Major Sociology Concepts

((Edit 8/22/05ADA) ed 1/20/98.Spell 4/4/91)


Sociology is the study of systems of social action and of their

relationships. Systems of action in increasing order of size and complexity are single social acts, social relationships, organizations, communities, societies and institutions. Sociology seeks to explain the nature of social order and social disorder, i.e. the realities of human social behavior (Inkles, What is Sociology)


The primary assumptions are the "Scientific Method". Additionally it is assumed that human social behavior is explainable/determined at the social level, all social behavior for humans is learned.

SOME CORE CONCEPTS Check an introduction to Sociology text for more comprehensive treatment of these concepts [Giles and Levine Sociology an Introduction is very good]. Read Peter Bergers Sociology as a Form of Consciousness for an excellent treatment on the Sociology perspective (I will make this available for those who want to check this out)

1. Culture-a design for living, plans, recipes, rules for governing behavior, includes values, norms, sanctions technology, symbols and language(e.g. US. Culture).

2. Ethnocentrism- comparison/judgment of other cultures and people with ones own culture based on foregone conclusion of superiority of ones own culture (e.g. judgment of Eskimos spouse sharing).

3. Cultural relativism-position that all beliefs, behaviors etc. are judged only on the bases of the culture in which they occur.

4. Deviance-any behavior that violates expectations and elicits social disapproval.(illegal drug use in the US,)

5. Social Structure-refers to the idea that people interact in roles that are in some way systematically related to one another. (e.g. C.S.U.B, families.)

6. Social Function-refers to notion that structure fulfills certain social needs. (e.g. families serve to reproduce and socialize....)

7. Subculture-refers to a complex of patterns which are in significant respects different or distinctive, yet have important similarities with the dominant culture.(e.g. Bask, Jewish subculture)

8. Social Groups (generally just called "a group"-refers to any collection of people who are organized in some particular way and are conscious of sharing some common beliefs.(e.g. a family, the US.)

9. Reference group refers to the group or groups from which people draw the social norms which give order and meaning to their lives.

10. Primary Groups (Gemeinshaft)-refers to small groups which traditionally have been characterized by intimate face-to-face interaction (phone, e-mail, etc. changes that requirement), social solidarity and reasonable long duration. Close family members, long time friends you "would do anything for" and "would do anything for you" fit this concept

11. Secondary Groups (Gesellshaft)-refers to groups whose rights and duties are clearly defined and interaction among persons is segmental in terms of roles and usually highly impersonal.

12. Social Role- refers to the performance of norms regarded as appropriate for an occupant of some social position.

13. Social Position-refers to a location in social space--teacher, mother, father, banker, tramp.

14. Social Stratification-refers to the division of society into layers (or strata) whose occupants have unequal access to social opportunities and rewards. Thus, an unequal distribution of power, property and prestige with social positions being differently ranked according to social values, wealth, style of life, power, authority, etc. As defined by many Sociologist the attribute of family and inheritance is a vital component of stratification.

15. Social Status-refers to the ranking of social groups or person by prestige and honor. (may be ascribed or achieved)

16. Social Class-refers to aggregates of persons who have similar amounts of wealth, property, and income and similar sources of income, particular levels in the stratification system (e.g. Upper, Middle, Lower and Blue Collar, White Collar).

17. Power-refers to the ability of individuals or groups to realize their own will in a communal action, to control behavior of others, usually associated with a person or a group not with position.

18. Authority-is a type of power which is legitimized or justified by reference to accepted values and it defines what power holders can do and cannot do. Usually related to position rather than person (Governor, President, Instructor).

19. Norm-guidelines for action, standards of behavior, social rules that prescribes acceptable behavior.

20. Real Norms (defacto) -those which are actually practiced

21. Ideal Norms (dejure) -those which ought to be practiced

22. Practices-what you do

23. Preachments-what you say you do

24. Pretenses-what you pretend to do

25. Mores -social norms which provoke strong sanctions from one's group if they are ignored or violated.

26. Taboo -any behavior which is prohibited in the context of a particular social setting.

27. Folkways-Social norms that are consistently employed,( i.e., manners, correct dress, greeting people) but whose violation does not carry with it strong group sanctions.

28. Customs-social norms legitimized in different ways. Custom is social norms legitimized because it is sanctioned by tradition.

29. Laws-formal code (legislated law) or interpretations (common law) about behavior.

30. Value-A belief that guides actions and judgments beyond immediate goals to more ultimate end-states of existence, Values are general statements that specific behaviors are socially preferable to other alternatives. Performs ranking function. (e.g. The "Protestant work ethic", Materialism, Individualism, Privacy)

31. Institution--a cluster of norms and probably values relatively that are established and strongly supported by group consensus and carrying with them strong sanctions for violation. (e.g. family, government, economy, religion etc.)

32. Socialization-- refers to the process persons go through of internalizing the norms of their society and subcultural group.

33. Symbol--any object behavioral act, or national occurrence that has meaning to some social group (e.g. Flag, Cross, Bible).

34. Symbolic interaction--communication, interaction using symbols that have meaning for the group (language, computer interfaces). A sociological theory that focuses on this topic.

35. Belief-an idea or understanding about physical or social reality. May be factual or evaluative (time, space, religious meaning).

36. Social Cohesion-a condition which exists when the norms regulating behavior are compatible with one-another

NOTE: These definitions are taken from a variety of sources and were compiled in part by Phil Silverman Bill Hanson and Jim Ross Dept. of Anthropology and Sociology, C.S.U.B

Of course concepts specific to an area are not included in this list so add those in your area of interest to this list (e.g., collective [Cult, sect], stratification [estate, social differientation.....])

To Be Added




Social determinism

Sociological Imagination