Sociological Terms

Updated 2007-04-25 08:51

Sociological Perspective

Question Answer
Symbolic InteractionismThe branch of sociology that studies how people assign meaning to people’s behavior.
Social SolidarityThe degree to which people are bonded to groups and to the society as a whole.
Macro LevelLarge-scale social phenomena such as culture, class systems, population shifts, and so on.
EmpiricismThe view that generalizations are valid only if they rely on evidence that can be observed directly or verified through our senses.
Sociological ImaginationThe ability to see the link between personal experiences and social forces.
Conflict TheoryThe paradigm that emphasizes the conflict between different sectors of a society, and how groups use resources to secure their own particular interests.
Manifest FunctionIntended outcomes of an institution.
Scientific MethodA process by which a body of scientific knowledge is built through observation, experimentation, generalization, and verification.
FunctionalismThe paradigm that emphasizes how elements of a society do (or do not) work toward accomplishing necessary functions.
Latent FunctionUnintended, unrecognized, but often useful consequence of an institution.

Key Thinkers

Question Answer
Herbert SpencerSaw society as an organism; applied Darwin’s idea of “survival of the fittest” to explain and justify social conditions of different individuals and groups.
W.E.B. DuBoisAfrican American sociologist, early twentieth-century; militant opponent of racism and keen observer of its effects.
C. Wright MillsAmerican sociologist; developed concept of the sociological imagination.
Auguste ComteCoined the term sociology; emphasized empiricism; thought society was evolving towards perfection.
Harriet MartineauWrote observations of institutions (prisons, factories, and so on); compared American and European class systems.
Emile DurkheimEmphasized social solidarity; studied rates of behavior in groups rather than individual behavior.
Jane AddamsAmerican social reformer; founded Hull House, a settlement house for immigrants in Chicago.
Karl MarxViewed social change as resulting from the conflicts between social classes trying to secure their interests. Thought that eventually the workers would overthrow the capitalist-run system.
Max WeberThought power, wealth, and status were separate aspects of social class. Saw bureaucratization as a dominant trend with far-reaching social consequences. Contradicted Marx in arguing that religious ideas influenced economics, specifically that Protestantism brought the rise of capitalism.

Sociological Research Method

Question Answer
Longitudinal ResearchA study that observes a population over a period of time.
EmpiricalBase on, or capable of being based on, observed evidence.
Open-ended interviewResearch where the researcher follows a set of questions but can add follow-up question on his or her own.
SurveyA study that asks short-answer questions of a fairly large number of people.
AssociationThe simultaneous changing of two variables without one necessarily causing the change in the other.
Operational DefinitionThe conversion of abstract ideas into specific, observable things or events.
ValidityThe relation between what a study is supposed to test and what it actually tests.
Researcher BiasThe influence, deliberate or not, a researcher exerts to get the preferred result.
SampleThe population that a researcher gathers data on to assess the entire population.
HypothesisA testable statement about the relation between variables.
ReliabilityThe degree to which the results of a study would be repeated in other similar studies.
Random SampleA sample in which each individual in the population has an equal chance of being selected.
VariableAnything that can change or that can be sorted into more than one category or value.
Cross-sectional researchA study that looks at a population at a single point in time.
Structured InterviewResearch where the researcher strictly follows a given set of questions.
Secondary AnalysisThe use of available data gathered by another researcher or agency such as the Census Bureau.
Dependent VariableA variable that changes in response to the independent variable.
Independent VariableThe variable that influences another variable without being influenced by that other variable.
Participant ObservationResearch in which the researchers hang out with the people they are doing research on.
Representative SampleA sample in which the relevant variables are distributed in the same proportions as in the entire population


Question Answer
MoresStrongly held norms that usually have important moral implications.
Ideal NormsExpectations of what people should do under perfect conditions.
CultureA pattern of living shared by the members of a society.
Material CultureThe physical objects human beings make and use.
NormsRules, often unwritten, for everyday behavior.
EthnocentrismJudging another culture by standards of one’s own culture.
Nonmaterial CultureThe totality of knowledge, beliefs, values, and rules for appropriate behavior—shared by members of society.
Cultural RelativismWithholding judgment and seeking to understand other societies on their own terms.
FolkwaysNorms or customs that permit a wide degree of individual interpretation.
Culture shockThe difficulty people have adjusting to a new culture that differs markedly from their own.
SubcultureThe distinctive lifestyle or culture of certain segments of the population within a society.
ValuesA culture’s general orientations toward life.
Real NormsNorms that are expressed with qualifications and allowances for differences in individual behavior.
Sapir-Whorf hypothesisThe language a person uses shapes his or her perception of reality.
IdeologyStrongly held but untestable ideas shared by members of a society that uphold the basis of that society.
SymbolSomething that represents something else and whose meaning is understood by the members of a culture.

Socialization and Development

Question Answer
Primary SocializationA child’s assimilation of the basic elements of culture—language, norms, behavior—and adoption of a culturally appropriate identity
Looking-glass selfA sense of who you are based on how you think other people would judge you.
Significant othersTerm used by Meade to include those individuals who are most important in our development, for example, parents, friends.
Generalized otherThe viewpoints, attitudes, and expectations of society as a whole or of a community of people of whom we are aware and who are important to us.
The “I” and the “Me”The parts of the self, according to Mead; one more expressive, the other more a product of socialization.
SuperegoAccording to Freud, this is the part of the self that represents society’s norms and moral values learned primarily from parents.
Adult SocializationThe process which adults learn new statuses and roles.
ResocializationExposure to ideas or values that in one way or another conflict with what was learned in childhood.
SelfAn individual’s changing yet enduring personal identity.
PersonalityThe patterns of behavior and ways of thinking and feeling that are distinctive for each individual.

Social Groups and Organizations

Question Answer
Reference GroupA group a person uses as a guide to values, beliefs, and behavior.
Secondary GroupA goal-oriented, impersonal, more formal group.
Primary GroupA group of people who know one another well and interact as complete individuals rather than in specialized roles.
DyadA group of two people.
TriadA group of three people.
Social GroupPeople who share a common identity, goals, and norms.
Instrumental LeadershipFocused on accomplishing concrete tasks.
Expressive leadershipConcerning feelings and interpersonal relationships.