Student Study Site for Sociology, Brief Edition
Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life
David M. Newman

Chapter Resources

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Chapter 1: Taking a New Look at a Familiar World

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Sociology and the Individual

This chapter introduces the sociological perspective as a new way to make sense of social life. There is a strong tendency for people to attribute successes and failures to the individual. Andre, a bright and competent college graduate, should be able to find a well-paying job. If he doesn’t, perhaps he is not as bright as he appears. Michael and Carole seemed to get along well as a couple. If Carole decides to end their relationship, perhaps she was unstable, or never “the one,” as Michael had believed she was. But individualistic explanations overlook social trends that also influence success and failure. Andre’s employment prospects are affected by job market conditions. If few entry-level jobs are available in his chosen field, he may remain unemployed regardless of his qualifications. Michael and Carole’s relationship is affected by the availability of other potential partners. As good as their relationship is, if Carole believes she can do better, she is likely to leave.

The Insights of Sociology

Sociologists study the interaction between individuals and larger social structures, such as groups, organizations, and societies. Social forces affect the way people interact with one another, the behaviors people choose, and the beliefs they hold. Sociology also seeks to understand how individuals influence the larger structures in which they live. Other disciplines, such as biology, neurology, and psychology, focus on structures and processes within individuals, rather than those among individuals. The sociological perspective requires us to examine the social context in which beliefs are held, decisions are made, and lives are lived.

The Sociological Imagination

C. Wright Mills (1959) coined the term “sociological imagination” to describe the ability to see the impact of social forces on our private lives. The task of sociology is to help people to develop their sociological imaginations, to see the intersection of their personal lives with society and be able to interpret their lives through this lens. This is meant not to discourage people but to empower them to find solutions to social problems. If problems (such as drug addiction or eating disorders) arise due to larger structures in society, they cannot be solved by treating or punishing the individuals suffering from the problems. Solutions to social problems come from changing social institutions and the roles available to people, not from trying to change or punish individuals.


I Sociology and the Individual

A. People in society attribute successes and failures to the individual.

B. Individualistic explanations tend to overlook social trends (e.g., unemployment and divorce).

C. Social forces influence individual decisions about marriage, jobs, and what constitutes success.

1. Our actions are, at times dictated by social circumstances over which we have no control.

2. The doctrines of our religions may limit our behavioral choices.

3. Broad economic trends influence our daily lives.

4. Government and politics affect our personal lives.

5. Our personal lives can be touched by events that occur in distant countries.

II. The Insights of Sociology

A. What does sociology explain?

1. Sociologists study what goes on among people as individuals, groups, and societies.

2. Sociology explains how social forces affect the way people interact with one another.

3. Sociology explains how social interaction creates society.

4. Sociology forces us to look outside of the box and examine outside forces that affect individuals.

B. Individual Decisions Shaped by Societal Context

1. Society pressures us to marry people from the same social class, race, and religion.

2. Society teaches people what it means to be attractive or successful.

3. Social messages can be devastating to those who feel they can’t live up to the expectations placed on them, resulting in serious problems (e.g., anorexia, depression, alcoholism, suicide).

III. The Sociological Imagination

A. C. Wright Mills coined the term “sociological imagination” to describe people’s ability to see the impact of social forces on their private lives.

B. The task of sociology is to help people to see the intersection of their personal lives with society, and be able to interpret their lives through this lens.

C. Solutions to social problems come from changing social institutions and the roles available to people, not from trying to change or punish individuals.

Chapter 2: Seeing and Thinking Sociologically

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How Individuals Structure Society

The word society is used in at least two substantially different ways. In the formal definition, society is a population of people living in the same geographic area who share a culture and a common identity and whose members fall under the same political authority. But, we also use the term to refer to the social influence felt by people living within a population. We may wonder, for example, to what extent society, rather than the individual, is to blame for crime or violent behavior. Both of these uses conceptualize society as something separate from individuals, something “out there” influencing behavior and beliefs but not susceptible to our influence.

The sociological imagination allows us to not only understand and appreciate the influence of society on our behavior and beliefs, but also to understand and appreciate the ways in which individuals are essential for the creation and maintenance of society. Society is not imposed from above (from rulers or structures) but emerges from its members.

Communication is essential for the construction, maintenance, and affirmation of the reality of society. Through talking about current events and issues, individuals give credibility to the reality and existence of the abstract concept of society. Because a society cannot be seen, collective recognition of it and agreement on the rules that structure it are essential to its existence. A society consists of microsituations (what people think, feel, say and do, alone and in groups). Though individuals usually reinforce existing norms by conforming to them, individuals also have the ability to alter the norms. In addition, individuals can transform society by inciting social change and by reinterpreting the meaning and relevance of historical events.

Social Influence: The Impact of Other People in Our Everyday Lives

Humans require contact with others in order to develop socially and to learn how to interpret and attach meaning to people, environments, and events. Our thoughts, perceptions, and actions are continuously influenced by other people.

Social pressure influences our perceptions and actions. Milgram’s (1974) study illustrates that pressure from authority figures can persuade ordinary people to act with cruelty toward others. Findings such as these help us to understand how psychologically normal, ordinary people can participate in behavior such as rioting and genocide.

Societal Influence: The Effect of Social Structure on Our Everyday Lives

Any society requires three basic elements—structure, culture, and members. The previous section discussed the role of members in maintaining societies through interaction. Structure describes the ways in which people, resources, and relationships are distributed, managed, and interrelated in a society. Structures exist at several levels of size and complexity, from the status of the individual, to the group, the organization, the institution, and the society as a whole.

At the individual level, statuses (positions) and roles (expectations) are mechanisms through which social interactions and relationships become predictable and meaningful. They guide interactions above and beyond the whims of the individual personalities involved. Patterns of interaction are shaped by the kinds of relationships (pairs of statuses) individuals are in. The role conflict we experience when we concurrently occupy statuses with conflicting roles demonstrates the powerful influence these role expectations have on our lives.

Much of an individual’s identity is based on that individual’s sense of group membership, and groups, like statuses, have a set of expectations that shape members’ behavior. Primary groups are characterized by stable, long-term membership and close emotional bonds. Secondary groups may be short lived and relatively impersonal, as they are formed for the accomplishment of a task, such as learning introductory sociology, organizing a bake sale, or playing a season of baseball.

Dyads are the smallest, and generally most meaningful relationships. They are composed of two members and examples include both marriage and close friendships. Triads are usually less meaningful but more stable groupings of three people. If one person were two leave the group, it could still go on and there is the potential for two members to form a coalition and conspire against the third.

Organizations and institutions are also central to everyday social life. Social institutions are the stable and enduring sets of statuses, roles, groups, and organizations that address the fundamental needs of society. Institutions are the highly interrelated building blocks of society, such as education, the family, the legal system, and the economy.

Culture, the most ubiquitous element of society, is embodied in individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions. The values, norms, customs, and morals shared by society, as well as the physical artifacts created by its members, create a unique sense of identity for the members and provide knowledge and tools for individual survival and the perpetuation of society. Norms are a society’s rules for behavior; values are the beliefs that support norms. There are many values in complex societies, and they often come into conflict (e.g., family privacy and parental rights vs. the protection of children’s lives).

Globalization is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the social structure and social forces that affect our everyday lives. Many of the social problems we confront are global in scope, and many of the activities we undertake as individuals are facilitated by the increasingly interconnected world (particularly with regard to economics) and hence have global ramifications.

Three Perspectives on Social Order

The structural-functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist perspectives all examine the processes by which the elements of society combine to create social order. The structural-functionalist perspective contends that elements of society are structured to maintain social order. If an aspect of society exists, it must be functional, or contribute to the survival and smooth operation of society. Dysfunctional elements soon disappear. Merton (1957) distinguishes between manifest (intended) and latent (unintended) functions.

The conflict perspective focuses on conflict and coercion rather than consensus and harmony. Conflict theorists (such as Marxists and feminists) contend that the social structure promotes the systematic domination of society by those in power, and that elements of society are structured so as to maintain this power and privilege. Thus, social order is enforced by those in power in order to serve their interests.

Symbolic interactionism is a micro-level perspective which focuses on how daily interactions create and maintain social order. Society and social order emerge out of individual interaction, just as that interaction is influenced by the broader structure of society.

I. How Individuals Structure Society

A. What is society?

1. Society is a population of people living in the same geographic area who share a culture and a common identity and whose members fall under the same political authority.

2. Auguste Comte argued that all societies, whatever their form, contain both forces for stability, which he called “social statics” and forces for change, which he called “social dynamics.rdquo;

3. Society is a human construction made by people interacting with one another.

B. Change in Societies

1. When enough people alter their behavior, the nature of society changes.

2. People who hold influential and powerful positions can effect changes in a society, or a group of ordinary individuals can create change.

3. Craig Kielburger, the young founder of Free the Children, is an example of an individual who has brought about social change.

II. Social Influence: The Impact of Other People in Our Everyday Lives

A. Relationships and Contacts in Everyday Lives

1. Through ongoing encounters, others exert influence over our lives.

2. Contact with people is essential to a person’s social development.

3. Our reactions to people and objects are conditioned by the meaning we attach to them.

III. Societal Influence: The Effect of Social Structure on Our Everyday Lives

A. Statuses and Roles

1. Statuses are the positions that individuals within the society occupy (e.g., cook, professor, daughter, mother, father).

2. Ascribed status is a social position we acquire at birth or enter involuntarily later in life (e.g., race, sex, ethnicity).

3. Achieved status is a social position we take on voluntarily or acquire through our own efforts or accomplishments (e.g., student or spouse).

4. Roles are sets of expectations (rights, obligations, behaviors, duties) associated with particular statuses.

5. Role conflict is what occurs in situations where people experience tension trying to cope with the demands of incompatible roles.

B. Groups

1. Groups are sets of people who interact more or less regularly with one another and who are conscious of their identity as a group (e.g., family, co-workers, teammates).

2. A dyad is a group consisting of two people.

3. A triad is a group consisting of three people.

4. A coalition is two members of a triad conspiring against the third.

5. A primary group consists of a small number of members who have direct contact over a relatively long period of time (e.g., family and close friends). Members are emotionally attached.

6. A secondary group is a relatively impersonal collection of individuals that is established to perform a specific task (e.g., co-workers, classmates, club members).

C. Organizations

1. Organizations are defined as networks of statuses and groups created for a specific purpose.

2. Large formal organizations are often characterized by a hierarchical division of labor.

3. Organizations are a necessary component of complex societies.

D. Social Institutions

1. Social institutions are defined as a stable set of roles, statuses, groups, and organizations that together meet an important social need, such as the need to socialize new members, maintain order, or distribute goods.

2. Examples are the institution of education, family, politics, religions, health care, or the economy.

3. Sociologists think of institutions as the building blocks that organize society.

4. Though institutions are large-scale structures, they still rely on individual action to maintain or change them.

5. Marion Nestle’s study of the marketing of soft drinks is an example of the influence of institutions (the economy) over individual choices (what to eat and drink).

E. Culture, Values, and Norms

1. Culture is the language, values, beliefs, rules, behaviors, and physical artifacts of a society.

2. A value is a standard of judgment by which people decide on desirable goals and outcomes. In American society, success, independence and individual achievement are important values.

3. Values within a society can conflict, as when the value of protecting children conflicts with the value of family privacy.

4. Norms are culturally defined, often unspoken, rules of conduct. They make interactions predictable, allowing us to understand the meaning of others’ behavior and to regulate our own behavior.

IV. Social Structure in Global Context

A. Globalization is the process through which people’s lives all around the world become increasingly interconnected—economically, politically, environmentally, and culturally.

B. Some sociologists believe that the world will eventually become a “global culture” where traditional geographic, political, and economic boundaries are less relevant.

C. Global interdependence has both positive and negative consequences for societies and individuals, as when jobs are shifted from a high-wage to a low-wage society.

V. Three Perspectives on Social Order

A. The Structural-Functionalist Perspective

1. Parsons and Smelser (1956) argue that society is a complex system composed of various parts, like a living organism.

2. All elements of a society must work together in order for society to run.

3. Social institutions play key roles (functions) in keeping society stable.

4. Manifest functions are the intended and obvious consequences of activities designed to help some part of the social system.

5. Latent functions are the unintended, often unrecognized, consequences of actions that help the system.

6. If an aspect of social life does not contribute to society’s survival then it will eventually disappear. If it has persisted, it must serve a function.

B. The Conflict Perspective

1. This perspective sees society in terms of conflict and struggle, resulting in inequality.

2. Social institutions, such as the family, government, and religion, legitimate the power of some individuals or groups over others.

3. Karl Marx focused on the relationship between those who own the means of production and those who do not.

4. Feminist theorists focus on gender as the primary source of conflict and inequality in societies.

C. Symbolic Interactionism

1. This perspective examines the micro-level, day-to-day interactions of people as individuals in small groups.

2. Interactions take place using symbols, such as language and gestures, whose meanings are constructed through interaction.

3. Symbolic interaction in turn constructs culture and social structures.

Chapter 3: Building Reality: The Social Construction of Knowledge

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Understanding the Social Construction of Reality

Sociologists see “reality” as a social construction: a process by which what is “real” is created, commonly agreed upon, learned, maintained, and changed by the members of society. Perceptions of truth and reality are products of social contexts, particularly culture and history. Reality is not inherent in the world but is a product of agreement.

Laying the Foundation: The Bases of Reality

Symbolic interactionism proposes that reality is socially constructed and maintained through interactions, language, definitions of situations, self-fulfilling prophesies, and incorrigible propositions. The language we speak and linguistic categories we use determine the reality we experience. An example of the effect of linguistic categories is the cross-cultural variation in the division of the color spectrum into named colors, and the corresponding differences in perception of color. Language also influences and reinforces cultural and group identity (e.g., through in-group jargon) and shapes our attitudes and perceptions about social problems (e.g., through the official use of euphemisms).

Language is a tool that we use to define and interpret situations. People act on the basis of the meaning they give a situation rather than directly in response to the situation itself. People’s behavior and attitudes depend on how they define situations, and so people work to establish meaning even in ambiguous situations. Self-fulfilling prophecies occur when people act on the basis of their interpretations or beliefs about reality, and consequently create that reality. Incorrigible propositions are unquestionable assumptions about reality within a culture that are vigorously defended in the presence of contradictory evidence. By defending such assumptions, a society’s members reaffirm and maintain their version of reality.

Building the Walls: Conflict, Power, and Social Institutions

Not everyone has the same ability to define and reproduce reality. Some individuals and groups have more power and thus more influence over reality construction processes. Incorporating the insights of conflict theory helps us examine how reality is a product of the interests and influences of the powerful.

The media are major tools through which the shaping of reality is accomplished. Television, movies, and newspapers all reflect the dominant culture’s values and morals. The media are central to the political system because it is through the news that we receive information about national and international events. Through selection of “newsworthy” events, official censorship of news coverage, and particular presentation styles, the media reflect the interests of a small number of economically and politically powerful individuals and organizations. What is missing from the news is significant—the public does not know what has been left out, what has not been selected for inclusion.

Appreciating the Contributions of Social Research

All of us conduct casual research throughout our daily lives. This research is not, however, subject to the methodological and ethical standards of social research. Sociology must be distinguished from common sense, which is often misleading. Sociological research is conducted using empirical observations and analysis methods, which allow for probabilistic predictions of human behavior. The research process involves a cyclical movement from theory development to hypothesis construction to data analysis, and finally, to the strengthening or weakening of the original theory.

Sociologists use various techniques to collect and examine both qualitative (i.e., text, written words, phrases, symbols, observations) and quantitative (i.e., numeric) data; these techniques include experiments, field research, surveys, and unobtrusive methods. Experiments are closely controlled research situations where scientists attempt to elicit certain behaviors from experimental and control groups. Researchers manipulate some variables and control for others; because of the experimental context, they can be reasonably confident that observed differences between the groups are a result of the variables they manipulated. Sociologists conducting field research observe events as they occur. The researcher may observe people without their knowledge and without interacting with them, as in nonparticipant observation. In participant observation, a researcher interacts with subjects either as a self-identified sociologist or by concealing her or his identity. Surveys are another way to gather data. A survey is a written or verbal series of questions posed in a standardized format to a large sample of people. Unobtrusive research, which overcomes the problem of potential researcher influence on the phenomena under study, involves examining evidence people’s actions create or leave behind. Types of unobtrusive research include analyzing existing statistics, content analysis, historical analysis, and visual sociology.

Sociologists evaluate the accuracy of social research by inspecting a study’s samples, indicators, and methods. If data are collected from a sample rather than from an entire population, researchers must demonstrate that the sample is representative, or typical, of the population. Since the concepts that sociologists study are often difficult to measure directly, these concepts must be represented using carefully chosen indicators. For example, is church attendance a valid indicator of religiosity? Is frequency of prayer? In surveys, the simple wording of questions can influence subjects’ responses, and thus the conclusions a sociologist may reach.

A researcher’s values invariably affect the conduct of research. Social research, like any human behavior, must be understood as part of the cultural, historical, political, and ideological context in which it occurs. The sociologist’s values, biases, and interests undoubtedly affect her or his theoretical perspectives, empirical questions, and data-gathering techniques, as well as the interpretations of his or her findings. Researchers are expected, however, to obtain data that are as accurate as possible, and to interpret and present results as objectively as possible.

A final consideration in doing research is ethics—researchers must protect participants’ rights and minimize the harm or disruption created by the research. Ethical considerations sometimes conflict with the need to acquire accurate information (see, e.g., Milgram’s study and Humphreys’s The Tearoom Trade).


I. Understanding the Social Construction of Reality

A. What is the social construction of reality?

1. The process through which the members of a society make known, discover, reaffirm, and alter a certain version of facts, knowledge, and truth.

2. What we know to be real and share with other members of our culture.

II. Laying the Foundation: The Bases of Reality

A. Language

1. Language makes people, events, and ideas meaningful.

2. It is the key tool in the construction of society.

a. It influences our attitudes toward specific problems and processes.

b. Language reflects relevant issues and important concepts in each society (e.g., Bedouins have hundreds of terms describing characteristics and lineage of camels).

c. Language provides people with cultural and group identity.

d. Euphemisms are inoffensive expressions of offensive realities that may be used for politeness or for deception.

B. Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

a. A self-fulfilling prophecy is an assumption or prediction that, as a result of having been made, causes the expected event to occur, thus “confirming” its own accuracy (e.g., predicting in September what toys will be popular for Christmas).

b. Such prophecies are particularly powerful when they become an element of a social institution (e.g., teachers spending more time with students they believe to be more intelligent).

c. These prophecies can affect people physically, such as with the placebo effect.

C. Faith and Incorrigible Propositions

a. An incorrigible proposition is a belief that is held so strongly it cannot be proved wrong in the face of contrary evidence.

b. Protecting these beliefs is essential for the maintenance of reality systems, so people explain away contrary evidence rather than rejecting the belief.

c. Belief systems that most of us might consider unconventional can be incorrigible propositions to their believers (e.g., practitioners of Scientology).

III. Building the Walls: Conflict, Power, and Social Institutions

A. The Role of Conflict in Defining Reality

1. Karl Marx argued that certain people or groups of people are more influential in defining reality than others.

2. Conflict theorists argue that reality doesn’t simply emerge out of social interaction but is based on interests and visions of powerful people, groups, organizations, and institutions.

B. The Economics of Reality

1. Ideas that become socially popular often reinforce the interests of the wealthy.

2. Economic interests are frequently served by the manner in which language is used to define reality (e.g., when more problems are defined as mental illnesses, which increases the earning potential of mental health professionals).

C. The Politics of Reality

1. Politics is concerned with controlling public perceptions of reality so that people will do things or think about issues in ways that leaders want them to.

2. Governments (or parties or individual politicians) first work to manipulate public opinion, then use public opinion to legitimate their policies or actions (e.g., the build-up to the 2003 Iraq war).

D. The Medium is the Message

1. Television, radio, books, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet are primary means by which we are entertained and informed.

2. In repressive societies, the only news sources allowed to operate are those that represent the government’s views.

3. Even in the United States, official censorship has been not only tolerated but encouraged in some situations (e.g.,: during wartime, when the military controls the movement of reporters and censors their reports for “sensitive” information).

4. The media also censor some stories because they want to attract audiences, or protect the interests of the corporations that own media sources.

IV. Appreciating the Contributions of Sociological Research

A. The Empirical Nature of Social Research

1. Sociologists explore reality through a careful process of collecting information and answering questions.

2. Social research is probabilistic, that is, capable of predicting the likelihood of human behavior, but not the certainty of behavior.

B. Qualitative and Qualitative Research

1. Qualitative research uses non-numerical information (text, symbols, observations) to describe social life.

2. Quantitative research uses numerical data analyzed using statistical methods.

C. Theories, Variables, and Hypotheses

1. A theory is a set of statements or propositions that seek to explain or predict a particular aspect of social life. It is not idle speculation, but based on evidence, and suggesting further research.

2. A hypothesis is a researchable prediction that specifies the relationship between two or more variables.

3. A variable is a characteristic, attitude, behavior, or event that can take two or more values.

a. Independent variable—presumed to cause change in, or influence, the dependent variable.

b. Dependent variable — assumed to be caused by or influenced by one or more independent variables.

4. An indicator is a measurable event, characteristic, or behavior believed to represent a particular concept. It is also called an operationalized variable.

D. Modes of Research

1. Experimental—designed to elicit behavior; the researcher typically conducts the study under closely controlled laboratory circumstances, using random assignment of participants to different conditions. (Criticism: Subjects are likely to not behave “naturally” in the laboratory.)

2. Field Research—the researcher observes events as they actually occur in social settings. (Criticism: The fact of observation may influence subjects’ behavior.)

a. Nonparticipant observation—the researcher observes people without directly interacting with them, and without letting them know that they are being observed.

b. Participant observation—the researcher interacts with subjects, sometimes hiding his or her identity as a researcher.

3. Surveys—the researcher asks subjects a series of carefully crafted questions, either in an interview or by questionnaire. (Criticism: subjects may not understand the question or may lie.)

4. Unobtrusive Research—the researcher, without direct contact with subjects, examines the evidence of social behavior that people create or leave behind.

a. Content analysis—the researcher studies the content of recorded messages, such as books, speeches, poems, songs, television shows, Web sites, and advertisements.

b. Historical analysis—the researcher relies on existing historical documents as a source of data.

c. Visual sociology—the researcher uses photographs, video, and film either as a means of gathering data or as sources of data about social life.

E. The Trustworthiness of Social Research

1. Samples must be representative of the population of interest. If not, conclusions are not likely to be valid.

2. Indicators must be valid measures of the concept being studied.

3. Research is never completely objective, since the values of the researcher influence which issue to study and how to study it. But researchers are obligated to obtain data that are as accurate as possible, and to report conclusions as objectively as possible.


Chapter 4: Building Order: Culture and History

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Dimensions of Culture

Culture is the common store of knowledge, values, language, customs, and artifacts that distinguishes the lifestyle of one society from another and provides a sense of common identity. The elements of culture can be divided into the material (physical artifacts, technology, architecture) and the nonmaterial (ideas, knowledge, values, norms). Within any complex society, religious, ethnic, and organizational groups develop subcultures that distinguish their lifestyle from that of the larger society. Countercultures are a particular type of subculture that actively oppose the values and behavior patterns of the larger culture. Studying cultural variation, both cross-cultural and historical, helps us to understand how much of human behavior is socially constructed, and how little is “human nature.rdquo;

Historical changes in the acceptability of certain behaviors (such as tobacco or opium use and premarital sex) are influenced by cultural, political, and economic factors. The legitimacy of certain behaviors and ideas can only be understood within the group or societal context in which they occur.

Cultural Expectations and Social Order

Norms supply us with routine expectations about behavior in social encounters, and thus allow for orderly interactions. Social order is enforced through the use of sanctions when norms are violated. Sanctions for violating a society’s central norms (mores) are very severe (such as imprisonment for robbery), while sanctions for violating everyday norms (folkways) are less severe (such as strange looks for inappropriate attire). Sanctions reinforce the normative behaviors of both the norm violator and other observers, and in the process reinforce the values and morals of a given culture.

Norms governing the expression of emotions illustrate the power that social rules have in dictating individual behavior. Norms about when to feel and show happiness, sadness, and anger keep social interactions predictable and orderly; extreme violations of emotional display norms can result in severe sanctions such as the attribution of mental illness by others. Emotion norms vary cross-culturally and can be used by societies as methods of social control (as when regimes use fear to control the population) and by organizations to meet their needs (as in Hochschild’s The Managed Heart).

Some norms are associated with powerful social institutions, such as the family, education, or religion. Because of this link, these norms are widely accepted and become institutionalized. As a result, some lines of behavior become unthinkable; alternatives are restricted and norms become the only way to act. An example would be the restriction of marriage to heterosexual couples.

We have a tendency to judge other cultures by using our own as a standard. Ethnocentrism is caused by the human tendency to spend time with and thus be more comfortable with people who are similar to us, and by the loyalty and pride we develop in our particular culture. Cultural relativism is an opposing principle which holds that, people’s beliefs and activities should be interpreted in terms of their own culture.

Cultural Variation and Everyday Experience

Attention to cultural diversity within and between countries provides examples of how folkways and mores vary across different groups. Conflict can arise when societies become complex mixtures of cultures and there is a lack of understanding of cultural differences.

Health and illness are aspects of our lives which are profoundly affected by culture. Medical beliefs about and treatments for illnesses vary greatly across cultures, even those which share many values, norms, and structural elements. Cultural attitudes also determine the rules of behavior for people who are sick. Even the number of recognized sexes can vary by culture. In American society, people who are born intersexual are surgically altered to conform to one of the culturally recognized categories, male and female.


I. Dimensions of Culture

A. Material and Nonmaterial Culture

1. Nonmaterial culture — the nonphysical products of society that are created over time and shared; knowledge, language, beliefs, customs, values, morals, and so on.

2. Material culture includes the physical artifacts that shape or reflect the lives of a society’s members, such as clothing, buildings, technology, food, artwork, literature, and so on.

3. Material culture often affects the physical environment (e.g., automobiles causing air pollution and allowing suburban sprawl).

B. Global Culture

1. International media, transportation systems, and mass immigration have contributed to worldwide swapping of cultural elements (e.g., American films viewed worldwide, Starbucks in China).

2. In some societies, imported elements are seen as threats to the local culture.

3. The spread of major languages, such as English, contributes to the extinction of minor languages.

4. Meanwhile, in the United States, many fear the encroachment of Spanish.

C. Subcultures

1. A subculture includes the values, behaviors, and physical artifacts of a group that distinguish that group from the larger culture.

2. Racial and ethnic groups, religious communities, age groups, and geographic areas may develop or maintain subcultures.

3. Countercultures are subcultures that stand in opposition to the values and behaviors of the larger culture.

4. Placing labels on subcultures sometimes leads people to ignore complexity and diversity within them (e.g., the “teen” subculture is not monolithic).

D. History: The “Archives” for Everyday Living

1. A shared history is part of the culture of a society, but it is often misunderstood.

2. It is important not to judge the actions of historical figures using current belief systems. Instead, they should be judged using the dominant belief system of their time (e.g., slavery was an accepted practice to most people in the 18th century).

3. Norms and values that govern everyday life also change over time (e.g., premarital sex and smoking).

4. Conflict theorists would argue that dominant beliefs change as a result of changes in the relative power of groups holding those beliefs.

II. Cultural Expectations and Social Order

A. How does culture influence social order?

1. Culture provides us with information about what behaviors and attitudes are preferred, accepted, disapproved, or unthinkable at a given time.

2. Norms change as cultures change. One reason that norms change is to accommodate technologies (e.g., telephone conversations not as private because phone booths have been replaced by cell phones).

B. Social Institutions and Cultural Norms

1. An institutionalized norm is a pattern of behavior within an existing social institution that is widely accepted in a society (e.g., slavery in the United States, family roles).

2. Some institutions reflect deeply held cultural values (e.g., democratic government reflects the values of freedom and citizen participation).

3. As institutions change, so do the norms associated with them.

C. Institutionalized Emotions

1. We tend to view emotions as natural, physical responses.

2. Actually, emotional display is dictated by cultural norms: which emotions are appropriate to feel and display, and how intense the emotional display should be under various circumstances (e.g., how to grieve, how to lose, how to celebrate).

3. Cultural norms about expressing emotions are linked to organizational concerns and needs (e.g., doctors must be concerned but not too emotionally involved, flight attendants must be constantly cheerful).

4. Political or economic regimes have used fear, guilt, and shame to maintain social control.

D. Norms and Sanctions

1. A sanction is a social response meant to punish and discourage norm violations, and to reward adherence to norms.

2. Different norms evoke different sanctions when violated.

3. Mores are norms that are sometimes codified into laws because violations are considered serious. Sanctions for more violations are often severe.

4. Folkways are informal norms, such as table manners and dress codes, that are mildly sanctioned when violated.

E. Cultural Relativism and Ethnocentrism

1. Cultural relativism is the principle that people’s beliefs and activities should be judged in terms of their own culture.

2. Cultural relativism is the position that sociologists are inclined to adopt when studying other cultures.

3. Ethnocentrism is the tendency to judge other cultures using one’s own culture as the standard — “the best.rdquo;

4. Ethnocentrism exists because of the loyalty we develop to our own culture.

5. Generally, individuals distinguish between members of their group (the in-group) and others (the out-group) and prefer members of their own group.

III. Cultural Variation and Everyday Experience

A. Health and Illness

1. Medical beliefs and practices reflect the cultural values of a society. U.S. doctors treat illnesses aggressively with drugs and surgery, while British doctors are less aggressive.

2. Each society has a sick role, that is, expectations for how to behave when sick, including what one is excused from doing and what one is obligated to do (e.g., one can stay home from work, but must do one’s best to recover).

B. Sex

1. There are differences across time and culture as to how we expect males and females to act, but every society has some way of determining who is male and who is female.

2. In addition to males and females there are “true hermaphrodites” called intersexuals. Since our society insists on two and only two sexes, intersexuals are usually surgically altered early in life to make them unambiguously female or male.

3. Traditional Navajo culture accommodates intersexuals with a third sex, which is allowed to take on characteristics of both males and females.


Chapter 5: Building Identity: Socialization

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Identity includes a person’s sense of self and the social categories to which she or he belongs. Our identities are formed through socialization in the social, historical, and cultural context into which we were born.

Social Structure and the Construction of Human Beings

In the nature vs. nurture debate, those who favor nature argue that we are what we are because of our genetic inheritance, while those who favor nurture hold that we are born a blank slate and become who we are because of our environment. Recent genetic research suggests a significant role for nature, but most sociologists maintain that our social environment plays a much larger role. Cultures and societies define which genetically determined traits are treated as meaningful differences.

Socialization: Becoming Who We Are

Socialization is the process of learning the rules, values, and beliefs of a society. It is through socialization that a society reproduces itself, creating new members who share its culture. Socialization is a lifelong process during which we continuously learn new sets of norms and beliefs and form new identities based on our changing relationships and experiences (for example, Cahill’s work on the professional socialization of funeral directors).

The Acquisition of Self

An early development in the socialization process is the emergence of a sense of self. The self is both the source and the object of behavior. Our ability to carry on an internal dialogue with ourselves (reflexive behavior) allows us to incorporate the perceptions and expectations of other people into our behavior. We can thus control our conduct and modify our behavior in different social contexts. The acquisition of self is the process by which children are socialized into self-aware, self-controlled members of society. Charles Horton Cooley referred to the process in which we use the reactions of others towards us as mirrors in which to determine self-worth as the looking-glass self.

Through social interaction, young children acquire cognitive abilities such as the differentiation of self from others, the mastery of symbolic language, the development of role taking, and acknowledgment of the “generalized other.rdquo; George Herbert Mead described the mastery of role taking as a two-stage process. In the play stage, children practice taking the perspective of one “other” at a time through imaginary play. In the game stage, children are able to take on a group’s perspective and are able to attend to multiple perspectives at once. At this stage, children are able to play games with rules and multiple players. Finally, children are able to utilize the “generalized other”—the perspective of society—in regulating their behavior.


In total institutions, such as prisons and military training camps, individuals are isolated from the wider society and purposefully (even forcefully) resocialized to meet the needs of the organization or of society. In some situations, the power of resocialization has been exploited to tragic ends.


Our culture, our position in the social structure, and the social networks in which we exist condition our experiences, and thus influence the self-concept which we develop. Social institutions such as the education system, religion, and the media are central socializing agents in our society. In school, children learn various skills, political and social values, and ideas about their position and opportunities in the social hierarchy. Functionalists see schools as dedicated to the general socialization of young people, while conflict theorists see schools as existing to train children to be conforming and passive members of the current social system. While there have been shifts in the ways individuals experience religion, this institution still plays a role in socialization. Today, people are more likely to change religions over the course of their lives. The media not only create a particular view of reality, but they also provide us with an avenue through which we learn dominant cultural values and stereotypes.

Social Class

Social category memberships also affect individuals’ socialization. Social class, race/ethnicity, and gender all influence socialization. For example, social class influences how parents raise their children. Kohn (1979) found that middle class parents raise their children to be self-directed and curious, while working class parents raise their children to be obedient to authority. These traits are related to success in middle class versus working class occupations.

Race and Ethnicity

The social constructions of race and ethnicity also influence socialization. Race-conscious societies such as our own use racial and ethnic characteristics to attribute traits to members. Categorical definitions of race, the one-drop rule, and the construction of race as difference all influence racial socialization and identity. Different racial groups are taught different messages about race. Members of minority groups must learn how to be members of their own group, members of the dominant society, and minority members of the dominant society.


The distinction between sex (a biological classification) and gender (the learned social, psychological, and cultural interpretations of sex) is important because it suggests that many of the differences between men and women and between masculine and feminine are socially constructed. In many cultures, sexual characteristics do not necessitate particular gender roles, and gender may be seen as shifting throughout the life course. In our culture, the dichotomization of male and female is central to our social structure, and the consequent gender dichotomy organizes individual life and the larger social institutions. In fact, our insistence on two and only two sexes has meant that intersexual people (hermaphrodites) are surgically altered to conform.

Gender socialization is a process that begins at birth. Girls and boys are treated differently, learn different expectations and goals, and develop different self-concepts. Most parents conform to gender-based expectations in their child rearing, though this may be unconscious. Children also receive messages about gender-appropriate behavior from the media and in school. For example, the majority of characters in children’s stories, television programs, and films are male, and the activities and personalities of the male and female characters tend to be portrayed in stereotypical ways.


I. Social Structure and the Construction of Human Beings

A. How We Become Who We Are

1. Identity consists of our sense of self, personality traits, gender, and group membership (e.g., race, ethnicity, and religion).

2. The nature vs. nurture debate involves the degree to which we are a product of our genes or of our social and physical environment.

3. Our identities are influenced by significant people in our lives as well as by cultural and institutional forces.

B. Socialization: Becoming Who We Are

1. Socialization is the process through which one learns how to act according to the rules and expectations of a particular society.

2. Anticipatory socialization occurs when individuals are preparing for the statuses they will occupy later in life. It can occur at any age, but it is the primary task of childhood.

C. The Acquisition of Self

1. Self—the unique set of traits, behaviors, and attitudes that distinguish one person from the next.

2. Reflexive behavior—behavior in which the audience for one’s behavior is oneself. This is an essential self-regulating activity, the internalization of society.

3. Looking-glass self—the sense of who we are that we acquire in early childhood based on the reactions of others. Social standards of beauty and worth help to determine these reactions. Negative reactions can lead to a durable negative self-image.

D. The Development of Role Taking

1. Role taking—the ability to use other people’s perspectives and expectations in forming one’s own behavior.

2. George Herbert Mead identified two major stages in the development of role taking—the play stage and the game stage.

a. The play stage occurs when children are beginning to hone their language skills, and it involves taking the perspective of one “other” at a time (e.g., playing “dress up”).

b. The game stage involves being able to take on a group’s perspective and being able to attend to multiple perspectives at once. At this stage, children are able to play games with rules and multiple players.

3. Generalized other is the perspective of society or of subcultures within it.

E. Resocialization

1. Resocialization is the process of learning new values, norms, and expectations when leaving an old role and entering a new one.

2. Total institutions are places where individuals are cut off from the wider society to undergo forced or intense resocialization (e.g., in the military, mental hospital, or prison).

II. Socialization and Stratification: Growing Up With Inequality

A. Social Class

1. Social classes consist of people who occupy similar positions of power, privilege, and prestige.

2. People’s positions in the class system affect political preferences, sexual behavior, religious affiliation, diet, and life expectancy.

3. Kohn (1979) found that middle class parents raise their children to be self-directed and curious, while working class parents raise their children to be obedient to authority. These traits are related to success in middle class versus working class occupations.

B. Race and Ethnicity

1. Minority children must be socialized to function in the dominant culture as well as in their own.

2. Minority parents may feel obligated to teach their children how to deal with racism or discrimination.

C. Gender

1. Sex refers to a person’s biological maleness or femaleness.

2. Gender refers to masculinity and femininity—the psychological, social, and cultural aspects of maleness and femaleness.

3. Gender socialization begins the moment a child is born.

4. Parents are expected to foster sex-appropriate gender identity for their children through their behaviors and the environment they provide for them: clothes, books, toys, and so on.

5. Toys (and their manufacturers) play a significant role in teaching children about prevailing cultural ideas about gender.

III. Institutions and Socialization

A. Education

1. Education is a powerful institutional agent of socialization.

2. Besides academic skills, schools teach social, political, and economic values, such as capitalism and democracy, conformity, and individual achievement.

3. Tracking is the grouping of students into different curricular programs based on an assessment of their academic abilities. Tracking can determine individuals’ later educational opportunities, and thus affect their employment opportunities, income levels, and standard of living.

4. Schools also reinforce gender norms.


Chapter 6: Supporting Identity: The Presentation of Self

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Forming Impressions of Others

When we first meet people, we identify the social groups to which they belong, and we use cultural stereotypes about those groups to form our first impressions. As we interact, we adjust our impressions according to a person’s individual attributes, such as his or her physical appearance, clothing, and verbal expressions. Clothing and body adornment, as well as verbal and nonverbal expressions, can be manipulated in order to influence the impressions of others. They may be especially important when a person’s group membership burdens that person with negative stereotypes. In addition to race and ethnic stereotypes, the cultural value placed on thinness in the United States contributes to negative impressions and personal evaluations of obese individuals. In other societies, such as Mexico and Nigeria, overweight individuals are viewed more positively.

Women are judged more than men on the basis of physical characteristics, and because of this, conformity to physical appearance norms is central to many women’s feelings of self-worth. Thus, women have been more likely to suffer the consequences of nonconformity, such as low self-esteem, eating disorders, and surgical modification. In the United States, this is especially true of white women.

Managing Impressions

Goffman’s (1959) approach to studying impression management, called “dramaturgy,” suggests that in every interaction, people are actors who work to project a particular image or identity to others (their audience) in order to conform to situational requirements and obtain positive outcomes. In the process of impression management, actors must maintain appropriate appearances for their audiences (their front stage work), being careful to preserve the barrier between their performance and their out-of-character, nonperformance images (the back stage). In order to sustain a performance, actors must also manipulate identity objects (“props”), which aid in the communication of particular impressions. Obviously, both verbal and nonverbal expressions are essential for these performances.

Gender, race, social class, and occupational status are particularly salient characteristics in impression management. For example, Anderson’s research on young black men’s management of their public impression shows how they deal with the assumption that they are dangerous. Some make considerable efforts to appear friendly and courteous, while others capitalize on fear by adopting a menacing persona.

Since appearance, especially a youthful appearance, is so highly valued in American society (and in other societies as well), those who are concerned about making favorable impressions have increasingly turned to cosmetic surgery and nonsurgical procedures, such as botox injections.

Sets of individuals, or “performance teams,” also engage in impression management. Parents, married couples, and families, for example, must cooperate in their front stage performances in order to present a desired image of the group. Poor teamwork, the intrusion of third parties, or the inability to retreat back stage may lead to an unsuccessful performance. Organizations also participate in impression management. This is particularly important for organizations that are associated with negative public sentiments (e.g., the tobacco industry and the oil industry).

Mismanaging Impressions: Spoiled Identities

When impression management is unsuccessful, the identity we are presenting is discredited. A common emotional reaction to impression mismanagement is embarrassment; when this embarrassment spreads to the audience, social order can be disrupted. Audience members often try to ignore an actor’s embarrassment in order to facilitate his or her recomposure and restore order to the situation. The offending actor is ultimately responsible for restoring order, however, and this is accomplished through “aligning actions,” such as accounts (an explanation or apology) or disclaimers. Embarrassment, or the threat of embarrassment, may be used strategically by an audience as a form of behavioral control.

A person’s identity may be permanently spoiled (stigmatized) in the eyes of others through defects of the body or character, or through membership in devalued social groups. Stigma is a social construction; the nature and designation of stigmatization varies cross-culturally and historically. Stigma conditions all social interaction, and it taints an individual’s identity regardless of his or her other attributes. Because stigmatized people expect that others will form negative impressions of them, they use a variety of coping strategies in order to create the most favorable impression. These strategies may include hiding the stigma, selective disclosure, self-deprecating humor, or social activism to promote tolerance.


I. Forming Impressions of Others

A. Social Group Membership

1. We form first impressions of others using observable characteristics, such as gender, race, age, and attire.

2. These characteristics carry social meanings that may aid or hinder people in making a favorable impression.

B. Physical Appearance

1. People dress and decorate their bodies to communicate their feelings, beliefs, and group identity to others.

2. Physical appearance affects our perception and judgments of others. We assume that attractive people possess other desirable traits, and unattractive people, undesirable traits.

3. Physical attractiveness is more salient in the judging of women than of men. This is apparent in the way women are described in the media.

4. The need to be attractive fuels discomfort for individuals and profit for appearance-enhancing industries.

C. Verbal and Nonverbal Expression

1. People provide cues about their values, attitudes, personality, and background through their speech, facial expressions, posture, and gestures. This communication is often unintentional.

2. Lack of proficiency in understanding these cues threatens social interaction.

II. Managing Impressions

A. Impression Management

1. Impression management is the process by which people attempt to present a favorable image of themselves.

2. Not necessarily false—we try to make our positive qualities noticeable in interaction.

3. Clothing, body adornment, and plastic surgery can be used to manipulate and manage the impressions others form of us.

4. Impression management is very important in politics (e.g., Bush’s speech on USS Abraham Lincoln announcing the end of the war in Iraq, the packaging of a candidate’s image)

B. Dramaturgy: Actors on a Social Stage

1. Dramaturgy is the study of social interaction as theater in which people (actors) project images (play roles) in front of others (audiences).

2. Front stage is where people actively manage impressions (or play roles) as they interact with others.

3. Back stage is wherever people can rehearse their performances or relax out of character (e.g., doctors and nurses in the elevator, servers in the restaurant kitchen).

4. Front stage and back stage must remain separate for successful impression management—the audience must not see you out of character.

5. Props may be important aids in conveying identity.

III. Social Influences on Impression Management

A. Race and Ethnicity

1. People of racial or ethnic minorities are often constrained in the self-images they are able to present by the stereotypes of others. They are pressured to conform to stereotypes in public.

2. According to Anderson (1990), law-abiding black youths often act tough when on the streets to protect themselves from those who are tough. In the presence of white people, black men may display extremely courteous behavior to overcome expectations that they are dangerous.

B. Social Status

1. Those who belong to dominant classes get attention and respect with little effort (e.g., special consideration in restaurants, shops, and other public settings). This is why displaying props, such as a luxury car or expensive clothes, is useful.

2. Impression management plays an important role in the socialization within many professions (e.g., in business, with CEOs; in medicine, with doctors)

3. Norms for addressing people reflect underlying power differences, as when a higher status person refers to a lower status person using a diminutive form of the person’s name.

C. Collective Impression Management

1. Pairs, groups, and organizations may also need to manage their collective impression.

2. Goffman uses the term “performance team” to describe individuals who cooperate in staging a performance that leads the audience to form impressions of one or all of the team members. One of the most obvious teams is the married couple.

3. Team members are highly dependent on one another and must show a fair amount of trust and loyalty.

4. Successful teamwork depends on maintaining the boundary between front stage and back stage. Time spent back stage is critical for rehearsing the team performance and for relief of performance stress.

IV. Mismanaging Impressions: Spoiled Identities

A. Embarrassment

1. Embarrassment is a spontaneous feeling we experience when the identity we are presenting is discredited in front of others, that is, our identity is spoiled.

2. Embarrassment may destroy the orderliness of a social situation—this creates discomfort for everyone involved.

3. Groups and organizations may use embarrassment or the threat of embarrassment to encourage a preferred activity or discourage behavior that may be damaging to the group (e.g., hazing, notions of family honor)

B. Remedies for Spoiled Identities

1. To restore social order and repair a spoiled identity, the transgressor will use an aligning action (e.g., apologizing for stepping on someone’s foot).

2. An “account” is a verbal statement designed to explain embarrassing or unacceptable behavior.

3. A “disclaimer” is a verbal assertion made before a potentially embarrassing event to forestall a negative outcome (e.g., “I may be wrong, but…”).

4. Accounts and disclaimers are meant to reassure others that we know and respect the prevailing cultural norms.

5. In the process called “cooling out,” another person assists the person who has “lost face” by persuading her or him to accept a less desirable, but still reasonable, alternative identity.

C. Stigma

1. A stigma is the permanent spoiling of one’s identity caused by some discrediting characteristic.

2. According to Goffman (1963), the three types of stigma are defects of the body, defects of character, and membership in a devalued social group.

3. Long-lasting improvements in stigmatization can only be accomplished at a societal level by altering the cultural meaning of potentially stigmatizing characteristics.


Chapter 7: Building Social Relationships: Intimacy and Families

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Life with Others

Although most of us desire happy intimate and family relationships, these relationships are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. In a complex society with an individualistic culture, people often relocate in pursuit of career success, leaving family, friends, and neighbors behind. Individualism also encourages people to walk away from unfulfilling relationships, rather than feeling obligated to maintain them. In contrast, in collectivist societies, duty to relationships is considered more important than individual achievement or fulfillment.

Social Diversity and Intimate Choices

Personal bonds are one of the most important elements of our everyday lives and are governed by two important rules that limit the field of eligible choices. Exogamy rules require that individuals form romantic relationships with people from outside certain social groups to which they belong (i.e., families). Endogamy rules are less formal but just as powerful and limit romantic relationships to only those within certain groups to which an individual belongs. Religion, social class, race and ethnicity are common groupings for endogamy rules.

Family Life

Idealized images of historical families and the evaluation of contemporary families in light of a "golden age" of family have created concern over the future of families in our society. Contrary to myths, however, nuclear families have not replaced extended families, but have always been the norm in American society. Divorce is not a recent phenomenon, but has been increasing steadily since 1900. And, children are actually more likely to live with both parents until reaching adulthood than they did a century ago, due to increased life expectancy.

Families are designed to meet basic societal needs, and are thus found in every human society. The structure and significance of family, however, varies considerably across cultures. Monogamous marriage is an institution in our society, but a majority of societies prefer polygamy. Cultures also differ in terms of rules of residence and child-rearing philosophies. The official or culturally sanctioned definition of family has important consequences for individuals within a society. In the U.S., homosexual couples and heterosexual cohabiters have raised important questions about extending the definition of “family” to include these households.

Family and Social Structure

Families do not exist in isolation from other institutions. In addition to laws governing aspects of family life (such as those regulating marriage, divorce, and adoption), there are a variety of political issues that address family problems (such as access to child care, abortion, teen pregnancy, poverty). The normative nature of religion also has important effects on family experiences. Economic factors such as income and work schedules greatly affect satisfaction, roles, and power within families and intimate relationships. National and global labor market trends also have serious consequences for family welfare and stability. The growth in dual‑earner families is a reflection of the relation between families and the economy.

People's experiences in intimate and family relationships are also conditioned by their social group membership. Gender role socialization creates individuals with different skills, desires, statuses, and goals in relationships; consequently, gender conditions men's and women's experiences in families. Rules of endogamy and exogamy specify appropriate marital partners. Individuals often encounter pressure to marry within their religion, race, and social class. Furthermore, there are racial and social class differences in many family characteristics, including parenting practices. Pattillo-McCoy’s research sheds light on the special challenges facing black middle class parents, as they seek to shelter their children from the negative influences of “street” culture.

Family Challenges

Families face a number of problems, including issues surrounding divorce and family violence. Changes in perceptions of marriage and divorce, as well as structural changes (e.g., no‑fault divorce laws), have contributed to the increase in divorce. Divorce has important emotional, interpersonal, and social consequences. For example, divorce often creates single-parent families, a group that experiences higher risk of poverty, residential mobility, and role strain. Children who have experienced family conflict and/or divorce perform less well than children from intact, low-conflict families on multiple measures of success and well-being. Another consequence of divorce is the growing number of reconstituted families that are formed by remarriage. These families are often more unstable than first marriages because of the lack of institutional guidelines and norms governing the responsibilities of and interactions between the new relatives.

Spousal abuse and child abuse are common occurrences in American families, and such abuse is found in families of every race, class, and religion. Factors which contribute to the prevalence of domestic violence include public tolerance of violence towards family members and public and governmental reticence to become involved in private family matters. Violence is acceptable and often glorified in our culture. The U.S. is also a patriarchal society (like most others), and domestic violence is a consequence of and reinforces male dominance in families and the larger society.


I. Life with Others

A. Many of us judge the quality and happiness of our lives by connections to friends, family members, co-workers, and significant others.

B. Sociologists have noted through the years that people are becoming less connected to others.

C. Some sociologists attribute this trend to individualism—people are more likely to sever ties that they feel don’t meet their needs.

D. People are spending more time with co-workers because they are working more hours—for some these ties replace family ties.

II. Family Life

A. Historical Trends in Family Life

1. The role of the family has changed over the years. The family used to be the source of economic production, education, and religious training.

2. William J. Goode argued that the idealized family of the past (extended family on the farm) never existed. He calls this idealized image “The Classical Family of Western Nostalgia.rdquo;

3. Several myths about the American family:

a. Extended families (several generations living together) were once the norm. In fact, the nuclear family (parents and their children only) has always been the norm.

b. Children are less likely to live with both parents today than in the past. In fact, children were less likely to live with both parents 100 years ago than today, due to shorter life expectancies.

c. Today’s families are isolated from grandparents and other relatives. In fact, children today are far more likely to have close relationships with grandparents than in the past, because fewer people lived long enough to be grandparents 100 years ago.

d. Divorce is a recent phenomenon. In fact, divorce rates had been rising for 100 years but have dropped somewhat since the 1980’s. Before that, marital dissolution through desertion was not uncommon.

B. Social Diversity and Intimate Choices

1. Exogamy rules require individuals to form long-term romantic relationships with someone from outside certain social groups to which he or she belongs, such as a family.

2. Endogamy rules limit people’s intimate choices to those within certain groups to which they belong.

a. Religious endogamy is the tendency or requirement for people to marry within their particular religion.

b. Racial and ethnic endogamy is the tendency or requirement for people to marry within their own racial or ethnic group.

c. Social class endogamy is the tendency or requirement for people to marry within their own social class.

C. Cultural Variation in Family Practices

1. The ideas about what a family is and how people should behave within it are culturally determined.

2. In most western societies, monogamous marriage (one husband and one wife) is the ideal.

3. Many cultures have polygamy, which allows an individual (almost always a man) to have more than one spouse.

4. In U.S. society, neolocal residence is the norm—young married couples are expected to establish their own households, separate from their families, when financially possible.

5. In other societies, living with the husband’s family (patrilocal residence) or the wife’s family (matrilocal residence) is the norm.

D. The U.S. Definition of Family

1. The official definition of family used by the Census Bureau is two or more persons, including the householder, who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption, and live together in the same household.

2. Under this definition of family, homosexual relationships are not legally recognized. Without legal recognition, benefits such as insurance coverage, eligibility to live in certain apartment complexes, savings from joint tax returns, visitation rights in prisons and hospitals, and adoption rights are not guaranteed.

3. Heterosexual cohabitation has also faced difficulty receiving cultural recognition. The number of couples cohabitating has nearly doubled between 1990 and 2000.

III. Family and Social Structure

A. Institutions Influencing Family

1. The identities and actions of individuals within family relationships are strongly influenced by legal, religious, and economic institutions.

2. Legal influences include conditions under which people are allowed to marry (age, health requirements, and waiting periods), adopt children, and divorce.

3. Religious influences include normative rules about dating, marriage, sexuality, childbearing, child discipline, and divorce. Often the practical demands of modern life make it difficult to follow religious norms.

4. Economic influences include the availability of jobs to provide sufficient resources, as well as the responsiveness of the workplace to family needs and obligations. Lack of financial resources, or lack of employer flexibility, can have devastating effects on family satisfaction.

B. Gender

1. Gender influences how men and women go about creating, maintaining, and thinking about family relationships.

2. Traditional gender role socialization encourages women to be sensitive, express affection, and reveal weakness, whereas men are taught to be competitive, strong, and emotionally inexpressive.

3. Men’s obligations have historically been limited to “breadwinning,” and women have been responsible for homemaking. Now most married women are working outside the home, while still bearing most homemaking responsibility. Thus married women are more likely than married men to experience high levels of stress.

C. Social Diversity

1. Exogamy rules specify that an individual must marry outside certain groups. In almost all societies, exogamy rules prohibit people from marrying members of their own nuclear family.

2. Endogamy rules encourage (or demand) marriage within one’s social group. The group can be defined by religion, racial or ethnic group, or social class.

3. Marrying outside one’s religion is more common than it once was. However, most religions still discourage interfaith marriages. Their concern is that such marriages may weaken people’s religious beliefs and values.

4. Marriages that cross racial lines have become more common in U.S. society. Interracial marriages face racism not only from people in society but from their families as well.

5. Social class is a powerful factor in whom we choose to marry. One reason is that our neighborhoods and educational institutions segregate young people by class. Even if two individuals from different races or religions marry, chances are they will share the same SES backgrounds.

IV. Family Challenges

A. Divorce

1. The causes of high divorce rates in western societies include such things as the weakening of family’s traditional economic bonds, a reduction in the influence of religion, and the stress of shifting gender roles.

2. Women’s increasing earning power and decreasing economic dependence on men have made it easier to end an unsatisfying marriage.

3. Attitudes toward divorce have changed over time, making divorce more socially acceptable.

B. Children, Divorce, and Single Parenting

1. For children, divorce often means moving to a new home, going to a new school, and having to make new friends. They may also experience a decline in their standard of living, especially if they continue to live with their mother.

2. Relationships that children have with non-custodial parents (usually fathers) often deteriorate over time.

3. Children from divorced families are at greater risk of academic failure, low SES attainment, poor psychological adjustment, and marital difficulties. Research suggests, however, that it is family conflict, and not the divorce itself, that leads to poor outcomes.

C. Remarriage and the Reconstructed Family

1. Close to half of all marriages in the U.S. involve at least one partner who has been previously married.

2. The divorce rate for remarriages is higher than the rate for first marriages.

3. Remarriage is particularly difficult when children are involved. Guidelines for stepparents are much less clear than they are for parents.

4. The lack of clear role definitions, absence of established norms, and increased complexity of the family structure itself increase the likelihood of turmoil in remarriages.

D. Family Violence

1. Violence against wives occurs in about 85% of societies around the world.

2. In the U.S., 85% of victims of domestic violence are women.

3. Why is domestic violence so prevalent in the U.S.?

a. The public (including police) have tended to stay out of domestic disputes.

b. American society is generally quite violent—we see violence as an acceptable means to achieve desired ends.

c. Family life can be very stressful.

d. Male dominance in the family is a strong, long-standing tradition in most societies.

4. Women typically attempt a number of strategies to stop abuse, both within and outside the family, but they are often economically dependent on their abuser and find support systems to be inadequate.

5. Children are also likely to be victims of domestic violence and neglect.

6. Spouse/partner abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse are found in every culture, class, race, and religion.


Chapter 8: Constructing Difference: Social Deviance

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Defining Deviance

Absolutists believe that there is a clear distinction between inherently “right” and “wrong” behavior, and that deviance occurs when maladjusted people violate social norms. The deviant act or characteristic becomes the identifying trait of the individual and serves as an indicator of his or her morality. Absolutist beliefs about who deviants are and what they “look like” are often based on stereotypes. When these beliefs are held by people in the criminal justice system, they can create biases and inequalities in the legal labeling of deviants, as well as narrow and inaccurate perceptions of many serious social problems.

Relativists view society as composed of multiple groups with different values and interests. Conceptions of deviance vary across groups and over time within groups. Each society defines some behaviors and characteristics as deviant, but the content of these deviant behaviors depends on the norms and values of that society. When looking at the definition of certain acts as “deviant,” we must consider who is doing the defining, the characteristics of the person committing the act, and the context in which the behavior occurs.

The definition of deviance adopted by this text involves three elements: (1) a behavioral expectation or norm about appropriate behavior, attitudes, and ideas; (2) a real or alleged violation of the expectations; and (3) a social reaction to the real or perceived deviance. Thus, deviance is a social construction.

Explaining Deviant Behavior

Some theories of deviance examine why people commit deviant acts. Merton (1957) argues that people commit deviant acts when they accept conventional definitions of success but lack access to legitimate means for achieving it. Sutherland (Sutherland & Cressey, 1955) argues that people commit deviant acts because they have learned from their family and close associates to view these acts as normal. Others’ theories, such as deterrence theory, consider why more people do not violate norms. Deterrence theory assumes that people rationally weigh the costs and benefits of their actions. If the costs of deviance are perceived to be high, people will choose not to be deviant. The debate over capital punishment centers around whether it acts as a deterrent to crime.

These theories bypass the question of how some behaviors come to be seen as deviant. Labeling theory, on the other hand, examines the process by which certain people come to be identified (or “labeled”) as deviant, and what subsequently happens to a person’ s self-concept and interactions with others. The label of deviant is very “sticky.rdquo; Once a person is socially defined as deviant, that person has a devalued identity that conditions all social interactions, making it difficult for her or him to enter socially acceptable roles.

Linking Power, Deviance, and Social Control

Conflict theorists examine how the definition of deviance can be used as a mechanism of social control. Powerful groups often try to foster a belief that society is under attack by deviants and that official action against them is needed. Actions of poor people are more likely to be criminalized (officially defined as crime). When social attention is turned to deviance of the poor, deviance of the rich and powerful is unpunished or lightly punished. Most Americans are afraid of street crime and completely unaware of the dangers of white-collar crime. Thus, white-collar crime, which is actually more costly both economically and in lives lost, is often overlooked, while we devote tremendous resources to prosecuting and incarcerating street criminals. The War on Drugs is one example of this mechanism.

Medicalization is the definition of behavior as a medical problem or illness, and the mandating or licensing of the medical profession to provide some type of treatment for it. By defining deviance as an illness (e.g., alcoholism, overeating, child abuse), the medical profession has increased its power as an arbiter of reality, while providing itself with more economic opportunity.

This “medical model” of deviance has both positive and negative outcomes. One positive result is that a medical diagnosis leads to less social stigma and condemnation of people who violate norms. For many, a diagnosis means that their problems are taken seriously, and they may receive treatment that is truly helpful. One negative result is that problems that might have social causes are individualized. For example, we now diagnose large numbers of children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and treat them with powerful stimulants, when perhaps we should instead question whether the structure of schooling should be changed. Another negative result is that the availability of treatment can lead to a lack of tolerance for imperfection. Finally, the medicalization and individualization of complex social problems destroys the legitimacy of deviant behavior as political protest.


I. Defining Deviance

A. Deviance is socially disapproved behavior—the violation of some agreed-upon norm.

B. Absolutist Definitions of Deviance

1. From the absolutist perspective, some human behavior is inherently proper and good, other behavior is obviously improper, immoral, and bad (deviant).

2. Absolutists consider deviant people to be morally, psychologically, and perhaps even anatomically different from ordinary, conforming people.

3. Certain groups of people are associated with deviance due to the stereotyping of groups as having that “deviance” flaw.

4. Groups that are stereotyped as deviant tend to be racial and ethnic minorities.

C. Relativist Definitions of Deviance

1. From the relativist perspective, deviance is not inherent in any particular act, belief, or condition; instead, it is socially constructed.

2. Deviance is not an inherited property or general personality trait.

3. Definitions of deviance are relative to cultural standards. These definitions change over time and from group to group.

4. Relativists believe that deviance is socially constructed, but this does not mean they believe that any act is acceptable.

D. Three Elements of Deviance

1. Expectation—a behavioral norm must exist.

2. Violation—a real or alleged violation of the behavioral norm.

3. Reaction—an individual, group, or society must react to the real or perceived violation.

II. Explaining Deviant Behavior

A. Merton asserts that everyone is socialized to strive for success in American society. Those who have no legitimate means to succeed may try to succeed by illegitimate means.

B. Sutherland is a proponent of symbolic-interactionist theory, which assumes that people learn deviant patterns of behavior from family and friends.

C. Deterrence Theory

1. Deterrence theory assumes that people are rational decision makers who calculate the costs and benefits of behavior before they act.

2. Swift and certain punishment is supposed to deter first offenses and discourage subsequent offenses.

3. Supporters of capital punishment often believe it is a deterrent to serious crimes. Opponents point out that it is neither swift nor certain, and that offenders are often not rational when they commit their crimes.

D. Labeling Deviants

1. Labeling theory states that deviance is the consequence of the application of rules and sanctions to an offender; a deviant is an individual to whom the identity “deviant” has been successfully applied.

2. Deviant labels can impair an individual’s eligibility to enter a broad range of socially acceptable roles (e.g., potential employers often refuse to hire ex-convicts).

3. Exclusion from acceptable roles leaves labeled individuals more likely to commit deviant acts.

III. Linking Power, Deviance, and Social Control

A. The Criminalization of Deviance

1. Criminalization is the official definition of an act of deviance as a crime.

2. What we regard as legal or illegal acts depends on how we view the people who commit the acts. Deviant acts of highly regarded people are generally viewed as less serious.

3. Poor and minority people are more likely to be arrested, be formally charged with a crime, have their cases go to trial, get convicted, and receive harsher sentences.

B. The Social Reality of Crime

1. According to conflict perspective, powerful groups often try to foster a belief that society is under attack by deviants and that official action against them is needed.

2. When social attention is turned to the deviance of the poor, the deviance of the rich and powerful is unpunished or lightly punished.

3. The United States incarcerates citizens at a far higher rate than any other country. The U.S. inmate population grew from 200,000 in 1970 to 1.3 million in 2002.

C. Corporate Crime

1. Americans assume that street crime is more dangerous and costly than corporate crime. The opposite is true.

a. In 2002, 17,000 Americans were murdered, but 56,000 died on the job or from job-caused diseases.

b. Burglary and robbery cost $3.8 billion per year; white-collar crimes like fraud and embezzlement cost over $400 billion per year.

2. Corporate criminals are often fined rather than being criminally convicted and sentenced.

3. People perceive the damage caused by corporate crime to be the unintentional side effects of legitimate business practices.

D. The Menace of “Illegal” Drugs

1. Many cultures tolerate some form of drug use (e.g., Andean people chew coca leaves, Americans drink alcohol and caffeinated drinks).

2. In the United States, use of drugs categorized as “illegal” is not tolerated and results in harsh punishment.

3. Categorization of drugs is not based on addictiveness or health risks—tobacco is more addictive and riskier to health than many illegal drugs. Targeted drugs are those that are sold by, and/or used by, less powerful people in society.

4. The “drug courier profile” encourages police officers to stop and question people who “look suspicious,” seem to be in a hurry, or are traveling to or from cities with heavy drug traffic. Minorities are disproportionately targeted. Very few stops result in arrests.

E. The Medicalization of Deviance

1. The medicalization of deviance is the definition of behavior as a medical problem or illness, and the mandating or licensing of the medical profession to provide some type of treatment for it.

2. Conduct that was once classified as misbehavior is now redefined as a psychiatric disease, disorder, or syndrome.

3. The positive result of this is that there is less social stigma and condemnation of people being labeled deviant. For many, this leads to receiving &treatment that is truly helpful.

4. The negative results are as follows:

a. Problems that might have social causes are individualized. For example, treating large numbers of children with Ritalin for ADHD, when perhaps something about the structure of schooling should be changed.

b. Availability of treatment can lead to lack of tolerance for imperfection. For example, why be shy or moody? Take Prozac.

c. Mental illness diagnoses can be used to silence critics. Once critics are labeled mentally ill, their claims are no longer taken seriously.


Chapter 9: The Structure of Society: Organizations, Social Institutions, and Globalization

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Social Structure and Everyday Life

Social structure provides order and predictability to social life, as well as a setting in which individuals interact. Social structure sometimes creates problems by setting in motion a chain of events beyond the control of individuals. For example, drug errors in hospitals may be better understood as resulting from structural problems in the delivery of health care than mistakes made by individual health care workers.

Social Dilemmas: Individual Interests and Structural Needs

Individual decisions and actions also have consequences for groups. Social dilemmas occur when the individuals in a group pursue their personal interests instead of working to achieve a common goal. One type of social dilemma is the “tragedy of the commons.rdquo; This occurs when individuals acting in their short-term interests overuse or destroy a commonly available, but limited, resource. Another type of social dilemma is the “free-rider problem,” where individuals use common resources without contributing to the maintenance of those resources. Social dilemmas may be decreased in small communities by improving communication between people so that they understand that most people are following the rules. In large communities it is more effective to use coercion (fines, taxes) to keep people from acting solely in their personal interests.

The Structure of Formal Organizations

In a complex society, nearly every aspect of an individual’s experience is touched in some way by private and public organizations. Most of these are bureaucracies—organizations characterized by an explicit division of labor, a hierarchy of authority, and a system of formal and impersonal rules and regulations. The bureaucratization of society can be problematic, in that the emphasis on conformity and routine discourages individuals from exercising personal judgment, from being flexible, and from being critical thinkers on the jobs and in their lives in general. Ritzer’s (2000) examination of the “McDonaldization” of society provides a metaphor for the negative effects of bureaucratization.

Individuals’ experiences within bureaucracies are conditioned by their position in the organizational hierarchy. People at the top tend to be homogeneous in terms of social group membership and experiences. The structure of their occupational roles—vague job descriptions and a reliance on interpersonal comfort—is such that “outsiders” tend to be excluded. Middle-level employees must reconcile the demands of their superior and subordinate coworkers, and they are often motivated by an unrealistic hope of upward mobility. In response to their frustrations about their powerlessness, middle-level managers may adopt a corporate “social ethic” for themselves and demand ritualistic conformity from their subordinates. Lower-level workers (who are the majority) have very little autonomy or influence in the organization. Deskilling, while profitable, creates passive and dissatisfied workers. Lower-level workers do, however, employ a variety of techniques to exert some control over their work.

Individuals create organizational reality and maintain organizational boundaries through the use of language, such as corporate jargon and slogans. The success of an organization is related to the learning and acceptance of its culture by the people involved in it. Workers also create their own informal structure and culture within the organization, as illustrated by factory workers’ and students’ techniques of “restricting output.rdquo;

Organizations and Institutions

Many of an individual’s experiences and behaviors take place within institutional contexts, and thus they are governed by structurally defined social roles and norms. Organizations also operate within institutional contexts. Organizations are often arranged along a hierarchy and must communicate as parts of larger networks of organizations and institutions. The U.S. health care system as an institution and its various constituent organizations (hospitals, medical schools, laboratories) is a prime example.

Organizations tend to emulate each other, and thus they are more similar in form and action than they are different. This tendency is intensified during times of institutional uncertainty, and it is also enhanced by the homogeneity of organizational leaders. Although organizational similarity may create efficient interaction, it can make institutional change difficult and the iron cage of bureaucracy harder to escape.

Globalization and Social Institutions

Globalization is having a variety of effects on social structure and institutions. Changes in social institutions are interrelated. Electronics and telecommunications media (television, the Internet) make it harder for peoples to live in complete isolation. The economy is becoming increasingly globalized, with both positive and negative effects. Multinational corporations play an important role in the world economy. Changes in the world economy have had an impact on educational systems, as workers in any locality now must compete in the global labor market. Religion has become more internationalized as well. Dramatic social change can result from the spread of religious practices and beliefs (e.g., Protestantism and capitalism, the rise of fundamentalist movements).


I. Social Structure and Everyday Life

A. Social structure is the framework of society that exists above the level of individuals and provides the social setting in which individuals interact.

B. It is the social institutions, organizations, groups, statuses and roles, values, and norms that add order and predictability to our private lives.

C. Social structure is an essential element in the organization of everyday life, but it can at times create problems (e.g., errors by health professionals are one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., with system failure responsible for most of them).

II. Social Dilemmas: Individual Interests and Structural Needs

A. Social Dilemmas

1. A social dilemma is a situation that arises when the pursuit of short-term self-interest by individuals results in long-term social problems.

2. Individual actions can have an enormous effect on the structure and stability of an entire group or community.

B. The Tragedy of the Commons and the Free-Rider Problem

1. The tragedy of the commons is a situation in which people acting in their own self-interest use up (or destroy) a commonly available (but limited) resource.

2. The resources in question needn’t be physical for a tragedy of the commons to occur (e.g., when downloading information on computers, the connection might slow down or crash if there is a lot of downloading going on simultaneously).

3. A free-rider is an individual who benefits from a public good without contributing to its existence or maintenance (e.g., people who watch PBS but don’t contribute financially).

C. Solutions to Social Dilemmas

1. Establish communications among individuals—this can help create peer pressure for compliance or help individuals understand that most others are not cheating. This solution is not very practical when a large group is involved.

2. Coercion, through restrictive rules or laws, to prevent people from seeking self-interested goals (e.g., making people pay taxes, union “closed shops”).

III. The Structure of Formal Organizations

A. Bureaucracies: Playing by the Rules

1. Bureaucracy is a large hierarchical organization that is governed by formal rules and regulations and has a clear specification of work tasks. It is the most efficient means of organizing large numbers of workers.

2. Bureaucracy has three important characteristics:

a. Division of labor—each position has its own job description with specific tasks.

b. Hierarchy of authority—lower-level workers report to managers, who report to higher-level managers, who report to top executives.

c. Impersonality—bureaucrats follow procedures and apply the same rules to everyone.

3. The university is a good example of a bureaucratic organization.

4. Working in a bureaucracy can influence workers to become more rigid and less flexible. Following the rules can become more important than problem solving. The bureaucracy can become an “iron cage,” with a negative influence on social life.

B. The Hierarchical Makeup of Organizations

1. The upper echelons consist of those who have been most successful in the bureaucracy. They are few in number, and they have vague job descriptions. Since their personal characteristics weigh heavily, they hire others like themselves—mostly white, middle- to upper-class men.

2. The middle ground includes middle-level employees, who are caught between the expectations of their supervisors and their subordinates and often experience role conflict. Most will not move up, and they may experience alienation and anger.

3. The lower echelons are paid the least, valued the least, and considered most expendable. The jobs of those in this group are usually deskilled, requiring obedience and passivity rather than talent and initiative.

C. The Creation of Organizational Reality

1. The language of an organization is one of the ways in which it creates its reality. New members must learn the jargon of the organization to survive within it.

2. Organizations that work well are those in which everyone internalizes the same rules, values, and beliefs.

3. Organizational life is a combination of formal structural rules and informal patterns of behavior.

IV. Organizations and Institutions

A. Organizational Networks Within Institutions

1. Like individual people, organizations are born, grow, become overweight, slim down, migrate from relationships with others, and die.

2. Massive organizations are linked by common goals and needs. The networks are often so complex that organizations from different fields find themselves dependent on one another for survival.

B. Institutional Pressures Toward Similarity

1. Organizational similarity is really not that surprising. Because organizations in the same industry face similar problems, they often use similar solutions.

2. Organizations are most likely to emulate one another in times of institutional uncertainty (e.g., universities trying to attract more students might look at other schools for help).

3. Organizations also resemble one another because their leaders have similar backgrounds.

V. Globalization and Social Institutions

A. Communication Media

1. Electronics and telecommunications provide access to other cultures, making it impossible for societies to exist in complete isolation.

2. No other medium can match television for the size of its audience and its access to people’s homes.

3. Besides providing information, television also provides a commercial outlet for the international market.

B. Economics

1. Multinational corporations extend their markets and production facilities globally.

2. In many ways, the world is becoming a single economic unit, with parts of products produced in multiple locations.

3. Global economic influence has also enabled a significant portion of the world’s population to communicate more efficiently, be healthier, eat better, and live longer than past generations.

4. Globalization has created serious social problems as well, including higher levels of unemployment in countries with labor and environmental protections and exploitation of workers in poor, developing countries.

C. Education

1. Students in other industrialized countries consistently outperform U.S. students in such subjects as math and science.

2. There is a concern that U.S. students may not be able to compete in the global marketplace. Educational reforms such as a longer school year or school day have been suggested.

3. Recent severe budget cuts have resulted in less time in school for some U.S. students.

D. Religion

1. There are three major religions in today’s world: Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

2. Religion has become internationalized—some religions now have more adherents abroad than in their home countries.

3. This diffusion can threaten indigenous religions—perceived threats have led to the rise of fundamentalist movements.


Chapter 10: The Architecture of Stratification: Social Class and Inequality

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Stratification Systems
In all societies, groups of people are ranked in terms of their access to resources and life chances. Slavery, caste systems, and estate or feudal systems are forms of stratification. Stratification systems in complex industrial societies tend to be based on social class. Although there are no legal barriers to social mobility in class stratification systems, mobility within the economic and prestige hierarchy is often quite difficult.

Sociological Perspectives on Stratification
Structural functionalists assume that because social inequality exists, it must be necessary for social order. According to this perspective, positions which serve vital social functions for society and which require rare skills will offer great rewards. Critics argue that functionalism doesn't explain why the salary structure of our society does not always correspond to the functional necessity of certain positions, or why there is inequality in the distribution of opportunities and rewards based on social group membership.

The conflict perspective views the stratification system as both a reflection and a cause of the unequal distribution of power in our society. The stratification system is designed to serve the interests of the dominant classes, who manipulate the economic and political institutions in order to maintain their advantages. The Marxian model divides society into classes depending on their ownership of the means of production and their ability to purchase and control the labor of others. Capitalists use their economic power to influence social institutions—the version of reality that is produced justifies and perpetuates their dominant position. Weber added the concepts of status and power to construct a model of stratification that he called socioeconomic status. This model took the honor, respect, and power associated into consideration for determining class differences. Dahrendorf and Wright have also expanded upon Marx's purely economic argument by bringing authority into the discussion.

Class Inequality in the United States
Sociologists indicate class stratification by measuring the disparities in income, wealth, occupational status, and educational attainment among groups in our society. Social class also affects people's culture, self-worth, and life chances. Images of social class in the mass media affect and reflect conceptions of wealth and poverty. Though more than half the population is working class or poor, images of these groups are usually negative or nonexistent. More information is provided on the concerns of the wealthy and privileged, which are typically portrayed in positive ways. Americans have strong subjective beliefs about their class identity, and this class consciousness influences our beliefs about the nature and origin of inequality.

A large proportion of the American population is located in the middle class, whose members are increasingly experiencing downward social mobility. The expectation of upward mobility is so ingrained in our culture that the downward mobility of the middle class often has severe negative financial, social, and psychological consequences. Downward mobility is especially detrimental to individuals' self-concept and family well-being. The principle cause of downward mobility for women is divorce; economic disadvantages are compounded by the tendency for married women to subordinate their careers to their husbands and to be awarded custody of children after divorce.

The working class comprises a significant portion of the population and is even more susceptible to downward mobility than the middle class. Members of this class tend to have only high school educations and work in factories and low-paying sales jobs. They are particularly vulnerable to downturns in the economy because cuts in production will result in gob losses within their socioeconomic strata. Moreover, they are less likely to find meaning and satisfaction in their jobs so, they are more likely to approach them as a means to provide an opportunity for their children to eventual have a better life than they do.

Poverty can be defined in terms of access to the minimal requirements necessary to sustain life (absolute poverty) or in terms of how one's living standard compares to that of the majority of people in a society (relative poverty). Poverty in the United States—one of the most economically stratified industrial nations—must be contextualized by the overall distribution of economic resources. The gap between rich and poor is growing; disparities in wealth are even more striking. Subgroups of the population vary in terms of their likelihood of experiencing poverty. Racial and ethnic minorities, people in rural areas and in the South, and single mothers and their children are currently among the poorest of Americans. The U.S. government uses a decades-old formula to calculate the official poverty line and the national poverty rate. This formula, based on the cost of food, has not accounted for dramatic increases in the cost of housing over the past twenty years. Thus it undercounts the number of people who need access to public assistance programs.

Poverty persists in an affluent society like the United States for a number of reasons, especially because of the structural role it plays in larger social institutions and because of the dominant culture that supports it. Individualistic theories of poverty overlook institutional obstacles to advancement. Cycles in the economic system, in combination with our society's segmented labor market, produce and maintain poverty.

Poverty plays a necessary institutional role in capitalist society; it fulfills several economic and social "functions.quot;& Poverty is beneficial for the rest of society economically in that it provides our economy with a reserve pool of labor, it keeps wages low, and it creates needs for many occupations and services. Many organizations depend on the existence of a large pool of welfare recipients. Socially, the poor provide others with a sense of moral worth and superiority, and reinforce the legitimacy of conventional values.

The cultural ideology of competitive individualism also contributes to the persistence of poverty by justifying the system of stratification. Because economic success is thought to be a result of individual effort and ability, poor people "must" deserve their fate. The belief in competitive individualism varies by social class; poor people tend to emphasize structural barriers to achievement, while middle and upper class people emphasize individualistic explanations of success.

The “culture of poverty” perspective argues that poor people have a unique set of beliefs, values, and norms that perpetuates their “present‑oriented” lifestyle and maintains their poverty. There is a related perception that welfare actually creates poverty; this view has led to a call for a system of "workfare.quot; Such reform measures assume poor people's behavior is the problem that needs to be solved. However, the culture of poverty thesis is weakened by the fact that most poor people were not raised poor, nor do they remain poor throughout their lives.

Although there is a popular perception that homelessness is a consequence of mental illness, homelessness is primarily a result of institutional factors such as the national decline in affordable housing, zoning laws which prohibit multiple‑family housing in high income neighborhoods, and economic forces which make it difficult for family members to support their homeless relatives. The public's and government's growing intolerance of homelessness results in laws which attempt to remove or reduce the visibility of the homeless.

The poor and the homeless are much more likely than more affluent groups to be in poor health, to spend more time in the hospital, to receive worse medical treatment, and to have lower life expectancies. Poor nutrition is a common health problem since poverty affects the quality and quantity of food available. Poverty also affects the ability of children to receive the quality of education they need to experience upward mobility.

Global Development and Inequality
The trend toward globalization has contributed to a global system of inequality. There are striking differences in wealth and standards of living between developed and less-developed countries. Wealthy nations use their resources to gain power and maintain their advantages in the global class system. Global stratification can be explained from a conflict perspective. While direct colonization of weak countries by powerful ones is rare today, wealthy countries still exploit poor countries economically. Global financial organizations like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization often contribute to the dependency of poorer nations of the world.

Multinational corporations are one means of taking advantage of globalization. These corporations can have short-range benefits (e.g., new jobs in the host country) but in the long run, they may actually perpetuate global stratification (e.g., by exploiting host workers and communities). They may also export harmful products, such as tobacco, when domestic consumption wanes.


I. Stratification Systems

A. Ranking systems for groups of people that perpetuate unequal rewards and life chances

1. Forms that are commonly found in pre-industrial societies

a. Slavery is one of the most persistent forms of stratification, in which some people are the property of others. They are owned, controlled, coerced, and restricted.

b. Caste systems—stratification system based on inherited positions, with little movement allowed across strata.

c. Estate (or feudal) systems—develops when high-status groups own land and have power based on their noble birth. Low status people are serfs who work the land, in exchange for protection.

2. Social class systems are found in industrial societies. Classes are groups of people who share a similar economic position in society based on their wealth and income.

3. Characteristics of social class systems:

a. Social mobility—movement of people from one class to another—is possible.

b. Classes in American society are upper, middle, working and lower class.

c. To determine class standing, sociologists usually rely on annual income, wealth, occupation, and educational attainment.

d. Class standing can determine one’s life chances such as higher education, high-paying jobs, and health care.

4. Socioeconomic status refers to the prestige, honor, respect, and power associated with different positions in society. It represents a continuum, rather than broad grouping.

II. Sociological Perspectives on Stratification

A. The Structural-Functionalist View of Stratification

1. More important positions, or those that require special training, are better paid. This provides incentives for the most talented people to fill these positions.

2. Criticisms:

a. Stratification can be unjust—talented lower-class people have little access to highly-paid positions.

b. There are many instances of high-paying positions that are not as functionally important as low-paying positions (e.g., entertainers are paid more than police officers).

B. The Conflict View of Stratification

1. Social inequality is neither a necessity nor a source of social order. It is a reflection of the unequal distribution of power in society, and it is a primary source of conflict, coercion, and unhappiness.

2. People high in the stratification system control scarce resources because they make the rules.

3. Karl Marx

a. Bourgeoisie own the means of production—land, commercial enterprises, factories, and wealth. They are able to purchase and control the labor of others.

b. Proletariat—workers who own nothing but their labor power, which they exchange for wages.

c. False Consciousness—powerful classes in society promulgate belief systems that perpetuate their dominance. To the extent that the proletariat accepts this belief system, they are unlikely to protest or revolt.

4. Max Weber

a. Socioeconomic Status—the prestige, honor, respect and power that accompany a class position.

b. Wealth and income—the economic factors help determine class position.

c. Prestige—the respect and honor given to people in society.

d. Power—the ability to affect decisions in beneficial ways.

5. Neo-Marxist Models of Stratification

a. As corporations become larger and more bureaucratic, it is no longer possible to simply& divide the world into the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The neo-Marxists have devised models of social class that consider the role of managers as an intermediary between the two classes.

b. Authority—the ability to exercise influence over others.

III. Class Inequality in the United States

A. U.S. Social Classes

1. Upper Class—a small, exclusive group that occupies the highest levels of status and prestige.

2. Middle Class—the largest group, important in defining U.S. culture: its moods, political direction, lifestyles, values, habits and tastes set the norms. They are experiencing difficulty because they have maintained income levels over the past 20 years by working more hours.

3. Working Class—people who work in factory, clerical, or low-paying sales jobs. They are more susceptible to downturns in the job market than the middle or upper classes. Most working class people have only a high school education and are paid an hourly wage rather than a salary.

4. Poor (or lower class)—the group at the bottom of the social class structure, which faces constant obstacles and indignities in their everyday lives. Poor people are more likely to suffer from medical problems, be homeless, have little or no education, and be unemployed or have a low paying job.

B. What Poverty Means

1. In common usage, poverty is described in economic terms, as the lack of sufficient money to ensure an adequate lifestyle.

2. Absolute poverty—refers to the lack of minimal requirements (food, clothing, shelter) to maintain a healthy life.

3. Relative Poverty—refers to circumstances below the living standards of the majority in a given society.

4. Poverty Line—an income level presumed to meet a family’s basic needs. Those with incomes below the poverty line are considered officially poor. The U.S. poverty line uses a formula based on 3 times the cost of a thrifty food budget.

5. Near-Poor—individuals or families whose earnings are between 100% and 125% of the poverty line. Any disruption could send them into poverty.

6. Poverty Rate—the percentage of residents whose income falls below the official poverty line.

C. Why Poverty Persists

1. Poverty persists because of the way that income and wealth are distributed. The income gap between the rich and poor is growing.

2. Economically, poverty benefits society. It provides a pool for low-wage workers. People take low-wage jobs because they have no other choice.

3. Competitive Individualism—Cultural belief that those who succeed in society are those who work the hardest and have the best abilities, and that those who remain poor don’t work hard enough or lack necessary traits or abilities.

4. Culture-of-Poverty Thesis—poor people, resigned to their position in society, develop a unique value structure to deal with improbability that they will become successful by the standards of the larger society.

IV. Global Development and Inequality

A. The Global Economic Gap

1. Altogether, wealthy countries constituting 20% of the world’s population account for 65% of the world’s income. In contrast, less affluent countries account for 67% of the world’s population and only 18% of its income.

2. Life expectancy in richer countries is higher than in poor countries. This is mostly due to differences in access to food and medical care.

B. Explanations for Global Stratification

1. Colonization—invading and establishing control over a weaker country and its people in order to expand the colonizer’s markets. Colonies lose wealth in raw materials, and agriculture is switched from local sustenance to export crops. Most of the countries that are poor today are former colonies.

2. Because poor countries have weakened economies, they are forced to borrow money from wealthy countries. Their debt prevents them from developing their economies as they wish.

C. Global Financial Organizations

1. Several international financial organizations play a significant role in determining the economic and social policies of developing countries.

2. Although some of these financial organizations have helped developing countries to build roads and water treatment plants, the countries that receive their aid sometimes end up even more indebted than before.

D. Multinational Corporations

1. Because of their access to economic and political resources, wealthy companies in the United States and elsewhere can go outside their country’s borders to pursue their financial interests.

2. Their goals reflect their own interests, and not the well-being of the host country.

3. Corporations are attracted to countries with weak occupational and environmental regulations. Their actions often contribute to health problems and pollution.

4. Multinational corporations may market dangerous products in poorer countries when markets in their home countries are shrinking (e.g. the tobacco companies).


Chapter 11: The Architecture of Inequality: Race and Ethnicity

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Race and Ethnicity: More Than Just Biology

Race is often thought to be a biologically rooted characteristic that can be used to definitively separate people into distinct groups, but biologists have not found a gene for race. Sociologists observe that different cultures define racial categories differently. Race, therefore, is more meaningful as a social category than as a biological one.

Histories of Oppression and Inequality

Racial and ethnic conflict has historically and cross-culturally been the cause of much violence and death. Racial and ethnic inequality has been a source of tension since America’s inception. Although white European immigrants have been able to overcome much racial and ethnic stigma and inequality, Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans have had less success. The historical and contemporary exploitation, oppression, and discrimination faced by people of color affects their quality of life and opportunities for advancement. Though otherwise well assimilated into the larger culture, since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 Muslim American are the victim of a considerable amount of ethnoracial hostility.

Racial and Ethnic Relations

It is likely that racism, which relies on the division of people into groups that are then ranked as superior or inferior, will continue to plague minority groups in all social classes as racial diversity and economic competition increase. Personal racism, both subtle and conspicuous, is motivated by stereotypes and prejudice, and is expressed through discrimination. While stereotyping may be a natural outcome of the human tendency to categorize, the content of stereotypes, much of which is harmful, is learned through socialization by primary groups and by the media.  Colorism occurs within particular racial groups, prejudice and discrimination can exist on the basis of skin tone.  In our society, white people enjoy the luxury of racial transparency or what we might think of as effectively having no race.

Unfavorable attitudes about and unfair treatment of people based on their race or ethnicity can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, if people are expected to fail, they are more likely to fail. Prejudice and discrimination also may occur within a racial group, when the standards of the dominant society are applied. While some people have suggested that the experiences of some groups are more a function of class than race, research reveals the continuing significance of race in the lives of people of color in all classes. A newer, more insidious form of racism is quiet racism. It is common among people who reject overt prejudice and discrimination, but who are still affected by the racism embedded in the culture. It is expressed with discomfort or fear in the presence of minority group members, or opposition to programs that benefit minorities. It is more difficult to fight because the negative racial stereotypes are held by people with egalitarian values.

The Cultural Ideology of Racism

Racist ideology in our society is reflected in and perpetuated by widespread racism in the English language, such as the multiple meanings of the word black, including “evil,” “dirty,” and “hostile.” In addition, theories of innate racial or ethnic inferiority continue to be used to justify the existing system of racial stratification. Such theories typically attribute certain racial groups’ lack of educational or occupational success to “hereditary” factors such as a lack of motivation or intelligence. The persistence of the belief in the innate racial superiority of black athletes, among both Blacks and Whites, is a double-edged sword, providing Blacks with a sense of pride and achievement while at the same time encouraging them to channel energy into athletic competition at the expense of educational effort. It also allows Whites to distinguish between physically gifted Blacks and intellectually gifted Whites.

Institutional Racism: Injustice Built Into the System

Institutional racism operates to reproduce inequalities through laws, customs, practices, and existing structural conditions. Because of it, a society can be racist even if only a small number of its members are. Institutional racism is evident in labor force participation rates, employment and loan policies, and market pressures to conform to racist consumer preferences.

Racism in health care and environmental racism that adversely affects minority health is evident in the United States. In the educational system, residential segregation means that African American and Latino/a students attend schools where poverty is concentrated. This means that they do not have equal access to resources such as books, supplies, and qualified teachers.

Compared to personal racism, institutionalized forms of racism are more difficult to identify, and thus more difficult to eradicate. Although affirmative action has faced a lot of criticism, it has been a relatively successful structural solution to inequality caused by institutional racism. By requiring employers and schools to actively recruit qualified members of minority groups, affirmative action seeks to allow these groups entrance to positions from which they had previously been excluded. Affirmative action has increasingly come under fire for being unfair to Whites, though it is hard to see how a structural problem like institutional racism can be fixed short of a structural response.

Global Perspectives on Racism

Racial and ethnic tensions are common throughout the world. In Mexico, the conflict is between dark-skinned people of Indian descent and light-skinned Spanish descendants. In Eastern Europe, the various Slavic groups discriminate against the Roma (also known as gypsies). Resurgent ethnicity has also been a source of hostilities between groups. Global forces may also have positive outcomes, such as the use of international pressure to end apartheid in South Africa.


I. Race and Ethnicity: More Than Just Biology

A. A race is a category of individuals labeled and treated as similar because of common inborn biological traits, such as skin color; color and texture of hair; shape of eyes, nose, or head.

B. Race is fluid. Individuals vary in how they define and categorize race.

C. Racial categories are socially constructed, as are social rankings and access to certain resources that are conditioned by race.

D. Ethnicity is the sense of community that derives from the cultural heritage of people with common ancestry.

II. Histories of Oppression and Inequality

A. Native Americans

1. Native Americans’ lands were taken by white settlers, after which they were confined to reservations, and manipulated by the government.

2. It wasn’t until 1940 that Native Americans were considered to be U.S. citizens.

B. Latino/as

1. Some groups have had positive experiences in the U.S. (e.g., Cuban immigrants in 1950s).

2. Mexicans living in the southwest, from Texas to California, became U.S. citizens after the U.S. conquered this territory in 1848. Their property rights to mines, ranches, and farms were routinely violated. The impoverished Mexicans were then exploited by U.S. mining industries.

3. Latino/as have had an impact on American culture (e.g., food and entertainment).

4. Latino/as have a substantially lower average income and educational attainment than other ethnoracial groups.

C. African Americans

1. African Americans are unique in their experience of having entered the society as slaves. The institution of slavery persisted from 1619 to 1865.

2. Slave owners controlled every aspect of slaves’ lives, including family formation and persistence.

3. Even after slavery was abolished, living conditions for African Americans showed little improvement. Until the middle of 20th century, racial segregation was legally mandated in the South.

4. African Americans still have lower average incomes than Whites, are twice as likely to be unemployed, and are much more likely to be incarcerated than Whites.

5. The past 40 years (since the Civil Rights Movement) have seen significant improvement in the life chances of African Americans, however.

D. Asian Americans

1. Chinese men came to United States in the 19th century to work in the mines and on the railroads. Many people feared the Chinese would overrun the white majority (they were labeled  the “yellow peril”).

2. Laws were passed to prevent the Chinese from becoming citizens and from bringing their wives with them.

3. Japanese Americans faced hostility, which peaked in 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt ordered all Japanese Americans interred in concentration camps.

4. Today, Asian Americans are perceived as the “model minority.” This label deemphasizes the discrimination Asian Americans continue to face. It also suggests that other minorities have no excuse for not being equally successful.

E. Muslim Americans

1. Sixty-five percent of Muslim Americans are first generation immigrants from seventy different countries.

2. A third comes from Arabic-speaking countries of the Middle East  and North Africa and another 27% come from South Asia.

3. Despite being valuable members of this society, almost half of U.S. adults have unfavorable views of Muslim Americans and identify them with terrorists.

III. Racial and Ethnic Relations

A. What is racism?

1. Racism is the belief that humans are subdivided into distinct groups that differ in behavior, as well as in mental and physical capacities. These groups can be ranked as superior or inferior.

2. Personal racism is the expression of racist attitudes or behaviors by individual people. This is the most obvious form of racism, and includes the use of derogatory names, poor treatment, avoidance, and threats or acts of violence.

3. The term stereotype was coined by Walter Lippmann to refer to the over genesralized belief that a certain trait, behavior, or attitude characterizes all members of some identifiable group.

4. Stereotyping reflects our natural tendency to categorize people, things, and events so that we can make sense of our environment. The content of stereotypes is learned.

B. Prejudice and Discrimination

1. Prejudice results when stereotypes are the basis for a set of rigidly held, unfavorable attitudes, beliefs, and feelings about members of a racial or ethnic group.

2. Discrimination is the unfair treatment of people based on some social characteristic such as race, ethnicity, or sex.

3. Colorism is prejudice or discrimination within particular ethnoracial groups based upon skin color.

4. Racial transparency is the tendency for the race of a society’s majority to be so obvious and normative that it becomes, for all intents and purposes, invisible.

5. Quiet racism is a more subtle form of racism common among people who reject discrimination, but who are still affected by the racism embedded in the culture. It is expressed with discomfort or fear in the presence of minority group members, or opposition to programs that benefit minorities.

C. The Cultural Ideology of Racism

1. From a conflict perspective, the cultural ideology of racism that exists in our language and in our prevailing collective beliefs helps to maintain racial and ethnic inequality.

2. Racism in language refers to the way how we label groups can be seen as racist (e.g., black is a term that can also mean “evil,” “dirty,” or “hostile”).

3. The myth of innate racial inferiority is the idea that certain ethnoracial groups are innately inferior (in character, intelligence, propensity to violence). This theory is used to explain why certain racial groups experience less success. It ignores other factors, such as discrimination, labor markets, and geography.

D. Institutional Racism: Injustice Built Into the System

1. Institutional racism consists of established laws, customs, and practices that systematically reflect and produce racial inequalities in society, whether or not the individuals maintaining these practices have racist intentions.

2. Segregation is an example of institutional racism. Real estate agents may steer minority families into less desirable neighborhoods. Minorities are less likely to receive loans from the banks and pay higher interest rates than Whites pay.

3. In the economic system, workers from racial and ethnic minorities tend to be concentrated in lower-paying jobs.

4. In the health care system, minorities are less likely than Whites to have insurance, which leads to denied medical treatment or substandard care.

5. In the educational system, residential segregation means that African American and Latino/a students attend schools where poverty is concentrated. This means that they do not have equal access to resources such as books, supplies, and qualified teachers.

E. Ways to Overcome Institutional Racism

1. Institutional racism is a structural problem; therefore, it requires a structural solution.

2. Affirmative action is a program developed in the 1960s that seeks out members of minority groups for educational or occupational positions from which they had previously been excluded.

3. Affirmative action policies have been used successfully in several areas of social life, such as businesses, universities, unions, and local governments.

4. Many Whites feel threatened by affirmative action and believe that it should be abolished.

5. Some minorities have argued that affirmative action leads Whites to believe that minorities are less qualified and could not have been hired or accepted without lowered standards.

IV. Global Perspectives on Racism

A. Discrimination and racial-ethnic conflict are global phenomena.

B. In Eastern European countries, discrimination against the Roma people (gypsies) is the norm. As a result gypsies suffer from poverty, violence, illiteracy, and disease.

C. In Mexico, Mexicans who are more Indian than European are discriminated against. Indians also suffer from poverty, violence, and illiteracy.


Chapter 12: The Architecture of Inequality: Sex and Gender

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Sexism at the Personal Level

In our patriarchal society, sexual inequality exists and is justified through personal and institutional sexism. Although female sexism occurs, male sexism has much more cultural legitimacy and more serious consequences. Sexism and sex role stereotypes in social interactions create and reinforce power inequalities between women and men. Compared to women, men tend to use more authoritative conversational styles and have more freedom of movement and control over others in their nonverbal behavior. The personal sexual domination of men over women is most clearly expressed through high rates of sexual violence against women. Cultural ideology surrounding rape, masculinity, and the objectification of women legitimates sexual violence and promotes victim blaming.

The Ideology of Sexism: Biology as Destiny

Sex-based inequality and male domination have often been justified by beliefs about women’s “natural,” physiological inferiority. Sex-segregated roles and gender differences in personality traits are viewed as a natural result of women’s capacity to bear children and their tendency to be less physically strong than men. These functionalist assumptions overlook the cultural diversity in masculinity and femininity, which provide evidence for the cultural construction of gender and gender stratification. The sexist ideology which devalues women and femininity in our society is created and maintained through cultural images of gender, especially in the mass media.

Institutions and Gender Inequality

Institutional sexism is an undeniable element of the daily workings of the large scale organizations that play defining roles in our society. The “masculine values” within the institutional structure perpetuate women’s disadvantage in pursuit of equality.

Health and health care provide an interesting example for examining the social position of women relative to men.  While men have higher rates of cancer, heart disease, injury, stress related ailments and shorter life expectancies, women and their gender specific health concerns are not addresses to the degree that we might expect them to be. 

In the media men outnumber women four to one.  As a result, images of women on television and in advertising tend to be stereotypical with great emphasis placed on beauty and sexuality.  Women are generally underrepresented as strong characters.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, women and men participated in the family economy. When the economy shifted from being home based to being wage based, women were relegated to devalued and unpaid household and childcare tasks. Their exclusion from the public sphere and from the new economy led to a reduction in women’s power within the household.

Institutional sexism in the workplace is particularly harmful because the economic inequalities which women experience influence many other aspects of their lives. Because women retain primary responsibility for the household, they are less likely to be viewed by employers as an “ideal worker” (i.e., someone who can work late, travel, relocate). While women have increased their labor force participation and employment in traditionally male occupations, there is still a great deal of occupational sex segregation between and within occupations. In addition, women’s entry into traditionally male occupations may result in a decline in the prestige and pay of that occupation and a resegregation of the workforce.

There is a very resilient wage gap between women and men in our society, which is compounded by race and is exported to other countries with our multinational corporations. This earnings inequality exists mainly because of occupational sex segregation and  economic exploitation, and because traditionally female jobs are more sensitive to economic fluctuations. Gender differences in education, labor force participation, and seniority account for only a small percentage of the wage gap. Comparable worth refers to the effort to equalize wages among male and female workers whose work is of equal importance and requires comparable levels of skill. There are some practical difficulties in implementing comparable worth, and cultural perceptions and stereotypes also act as barriers to wage equality.

The Global Devaluation of Women

One cross-cultural similarity in gender expectations is the cultural devaluation of women, the consequences of which can include higher rates of malnourishment and infant death among females, dowry deaths, prostitution, and the restriction of women to less valued roles and identities. Women make up 70% of the world’s poor, though they work more, on average, than men do. In many countries, women have fewer legal rights than men. The global women’s rights movement has made some progress, but it lacks the support of the U.S. due to ambivalence over abortion rights.


I. Sexism at the Personal Level

A. What is sexism?

1. Sexism refers to a system of beliefs that assert the inferiority of one sex and that justify discrimination on the basis of this inferiority. At the personal level sexism refers to attitudes and behaviors communicated in everyday interaction.

2. Patriarchies are societies in which cultural beliefs and values give higher prestige and importance to men than to women. This is the norm worldwide.

3. Matriarchies are societies in which cultural beliefs and values give preference to women. They are, and have always been, rare.

4. Patriarchies include the most modern democratic societies.

B. Sexism and Social Interaction

1. Objectification is the practice of treating people (in this case, women) like objects.

2. Communication patterns show the effects of unconscious sexism. Symbolic interactionist research demonstrates that women and men carry on conversations in different ways—these patterns reinforce gender roles and the subordination of women.

3. From a conflict perspective, cases of sexual harassment are expressions of and attempts to reinforce positions of power. Women are not the only victims, though they are the majority (e.g., aggressive female bosses and incidents when men create a hostile environment for other men).

4. Other examples of harassment against women can be seen in Laura Miller’s (1997) research about female military officers. Many male subordinates show reluctance to have female superiors.

C. Sexual Orientation

1. Discrimination towards gays and lesbians is an ongoing problem.

2. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual college students report significant harassment and threat of physical assault.

D. Violence Against Women

1. In the United States, rape is the most frequently committed but least reported violent crime.

2. Throughout history, women have been viewed socially and legally as the property of men, either their fathers or their husbands. For this reason, male “property owners” have traditionally been seen as the victims of rape. This is also why it has been considered impossible for a man to rape his own wife.

3. According to feminist theorists, men have also used rape and the threat of rape to exert control over women.

4. The fear of rape can restrict women economically. Women may avoid neighborhoods with affordable housing or eschew job opportunities because of perceived danger.

5. Rape is the only crime in which a victim has to prove that consent wasn’t given. A woman is often perceived to be responsible if she didn’t fight hard enough or was in an “unsafe” location.

II. The Ideology of Sexism: Biology and Destiny

A. The ideology behind sexism is that men and women are biologically different.

1. Because women give birth, they are believed to be suited best for child care and domestic work. Women are assumed to be emotional, nurturing, and passive.

2. Men are believed to be suited for providing materially for their families and for leadership. Men are therefore assumed to be assertive, rational, and unemotional.

3. These beliefs become self-fulfilling—men and women are socialized to have traits consistent with the ideology.

B. Biological differences don’t actually necessitate the traits and roles that have been assigned.

III. Institutions and Sexual Inequality

A. Institutional Sexism

1. Institutional sexism is the subordination of women that is part of the workings of social institutions.

2. Sexism in social institutions perpetuates and magnifies women’s disadvantages, making social equality all the more difficult to attain.

3. Institutions and organizations incorporate values and practices based on traditional expectations for men and women.

B. Gender Inequality in Health and Health Care

1. Men have higher rates of cancer, heat disease, injury, stress related ailments and shorter life expectancies than women

2. Women are more likely to undergo surgical and diagnostic procedures than men.

3. Norman biological events in the lives of women are frequently seen as requiring medical intervention (i.e., menstruation, pregnancy, child-birth, and menopause).

4. There is a distinct lack of research into the medical problems of women.

C. Gender Inequality in the Media

1. There is a dual stereotype of modern women in the media—both successful supermom and seductive sex object.

2. Women internalize these media messages. They may consider themselves overweight or feel like they need to have cosmetic surgery to get the perfect body they see portrayed.

D. Gender Inequality in Families

1. Women have always had the greater responsibility when it comes to pregnancy, and they have the exclusive responsibility of preventing pregnancy.

2. Making pregnant women solely responsible for the well-being of fetuses allows us to ignore other dangers and other threats to children that lie outside the mother’s body such as poverty, inadequate health care, limited access to prenatal care, poor housing, environmental hazards, racism, and so on.

3. Women’s traditional roles within in the institution of family are to be keepers of the household and the nurturers of children.

4. Despite shifts in attitudes toward gender roles and the entry of women in the labor force, housework continues to be predominately female. Women end up working two jobs, paid work and housework.

E. Gender Inequality in Education

1. Globally, girls lag behind boys in educational opportunities.

2. In the U.S., girls tend to do better in school than boys. Despite boys’ poorer overall academic performance, boys still have higher expectations and higher self-esteem than girls. This gap widens with each passing year in school.

3. Boys are also likely to be encouraged by counselors and teachers to formulate ambitious career goals.

F. Gender Inequality in the Economy

1. In the U.S. and elsewhere, occupations are still highly segregated along gender lines. Female workers still earn significantly less than what male workers earn.

2. Most of the changes that have taken place in the gender distribution of different occupations have been the result of women entering male lines of work.

3. The average income of full-time female workers in the United States is significantly lower than that of men with the same level of education.

4. Comparable worth (pay equity) is the principle that women and men who perform jobs that are of equal value to society and that require equal training ought to be paid equally.

IV. The Global Devaluation of Women

A. Women make up the vast majority of global factory workers in multinational corporations, often working under unsafe and unhealthy conditions for extremely low pay.

B. In many developing countries, families short on food make sure that male children get more food than female children, even though their nutritional needs are the same.

C. In poor countries—especially those in the former Soviet bloc, desperate women are forced to participate in prostitution.


Chapter 13: Demographic Dynamics: Population Trends

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The Influence of Birth Cohorts

Cohorts affect individuals’ everyday lives demographically because people born around the same time experience life course events at about the same time (“cohort effects”) and historically because historical events and social trends create unique experiences and worldviews for each cohort (“period effects”). These social, population, and historical effects combine to create distinctive generations which are influenced by, but which also create and alter, the existing culture and social structure. The Baby Boomers are, for example, politically, economically, and culturally distinct from other cohorts because of their unique experiences. This cohort has tested the limits of each social institution as its members pass through the life cycle. The members of “Generation X, or GenX,” however, have very different expectations, worldviews, and opportunities, and more recently the “Millennium Generation” (those born between 1979 and 1994) has been distinguished from GenX.

Demographic Dynamics

Demographers study trends in macro-level population characteristics and trends such as population growth, age structures, and migration. Dramatic increases in global population size, particularly within developing countries, has created concern over growing inequalities in power, expanding social problems, and competition for scarce resources.

Birth and death rates also affect a society’s age structure, which has implications for social institutions and international relations. If current population trends continue, developing nations will have a large proportion of young people, and developed nations will have massive numbers of older people. The resulting problems and disparities in opportunities may lead to an increase in migration. Although immigration to developed nations would ease the institutional problems in these nations caused by asymmetrical age structures, the perceived economic, political, and cultural threat posed by the immigrant population could create prejudice and discrimination in receiving countries. Also related to migration patterns is the growth of populations in urban areas, the densest of which are in developing countries.

Population Trends in the United States

Immigration has played a significant role in America’s population growth and is partially a result of population explosions and subsequent economic and political disorder in other countries. Most immigrants today are not white; this immigration in combination with higher fertility rates of immigrants will create substantial changes in the racial and ethnic composition of the United States. Resentment of and violence against immigrants (“immigrant bashing”) and between minorities is increasing as economic competition intensifies and immigration becomes an intensely political issue.

The increasing average age of the U.S. population is a result of a decrease in fertility and a longer average life expectancy. The “graying” of America will impact the economy in that a proportionately small number of workers will be called upon to finance social and health services for a large number of elderly people. In addition, the impending labor shortage may create new employer responsiveness to worker needs. Family relations will also change: as life expectancy increases, individuals live to see their great-grandchildren; couples have more time to experience long-term marriages or to get divorced; and parents spend more time with their children. The graying of America will also necessitate cultural changes; contemporary devaluation of and discrimination against the elderly may be replaced with greater respect and a sense of social obligation.


I. The Influence of Birth Cohorts

A. What are birth cohorts?

1. Birth cohorts are people who were born during the same time period and who must face similar societal circumstances brought about by their position in the age structure of the population.

2. Cohort effects refers to people born at roughly the same time tending to experience life course events or social rites of passage—like puberty, marriage, childbearing, entrance into the workforce, and death—at roughly the same time.

3. Period effects refers to members of the same birth cohort also sharing a common history. A cohort’s place in time, and the historical events the cohort’s members live through, tell us a lot about the opportunities and constraints placed on the cohort.

4. Cohort and period effects combine to profoundly influence the lives and life chances of individuals.

B. Baby Boomers

1. Baby Boomers are the largest birth cohort of the 20th century, born in the affluent postwar period between 1946 and 1964.

2. By the year 2030 there will be more than 71 million retired Baby Boomers, about twice the number of retirees today.

3. Baby Boomers were the first to redefine families to include a variety of living arrangements, such as cohabitation, domestic partnerships, and never married women with dependent children.

4. Baby Boomers have used birth control to limit family size or choose to have no children.

5. Consequently, as the Baby Boomers reach old age they will have fewer children to turn to for the kind of help earlier generations could expect.

C. Generation X

1. There are roughly 60 million U.S. residents who were born between 1965-1979.

2. More Generation Xers experienced the divorce of their parents than any previous generation.

3. GenXers are less likely to get married than those in other cohorts and more likely to delay marriage if they do.

D. The Millennium Generation

1. This cohort is not evenly distributed across the nation—more of its members live in the rapidly growing Southwest.

2. According to the 2000 census, this cohort is more ethnically diverse than previous generations, with large numbers of Latino/as.  In fact, 1 in 3 members of this generation are not white.

3. This is the first generation to claim computers as a birthright and are the most media connected of all the generations.

4. Members of the Millennium Generation more likely to have grown up in a nontraditional family and less eager to get married in their twenties.

5. This generation is also more socially conservative than prior generations.

II. Demographic Dynamics

A. Population Growth & Demographic Transition

1. Demographers are the sociologists who study fluctuations in population characteristics.

2. Changes in population size are a function of birth, death, and migration rates.

3. Contemporary demographers feel that population can compound, magnify, or even create a wide variety of social problems (pollution, housing shortages, high inflation, energy shortages, and illiteracy).

4. Government intervention has purposefully altered the size and configuration of a population for political or economic reasons (e.g., the one-child policy China’s and the pro-baby policies in Russia, Singapore, and Australia).

5. Cultural tradition continues to play a powerful role in population growth and composition. In addition to exerting influence on family size, some cultures express a deep preference for male children (e.g., India and China).

6. Girls may have been aborted, killed at birth, abandoned, neglected, given up for foreign adoption, or hidden.

B. Age Structure

1. Age structure is a population’s balance of old and young people.

2. The elderly population is growing in more developed countries. In less developed countries the age structure tends to be dominated by younger people.

C. Geographic Transition

1. Migration refers to people’s moving to another place, one where prospects for a comfortable life are brighter.

2. Migration trends within a county can have a considerable effect on social life (e.g., rural to urban migration in developing countries, the migration of southern Blacks to northern cities after the U.S. Civil War).

3. From a sociological standpoint, migration no longer means moving to uncharted or newly developed areas, but rather, means pushing into populated territories where people already live. This has the potential to create friction between native and arriving groups.

III. Population Trends in the United States

A. Immigration and the changing and the Changing Face of the United States

1. The growing proportion of nonwhite, non-English-speaking immigrants and their children, as well as the shifting age structure marked by a growing proportion of elderly and a shrinking proportion of young people, will have an impact on U.S. demographic trends.

2. The strains of high immigration levels are likely to continue for some time. Most people who immigrate to the United States are pulled by the lure of employment and a better life.

B. The “Graying” of the United States

1. The age structure of a society is one of the key factors determining the need for various social resources.

2. The age structure can even influence certain social problems in ways that are not immediately apparent.

3. Two developments in the past few decades have changed the age structure in the United States: fertility drugs and technological advances in medicine and nutrition.

4. A society with an aging population will inevitably experience increased demands for pensions, health care, and other social services catering to the needs of the elderly.

5. With an aging population, fewer young workers will be available to replace retiring workers. Some employers will be forced to pay more to new workers, to focus more attention on employee productivity, or perhaps to turn to machines to replace workers.


Chapter 14: Architects of Change: Reconstructing Society

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Social Change

Institutional, cultural, and personal change characterizes every aspect of our lives and is a feature of every society. Social change (e.g., innovations, improvements, individual or community behavior) can result from environmental and population pressures, cultural innovation, and diffusion of technological or cultural practices. The pace of social change has accelerated and thus become more evident to members of society.

Social Movements

Social movements are collective actions which are continuous, organized, oriented around change, and involve a variety of activities. Reform movements advocate limited changes to an existing social arrangement and often spur counter-movements that resist reform. Revolutionary movements attempt to overthrow and replace the entire existing system or major institutions. Violence or the threat of violence (rioting, rebellion, terrorism) are common tactics of revolutionary movements.

Certain conditions must be met in order for a social movement to develop. There must be a large group of people who share a sense of frustration with the current system, and an ideology which justifies the existence of the movement. Sometimes movements are reliant on third-party support. For example, a worker’s movement may receive critical help from white-collar activists or organizers. Social movements also tend to develop when conditions have begun to improve—expectations tend to rise more rapidly than the conditions actually improve, and people become impatient.

Resource mobilization theory argues that frustration and ideological justification are not enough to create and sustain a social movement or to enable it to achieve its goals. What is necessary is an effective organizational system to obtain, mobilize, and sustain the required resources and support. Successful movements must also have established communication networks which allow them to disseminate information and organize mass mobilizations in a short period of time.

Many of the longest lasting movements have been supported by large bureaucratic organizations that connect them to the political system through conventional means. The bureaucratization and formal structuring of social movements may, however, be counterproductive to the movement’s goals. Social movement development and success are also structured by external conditions such as the “political opportunity structure” of a society. Movements will not develop or will be unsuccessful if the structure is not open to change. Sometimes the opportunities that arise are unintentional, the product of political change or instability (e.g., prodemocracy movements in Eastern Europe). In other cases, political regimes intentionally create or support change.

The Sociological Imagination Revisited

It is often difficult to acknowledge that our existing society was and continues to be collectively created by individuals. Ironically, the individuals who create the most effective social movements may have their achievements objectified and their struggles forgotten. The more complete their success, the more their accomplishments (our new freedoms and rights) are taken for granted. The sociological imagination helps us see how our lives are shaped by external social forces and institutions. It is important to remember, however, that we as individuals have enormous influence on the creation and re-creation of society through our participation in social movements and throughout our daily interactions.


I. Social Change

A. What is social change?

1. Change is the preeminent characteristic of modern human societies, whether it occurs in personal relationships, cultural norms and values, systems of stratification, or institutions.

2. Postindustrial societies include the United States and other technologically advanced societies where the creation and control of information is more important to the economy than manufacturing.

B. The Speed of Social Change

1. You can see evidence of the accelerating pace of change in the way we characterize separate periods of history, with each period containing its own distinct culture and social structure. The length of historical periods has shortened over time.

2. Émile Durkheim argued that rapid social change (through sudden economic shifts, wars, natural disasters) creates a normative vacuum. Old cultural rules no longer apply, but nothing has emerged to replace them. People become disoriented and confused—a state of anomie.

3. Rapid change isn’t always bad. Sometimes it is necessary to effectively address shifting social conditions; sometimes it does away with oppressive conditions.

C. Causes of Social Change

1. Environmental and population pressures. The shifting size and shape of the population—globally and locally—is enough by itself to create change in society. Population can create environmental crises, which may be resolved through social change.

2. Cultural innovation involves a change in norms or institutions that is spurred by scientific discoveries and technological inventions.

3. Cultural diffusion is the process by which beliefs, technology, customs, and other cultural items are spread from one group or society to another. The receiving society adjusts to the new item.

II. Social Movements

A. Types of Social Movements

1. A social movement is an organization of people and resources to enact, stop, or reverse social change.

2. A reform movement attempts to change limited aspects of a society but does not seek to alter or replace major social institutions. Such a movement often seeks inclusion in existing institutions.

3. A counter-movement is designed to prevent or reverse the changes sought or accomplished by an earlier movement.

4. A revolutionary movement is an attempt to overthrow the entire system or a major institution, such as the government or the existing class structure, in order to replace it with another.

B. Elements of Social Movements

1. Movements typically develop when certain segments of the population conclude that society’ s resources—access to political power, higher education, living wages, legal justice, medical care, a clean and healthy environment, and so on—are distributed unequally and unfairly.

2. A successful social movement must have an ideology—a coherent system of beliefs, values, and ideas that justifies its existence, identifies friends and enemies, and suggests goals.

3. The ideology must be spread through social networks of friends, family, co-workers, and so on.

4. Social movements sometimes require the involvement of individuals from outside the group of people whose interests the movement represents (i.e., people with more power and resources).

C. Resource Mobilization

1. Rising expectations, some sociologists argue, is why social movements are more likely to arise when social conditions are beginning to improve than when they are at their worst.

2. Resource mobilization theory asserts that the key ingredient in social movement is effective organization. No social movement can exist unless it has an organized system for acquiring money, labor, participants, legal aid, access to media, and so on.

D. Bureaucratization

1. Social movements require sustained activity over a long period to be successful.

2. Another important feature that is needed for a successful social movement is an established network of communication.

E. Politics and Social Movements

1. Political systems are more or less vulnerable and more or less receptive to challenge at different times.

2. Movements won’t develop if the political structure does not provide some opportunity for change. An example of this is revolutionary movements that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union flourished after Gorbachev instituted glasnost—openness.

3. Political opportunities provide the institutional frame within which social movements operate. Movements need access to decision makers.

III. The Sociological Imagination Revisited

A. We sometimes forget that many of the realities that we take for granted were the result, at some point in history, of the work of individuals.

B. We must remember that societies remain stable because enough individuals define existing conditions as satisfactory, and that societies change because enough individuals define situations that were once tolerable as problems that must be acknowledged and solved.

C. We re-create society not only through acts of defiance and organized social movements but also through daily interactions.