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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


Information poverty
The ‘information poor` are people who have little or no access to information technology, such as computers.

Information society
A society no longer based primarily on the production of material goods but on the production of knowledge. The notion of the information society is closely bound up with the rise of information technology.

Information technology
Forms of technology based on information processing and requiring microelectronic circuitry.

Institutional capitalism
Capitalistic enterprise organized on the basis of institutional shareholding.

Institutional racism
Patterns of discrimination based on ethnicity that have become structured into existing social institutions.

Intelligence
Level of intellectual ability, particularly as measured by IQ (intelligence quotient) tests.

Interactional vandalism
The deliberate subversion of the tacit rules of conversation. Intergenerational mobility Movement up or down a social stratification hierarchy from one generation to another.

Intragenerational mobility
Movement up or down a social stratification hierarchy within the course of a personal career. IQ Short for ‘intelligence quotient`, a score attained on tests consisting of a mixture of conceptual and computational problems.

Iron law of oligarchy
A term coined by Weber`s student Roberto Michels, meaning that large organizations tend towards the centralization of power in the hands of the few, making democracy difficult.

Job insecurity
A sense of apprehension experienced by employees about both the stability of their work position and their role within the workplace.

Kinship
A relation which links individuals through blood ties, marriage or adoption. Kinship relations are by definition involved in marriage and the family, but extend much more broadly than these institutions. While in most modern societies few social obligations are involved in kinship relations extending beyond the immediate family, in many other cultures kinship is of vital importance for most aspects of social life.

Knowledge economy
A society no longer based primarily on the production of material goods but on the production of knowledge. Its emergence has been linked to the development of a broad base of consumers who are technologically literate and have made new advances in computing, entertainment and telecommunications part of their lives.

Knowledge society
Another common term for information society – a society based on the production and consumption of knowledge and information.

Kuznets Curve
A formula showing that inequality increases during the early stages of capitalist development, then declines, and eventually stabilizes at a relatively low level; advanced by the economist Simon Kuznets.

Labelling theory
An approach to the study of deviance which suggests that people become ‘deviant` because certain labels are attached to their behaviour by political authorities and others.

Latent functions
Functional consequences that are not intended or recognized by the members of a social system in which they occur.

Lateral mobility
Movement of individuals from one region of a country to another, or across countries.

Left Realism
A strain of criminology, popularized in the 1980s by the work of Jock Young, that focused on the victims of crime and called for criminology to engage practically with issues of crime control and social policy.

Legitimacy
A particular political order gains legitimacy if most of those governed by it recognize it as just and valid.

Lesbianism
Homosexual activities or attachment between women.

Liberal democracy
A system of democracy based on parliamentary institutions, coupled to the free market system in the area of economic production.

Liberal feminism
A form of feminist theory that believes that gender inequality is produced by reduced access for women and girls to civil rights and certain social resources, such as education and employment. Liberal feminists tend to seek solutions through changes in legislation that ensure the rights of individuals are protected.

Life course
The various transitions people experience during their lives.

Life expectancy
The length of time people can on average expect to live when born. Specifically, the concept refers to the number of years a newborn infant can be expected to live if prevailing patterns of mortality at the time of its birth stay the same throughout its life, regardless of gender.

Life histories
Studies of the overall lives of individuals, often based both on selfreporting and on documents such as letters.

Life-span
The maximum length of life that is biologically possible for a member of a given species.

Lifelong learning
The idea that learning and the acquisition of skills should occur at all stages of an individual`s life, not simply in the formal educational system early in life. Adult continuing education programmes, mid-career training, Internet- based learning opportunities and community-based ‘learning banks` are all ways in which individuals can engage in lifelong learning.

Lifelong literacy
The ability to read and write.

Lifestyle choices
Decisions made by individuals about their consumption of goods, services and culture. Lifestyle choices have been seen by many sociologists as important reflections of class positions.

Low-trust systems
An organizational or work setting in which individuals are allowed little responsibility for, or control over, the work task.

Macrosociology
The study of large-scale groups, organizations or social systems.

Male breadwinner
Until recently in many industrialized societies, the traditional role of the man in providing for the family through employment outside the home. The ‘male breadwinner model` has declined in significance with changes in family patterns and the steady growth in the numbers of women entering the labour market.

Male inexpressiveness
The difficulties men have in expressing, or talking about, their feelings to others.

Malthusianism
The idea, first advanced by Thomas Malthus two centuries ago, that population growth tends to outstrip the resources available to support it. Malthus argued that people must limit their frequency of sexual intercourse in order to avoid excessive population growth and a future of misery and starvation.

Managerial capitalism
Capitalistic enterprises administered by managerial executives rather than by owners. Manifest functions The functions of a type of social activity that are known to and intended by the individuals involved in the activity.

Manufactured risk
Dangers that are created by the impact of human knowledge and technology upon the natural world. Examples of manufactured risk include global warming and genetically modified foods.

Market-oriented theories
Theories about economic development that assume that the best possible economic consequences will result if individuals are free to make their own economic decisions, uninhibited by governmental constraint.

Marriage
A socially approved sexual relationship between two individuals. Marriage almost always involves two persons of opposite sexes, but in some cultures types of homosexual marriage are tolerated. Marriage normally forms the basis of a family of procreation – that is, it is expected that the married couple will produce and bring up children. Many societies permit polygamy, in which an individual may have several spouses at the same time.

Mass customization
The large-scale production of items designed for particular customers through the use of new technologies.

Mass media
Forms of communication, such as newspapers, magazines, radio and television, designed to reach mass audiences.

Mass production
The production of long runs of goods using machine power. Mass production was one outcome of the Industrial Revolution.

Master status
The status or statuses that generally take priority over other indicators of social standing and determine a person`s overall position in society.

Materialist conception of history
The view developed by Marx according to which ‘material` or economic factors have a prime role in determining historical change.

Maternal deprivation
The absence of a stable and affectionate relationship between a child and its mother early in life. John Bowlby argued that maternal deprivation can lead to mental illness or deviant behaviour later in life.

Matrilineal
Relating to, based on, or tracing ancestral descent through the maternal line.

Matrilocal
Of family systems in which the husband is expected to live near the wife`s parents.

Mean
A statistical measure of central tendency, or average, based on dividing a total by the number of individual cases.

Means of production
The means whereby the production of material goods is carried on in a society, including not just technology but the social relations between producers.

Means-tested benefits
Welfare services that are available only to citizens who meet certain criteria based not only on need but on levels of income and savings.

Measures of central tendency
These are ways of calculating averages, the three most common being the mean, the median and the mode.

Media imperialism
A version of imperialism enabled by communications technology, claimed by some to have produced a cultural empire in which media content originating in the industrialized countries is imposed on less developed nations which lack the resources to maintain their cultural independence.

Media regulation
The use of legal means to control media ownership and the content of media communications.

Median
The number that falls halfway in a range of numbers – a way of calculating central tendency that is sometimes more useful than calculating a mean.

Medical gaze
In modern medicine, the detached and value-free approach taken by medical specialists in viewing and treating a sick patient.

Megacities
A term favoured by Manuel Castells to describe large, intensely concentrated urban spaces that serve as connection points for the global economy. It is projected that by 2015, there will be thirty-six ‘megacities` with populations of more than eight million residents.

Megalopolis
The ‘city of all cities`, a term coined in ancient Greece to refer to a city-state that was planned to be the envy of all civilizations, but used in modern times to refer to very large – or overlarge – conurbations.

Melting pot
The idea that ethnic differences can be combined to create new patterns of behaviour drawing on diverse cultural sources.

Meritocracy
A system in which social positions are filled on the basis of individual merit and achievement, rather than ascribed criteria such as inherited wealth, sex or social background.

Metanarratives
Broad, overarching theories or beliefs about the operation of society and the nature of social change. Marxism and functionalism are examples of metanarratives that have been employed by sociologists to explain how the world works. Postmodernists reject such ‘grand theories`, arguing that it is impossible to identify any fundamental truths underpinning human society.

Microsociology
The study of human behaviour in contexts of face-to-face interaction.

Middle class
A broad spectrum of people working in many different occupations, from employees in the service industry to school teachers to medical professionals. Because of the expansion of professional, managerial and administrative occupations in advanced societies, the middle class may encompass the majority of the population in countries like Britain.

Minority group
A group of people in a minority in a given society who, because of their distinct physical or cultural characteristics, find themselves in situations of inequality within that society. Such groups include ethnic minorities.

Mode
The number that appears most often in a given set of data. This can sometimes be a helpful way of portraying central tendency.

Mode of production
Within Marxism, the constitutive characteristic of a society based on the socio-economic system predominant within it – for example, capitalism, feudalism or socialism.

Modernization theory
A version of marketoriented development theory that argues that low-income societies develop economically only if they give up their traditional ways and adopt modern economic institutions, technologies, and cultural values that emphasize savings and productive investment.

Monarchies
Those political systems headed by a single person whose power is passed down through their family across generations.

Monogamy
A form of marriage in which each married partner is allowed only one spouse at any given time.

Monopoly
A situation in which a single firm dominates in a given industry.

Monotheism
Belief in one, single God.

Moral panic
A term popularized by Stanley Cohen to describe a media-inspired overreaction to a certain group or type of behaviour that is taken as symptomatic of general social disorder. Moral panics often arise around events that are in fact relatively trivial in terms of the nature of the act and the number of people involved.

Mortality
The number of deaths in a population.

Multiculturalism
Ethnic groups exist separately and share equally in economic and political life.

Multimedia
The combination of what used to be different media requiring different technologies (for instance, visuals and sound) on a single medium, such as a CD-ROM, which can be played on a computer.

Nanotechnology
The science and technology of building electronic circuits and devices with, according to a broad definition, dimensions of less than 100 nanometres (one nanometre is one-billionth of a metre).

Nation-state
A particular type of state, characteristic of the modern world, in which a government has sovereign power within a defined territorial area, and the mass of the population are citizens who know themselves to be part of a single nation. Nation-states are closely associated with the rise of nationalism, although nationalist loyalties do not always conform to the boundaries of specific states that exist today. Nation-states developed as part of an emerging nation-state system, originating in Europe, but in current times spanning the whole globe.

Nationalism
A set of beliefs and symbols expressing identification with a given national community.

Nations without states
Instances in which the members of a nation lack political sovereignty over the area they claim as their own.

Neo-liberalism
The economic belief that free market forces, achieved by minimizing government restrictions on business, provide the only route to economic growth.

Neo-local
Neo-local residence involves the creation of a new household each time a child marries or when she or he reaches adulthood and becomes economically active.

Network
A set of informal and formal social ties that links people to each other.

New Age movement
A general term to describe the diverse spectrum of beliefs and practices oriented on inner spirituality. Paganism, Eastern mysticism, shamanism, alternative forms of healing, and astrology are all examples of ‘New Age` activities.

New criminology
A branch of criminological thought, prominent in Britain in the 1970s, that regarded deviance as deliberately chosen and often political in nature. The ‘new criminologists` argued that crime and deviance could only be understood in the context of power and inequality within society.

New Labour
The reforms introduced by Tony Blair when he assumed leadership of the British Labour Party, and by means of which he sought to move the party in new directions, particularly in the early days by a successful campaign to abolish Clause 4, which committed the party to a policy of widespread public ownership of industry.

New migration
A term referring to changes in patterns of migration in Europe in the years following 1989. The ‘new migration` has been influenced by the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the prolonged ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and the process of European integration, altering the dynamics between traditional ‘countries of origin` and ‘countries of destination`.

New racism
Racist outlooks, also referred to as cultural racism, that are predicated on cultural or religious differences, rather than biological ones.

New religious movements
The broad range of religious and spiritual groups, cults and sects that have emerged alongside mainstream religions. NRMs range from spiritual and self-help groups within the New Age movement to exclusive sects such as the Hare Krishnas.

New social movements
A set of social movements that have arisen in Western societies since the 1960s in response to the changing risks facing human societies. NSMs such as feminism, environmentalism, the anti-nuclear movement, protests against genetically modified food, and ‘anti-globalization` demonstrations differ from earlier social movements in that they are single-issue campaigns oriented tonon-material ends and draw support from across class lines.

Newly industrialized countries
Third World economies which over the past two or three decades have begun to develop a strong industrial base, such as Brazil and Singapore.

Non-verbal communication
Communication between individuals based on facial expression or bodily gesture, rather than on the use of language.

Norms
Rules of behaviour which reflect or embody a culture`s values, either prescribing a given type of behaviour, or forbidding it. Norms are always backed by sanctions of one kind or another, varying from informal disapproval to physical punishment or execution.

Nuclear family
A family group consisting of mother, father (or one of these) anddependent children.

Occupation
Any form of paid employment in which an individual works in a regular way.

Occupational gender segregation
The way that men and women are concentrated in different types of jobs, based on prevailing understandings of what is appropriate ‘male` and ‘female` work.

Oligopoly
The domination of a small number of firms in a given industry.

Oral history
Interviews with people about events they witnessed or experienced earlier in their lives.

Organic solidarity
According to Emile Durkheim, the social cohesion that results from the various parts of a society functioning as an integrated whole.

Organization
A large group of individuals, involving a definite set of authority relations. Many types of organization exist in industrial societies, influencing most aspects of our lives. While not all organizations are bureaucratic in a formal sense, there are quite close links between the development of organizations and bureaucratic tendencies.

Participant observation
A method of research widely used in sociology and anthropology, in which the researcher takes part in the activities of a group or community being studied.

Participatory democracy
A system of democracy in which all members of a group or community participate collectively in the taking of major decisions.

Party
A group of individuals who work together because they have common backgrounds, aims or interests. According to Weber, party is one of the factors, alongside class and status, that shape patterns of social stratification.