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Polity - social science and humanities glossary
Category: People and society > social science and humanities
Date & country: 04/10/2007, UK
Words: 484

Absent father
A father who, as a result of divorce or for other reasons, has little or no contact with his children.

Absolute poverty
Poverty as defined in terms of the minimum requirements necessary to sustain a healthy existence.

Achieved status
Social status based on an individual`s effort, rather than traits assigned by biological factors. Examples of achieved status include ‘veteran`, ‘graduate` or ‘doctor`.

Affective individualism
The belief in romantic attachment as a basis for contracting marriage ties.

The system found in small traditional cultures according to which people belonging to a similar age group are categorized together and hold similar rights and obligations.

The combination of biological, psychological and social processes that affect people as they grow older.

Discrimination or prejudice against a person on the grounds of age.

Agencies of socialization
Groups or social contexts within which processes of socialization take place. The family, peer groups, schools, the media and the workplace are all arenas in which cultural learning occurs.

Agrarian societies
Societies whose means of subsistence is based on agricultural production (crop-growing).

The sense that our own abilities, as human beings, are taken over by other entities. The term was originally used by Marx to refer to the projection of human powers onto gods. Subsequently he employed the term to refer to the loss of control on the part of workers over the nature of the labour task, and over the products of their labour. Feuerbach used the term to refer to the establishing of gods or divine forces distinct from human beings.

Alternative medicine
Also referred to as complementary medicine, this approach to the treatment and prevention of disease encompasses a wide range of healing techniques which lie outside of, or overlap with, orthodox medical practices. Alternative or complementary medicine embodies a holistic approach to health, addressing both physical and psychological elements of an individual`s well-being.

A belief that events in the world are mobilized by the activities of spirits.

A concept used by Durkheim to describe feelings of aimlessness and despair provoked by the processes of change in the modern world which result in social norms losing their hold over individual behaviour.

The official system of racial segregation established in South Africa in 1948 and practised until 1994.

Ascribed status
Social status based on biological factors, such as race, sex or age.

The acceptance of a minority group by a majority population, in which the group takes on the values and norms of the dominant culture.

A person who has applied for refuge in a foreign country due to a fear of religious or political persecution in his or her country of origin.

Authoritarian states
Political systems in which the needs and interests of the state take priority over those of average citizens, and popular participation in political affairs is severely limited or denied.

Following Max Weber, many sociologists have argued that authority is the legitimate power which one person or a group holds over another. The element of legitimacy is vital to this understanding of authority and is the main means by which authority is distinguished from the more general concept of power. Power can be exerted by the use of force or violence. Authority, by contrast, depends on the acceptance by subordinates of the right of those above them to give them orders or directives.

Production processes monitored and controlled by machines with only minimal supervision from people.

Back region
An area away from ‘front region` performances, characterized by Erving Goffman, where individuals are able to relax and behave in an informal way.

Generally a preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment. In statistical sampling or testing, an error caused by systematically favouring some outcomes over others.

Binuclear families
A family structure in which a child has parents living in two different homes after separating, both of whom are involved in the child`s upbringing.

The diversity of species of life forms.

Biomedical model of health
The set of principles underpinning Western medical systems and practices. The biomedical model of health defines diseases objectively, in accordance with the presence of recognized symptoms, and believes that the healthy body can be restored through scientifically based medical treatment. The human body is likened to a machine that can be returned to working order with the proper repairs.

An orientation of sexual activities or feelings towards other people of either sex.

Black feminism
A strand of feminist thought which highlights the multiple disadvantages of gender, class and race that shape the experiences of nonwhite women. Black feminists reject the idea of a single unified gender oppression that is experienced evenly by all women, and argue that early feminist analysis reflected the specific concerns of white, middle-class women.

An organization of a hierarchical sort, which takes the form of a pyramid of authority. The term ‘bureaucracy` was popularized by Max Weber. According to Weber, bureaucracy is the most efficient type of large-scale human organization. As organizations grow in size, Weber argued, they inevitably tend to become more and more bureaucratized.

Capital punishment
The state-sanctioned execution of a person who has been convicted of a crime that is punishable by death. Capital punishment is commonly known as the ‘death penalty`.

A system of economic enterprise based on market exchange. ‘Capital` refers to any asset, including money, property and machines, which can be used to produce commodities for sale or invested in a market with the hope of achieving a profit. Nearly all industrial societies today are capitalist in orientation – their economic systems are based on free enterprise and on economic competition.

Those who own companies, land or stocks and shares, using these to generate economic returns.

A form of stratification in which an individual`s social position is fixed at birth and cannot be changed. There is virtually no intermarriage between the members of different caste groups.

Causal relationship
A relationship in which one state of affairs (the effect) is brought about by another (the cause).

The causal influence of one factor on another. Causal factors in sociology include the reasons individuals give for what they do, as well as external influences on their behaviour.

A large body of people belonging to an established religious organization. Churches normally have a formal structure, with a hierarchy of religious officials, and the term is also used for the building where their religious ceremonials are held.

A member of a political community, having both rights and duties associated with that membership.

Civil inattention
The process whereby individuals who are in the same physical setting of interaction demonstrate to one another that they are aware of each other`s presence, without being either threatening or over-friendly.

Civil society
The realm of activity which lies between the state and the market, including the family, schools, community associations and non-economic institutions. ‘Civil society`, or civic culture, is essential to vibrant democratic societies.

Although it is one of the most frequently used concepts in sociology, there is no clear agreement about how the notion should best be defined. For Marx a class was a group of people standing in a common relationship to the means of production. Weber also saw class as an economic category, but stressed its interaction with social status and the affinities of ‘party`. In recent times, some social scientists have used occupation extensively as an indicator of social class, others have stressedownership of property and otherwealth; still others are looking to lifestyle choices.

Clock time
Time as measured by the clock – that is, assessed in terms of hours, minutes and seconds. Before the invention of clocks, time reckoning was based on events in the natural world, such as the rising and setting of the sun.

Human thought processes involving perception, reasoning, and remembering.

Two people living together in a sexual relationship of some permanence, without being married to each other.

Cold War
The situation of conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union,together with their allies, which existed from the late 1940s until 1990. It was a ‘Cold War` because the two sides never actually engaged in military confrontation with each other.

Collective consumption
A concept used by Manuel Castells to refer to processes of consumption of common goods promoted by the city, such as transport services and leisure amenities.

The process whereby Western nations established their rule in parts of the world away from their home territories.

The transmission of information from one individual or group to another. Communication is the necessary basis of all social interaction. In face-to-face contexts, communication is carried on by the use of language, but also by many bodily cues which individuals interpret in understanding what others say and do. With the development of writing and of electronic media like radio, television or computer transmission systems, communication becomes to varying degrees detached from immediate contexts of face-toface social relationships.

A set of political ideas associated with Marx, as developed particularly by Lenin, and institutionalized in China and, until 1990, in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Comparative questions
Questions concerned with the drawing of comparisons between one context in a society and another, or contrasting examples from different societies, for the purposes of sociological theory or research.

Comparative research
Research that compares one set of findings on one society with the same type of findings on other societies.

Complicit masculinity
A term associated with R. W. Connell`s writings on the gender hierarchy in society. Complicit masculinity is embodied by the many men in society who do not themselves live up to the ideal of hegemonic masculinity, yet benefit from its dominant position in the patriarchal order.

Compulsion of proximity
The need felt by individuals to interact with others in face-to-face settings.

Concrete operational stage
A stage of cognitive development, as formulated by Piaget, in which the child`s thinking is based primarily on physical perception of the world. In this phase, the child is not yet capable of dealing with abstract concepts or hypothetical situations.

Conflict theories
A sociological perspective that focuses on the tensions, divisions and competing interests present in human societies. Conflict theorists believe that the scarcity and value of resources in society produces conflict as groups struggle to gain access to and control those resources. Many conflict theorists have been strongly influenced by the writings of Marx.

Confluent love
Active and contingent love, as opposed to the ‘forever` qualities of romantic love.

Control theory
A theory which sees crime as the outcome of an imbalance between impulses towards criminal activity and controls which deter it.Control theorists hold that criminals are rational beings who will act to maximize their own reward unless they are rendered unable to do so through either social or physical controls.

A statistical or experimental means of holding some variables constant in order to examine the causal influence of others.

A clustering of towns or cities into an unbroken urban environment.

Conversation analysis
The empirical study of conversations, employing techniques drawn from ethnomethodology. Conversation analysis examines details of naturally occurring conversations to reveal the organizational principles of talk and its role in the production and reproduction of social order.

Core countries
According to worldsystems theory, the most advanced industrial countries, which take the lion`s share of profits in the world economic system.

Corporate crime
Offences committed by large corporations in society. Examples of corporate crime include pollution, false advertising, and violations of health and safety regulations.

Corporate culture
A branch of management theory that seeks to increase productivity and competitiveness through the creation of a unique organizational culture involving all members of a firm. A dynamic corporate culture – involving company events, rituals and traditions – is thought to enhance employee loyalty and promote group solidarity.

A regular relationship between two dimensions or variables, often expressed in statistical terms. Correlations may be positive or negative. A positive correlation between two variables exists where a high rank on one variable is regularly associated with a high rank on the other. A negative correlation exists where a high rank on one variable is regularly associated with a low rank on the other.

Correlation coefficient
A measure of the degree of correlation between two variables.

A term describing people or societies that share many social qualities as a result of constant exposure to new ideas and values.

Created environment
Those aspects of the physical world deriving from the application of technology. Cities are created environments, featuring constructions established by human beings to serve their needs – including roads, railways, factories, offices, private homes and other buildings.

Any action that contravenes the laws established by a political authority. Although we may tend to think of ‘criminals` as a distinct subsection of the population, there are few people who have not broken the law in one way or another during the course of their lives. While laws are formulated by state authorities, it is by no means unknown for those authorities to engage in criminal behaviour in certain contexts.

The study of forms of behaviour that are sanctioned by criminal law.

Crisis of masculinity
The belief, held by some, that traditional forms of masculinity are being undermined by a combination of contemporary influences, provoking a critical phase in which men are unsure of themselves and their role in society.

Crude birth rate
A statistical measure representing the number of births within a given population per year, normally calculated in terms of the number of births per thousand members. Although the crude birth rate is a useful index, it isonly a general measure, because it does not specify numbers of births in relation to age distribution.

Crude death rate
A statistical measure representing the number of deaths that occur annually in a given population per year, normally calculated as the ratio of deaths per thousand members. Crude death rates give a general indication of the mortality levels of a community or society, but are limited in their usefulness because they do not take into account the age distribution.

A fragmentary religious grouping, to which individuals are loosely affiliated, but which lacks any permanent structure. Cults quite often form round an inspirational leader.

Cultural pluralism
The coexistence of several subcultures within a given society on equal terms.

Cultural reproduction
The transmission of cultural values and norms from generation to generation. Cultural reproduction refers to the mechanisms by which continuity of cultural experience is sustained across time. The processes of schooling in modern societies are among the main mechanisms of cultural reproduction, and do not operate solely through what is taught in courses of formal instruction. Cultural reproduction occurs in a more profound way through the hidden curriculum – aspects of behaviour learnt by individuals in an informal way while at school. Culture of poverty The thesis, popularized by Oscar Lewis, that poverty is not a result of individual inadequacies, but the outcome of a larger social and cultural atmosphere into which successive generations of children are socialized. The ‘culture of poverty` refers to the values, beliefs, lifestyles, habits and traditions that are common among people living under conditions of material deprivation.

The values, ceremonies and ways of life characteristic of a given group. Like the concept of society, the notion of culture is very widely used in sociology, as well as in the other social sciences (particularly anthropology). Culture is one of the most distinctive properties of human social association.

Criminal activities by means of electronic networks, or involving the use of new information technologies. Electronic money laundering, personal identity theft, electronic vandalism and monitoring electronic correspondence are all emergent forms of cybercrime.

Electronic networks of interaction between individuals at different computer terminals, linking people at a level – in a dimension – that has no regard for territorial boundaries or physical presence.

Decline in the predominance of Weberian-style bureaucracies as the typical organizational form within modern society.

In the context of welfare provision, the degree to which welfare services are free of the market. In a predominantly decommodified system, welfare services such as education and healthcare are provided to all and are not linked to market processes. In a commodified system, welfare services are treated as commodities to be sold on the market like other goods and services.

The destruction of forested land, often by commercial logging.Degree of dispersal The range or distribution of a set of figures.

The process by which individuals cared for in state facilities are returned to their families or to community-based residences.

A political system providing for the participation of citizens in political decision-making, often by the election of representatives to governing bodies.

Demographic transition
An interpretation of population change, which holds that a stable ratio of births to deaths is achieved once a certain level of economic prosperity has been reached. According to this notion, in pre-industrial societies there is a rough balance between births and deaths, because population increase is kept in check by a lack of available food, and by disease or war. In modern societies, by contrast, population equilibrium is achieved because families are moved by economic incentives to limit the number of children.

The study of the characteristics of human populations, including their size, composition and dynamics.

A religious sect which has lost its revivalist dynamism, and has become an institutionalized body, commanding the adherence of significant numbers of people.

Dependency culture
A term popularized by Charles Murray to describe individuals who rely on state welfare provision rather than entering the labour market. The dependency culture is seen as the outcome of the ‘nanny state` which undermines individual ambition and people`s capacity for self-help.

Dependency ratio
The ratio of people of dependent ages (children and the elderly) to people of economically active ages.

Dependency theory
Theory of economic development derived from Marxism arguing that the poverty of low-income countries stems directly from their exploitation by wealthy countries and the transnational corporations that are based in wealthy countries.

Dependent variable
A variable, or factor, causally influenced by another (the independent variable).

Instances of intense land degradation resulting in desert-like conditions over large areas.

Developmental questions
Questions posed by sociologists when looking at the origins and path of development of social institutions from the past to the present.

Modes of action which do not conform to the norms or values held by most of the members of a group or society. What is regarded as ‘deviant` is as widely variable as the norms and values that distinguish different cultures and subcultures from one another. Many forms of behaviour which are highly esteemed in one context, or by one group, are regarded negatively by others.

Deviancy amplification
The unintended consequences that can result when by labelling a behaviour as deviant, an agency of control actually provokes more of the same behaviour. For example, the reactions of police, the media and the public to perceived acts of deviance can ‘amplify` the deviance itself, creating a ‘spiral of deviancy`.

Deviant subculture
A subculture whose members have values which differ sub-stantially from those of the majority in a society.

The dispersal of an ethnic population from an original homeland into foreign areas, often in a forced manner or under traumatic circumstances.

The frameworks of thinking in a particular area of social life. For instance, the discourse of criminality means how people in a given society think and talk about crime.

Activities that deny to the members of a particular group resources or rewards which can be obtained by others. Discrimination has to be distinguished from prejudice, although the two are usually quite closely associated. It can be the case that individuals who are prejudiced against others do not engage in discriminatory practices against them; conversely, people may act in a discriminatory fashion even though they are not prejudiced against those subject to such discrimination.

Disengagement theory
A functionalist theory of ageing that holds that it is functional for society to remove people from their traditional roles when they become elderly, thereby freeing up those roles for others.

The transferring of ideas or emotions from their true source to another object.

Division of labour
The division of a production system into specialized work tasks or occupations, creating economic interdependence. All societies have at least a rudimentary form of division of labour, especially between the tasks allocated to men and those performed by women. With the development of industrialism, however, the division of labour became vastly more complex than in any prior type of production system. In the modern world, it is international in scope.

Doubling time
The time it takes for a particular level of population to double.