Copy of `Polity - social science and humanities glossary`

The wordlist doesn't exist anymore, or, the website doesn't exist anymore. On this page you can find a copy of the original information. The information may have been taken offline because it is outdated.

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

Pastoral societies
Societies whose subsistence derives from the rearing of domesticated animals; there is often a need to migrate between different areas according to seasonal changes or to seek fresh grazing.

Literally, the scientific study of the nature of diseases, their causes, processes, development and consequences.

The dominance of men over women. All known societies are patriarchal, although there are variations in the degree and nature of the power men exercise, as compared with women. One of the prime objectives of women`s movements in modern societies is to combat existing patriarchal institutions.

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

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

Literally, to make a pauper of, or impoverish. Marx used the term to describe the process by which the working class grows increasingly impoverished in relation to the capitalist class.

Peer group
A friendship group composed of individuals of similar age and social status.

Peripheral countries
Countries that have a marginal role in the world economy and are thus dependent on the core-producing societies for their trading relationships.

Personal space
The physical space individuals maintain between themselves and others; it may vary between intimate distance for close relationships, social distance for formal encounters and public distance when confronted by an audience.

Personality stabilization
According to functionalists, the family plays a crucial role in assisting its adult members emotionally. Marriage between adult men and women is the arrangement through which adult personalities are supported and kept healthy.

Pilot studies
Trial runs in survey research.

Plastic sexuality
Sexuality freed from the needs of reproduction and moulded by the individual.

Political party
An organization established with the aim of achieving governmental power by electoral means and using that power to pursue a specific programme.

The means by which power is employed and contested to influence the nature and content of governmental activities. The sphere of the ‘political` includes the activities of those in government, but also the actions and competing interests of many other groups and individuals.

A form of marriage in which a woman may simultaneously have two or more husbands.

Polycentric transnationals
Transnational corporations whose administrative structure is global but whose corporate practices are adapted according to local circumstances.

A form of marriage in which a person may have two or more spouses simultaneously.

A form of marriage in which a man may have more than one wife at the same time.

Belief in two or more gods.

In the context of social research, the people who are the focus of a study or survey.

Portfolio worker
A worker who possesses a diversity of skills or qualifications and is therefore able to move easily from job to job.

In regard to sociology, the view that the study of the social world should be conducted according to the principles of natural science. A positivist approach to sociology holds that objective knowledge can be produced through careful observation, comparison and experimentation.

A general term used to describe the transition from mass industrial production, characterized by Fordist methods, to more flexible forms of production favouring innovation and aimed at meeting market demands for customized products.

Post-industrial society
A notion advocated by those who believe that processes of social change are taking us beyond the industrialized order. A post-industrial society is based on the production of information rather than material goods. According to post-industrialists, we are currently experiencing a series of social changes as profound as those that initiated the industrial era some two hundred years ago.

Postmodern feminism
Postmodern feminism draws on the general features of postmodernism in rejecting the idea of single explanations or philosophies. Feminist postmodernism involves, amongst other things, opposition to essentialism (the belief that differences between men and women are innate rather than socially/experientially constructed), and a belief in more plural kinds of knowledge.

The belief that society is no longer governed by history or progress. Postmodern society is highly pluralistic and diverse, with no ‘grand narrative` guiding its development.

Poverty line
An official measure used by governments to define those living below this income level as living in poverty. Many states have an established poverty line, although Britain does not.

The ability of individuals, or the members of a group, to achieve aims or further the interests they hold. Power is a pervasive aspect of all human relationships. Many conflicts in society are struggles over power, because how much power an individual or group is able to achieve governs how far they are able to realize their own wishes at the expense of the wishes of others.

Pre-operational stage
A stage of cognitive development, in Piaget`s theory, in which the child has advanced sufficiently to master basic modes of logical thought.

Precautionary principle
The presumption that, where there is sufficient doubt about the possible risks of new departures, it is better to maintain existing practices than to change them.

The holding of preconceived ideas about an individual or group, ideas that are resistant to change even in the face of new information. Prejudice may be either positive or negative.

Primary deviance
In the sociology of deviance, an initial act of crime or deviance. According to Edwin Lemert, acts at the level of primary deviance remain marginal to an individual`s selfidentity. A process usually occurs by which the deviant act is normalized.

Primary socialization
The process by which children learn the cultural norms of the society into which they are born. Primary socialization occurs largely in the family.

Procreative technology
Techniques of influencing the human reproductive process.

That which belongs to the mundane, everyday world.

To Marx, the working class under capitalism.

Religious leaders who mobilize followers through their interpretation of sacred texts.

The sale of sexual favours.

A specific personality type. Such individuals lack the moral sense and concern for others that most normal people have.Public sphere An idea associated with the German sociologist Jürgen Habermas. The public sphere is the arena of public debate and discussion in modern societies.

Pure relationship
A relationship of sexual and emotional equality.

Push and pull factors
In the early study of global migration, these were the internal and external forces believed to influence patterns of migration. ‘Push factors` refer to dynamics within the country of origin, such as unemployment, war, famine or political persecution. ‘Pull factors` describe features of destination countries, such as a buoyant labour market, lower population density and a high standard of living.

Quality circle (QC)
Types of industrialized group production, where workers use their expertise to actively participate in decision-making.

Queer theory
Queer theory argues that sociology and other disciplines are prejudiced towards heterosexuals, and that non-heterosexual voices must be brought to the fore in order to challenge the heterosexual assumptions that underlie much contemporary thinking.

A set of social relationships which allow individuals and groups to be located, and various attributes or competencies assigned, on the basis of biologically grounded features.

The process by which understandings of race are used to classify individuals or groups of people. Racial distinctions are more than ways of describing human differences: they are important factors in the reproduction of patterns of power and inequality.

The attributing of characteristics of superiority or inferiority to a population sharing certain physically inherited characteristics. Racism is one specific form of prejudice, focusing on physical variations between people. Racist attitudes became entrenched during the period of colonial expansion by the West, but seem also to rest on mechanisms of prejudice and discrimination found in very many contexts of human societies.

Radical feminism
Form of feminist theory that believes that gender inequality is the result of male domination in all aspects of social and economic life.

Random sampling
A sampling method in which a sample is chosen so that every member of the population has the same probability of being included.

A concept used by Weber to refer to the process by which modes of precise calculation and organization, involving abstract rules and procedures, increasingly come to dominate the social world.

Reoffending by individuals previously found guilty of a crime.

Reconstituted family
A family in which at least one of the adults has children from a previous union, either living in the home or nearby. Reconstituted families are also known as ‘step-families`.

This describes the connections between knowledge and social life. The knowledge we gain about society can affect the way in which we act in it. For instance, reading a survey about the high level of support for a political party might lead an individual to express support for that party too.

Divisions of time and space which may be used to ‘zone`activities at a very local, domestic level; or the larger division of social and economic life into regional settings or zones at a scale either above or below that of the nation-state.

Rebirth of the soul in another body or form. This belief is most often associated with Hindus and Buddhists.

Relative poverty
Poverty defined by reference to the overall standard of living in any given society.

A set of beliefs adhered to by the members of a community, involving symbols regarded with a sense of awe or wonder, together with ritual practices in which members of the community engage. Religions do not universally involve a belief in supernatural entities. Although distinctions between religion and magic are difficult to draw, it is often held that magic is primarily practised by individuals rather than being the focus of community ritual.

Religious economy
A theoretical framework within the sociology of religion, which argues that religions can be fruitfully understood as organizations in competition with one another for followers.

Representative democracy
A political system in which decisions affecting a community are taken, not by its members as a whole, but by people they have elected for this purpose.

Representative sample
A sample from a larger population that is statistically typical of that population.

Research methods
The diverse methods of investigation used to gather empirical (factual) material. Numerous different research methods exist in sociology, but perhaps the most commonly used are fieldwork (or participant observation) and survey methods. For many purposes it is useful to combine two or more methods within a single research project.

Resistant femininity
A term associated with R. W. Connell`s writings on the gender hierarchy in society. Women embodying resistant femininity reject the conventional norms of femininity in society (‘emphasized femininity`) and adopt liberated lifestyles and identities. Feminism and lesbianism, for example, are forms of resistant femininity that are not subordinated to the dominant role of hegemonic masculinity.

Resource allocation
How different social and material resources are shared out between and employed by social groups or other elements of society.

Response cries
These seemingly involuntary exclamations individuals make when, for example, being taken by surprise, dropping something inadvertently or expressing pleasure may be part of our controlled management of the details of social life, studied by ethnomethodologists and conversation analysts.

Restorative justice
A branch of criminal justice which rejects punitive measures in favour of community-based sentences that attempt to raise awareness among offenders of the effects of their actions.

Restricted code
A mode of speech that rests on strongly developed cultural understandings, so that many ideas do not need to be – and are not – put into words.

A process of political change, involving the mobilizing of a mass social movement, which by the use ofviolence successfully overthrows an existing regime and forms a new government. A revolution is distinguished from a coup d`état because it involves a mass movement and the occurrence of major change in the political system as a whole. A coup d`état refers to the seizure of power through the use of arms by individuals who then replace the existing political leaders, but without otherwise radically transforming the governmental system. Revolutions can also be distinguished from rebellions, which involve challenges to the existing political authorities, but again aim at the replacement of personnel rather than the transformation of the political structure as such.

Right realism
In criminology, right realism grew out of control theory and political conservatism. It links the perceived escalation of crime and delinquency to a decline in individual responsibility and moral degeneracy. To right realists, crime and deviance are an individual pathology – a set of destructive lawless behaviours actively chosen and perpetrated by individual selfishness, a lack of self-control and morality. Right realists are dismissive of the ‘theoretical` approaches to the study of crime.

Risk society
A notion associated with the German sociologist Ulrich Beck. Beck argues that industrial society has created many new dangers of risks unknown in previous ages. The risks associated with global warming are one example.

Formalized modes of behaviour in which the members of a group or community regularly engage. Religion represents one of the main contexts in which rituals are practised, but the scope of ritual behaviour extends well beyond this particular sphere. Most groups have ritual practices of some kind or another.

Romantic love
As distinct from passionate love, the idea of romantic love emerged in the eighteenth century, and involves the idea that marriage is based on mutual attraction, rather than on economic reasons. It is a prelude to, but is also in tension with, the idea of a pure relationship.

That which inspires attitudes of awe or reverence among believers in a given set of religious ideas.

Studying a proportion of individuals or cases from a larger population as representative of that population as a whole.

A mode of reward or punishment that reinforces socially expected forms of behaviour.

Blaming an individual or group for wrongs that were not of their doing.

In the sense of physical science, the systematic study of the physical world. Science – and sociology as a scientific endeavour – involves the disciplined marshalling of empirical data, combined with the construction of theoretical approaches and theories which illuminate or explain those data. Scientific activity combines the creation of bold new modes of thought with the careful testing of hypotheses and ideas. One major feature which helps distinguish science from other types of idea system (such as that involved in religion) is the assumption that all scientific ideas are open to mutual criticism and revision by members of the scientific community.Second World The industrialized, formerly communist societies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Secondary deviance
An idea associated with the American criminologist Edwin Lemert. Primary deviance refers to an initial act which contravenes a norm or law – for instance, stealing an item from a shop. Secondary deviance is where a label becomes attached to the individual who carried out the act, as where the person stealing from the shop is labelled a ‘shoplifter`.

A religious movement which breaks away from orthodoxy.

A process of decline in the influence of religion. Although modern societies have become increasingly secular, tracing the extent of secularization is a complex matter. Secularization can refer to levels of involvement with religious organizations (such as rates of church attendance), the social and material influence wielded by religious organizations, and the degree to which people hold religious beliefs.

Awareness of one`s distinct social identity, as a person separate from others. Human beings are not born with self-consciousness but acquire an awareness of self as a result of early socialization. The learning of language is of vital importance to the processes by which the child learns to become a self-conscious being.

The ongoing process of selfdevelopment and definition of our personal identity through which we formulate a unique sense of ourselves and our relationship to the world around us.

Semi-peripheral countries
Countries that supply sources of labour and raw materials to the core industrial countries and the world economy but are not themselves fully industrialized.

Sensorimotor stage
According to Piaget, a stage of human cognitive development in which the child`s awareness of its environment is dominated by perception and touch.

Service class
A term adopted by John H. Goldthorpe to describe those whose employment is based on a code of service rather than a labour contract, and whose work therefore involves a high degree of trust and autonomy. In Goldthorpe`s account, the service class (which he categorizes as Class I) refers to professional, senior administrative, and senior managerial employees. (Members of the service class are not those employed in the service industries.)

The anatomical differences which separate men from women. Sociologists often contrast sex with gender. Sex refers to the physical characteristics of the body; gender concerns socially learned forms of behaviour. Sex and gender divisions are not the same. A transvestite, for example, is someone who is physically a man but sometimes assumes the gender of a woman.

Sex tourism
The term used to describe international travel oriented on prostitution. It is most highly developed in the countries of the Far East, where groups of men from abroad travel for the opportunity to engage in inexpensive sexual liaisons with women and young children.

Sexual harassment
Unwanted sexual advances, remarks or behaviour by one person towards another, persisted in even though it is made clear that the other person is resistant.

Sexual orientation
The direction of one`s sexual or romantic attraction.

A broad term which refers to the sexual characteristics, and sexual behaviour, of human beings.

An individual believed to have special magical powers; a sorcerer or witch doctor.

Shared understandings
The common assumptions which people hold and which allow them to interact in a systematic way with one another.

Sick role
A term, associated with the American functionalist Talcott Parsons, to describe the patterns of behaviour which a sick person adopts in order to minimize the disruptive impact of his or her illness on others.

In the world of hyperreality evoked by the French author Jean Baudrillard, simulacra are copies of items for which there is no original. For example, a ‘mock Tudor` house looks nothing like original Tudor buildings.

A form of social stratification in which some individuals are literally owned by others as their property.

Social age
The norms, values, and roles that are culturally associated with a particular chronological age.

Social capital
The social knowledge and connections that enable people to accomplish their goals and extend their influence.

Social change
Alteration in the basic structures of a social group or society. Social change is an ever-present phenomenon in social life, but has become especially intense in the modern era. The origins of modern sociology can be traced to attempts to understand the dramatic changes shattering the traditional world and promoting new forms of social order.

Social constraint
A term referring to the fact that the groups and societies of which we are a part exert a conditioning influence on our behaviour. Social constraint was regarded by Durkheim as one of the distinctive properties of ‘social facts`.

Social constructionism
The theory that social reality is a creation of the interaction of individuals and groups.

Social exclusion
The outcome of multiple deprivations which prevent individuals or groups from participating fully in the economic, social and political life of the society in which they are located.

Social facts
According to Emile Durkheim, the aspects of social life that shape our actions as individuals. Durkheim believed that social facts could be studied scientifically.