Glossary of Terms in Sociology
Absolute monarchy - A political system under which a king or queen has complete control of a
Achieved status - A status that we either earn or choose and that is not subject to where or
to whom we were born.
Agents of socialization - People, groups, and experiences that influence our behavior and
Aggregate - A collection of people who happen to be at the same place at the same time
but have no other connection to one another.
Agricultural or agrarian society - A society that raises crops by using animal-drawn plows.
Alienation - The feeling of workers in a bureaucracy that they are being treated as
objects rather than people.
American Dream - The belief that all Americans, regardless of the conditions of their birth,
have an equal chance to achieve success.
Anomie - According to strain theory, the feeling of being disconnected from society
that can occur when people aren’t provided with the institutionalized means to
achieve their goals. The term was coined by Émile Durkheim.
Anticipatory socialization - The learning of new norms and values in anticipation of a future
Apartheid - A social system in which there is total separation of the
Appearance - The way we look physically to other people.
Ascribed status - A trait or characteristic people possess as a result of the circumstances of
Assimilation - The process whereby members of a group give up parts of their own culture in
order to blend in to a new culture.
Authoritarianism - A political system that does not allow citizens to participate in
Belief - A specific idea that people feel to be true.
Blue-collar - Another term for the working class.
Body language - The ways in which we use our bodies consciously and unconsciously to
Bourgeoisie - Karl Marx’s term for the owners of the means of production—factories,
businesses, and equipment needed to produce wealth.
Bureaucracy - According to Weber, a type of formal organization in which a rational
approach is used for the handling of large tasks.
Capitalism - The economic system in which the means of production are owned privately and
individuals are free to keep the profits they make.
Capitalist class - In industrialized societies, the rich and powerful and the owners of the
means of production. It is also called the elite.
Caste system - A system of stratification based on ascribed statuses.
Category - A collection of people who share a particular characteristic but have
nothing else in common.
Charismatic authority - Authority that depends on the personal magnetism of one person, according to
Weber’s power theory.
Church - A religious group integrated with society.
Class system - A system of stratification based on achieved statuses.
Clergy - The middle stratum of the estate system of stratification, composed of Roman
Clique - An internal cluster or faction within a group.
Colonialism - The tendency for a powerful country to invade a weaker country in order to
exploit its resources by making it a colony.
Commoners - The lowest stratum of the estate system of stratification, composed of the
masses of people who spent their lives engaged in hard physical labor.
Communism - An economic system similar to socialism in which all the means of production
would be owned by everyone and all profits would be shared equally by
Conflict theory - Marx’s theory that in any capitalist society there is eternal conflict
between the owners of the means of production and the workers.
Conflict view of deviance - The view that purports that equality in a capitalist society is an illusion.
The owners of the means of production have a vested interest in maintaining the
status quo by keeping the working class in a disadvantaged position.
Conformists - According to Merton’s theory of goals and means, those who accept cultural
goals and the institutionalized means of achieving them.
Constitutional monarchy - A monarchy in which the reigning member of the royal family is the symbolic
head of state but elected officials actually do the governing.
Control theory - Walter Reckless’s theory that posits that when a person is tempted to engage
in deviance, inner controls and outer controls can prevent him or her from doing
Counterculture - A way of living that opposes the dominant culture.
Crime - The violation of a written law.
Crime against the person - An act of violence either threatened or perpetrated against a
Crime against property - The theft of property or certain forms of damage against the property of
Cult - A religious group that is outside standard cultural norms.
Cultural diffusion - The process whereby an aspect of culture spreads throughout a culture or
from one culture to another.
Cultural relativism - The attitude that in order to understand the traits of another culture, one
must view them within the context of that culture.
Culture - Everything made, learned, and shared by the members of a
Culture lag - The tendency for changes in material culture to occur at a more rapid rate
than changes in nonmaterial culture.
Culture of poverty - The phrase that Oscar Lewis used to describe the idea that poor people do
not learn the norms and values that can help them improve their circumstances and
hence get trapped in a repeated pattern of poverty.
Culture shock - The surprise, disorientation, and fear people can experience upon
encountering a different culture.
Degradation ceremony - Garfinkel’s term for the process whereby an individual with a spoiled
identity is expelled from a group and stripped of his or her group
Democracy - A political system in which citizens periodically choose officials to run
Deviance - The violation of a norm.
Deviant subculture - A way of living that differs from the dominant culture, in which members
share a particular form of deviance.
Differential association - Edwin Sutherland’s theory that posits that deviance is learned
Divine right of kings - An ideology developed by the nobility during the Middle Ages that posited
that the authority of the nobility came directly from God.
Dominant culture - The culture held by the majority and/or by the most powerful group in a
Dramaturgy - Goffman’s theory that life is like a never-ending play in which people are
Dyad - A group composed of two people.
Economy - The institution responsible for the production and distribution of goods and
Education - The institution responsible for preparing young people for a functional
place in adult life and for transmitting culture from one generation to the
Ego - According to Freud, the part of the mind that resolves conflicts between the
id and the superego.
Endogamy - Marriage between members of the same category, class, or group.
Estate system - The three-tiered stratification system used during the Middle
Ethnocentrism - The tendency to judge another culture by the standards of one’s own
Ethnomethodology - A theoretical perspective formulated by Garfinkel that examines how people’s
background assumptions help them make sense of everyday situations.
Exogamy - Marriage between members of different categories, classes, or
Extended family - Several generations or branches of a family.
Family - The institution responsible for the rearing of children.
Feminization of poverty - The phrase that describes the increasing number of female-headed households
living at or below the poverty level.
Folkway - A norm followed out of convenience or tradition.
Formal organization - A secondary group that is organized to achieve specific goals and tends to
be large and impersonal.
Gender role - A set of behaviors, attitudes, and personality characteristics expected and
encouraged of a person based on his or her sex.
Gender socialization - The tendency for boys and girls to be socialized differently.
Generalized other - George Herbert Mead’s term for the internalization of the norms and values
of a culture.
Global stratification - The stratification of nations.
Globalization of capitalism - The adoption of capitalism by countries around the world.
Goal displacement - A formal organization’s displacement of one goal with another in order to
continue to exist. It is also called goal replacement.
Goals and means - Robert Merton’s theory that examines how members of a society adapt their
goals to the means that society provides of achieving them.
Government - The institution responsible for making and enforcing the rules of society
and for regulating relations with other societies.
Group - Two or more people who interact over time, have a sense of identity or
belonging, and have norms that nonmembers do not have.
Group dynamics - A term that implies that our thoughts and behavior are influenced by the
groups of which we are members and, in turn, we influence the thought process and
behavior of the group as a whole.
Groupthink - A term coined by Irving Janis that refers to the tendency of people in
positions of power to follow the opinions of the group, to the point that there is a
narrow view of the issue at hand.
Halo effect - The assumption that a physically attractive person also possesses other good
Health - The well-being of people.
Holistic medicine - A medical approach that involves learning about a patient’s physical
environment and mental state.
Horticultural society - A society in which hand tools are used to grow crops.
Hunting and gathering society - A society in which people acquire food by hunting game and gathering edible
Id - According to Freud, the first part of the mind to develop and the part of
the self responsible for the satisfaction of physical states.
Ideal type - Max Weber’s theoretical model of how a formal organization should
Ideology - A set of values that people devise to rationalize a particular social
Illegitimate opportunity structures - Cloward and Ohlin’s term for opportunities for crimes that are a basic part
of our society.
Impression management - Goffman’s term for the tendency of individuals to manipulate the impressions
that others have of them.
In-group - A group to which one belongs and to which one feels loyalty.
Indentured servitude - A system of stratification in which an individual agrees to sell his or her
body or labor to another for a specified period of time.
Industrial society - A society that uses advanced sources of energy, rather than humans and
animals, to run large machinery.
Industrializing nations - Countries that are in the process of becoming industrialized; includes most
of the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Inner controls - According to control theory, the thought processes such as morality or a
conscience that reside within people and that can prevent them from committing acts
Innovators - According to Robert Merton’s theory of goals and means, those who accept
cultural goals but reject the institutional means of achieving them.
Institution - A set of norms surrounding the carrying out of a function necessary for the
survival of a society.
Institutionalized means - Legitimate, socially approved ways that societies offer their members to
achieve culturally approved goals.
Labeling theory - A theory of deviance put forth by Howard Becker that claims that deviance is
that which is so labeled.
Law - A norm that is written down and enforced by an official agency.
Least industrialized nations - Primarily agricultural nations that account for half of the land on
Looking-glass self - Charles Horton Cooley’s theory of socialization, which posits that we form
our self-images on the basis of what we perceive to be others’ views of
Macrosociology - Sociological analysis focused on large-scale social forces.
Manner of interacting - The attitudes that we convey in an attempt to get others to form certain
impressions about us. According to Goffman, it is one of the sign vehicles we use to
present ourselves to others, along with the setting and our appearance.
Mass media - Communications media that direct messages and entertainment at a wide
Mass society - A large impersonal society in which individual achievement is valued over
kinship ties and in which people often feel isolated from one another.
Master status - A status we possess that overrides all other statuses and becomes the one by
which we are known to others.
Material culture - The tangible, visible items of a culture.
Matrilocality - A social custom in which married couples live in the home of the wife’s
Medicine - The institution responsible for defining and treating mental and physical
problems among its members.
Melting pot - A term used to refer to a pluralistic society in which people who originally
come from different societies blend together to form a new society.
Meritocracy - A system of stratification in which positions are given according to
Microsociology - Sociological analysis focused on social interaction between
Middle class - The class that consists of people who earn their money by working at
professional jobs, also called white-collar jobs.
Monarchy - A political system in which a representative from one family controls the
government and power is passed on through that family from generation to
Monogamy - Marriage between one man and one woman.
Monotheism - Belief in a single deity.
Moral reasoning - The reasons that people think the way they do about what’s right and
More - A norm based on notions of morality.
Most industrialized nations - Highly industrialized, capitalistic countries, including America, Canada,
Great Britain, France, Germany, and Japan.
Multiculturalism - A term often used instead of “melting pot” to denote a pluralistic society
in which the original cultural heritages of its citizens are recognized and
Multinational corporations - Large corporations that do business in a number of different
Negative sanction - A socially constructed expression of disapproval.
Neocolonialism - Michael Harrington’s term for the tendency of the most industrialized
nations to exploit less developed countries politically and
Neolocality - A social custom in which married couples move to a new home of their own
Network - A series of social ties that can be important sources of information,
contacts, and assistance for its members.
New money - The class that consists of people whose wealth has been around only for a
generation or two.
Nobility - The highest stratum of the estate system of stratification. Members had
significant inherited wealth and did little or no discernible work.
Nonmaterial culture - The intangible, invisible parts of a culture, such as values.
Norm - A guideline or an expectation for behavior.
Nuclear family - One or both parents and their children.
Oligarchy - The rule of the many by the few.
Out-group - A group to which one does not belong and to which one does not feel
Outer controls - According to control theory, individuals who encourage people not to stray
Pastoral society - A society that relies on the domestication and breeding of animals for
Patrilocality - A social custom in which married couples live in the home of the husband’s
Peer group - A social group in which members are usually the same age and have interests
and social position in common.
Personal space - The area immediately around one’s body that one can claim as one’s
Pluralistic society - A society composed of many different kinds of people.
Polyandry - Marriage between one woman and more than one man.
Polygamy - Marriage between one man and more than one woman.
Polytheism - Belief in many deities.
Positive sanction - A socially constructed expression of approval.
Postindustrial society - A society that features an economy based on services and technology, not
Poverty level - An estimate set by the federal government of the minimum income that a
family of four needs to survive.
Power - According to Weber, the ability to achieve ends even in the face of
Power elite - A term coined by C. Wright Mills that refers to his theory that the United
States is actually run by a small group representing the most wealthy, powerful, and
influential people in business, government, and the military.
Primary deviance - According to Lemert, a deviant act that elicits little or no reaction from
Primary group - A group in which there is frequent face-to-face contact, little task
orientation, and emotional intimacy among members.
Primary socialization - The learning that we experience from the people who raise us.
Primogeniture - A law stipulating that only a first-born son could inherit his father’s
Proletariat - Karl Marx’s term for the working masses.
Props - The things used to decorate a setting, according to Goffman’s theory of
impression management. Props also include manner of dress.
Rational-legal authority - Authority that rests on rules and laws, according to Weber’s power
Rationalization of society - Weber’s theory that bureaucracies would gain increasing power over modern
life, eventually governing almost every aspect of society.
Rebels - According to Robert Merton’s theory of goals and means, those who reject
both cultural goals and the institutionalized means of achieving them, but who
replace them with goals and means of their own.
Recidivism - The tendency of convicted criminals to repeat offenses.
Reference group - The group to whom we compare ourselves for purposes of
Reincarnation - The belief that while the physical body dies, the soul of a person is
immortal and goes on to be reborn into another body.
Religion - The institution responsible for answering people’s larger questions and for
explaining the seemingly inexplicable.
Resocialization - The learning of new norms and values.
Retreatists - According to Robert Merton’s theory of goals and means, those who reject
cultural goals as well as the institutionalized means of achieving
Revolution - A violent overthrow of the government by its citizens.
Ritualists - According to Robert Merton’s theory of goals and means, those who reject
cultural goals but accept the institutionalized means of achieving
Role - A set of norms, values, and personality characteristics expected of a person
based on the setting he or she is in.
Role conflict - The conflict that can result from the competing demands of two or more
Sanction - A socially constructed expression of approval or disapproval.
Secondary deviance - According to Lemert, repeated deviant behavior that is brought on by other
people’s negative reactions to the original act of deviance.
Secondary group - A group in which there is infrequent or short-term contact, little task
orientation, and no emotional intimacy among members.
Sect - A religious group that sets itself apart from society as a
Self - The part of a person’s personality consisting of self-awareness and
Setting - The place where interaction takes place. According to Goffman, it is one of
the sign vehicles we use to present ourselves to others, along with manner of
interacting and appearance.
Sign vehicles - Goffman’s term for the mechanisms we use to present ourselves to others.
Sign vehicles consist of setting, appearance, and manner of
Significant other - According to Charles Horton Cooley, a person in our lives whose opinions
matter to us and who is in a position to influence our thinking.
Skilled worker - A worker who is literate and has experience and expertise in specific areas
of production or on specific kinds of machines.
Slavery - A system of stratification in which one person owns another, usually for
Social control - The ways a society devises to encourage conformity to norms.
Social construction of reality - A theory suggesting that the way in which we present ourselves is shaped by
our life experiences, as well as by our interactions with others.
Social group - Two or more people who interact and identify with each other.
Social integration - The degree to which an individual feels connected to the other people in his
or her group or community.
Social mobility - Movement up or down the social hierarchy.
Society’s rewards - The things a society holds in high esteem, such as wealth, power, and
Socialism - A system under which resources and means of production are owned by the
society as a whole, rights to private property are limited, the good of the whole
society is stressed more than individual profit, and the government maintains
control of the economy.
Socialization - The process whereby we learn to become competent members of a
Society - A collection of people with territory, interaction, and a
Socioeconomic status (SES) - A calculation based on a complex formula that takes into account education,
occupation, and income.
Spoiled identity - Goffman’s term for an identity that has been permanently ruined because of a
State capitalism - A system under which resources and means of production are privately owned
but closely monitored and regulated by the government.
Status - The position that a person occupies in a particular setting.
Status inconsistency - Any inconsistency between various statuses.
Status set - The collection of all of our different statuses, from every setting in which
we are a member.
Status symbol - A sign or symbol that we wear or carry that represents a particular
Stereotype - An assumption we make about a person or a group, often on the basis of
incorrect or incomplete information.
Stigma - Goffman’s term for a trait that we possess that causes us to lose prestige
in the eyes of others.
Strain theory - Robert Merton’s theory that posits that people experience strain and
frustration when they are prevented from achieving culturally approved goals through
Stratification - A societal system in which there is an unequal distribution of society’s
rewards and in which people are arranged hierarchically into layers according to how
many of society’s rewards they possess.
Structural functionalist theory - A sociological view of society as a complex unit made up of interrelated
parts. Sociologists who apply this theory study social structure and social
Subculture - A group that espouses a way of living that is different from that of the
Superego - According to Freud, the part of the mind that encourages conformity to
societal norms and values. It is also called the conscience.
Symbolic interactionist perspective - A sociological framework that views society as a product of the everyday
social interactions of individuals.
Taboo - A norm so strongly held by a society that its violation brings extreme
Terrorism - A politically motivated violent attack on civilians by an individual or
Thomas Theorem - The theory espousing sociologist W. I. Thomas’s idea that “if a person
perceives a situation as real, it is real in its consequences.”
Total institution - According to Erving Goffman, a highly standardized institution in which all
the residents’ actions are determined and monitored by authority
Totalitarianism - A political system under which the government maintains tight control over
nearly all aspects of citizens’ lives.
Traditional authority - Authority that rests on well-established cultural patterns, according to
Weber’s power theory.
Triad - According to Georg Simmel, a group composed of three people.
Upper class - The highest social group, consisting of people with inherited wealth and a
recognizable family name.
Urbanization - The process by which the majority of a population comes to live within
commuting distance of a major city.
Value - A culturally approved belief about what is right or wrong, desirable or
Victimless crime - Crimes in which laws are violated but there is no identifiable
Voluntary association - A group we choose to join, in which members are united by the pursuit of a
War - Armed conflict between nations or societies.
Welfare capitalism - A system that features a market-based economy coupled with an extensive
social welfare system that includes free health care and education for all
White collar - Middle-class workers; so called because of the tendency of middle-class men
to wear white shirts to work.
White-collar crime - Nonviolent crime committed by the capitalist class during the course of
Working class - The class composed of people who sell their labor to a higher class. They
may have had vocational or technical training and have jobs such as electrician or
Working poor - The class composed of people whose work leaves them vulnerable to falling
below the poverty level.
World system theory - Wallerstein’s theory that as societies industrialized, capitalism became the
dominant economic system, leading to the globalization of capitalism.