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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: 482

Social group
Collection of individuals who interact in systematic ways with one another. Groups may range from very small associations to large-scale organizations or societies. Whatever their size, it is a defining feature of a group that its members have an awareness of a common identity. Most of our lives are spent in group contact; in modern societies, most people belong to groups of many different types.

Social interaction
Any form of social encounter between individuals. Most of our lives are made up of social interaction of one type or another. Social interaction refers to both formal and informal situations in which people meet one another. An illustration of a formal situation of social interaction is a schoolclassroom; an example of informal interaction is two people meeting in the street or at a party.

Social mobility
Movement of individuals or groups between different socio-economic positions. Vertical mobility refers to movement up or down a hierarchy in a stratification system. Lateral mobility is physical movement of individuals or groups from one region to another. When analysing vertical mobility, sociologists distinguish between how far people are mobile in the course of their career, and how far the position they reach differs from that of their parents.

Social model of disability
A theory that locates the cause of disability within society, rather than the individual. It is not individual limitations that cause disability but the barriers that society places in the way of full participation for disabled people.

Social movement
A large grouping of people who have become involved in seeking to accomplish, or to block, a process of social change. Social movements normally exist in relations of conflict with organizations whose objectives and outlook they frequently oppose. However, movements which successfully challenge for power, once they become institutionalized, can develop into organizations.

Social position
The social identity an individual has in a given group or society. Social positions may be general in nature (those associated with gender roles) or may be more specific (occupational positions).

Social role
The expected behaviour of an individual occupying a particular social position. The idea of social role originally comes from the theatre, referring to the parts which actors play in a stage production. In every society individuals play a number of different social roles, according to the varying contexts of their activities.

Social self
The basis of self-consciousness in human individuals, according to the theory of G. H. Mead. The social self is the identity conferred upon an individual by the reactions of others. A person achieves self-consciousness by becoming aware of this social identity.

Social stratification
The existence of structured inequalities between groups in society, in terms of their access to material or symbolic rewards. While all societies involve some forms of stratification, only with the development of state-based systems do wide differences in wealth and power arise. The most distinctive form of stratification in modern societies involves class divisions.

Social structure
Patterns of interaction between individuals or groups. Social life does not happen in a random fashion. Most of our activities are structured: they are organized in a regular and repetitive way. Although the comparison can be misleading, it is handy to think of the social structure of a society as rather like the girders which underpin a building and hold it together.

Socialist feminism
The beliefs that women are treated as second-class citizens in patriarchal capitalist societies and that both the ownership of the means of production and women`s social experience need to be transformed because the roots of women`s oppression lie in the total economic system of capitalism. Socialist feminists have criticized some socialists` gender-blind understanding of class.

The social processes through which children develop an awareness of social norms and values, and achieve a distinct sense of self. Although socialization processes are particularly significant in infancy and childhood, they continue to some degree throughout life. No human individuals are immune from the reactions of others around them, which influence and modify their behaviour at all phases of the life cycle.

Socialization of nature
The process by which we control phenomena regarded as ‘natural`, such as reproduction.

The concept of society is one of the most important of all sociological notions. A society is a system of structured social relationships connecting people together according to a shared culture. Some societies, like those of hunters and gatherers, are very small, numbering no more than a few dozen people. Others are very large, involving many millions â€` modern Chinese society, for instance, has a population of more than a billion individuals.

Sociological imagination
The application of imaginative thought to the asking and answering of sociological questions. The sociological imagination involves one in ‘thinking oneself away` from the familiar routines of day-to-day life.

The study of human groups and societies, giving particular emphasis to the analysis of the industrialized world. Sociology is one of a group of social sciences, which also includes anthropology, economics, political science and human geography. The divisions between the various social sciences are not clear-cut, and all share a certain range of common interests, concepts and methods.

Sociology of deviance
The branch of sociology concerned with the study of deviant behaviour and with understanding why some behaviour is identified as deviant.

Sociology of the body
The branch of sociology that focuses on how our bodies are affected by social influences. Health and illness, for instance, are determined by social and cultural influences.

Soil degradation
The process by which the quality of the earth is worsened and its valuable natural elements are stripped away through over-use, drought or inadequate fertilization.

For Durkheim, the internal forces of social cohesion. More generally, a term often used by the left to describe the political consciousness of an emerging class struggling against oppression â€` e.g. working-class solidarity.

A publication, passage from a publication, or other information that is referred to.

The title to supreme power of a monarch, leader or government over an area with a clear-cut border.

Standard deviation
A way of calculating the spread of a group of figures.

A political apparatus (government institutions, plus civil service officials) ruling over a given territory, with an authority backed by law and the ability to use force. Not all societies are characterized by the existence of a state. Hunting and gathering cultures, and smaller agrarian societies, lack state institutions. The emergence of the state marks a distinctive transition in human history, because the centralization of political power involved in state forma-tion introduces new dynamics into processes of social change.

State-centred theory
Development theories that argue that appropriate government policies do not interfere with economic development, but rather can play a key role in bringing it about.

The social honour or prestige accorded to a person or a particular group by other members of a society. Status groups normally involve distinct styles of life â€` patterns of behaviour which the members of a group follow. Status privilege may be positive or negative. ‘Pariah` status groups are regarded with disdain, or treated as outcasts, by the majority of the population.

Status set
An individual`s group of social statuses.

A fixed and inflexible characterization of a group of people.

Any physical or social characteristic believed to be demeaning.

The two-way process by which we shape our social world through our individual actions and are ourselves reshaped by society.

Any segment of the population which is distinguishable from the wider society by its cultural pattern.

The development of suburbia, areas of low-rise housing outside inner cities.

Surplus value
In Marxist theory, the value of an individual`s labour power which is ‘left over` when an employer has repaid the cost involved in hiring a worker.

The supervising of the activities of some individuals or groups by others in order to ensure compliant behaviour.

Surveillance society
A society in which individuals are regularly watched and their activities documented. The spread of video cameras on motorways, in streets and shopping centres is one aspect of the expansion of surveillance.

A method of sociological research usually involving the administration of questionnaires to a population being studied, and the statistical analysis of their replies to find patterns or regularities.

Sustainable development
The notion that economic growth should proceed only in so far as natural resources are recycled rather than depleted, biodiversity is maintained, and clean air, water and land are protected.

A derogatory term for a factory or shop in which employees work long hours for low pay under poor conditions.

One item used to stand for or represent another â€` as in the case of a flag which symbolizes a nation.

Symbolic interactionism
A theoretical approach in sociology developed by Mead, which places strong emphasis on the role of symbols and language as core elements of all human interaction.

A fundamentalist Islamic militia; by 1996 the Taliban controlled Afghanistan and set up an Islamic government that enforced a strict Muslim code of behaviour. They were overthrown by an American- led international coalition in 2001 after being linked to groups responsible for the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

The carrying on of conversations or verbal exchanges in the course of dayto- day social life. Increasingly this has been seen as a subject for scrutiny by sociologists, particularly ethnomethodologists.

Target hardening
Crime deterrence techniques that aim to make it more difficult for crime to take place through direct interventions into potential crime situations. Steering locks in cars, for example, are required in some areas in order to reduce the attractiveness of car theft.

A set of ideas, also referred to as ‘scientific management`, developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor, according to which productivity could be immensely increased by breaking down industrial tasks into a series of simple operations that could be precisely timed and optimally coordinated.

The application of knowledge to production from the material world. Technology involves the creation of material instruments (such as machines) used in human interaction with nature.

The communication of information, sounds or images at a distance through a technological medium.

The doctrines associated with the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. These doctrines emphasize the importance of economic enterprise coupled to a cutback in the reach of the state, while maintaining a core role for strong national government.

A belief in a god or gods.

Theoretical questions
Questions posed by the sociologist when seeking to explain a particular range of observed events. The asking of theoretical questions is crucial to allowing us to generalize about the nature of social life.

An attempt to identify general properties that explain regularly observed events. Theories form an essential element of all sociological works. While theories tend to be linked to broader theoretical approaches, they are also strongly influenced by the research results they help generate.

Theory of broken windows
The idea that there is a connection between the appearance of disorder, such as a broken window or vandalism, and actual crime.

Third age
The years in later life when people are free from both parenting responsibilities and the labour market. In contemporary societies, the third age is longer than ever before, allowing older people to live active and independent lives.

Third way politics
A political philosophy, pioneered by New Labour and favoured by other centrist democratic leaders, that is committed to preserving the values of socialism while endorsing market policies for generating wealth and dispelling economic inequality.

Third World
The less developed societies, in which industrial production is either virtually non-existent or only developed to a limited degree. The majority of the world`s population live in Third World countries.

Total institutions
A term popularized by Erving Goffman to refer to facilities such as asylums, prisons and monasteries that impose on their residents a forcibly regulated system of existence in complete isolation from the outside world.

A system of religious belief which attributes divine properties to a particular type of animal or plant.

The use of multiple research methods as a way of producing more reliable empirical data than is available from any single method.

A class of individuals situated right at the bottom of the class system, often composed of people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Rates of unemployment measure the proportion of people who are ‘economically active` and available for work but cannot get a paid job. A person who is ‘out of work` is not necessarily unemployed in the sense of having nothing to do. Housewives, for instance, don`t receive any pay, but they usually work very hard.

Unfocused interaction
Interaction occurring among people present in the same setting but where they are not engaged in direct face-to-face communication.

Universal benefits
Welfare benefits that are available equally to all citizens, regardless of level of income or economic status. Access to the National Health Service in Britain is an example of a universal benefit, as all Britons have the right to use it on an ongoing basis for regular healthcare.

Upper class
A social class broadly composed of the more affluent members of society, especially those who have inherited wealth, own large businesses or hold large numbers of stocks and shares.

Urban ecology
An approach to the study of urban life based on an analogy with the adjustment of plants and organisms to the physical environment. According to ecological theorists, the various neighbourhoods and zones within cities are formed as a result of natural processes of adjustment on the part of urban populations as they compete for resources.

Urban recycling
The refurbishing of deteriorating neighbourhoods by encouraging the renewal of old buildings and the construction of new ones on previously developed land, rather than extending out to fresh sites.

Urban renewal
Reviving deteriorating neighbourhoods by such processes as recycling land and existing buildings, improving the urban environment, managing local areas better and with the participation of local citizens, and using public funds both to regenerate the area and to attract further private investment.

A term used by Louis Wirth to denote distinctive characteristics of urban social life, such as its impersonality.

The development of towns and cities.

Ideas held by human individuals or groups about what is desirable, proper, good or bad. Differing values represent key aspects of variations in human culture. What individuals value is strongly influenced by the specific culture in which they happen to live.

A dimension along which an object, individual or group may be categorized, such as income or height, allowing specific comparisons with others or over time.

Vertical mobility
Movement up or down a hierarchy of positions in a social stratification system.

Victimization studies
Surveys aimed at revealing the proportion of the population that has been victimized by crime during a certain period. Victim surveys attempt to compensate for the ‘dark figure of unreported crime` by focusing directly on people`s actual experience of crime.

Welfare capitalism
Practice in which large corporations protect their employees from the vicissitudes of the market.

Welfare dependency
A situation where people on welfare, such as those receiving unemployment benefit, treat this as a ‘way of life` rather than attempting to secure a paid job.

Welfare state
A political system that provides a wide range of welfare benefits for citizens.

White-collar crime
Criminal activities carried out by those in white-collar or professional jobs.

The activity by which human beings produce from the natural world and so ensure their survival. Work should not be thought of exclusively as paid employment. In traditional cultures, there was only a rudimentary monetary system, and very few people worked for money payments. In modern societies, there remain many types of work, including housework, which do not involve direct payment of wages or salary.

Working class
A social class broadly composed of people involved in blue-collar or manual occupations.

World-accommodating movement
A religious movement that emphasizes the importance of inner religious life and spiritual purity over worldly concerns.

World-affirming movement
A religious movement that seeks to enhance followers` ability to succeed in the outside world by helping them to unlock their human potential.

World-rejecting movement
A religious movement that is exclusive in nature, highly critical of the outside world, and demanding of its members.

World-systems theory
Pioneered by Immanuel Wallerstein, this theory emphasizes the interconnections among countries based on the expansion of a capitalist world economy. This economy is made up of core countries, semi-peripheral countries and peripheral countries.

Zero tolerance policing
An approach to crime prevention and control that emphasizes the ongoing process of maintaining order as the key to reducing serious crime. In targeting petty crime and minor disturbances, zero tolerance policing reflects the principles underlying the theory of broken windows.