Groups, Aggregates, and Categories

  • A group consists of two or more people who interact over time, have a sense of identity and belonging, and have norms that make them act differently from nonmembers.
  • An aggregrate is a collection of people who just happen to be in the same place at the same time.
  • A category is a collection of people who share a particular characteristic. They do not necessarily interact with one another and have nothing else in common.

Group Classifications

  • Primary groups tend to be small and are characterized by emotional intimacy among members.
  • Secondary groups tend to be larger and meet primarily for the purpose of accomplishing some kind of task.
  • An in-group is a group to which we belong and to which we feel a sense of loyalty.
  • An out-group is a one to which we don’t belong and to which we don’t feel a sense of loyalty.
  • For purposes of self-evaluation, people often turn to reference groups. Reference groups can be either primary or secondary in nature, or they can be general categories or even celebrities.

Social Integration

  • It’s important to feel an emotional connection to one’s group or to one’s community. Such a feeling is called social integration.
  • Émile Durkheim coined the term anomie to indicate a lack of social integration. He concluded that anomie was one factor in putting single, male Protestants at greater risk for suicide.
  • Sociology also studies group dynamics, which is the term that implies that our thoughts and behaviors are influenced by the groups of which we are members. In turn, our thoughts and behaviors can influence those of other group members.
  • Georg Simmel studied how group size affects interactions between group members. He found that a dyad, a group of two people, is less stable than a triad, a group of three people.
  • Irving Janis coined the term groupthink to refer to the tendency of people in positions of power to follow the opinions of the group and to ignore any dissenting opinions.

Groups Within Society

  • Each society is made up of smaller groups and associations.
  • According to C. Wright Mills, the power elite, a small group representing the most powerful and influential people, runs the United States.
  • A voluntary association is a group that we choose to join, in which the members are united by the pursuit of a common goal. These associations can be temporary or permanent.
  • As societies modernize, groups change in size and purpose. A feature of modernized societies is the formal organization, a secondary group organized to achieve specific goals.
  • A bureaucracy is an example of a formal organization that arises as a result of modernization. Weber argued that bureaucracies gain increasing power over everyday life in a process called rationalization of society.
  • A bureaucracy is characterized by a division of labor, written rules, hierarchy, official communication, and impersonal relationships within the organization.
  • Bureaucracies appear to be the most rational approach to accomplishing the stated goals, but human beings are not always rational. This conflict makes bureaucracies inefficient.
  • Sociologist Robert Michels theorized that bureaucracies tend to be run by an oligarchy, a small, ruling group.

Popular pages: Social Groups and Organizations