegans
are perceived as wheat grass–drinking
hippies, people are less likely to keep

an open mind about veganism”
(Greenebaum 2012: 321).

Conclusions and Implications: Greene-
baum concludes that interactions between
two groups of people who have opposing
views about diet require impression man-
agement. Vegetarians and vegans used
particular tactics to prepare themselves
for conversations with omnivores, present-
ing themselves in a more positive way.

Questions to Consider
The next time you are talking with
someone about food, diet, and overall
health, observe the social interaction with
particular attention to similar and differing
opinions. Seek out people with different
diets from your own.

1. What do you do to manage others’
impressions of you and your food
choices?

2. With so much media attention on
the dangers of the American diet,
do you worry about the impression
other people get based on what you
choose to eat?

Source: Greenebaum, Jessica B. 2012. “Man-
aging Impressions: ‘Face-Saving’ Strategies of
Vegetarians and Vegans.” Humanity & Society
36(4): 309–325.

doing sociological research

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SoCIAl STruCTurE AnD SoCIAl In TErACTI o n   11 9

show that what the police include in the report is part of
how the social reality of the police record is constructed
(Komter 2006). Other research uses the same approach
to explain medical records, highlighting how the inter-
action between the doctor and the staff influences what
is put in the patient’s medical documentation (Nielsen
2014). These studies illustrate how the norms of behav-
ior are part of what helps create the reality of the situa-
tion, and that consensus of norms is a necessary part of
the process.

Impression Management
and Dramaturgy
Another way of analyzing social interaction is to
study impression management, a term coined by
symbolic interaction theorist Erving Goffman (1959).
Impression management is a process by which people
control how others perceive them. A student handing
in a term paper late may wish to give the instructor the
impression that it was not the student’s fault but was
because of uncontrollable circumstances (“my com-
puter crashed,” “the network went down,” and so on).
The impression that one wishes to “give off ” (to use
Goffman’s phrase) is that “I am usually a very diligent
person, but today—just today—I have been betrayed
by circumstances.”

Impression management can be seen as a type of
con game. We willfully attempt to manipulate others’
impressions of us. Goffman regarded everyday inter-
action as a series of attempts to con the other. In fact,
trying in various ways to con others is, according to
Goffman, at the very center of much social interaction
and social organization in society: Social interaction is
just a big con game!

Perhaps this cynical view is not true of all social
interaction, but we do present different “selves” to oth-
ers in different settings. The settings are, in effect, dif-
ferent stages on which we act as we relate to others.
For this reason, Goffman’s theory is sometimes called
the dramaturgy model of social interaction, a way of

analyzing interaction that assumes the participants
are actors on a stage in the drama of everyday social
life. People present different faces (give off different
impressions) on different stages (in different situa-
tions or different roles) with different others. To your
mother, you may present yourself as the dutiful, obedi-
ent daughter, which may not be how you present your-
self to a friend. Perhaps you think acting like a diligent
student makes you seem a jerk, so you hide from your
friends that you are really interested in a class or enjoy
your homework. Analyzing impression management
reveals that we try to con others into perceiving us as
we want to be perceived. The box “Doing Sociologi-
cal Research: Face-Saving Strategies for Vegetarians”
shows how impression management can be involved
in many settings, conversations between vegetarians
and meat eaters.

One thing that Goffman’s theory makes clear is
that social interaction is a very perilous undertak-
ing. Have you ever been embarrassed? Of course you
have—we all have. Think of a really big embarrassment
that you experienced. Goffman defines embarrass-
ment as a spontaneous reaction to a sudden or transi-
tory challenge to our identity: We attempt to restore a
prior perception of our “self ” by others. Perhaps you
were giving a talk before a class and then suddenly for-
got the rest of the talk. Or perhaps you recently bent
over and split your pants. Or perhaps you are a man
and barged accidentally into a women’s bathroom. All
these actions will result in embarrassment, causing
you to “lose face.”

You will then attempt to restore face (“save face”),
that is, eliminate the conditions causing the embarrass-
ment. You thus will attempt to con others into perceiving
you as they might have before the embarrassing inci-
dent. One way to do this is to shift blame from the self
to some other. For example, you may claim that the
sign saying “Women’s room” was not clearly visible.
This represents a deliberate manipulation (or con)
to save face on your part—to restore the other’s prior
perception of you.

The way students interact with one
another often occurs through text
messages. Bullying behavior now
takes the form of aggressive or nasty
texts sent to someone else. Soci-
ologists examine texting behavior by

Text Messaging in High School
considering the social context within
which the text messaging takes place
and how people are presenting them-
selves in the texts. Research shows
that in a school where high academic
achievement is valued by students

and teachers alike, there is much
less cyberbullying. The presence of
aggressive or bullying texts creates an
atmosphere of “drama” not welcome
by most. The norms in this particular
school result in far less cyberbullying
than people thought was happening
(Allen 2012).

what would a sociologist say?

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1 2 0   CHApT Er 5

Research Question: Sociological
researchers wanted to know if Facebook
users rely on anti-age stereotypes when
posting something about older people.
Specifically, the researchers examine
public postings that make any reference
to “old” or “aging” people. The research
asks: Is age discrimination prominent on
Facebook?

Research Method: The research is a con-
tent analysis of 25,489 Facebook pages
that had descriptions of 60-plus-year-old
people somewhere on the page. All of
the pages were Facebook members who
were younger than 60, with an average
age of 20 to 29 between 2011 and 2012.
These data represent the postings by
young people about older people.

Research Results: Negative stereo-
types about age were in almost all of
the postings analyzed. There were four

Age Stereotypes on Facebook
categories of anti-age stereotypes.
Seventy-four percent of postings
criticized old people. Some of these
were very hateful, suggesting that
older people make no contribution to
society. Another category of stereotypes
expressed how older people are debili-
tated, either physically or cognitively.

The third stereotype was about banning
older people from certain activities. Most
commonly, 37 percent of the Facebook
posts suggest that older people not be
permitted to drive a car. Shopping and
other daily activities were also mentioned.
Finally, 26 percent of the posts infantilized
aging people, meaning they reduced them
to being like children, suggesting that they
cannot care for themselves. Often these
posts referenced nursing homes.

Conclusions and Implications: This
research concludes that beliefs and
stereotypes about age are posted on

Facebook in varying degrees of exag-
geration. Because Facebook does not
involve face-to-face communication, the
authors suggest that people feel more
comfortable posting negative, even
hateful, ideas because there is no clear
consequence.

Questions to Consider
1. Facebook’s Community Standards

indicate that certain negative
posts will not be tolerated. Do
you think comments about older
people should be included in those
standards?

2. Do you think there is a difference
between what people would say in
person and what they would say in
a Facebook post? Would you say
something online that you would not
say in person?

Source: Levy, Becca R., Pil H. Chung, Talya
Bedford, and Kristina Navrazhina. 2013.
“Facebook as a Site for Negative Age
Stereotypes.” The Gerontologist 54 (2): 172–176.

doing sociological research

Social Exchange Theory
Another way of analyzing social interaction is through
the social exchange model (see Table 5.2). The social
exchange model of social interaction holds that our
interactions are determined by the rewards or pun-
ishments that we receive from others. A fundamental
principle of exchange theory is that an interaction that
elicits approval from another (a type of reward) is more
likely to be repeated than an interaction that incites
disapproval (a type of punishment). According to the
exchange principle, one can predict whether a given
interaction is likely to be repeated or continued by cal-
culating the degree of reward or punishment inspired
by the interaction.

Rewards can take many forms. They can include
tangible gains such as gifts, recognition, and money,
or subtle everyday rewards such as smiles, nods, and
pats on the back. Similarly, punishments come in many
varieties, from extremes such as public humiliation,
beating, banishment, or execution, to gestures as subtle
as a raised eyebrow or a frown. For example, if you ask
someone out for a date and the person says yes, you
have gained a reward, and you are likely to repeat the
interaction. You are likely to ask the person out again, or

to ask someone else out. If you ask someone out, and he
or she glares at you and says, “no way!,” then you have
elicited a punishment that will probably cause you to
shy away from repeating this type of interaction with
that person.

Interaction in Cyberspace
When people interact and communicate with one
another by means of personal computers—through
some virtual community such as email, Twitter,
Facebook, or LinkedIn—then they are engaging in
cyberspace interaction (or virtual interaction).

The character of cyberspace interaction is chang-
ing rapidly as new technologies emerge. Not long ago,
nonverbal interaction was absent in cyberspace as peo-
ple could not “see” what others were like. With video-
based cyberspace, such as photos on social media
sites and Skype, people can display still and moving
images of themselves. These images provide oppor-
tunities, as we noted previously, for what sociologists
would call the presentation of self and impression man-
agement. Sometimes this comes with embarrassing
consequences. A young college student who displays

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SoCIAl STruCTurE AnD SoCIAl InTE rACTI o n   1 2 1

◆ Table 5.3 Demographics of Users of Social Media Sites

Following is the percentage of each group who use key social media sites
according to a 2014 survey.

Total Adults Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Instagram

Men 66% 28% 24% 22%

Women 77% 27% 21% 29%

Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic 71% 29% 21% 21%

Black, non-Hispanic 67% 28% 27% 38%

Hispanic 73% 18% 25% 34%

Age

18–29 87% 23% 37% 53%

30–49 73% 31% 25% 25%

50–64 63% 30% 12% 11%

65 and older 56% 21% 10%  6%

Household Income

less than $30,000 77% 15% 20% 28%

$30,000 to $49,999 69% 21% 21% 23%

$50,000 to $74,999 74% 31% 27% 26%

>$75,000 72% 44% 27% 26%

Educational Attainment

High school or less 70% 12% 16% 23%

Some college 71% 22% 24% 31%

College degree
or more

74% 50% 30% 24%

Source: Duggan, Maeva, nicole B. Ellison, Cliff lampe, Amanda lenhart, and Mary
Madden. 2015, January 9. “Social Media update 2014.” The pew research Center.
Washington, DC: The pew research Center.

a seminude or nude photo of herself or
himself, projecting a sexual presentation
of self, may be horrified if one of the par-
ents or a potential employer visits the Face-
book site! Furthermore, the photo could
be intercepted by a disgruntled boyfriend,
reproduced, and made to “go viral” (seen
by hundreds or thousands of people).

Cyberspace interaction is common
among all age, gender, and race groups,
although clear patterns are also present in
who is engaged in this form of social inter-
action and how people use it. Age is still a
strong predictor of use. Younger people are
more likely to use Facebook, Twitter, and
Instagram, but older people are interact-
ing online in ever-increasing numbers.
Another age difference is how they use
Internet. Young people, aged 18 to 29, are
considerably more likely than other Ameri-
cans to use mostly their cell phone for
Internet interactions (50 percent among
18- to 29-year-olds; 35 percent among 30-
to 49-year-olds; 14  percent among 50- to
64-year-olds; and only 10  percent among
65 and older Americans;Duggan and
Smith 2013).

Although women and men are roughly
the same overall in Internet usage (about
85 percent use the Internet), gender dif-
ferences can still be found in the type of
usage. Women are more likely to use email
to write to friends and family, share news,
plan events, and forward jokes. Table 5.3 ◆
shows how women are much more likely
to use Facebook than are men. Accessing
the Internet mostly through cell phones
differs by race or ethnicity. Sixty percent
of Hispanic Americans report using their
cell phone mostly to go online, and only
27  percent of Whites report mostly using
their cell phone (Pew Research Center 2014).

The implications of these cyberspace interac-
tions are the subject of much sociological research.
The Internet creates more opportunity for people to
misrepresent themselves or even create completely
false—or even stolen—identities. Studies find that
computer-mediated interactions also follow some
of the same patterns that are found in face-to-face
interaction. People still “manage” identities in front
of a presumed audience; they project images of self to
others that are consistent with the identity they have
created for themselves, and they form social networks
that become the source for evolving identities, just
as people do in traditional forms of social interac-
tion. The difference between LinkedIn and Facebook,

for example, indicates that the professional identity
is presented differently than the personal identity
(van Dijck 2013).

In this respect, cyberspace interaction is an applica-
tion of Goffman’s principle of impression management.
People can put forward a totally different and wholly
created self, or identity. One can “give off,” in Goffman’s
terms, any impression one wishes and, at the same time,
know that one’s true self is protected by anonymity. This
gives the individual quite a large and free range of roles
and identities from which to choose. As predicted by
symbolic interaction theory, of which Goffman’s is one
variety, the reality of the situation grows out of the inter-
action process itself. This is a central point of symbolic
interaction theory and is central to sociological analysis
generally: Interaction creates reality.

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1 2 2   CHA pT E r 5

Cyberspace interaction has thus resulted in new
forms of social interaction in society—in fact, a new
social order containing both deviants and conformists.
These new forms of social interaction have their own
rules and norms, their own language, their own sets of

beliefs, and practices or rituals—in short, all the ele-
ments of culture, as defined in Chapter 2. For sociolo-
gists, cyberspace also provides an intriguing new venue
in which to study the connection between society and
social interaction.

What is society?
Society is a system of social interaction that includes
both culture and social organization. Society includes
social institutions, or established organized social
behavior, and exists for a recognized purpose; social
structure is the patterned relationships within a society.

What holds society together?
According to theorist Emile Durkheim, society with
all its complex social organization and culture, is held
together, depending on overall type, by mechanical
solidarity (based on individual similarity) and organic
solidarity (based on a division of labor among dissimi-
lar individuals). Two other forms of social organization
also con trib ute to the cohesion of a society: gemein-
schaft (“community,” characterized by cohesion based
on friendships and loyalties) and gesellschaft (“society,”
characterized by cohesion based on complexity and
differentiation).

What are the types of societies?
Societies across the globe vary in type, as determined
mainly by the complexity of their social structures, their
division of labor, and their technologies. From least to
most complex, they are foraging, pastoral, horticultural,
agricultural (these four constitute preindustrial societ-
ies), industrial, and postindustrial societies.

What are the forms of social interaction in society?
All forms of social interaction in society are shaped
by the structure of its social institutions. A group is a

collection of individuals who interact and communi-
cate with each other, share goals and norms, and have
a subjective awareness of themselves as a distinct social
unit. Status is a hierarchical position in a structure.
A role is the behavior others expect from a person asso-
ciated with a particular status. Patterns of social interac-
tion influence nonverbal interaction as well as patterns
of attraction and affiliation.

What theories are there about social
interaction?
Social interaction takes place in society within the con-
text of social structure and social institutions. Social
interaction is analyzed in several ways, including the
social construction of reality (we impose meaning and
reality on our interactions with others); ethnomethod-
ology (deliberate interruption of interaction to observe
how a return to “normal” interaction is accomplished);
impression management (a person “gives off ” a particu-
lar impression to “con” the other and achieve certain
goals, as in cyberspace interaction); and social exchange
theory.

How is technology changing social interaction?
Increasingly, people engage with each other through
cyberspace interaction. Social norms develop in
cyberspace as they do in face-to-face interaction,
but people in cyberspace can also manipulate the
impression that they give off, thus creating a new
“virtual” self.

Chapter Summary

achieved status 111
ascribed status 111
collective

consciousness 106
division of labor 107
ethnomethodology 117
gemeinschaft 107
gesellschaft 107
group 111

impression
management 119

macroanalysis 104
master status 112
mechanical solidarity 106
microanalysis 104
nonverbal

communication 114
organic solidarity 106

postindustrial society 110
preindustrial society 108
role 112
role conflict 113
role modeling 113
role set 113
role strain 113
social institution 105
social interaction 104

social organization 105
social structure 106
society 104
status 111
status inconsistency 111
status set 111

Key Terms

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D
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125

It’s Saturday night. You feel like staying in, perhaps to read a book, play video games, watch a movie. You’re just not “up” for going out as you often do. Just as you are settling
it, you get a text from a friend saying, “Hey, let’s party; great
band at our favorite place. Let’s go.” Very soon, another friend
texts, “I’m in! See you there.” And another, “Me too.” Before
you know it, you are in the club, enjoying yourself but per-
haps wishing you had just had a quiet night at home. The next
morning, as you nurse your headache, you wonder why you
went. You had really wanted a quiet night alone, but you soon
found yourself surrounded by others, doing what they were
doing, even though it wasn’t how you had planned to spend
your evening. What happened?

The answer is that you were subjected to group
behavior—one of the most interesting and strongest
phenomena in the social world. We like to think of ourselves
as individuals and, of course, we are, but even as individuals,
our behavior is strongly influenced by the groups to which we
belong. At any given moment, we belong to multiple groups,
some with more influence than others. Understanding group
behavior is critical to understanding people’s behavior.

Consider this: If someone told you that you could catch
a spaceship to a next level of existence, beyond anything you
had ever known on Earth, would you take a lethal combination
of drugs and alcohol to get you there? Surely not, you must
be thinking! But that is precisely what thirty-nine members
of the Heaven’s Gate cult did in 1997 in a mansion in Rancho
Santa Fe, California. They were told by the group leader that
a spaceship was coming, following the tail of Comet Hale-
Bopp and that they would be transported to a better place.
Although seemingly completely irrational, this behavior can
only be understood by analyzing how these thirty-nine indi-
viduals became subject to the control of such an extremist
group—in other words, succumbing to group pressure.

Group pressure also escalates violent behaviors. You might
recall a horrific rape that occurred in New Delhi, India, in 2012,
when seven men gang-raped a twenty-three-year-old medical
school student on a public bus. The young woman died two
weeks later from the severe injuries. Rape is a violent act even
when committed by one person, but research finds that rape
involving more than one perpetrator—that is, group rape—is

Groups and Organizations

●● Understand the
sociological concept of
groups and the different
forms groups take

●● Analyze the social
processes that produce
conformity in groups

●● Explain the social
structures that
characterize formal
organizations and
bureaucracies

●● Compare and contrast
the major sociological
theories of groups and
organizations

in this chapter, you will learn to:

Types of Groups 126

Social Influence in Groups 133

Formal Organizations and
Bureaucracies 137

Functionalism, Conflict Theory,
and Symbolic Interaction:
Theoretical Perspectives 143

Chapter Summary 144

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1 2 6   CHAPT Er 6

Types of Groups
Each of us is a member of many groups simultaneously.
We have relationships in groups with family, friends,
team members, and professional colleagues. Within
these groups are gradations in relationships: We are
generally closer to our siblings (our sisters and broth-
ers) than to our cousins; we are intimate with some
friends, merely sociable with others. If we count all our
group associations, ranging from the powerful associa-
tions that define our daily lives to the thinnest connec-
tions with little feeling (other pet lovers, other company
employees), we will uncover connections to literally
hundreds of groups.

What is a group? Recall from Chapter 5, a group is
two or more individuals who interact, share goals and
norms, and have a subjective awareness as “we,” that
is, as a distinct social unit. To be considered a group, a
social unit must have all three characteristics, although
some groups are more bound together than others.
Consider two superficially similar examples: The indi-
viduals in a line waiting to board a train are unlikely
to have a sense of themselves as one group. A line of

prisoners chained together and waiting to board a bus
to the penitentiary is more likely to have a stronger
sense of common feeling.

As you remember from the previous chapter, cer-
tain gatherings are not groups in the strict sense, but
may be social categories (for example, teenagers, truck
drivers) or audiences (everyone watching a movie). The
importance of defining a group is not to perfectly decide
if a social unit is a group—an unnecessary endeavor—
but to help us understand the behavior of people in
society. As we inspect groups, we can identify character-
istics that reliably predict trends in the behavior of the
group and even the behavior of individuals in the group.

The study of groups has application at all levels of
society, from the attraction between people who fall in
love to the characteristics that make some corporations
drastically outperform their competitors—or that lead
them into bankruptcy. The aggregation of individuals
into groups has a transforming power, and sociologists
understand the social forces that make these transfor-
mations possible. Within the confines of this chapter,
we move from the micro level of analysis (the analy-
sis of groups and face-to-face social influence) to the

usually far more violent and involves more severe
forms of violation than rape by a single perpetrator.
Scholars conclude that the group behavior involved
in a gang rape intensifies violence as the group
members succumb to the power of a group leader
and/or feel they must participate or they will be
ostracized by the group (Woodhams et al. 2012).

In less dramatic and disturbing examples,
group influence also shapes all kinds of ordinary
behavior. Juries are groups, and jury decision mak-
ing is clearly influenced by group processes. When
a jury deliberates, a consensus is formed as more
members of the group (that is, the jury) move to a
particular verdict. Moreover, the larger the faction,
the less willing an individual juror will be to defy
the weight of group opinion. As we shall see, this is group size effect: an effect of sheer numbers in the
group independent of the effects of individual actions and thoughts (Vidmar and Hans 2007).

You can probably think of examples in your own experience when you succumbed to group pressure,
even when your individual judgment told you to do or think something different. Perhaps you smoke
cigarettes, knowing full well that they are very harmful to your health. Maybe you have purchased some-
thing from the latest fashion trend, even though you really could not spare the money, or maybe you have
gone out drinking with friends because “everybody was doing it.”

People are highly subject to the social influences of groups. Whether a relatively small group—such
as a jury or your friendship circle—or a large bureaucratic organization, such as the government or a work
organization, people are influenced by the sociological forces of group behavior.

Eighteen men and twenty-one women committed mass
suicide as part of the Heaven’s Gate cult in 1997, all of them
dressed alike in dark clothes and Nike sneakers. This is an
extreme example of group conformity.

H
O

O
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/R
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te
rs

The annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, is a
death-defying exercise in group behavior.

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

GrOUPS AN d OrGAN I zATI O N S  1 27

relatively more macro level of analysis (the analysis of
formal organizations and bureaucracies).

Dyads and Triads: Group
Size Effects
Even the smallest groups are of acute sociological inter-
est and can exert considerable influence upon individ-
uals. A dyad is a group consisting of exactly two people.
A triad consists of three people. This seemingly minor
distinction, first scrutinized by the German sociologist
Georg Simmel (1858–1918), can have critical conse-
quences for group behavior (Simmel 1950/1902). Sim-
mel was interested in discovering the effects of size on
groups, and he found that the mere difference between
two and three people spawned entirely different group
dynamics (the behavior of a group over time).

Imagine two people standing in line for lunch. First
one talks, then the other, then the first again. The inter-
action proceeds in this way for several minutes. Now a
third person enters the interaction. The character of the
interaction suddenly changes: At any given moment, two
people are interacting more with each other than either
is with the third. When the third person wins the atten-
tion of the other two, a new dyad is formed, supplanting
the previous pairing. The group, a triad, then consists of
a dyad (the pair that is interacting) plus an isolate.

Triadic segregation is what Simmel called the ten-
dency for triads to segregate into a pair and an isolate
(a single person). A triad tends to segregate into a coalition
of the dyad against the isolate. The isolate then has the
option of initiating a coalition with either member of

the dyad. This choice is a type of social advantage, lead-
ing Simmel to coin the principle of tertius gaudens, a Latin
term meaning “the third one gains.” Simmel’s reasoning
has led to numerous contemporary studies of coalition
formation in groups (Holyoke 2009; Konishi and Ray 2003).

For example, interactions in a triad often end up
as “two against one.” You may have noticed this prin-
ciple of coalition formation in your own conversations.
Perhaps two friends want to go to a movie you do not
want to see. You appeal to one of them to go instead to
a minor league baseball game. She wavers and comes
over to your point of view. Now you have formed a coali-
tion of two against one. The friend who wants to go to
the movies is now the isolate. He may recover lost social
ground by trying to form a new coalition by suggesting a
new alternative (going bowling or to a different movie).
This flip-flop interaction may continue for some time,
demonstrating another observation by Simmel: A triad
is a decidedly unstable social grouping, whereas dyads
are relatively stable. The distinction between dyads
and triads is just one person but the presence of that
one person changes the character of the interaction
within the group. Simmel is known as the discoverer of
group size effect—the effects of group number on group
behavior independent of the personality characteristics
and opinions of the members themselves.

Primary and Secondary Groups
Charles Horton Cooley (1864–1929), a famous soci-
ologist of the Chicago School of Sociology, introduced
the concept of the primary group, defined as a group

One of the best examples of the primary group is that
consisting of parent and child.

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The annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, is a
death-defying exercise in group behavior.

Jo

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F
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1 2 8   CHA PT Er 6

Modern society is often characterized
as remote, alienating, and without much
feeling of community or belonging to a
group. This image of society has been
carefully studied by sociologist Robert
Wuthnow, who noticed that people in
the United States are increasingly look-
ing to small groups as places where they
can find emotional and spiritual support
and where they find meaning and com-
mitment, despite the image of society as
an increasingly impersonal force.

Research Question: Wuthnow began
his research by noting that, even with
the individualistic culture of U.S. society,
small groups play a major role in this
society. He saw the increasing tendency
of people to join recovery groups, read-
ing groups, spiritual groups, and myriad
other support groups. Wuthnow began
his research by asking these specific
questions: What motivates people to join
support groups? How do these groups
function? What do members like most
and least about such groups? His broad-
est question, however, was to wonder
how the proliferation of small support
groups influences the wider society.

Research Methods: To answer these
questions, a large research team of
fifteen scholars designed a study that
included both a quantitative and a
qualitative dimension. They distributed
a survey to a representative sample of
more than 1000 people in the United
States. Supplementing the survey were

Sharing the Journey
interviews with more than 100 support
group members, group leaders, and
clergy. The researchers chose twelve
groups for extensive study; researchers
spent six months to three years tracing
the history of these groups, meeting with
members and attending group sessions.

Research Results: Based on this
research, Wuthnow concludes that the
small group movement is fundamentally
altering U.S. society. Forty percent of all
Americans belong to some kind of small
support group. As the result of people’s
participation in these groups, social
values of community and spirituality
are undergoing major transformation.
People say they are seeking community
when they join small groups, whether
the group is a recovery group, a religious
group, a civic association, or some other
small group. People turn to these small
groups for emotional support more than
for physical or monetary support.

Conclusions and Implications: Wuthnow
argues that large-scale participation
in small groups has arisen in a social
context in which the traditional sup-
port structures in U.S. society, such as
the family, no longer provide the sense
of belonging and social integration that
they provided in the past. Geographic
mobility, mass society, and the erosion
of local ties all contribute to this trend.
People still seek a sense of community,
but they create it in groups that also
allow them to maintain their individuality.

In voluntary small groups, you are free
to leave the group if it no longer meets
your needs.

Wuthnow also concludes that these
groups represent a quest for spirituality
in a society when, for many, traditional
religious values have declined. As a con-
sequence, support groups are redefining
what is sacred. They also replace explicit
religious tenets imposed from the out-
side with internal norms that are implicit
and devised by individual groups. At the
same time, these groups reflect the
pluralism and diversity that characterize
society. In the end, they buffer the trend
toward disintegration and isolation that
people often feel in mass societies.

Questions to Consider
1. Are you a member of a voluntary

small group? If so, what sense of
community does the group provide
for you? How do you maintain
your sense of individuality at the
same time?

2. What social changes do you observe
in the world around you that might
encourage people to join various
support groups?

3. Some people join support groups
in the aftermath of major life
transition—a death, recovery from
addiction, the desire to lose weight,
and so on. What does group mem-
bership in such a situation provide
for individuals?

Source: Wuthnow, Robert. 1994. Sharing the
Journey: Support Groups and America’s New
Quest for Community. New York: Free Press.

doing sociological research

consisting of intimate, face-to-face interaction and
relatively long-lasting relationships. Cooley had in
mind the family and the early peer group. In his origi-
nal formulation, “primary” was used in the sense of
“first,” the intimate group of the formative years (Cooley
1967/1909). The insight that there was an important
distinction between intimate groups and other groups
proved extremely fruitful. Cooley’s somewhat narrow
concept of family and childhood peers has been elab-
orated upon over the years to include a variety of inti-
mate relations as examples of primary groups.

Primary groups have a powerful influence on an
individual’s personality or self-identity. The effect of
family on an individual can hardly be overstated. The
weight of peer pressure on school children is particu-
larly notorious. Street gangs are a primary group, and
their influence on individuals is significant; in fact,
gang members frequently think of themselves as a fam-
ily. Inmates in prison very frequently become members
of a gang—primary groups perhaps based mainly upon
race or ethnicity—as a matter of their own personal sur-
vival. The intense camaraderie formed among Marine

Support groups, such as this group therapy session, often
provide people a feeling of community, even when faced
with individual troubles.

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GrOUPS ANd OrGAN IzATI O N S  1 2 9

Corps units in boot camp and in war is another classic
example of primary group formation and the resulting
intense effect on individuals and upon their survival.

In contrast to primary groups are secondary
groups, those that are larger in membership, less inti-
mate, and less long lasting. Secondary groups tend to
be less significant in the emotional lives of people. Sec-
ondary groups include all the students at a college or
university, all the people in your neighborhood, and all
the people in a bureaucracy or corporation.

→Thinking Sociologically
Identify a group of which you are a part. How does one
become a member of this group? Who is included and who
is excluded? does the group share any unique language
or other cultural characteristics (such as dress, jargon,
or other group identifiers)? does anyone ever leave the
group, and if so, why? Would you describe this group
mainly as a primary or a secondary group? Why?

Primary and secondary groups serve different
needs. Primary groups give people intimacy, compan-
ionship, and emotional support. These human desires
are termed expressive needs (also called socioemo-
tional needs). Family and friends share and amplify
your good fortune, rescue you when you misbehave,
and cheer you up when life looks grim. Many studies
have shown the overwhelming influence of family and
friendship groups on religious and political affiliation,
as shown in the box “Doing Sociological Research:
Sharing the Journey.”

Secondary groups serve instrumental needs (also
called task-oriented needs). Athletic teams form to have
fun and win games. Political groups form to raise funds
and influence the government. Corporations form to
make profits, and employees join corporations to earn
a living. The true distinction between primary and sec-
ondary groups is in how intimate the group members
feel about one another and how dependent they are on
the group for sustenance and identity.

Secondary groups occasionally take on the charac-
teristics of primary groups, even if temporarily. This is
precisely what happened to a group of miners who, for
nearly three months in 2011, were trapped a half mile
below the surface in Chile’s Atacama Desert. When the
thirty-three miners were eventually rescued, an event
that was covered live on the international news, we
learned that this was a very striking example of the tran-
sition from a largely secondary group to an exception-
ally close-knit primary group. A strong leader (foreman
Luis Urzúa) insisted that, “It was one for all and all for
one down there.” As the men reported it, the experience
transformed all thirty-three men into a large and very
close family (primary group) even as they later coped
with their newfound fame, celebrity, and requests to
endorse products (Padgett et al. 2011).

Reference Groups
Primary and secondary groups are groups to which
members belong. Both are called membership groups.
In contrast, reference groups are those to which you
may or may not belong but use as a standard for evalu-
ating your values, attitudes, and behaviors (Merton and
Rossi 1950). Reference groups are generalized versions
of role models. They are not “groups” in the sense that
the individual interacts within (or in) them. Do you pat-
tern your behavior on that of sports stars, musicians,
military officers, or business executives? If so, those
models are reference groups for you.

Imitation of reference groups can have both posi-
tive and negative effects. Members of a Little League
baseball team may revere major league baseball play-
ers and attempt to imitate laudable behaviors such as
tenacity and sportsmanship. But young baseball fans
are also liable to be exposed to tantrums, fights, and
tobacco chewing and spitting. This illustrates that the
influence of a reference group can be both positive and
negative.

Reference groups do not have to be actual peo-
ple. As we have been seeing throughout this book, the
media can serve as a powerful reference group, influ-
encing how people perceive themselves. Positive repre-
sentations of one’s reference group can promote strong
self-esteem; negative representations and negative ste-
reotypes, such as of racial–ethnic groups, can produce
diminished self-esteem. The representation of racial

Support groups, such as this group therapy session, often
provide people a feeling of community, even when faced
with individual troubles.

Ji
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

1 3 0   CH A PTEr 6

and ethnic groups in a society can have a striking posi-
tive effect perhaps even among children acquiring their
lifetime set of group affiliations (Harris 2006; Zhou and
Bankston 2000).

In-Groups, Out-Groups,
and Attribution Error
When groups have a sense of themselves as “us,” they
will also have a complementary sense of other groups
as “them.” The distinction is commonly characterized
as in-groups versus out-groups. The concept was origi-
nally elaborated by the early sociological theorist W. I.
Thomas (1963–1047) (Thomas 1931). College fraterni-
ties and sororities certainly exemplify “in” versus “out.”
So do families. So do gangs—especially so. The same
can be true of the members of your high school class,
your sports team, your racial group, your gender, and
your social class.

Attribution theory is the principle that we all make
inferences about the personalities of others, such as

concluding what the other is “really like.” These attri-
butions depend on whether you are in the in-group or
the out-group. Thomas F. Pettigrew has summarized the
research on attribution theory, showing that individu-
als commonly generate a significantly distorted percep-
tion of the motives and capabilities of other people’s
acts based on whether that person is an in-group or
out-group member (Baumeister and Bushman 2008;
Gilbert and Malone 1995; Pettigrew 1992).

Pettigrew and others describe the misperception
as attribution error, meaning errors made in attribut-
ing causes for people’s behavior to their membership in
a particular group, such as a racial group. Attribution
error has several dimensions, all tending to favor the in-
group over the out-group. All else being assumed equal,
we tend to perceive people in our in-group positively
and those in out-groups negatively, regardless of their
actual personal characteristics:

1. When onlookers observe improper behavior by an
out-group member, onlookers are likely to attribute
the deviance to the disposition (the personality) of
the wrongdoer. Disposition refers to the perceived
“true nature” or “inherent nature” of the person,
often considered to be genetically determined. For
example, a White person may see a Hispanic person
carrying a knife and, without further information,
attribute this behavior to the presumed “inherent ten-
dency” for Hispanics to carry knives and be violent.
The same would be true if a Hispanic person, without
additional information, assumed that all Whites have
the same “inherent tendency” to be racist.

2. When the same behavior is exhibited by an in-
group member, the perception is commonly held
that the act is due to the situation of the wrongdoer,

Initiation into a group can mean losing one’s individual
identity, especially when strict conformity to the group is
enforced. New initiates into military life routinely have their
hair cut, symbolic of the dominance of group identity over
individual identity.

D
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ca

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As with the African American women’s sorority, delta Sigma
Theta, groups often use clothing styles and colors to signify
group belonging.

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Po
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

GrOUPS AN d OrG AN IzATI O N S  1 3 1

not to the in-group member’s inherent disposi-
tion or personality. For example, a White person
may see another White person carrying a knife and
conclude, without further information, that the
weapon must be carried for protection in a danger-
ous area.

3. If an out-group member is seen to perform in some
laudable way, the behavior is often attributed to a
variety of special circumstances, and the out-group
member is seen as “the exception.”

4. An in-group member who performs in the same
laudable way is given credit for a worthy personal-
ity disposition.

Typical attribution errors include misperceptions
between racial groups and between men and women
(Taylor et al. 2013; Kluegel and Bobo 1993). In the case
of race, recent events in the news tend to bear this
out : In the case of a Black youth shot and killed by a
White policeman, and without further information,
a White person will tend to conclude that the White
policeman was probably justified in the shooting. All
else being equal, a Black person, without further infor-
mation, will conclude that the shooting was probably
unjustified and may well have been murder. These
conclusions accurately describe—on the average—the
reactions of Blacks and Whites to the well-publicized
shootings of Black men by White police, such as the
shootings of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida;
Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; and, tragically,
several others. Even in the aftermath of these police
shootings, surveys find a large gap in how much
White and Black Americans have confidence in the
police (Drake 2014).

A related phenomenon has been seen in men’s per-
ceptions of women coworkers. Meticulous behavior in
a man is perceived positively and is seen by other men
as “thorough”; in a woman, the exact same behavior is
perceived negatively and is considered “picky.” Behav-
ior applauded in a man as “aggressive” is condemned
in a woman exhibiting the same behavior as “pushy” or
“bitchy” (Uleman et al. 1996).

Social Networks
As already noted, no individual is a member of only one
group. Social life is far richer than that. A social network
is a set of links between individuals, between groups, or
between other social units, such as bureaucratic orga-
nizations or even entire nations (Salganik 2015; Aldrich
and Ruef 2006; Hargittai and Centeno 2001; Mizruchi
1992). One could say that any given person belongs
simultaneously to several networks (Wasserman and
Faust 1994). With the development of social media (see
Chapter 2), networks that may have once been face-to-
face have now developed through electronic media,
such as on Facebook and Twitter. The development of

social media brings a new dimension to the study and
analysis of networks because you may be in a network
with people you do not even know. Nonetheless, your
group of friends, or all the people on an electronic mail-
ing list to which you subscribe, or all of your Facebook
subscribers are social networks, some human, some
electronic.

Let us do a bit of network analysis (including
group size effects) right now. Assume first that a group
consisting of only two people has by definition one
two-way relationship (each knows the other person-
ally). A group of three people will thus have three pos-
sible two-way relationships; and a group of four people
will have six possible two-way relationships. Extending
this simple counting of the number of pairs (i.e., two-
way relationships) shows that a group of five people
has ten possible two-way relationships; a group of six
people fifteen possible two-way relationships; and so
on. With even as few as thirty “friends” on Facebook,
there are actually 435 possible two-way (i.e., mutual)
relationships! That is a lot of mutual relationships! As
early as the 1950s, Robert Bales (1951) estimated that
thirty is the limit for the number of people that can be
in an intimate “small group” such that each person can
have or recall a perception of each other member as
an individual person. How “close” can your Facebook
friends really be?

Networks can be critical to your success in life.
Numerous research studies indicate that people get jobs
via their personal networks more often than through
formal job listings, want ads, or placement agencies
(Ruef et al. 2003; Petersen et al. 2000; Granovetter 1995,
1974). Getting a job is more often a matter of whom you

As with the African American women’s sorority, delta Sigma
Theta, groups often use clothing styles and colors to signify
group belonging.

research finds that social networks are critical to finding
jobs, even when those networks might be relatively weak.

Ji
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1 32   CHA PTEr 6

know than what you know. Who you know, and whom
they know in turn, is a social network that may have a
marked effect on your life and career.

Networks form with all the spontaneity of other
forms of human interaction (Wasserman and Faust
1994). Networks evolve, such as social ties within
neighborhoods, professional contacts, and associations
formed in fraternal, religious, occupational, and volun-
teer groups. Networks to which you are only weakly tied
(you may know only one person in your neighborhood)
provide you with access to that entire network, hence
the sociological paradox that there is “strength in weak
ties” (Granovetter 1973).

Networks based on race, class, and gender form
with particular readiness. This has been especially
true of job networks. The person who leads you to
a job is likely to have a similar social background.
Research indicates that the “old boy network”—any
network of White, male corporate executives—is less
important than it used to be, although it is certainly
not by any means gone. The diminished importance
of the old boy network is because of the increasing
prominence of women and minorities in business
organizations. In fact, among African American and
Latino individuals, one’s family can provide network
contacts that can lead to jobs and upward mobility
(Dominguez and Watkins 2003). Still, as we will see in
various places later in this book, women and minori-
ties are considerably underrepresented in corporate
life, especially in high-status jobs, and since 2004, the
presence of women and racial minorities on corpo-
rate boards has actually declined (Alliance for Board
Diversity 2013). Some recent research shows that
Blacks and Latinos relative to Whites are still dispro-
portionately harmed by a lack of network contacts
(Smith 2007).

The recent research of Gile et al. (2015) on net-
work size has shown that network size is a very impor-
tant force in human existence. His network research
has been used to identify populations and subpopu-
lations that are at risk of being struck with the human

immunodeficiency virus (HIV) syndrome, the basis of
the venereal disease AIDS. Using network sampling
of pairs of individuals (network pairs as referred to
previously), the researchers found that the estimated
number of HIV-infected individuals in Curitiba, Brazil,
turned out to be five to ten times higher than estimates
that used standard survey sampling (that is, sampling
individuals, not pairs). Thus, sampling using a net-
work approach revealed a surprisingly large number of
infected individuals.

Social Networks as “Small Worlds”
Networks can reach around the world, but how big is
the world? How many of us, when we discover some-
one we just met is a friend of a friend, have remarked,
“My, it’s a small world, isn’t it?”? Research into what
has come to be known as the small world problem has
shown that networks make the world a lot smaller than
you might otherwise think.

Original small world researchers Travers and
Milgram wanted to test whether a document could
be routed via the U.S. postal system to a complete
stranger more than 1000 miles away using only a
chain of acquaintances (Watts 1999; Watts and Stro-
gatz 1998; Kochen 1989; Lin 1989; Travers and Mil-
gram 1969). If so, how many steps would be required?
The researchers organized an experiment back in
1969 in which approximately 300 senders were all
charged with getting a document to one receiver, a
complete stranger. (Remember that all this was well
before the advent of the desktop computer in the
1980s.) The receiver was a male Boston stockbroker.
The senders were one group of Nebraskans and one
group of Bostonians chosen completely at random.
Every sender in the study was given the receiver’s
name, address, occupation, alma mater, year of grad-
uation, wife’s maiden name, and hometown. They
were asked to send the document directly to the
stockbroker only if they knew him on a first-name
basis. Otherwise, they were asked to send the folder

Is getting a job simply a matter of get-
ting the right credentials and training?
Hardly, according to sociologists. Even in
a good job market, one needs the help
of social networks to find a job. This has
been clearly demonstrated by sociologist

Finding a Job: The Invisible Hand
Deirdre Royster, who compared the
experiences of two groups of men: One
group was White, the other Black. Both
had graduated from vocational school.
The Black and White men had comparable
educational credentials, the same values,

and the same work ethic; yet, the White
men were far more likely to gain employ-
ment than were the Black men. Why?
Royster’s research revealed that the most
significant difference between the two
groups was access to job networks, just as
Granovetter’s work on job networks would
predict (Royster 2003; Granovetter 1995).

what would a sociologist say?

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GrOUPS ANd OrGAN I zATI O N S  1 33

to a friend, relative, or acquaintance known on a first-
name basis who might be more likely than the sender
to know the stockbroker.

How many intermediaries do you think it took, on
average, for the document to get through? (Most people
estimate from twenty to hundreds.) The average num-
ber of intermediate contacts was only 6.2! However,
only about one-third of the documents actually arrived
at the target. This was still quite impressive, consider-
ing that the senders did not know the target person—
hence, the current expression that any given person in
the country is on average only about “six degrees of sep-
aration” from any other person. In this sense, the world
is indeed “small.”

This original small world research has recently
been criticized on two grounds: First, only one-third of
the documents actually reached the target person. The
6.2 average intermediaries applied only to these com-
pleted chains. Thus, two-thirds of the initial documents
never reached the target person. For these people, the
world was certainly not “small.” Second, the sending
chains tended to closely follow occupational, social
class, and ethnic lines, just as general network theory
would predict (Kleinfeld 1999; Wasserman and Faust
1994). Thus, the world may indeed be “small,” but only
for people in your immediate social network (Ruef et al.
2003; Watts 1999).

A study of Black national leaders by Taylor and
associates (Jackson et al. 1995; Taylor 1992) shows that
Black leaders form a very closely knit network, one
considerably more closely knit than longer-established
White leadership networks (Domhoff 2002; Jackson
2000; Jackson et al. 1995, 1994; Alba and Moore 1982;
Moore 1979; Kadushin 1974). The world is indeed quite
“small” for America’s Black leadership. Included in the
study were Black members of Congress, mayors, busi-
ness executives, military officers (generals and full
colonels), religious leaders, civil rights leaders, media
personalities, entertainment and sports figures, and oth-
ers. The study found that when considering only direct
personal acquaintances—not indirect links involving
intermediaries—one-fifth of the entire national Black
leadership network know each other directly as a friend
or close acquaintance. The Black leadership network is
considerably more closely connected than White lead-
ership networks. The Black network has greater density.
Add only one intermediary, the friend of a friend, and
the study estimated that almost three-quarters of the
entire Black leadership network are included. There-
fore, any given Black leader can generally get in touch
with three-quarters of all other Black leaders in the
country either by knowing them personally (a “friend”)
or via only one common acquaintance (a “friend of a
friend”). That’s pretty amazing when one realizes that
the study is considering the population of Black leaders
in the entire country.

Social Influence in Groups
The groups in which we participate exert tremendous
influence on us. We often fail to appreciate how pow-
erful these influences are. For example, who decides
what you should wear? Do you decide for yourself
each morning, or is the decision already made for you
by fashion designers, role models, and your peers?
Consider how closely your hair length, hair styling, and
choice of jewelry have been influenced by your peers.
Did you invent your skinny jeans, your dreadlocks,
or your blue blazer? People who label themselves as
“nonconformists” often conform rigidly to the dress-
code and other norms of their in-group (a type of
small network).

A group such as one’s family even influences your
adult life long after children have grown up and formed
households of their own. The choice of political party
among adults (Republican, Democratic, or Indepen-
dent) correlates strongly with the party of one’s parents,
again demonstrating the power of the primary group.
Seven out of ten people vote with the political party
of their parents, even though these same people insist
that they think for themselves when voting (Worchel
et al. 2000). Furthermore, most people share the reli-
gious affiliation of their parents, although they will
insist that they chose their own religion, free of any
influence by either parent.

Streaking, or running nude in a public place—relatively popu-
lar among college students in the 1970s and early 1980s and
still popular on some campuses—is more common as a group
activity than as a strictly individual one. This illustrates how
the group can provide the people in it with deindividuation, or
diffusion of responsibility among group members—a type of
merging of self with group. This allows individuals to feel less
responsibility or blame for their actions, thus convincing them
that the group must share the blame.

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1 3 4   CH A PT Er 6

We all like to think we stand on our own two feet,
immune to a phenomenon as superficial as group pres-
sure. The conviction that one is impervious to social influ-
ence results in what social psychologist Philip Zimbardo
calls the not me syndrome: When confronted with a
description of group behavior that is disappointingly
conforming and not individualistic, most individuals
counter that some people may conform to social pres-
sure, “but not me”; or “some people yield quickly to styles
of dress, but not me”; or “some people yield to autocratic
authority figures, but not me” (Taylor et al. 2013; Zim-
bardo et al. 1977). Sociological experiments often reveal
a dramatic gulf between what people think they will do
and what they actually do. The original conformity study
by Solomon Asch discussed next is a case in point.

The Asch Conformity Experiment
We learned in the previous sections that social influ-
ences are evidently quite strong. Are they strong
enough to make us disbelieve our own senses? Are they
strong enough to make us misperceive what is obvi-
ously objective, actual fact? In a classic piece of work
known as the Asch conformity experiment, researcher
Solomon Asch showed that even simple objective facts
cannot withstand the distorting pressure of group influ-
ence (Asch 1955, 1951).

Examine the two illustrations in ▲ Figure 6.1.
Which line on the right is more nearly equal in length
to the line on the left (Line S)? Line B, obviously. Could
anyone fail to answer correctly?

In fact, Solomon Asch discovered that social pres-
sure of a rather gentle sort was sufficient to cause an
astonishing rise in the number of wrong answers. Asch
lined up five students at a table and asked which line
in the illustration on the right is the same length as the

line on the left. Unknown to the fifth student, the first
four were confederates—collaborators with the experi-
menter who only pretended to be participants. For sev-
eral rounds, with similar photos, the confederates gave
correct answers to Asch’s tests. The fifth student also
answered correctly, suspecting nothing. Then on sub-
sequent trials the first student gave a wrong answer.
The second student gave the same wrong answer. Third,
wrong. Fourth, wrong. Then came the fifth student’s turn.
If you were the fifth student, what would you have done?

In Asch’s experiment, fully one-third of all students
in the fifth position gave the same wrong answer as the
confederates at least half the time. Forty percent gave
“some” wrong answers. Only one-fourth of the students
consistently gave correct answers in defiance of the
invisible pressure to conform.

Line length is not a vague or ambiguous stimulus.
It is clear and objective, yet one-third of all subjects, a
very high proportion, gave wrong answers. The subjects
fidgeted and stammered while doing it, but they did it
nonetheless. Those who did not yield to group pressure
showed even more stress and discomfort than those
who yielded to the (apparent) opinion of the group.

Would you have gone along with the group? Per-
haps, perhaps not. Sociological insight grows when we
acknowledge the fact that fully a third of all participants
will yield to the group. The Asch experiment has been
repeated many times over the years, with students and
nonstudents, old and young, in groups of different sizes,
and in different settings (Baumeister and Bushman 2008;
Worchel et al. 2000). The results remain essentially the
same! A third to a half of the participants make a judg-
ment contrary to fact, yet in conformity with the group.
Finally, the Asch findings have consistently revealed a
group size effect: The greater the number of individuals
(confederates) giving an incorrect answer (from five up
to fifteen confederates), then the greater the number of
subjects per group giving an incorrect answer.

The Milgram Obedience Studies
What are the limits of social group pressure? In terms of
moral and psychological issues, judging the length of a
line is a small matter. What happens if an authority fig-
ure demands obedience—a type of conformity—even
if the task is something the test subject (the person)
finds morally wrong and reprehensible? A chilling
answer emerged from the now famous Milgram obedi-
ence studies done from 1960 through 1973 by Stanley
Milgram (Milgram 1974).

In this study, a naive research subject entered a lab-
oratory-like room and was told that an experiment on
learning was to be conducted. The subject was to act as a
“teacher,” presenting a series of test questions to another
person, the “learner.” Whenever the learner gave a wrong
answer, the teacher would administer an electric shock.

A B CS

▲ Figure 6.1 Lines from Asch Experiment
Source: Asch, Solomon. 1956. “Opinion and Social Pressure.” Scientific
American 19 (July): 31–36.

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GrOUPS AN d OrGAN I zATI O N S  1 35

The test was relatively easy. The teacher read pairs
of words to the learner, such as:

blue box

nice house

wild duck

The teacher then tested the learner by reading a
multiple-choice answer, such as

blue: sky ink box lamp

The learner had to recall which term completed the
pair of terms given originally, in this case, “blue box.”

If the learner answered incorrectly, the teacher was to
press a switch on the shock machine, a formidable-looking
device that emitted an ominous buzz when activated. For
each successive wrong answer, the teacher was to increase
the intensity of the shock by 15 volts.

The machine bore labels clearly visible to the
teacher: Slight shock, moderate shock, strong shock,
very strong shock, intense shock, extreme intense shock,
danger: severe shock, and lastly, XXX at 450  volts. As
the voltage rose, the learner responded with increased
squirming, groans, then screams.

The experiment was rigged. The learner was a con-
federate. No shocks were actually delivered. The true
purpose of the experiment was to see if any “teacher”
would go all the way to 450 volts. If the subject (teacher)
tried to quit, the experimenter responded with a
sequence of prods:

“Please continue.”

“The experiment requires that you continue.”

“It is absolutely essential that you continue.”

“You have no other choice, you must go on.”

In the first experiment, fully 65 percent of the vol-
unteer subjects (“teachers”) went all the way to 450
volts on the shock machine!

Milgram himself was astonished. Before carrying
out the experiment, he had asked a variety of psycholo-
gists, sociologists, psychiatrists, and philosophers to
guess how many subjects would actually go all the way
to 450 volts. The opinion of these consultants was that
only one-tenth of one percent (one in one thousand)
would actually do it!

What would you have done? Remember the “not
me” syndrome. Think about the experimenter—a clear
professorial authority figure—saying, “You have no
other choice, you must go on.” Most people claim they
would refuse to continue as the voltage escalated. The
importance of this experiment derives in part from
how starkly it highlights the difference once again
between what people think they will do and what they
actually do.

Milgram devised a series of additional experi-
ments in which he varied the conditions to find out
what would cause subjects not to go all the way to 450
volts. He moved the experiment from an impressive
university laboratory to a dingy basement to coun-
teract some of the tendency for people to defer to a
scientist conducting a scientific study. One learner
was then instructed to complain of a heart condition
with increasing trials. Still, well over half of the sub-
jects delivered the maximum shock level! Speculat-
ing that women might be more humane than men (all
prior experiments used only male subjects), Milgram
did the experiment again using only women subjects
(and male “learners”). The results? Exactly the same.
Social class background made no difference. Racial
and ethnic differences had no detectable effect on
compliance rate.

At the time that the Milgram experiments were con-
ceived, the world was watching the trial in Jerusalem of
World War II Nazi Adolf Eichmann. Millions of Jews,
Gypsies, homosexuals, and communists were mur-
dered between 1939 and 1945 by the Nazi party, led by
Adolf Hitler. As head of the Gestapo’s “Jewish section,”
Eichmann oversaw the deportation of Jews to concen-
tration camps and the mass executions that followed.
Eichmann disappeared after the war, was abducted in
Argentina by Israeli agents in 1961, and was transported
to Israel, where he was tried and ultimately hanged for
crimes against humanity.

The world wanted to see what sort of monster
could have committed the crimes of the holocaust, but
a jarring picture of Eichmann emerged. He was slight
and mild mannered, not the raging ghoul that every-
one expected. He insisted that although he had indeed
been a chief administrator in an organization whose
product was mass murder, he was guilty only of doing
what he was told to do by his superiors. He did not
hate Jews, he said. In fact, he had a Jewish half-cousin
whom he hid and protected. He claimed, “I was just
following orders.”

These photographs show how intimidating and authorita-
tive the Milgram experiment must have been, such as the
formidable-looking shock generator. The first photo shows
an experimental subject (seated) and the experimenter
(in lab coat, standing). A large majority (65 percent) of
subjects did not terminate the experiment when seeing
the person allegedly shocked, even in some cases going all
the way to the maximum shock level.

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1 3 6   CHA PTEr 6

How different was Adolph Eichmann from the
rest of us? The political theorist Hannah Arendt dared
to suggest in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963)
that evil on a giant scale is banal. It is not the work
of monsters, but an accident of civilization. Arendt
argued that we need only look into ourselves to find
the villain.

The Iraqi Prisoners at Abu Ghraib:
Research Predicts Reality?
We have just learned that ordinary people will do hor-
rible things to other humans simply because of the
influence of the group, because of an authority figure,
or because of a combination of both. This has been
the lesson of the Asch studies and the Milgram stud-
ies. Fairly recent events in the world have once again
shown vividly and clearly how accurate such sociologi-
cal and psychological experiments are in the prediction
of actual human behavior.

In the spring of 2004, it was revealed that American
soldiers who were military police guards at a prison in
Iraq (the prison was named Abu Ghraib) had engaged
in severe torture of Iraqi prisoners of war. The tor-
ture included sexual abuse of the prisoners—having
male prisoners simulate sex with other male prison-
ers, positioning their mouths next to the genitals of
another male prisoner, and other such acts. Still other
acts of torture involved physical abuse such as beat-
ings, stomping on the fingers of prisoners (thus frac-
turing them), and a large number of other physical
acts of torture, including bludgeoning, some alleg-
edly resulting in deaths of prisoners. Such tortures
are clearly outlawed by the Geneva convention and
by clearly stated U.S. principles of war. Both male and
female guards participated in these acts of torture.
The guards later claimed that they were simply follow-
ing orders, either orders directly given or indirectly
assumed. At the time, President George W. Bush and
then secretary of defense Donald H. Rumsfeld both
claimed that the acts of torture were merely the acts
of a “corrupt few” and that the vast majority of Ameri-
can soldiers would never engage in such horrible acts.
Since then, it has come to light via CIA memoranda
that certain kinds of torture were indeed formal U.S.
policy.

Now consider what we know from research. The
Milgram studies strongly suggest that many ordinary
soldiers who were not at all “corrupt,” at least not
more than average, would indeed engage in these
acts of torture, particularly if they believed that they
were under orders to do so or if they believed that
they would not be punished in any way if they did. The
American soldiers must bear a significant portion of
the responsibility for their own behavior. Nonethe-
less, the causes of the soldiers’ behaviors lie not in

the personalities of a “corrupt few” (their “natures”)
but in the social structure and group pressures of the
situation.

The soldiers (guards) in the Abu Ghraib prison may
not have received direct orders to torture prisoners, but
they did so nonetheless. A now classic study of a simu-
lated prison by Haney, Banks, and Zimbardo (1973)
shows this effect quite clearly. In this study, Stanford
University students were told by an experimenter to
enter a dungeon-like basement. Half were told to pre-
tend to be guards (to role-play being a guard) and half
were told that they were prisoners (to role-play being
a prisoner). Which students were told what was ran-
domly determined.

After two or three days, the guards, completely on
their own, began to act very sadistically and brutally
toward the prisoners—having them strip naked, simu-
late sex, act subservient, and so on. Interestingly, the
prisoners for the most part did just what the guards
wanted them to do, no matter how unpleasant the
requested act! The experiment was so scary that the
researchers terminated the experiment after six days—
more than a week early.

Remember that this study was conducted in
1973—thirty-one years before Abu Ghraib. Yet, this
simulated prison study (as well as the Asch and
Milgram studies) predicted quite precisely how both
“guards” and “prisoners” would act in a real prison
situation. Group influence effects uncovered by the
Asch as well as the Milgram studies ruled in both the
simulated prison of 1973 as well as the only too real
Iraq prison of 2004.

Debunking Society’s Myths←
Myth: People in groups are just individuals who make
up their own minds about how to think and behave.
Sociological Perspective: The Asch, Milgram, and
simulated prison experiments conclusively show that
people are profoundly influenced by group pressure,
often causing them to make up their minds contrary
to objective fact and even to deliberately cause harm
to another person.

Groupthink
Wealth, power, and experience are apparently not
enough to save us from social influences. Groupthink,
as described by I. L. Janis, is the tendency for even
highly educated group members to reach a consen-
sus opinion, even if that opinion is downright stupid
(Janis 1982).

Janis reasoned that because major government
policies are often the result of group decisions, it would
be fruitful to analyze group dynamics that operate at

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GrOUPS AN d OrGA N IzATI O N S  1 37

the highest level of government—for instance, in the
office of the president of the United States. The presi-
dent makes decisions based upon group discussions
with his advisers. The president is human and thus
susceptible to group influence. Janis discovered a
common pattern of misguided thinking in his inves-
tigations of presidential decisions. He surmised that
outbreaks of this groupthink had several things in
common:

1. An illusion of invulnerability
2. A falsely negative impression of those who are

antagonists to the group’s plans
3. Discouragement of dissenting opinion
4. An illusion of unanimity

Groupthink influences many important decisions,
such as going to war, in close-knit presidential admin-
istrations. The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelli-
gence fingered groupthink as leading to the intelligence
failures that led government leaders to underestimate
the terrorist threats to the United States prior to the ter-
rorist attacks via airplanes on the Trade Center Towers
in New York City and the Pentagon on September  11
in 2001—the infamous “9/11” attacks on the United
States. Groupthink is not inevitable when a team gath-
ers to make a decision, but it is common and appears
in all sorts of groups, from student discussion groups
to the highest councils of power (Tsoukalas 2007;
Paulus et al. 2001).

Debunking Society’s Myths←
Myth: A group of experts brought together in a small
group will solve a problem according to their collective
expertise.
Sociological Perspective: Groupthink can lead even
the most qualified people to make disastrous decisions
because people in groups in the United States tend to
seek consensus at all costs.

Risky Shift
The term groupthink is commonly associated with
group decision making with consequences that are not
merely unexpected but disastrous. Another group phe-
nomenon, risky shift, may help explain why the prod-
ucts of groupthink are frequently calamities. Have you
ever found yourself in a group engaged in a high-risk
activity that you would not do alone? When you cre-
ated mischief as a child, were you not usually part of a
group? If so, you might well have been in the thrall of
risky shift—the general tendency for groups to be more
risky than individuals taken singly.

Risky shift was first observed by MIT graduate stu-
dent James Stoner (1961). Stoner gave study participants

descriptions of a situation involving risk, such as one in
which people seeking a job must choose between job
security and a potentially lucrative but risky advance-
ment. The participants were then asked to decide how
much risk the person should take. Before performing
his study, Stoner believed that individuals in a group
would take less risk than individuals alone, but he found
the opposite: After his groups had engaged in open dis-
cussions, they favored greater risk than they would have
before discussion.

→ See for YourSelF ←
Think of a time when you engaged in some risky behavior.
What group were you part of, and how did the group influ-
ence your behavior? How does this illustrate the concept
of risky shift? Is there more risky shift with more people in
the group? If so, this would illustrate a group size effect.

Stoner’s research has stimulated literally hundreds
of studies using males and females, different nation-
alities, different tasks, and other variables (Taylor et al.
2013; Yardi and Boyd 2010; Worchel et al. 2000). The
results are complex. Much, but not all, group discus-
sion leads to greater risk-taking. In subcultures that
value caution above daring, as in some work groups of
Japanese and Chinese firms, group decisions are less
risky after discussion than before. The shift can occur
in either direction, driven by the influence of group dis-
cussion, but there is generally some kind of shift in one
direction or the other rather than no shift at all (Kerr
1992). This is called polarization shift.

What causes risky shifts? The most convincing
explanation is that deindividuation occurs. Deindi-
viduation is the sense that one’s self has merged with a
group. In terms of risk-taking, one feels that responsibil-
ity (and possibly blame) is borne not only by oneself but
also by the group. This seems to have happened among
the American prison guards who tortured prisoners at
Abu Ghraib prison: Each guard could convince himself
or herself that responsibility, hence blame, was to be
borne by the group as a whole. The greater the number
of people in a group, the greater the tendency toward
deindividuation. In other words, deindividuation is
a group size effect. As groups get larger, trends in risk-
taking are amplified.

Formal Organizations
and Bureaucracies
Groups, as we have seen, are capable of greatly influenc-
ing individuals. The study of groups and their effects on
the individuals represent an example of microanalysis,
to use a concept introduced in Chapter  5. In contrast,

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1 3 8   CHAPT Er 6

the study of formal organizations and bureaucracies, a
subject to which we now turn, represents an example
of macroanalysis. The focus on groups drew our atten-
tion to the relatively small and less complex, whereas
the focus on organizations draws our attention to the
relatively large and structurally more complex.

A formal organization is a large secondary group,
highly organized to accomplish a complex task or tasks
and to achieve goals efficiently. Many of us belong to
various formal organizations: work organizations,
schools, and political parties, to name a few. Formal
organizations are formed to accomplish particular tasks
and are characterized by their relatively large size, com-
pared with a small group such as a family or a friendship
circle. Often, organizations consist of an array of other
organizations. The federal government is a huge organi-
zation comprising numerous other organizations, most
of which are also vast. Each organization within the fed-
eral government is also designed to accomplish specific
tasks, be it collecting your taxes, educating the nation’s
children, or regulating the nation’s transportation sys-
tem and national parks.

Organizations develop routine practices that
result in the production of an organizational culture.
Organizational culture refers to the collective norms
and values that shape the behavior of people within an
organization; in other words, it is the environment of
the organization. Organizational culture is present in
any organization and involves both formal and informal
norms. The culture of an organization may be reflected
in certain symbols and rituals, perhaps even a certain
style of dress. Organizational culture guides the behav-
iors of people within the organization, shaping what is
perceived to be appropriate and inappropriate. Indeed,
organizations appear very different depending upon
their culture. Corporate organizational culture has
tended to be somewhat formal and restrictive, although
new and innovative companies, such as Google and
Facebook, have considerably transformed these tra-
ditional organizational cultures. Even when it is infor-
mal, organizational culture guides behavior within the
organization.

Organizational culture can also produce problems
for organizations, as was found in the scandal at Penn
State University involving the sexual abuse of young
boys by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The
special investigative report that analyzed these inci-
dents and made recommendations to the university
specifically pointed at organizational culture as a con-
tributing factor in the failure of Penn State University
to stop Sandusky’s behavior. Certainly, the individual
behavior of Sandusky, now serving a prison term, is
to blame, but the special counsel’s report also blames
the organizational culture of the university for failing to
investigate when repeated reports of Sandusky’s behav-
ior came forward. The report cited the repeated failure

of four university leaders (the president, the famed
football coach Joe Paterno, the athletic director, and the
university vice president) for participating in an organi-
zational culture that resisted outside perspectives, had
the pervasive goal of protecting the university’s reputa-
tion, and had an excessive reverence for football, plac-
ing football above the protection of children and youths.

Organizations tend to be persistent, although they
are also responsive to the broader social environment
where they are located (DiMaggio and Powell 1991).
Organizations are frequently under pressure to respond
to changes in the society by incorporating new prac-
tices and beliefs into their structure. Business corpora-
tions, as an example, have had to respond to increasing
global competition; they do so by expanding into new
international markets, developing a globally focused
workforce, and trimming costs by eliminating workers
and various layers of management.

Organizations can be tools for innovation, depend-
ing on the organization’s values and purpose. Rape
crisis centers are examples of organizations that origi-
nally emerged from the women’s movement because
of the perceived need for services for rape victims.
Rape crisis centers have, to some degree, changed how
police departments and hospital emergency person-
nel respond to rape victims. By advocating changes
in rape law and services for rape victims, rape crisis
centers have generated change in other organiza-
tions as well (Martin 2005; Schmitt and Martin 1999;
Fried 1994).

Types of Organizations
Sociologists Blau and Scott (1974) and Etzioni (1975)
classify formal organizations into three categories dis-
tinguished by their types of membership affiliation:
normative, coercive, and utilitarian.

Normative Organizations. People join normative
organizations to pursue goals that they consider worth-
while. They obtain personal satisfaction, but no mon-
etary reward for membership in such an organization.
In many instances, people join the normative organiza-
tion for the social prestige that it offers. Many are service
and charitable organizations and are often called vol-
untary organizations. They include organizations such
as Kiwanis clubs, political parties, religious organiza-
tions, the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People (NAACP), B’nai B’rith, La Raza, and other
similar voluntary organizations that are concerned with
specific issues. Such groups have been created to meet
particular needs, sometimes ones that members see as
unmet by other organizations.

Gender, class, race, and ethnicity all play a role in
who joins what voluntary organization. Social class
is reflected in the fact that many people do not join

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GrOUPS AN d OrGA N IzATI O N S  1 3 9

certain organizations simply because they cannot
afford to join. Membership in a professional organiza-
tion, as one example, can cost hundreds of dollars each
year. Those who feel disenfranchised, however, may
join grassroots organizations—voluntary organizations
that spring from specific local needs that people think
are unmet. Tenants may form an organization to protest
rent increases or lack of services, or a new political party
may emerge from people’s sense of alienation from exist-
ing political party organizations. African Americans,
Latinos, and Native Americans have formed many of
their own voluntary organizations in part because of
their historical exclusion from traditional White volun-
tary organizations. Some of these are vibrant, ongoing
organizations in their own right, such as the African
American organizations Delta Sigma Theta and Alpha
Kappa Alpha sororities, and the fraternities Alpha Phi
Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, and Omega Psi Phi—known
colloquially in song and poetry by its members as
“Q Psi Phi, ’til I die” (Giddings 1994).

Coercive Organizations. Coercive organizations
are characterized by membership that is largely invol-
untary. Prisons are an example of organizations that
people are coerced to “join” by virtue of punishment
for their crime. Similarly, mental hospitals are coercive
organizations: People are placed in them, often invol-
untarily, for some form of psychiatric treatment. In
many respects, prisons and mental hospitals are simi-
lar in their treatment of inmates or patients. They both
have strong security measures such as guards, locked
and barred windows, and high walls (Rosenhan 1973;
Goffman 1961).

The sociologist Erving Goffman has described
coercive organizations as total institutions. A total
institution is an organization that is cut off from the
rest of society and one in which resident individu-
als are subject to strict social control (Foucault 1995;
Goffman 1961). Total institutions include two popula-
tions: the “inmates” and the staff. Within total institu-
tions, the staff exercises complete power over inmates,
for example, nurses over mental patients and guards
over prisoners. The staff administers all the affairs of
everyday life, including basic human functions such
as eating and sleeping. Rigid routines are character-
istic of total institutions, thus explaining the common
complaint by those in hospitals that they cannot sleep
because nurses repeatedly enter their rooms at night,
regardless of whether the patient needs medication or
treatment. However, the problem of such rigid routines
has eased somewhat in some institutions.

Utilitarian Organizations. The third type of orga-
nization named is utilitarian organization. These are
large organizations, either for-profit or nonprofit, that

individuals join for specific purposes, such as mon-
etary reward. Large business organizations that gener-
ate profits (in the case of for-profit organizations) and
salaries and wages for the organization’s employees
(as with either for-profit or nonprofit organizations) are
utilitarian organizations. Examples of large, for-profit
organizations include Microsoft, Amazon.com, and
Google. Examples of large nonprofit organizations that
pay salaries to employees are colleges and universities,
the Educational Testing Service (ETS), churches, and
organizations such as the National Collegiate Athletic
Association (NCAA).

Bureaucracy
As a formal organization develops, it is likely to become
a bureaucracy, a type of formal organization charac-
terized by an authority hierarchy, a clear division of
labor, explicit rules, and impersonality. Bureaucracies
are notorious for their unwieldy size and complexity
as well as their reputation for being remote and cum-
bersome organizations that are highly impersonal and
machinelike in their operation. The federal government
is a good example of a cumbersome bureaucracy that
many believe is ineffective because of its sheer size.
Numerous other formal organizations have developed
into huge bureaucracies: Microsoft, Disney, many uni-
versities, hospitals, state motor vehicle registration sys-
tems, and some law firms.

The early sociological theorist Max Weber
(1947/1925) analyzed the classic characteristics of a
bureaucracy. These characteristics represent what he
called an ideal type—a model rarely seen in reality
but that defines the principal characteristics of a social
form. The characteristics of bureaucracies described as
an ideal type are:

1. High degree of division of labor and specializa-
tion. The notion of the specialist embodies this
criterion. Bureaucracies ideally employ special-
ists in the various positions and occupations, and
these specialists are responsible for a specific set
of duties. Sociologist Charles Perrow (2007, 1994,
1986) notes that many modern bureaucracies have
hierarchical authority structures and an elaborate
division of labor.

2. Hierarchy of authority. In bureaucracies, positions
are arranged in a hierarchy so that each is under the
supervision of a higher position. Such hierarchies
are often represented in an organization chart,
a diagram in the shape of a pyramid that shows
the relative rank of each position plus the lines of
authority between each. These lines of authority
are often called the “chain of command,” and they
show not only who has authority, but also who is
responsible to whom and how many positions are
responsible to a given position.

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1 4 0   CHA PT Er 6

3. Rules and regulations. All the activities in a bureau-
cracy are governed by a set of detailed rules and
procedures. These rules are designed, ideally, to
cover almost every possible situation and prob-
lem that might arise, including hiring, firing, salary
scales, and rules for sick pay and absences.

4. Impersonal relationships. Social interaction in the
(ideal) bureaucracy is supposed to be guided by
instrumental criteria, such as the organization’s
rules, rather than by expressive needs, such as per-
sonal attractions or likes and dislikes. The ideal is
that the objective application of rules will mini-
mize matters such as personal favoritism—giving
someone a promotion simply because you like him
or her or firing someone because you do not like
him or her. Of course, as we will see, sociologists
have pointed out that bureaucracy has “another
face”—the informal social interaction that actually
keeps the bureaucracy working and often involves
interpersonal friendships and social ties, typically
among people taken for granted in these organiza-
tions, such as the support staff, traditionally con-
sisting largely of women.

5. Career ladders. Candidates for the various positions
in the bureaucracy are supposed to be selected on
the basis of specific criteria, such as education,
experience, and standardized examinations. The
idea is that advancement through the organization
becomes a career for the individual. Some organi-
zations, such as some universities and some law
firms, have a policy of tenure—a guarantee of con-
tinued employment until one’s retirement from the
organization.

6. Efficiency. Bureaucracies are designed to coordinate
the activities of many people in pursuit of organiza-
tional goals. Ideally, all activities have been designed
to maximize this efficiency. The whole system is
intended to keep social-emotional relations and
interactions at a minimum and instrumental inter-
action at a maximum.

Bureaucracy’s “Other Face”
All the characteristics of Weber’s “ideal type” are general
defining characteristics. Rarely do actual bureaucracies
meet this exact description. A bureaucracy has, in addi-
tion to the ideal characteristics of structure, an informal
structure. This includes social interactions, even net-
work connections, in bureaucratic settings that ignore,
change, or otherwise bypass the formal structure and
rules of the organization. This informal structure often
develops among those who are taken for granted in
organizations, such as secretaries and administrative
assistants—who are most often women. Sociologist
Charles Page (1946) coined the phrase bureaucracy’s
other face to describe this condition.

This other face is informal culture. It has evolved
over time as a reaction to the formality and imperson-
ality of the bureaucracy. Thus, administrative assis-
tants and secretaries will sometimes “bend the rules
a bit” when asked to do something more quickly than
usual for a boss they like and bend the rules in another
direction for a boss they do not like by slowing down
or otherwise sabotaging the boss’s work. Researchers
have noted, for example, that secretaries and assis-
tants may well have more authority than their job
titles and salaries suggest. As a way around the cum-
bersome formal communication channels within the
organization, the informal network, or “grapevine”
(a type of social network, as mentioned previously)
often works better, faster, and sometimes even more
accurately than the formal channels. As with any
culture, the informal culture in the bureaucracy has
its own norms or rules. One is not supposed to “stab
friends in the back,” such as by “ratting on” them to a
boss or spreading a rumor about them that is intended
to get them fired. Yet, just as with any norms, there is
deviation from the norms, and “backstabbing” and
“ratting” does happen.

Problems of Bureaucracies
In contemporary times, problems have developed that
grow out of the nature of the complex bureaucracy. Two
problem areas already discussed are the occurrence
of risky shift in work groups and the development of
groupthink. Additional problems include a tendency to
ritualism and the potential for alienation on the part of
those within an organization.

Ritualism. Rigid adherence to rules can produce
a slavish following of them, regardless of whether it
accomplishes the purpose for which the rule was origi-
nally designed. The rules become ends in themselves
rather than means to an end: This is organizational
ritualism.

A classic example of the consequences of organi-
zational ritualism was the tragedy involving the space
shuttle Challenger in 1986. Only seconds after liftoff, as
hundreds watched live, the Challenger exploded, killing
schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, and six other crew-
members. Many still remember where they were and
exactly what they were doing when they heard about
the tragedy. The failure of the essential O-ring gaskets
on the solid fuel booster rockets of the Challenger shut-
tle caused the catastrophic explosion. It was revealed
later that the O-rings were known to become brittle at
below-freezing temperatures, as was the temperature
at the launch pad the evening before the Challenger
lifted off.

Why did the managers and engineers at NASA
(National Aeronautics and Space Administration) allow

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GrOUPS AN d OrGAN I zATI O N S  1 4 1

the shuttle to lift off given these conditions and their
prior knowledge? The managers had all the informa-
tion about the O-rings before the launch. Furthermore,
engineers had warned them against the danger. In a
detailed analysis of the decision to launch, sociologist
Diane Vaughan (1996) (yes—a sociologist!) uncovered
both risky shift and organizational ritualism within
the organization. The NASA insiders, confronted with
signals of danger, proceeded as if nothing was wrong
when they were repeatedly faced with the evidence
that something was indeed very wrong. They, in effect,
normalized their own behavior so that their actions
became acceptable to them, representing nothing out
of the ordinary. This is an example of organizational
ritualism, as well as what Vaughan calls the “normaliza-
tion of deviance.”

Unfortunately, history repeated itself on February
1, 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia, upon its
return from space, broke up in a fiery descent into the
atmosphere above Texas, killing all who were aboard.
The evidence shows that a piece of hard insulating
foam separated from an external fuel tank during
launch and struck the shuttle’s left wing, damaging
it and dislodging its heat-resistant tiles that are nec-
essary for reentry. The absence of these tiles caused
a burn-up upon reentry into the atmosphere. With
eerie similarity to the earlier 1986 Challenger acci-
dent, subsequent analysis concluded that a “flawed
institutional culture” and—citing sociologist Diane
Vaughan—a normalization of deviance accompany-
ing a gradual erosion of safety margins were among
the causes of the Columbia accident (Schwartz and
Wald 2003).

No single individual was at fault in either acci-
dent. The story is not one of evil but rather of the
ritualism of organizational life in one of the most
powerful bureaucracies in the United States. It is
a story of rigid group conformity within an orga-
nizational setting and of how deviant behavior is
redefined, that is, socially constructed, just as also
happened in the Penn State Sandusky scandal,
already discussed. Organizational culture overshad-
ows individual good judgment, creating a decrease in
safety and increased risk. This is one of the hazards of
organizational behavior.

Alienation. The stresses on rules and procedures
within bureaucracies can result in a decrease in the
overall cohesion of the organization. This often psy-
chologically separates a person from the organization
and its goals. This state of alienation results in increased
turnover, tardiness, absenteeism, and overall dissatis-
faction with an organization.

Alienation can be widespread in organizations
where workers have little control over what they do, or
where workers themselves are treated like machines

employed on an assembly line, doing the same repeti-
tive action for an entire work shift. Alienation is not
restricted to manual labor, however. In organizations
where workers are isolated from others, where they
are expected only to implement rules, or where they
think they have little chance of advancement, alien-
ation can be common. As we will see, some organiza-
tions have developed new patterns of work to try to
minimize worker alienation and thus enhance their
productivity.

The McDonaldization of Society
Sometimes the problems and peculiarities of bureau-
cracy can have effects on the total society. This has
been the case with what George Ritzer (2010) has called
McDonaldization, a term coined from the well-known
fast-food chain. In fact, 90 percent of U.S. children
between ages 3 and 9 visit McDonald’s each month!
Ritzer noticed that the principles that characterize fast-
food organizations are increasingly dominating more
aspects of U.S. society, indeed, of societies around the
world. McDonaldization refers to the increasing and
ubiquitous presence of the fast-food model in most
organizations that shape daily life. Work, travel, leisure,

Evidence of the “Mcdonaldization of society” can be seen
everywhere, perhaps including on your own campus. Shop-
ping malls, food courts, sports stadiums, even cruise ships
reflect this trend toward standardization.

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1 4 2   CHAPT Er 6

shopping, health care, politics, and even education
have all become subject to McDonaldization. Each
industry is based on a principle of high and efficient
productivity, which translates into a highly rational
social organization, with workers employed at low pay
but with customers experiencing ease, convenience,
and familiarity.

Ritzer argues that McDonald’s has been such a
successful model of business organization that other
industries have adopted the same organizational char-
acteristics, so much so that their nicknames associate
them with the McDonald’s chain: McPaper for USA
Today, McChild for child-care chains like KinderCare,
and McDoctor for the drive-in clinics that deal quickly
and efficiently with minor health and dental problems.

Based in part upon Max Weber’s concept of the
ideal bureaucracy mentioned earlier, Ritzer identifies
four dimensions of the McDonaldization process—
efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control:

1. Efficiency means that things move from start to fin-
ish in a streamlined path. Steps in the production of
a hamburger are regulated so that each hamburger
is made exactly the same way—hardly characteris-
tic of a home-cooked meal. Business can be even
more efficient if the customer does the work once
done by an employee. In fast-food restaurants, the
claim that you can “have it your way” really means
that you assemble your own sandwich or salad.

2. Calculability means there is an emphasis on the
quantitative aspects of products sold: size, cost, and
the time it takes to get the product. At McDonald’s,
branch managers must account for the number of
cubic inches of ketchup used per day; likewise, ice
cream scoopers in chain stores measure out prede-
termined and exact amounts of ice cream.

3. Predictability is the assurance that products will be
exactly the same, no matter when or where they are
purchased. Eat an Egg McMuffin in New York, and
it will likely taste just the same as an Egg McMuffin
in Los Angeles or Paris!

4. Control is the primary organizational principle
that lies behind McDonaldization. Behavior of the
customers and workers is reduced to a series of
machinelike actions. Ultimately, efficient technol-
ogies replace much of the work that humans once
performed.

McDonaldization clearly brings many benefits. There
is a greater availability of goods and services to a wide
proportion of the population; instantaneous service
and convenience to a public with less free time; pre-
dictability and familiarity in the goods bought and
sold; and standardization of pricing and uniform qual-
ity of goods sold, to name a few benefits. However,
this increasingly rational system of goods and services
also spawns irrationalities. For example, the majority

of workers at McDonald’s lack full-time employment,
have no worker benefits, have no control over their
workplace, have no pension, and quit on average after
only four or five months.

Diversity in Organizations
The hierarchical structuring of positions within orga-
nizations results in the concentration of power and
influence with a few individuals at the top. Because
organizations tend to reflect patterns within the broader
society, this hierarchy, like that of society, is marked by
inequality in race, gender, and class relations. Although
the concentration of power in organizations is incom-
patible with the principles of a democratic society,
organizations are structured by hierarchies and dis-
crimination is still quite pervasive, especially among
the power elite, White men still predominate, and stud-
ies find that, even though the presence of women and
people of color is growing in positions of organizational
leadership, they tend to take on the same values as the
dominant group, evidence once again of group confor-
mity (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff 2006).

Debunking Society’s Myths←
Myth: Putting more women and people of color into
positions of power will transform institutions.
Sociological Perspective: Not necessarily. Although
having diverse people involved in decision making tends
to produce more innovation, there is also a tendency for
new members of a group to conform to the values and
orientations of the dominant group (zweigenhaft and
domhoff 2006).

A classic study by Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1977)
shows how the structure of organizations leads to
obstacles in the advancement of groups who are under-
represented in the organization. People who are under-
represented in the organization become tokens; they
feel put “out front” and under the all-too-watchful
eyes of their superiors as well as peers. As a result—as
research since Kanter’s has shown—they often suf-
fer severe stress (Smith 2007; Jackson 2000). They may
be assumed to be incompetent, getting their position
simply because they are women, minorities, or both—
even in instances where the person has had superior
admissions qualifications. This is stressful for a person
and shows that tokenism can have very negative conse-
quences (Guttierez y Muhs et al. 2012).

Social class, in addition to race and gender, plays a
part in determining people’s place within formal orga-
nizations. Employees of middle- and upper-class ori-
gins in organizations make higher salaries and wages
and are more likely to get promoted than are people of

Few organizational boards and executive committees
contain minorities and women, unlike what is pictured
here.

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GrOUPS ANd OrGAN IzATI O N S  1 43

lower social class origins, even for individuals who are
of the same race or ethnicity. Few organizational boards
and executive committees contain minorities and
women: When present, they are often tokens. This even
holds for people coming from families of lower social
class status who are as well educated as their middle-
and upper-class coworkers. Thus their lower salaries
and lack of promotion cannot necessarily be attributed
to a lack of education. In this respect, their treatment
in the bureaucracy only perpetuates rather than less-
ens the negative effects of the social class system in the
United States.

The social class stratification system in the United
States produces major differences in the opportuni-
ties and life chances of individuals, and the bureau-
cracy simply carries these differences forward. Class
stereotypes also influence hiring practices in organi-
zations. Personnel officers look for people with “cer-
tain demeanors,” a code phrase for those who convey
middle-class or upper-middle-class standards of dress,
language, manners, and so on, which some people may
be unable to afford or may not possess.

Even as the structure of organizations reproduces
the race, class, and gender inequalities that perme-
ate society, ample research now finds that diversity
within organizations has numerous benefits. Diverse
groups—that is, diverse people—bring different expe-
riences and perspectives to organizations and to orga-
nizational decision making. Of course, the problem is
that there is still pressure on such people to conform
to the dominant culture of the organization. That pres-
sure to conform can silence dissent, as groupthink

would suggest, especially if those who bring diversity
to the organization, such as women, gays, lesbians,
bisexuals, transgender people, and people of color,
are treated as tokens or silenced because they are dif-
ferent. When people are tokens in organizations, they
are pressured not to stand out or, when they speak out,
they may be ignored—or, worse, others take credit for
their ideas.

Nonetheless, new research on diversity is consis-
tently demonstrating the benefit of diversity for all kinds
of organizations. In schools, all students learn more
when in classrooms where there are people from differ-
ent backgrounds (Gurin et al. 2002). In business orga-
nizations, racial diversity is associated with increased
sales revenues, more customers, a stronger market
share, and higher profits (Herring 2009). There is ample
evidence that companies are now much more aware of
the fact that innovation is more likely to occur in diverse
work organizations (Page 2007). On college campuses,
more cross-race interaction produces a more positive
campus climate (Valentine et al. 2012).

Debunking Society’s Myths←
Myth: diversity is a real problem for organizations.
Sociological Perspective: despite the challenges
posed by trying to create more diverse work organiza-
tions, research shows that more diverse organizations
have greater profits and are more innovative (Bell 2011;
Herring 2009; Page 2007).

Functionalism, Conflict
Theory, and Symbolic
Interaction: Theoretical
Perspectives
All three major sociological perspectives—function-
alism, conflict theory, and symbolic interaction—
are exhibited in the analysis of formal organizations
and bureaucracies (see ◆ Table 6.1). The functional
perspective, based in this case on the early writing
of Max Weber, argues that certain functions, called
eufunctions (that is, positive functions), characterize
bureaucracies and contribute to their overall unity.
The bureaucracy exists to accomplish these eufunc-
tions, such as efficiency, control, impersonal relations,
and a chance for individuals to develop a career within
the organization. As we have seen, however, bureau-
cracies develop the “other face” (informal interaction
and culture, as opposed to formal or bureaucratic
interaction and culture), as well as problems of ritu-
alism and alienation of people from the organization.
These latter problems are called dysfunctions (negative

Few organizational boards and executive committees
contain minorities and women, unlike what is pictured
here.

Av
av

a/
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to
ck

ph
ot

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

1 4 4   CHA PTEr 6

◆ Table 6.1 Theoretical Perspectives on Organizations

Functionalist Theory Conflict Theory Symbolic Interaction Theory

Central Focus Positive functions (such
as efficiency) contribute
to unity and stability of
the organization.

Hierarchical nature of bureaucracy
encourages conflict between
superiors and subordinates, men
and women, and people of different
racial or class backgrounds. Tokenism
often results.

This theory stresses the role of
self in the bureaucracy and how
the self develops and changes.

Relationship of
Individual to the
Organization

Individuals, like parts of a
machine, are only partly
relevant to the operation
of the organization.

Individuals are subordinated to
systems of power and experience
stress and alienation as a result.

Interaction between superiors
and subordinates forms the
structure of the organization.

Criticism Hierarchy can result in
dysfunctions such as
ritualism and alienation.

This theory de-emphasizes the posi-
tive ways that organizations work.

This theory tends to downplay
overall social organization.

© Cengage Learning

functions), which have the consequence of contribut-
ing to disunity, lack of harmony, and less efficiency in
the bureaucracy. Finally, with increasing diversity in
organizations, tokenism, an organizational dysfunc-
tion, may result.

The conflict perspective argues that the hierar-
chical or stratified nature of the bureaucracy in effect
encourages rather than inhibits conflict among indi-
viduals within it. These conflicts are between superiors
and subordinates, as well as between racial and ethnic
groups, men and women, and people of different social
class backgrounds, hampering smooth and efficient
running of the bureaucracy. Furthermore, conflict the-
ory helps us understand the power structures that exist
in organizations—both the formal ones that come from

the organizational hierarchy and the less formal ways
that power is exercised between people and among
groups within the organization.

Symbolic interaction theory stresses the role of the
self in any group and especially how the self develops
as a product of social interaction. Within organizations,
people may feel that their “self ” becomes subordinated
to the larger structure of the organization. This is espe-
cially true in bureaucratic organizations where individ-
uals often feel overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of
working through bureaucratic structures. But symbolic
interaction also emphasizes the creativity of human
beings as social actors and thus would be a good per-
spective to use if analyzing how people change organi-
zational structures and cultures.

What are the types of groups?
Groups are a fact of human existence and permeate
virtually every facet of our lives. Group size is impor-
tant, and determines quite a bit, as does the other-
wise simple distinction between dyads and triads.
Primary groups form the basic building blocks of
social interaction in society. Reference groups play a
major role in forming our attitudes and life goals, as
do our relationships with in-groups and out-groups.
Social networks partly determine things such as who
we know and the kinds of jobs we get. Networks
based on race or ethnicity, social class, and other
social factors are extremely closely connected and
are very dense. Network research has shown that
network sampling (for example, sampling pairs of

individuals) predicts who is at risk for AIDS/HIV bet-
ter than does traditional survey sampling.

How strong is social influence?
The social influence groups exert on us is tremen-
dous, as seen by the Asch conformity experiments.
The Milgram experiments demonstrated that the inter-
personal influence of an authority figure can cause an
individual to act against his or her deep convictions.
The torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war by
American soldiers/prison guards serves as testimony
to the powerful effects of both social influence and
authority structures. The Iraqi tortures were in effect
experimentally predicted by a simulated prison study
done in the United States over thirty years earlier.

Chapter Summary

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GrOUPS ANd OrGAN IzATI O N S  1 4 5

What is the importance of groupthink
and risky shift?
Groupthink can be so pervasive that it adversely affects
group decision making and often results in group deci-
sions that by any measure are simply stupid. Risky shift
(and polarization shift) similarly often compel individ-
uals to reach decisions that are at odds with their better
judgment.

What are the types of formal organizations
and bureaucracies, and what are some of
their problems?
There are several types of formal organizations, such
as normative, coercive, or utilitarian. Weber typified
bureaucracies as organizations with an efficient divi-
sion of labor, an authority hierarchy, rules, impersonal
relationships, and career ladders. Bureaucratic rigidi-
ties often result in organizational problems such as
ritualism and resulting “normalization of deviance.”
The McDonaldization of society has resulted in greater

efficiency, calculability, and control in many industries,
probably at the expense of some individual creativity.
Formal organizations perpetuate society’s inequali-
ties on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender, and social
class. Current research finds, however, that innova-
tion in organizations is more likely if there is greater
diversity—and thus a variety of perspectives—within
the organization.

What do functional, conflict, and symbolic
interaction theories say about organizations?
Functional, conflict, and symbolic interaction theo-
ries highlight and clarify the analysis of organizations
by specifying both organizational functions and dys-
functions (functional theory); by analyzing the conse-
quences of hierarchical, gender, race, and social class
conflict in organizations (conflict theory); and, finally,
by studying the importance of social interaction and
integration of the self into the organization (symbolic
interaction theory).

attribution error 130
attribution theory 130
bureaucracy 139
coalition 127
coercive organization 139
deindividuation 137
dyad 127
expressive needs 129

formal organization 138
group 126
group size effect 126
groupthink 136
ideal type 139
instrumental needs 129
Mcdonaldization 141
normative organization 138

organizational culture 138
organizational

ritualism 140
polarization shift 137
primary group 127
reference group 129
risky shift 137
secondary group 129

social network 131
total institution 139
triad 127
utilitarian

organization 139

Key Terms

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

3

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7

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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

147

In the early 1970s, an airplane carrying forty members of an amateur rugby team crashed in the Andes Mountains in South America. The twenty-seven survivors were stranded at
12,000 feet in freezing weather and deep snow. There was no
food except for a small amount of chocolate and some wine. A
few days after the crash, the group heard on a small transistor
radio that the search for them had been called off.

Scattered in the snow were the frozen bodies of dead
passengers. Preserved by the freezing weather, these bodies
became, after a time, sources of food. At first, the survivors
were repulsed by the idea of eating human flesh, but as the
days wore on, they agonized over the decision about whether
to eat the dead crash victims, eventually concluding that they
had to eat if they were to live.

In the beginning, only a few ate the human meat, but soon
the others began to eat too. The group experimented with
preparations as they tried different parts of the body. They
developed elaborate rules (social norms) about how, what,
and whom they would eat.

After two months, the group sent out an expedition of
three survivors to find help. The group was rescued, and the
world learned of their ordeal. Their cannibalism (the eating
of other human beings) generally came to be accepted as
something they had to do to survive. Although people might
have been repulsed by the story, the survivors’ behavior was
understood as a necessary adaptation to their life-threatening
circumstances. The survivors also maintained a sense of them-
selves as good people even though what they did profoundly
violated ordinary standards of socially acceptable behavior in
most cultures in the world (Henslin 1993; Read 1974).

Was the behavior of the Andes crash survivors socially
deviant? Were the people made crazy by their experience, or
was this a normal response to extreme circumstances?

Compare the Andes crash to another case of human can-
nibalism. In 1991, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Jeffrey Dahmer
pled guilty to charges of murdering at least fifteen men in
his home. Dahmer lured the men to his apartment, where he
murdered and dismembered them, then cooked and ate some
of their body parts. For those he considered most handsome,
he boiled the flesh from their heads so that he could save and

●● Present a sociological
definition of deviance as a
social construction

●● Compare and contrast
theoretical approaches
to understanding deviant
behavior

●● Explain the importance
of labels in determining
deviant behavior

●● Relate the social structure
associated with deviant
identities and deviant
communities

●● Examine the race, class,
and gender disparities
within the criminal justice
system

in this chapter, you will learn to:

Defining Deviance 148

Sociological Theories
of Deviance 151

Crime and Criminal Justice 159

Chapter Summary 166

Deviance and Crime

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