Forum 2

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Forum 2
Forum 2
Week 2 ForumView Full Description
Topic FolderSocialization 0 unread of 0 messagesView Full DescriptionChoose one of the following questions: 1.  Do people adjust their behavior and presentation of the self to affect the opinion of others?  Would you say that we have different “social selves” that we present in different settings?  How does this relate to the concepts of front and back stage as well as the techniques of social actors discussed by Goffman?2.  Do you think the mass media significantly contributes to the socialization process? When answering this question be sure to identify and describe the major agents of socialization in U.S. society today. Does the media have more influence over socialization than the other agents of social control? Why or why not?

3. Select a topic of contemporary relevance that is of interest to you (for example, poverty, juvenile delinquency, teen births, or racial neighborhood segregation). Briefly describe why you selected the topic.  Using what you learned in this chapter, create a simple research question about the topic. Match your research question to an appropriate research method and describe how as a sociologist you would conduct the research to answer your proposed question. The Week 2 Forum meets the following course objectives:
Apply a sociological perspective to the social worldAnalyze contemporary social issues using the sociological imagination and use sociological theories and concepts to analyze everyday life.Recognize and define social structure and social interaction.Demonstrate the ability to identify, locate, and retrieve information related to the topics in the course.Describe the major research methods used in sociological research.  Instructions for all Forums:Each week, learners will post one initial post per week.  This post must demonstrate comprehension of the course materials, the ability to apply that knowledge in the real world. 
Learners will engage with the instructor and peers throughout the learning week.  To motivate engaged discussion, posts are expected to be on time with regular interaction throughout the week.  All posts should demonstrate college level writing skills. To promote vibrant discussion as we would in a face to face classroom, formatted citations and references are not required.  Quotes should not be used at all, or used sparingly.  
If you quote a source quotation marks should be used and an APA formatted citation and reference provided.   Points Exemplary (100%)  Accomplished (85%)  Developing (75%) Beginning (65%) Not Participating (0%) Comprehension of course materials 4Initial post demonstrates rich comprehension of course materials.  Detailed use of terminology or examples learned in class.  If post includes opinion, it is supported with evaluated evidence.Initial post demonstrates clear comprehension of course materials.  Use of terminology or examples learned in class. If post includes opinion, it is supported with evaluated evidence.Initial post demonstrates some comprehension of course materials.  Specific terminology or examples learned in class may be incorrect or incomplete.  Post may include some opinion without evaluated evidence.Initial post does not demonstrate comprehension of course materials.  Specific terminology or examples learned in class are not included.  Post is opinion based without evaluated evidence.No posting, post is off topic, post does not meet minimum criteria for demonstrating beginning level of comprehension. Post may be plagiarized, or use a high percentage of quotes that prevent demonstration of student’s comprehension.Real world application of knowledge 2Initial post demonstrates that the learner can creatively and uniquely apply the concepts and examples learned in class to a personal or professional experience from their life or to a current event.Initial post demonstrates that the learner can apply the concepts and examples learned in class to a  personal or professional experience from their life or to a current event.Initial post does not clearly demonstrate that the learner can apply the concepts and examples learned in class. Unclear link between the concepts and examples learned in class to personal or professional experience or to a current event.Initial post does not demonstrate that the learner can apply the concepts and examples learned in class. No link to a personal or professional experience or to a current event is made in the post.No posting, post is off topic, post does not meet minimum criteria for demonstrating beginning level of application. Post may be plagiarized, or use a high percentage of quotes that prevent demonstration of student’s ability to apply comprehension.Active Forum Engagement and Presence 3Learner posts 4+ different days in the learning week. Replies to at least one response from a classmate or instructor on the learner’s initial post to demonstrate the learner is reading and considering classmate responses to their ideas.  Posts two or more 100+ word responses to initial posts of classmates.  Posts motivate group discussion and contributes to the learning community by doing 2+ of the following:offering advice or strategyposing a question,providing an alternative point-of-view,acknowledging similar experiencessharing a resourceLearner posts 3 different days in the learning week. Posts two 100+ word responses to initial posts of classmates.  Posts motivate group discussion and contribute to the learning community by doing  2+ of the following: offering advice or strategyposing a question,providing an alternative point-of-view,acknowledging similar experiencessharing a resourceLearner posts 2 different days in the learning week.  Posts one 100+ word response to initial post of classmate.  Post motivates group discussion and contributes to the learning community by doing 1 of the following: offering advice or strategyposing a question,providing an alternative point-of-view,acknowledging similar experiencessharing a resourceLearner posts 1 day in the learning week.  Posts one 100+ word response to initial post of classmate.  Post does not clearly motivate group discussion or clearly contribute to the learning community. Responses do not:offering advice or strategyposing a question,providing an alternative point-of-view,acknowledging similar experiencessharing a resourceLearner posts 1 day in the learning week, or posts are not made during the learning week and therefore do not contribute to or enrich the weekly conversation. No peer responses are made.  One or more peer responses of low quality (“good job, I agree”) may be made.Writing skills 1Post is 250+ words.  All posts reflect widely accepted academic writing protocols like using capital letters, cohesive sentences, and no texting language. Dialogue is also polite and respectful of different points of view.Post is 250+ words.  The majority of posts reflect widely-accepted academic writing protocols like using capital letters, cohesive sentences, and no texting language. Dialogue is polite and respectful of different points of view.Post is 175+ words.  The majority of posts reflect widely-accepted academic writing protocols like using capital letters (“I am” not “i am”), cohesive sentences, and no texting language. Dialogue may not be respectful of different points of view.Post is 150+ words.  The majority of the forum communication ignores widely-accepted academic writing protocols like capital letters, cohesive sentences, and texting; Dialogue may not be respectful of different points of view.No posting, post is off topic and does not meet minimum criteria for demonstrating beginning level of comprehension.

Chapter 4

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Forum 2

1.   Is the personality of an individual determined at birth?

2.   Are the media today as important in a child’s socialization as the child’s family? Might the media be more important?

3.   Do people adjust the presentation of their personalities in interactions in order to leave particular impressions? Might we say that we have different “social selves” that we present in different settings?

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We can find a box (or several boxes) of toys in most U.S. homes with children. Many of us can look back on our childhoods—whether they are a recent or distant memory—and recall a favorite toy. It might have been a smiling doll, a stuffed animal, a hardy truck or tank, or a set of colorful blocks. If we were lucky, we had an array of toys from which to choose our fun. In this chapter, we talk about agents of socialization, that is, the entities (like families, peers, and schools) that teach us the norms, rules, and roles of society. From a sociological perspective, toys are not just toys—rather, they too are agents of socialization, contributing to children’s early ideas of who they are and who they can be in society.

Like other key agents of socialization—families, peers, the media, school, and organized sports, among others—toys may contribute to a child’s sense of socially accepted roles, aspirations for the future, and perceptions of opportunities and limitations. If we as social beings are made not born, as sociologists argue, then toys contribute to the construction of boys and girls in ways that can be both predictable and surprising.

Forum 2

In 2014, two researchers at Oregon State University published a study with some attention-getting results. In this research, 37 girls ages 4 to 7 were each given one of three toys with which to play: a Mrs. Potato Head, a glamorous Barbie doll, or a doctor Barbie doll. After a short period of play, each subject was shown pictures depicting 10 female- and male-dominated professions, like librarian, teacher, and flight attendant (“female” jobs) and pilot, doctor, and firefighter (“male” jobs). With each picture, the subject was asked, “Could you do this job when you grow up?” and “Could a boy do this job when he grows up?” (see Figure 4.1). Notably, girls who played with either of the Barbie dolls identified fewer jobs that they could do than did the girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head—and all of the girls in the study thought that a boy would be able to do a greater number of both the male- and female-dominated jobs (Sherman & Zurbriggen, 2014). Other research has shown that young girls exposed to Barbies express a stronger desire to be thin and have lower body self-esteem than do girls exposed to dolls with more realistic body proportions (Dittmar, Halliwell, & Ive, 2006).


FIGURE 4.1 Number of Jobs Girls Think They Can Do Better or Worse Than Boys Based on Occupation Type

SOURCE: Sherman, A.M. and Zurbriggen, E.L. (2014). “‘Boys Can Be Anything’: Effect of Barbie Play on Girls’ Career Cognitions.” Sex Roles, online publication, March 5. Copyright © 2014 Springer Science + Business Media New York. Reprinted with permission.


A young girl prays for blessings in the New Year on the shoulders of her father at the Meiji shrine in Tokyo. Many components of one’s culture are seamlessly passed down through habit, observational learning, and family practices. 

These findings are provocative and raise some interesting questions: What is the power of toys? Do toys affect children’s aspirations and perceptions? And why did all of the girls in the 2014 study judge themselves less capable than boys of doing a variety of jobs? Efforts have been made to expose young girls to more career options through toys; for instance, the popular Lego brand has introduced female Lego scientist figures, including an astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist, complete with a beaker (Gambino, 2014). Might such changes encourage greater future interest among girls in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, where women are underrepresented? Do “boyish” toys already do that for boys? What do you think? 

In this chapter, we examine the process of socialization and the array of agents that help shape our social selves and our behavioral choices. We begin by looking into the “nature versus nurture” debate and what sociology says about that debate. We then discuss the key agents of socialization, as well as the ways in which socialization may differ in total institutions and across the life course. We then examine theoretical perspectives on socialization. Finally, we look at social interaction and ways in which sociologists conceptualize our presentation of self and our group interactions.


Socialization is the process by which people learn the culture of their society. It is a lifelong and active process in which individuals construct their sense of who they are, how to think, and how to act as members of their culture. Socialization is our primary way of reproducing culture, including norms and values and the belief that our culture represents “normal” social practices and perceptions.


Nina Leen/Contributor/Getty Images

Given the choice in an experiment between a wire mother surrogate and a surrogate covered with cloth, the infant monkey almost invariably chose the cloth figure. How are human needs similar to and different from those we find in the animal kingdom?

The principal agents of socialization—including parents, teachers, religious institutions, friends, television, and the Internet—exert enormous influence on us. Much socialization takes place every day, usually without our thinking about it: when we speak, when others react to us, when we observe others’ behavior—even if only in the movies or on television—and in virtually every other human interaction.

Debate has raged in the social sciences over the relative influence of genetic inheritance (“nature”) and cultural and social experiences (“nurture”) in shaping people’s lives (Coleman & Hong, 2008; Ridgeway & Correll, 2004). If inborn biological predispositions explain differences in behaviors and interests between, say, sixth-grade boys and girls, or between a professional thief and the police officer who apprehends him, then understanding socialization will do little to help us understand those differences. On the other hand, if biology cannot adequately explain differences in attitudes, characters, and behaviors, then it becomes imperative that we examine the effects of socialization.

Almost no one today argues that behavior is entirely determined by either socialization or biology. There is doubtless an interaction between the two. What social scientists disagree about, however, is which is more important in shaping a person’s personality, life chances, philosophy of life, and behavior. In this text we lean toward socialization because we think the evidence points in that direction.

Social scientists have found little evidence to support the idea that personalities and behaviors are rooted exclusively in “human nature.” Indeed, very little human behavior is actually “natural.” For example, humans have a biological capacity for language, but language is learned and develops only through interaction. The weight of socialization in the development of language, reasoning, and social skills is dramatically illustrated in cases of children raised in isolation. If a biologically inherited mechanism alone triggered language, it would do so even in people who grow up deprived of contact with other human beings. If socialization plays a key role, however, then such people would not only have difficulty learning to speak like human beings, but they would also lack the capacity to play the social roles to which most of us are so accustomed.

One of the most fully documented cases of social isolation occurred more than 200 years ago. In 1800, a “wild boy,” later named Victor, was seen by hunters in the forests of Aveyron, a rural area of France (Shattuck, 1980). Victor had been living alone in the woods for most of his 12 or so years and could not speak, and although he stood erect, he ran using both arms and legs like an animal. Victor was taken into the home of Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, a young medical doctor who, for the next 10 years, tried to teach him the social and intellectual skills expected of a child his age. According to Itard’s careful records, Victor managed to learn a few words, but he never spoke in complete sentences. Although he eventually learned to use the toilet, he continued to evidence “wild” behavior, including public masturbation. Despite the efforts of Itard and others, Victor was incapable of learning more than the most rudimentary social and intellectual skills; he died in Paris in 1828.

Other studies of the effects of isolation have centered on children raised by their parents, but in nearly total isolation. For 12 years, from the time she was 1½ years old, “Genie” (a pseudonym) saw only her father, mother, and brother, and only when one of them came to feed her. Genie’s father did not allow his wife or Genie to leave the house or have any visitors. Genie was either strapped to a child’s potty-chair or placed in a sleeping bag that limited her movements. Genie rarely heard any conversation. If she made noises, her father beat her (Curtiss, 1977; Rymer, 1993).

When Genie was 13, her mother took her and fled the house. Genie was unable to cry, control her bowels, eat solid food, or talk. Because of her tight confinement, she had not even learned to focus her eyes beyond 12 feet. She was constantly salivating and spitting, and she had little controlled use of her arms or legs (Rymer, 1993).

Wild Child: The Story Of Feral Children CLICK TO SHOW


Gradually Genie learned some of the social behavior expected of a child. For example, she became toilet trained and learned to wear clothes. However, although intelligence tests did not indicate reasoning disability, even after 5 years of concentrated effort on the part of a foster mother, social workers, and medical doctors, Genie never learned to speak beyond the level of a 4-year-old, and she never spoke with other people. Although she responded positively to those who treated her with sympathy, Genie’s social behavior remained severely underdeveloped for the rest of her life (Rymer, 1993).

Genie’s and Victor’s experiences underscore the significance of socialization, especially during childhood. Their cases show that however rooted in biology certain capacities may be, they do not develop into recognizable human ways of acting and thinking unless the individual interacts with other humans in a social environment. Children raised in isolation fail to develop complex language, abstract thinking, notions of cooperation and sharing, or even a sense of themselves as people. In other words, they do not develop the hallmarks of what we know as humanity (Ridley, 1998).

Sociologists and other social scientists have developed a number of theories to explain the role of socialization in the development of social selves. What these theories recognize is that whatever the contribution of biology, ultimately people as social beings are made, not born. Below, we explore four approaches to understanding socialization: behaviorism, symbolic interactionism, developmental stage theories, and psychoanalytic theories.


Behaviorism is a psychological perspective that emphasizes the effect of rewards and punishments on human behavior. It arose during the late 19th century to challenge the then-popular belief that human behavior results primarily from biological instincts and drives (Baldwin & Baldwin, 1986, 1988; Dishion, McCord, & Poulin, 1999). Early behaviorist researchers such as Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936) and John Watson (1878–1958), and later B. F. Skinner (1904–1990), demonstrated that even behavior thought to be purely instinctual (such as a dog salivating when it sees food) can be produced or extinguished through the application of rewards and punishments. Thus, a pigeon will learn to press a bar if that triggers the release of food (Skinner, 1938, 1953; Watson, 1924). Behaviorists concluded that both animal and human behavior can be learned, and neither is just instinctive.

When they turned to human beings, behaviorists focused on social learning, the way people adapt their behavior in response to social rewards and punishments (Baldwin & Baldwin, 1986; Bandura, 1977; Bandura & Walters, 1963). Of particular interest was the satisfaction people get from imitating others. Social learning theory thus combines the reward-and-punishment effects identified by behaviorists with the idea that we model the behavior of others; that is, we observe the way people respond to others’ behavior.

Social learning theory would predict, for example, that if a boy gets high fives from his friends for talking back to his teacher—a form of encouragement rather than punishment—he is likely to repeat this behavior. What’s more, other boys may imitate it. Social learning researchers have developed formulas for predicting how rewards and punishments affect behavior. For example, rewards given repeatedly may become less effective when the individual becomes satiated. If you have just eaten a huge piece of cake, you are less likely to feel rewarded by the prospect of another.

Social behaviorism is not widely embraced today as a rigorous perspective on human behavior. One reason is that only in carefully controlled laboratory environments is it easy to demonstrate the power of rewards and punishments. In real social situations the theory is of limited value as a predictor. For example, whether a girl who is teased (“punished”) for playing football will lose interest in the sport depends on many other experiences, such as the support of family and friends and her own enjoyment of the activity. The simple application of rewards and punishments is hardly sufficient to explain why people repeat some behaviors and not others.

In addition, behaviorist theories violate Popper’s principle of falsification (discussed in Chapter 2). Since what was previously rewarding may lose effectiveness if the person is satiated, if a reward does not work, we can always attribute its failure to satiation. Therefore, no matter the outcome of the experiment, the theory has to be true; it cannot be proven false. For these reasons sociologists find behaviorism an inadequate theory of socialization. To explain how people become socialized, they highlight theories that emphasize symbolic interaction.


Recall from the introductory chapter that symbolic interactionism views the self and society as resulting from social interaction based on language and other symbols. Symbolic interactionism has proven especially fruitful in explaining how individuals develop a social identity and a capacity for social interaction (Blumer, 1969, 1970; Hutcheon, 1999; Mead, 1934, 1938).

An early contribution to symbolic interactionism was Charles Horton Cooley’s (1864–1929) concept of the looking-glass self, the self-image that results from our interpretation of other people’s views of us. For example, children who are frequently told they are smart or talented will tend to see themselves as such and act accordingly. On the other hand, children who are repeatedly told they lack intelligence or are “slow” will lose pride in themselves and act the part. According to Cooley (1902/1964), we are constantly forming ideas about how others perceive and judge us, and the resulting self-image—the way we view ourselves—is in turn the basis of our social interaction with others.

Deprivation of Social Interaction CLICK TO SHOW



As a reference group, high school peers may provide the normative standards for a young person to judge his or her fashion sense, musical tastes, behavioral choices, and academic commitment. Does the power of peers as a reference group change in the college years? 

Cooley recognized that not everyone we encounter is equally important in shaping our self-image. Primary groups are small groups characterized by intense emotional ties, face-to-face interaction, intimacy, and a strong, enduring sense of commitment. Families, close friends, and lovers are all examples of primary groups likely to shape our self-image. Secondary groups, on the other hand, are large and impersonal, characterized by fleeting relationships. We spend much of our adult lives in secondary groups, such as college classrooms and workplaces, but secondary groups typically have less influence in forming our self-image than do primary groups. Both kinds of groups act on us throughout our lives; the self-image is not set in concrete at some early stage but continues to develop throughout adulthood (Barber, 1992; Berns, 1989).

Both primary and secondary groups also serve as reference groups, or groups that provide standards for judging our attitudes or behaviors. When you consider your friends’ reactions to your dress or hairstyle or the brand of mobile phone you plan to buy, you are using your peers as a reference in shaping your decisions.

George Herbert Mead (1863–1931), widely regarded as the founder of symbolic interactionism, explored the ways in which self and society shape one another. Mead proposed that the self comprises two parts: the “I” and the “me.” The I is the impulse to act; it is creative, innovative, unthinking, and largely unpredictable. The me is the part of the self through which we see ourselves as others see us. (Note the similarity between Mead’s “me” and Cooley’s “looking-glass self.”) The I represents innovation; the me, social convention and conformity. In the tension between them, the me is often capable of controlling the I. When the I initiates a spontaneous act, the me raises society’s response: How will others regard me if I act this way?

Mead further argued that people develop a sense of self through role-taking, the ability to take the roles of others in interaction. For example, a young girl playing soccer may pretend to be a coach; in the process, she learns to see herself (as well as other players) from a coach’s perspective. Mead proposed that childhood socialization relies on an ever-increasing ability to take on such roles, moving from the extreme self-centeredness of the infant to an adult ability to take the standpoint of society as a whole. He outlined four principal stages in socialization that reflect this progression: the preparatory, play, game, and adult stages. The completion of each stage results in an increasingly mature social self.

1.  During the preparatory stage, children younger than 3 years old relate to the world as though they are the center of the universe. They do not engage in true role-taking but respond primarily to things in their immediate environments, such as their mothers’ breasts, the colors of toys, or the sounds of voices.

2.  Children 3 or 4 years of age enter the play stage, during which they learn to take the attitudes and roles of the people with whom they interact. Significant others are the specific people important in children’s lives and whose views have the greatest impact on the children’s self-evaluations. By role-playing at being mothers or fathers, for example, children come to see themselves as their parents see them. However, according to Mead, they have not yet acquired the complex sense of self that lets them see themselves through the eyes of many different people—or society.

Socialization and Men CLICK TO SHOW


© Jim West / Alam

Game playing is an activity found in some form in every culture. Some games, including basketball and soccer, require teamwork, while others, including checkers and mancala, are played by one person against another. Team sports games provide many socialization benefits, as young children learn how to interact with one another and develop their motor skills. 

3.  The game stage begins when children are about 5 and learn to take the roles of multiple others. The game is an effective analogy for this stage. For example, to be an effective basketball player, an individual must have the ability to see him- or herself from the perspective of teammates, the other team, and the coach, and must play accordingly. He or she must know the rules of the game. Successful negotiation of the social world also requires that people gain the ability to see themselves as others see them, to understand societal “rules,” and to act accordingly. This stage signals the development of a self that is aware of societal positions and perspectives.

4.  Game playing takes the child to the final, adult stage, which can appear as early as the first and second grades. Children at this stage have internalized the generalized other, the sense of society’s norms values by which people evaluate themselves. They take into account a set of general principles that may or may not serve their self-interest—for example, voluntarily joining the army to fight in a war that might injure or kill them because patriotic young people are expected to defend their country. By the adult stage, a person is capable of understanding abstract and complex cultural symbols, such as love and hate, success and failure, friendship, and morality.

Mead also had a vision that in the future people would be able to assimilate a multitude of generalized others, adapting their behavior in terms of their own but also other people’s cultures. Mead’s “dream of a highly multicultural world” may someday be a reality as globalization makes ever more people aware of the value of other cultures.


Like Mead and Cooley, the Swiss social psychologist Jean Piaget (1896–1980) believed humans are socialized in stages. Piaget devoted a lifetime to researching how young children develop the ability to think abstractly and make moral judgments (Piaget, 1926, 1928, 1930, 1932). His theory of cognitive development, based largely on studies of Swiss children at play (including his own), argues that an individual’s ability to make logical decisions increases as the person grows older. Piaget noted that infants are highly egocentric, experiencing the world as if it were centered entirely on them. In stages over time, socialization lets children learn to use language and symbols, to think abstractly and logically, and to see things from different perspectives.

Piaget also developed a theory of moral development, which holds that as they grow, people learn to act according to abstract ideas about justice or fairness. This theory parallels his idea of cognitive development, since both describe overcoming egocentrism and acquiring the ability to take other points of view. Eventually children come to develop abstract notions of fairness, learning that rules should be judged relative to the circumstances. For example, even if the rules say “three strikes and you’re out,” an exception might be made for a child who has never played the game or who is physically challenged.

Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987) extended Piaget’s ideas about moral development. In his best-known study, subjects were told the story of the fictitious “Heinz,” who was unable to afford a drug that might prevent his wife from dying of cancer. As the story unfolds, Heinz breaks into the druggist’s shop and steals the medication. Kohlberg asked his subjects what they would have done, emphasizing that there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. Using experiments such as this, Kohlberg (1969, 1983, 1984) proposed three principal stages (and several substages) of moral development:

1.  The preconventional stage, during which people seek simply to achieve personal gain or avoid punishment. A person might support Heinz’s decision to steal on the grounds that it would be too difficult to get the medicine by other means, or oppose it on the grounds that Heinz might get caught and go to jail. Children are typically socialized into this rudimentary form of morality between ages 7 and 10.


2.  The conventional stage, during which the individual is socialized into society’s norms and values and would feel shame or guilt about violating them. The person might support Heinz’s decision to steal on the grounds that society would judge him callous if he let his wife die, or oppose it because people would call Heinz a thief if he were caught. Children are socialized into this more developed form of morality at about age 10, and most people remain in this stage throughout their adult lives.

3.  The postconventional stage, during which the individual invokes general, abstract notions of right and wrong. Even though Heinz has broken the law, his transgression has to be weighed against the moral cost of sacrificing his wife’s life. People at the highest levels of postconventional morality will go beyond social convention entirely, appealing to a higher set of abstract principles.

Some scholars have argued that Kohlberg’s theory reflects a strong male bias because it derives from male rather than female experience. Foremost among Kohlberg’s critics is Carol Gilligan (1982; Gilligan, Ward, & Taylor, 1989), who argues that men may be socialized to base moral judgment on abstract principles of fairness and justice, but women are socialized to base theirs on compassion and caring. She showed that women scored lower on Kohlberg’s measure of moral development because they valued how other family members were affected by Heinz’s decision more than abstract considerations of justice. Because it assumes that abstract thinking represents a “higher stage” of development, Gilligan suggests, Kohlberg’s measure is necessarily biased in favor of male socialization.

Research testing Gilligan’s ideas has found that men and women alike adhere to both care-based and justice-based forms of moral reasoning (Gump, Baker, & Roll, 2000; Jaffee & Hyde, 2000). Differences between the sexes in these kinds of reasoning are in fact small or nonexistent. Studies of federal employees (Peek, 1999), a sample of men and women using the Internet (Anderson, 2000), and a sample of Mexican American and Anglo-American students (Gump et al., 2000) have all found no significant difference between men and women in the degree to which they employ care-based and justice-based styles of moral reasoning. In her effort to correct Kohlberg’s research, which looked only at men, might Gilligan have also contributed to gender stereotypes?


Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), an Austrian psychiatrist, had a major impact on the study of socialization as well as the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry. Freud (1905, 1929, 1933) founded the field of psychoanalysis, a psychological perspective that emphasizes the complex reasoning processes of the conscious and unconscious mind. He stressed the role of the unconscious mind in shaping human behavior and theorized that early childhood socialization is essential in molding the adult personality by age 5 or 6. In addition, Freud sought to demonstrate that in order to to thrive, a society must socialize its members to curb their instinctive needs and desires.

FIGURE 4.2 The Id, Ego, and Superego, as Conceived by Freud

According to Freud, the human mind has three components: the id, the ego, and the superego (Figure 4.2). The id is the repository of basic biological drives and needs, which Freud believed to be primarily bound up in sexual energy. (Id is Latin for “it,” reflecting Freud’s belief that this aspect of the human personality is not even truly human.) The ego (Latin for “I”) is the “self,” the core of what we regard as a person’s unique personality. The superego consists of the values and norms of society, insofar as they are internalized, or taken in, by the individual. The concept of the superego is similar to the notion of a conscience.


Freud believed that babies are all id. Left to their own devices, they will seek instant gratification of their biological needs for food, physical contact, and nurturing. Therefore, according to Freud, to be socialized they must eventually learn to suppress such gratification. The child’s superego, consisting of cultural “shoulds” and “should nots,” struggles constantly with the biological impulses of the id. Serving as mediator between id and superego is the child’s emerging ego. In Freud’s view, the child will grow up to be a well-socialized adult to the extent that the ego succeeds in bending the biological desires of the id to meet the social demands of the superego.

Since Freud claimed that personality is set early in life, he viewed change as difficult for adults, especially if psychological troubles originate in experiences too painful to face or remember. Individuals must become fully aware of their repressed or unconscious memories and unacceptable impulses if they ever hope to change (Freud, 1933). Freud’s psychoanalytic therapy focused on accessing deeply buried feelings in order to help patients alter current behaviors and feelings. Whereas Mead saw socialization as a lifelong process relying on many socialization agents, for Freud it stopped at a young age. Table 4.1 compares Mead’s and Freud’s views point by point.

TABLE 4.1   Comparison of Mead’s and Freud’s Theories of Socialization

SOURCE: Adapted from Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

FIGURE 4.3 Agents of Socialization


Among primary groups, the family is for most people the single most critical agent of socialization. Other significant agents are school, peer groups, work, religion, and technology and mass media, including the Internet and social media (Figure 4.3).


The family is a primary group in which children, especially during the earliest years of their lives, are physically and emotionally dependent on adult members. It plays a key role in transmitting norms, values, and culture across generations, and as a result it is the first and usually the foremost source of socialization in all societies.

Children usually first encounter their society in the family, learning socially defined roles like father, mother, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, and grandparent, and the expected behaviors attached to them. Parents often hold stereotypical notions of how boys and girls should be, and they reinforce gender behaviors in countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways. A father may be responsible for grilling and yard work, while a mother cooks dinner and cleans the house. On the other hand, some families embrace egalitarian or nonconventional gender roles. Although same-sex couple families are more likely than families headed by opposite-sex couples to challenge gender-normative roles and behaviors, they sometimes still enforce or support typical gender roles for their children (Ackbar, 2011; Bos & Sandfort, 2010).

The way parents relate to their child affects virtually every aspect of the child’s behavior, including the ability to resolve conflicts through the use of reason instead of violence and the propensity for emotional stability or distress. The likelihood that young people will be victims of homicide, commit suicide, engage in acts of aggression against other people, use drugs, complete their secondary education, or have an unwanted pregnancy also is greatly influenced by childhood experiences in the family (Campbell & Muncer, 1998; McLoyd & Smith, 2002; Muncer & Campbell, 2000). For example, children who are regularly spanked or otherwise physically punished internalize the idea that violence is an acceptable means of achieving goals and are more likely than peers who are not spanked to engage in aggressive delinquent behavior. They are also more likely to have low self-esteem, suffer depression, and do poorly in school (Borgeson, 2001; Straus et al., 1997). (See the Private Lives, Public Issues box on page 88.)

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Should parents spank their children? Ask some friends or classmates what they think. You may find a wide range of opinions on this practice. 

While many people still believe in the adage “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” the use of physical punishment in socializing children varies largely by social class. At a rate that has largely held steady in the past decades, about 65% of U.S. adults approve of spanking under certain circumstances. Interestingly, these adults are most likely to be members of the working class, rather than the middle or upper class (Berlin et al., 2009; Borgeson, 2001; Rosellini & Mulrine, 1998). Remember Kohn’s (1989) research, which concluded that the experience of people in working-class employment is reflected in their child-rearing practices: Working-class parents are more likely to emphasize obedience than are middle-class parents, who tend to stress independent thinking. The use of corporal punishment, however, is not only a matter of social class or a private decision made by parents in the home. It is also a public issue with social consequences.

Murray Straus, a prominent sociologist at the University of New Hampshire, found that when boys and girls 6 to 9 years old were spanked, they became more antisocial—more likely to cheat, tell lies, act cruelly to others, break things deliberately, and get into trouble at school (Straus, Sugarman, & Giles-Sims, 1997; also see McKee et al., 2007). Straus and his colleagues concluded that reducing corporal punishment would not only benefit children but also possibly reduce antisocial behavior.

Other research evidence supports Straus’s conclusions (Borgeson, 2001; de Paul & Domenech, 2000). For example, one study concluded that corporal punishment, and even some lesser forms of parental punishment, could have a strong effect on a child’s ability to cope later in life (Welsh, 1998). Similarly, the authors of a study of Israeli high school students found that adolescents whose parents routinely resorted to physical punishment were more likely than others to have psychiatric symptoms and lower levels of well-being in general (Bachar, Canetti, Bonne, DeNour, & Shalev, 1997). On the other hand, research by psychologist Marjorie Lindner Gunnoe (1997), which tracked more than 1,100 children over a 5-year period, found that while some 8- to 11-year-old boys, but not girls, who had been spanked regularly got into more fights at school, children of both sexes ages 4 to 7 who had been spanked regularly got into fewer fights than children who were not spanked. Most research, however, confirms the negative effects of spanking.

Although not all the research findings on the effects of physical punishment are in agreement, the evidence does suggest that spanking—an aggressive form of punishment—may result in aggressive behavior on the part of children. The parents’ “private” decision to use corporal punishment becomes a “public issue,” since children who are physically punished at home are more likely to become physically aggressive outside the home.


 Using the knowledge you have gained through the study of socialization, and knowing the results of research on the effects of physical punishment on children’s behavior, could you design a social policy or program to reduce the use of physical punishment in the home?


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Schools are an important agent of socialization. Students learn academic skills and knowledge, but they also gain social skills, acquire dominant values of citizenship, and practice obedience to authority.

Child-rearing practices within families can vary by ethnicity or religious affiliation. Because U.S. culture is ethnically diverse, it is difficult to describe a “typical” American family (Glazer, 1997; Stokes & Chevan, 1996). Among Latinos, for example, the family often includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws, who share child-rearing responsibilities. Among African Americans as well, child rearing may be shared among a broader range of family members than in White families (Lubeck, 1985). Extended family patterns also occur among Afro-Caribbean immigrants and the Amish religious community of Pennsylvania (Forsythe-Brown, 2007; Ho, 1993; Stokes & Chevan, 1996).

Child-rearing practices may vary by social class as well. Parents whose jobs require them to be subservient to authority and to follow orders without raising questions typically stress obedience and respect for authority at home, while parents whose work gives them freedom to make their own decisions and be creative are likely to socialize their children into norms of creativity and spontaneity. Since many working-class jobs demand conformity while middle- and upper-middle-class jobs are more likely to offer independence, social class may be a key factor in explaining differences in child rearing (Kohn, 1989; Lareau, 2002).

Family patterns are changing rapidly in the United States, partly because of declining marriage rates and high rates of divorce. Such changes affect socialization. For example, children raised by a single parent may lack role models for the parent who is missing or experience economic hardship that in turn determines where they go to school or with whom they socialize. Children raised in blended families (the result of remarriage) may have stepparents and stepsiblings whose norms, values, and behavior are unfamiliar. Same-sex couple families may both challenge and, as noted earlier, reinforce conventional modes of socialization, particularly with respect to gender socialization. Although families are changing, the influence of agents of socialization remains powerful.


Children in the United States often begin “schooling” when they enter day care or preschool as infants or toddlers, and they spend more hours each day and more days each year in school than was the case a hundred years ago (although they spend less time in school than their peers in Europe and Asia). Indeed, education has taken on a large role in helping young people prepare for adult society. In addition to reading, writing, math, and other academic subjects, schools are expected to teach values and norms like patriotism, competitiveness, morality, and respect for authority, as well as basic social skills. Some sociologists call this the hidden curriculum, that is, the unspoken classroom socialization into the norms, values, and roles of a society that schools provide along with the “official” curriculum. The hidden curriculum may include “lessons” in gender roles taught through teachers’ differing expectations of boys and girls, with, for instance, boys pushed to pursue higher math while girls are encouraged to embrace language and literature (Sadker, Zittleman, & Sadker, 2003). It may also entail “lessons” that reinforce class status, with middle- and upper-class children having access to classes and schools with advanced subjects and high technology and poor children provided a smaller selection of less academically challenging or vocational classes and limited access to advanced teaching technologies (Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Kozol, 2005).


Peers are people of the same age and, often, the same social standing. Peer socialization begins when a child starts to play with other children outside the family, usually during the first year of life, and grows more intense in school. Conformity to the norms and values of friends is especially compelling during adolescence and continues into adulthood (Harris, 2009; Ponton, 2000; Sebald, 2000). In U.S. society, most adolescents spend more time with their peers than with their families due to school, athletic activities, and other social and academic commitments. Sociological theories thus often focus on young people’s peer groups to account for a wide variety of adult behavioral patterns, including the development of self-esteem and self-image, career choices, ambition, and deviant behavior (Cohen, 1955; Hine, 2000; Sebald, 2000).

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Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, millions of girls have had the opportunity to participate in organized sports. Do social messages conveyed by male-dominated sports differ from those in female-dominated sports? 

Judith Rich Harris (2009) argues that after the first few years of life, a child’s friends’ opinions outweigh the opinions of parents. To manage these predominant peer group influences, she suggests, parents must try to ensure that their children have the “right” friends. But this is an increasingly complex problem when “friends” may be Internet acquaintances who are difficult to monitor and of whom parents may be unaware.

The adolescent subculture plays an extremely important part in the socialization of adolescents in the modern world. Researchers have described the following characteristics of this subculture (Hine, 2000; Sebald, 2000):

1.  A set of norms not shared with the adult or childhood cultures and governing interaction, statuses, and roles.

2.  An argot (the special vocabulary of a particular group) that is not shared with nonadolescents and is often frowned upon by adults and school officials. Think about the jargon used by young people who text—many adults can read it only with difficulty!

3.  Various underground media and preferred media programs, music, and Internet sites.

4.  Unique fads and fashions in dress and hairstyles that often lead to conflict with parents and other adult authorities over their “appropriateness.”

5.  A set of “heroes, villains, and fools.” Sometimes adults are the “villains and fools,” while the adults’ “villains and fools” are heroes in the adolescent subculture.

6.  A more open attitude than that found in the general culture toward experimentation with drugs and at times violence (fighting, for example).

Teenagers differ in the degree to which they are caught up in, and therefore socialized by, the adolescent subculture. Harris’s (2009) claim that parents are largely irrelevant is no doubt an overstatement, yet in Western cultures peer socialization does play a crucial part in shaping many of the ideas, self-images, and attitudes that will persist throughout individuals’ lives.

Sociologists use the term anticipatory socialization to describe the process of adopting the behaviors or standards of a group one emulates or hope to join. For example, teens who seek membership into a tough, streetwise gang will abandon mainstream norms for the dress and talk of the tougher youth they seek to emulate. Similarly, young people who aspire to be part of a respected group of athletes may adopt forms of dress and training practices that may lead to acceptance by the group. Anticipatory socialization looks to future expectations rather than just present experience.


Organized sports are a fundamental part of the lives of millions of children in the United States: By one estimate, 21.5 million children and teens ages 6 to 17 participate in at least one organized sport (Kelley & Carchia, 2013). If it is the case, as psychologist Erik Erikson (1950) posited, that in middle childhood children develop a sense of “industry or inferiority,” then it is surely the case that in a sports-obsessed country like the United States, one avenue for generating this sense of self is through participation in sports.

Being part of a sports team and mastering skills associated with sports are activities that are widely recognized in U.S. society as valuable; they are presumed to “build character” and to contribute to hard work, competitiveness, and the ability to perform in stressful situations and under the gaze of others (Friedman, 2013), all of which are positively evaluated. In fact, research suggests that there are particular benefits of sports for girls, including lower rates of teen sexual activity and pregnancy (Sabo, Miller, Farrell, Melnick, & Barnes, 1999) and higher rates of college attendance, labor force participation, and entry into male-dominated occupations (Stevenson, 2010). Some studies have also found improved academic performance relative to nonparticipants for all athletes, though they have shown some variation in this effect by race and gender (Eccles & Barber, 1999; Miller, Melnick, Barnes, Farrell, & Sabo, 2005).

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Television offers a variety of female images ranging from independent working women to “fashionistas.” From the Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977) to Sex and the City (1998-2004) to Pretty Little Liars (2010–Present), images can both reflect and construct ideas about femininity. 

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At the same time, sports participation has been associated in some research literature with socialization into negative attitudes, including homophobia. In a study of more than 1,400 teenagers, Osborne and Wagner (2007) found that boys who participated in “core” sports (football, basketball, baseball, and/or soccer) were three times more likely than their nonparticipant peers to express homophobic attitudes. In a country in which sports and sports figures are widely venerated and participation, particularly for boys, is labeled as “masculine,” there may also be negative effects for boys who are not athletic or who do not enjoy sports.


Religion is a central part of the lives of many people around the world. While the United States has a notable proportion of inhabitants who identify as atheists, about 80% of U.S. adults indicate they are members of a religion, and nearly 40% attend religious services once a week. Even among the one-fifth of the population who declare themselves unaffiliated with any particular religion, 68% believe in God, and more than 20% say that they pray every day (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2012b). Beginning with Émile Durkheim, sociologists have noted the role of religion in fostering social solidarity. Talcott Parsons (1970) pointed out that religion also acts as an agent of socialization, teaching fundamental values and beliefs that contribute to a shared normative culture.

Different religions function in similar ways, giving their followers a sense of what is right and wrong, how to conduct themselves in society, and how to organize their lives. Some socialize their followers with abstract teachings about morality, service, or self-discipline, directing believers to, for example, serve their fellow human beings or to avoid the sin of vanity. Others contain abstract teachings but specific rules about dress and hairstyles. The Amish faith entreats young men to remain clean-shaven prior to marriage, but married men must grow beards. Sikh men of India wear turbans that cover their hair, which they do not cut.

Like other agents of socialization and social control, religion directs its followers to choose certain paths and behaviors and not others. This is not to say that we are compelled to behave a certain way but rather that socialization often leads us to control our own behavior because we fear social ostracism or other negative consequences.


Among the most influential agents of socialization in modern societies are technology and the mass media. Newspapers, magazines, movies, radio, and television are all forms of mass media. Television may be a particularly influential agent of socialization: In the United States, the average child aged 2 to 11 spends more than 26 hours a week in front of the TV (Nielsen, 2011; see also Figure 4.4), and by age 5 to 8, nearly half have televisions in their bedrooms (Lewin, 2011b). By the time the typical American child reaches 18, he or she will have viewed nearly 18,000 hours of television. While television remains a staple in the daily lives of most children and young people, an increasing proportion of screen time is spent surfing Internet sites, watching online videos, texting, or interacting through sites like Facebook, all of which also contribute to socialization.


FIGURE 4.4 Average Weekly Television Viewing by Age Group in the United States, 2011

SOURCE: Data from Nielsen (2011) State of the Media: The Cross Platform Report. New York City: Nielsen Media Research.

Child psychologists, sociologists, and parents’ groups pay special attention to the impact of TV and other media violence on children and young adults. Media studies during the past 20 years have largely come to a common conclusion: Media violence has the clear potential to socialize children, teenagers, and even adults into a greater acceptance of real-life violence. This is true for males and females, Whites and non-Whites. Much media violence is directed against women, and a large body of research supports the conclusion that media violence promotes tolerance among men for sexual violence, including rape (Anderson et al., 2003; Greene & Krcmar, 2005). The argument is not that viewing violent shows is a direct cause of violence; rather, viewers may become immunized to the sight of violence. Still, given that most people who are exposed to violence in the media do not become violent, the part played by the media as an agent of socialization is probably less important than the contribution made by other agents, such as family and peers.

The media play a role in socialization by creating fads and fashions for how people should look, what they should wear, and what kinds of friendships they should have. These influences, and accompanying gender stereotypes, are particularly strong during adolescence. Children’s cartoons, prime-time television, TV advertisements, and popular networks like MTV, TLC, and VH-1 often depict males and females, as well as people of particular races and ethnicities, in stereotyped ways. Teenage girls, for example, are likely to be depicted as boy-crazy and obsessed with their looks; teenage boys are shown as active, independent, and sexually and physically aggressive (Kahlenberg & Hein, 2010; Maher, Herbst, Childs, & Finn, 2008). Females’ roles also portray mostly familial or romantic ideals, whereas males fulfill work-related roles (Lauzen, Dozier, & Horan, 2008). These stereotypes have been found to influence children’s gender perceptions (Aubrey & Harrison, 2004; Gerding & Signorielli, 2014). Additionally, gender stereotypes influence beliefs across the spectrum of sexual orientation, with gay teens embracing stereotypes in ways comparable to their heterosexual peers (Bishop, Kiss, Morrison, Rushe, & Specht, 2014).

By some estimates, people in the United States now spend more than a billion hours per month using social networking sites, 407 million hours participating in online gaming, and 329 million hours e-mailing (Nielsen, 2010, 2011). While the long-term impacts of this massive level of use have yet to be determined, one clear way the Internet affects socialization is by changing social interaction. To name just one effect that was impossible 20 years ago, large groups of semianonymous individuals, often separated by great distances, can interact with one another in virtual communities, even forming close ties and friendships.

On the positive side, especially when online interactions are mixed with off-line face-to-face interactions, Internet use can foster new personal relationships and build stronger communities (Rule, 1999; Valentine, 2006; Wellman & Hampton, 1999). The types of friendships adolescents create and maintain through social media reflect the friendships they have off-line (Mazur & Richards, 2011). Since online interaction is often anonymous and occurs from the safety of familiar places, people with characteristics society tends to stigmatize, such as obesity or a stutter, can enter virtual communities where differences are not perceived or punished (McKenna & Bargh, 1998) and interests such as chess or movies can be shared. Finally, the moderate use of e-mail and the Internet can help children and teens maintain and strengthen interpersonal relationships (Subrahmanyam & Lin, 2007).

The Internet can have negative social consequences, too. Researchers have linked high levels of use with declines in communication within households, shrinking social circles, and increased depression and loneliness (Dokoupil, 2012a, 2012b; Kraut et al., 1998; Yen, Yen, & Ko, 2010). Extreme cases can develop into Internet addiction, a relatively recent phenomenon characterized by a search for social stimulation and escape from real-life problems (Armstrong, Phillips, & Saling, 2000; Block, 2008). Although the Internet can be a valuable learning tool for children, it can also damage their development by decreasing the time they spend in face-to-face interactions and exposing them to inappropriate information and images (Bremer & Rauch, 1998; Lewin, 2011b; Livingstone & Brake, 2010).

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Another form of negative socialization is cyberbullying—taunting, teasing, or verbal attacks through e-mail, text, or social networking sites with the intent to hurt the victim (Van DeBosch & Van Cleemput, 2008). Cyberbullying is a growing problem of acute concern to social workers, child psychologists, and school administrators (Slovak & Singer, 2011). Children and adolescents who are bullied in real life are sometimes both cyberbullies and victims of cyberbullying (Dilmac, 2009; Smith et al., 2008; Tyman, Saylor, Taylor, & Comeaux, 2010). Victims take to the Internet to get revenge, often through anonymous attacks, but this perpetuates the bullying cycle online and in real life. One study found that hurtful cyberteasing between adolescents in romantic relationships can escalate into real-life shouting, throwing of objects, or hitting (Madlock & Westerman, 2011).

Modern technology may foster positive socialization, but it also has the potential to be detrimental on both the micro level of individual and small-group interactions and the macro level of communities and countries. Consider the role played today by social media in turning interest groups, and even ethnic groups, against one another. The Internet can be a powerful source of information, but it can also be a source of profound disinformation and hatred, as we discuss in the Global Issues box on page 95.


For most adults in the United States, postadolescent socialization begins with entry into the workforce. While workplace norms calling for conformity or individuality are frequently taught by parents in the home, expectations at work can differ from those we experience in primary groups such as the family and peer groups.

Arguably, workplace socialization has had a particular influence on women, dramatically changing gender roles in many countries, including the United States. Beginning in the 1960s, paid work afforded women increased financial independence, allowing them to marry later—or not at all—and bringing them new opportunities for social interaction and new social roles.

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Meyrowitz (1985) writes that “old people are respected [in media portrayals] to the extent that they can behave like young people.” Betty White is a highly recognized actress, whose roles are often humorous and appealing to younger crowds. Think about portrayals of the elderly you have seen recently in movies or on television. Do you agree with this assessment? 

Employment also often socializes us into both the job role and our broader role as a “member” of a collective sharing the same employer. Becoming a teacher, chef, factory worker, lawyer, or retail salesperson, for instance, requires learning specific skills and the norms, values, and practices associated with that position. In that role, the employee may also internalize the values and norms of the employer and may even come to identify with the employer: Notice that employees who are speaking about their workplaces will often refer to them rather intimately, saying, for instance, not that “Company X is hiring a new sales manager” but rather that “we are hiring a new sales manager.”

Even “occupations” outside the bounds of legality are governed by rules and roles learned through socialization. Harry King, a professional thief studied by one of the authors, learned not only how to break into buildings and open safes but also how to conform to the culture of the professional thief. A professional thief never “rats” on a partner, for example, or steals from mom-and-pop stores. In addition, King acquired a unique language that enabled him to talk to other thieves while in the company of nonthieves (“Square Johns”), police officers, and prison guards (King & Chambliss, 1984).


Most theories of socialization focus on infancy, childhood, and adolescence, but people do not stop changing once they become adults. Work, relationships, and the media, for example, shape socialization over the life course.

As people near the end of their working lives, anticipatory socialization again kicks in to help them envision their futures. Seniors may pay more attention to how friends react to retirement, whether they are treated differently as they age, and how the elderly are portrayed in the media. In U.S. media programming and advertisements, seniors are seriously underrepresented relative to their numbers in the nation’s population. Older characters that are present are often gender stereotyped and wealthier than in the real world, but portrayals are usually positive, perhaps reflecting an attempt to appeal to this growing group (Kessler, Racoczy, & Staudinger, 2004; Lee, Carpenter, & Meyers, 2007).

There is a perception that seniors are more likely than younger adults to disengage from society, moving away from relationships, activities, and institutions that previously played key roles in their lives. While this is the case for some seniors, research suggests that most remain active as long as they are healthy (Rubin, 2006). In fact, the notion that seniors are disengaged is belied by the fact that many seniors are politically active (they have the highest rates of voting of any age group). As well, recent data published by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project shows that the strongest growth in Facebook use in 2013 was among users 65 years of age or older. About 45% of seniors who use the Internet are, the study shows, Facebook users (Pew Research Center, 2014b).

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As people age, health and dying also become increasingly important and influential in structuring their perceptions and interactions. Married couples face the prospect of losing a spouse, and all seniors may begin to lose close friends. The question of what it might be like to live alone is more urgent for women than for men, since men, on average, die several years younger than women do. Very old people in particular are likely to spend time in the hospital, which requires being socialized into a total institution (discussed below). Growing older is thus influenced by socialization as significant and challenging as in earlier life stages.

Clearly, socialization is a lifelong process. Our early primary socialization lays a foundation for our social selves, which continue to develop through processes of secondary socialization, including our interactions with technology, media, education, and work. But can we be “resocialized”? That is, can our social selves be torn down and reconstituted in new forms that conform to the norms, roles, and rules of entirely different social settings? We explore this question in the following section.


Although individuals typically play an active role in their own socialization, in one setting—the total institution—they experience little choice. Total institutions are institutions that isolate individuals from the rest of society in order to achieve administrative control over most aspects of their lives. Examples include prisons, the military, hospitals—especially mental hospitals—and live-in drug and alcohol treatment centers. Administrative control is achieved through rules that govern all aspects of daily life, from dress to schedules to interpersonal interactions. The residents of total institutions are subject to inflexible routines rigidly enforced by staff supervision (Goffman, 1961; Malacrida, 2005).

A major purpose of total institutions is resocialization, the process of altering an individual’s behavior through total control of his or her environment. The first step is to break down the sense of self. In a total institution, every aspect of life is managed and monitored. The individual is stripped of identification with the outside world. Institutional haircuts, uniforms, round-the-clock inspections, and abuse, such as the harassment of new recruits to a military school, contribute to breaking down the individual’s sense of self. In extreme situations, such as in concentration camps, psychological and even physical torture may also be used.

Once the institutionalized person is “broken,” the institution begins rebuilding the personality. Desirable behaviors are rewarded with small privileges, such as choice of work duty in prisons. Undesirable behaviors are severely punished, as by the assignment of humiliating or painful work chores. Since the goal of the total institution is to change attitudes as well as behaviors, even a hint that the resident continues to harbor undesirable ideas may provoke disciplinary action.

How effective are total institutions in resocializing individuals? The answer depends partly on the methods used, partly on the individual, and partly on peer pressure. In the most extreme total institutions imaginable, Nazi concentration camps, some inmates came to identify with their guards and torturers, even helping them keep other prisoners under control. Most, however, resisted resocialization until their death or release (Bettelheim, 1979).

Prisons often fail at resocialization because inmates identify more with their fellow prisoners than with the administration’s agenda. Inmates in U.S. prisons may well be resocialized, but it is not likely to be to the norms of prison officials or the wider society. Rather, prisoners learn the norms of other prisoners, and, as a result, many come out of prison more hardened in their criminal behavior than before.

Even when an institution is initially successful at resocialization, individuals who return to their original social environments often revert to earlier behavior. This reversal confirms that socialization is an ongoing process, continuing throughout a person’s lifetime as a result of changing patterns of social interaction.


Socialization at every stage of life occurs primarily through social interaction—interaction guided by the ordinary, taken-for-granted rules that enable people to live, work, and socialize together (Ridgeway & Smith-Lovin, 1999). Spoken words, gestures, body language, and other symbols and cues come together in complex ways to enable human communication. The sociologist must look behind the everyday aspects of social interaction to identify how it unfolds and how social norms and language make it possible.

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A woman walks past a wall decorated with the national colors in a street of Stepanakert, the capital of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly Armenian-populated enclave claimed by Azerbaijan. The final status of the republic has yet to be resolved, and it is recognized only by Armenia. 

Throughout history, human beings everywhere have engaged in conflicts pitting one ethnic group against another. In the South Caucasus, conflict between ethnic groups has a long and bloody history. Nagorno-Karabakh, for example, is a sliver of land to which both Armenia and Azerbaijan lay historical claim. From 1988 to 1994, the two countries fought a deeply destructive war over the territory that killed 30,000 people and displaced more than a million others. While armed conflict is now limited to border skirmishes, formal and informal media in both countries exacerbate tensions—and perhaps increase the risk of future conflict—by socializing Armenians and Azeris to hate one another.

In 2011, the London-based nongovernmental organization International Alert ( used document analysis to study the way Armenians and Azeris perceive one another. Examining sources from school texts to online news sites and blogs to political speeches, the researchers hoped “to identify key words, narratives, and other innuendos that reference the concept of ‘us vs. them’ or ‘friend vs. enemy’” (Geybullayeva, 2012). They found some alarming trends, particularly in the blogosphere.

Armenians and Armenia were common topics in the Azeri blogosphere, and many posts offered deeply negative and dehumanizing characterizations. Geybullayeva (2012) writes that in one post, “the author compared Armenia to a disease that should be eradicated.” Other posts celebrated the killing of a civilian Armenian shepherd living near the border, lauding his death as “happy news” because there was one fewer Armenian. Geybullayeva suggests that youth, who are the most active users of the Internet, are the most likely to be affected by such messages, which both reflect and reproduce hatred for their ethnic neighbors.

Azeris are hardly alone in the blogosphere of hate. The Internet can bring people together through social networking and other means, but it can also tear them apart, functioning as a platform for socializing groups, and even generations, into hostility and hatred.


 Should national laws or international agreements seek to restrict the use of the Internet as a platform for expressing or disseminating hatred of social groups? Would such laws violate the democratic value of “free speech”?


Social interaction usually requires conformity to social conventions. According to Scheff (1966), violation of the norms of interaction is generally interpreted as a sign that the person is “abnormal,” perhaps even dangerous. A person in a crowded elevator who persists in engaging strangers in loud conversations, for example, and disheveled homeless people who shuffle down the street muttering to themselves evoke anxiety if not repugnance.

Norms govern a wide range of interactive behaviors. For example, making eye contact when speaking to someone is valued in mainstream U.S. culture; people who don’t make eye contact are considered dishonest and shifty. By contrast, among the Navajo and the Australian Aborigines, as well as in many East Asian cultures, direct eye contact is considered disrespectful, especially with a person of greater authority. Norms also govern how close we stand to friends and strangers in making conversation. In North American and Northern European cultures, people avoid standing closer than a couple of feet from one another unless they are on intimate terms (Hall, 1973). Men in the United States are socialized to avoid displays of intimacy with other men, such as walking arm in arm. In Nigeria, however, men who are close friends or relatives hold hands when walking together, while in Italy, Spain, Greece, and some Middle Eastern countries, men commonly throw their arms around each other’s shoulders, hug, and even kiss.

Two different approaches to studying social interaction are Erving Goffman’s metaphor of interaction as theater and conversation analysts’ efforts to study the way people manage routine talk. We discuss these approaches later, but first we look briefly at some sociologists’ studies of social interaction.


Studies of social interaction have frequently drawn on the symbolic interactionist perspective. They illuminate nearly every form and aspect of social interaction. For example, research on battered women shows how victims of domestic violence redefine their situations to come to grips with abusive relationships (Hattery, 2001). One strategy is to deny the partner’s violent behavior altogether, whereas another is to minimize the partner’s responsibility, attributing it to external factors like unemployment, alcoholism, or mental illness. Or the victim will define her own role as caretaker and assume responsibility for “saving” the abusive partner. A woman who eventually decides to leave an abusive relationship must, some research suggests, redefine her situation so as to change her self-image. She must come to see herself as a victim of abuse who is capable of ending the abusive relationship, rather than as someone responsible for “solving” her mate’s “problem” (Johnson & Ferraro, 1984).

Recent studies of social interaction have covered many topics, including the following:

•    The way online gamers coordinate their individual actions with one another and through the user interface in order to succeed at games such as World of Warcraft (Williams & Kirschner, 2012)

•    The strategies homeless youth use to manage and alleviate stigma, including creating friendships or attempting to pass as nonhomeless, as well as acting aggressive and fighting back (Roschelle & Kaufman, 2004)

•    The ways in which a sense of “corporate social responsibility” is promoted and learned by corporate executives in the work environment (Shamir, 2011)


Erving Goffman (1959, 1961, 1963a, 1967, 1972), a major figure in the study of social interaction, developed a set of theoretical ideas that make it possible to observe and describe social interaction. Goffman used what he termed the dramaturgical approach, the study of social interaction as if it were governed by the practices of theatrical performance.

According to Goffman, people in their everyday lives are concerned, much like actors on a stage, with the presentation of self, that is, the creation of impressions in the minds of others in order to define and control social situations. For instance, to serve many customers simultaneously, a waiter must take charge with a “presentation of self” that is polite but firm and does not allow customers to usurp control by taking too much time ordering. After only a short time, the waiter asserts control by saying, “I’ll give you a few minutes to decide what you want” and walks away.

As people interact, they monitor themselves and each other, looking for clues that reveal the impressions they are making on others. This ongoing effort at impression management results in a continual realignment of the individuals’ “performances,” as the “actors” refit their roles using dress, objects, voice, and gestures in a joint enterprise.

Continuing the metaphor of a theatrical performance, Goffman divides spheres of interaction into two stages. In the front stage, we are social actors engaged in a process of impression management through the use of props, costumes, gestures, and language. A professor lecturing to her class, a young couple on their first date, and a job applicant in an interview all are governed by existing social norms, so the professor will not arrive in her nightgown, nor will the prospective employee greet his interviewer with a high-five rather than a handshake. Just as actors in a play must stick to their scripts, so too, suggests Goffman, do we as social actors risk consequences (like failed interactions) if we diverge from the normative script.

Virtual Identities CLICK TO SHOW


Everett Collection

The film The Wizard of Oz offers a good example of mystification. Though the wizard is really, in his own words, “just a man,” he maintains his status in Oz by hiding behind a curtain and using a booming voice and fiery mask to convey the impression of awesome power. 

Goffman offers insights into the techniques we as social actors have in our repertoire. Among them are the following:

•    Dramatic realization is the actor’s effort to mobilize his or her behavior to draw attention to a particular characteristic of the role he or she is assuming. What impression does a baseball umpire strive to leave on his audience (the teams and fans)? Arguably, he would like to embody authority, so he makes his calls loudly and with bold gestures.

•    Idealization is an actor’s effort to embody in his or her behaviors the officially accredited norms and values of a community or society. Those with fewer economic resources might purchase faux designer bags or watches in order to conform to perceived societal expectations of material wealth.

•    Misrepresentation is part of every actor’s repertoire, ranging from kind deception (telling a friend she looks great when she doesn’t) to self-interested untruth (telling a professor a paper was lost in a computer crash when it was never written) to bald-faced prevarication (lying to conceal an affair). The actor wants to maintain a desired impression in the eyes of the audience: The friend would like to be perceived as kind and supportive, the student as conscientious and hardworking, and the spouse as loyal and loving.

•    Mystification is largely reserved for those with status and power and serves to maintain distance from the audience in order to keep people in awe. Corporate leaders keep their offices on a separate floor and don’t mix with employees, while celebrities may avoid interviews and allow their on-screen roles to define them as savvy and smart.

We may also engage in impression management as a team. A team consists of two or more actors cooperating to create a definition of the situation favorable to them. For example, members of a sports team work together, though some may be more skilled than others, to convey a definition of themselves as a highly competent and competitive group. Or the members of a family may work together to convey to their dinner guests that they are content and happy by acting cooperatively and smiling at one another during the group interaction.

The example of the family gives us an opportunity to explore Goffman’s concept of the back stage, where actors let down their masks and relax or even practice their impression management. Before the dinner party, the home is a back stage. One parent is angry at the other for getting cheap rather than expensive wine, one sibling refuses to speak to the parent who grounded her, and the other won’t stop texting long enough to set the table. Then the doorbell rings. Like magic, the home becomes the front stage as the adults smilingly welcome their guests and the kids begin to carry out trays of snacks and drinks. The guests may or may not sense some tension in the home, but they play along with the scenario so as not to create discomfort. When the party ends, the home reverts to the back stage, and each actor can relax his or her performance.

Goffman’s work, like Mead’s and the work of other sociologists focusing on socialization, sees the social self as an outcome of society and social interactions. Goffman, however, characterizes the social self not as a possession—a dynamic but still essentially real self—but rather as a product of a given social interaction, which can change as we seek to manage impressions for different audiences. Would you say that Mead or Goffman offers a better characterization of us as social actors?


Routine, day-to-day social interactions are the building blocks of social institutions and ultimately of society itself. Ethnomethodology is used to study the body of commonsense knowledge and procedures by which ordinary members of a society make sense of their social circumstances and interactions. Ethno refers to “folk,” or ordinary people; methodology refers to the methods they use to govern interaction—which are as distinct as the methods used by sociologists to study them. Ethnomethodology was created through Harold Garfinkel’s work in the early 1960s. Garfinkel (1963, 1985) sought to understand exactly what goes on in social interactions after observing that our interpretation of social interaction depends on the context. For example, if a child on a playground grabs another child’s ball and runs with it, the teacher may see this as a sign of the child’s aggressiveness, while fellow students see it as a display of courage. Social interaction and communication are not possible unless most people have learned to assign similar meanings to the same interactions. By studying the specific contexts of concrete social interactions, Garfinkel sought to understand how people come to share the same interpretations of social interactions.

Gender and Self-Talk CLICK TO SHOW




David R. Frazier / Photo Researchers, Inc.

Do you think that men and women communicate differently? How would you articulate differences you observe? Would you attribute them to nature or nurture? 

Men often claim they “cannot get a word in edgewise” when talking to women. However, conversation analysis research challenges this claim: In hundreds of recorded conversations between men and women, researchers found that men more frequently interrupted women than women interrupted men and that men used the interruptions to dominate the conversation. Men tended to speak more loudly and to be less polite than women, using loudness and rudeness (such as sarcastic remarks about what a woman had said) to control the conversation (Campbell, Klein, & Olson, 1992; Fishman, 1978; West, 1979; West & Zimmerman, 1977, 1983; Zimmerman & West, 1975, 1980). While men set the agenda and otherwise dominated the conversation, women often did the “work” of maintaining conversations by nodding their heads, saying “a-hah,” and asking questions (DeFrancisco, 1991; Fishman, 1978; Leaper & Robnett, 2011; Tannen, 2001; West & Zimmerman, 1977, 1983).

This research shows that the rules and conventions governing ordinary talk are grounded in the larger society—society’s gender roles, in which men generally assume a dominant position in interaction with women without even realizing it. In fact, not only do men not realize they are dominating the conversation; they think women dominate and “talk too much.”

The apparently private conversations between men and women thus reflect a fundamental issue in contemporary society: inequality between the sexes, including how inequality gets reproduced in subtle ways. The cultural stereotype of women as talkative and emotional and men as quiet and rational affects women even though its basis in reality is weak. No matter that men talk more and dominate conversations—women are made to feel unequal by the reproduction of the stereotype, and inequality between the sexes is reinforced. The private lives of people in conversations thus cannot be divorced from the way the larger social norms and stereotypes shape relationships between men and women.


 The above discussion demonstrates how sociological research can shed light on “commonsense” assumptions—such as the assumption that women dominate conversations more than do men—by empirically testing them. Can you identify other stereotypical ideas about social interactions between different groups or individuals? How could you go about testing these ideas empirically?


Garfinkel also believed that in all cultures people expect others to talk in a way that is coherent and understandable and become anxious and upset when this does not happen. Making sense of one another’s conversations is even more fundamental to social life than cultural norms, Garfinkel argued, since without ways of arriving at meaningful understandings, communication, and hence culture, is not possible. Because the procedures that determine how we make sense of conversations are so important to social interaction, another field developed from ethnomethodology that focuses on talk itself: conversation analysis.

Conversation analysis investigates the way participants in social interaction recognize and produce coherent conversation (Schegloff, 1990, 1991). In this context, conversation includes virtually any form of verbal communication, from routine small talk to emergency phone calls to congressional hearings and court proceedings (Heritage & Greatbatch, 1991; Hopper, 1991, Whalen & Zimmerman, 1987, 1990; Zimmerman, 1984, 1992).

Conversation analysis research suggests that social interaction is not simply a random succession of events. Rather, people construct conversations through a reciprocal process that makes the interaction coherent. One way in which we sequentially organize conversations is turn taking, a strategy that allows us to understand an utterance as a response to an earlier one and a cue to take our turn in the conversation. A person’s turn ends once the other conversants indicate they have understood the message. For example, by answering “Fine” to the question “How are you?” you show that you have understood the question and are ready to move ahead.

On the other hand, answering “What do you mean?” or “Green” to the question “How are you?” is likely to lead to conversational breakdown. Conversational analysts have identified a number of techniques commonly used to repair such breakdowns. For example, if you begin speaking but realize midsentence that the other person is already speaking, you can “repair” this awkward situation by pausing until the original speaker finishes his or her turn and then restarting your turn.

Later research emphasized the impact of the larger social structure on conversations (Wilson, 1991). Sociologists looked at the use of power in conversations, including the power of the dispatcher over the caller in emergency phone calls (Whalen, Zimmerman, & Whalen, 1990; Zimmerman, 1984, 1992), of the questioner over the testifier in governmental hearings (Molotch & Boden, 1985), and of men over women in male–female interactions (Campbell et al., 1992; Fishman, 1978; West, 1979; West & Zimmerman, 1977, 1983; Zimmerman & West, 1975, 1980). The last instance, in particular, illustrates how the larger social structure—in this case, gender structure—affects conversation. Even at the most basic and personal level—a private conversation between two people—social structures exercise a potentially powerful influence.


Have you ever wondered why you and some of your classmates or neighbors differ in worldviews, coping strategies for stress, or values concerning right and wrong? Understanding socialization and social interaction sheds light on such differences and what they mean to us in everyday life. For example, if you travel abroad, you will have a sense of how cultural differences come to be and appreciate that no culture is more “normal” than another—each has its own norms, values, and roles taught from earliest childhood.

By studying socialization, you also come to understand the critical socializing roles that peers, schools, and work environments play in the lives of children, adolescents, and young adults. The growing influence of the mass media, including the Internet and other technological innovations in communication, means we must pay close attention to these sources of socialization and social interaction as well. As people spend more time on the Internet talking to friends and strangers, experimenting with new identities, and seeking new forms of and forums for social interaction, sociologists may need to rethink some of their ideas about the influence of agents like parents and schools; perhaps these may recede in importance—or grow. Sociologists also ask how our presentation of self is transformed when we create social selves in the anonymous space of social media. What kinds of research could you imagine conducting to learn more about the digital world as an agent of socialization and a site of modern social interaction?




Your job search action plan should build on your career goals and focus on short- and medium-term activities. Break your goals into specific and manageable tasks to create action items. Strive to be as specific as possible with your action items by including details about who and what is involved in completing each task, identifying measurable outcomes, and noting time-based deadlines for when activities will be completed. Include in your job search action plan job search strategies that are likely to produce results.

We briefly discuss each of these strategies below. Additional resources for each can be found on the book’s student study site,

Target Employers

Based on your research, develop a list of 10 to 15 potential employers that align with your career and job search goals. Track the employers regularly to update your organizational knowledge and learn about new opportunities. Utilize LinkedIn and other social media sites to identify individuals and groups with whom you might connect in the organizations for information, introductions, and leads.


Networking is about building relationships for the purpose of making connections to enhance your career and/or job search. People build their networks online, at their places of employment, through internships, and in their communities, as well as through professors, friends, friends of friends, family members, former employers, and fellow alumni. Consider conducting informational interviews such as those you previously used for career exploration to network and to learn about particular employers, industries, and individuals.

Market Yourself: Résumés

A résumé reviews your education, academic awards, employment and volunteer experiences, college and leadership activities, and language and technical skills. Start your experience descriptions with action verbs and omit all personal pronouns. Use qualifiers and quantifiers to describe the breadth and depth of your involvement in activities. Your résumé should be a single page in a standard 10- to 12-point font, printed on bond paper, and error-free.

Market Yourself: Cover Letters

Cover letters are a form of business writing and should follow a business letter format. The first paragraph of your cover letter should start with information about the reason for writing, identify how you learned of the position, and succinctly state how your skills, degree, and experience match the requirements of the position. The second paragraph should expand on information about your fit for the position, discuss your accomplishments, and use specific examples that parallel the experience and skills that the employer seeks. The third paragraph should identify career-related characteristics that will support your success in the position, such as resourcefulness, time management, and persistence. The final paragraph should restate your interest in the position, your availability to discuss the opportunity, and a reference to your contact information.


Market Yourself: Utilizing the Online Advantage

Utilize resources online to brand and market yourself, connect with individuals and groups, access job listings, link to employer and job listing sites, research employer information and occupational trends, and/or create a website or blog to highlight your career and professional activities and accomplishments. Expand your network by connecting with individuals and groups via social media and job listing sites.

Interview Strategies

An interview is your opportunity to articulate to the employer your skills, abilities, and accomplishments that best match the attributes that he or she is seeking in an ideal candidate. Be sure that you have researched the employer so that you can ask informed questions. Plan ahead so that you are able to arrive early for the interview. When you greet the interviewer, make eye contact, smile, and shake his or her hand firmly. As the interview begins, be professional, but be yourself. Listen to the interviewer’s questions without interruption and allow yourself time to form responses before answering questions. Speak clearly and enthusiastically about your experiences and skills and offer detailed responses to questions that emphasize your experience, skills, and knowledge.

Within 24 hours after an interview, e-mail or mail a thank-you letter to each person with whom you met. Learn more about interviewing strategies, as well as questions frequently asked by employers and interviewees, on the book’s online student site.

Evaluate and Negotiate Offers

When you receive a job offer, consider it carefully by reviewing the entire compensation package, which includes both salary and benefits. In addition to the compensation package, review the related pros or cons of accepting the position. To negotiate a change in the package, start with the salary by stating your preferred salary range. Restate your selling points, including why you believe that your skills, knowledge, and experience are the best fit for the position and how you will add value to the organization. Always frame your argument in relation to the employer’s hiring needs and the goals of the organization rather than your preferences.

Reflect and Pursue Lifelong Career Development

Even when you have completed a specific job search, your career development is continuous. Practice lifelong learning and actively engage in professional development. Build your network, develop connections to colleagues, and demonstrate ethical behaviors in your professional activities. Continue to explore new opportunities and review and update your career goals. Seek to know and remain true to your career identity—the values, aspirations, interests, talents, skills, and preferences related to careers that are fundamental to your career satisfaction and success.



•    Socialization is a lifelong, active process by which people learn the cultures of their societies and construct a sense of who they are.

•    What we often think of as “human nature” is in fact learned through socialization. Sociologists argue that human behavior is not determined biologically, though biology plays some role; rather, human behavior develops primarily through social interaction.

•    Although some theories emphasize the early years, sociologists generally argue that socialization takes place throughout the life course. The theories of Sigmund Freud and Jean Piaget emphasize the early years, while those of George Herbert Mead (although his role-taking theory focuses on the earlier stages of the life course), Lawrence Kohlberg, and Judith Harris give more consideration to the whole life course. According to Mead, children acquire a sense of self through symbolic interaction, including the role-taking that eventually enables the adult to take the standpoint of society as a whole.

•    Kohlberg built on Piaget’s ideas to argue that a person’s sense of morality develops through different stages, from that in which people strictly seek personal gain or seek to avoid punishment to the stage in which they base moral decisions on abstract principles.

•    The immediate family provides the earliest and typically foremost source of socialization, but school, work, peers, religion, sports, and mass media, including the Internet, all play a significant role.

•    Socialization may differ by social class. Middle-class families place a somewhat greater emphasis on creativity and independence, while working-class families often stress obedience to authority. These differences, in turn, reflect the corresponding workplace differences associated with social class.

•    In total institutions, such as prisons, the military, and hospitals, individuals are isolated so that society can achieve administrative control over their lives. By enforcing rules that govern all aspects of daily life, from dress to schedules to interpersonal interactions, total institutions can open the way to resocialization, which is the breaking down of the person’s sense of self and the rebuilding of the personality.

•    According to Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical approach, we are all actors concerned with the presentation of self in social interaction. People perform their social roles on the “front stage” and are able to avoid performing on the “back stage.”

•    Ethnomethodology is a method of analysis that examines the body of commonsense knowledge and procedures by which ordinary members of a society make sense of their social circumstances and interaction.

•    Conversation analysis, which builds on ethnomethodology, is the study of the way participants in social interaction recognize and produce coherent conversation.


socialization, 81

behaviorism, 83

social learning, 83

looking-glass self, 83

primary groups, 84

secondary groups, 84

reference groups, 84

I, 84

me, 84

role-taking, 84

significant others, 84

generalized other, 85

cognitive development, 85

egocentric, 85

psychoanalysis, 86

id, 86

ego, 86

superego, 86

hidden curriculum, 89

anticipatory socialization, 90

total institutions, 94

resocialization, 94

dramaturgical approach, 96

presentation of self, 96

ethnomethodology, 97

conversation analysis, 99



1.   What are agents of socialization? What agents of socialization do sociologists identify as particularly important? Which of these would you say have the most profound effects on the construction of our social selves? Make a case to support your choices.

2.   The United States is a country where sports are an important part of many people’s lives—many Americans enjoy playing sports, while others follow their favorite sports teams closely in the media. How are sports an agent of socialization? What roles, norms, or values are conveyed through this agent of socialization?

3.   What role does the way people react to you play in the development of your personality and your self-image? How can the reactions of others influence whether or not you develop skills as an athlete or a student or a musician, for example?

4.   Recall Goffman’s ideas about social interaction and the presentation of self. How have social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram affected the presentation of self? Have there been changes to what Goffman saw as our front and back stages?

5.   What are the characteristics of total institutions such as prisons and mental institutions? How does socialization in a total institution differ from “ordinary” socialization?

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Chapter 5


1.   Do most people conform to the expectations of the groups to which they belong? What explains conformity? What explains dissent?

2.   Why do many people think of bureaucracies as inefficient and annoying? What would be the alternative?

3.   Could a group of college students working together on a societal issue such as rising student debt, child hunger, or veteran homelessness bring about significant social change?



Patrick Smith/Stringer/Getty Images

In June 2012, former Pennsylvania State University football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted by a Pennsylvania court of sexually abusing children who were under his care and supervision. Sandusky had contact with many boys through his respected position at Penn State and his Second Mile charity, a service organization with a mission to help disadvantaged young people through sports. The charges, witness testimony, and some of Sandusky’s own admissions about, for instance, showering with boys in the Penn State locker room were shocking to most who heard them.

But they may not have been a shock to a number of Sandusky’s colleagues at Penn State. According to an investigative report prepared by former FBI director Louis Freeh at the behest of the Penn State Board of Regents, many people were already aware of Sandusky’s abusive activities. Some, like head football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier, had been aware of allegations against Sandusky for years. So why did no one act to halt the abuse? Why were allegations and evidence of Sandusky’s actions covered up by colleagues in the football program and the university administration?

The case is complex, and a spectrum of answers to these questions may be offered. One possibility, however, is that groupthink played a role. Groupthink is a phenomenon characterized by the members of a group choosing to elevate consensus and conformity—and preservation of the group—above other values. In an opinion piece published by Time magazine on groupthink at Penn State, two authors, a psychologist and a physician, argue that Penn State’s athletic and administrative leaders chose to protect Sandusky, who was one of their elite group, rather than the victimized children, nearly all of whom were poor. They wanted to shield Sandusky—and the Penn State image and program—from damaging scrutiny. Their logic, deduced from e-mail traffic uncovered by Freeh, is characterized by the article’s authors as follows: “This particular insider group managed to twist logic to the point where they thought it was more ‘humane’ to cover up the repeated allegations of Sandusky’s abuse than to report them to police” (Cohen & DeBenedet, 2012).


© Jim Mahoney/Dallas Morning News/Corbis

Secondary groups may evolve into primary groups for some members. For example, when students taking the same course begin to socialize outside of class, they may create bonds of friendship that come to constitute a primary group. 

When decisions are based primarily on how group members will react, rather than on ethical, professional, or legal considerations, groupthink can, as this case shows, lead to devastating outcomes. The influence of the group can foster deviance—but at the same time, group bonds are fundamental to our lives and a key part of socialization and social integration. The roles that groups play in society are clearly complex, and they are a key focus of sociological study. 

We begin this chapter with an overview of the nature of social groups, looking at primary and secondary groups and their effects on our lives. We also examine the power of groups in fostering integration and enforcing conformity, among other key functions. We then turn to a discussion of the importance of capital in social group formation and action, followed by an exploration of the place of organizations in society. Next we address a topic about which Max Weber wrote extensively and with which we all have some experience—bureaucracies. We end the chapter with a consideration of the modern roles of governmental and nongovernmental organizations in the pursuit of social change.


The male elephant is a solitary creature, spending much of its life wandering alone, interacting with other elephants only when it is time to mate or if another male intrudes on its territory. Female elephants, by contrast, live their lives in groups. Both male and female human beings are like the female elephant: We are social animals who live our entire lives in the company of others. Our lives are social, and we can better understand them by looking at the types of groups with which we are associated. Each of us is born into an emotionally and biologically connected group we know as “the family.” As we mature, we become increasingly interconnected with other people, some our own age and others not, at school, on sports teams, and through various other social interactions and increasingly via the Internet and social media. We consolidate and accumulate friends, teammates, and classmates—different groups with whom we interact on a regular basis. Eventually we get jobs and engage with coworkers and other people we encounter in the course of our work. Along the way we may form and maintain friendship groups, either in person or virtually, that share our interests in particular activities or lifestyles, such as poker, model airplanes, or music. Sometimes we are part of groups that gather for special events, like watching a college football game or attending a presidential inauguration or political demonstration.

A moment’s reflection on these types of groups reveals that they differ in many important ways, particularly in the degree of intimacy and social support their members experience. Sociologists find this difference so fundamental that they use it to distinguish between primary and secondary groups. Primary groups are characterized by intense emotional ties, intimacy, and identification with membership in the group. Secondary groups are large, impersonal groups with minimal emotional and intimate ties (Cooley, 1909). Today, social networking sites and virtual, online groups that people are part of can include primary or secondary groups. Moreover, the Internet is increasingly blurring the boundary distinctions between primary and secondary groups—very large, ostensibly impersonal groups can take on a very intimate feeling thanks to the power of virtual communication and information sharing. As we will discuss later in this chapter, technology and the Internet have changed quite a lot about how we think of social relations and social groups.

Primary groups are of great significance because they exert a long-lasting influence on the development of our social selves (Cooley, 1902/1964). Charles Horton Cooley (1864–1929), who first introduced the distinction between primary and secondary groups, argued that people belong to primary groups mainly because these groups satisfy personal needs of belonging and fulfillment. People join secondary groups such as business organizations, schools, work groups, athletic clubs, and governmental bodies to achieve specific goals: to earn a living, to get a college degree, to compete in sports, and so on. (For a summary of the characteristics of primary and secondary groups, see Table 5.1.)


TABLE 5.1   The Characteristics of Primary and Secondary Groups


As you learned in Chapter 4, we often judge ourselves by how we think we appear to others, which Cooley termed the “looking-glass self.” Groups as well as individuals provide the standards by which we make these self-evaluations. Robert K. Merton (1968), following Herbert Hyman (1942), elaborated on the concept of the reference group as a measure by which we evaluate ourselves. Importantly, a reference group provides a standard for judging our own attitudes or behaviors.

For most of us, the family is the reference group with the greatest impact in shaping our early view of ourselves. As we mature, and particularly during adolescence, peers replace or at least compete with the family as the reference group through which we define ourselves. Today, thanks to the growth of social media, many people establish “virtual” reference groups and intimate primary groups with people they have never seen face-to-face.

Reference groups may be primary, such as the family, or secondary, such as a group of soldiers in the same branch of service in the military. They may even be fictional. One of the chief functions of advertising, for example, is to create sets of imaginary reference groups that will influence consumers’ buying habits. We are invited to purchase a particular vehicle or fragrance, for instance, in order to join an ostensibly exclusive group of sophisticated, sexy owners of that item. Reference groups can have powerful effects on our consumer choices, as well as on our other social actions.


Another significant way in which groups differ has to do with their size. The German sociologist Georg Simmel (1858–1918) was one of the first to call attention to the influence of group size on people’s behavior. Since Simmel’s time, small-group researchers have conducted a number of laboratory experiments to discover how group size affects both the quality of interaction in the group and the group’s effectiveness in accomplishing certain tasks (Levine & Crowther, 2008; Lucas & Lovaglia, 1998).

The simplest group, which Simmel (1955) called a dyad, consists of two persons. Simmel reasoned that dyads, which offer both intimacy and conflict, are likely to be simultaneously intense and unstable. To survive, they require the full attention and cooperation of both parties. Dyads are typically the sources of our most elementary social bonds, often constituting the groups in which we are most likely to share our deepest secrets. The commitment two people make through marriage is one way to form a dyadic group. But dyads can also be very fragile. If one person withdraws from the dyad, it vanishes. That is why, as Simmel believed, a variety of cultural and legal norms arise to support dyadic groups, including marriage, in societies where such groups are regarded as an important source of social stability.

Adding one other person to a dyad changes the group relationship considerably, making what Simmel termed a triad. Triads are apt to be more stable than dyads, since the presence of a third person relieves some of the pressure on the other two members to always get along and maintain the energy of the relationship. One person can temporarily withdraw his or her attention from the relationship without necessarily threatening it. In addition, if two members have a disagreement, the third can play the role of mediator, as when you try to patch up a falling-out between two friends or coworkers (see Figure 5.1).

On the other hand, however, an alliance (or coalition) may form between two members of a triad, enabling them to “gang up” on the third member, thereby destabilizing the group. Alliances are most likely to form when no member is clearly dominant and all three are competing for the same thing—for example, when three friends are given a pair of tickets to a concert and have to decide which two will go. Larger groups share some of the characteristics of triads. For instance, on the TV series Survivor, alliances form within the group of castaways as individuals forge special relationships with one another to avoid being eliminated by a group vote.

Types of Indigenous Groups CLICK TO SHOW




© Jon Hicks/Corbis

The dissemination of technology has resulted in nearly one third of the global population having access to the Internet. Many children today are growing up in a truly digital society, where technology is deeply entwined with their upbringing and socialization. 

The technologies of social media can strengthen ties among members of primary and secondary groups, aid social change, and disseminate unfiltered news immediately as events unfold. At the same time, they allow anyone to disseminate information about anyone else with relative anonymity and no fact-checking, provide an avenue through which those with dangerous causes or desires may unite, and present opportunities for new forms of exploitation, bullying, and harassment. Whether human social interaction today is better or worse than in the past is irrelevant; it is simply significantly different.

Estimates place the number of individuals with access to the Internet around the world at roughly 2.3 billion and climbing—so the Internet is already accessible to some degree to about 33% of the world’s population (Internet World Stats, 2012). Facebook, the world’s dominant social networking site, has 552 million daily users and more than 1 billion monthly users, the majority of them outside the United States (Facebook, 2012). Even so, recent data show that 3.3 million teens have left Facebook since 2011, along with 3.4 million 18- to 24-year-olds (Neal, 2014). They may be migrating toward social networks like Twitter and Instagram, which are popular among younger adults (Duggan & Smith, 2014). Additionally, the app Snapchat attracts 26% of cell phone users ages 18 to 29 (MarketingCharts, 2013). Nearly one in five people in the United States has gone out with someone he or she met online. Since its creation in 2003, LinkedIn has drawn more than 150 million members in more than 200 countries (LinkedIn, 2012). Pinterest allows users to create virtual pinboards to save and share links, recipes, photos, fashions, and countless other preferences (Pinterest, 2012). Increasingly, digital communications are becoming integrated and “intelligent,” letting users link their Pinterest boards to their Facebook accounts and access them from their smartphones.

Not only does technology provide a means of increasing social interactions among individuals and groups, but it also presents opportunities for interactions that might otherwise never have taken place. The wife of a Washington State corrections officer received a “People You May Know” update on her Facebook page suggesting she might want to be friends with another woman. When she clicked on the other woman’s profile, she found wedding photos of her husband and the other woman. Not only had her husband never told her he had been married before, but he was still married to the woman in the pictures. He was subsequently arrested and charged with bigamy (Rabiner, 2012).

There is a very good chance that the theorizing sociologists did about social groups and interactions in the 20th century will look quite different in the 21st century as our means of forming groups, feeling integrated, and interacting with others change.


 How do virtual groups differ from in-person primary and secondary groups? What qualities do virtual and in-person groups share?

Social Media Explosion CLICK TO SHOW


FIGURE 5.1 A Dyad and a Triad

Theoretically, in forming an alliance a triad member is most likely to choose the weaker of the two other members, if there is one. But why would this be the case if picking a stronger member would strengthen the alliance? Choosing a weaker member enables the member seeking to form the alliance to exercise more power and control within the alliance. However, in some “revolutionary” coalitions, the two weaker members form an alliance to overthrow the stronger one (Goldstone, 2001; Grusky, Bonacich, & Webster, 1995).

Going from a dyad to a triad illustrates an important sociological principle first identified by Simmel: As group size increases, the intensity of relationships within the group decreases while overall group stability increases. There are exceptions to every principle, however. Intensity of interaction among individuals within a group decreases as the size of the group increases because, for instance, a larger number of outlets or alternative arenas for interaction exist for individuals who are not getting along (Figure 5.2). In a dyad, only a single relationship is possible; however, in a triad, three different two-person relationships can occur. Adding a fourth person leads to six possible two-person relationships, not counting subgroups that may form. In a 10-person group, the number of possible two-person relationships increases to 45! When one relationship doesn’t work out to your liking, you can easily move on to another, as you sometimes may do at large parties.

Larger groups tend to be more stable than smaller ones because the withdrawal of some members does not threaten the survival of the entire group. For example, sports teams do not cease to exist simply because of the loss of one player, even though that player might have been important to the team’s overall success. Beyond a certain size, perhaps a dozen people, groups may also develop a formal structure. Formal leadership roles may arise, such as president or secretary, and official rules may develop to govern what the group does. We discuss formal organizations later in this chapter.

Larger groups can sometimes be exclusive, since it is easier for their members to limit their social relationships to the group itself, avoiding relationships with nonmembers. This sense of being part of an in-group or clique is often what unites the members of fraternities, sororities, and other campus organizations. Cliquishness is especially likely to occur when a group consists of members who are similar to one another in such social characteristics as age, gender, class, race, or ethnicity. Members of rich families, for example, may sometimes be reluctant to fraternize with people from the working class, men may prefer to play basketball only with other men, and students who belong to a particular ethnic group may seek out each other’s company in the dormitory or cafeteria. The concept of social closure, originally developed by Max Weber, is especially relevant here, insofar as it speaks to the ability of a group to strategically and consciously exclude outsiders or those deemed “undesirable” from participating in the group or enjoying the group’s resources (Murphy, 1988; Parkin, 1979).

FIGURE 5.2 A Complex Network of Relationships

Conflict, power and status in groups CLICK TO SHOW


© Peter Turnley/Corbis

Nelson Mandela played an influential role in leading South Africa out of apartheid in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Prior to assuming the presidency of the post-apartheid South African government, Mandela, writing from a prison cell, inspired many South Africans, as well as people in other parts of the world, to form antiapartheid coalitions and groups.

Groups don’t always exclude outsiders, however (Blau, 1977; Stolle, 1998). For example, if your social group or club is made up of members from different social classes or ethnic groups, you are more likely to appreciate diversity thanks to your firsthand experience. This experience with difference may perhaps lead you to be more inclusive of others not like yourself in other aspects of your life, for example, in bringing together a group to work on a project. This, of course, is an optimistic outlook and one that we embrace and hope holds true in practice.

At the same time, researchers have found that exposure to differences of race, ethnicity, religion, social class, and other characteristics may in fact lead to negative consequences and exclusion—thus highlighting that there are two sides to every coin. The idea here is that exposure to “different” people or things may heighten the “threat” level that people feel and associate with differences, causing them to want to exclude those people or things from their lives (Blalock, 1967; Markert, 2010).


A leader is a person able to influence the behavior of other members of a group. All groups tend to have leaders, even if the leaders do not have formal titles. Leaders come in a variety of forms: autocratic, charismatic, democratic, laissez-faire, bureaucratic, and so on. Some leaders are especially effective in motivating members of their groups or organizations, inspiring them to achievements they might not ordinarily accomplish. Such a transformational leader goes beyond the merely routine, instilling in group members a sense of mission or higher purpose and thereby changing (transforming) the nature of the group itself (Burns, 1978; Kanter, 1983; Mehra, Dixon, Brass, & Robertson, 2006).

Transformational leaders leave their marks on their organizations and can also be vital inspirations for social change in the world. Nelson Mandela, the first Black African president of postapartheid South Africa, had spent 27 years in prison, having been convicted of treason against the White-dominated government. Nonetheless, his moral and political position was so strong that upon his release he immediately assumed leadership of the African National Congress (ANC), leading that political group to the pinnacle of power in South Africa and then assuming the office of president of the entire nation.

Most leaders are not as visionary as Mandela, however. A leader who simply “gets the job done” is a transactional leader, concerned with accomplishing the group’s tasks, getting group members to do their jobs, and making certain the group achieves its goals. Transactional leadership is routine leadership. For example, the teacher who effectively gets through the lesson plan each day but does not necessarily transform the classroom into a place where students explore new ways of thinking and behaving that change their educational lives is exercising transactional leadership.

For leaders to be effective, they must somehow get others to follow them. How do they do that? At one end of the spectrum, a leader might coerce people into compliance and subordination; at the other end, people may willingly comply with and subordinate themselves to a leader. The basic sociological notion of power, the ability to mobilize resources and achieve a goal despite the resistance of others, captures the first point (Emerson, 1962; Hall, 2003; Weber, 1921/2012). The related notion of legitimate authority, power exercised over those who recognize it as deserved or earned, captures the second (Blau, 1964). For example, prison guards often rely on the use of force to ensure compliance with their orders, whereas professors must depend on their legitimate authority if they hope to keep their students attentive and orderly.

Sociologists have typically found authority to be more interesting than the exercise of raw force. After all, it is not surprising that people will follow orders when someone holds a gun to their heads. But why do they go along with authority when they are not overtly compelled to do so?

Leadership Characteristics CLICK TO SHOW
Leadership in Temporary Organizations CLICK TO SHOW


Part of the answer is that people often regard authority as legitimate when it seems to accompany the leadership position. A teacher, for example, would appear to possess the right to expect students to listen attentively and behave respectfully. Power stemming from an official leadership position is termed positional power; it depends on the leader’s role in the group (Chiang, 2009; Hersey, Blanchard, & Natemeyer, 1987; Raven & Kruglianski, 1975). At the same time, some leaders derive their power from their unique ability to inspire others. Power that derives from the leader’s personality is termed personal power; it depends on the ability to persuade rather than the ability to command (van Dijke & Poppe, 2006).

In most situations, the effective exercise of personal power, rather than positional power, is more likely to result in highly motivated and satisfied group members. When group members are confused or ill prepared to undertake a particular task, however, they seem to prefer the more command-oriented style associated with positional leadership (Hersey et al., 1987; Mizruchi & Potts, 1998; Patterson, 1989; Podsakoff & Schriesheim, 1985; Schaefer, 2011).


Following group norms such as getting tattoos or piercings, or wearing the trendiest brand of jeans, seems relatively harmless. At the same time, conformity to group pressure can lead to destructive behavior such as drug abuse or serious crimes against others. For this reason, sociologists and social psychologists have long sought to understand why most people tend to go along with others—and under what circumstances they do not.

Some of the earliest studies of conformity to group pressures were conducted by psychologist Solomon Asch more than 60 years ago. In one of his classic experiments, Asch (1952) asked subjects to decide which of three lines of different length most closely matched a fourth (Figure 5.3). The differences between the line lengths were obvious; subjects had no difficulty making the correct match. Asch then arranged a version of the experiment in which the lines to be matched were presented in a group setting, with each person calling out the answer one at a time.

In this second version of the experiment, all but one of the subjects were secret accomplices of Asch’s, who intentionally attempted to deceive the outsider in the group by saying that two lines that were clearly unequal in length were identical. The unwitting subject, always one of the last to call out an answer, was placed under group pressure to conform, even though the other answers given were wrong. Amazingly, in the experimental groups one third of the subjects gave the same wrong answer as that put forth by Asch’s accomplices. In the experiments where no intentionally misleading answers were given, the subjects offered incorrect responses less than 1% of the time. Although the duped subjects sometimes stammered and fidgeted, they still yielded to the unspoken pressure to conform to the group’s decision. Asch’s experiments demonstrated that many people are willing to discount their own perceptions rather than contradict group consensus. How do you think you would respond if you were the subject in such an experiment (and had not read this account first)? Would you conform or dissent?

FIGURE 5.3 The Asch Experiments: A Study in Conformity

OBEDIENCE TO AUTHORITY  Another classic study of conformity was conducted by Stanley Milgram (1963). One of his specific research questions concerned what allowed ordinary German citizens to go along with and even participate in the mass killing of Jews, Romani (also known as Gypsies), homosexuals, the disabled, and others who were judged socially undesirable by the Nazis during World War II. Obedience is a kind of conformity. Milgram thus desired to find the boundaries of obedience, to identify how far a person would be willing to go if an authority figure encouraged him or her to complete a given task. His study produced some chilling answers.

In Milgram’s experiment male volunteers were told by an actor dressed in a white lab coat (an authoritative prop) to read aloud pairs of words from a list someone in another room was to memorize and repeat. Whenever the “learner” (an accomplice in the research) made a mistake, the subject was instructed to give the learner an electric shock by flipping a switch on an official-looking machine (which was actually fake). With each mistake, the voltage (intensity) of the purported shock was to be increased, until it eventually reached the highest levels, visibly labeled on the machine “450 volts—danger, severe shock.”

Groupthink Among Rwanda’s Youth CLICK TO SHOW


Alexandra Milgram

Most people would say that they are not capable of committing horrendous acts, yet Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment illustrated how obedience to authority can lead people to commit actions that result in harm to others. 

In reality the learner never received any electric shocks, but he reacted audibly and physically as if he had, emitting cries that grew louder and more pained, pounding on the table, and moving about in his chair (the cries were prerecorded and played back). Meanwhile, the “scientist” ordered the subject to proceed with the experiment and continue administering shocks, saying things like “The experiment requires that you continue” even when the learner expressed concern about his “bad heart.”

More than half the participants in the study obeyed the commands to keep going, administering what they believed to be electric shocks up to the maximum voltage until nothing but an eerie silence came from the other room. What happened here? How could ordinary, basically good people so easily conform to orders that turned them into potential accomplices to injury or death?

The answer, Milgram found, was deceptively simple: Ordinary people will conform to orders given by someone in a position of power or authority. They will do so even when those orders result in harm to other human beings. Many ordinary Germans who participated in the mass execution of Jews in Nazi concentration camps allegedly did so on the ground that they were “just following orders.” Milgram’s research, though ethically questionable, produced sobering findings for those who believe that only “other people” would bow to authority.

The 2012 film Compliance, which is based on real-life incidents, depicts the events that unfold when a prank phone caller, an unidentified male, calls a fast-food establishment and, pretending to be a police officer, enlists the aid of the store manager to help him crack an ostensibly important case. Once the manager agrees to help the “officer,” the prankster tells the manager to perform increasingly invasive acts against a female employee. Obeying a figure believed to be a legitimate (though unseen) authority, in several of the incidents on which the movie is based, restaurant managers actually strip-searched female employees (Kavner, 2012; Wolfson, 2005).

Another example of obedience to authority even in the face of dangerous consequences took place at the Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, the site of top-secret military experiments involving more than 7,000 U.S. soldiers from the 1950s through the 1970s. Many soldiers volunteered for duty at Edgewood unaware of, or even deceived about, exactly what would be asked of them. Once at Edgewood, they were informed that if they refused to participate in any “required” duties they could face jail time for insubordination or receive an unsatisfactory review in their personnel files, and during the Vietnam era some were reportedly threatened with being sent to war. The soldiers were experimented on repeatedly, often exposed to a variety of dangerous chemical and biological toxins, including sarin gas, VX gas, LSD, tranquilizers, and barbiturates, some of which produced extended and untreated hallucinations (Martin, 2012; Young & Martin, 2012). The Edgewood Arsenal experiments highlight the point that individuals are likely to comply with any demands made by persons in positions of authority out of fear of the repercussions associated with failure to comply, even if what they are asked to do seems dangerous or even potentially lethal to others—or to themselves.

GROUPTHINK  Common sense tells us that “two minds are better than one.” But, as our opening story on the sex abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University suggests, pressures to go along with the crowd sometimes result in poor decisions rather than creative new solutions to problems. You have probably had the experience of feeling uneasy about voicing your opinion while in a group struggling with a difficult decision. Irving L. Janis (1972, 1989; Janis & Mann, 1977) coined the term groupthinkto describe what happens when members of a group ignore information that goes against the group consensus. Not only does groupthink frequently embarrass potential dissenters into conforming, but it can also produce a shift in perceptions so that group members rule out alternative possibilities without seriously considering them. Groupthink may facilitate a group’s reaching a quick consensus, but the consensus may also be ill chosen.

Janis undertook historical research to see whether groupthink had characterized U.S. foreign policy decisions, including the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. Newly elected president John F. Kennedy inherited from the preceding administration a plan to provide U.S. supplies and air cover while an invasion force of exiled Cubans parachuted into Cuba’s Bay of Pigs to liberate the country from Fidel Castro’s communist government. A number of Kennedy’s top advisers were certain the plan was fatally flawed but refrained from countering the emerging consensus. As it happened, the invasion was a disaster. The ill-prepared exiles were immediately defeated, Kennedy suffered public embarrassment, and the Cold War standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States deepened.

Stanley Milgram’s Work CLICK TO SHOW
Authority & Conformity CLICK TO SHOW



We often hear the phrase “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” Indeed, history shows that social networks are important. The Kennedy family is one group that has had a disproportionate impact on American political life. Members of the Kennedy family have been elected to the presidency and Congress and have held other prestigious appointments in the federal government and private sector. 

How could Kennedy’s advisers, people of strong will and independent judgment educated at elite universities, have failed to voice their concerns adequately? Janis identified a number of possible reasons. For one, they were hesitant to disagree with the president lest they lose his favor. Nor did they want to diminish group harmony in a crisis situation where teamwork was all important. In addition, there was little time for them to consult outside experts who might have offered radically different perspectives. All these circumstances contributed to a single-minded pursuit of the president’s initial ideas rather than an effort to generate effective alternatives.

Think about your own experiences working with groups, whether at work, on a class project, or in a campus organization. Have you ever “gone along to get along” or felt pressured to choose a particular path of action in spite of your own reservations? Or, conversely, have you ever chosen to refuse to conform in spite of the pressure? What factors affected your decision in either case?


One of the most important additions to the sociological study of groups is the contribution of the French school of thought known as structuralism, or the idea that an overarching structure exists within which culture and other aspects of society must be understood. A leading proponent, the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, provides an analytical framework that extends our understanding of the way group relationships and membership shape our lives. Bourdieu argues that several forms of capital—that is, social currency—stem from our association with different groups. These forms of capital are of importance in the reproduction of socioeconomic status in society.

Economic capital, the most basic form, consists of money and material that can be used to access valued goods and services. Depending on the social class you are born into and the progress of your education and career, you will have more or less access to economic capital and ability to take advantage of this form of capital. Another form is cultural capital, or your interpersonal skills, habits, manners, linguistic styles, tastes, and lifestyles. For instance, in some social circles, having refined table manners and speaking with a distinctive accent place a person in a social class that enhances his or her access to jobs, social activities, and friendship groups.

Friendship groups and other social contacts also provide social capital, the personal connections and networks that enable people to accomplish their goals and extend their influence (Bourdieu, 1984; Coleman, 1990; Putnam, 2000). College students who join fraternities and sororities expect that their “brothers” or “sisters” will help them get through the often challenging social and academic experiences of college. Other political, cultural, or social groups on campus offer comparable connections and opportunities. Many new—as well as more seasoned—employees (and prospective employees) join LinkedIn, a social media site that offers possibilities for people to expand their professional social networks, a key part of nurturing social capital.

While social capital is strongly influenced by socioeconomic class status, it may also be related to gender, to race, and intersectionally to both gender and race (McDonald & Day, 2010; McDonald, Lin, & Ao, 2009). In a study of social networks and their relationship to people’s information about job leads, sociologists Matt Huffman and Lisa Torres (2002) found that women benefited from being part of networks that included more men than women; those who had more women in their social networks had a diminished probability of hearing about good job leads. Interestingly, the predominance of men or women in a man’s social network made no discernible difference. The researchers suggested that perhaps the women were less likely to learn about job leads, and, notably, when they knew of leads, they were more likely to pass them along to men than to other women. Similarly, McDonald and Mair (2010) and Trimble and Kmec (2011) explored issues of networking in relation to women’s career opportunities over their lifetimes and also the extent to which networks aid women in attaining jobs. Both teams of researchers found that social capital in the form of networks of relations has very distinct and important effects for women. The advent of professional networking sites online offers sociologists the opportunity to expand this research to see if and how gender affects social networks and their professional benefits, as research from the field of psychology suggests that job networking sites, including LinkedIn, play an important role in the job acquisition process (Bohnert & Ross, 2010).

Groupthink and Cognitive Perceptions CLICK TO SHOW
Social Capital CLICK TO SHOW


Economic, cultural, and social capital confer benefits on individuals at least in part through membership in particular social groups. Characteristics such as class, race, ethnicity, and gender, among others, can have effects on the capital one has. Membership in organizations such as fraternities, exclusive golf clubs, or college alumni associations can offer important network access. These are some examples of the kinds of organizations that shape our lives and society, sometimes to our benefit, sometimes to our disadvantage. Below we look at organizations and their societal functions through the sociological lens.


People frequently band together to pursue activities they could not readily accomplish by themselves. A principal means for accomplishing such cooperative actions is the organization, a group with an identifiable membership that engages in concerted collective actions to achieve a common purpose (Aldrich & Marsden, 1988). An organization can be a small primary group, but it is more likely to be a larger, secondary one: Universities, churches, armies, and business corporations are all examples of organizations. Organizations are a central feature of all societies, and their study is a core concern of sociology today.

Organizations tend to be highly formal in modern industrial and postindustrial societies. A formal organization is rationally designed to achieve particular objectives, often by means of explicit rules, regulations, and procedures. Examples include a state or county’s department of motor vehicles or the federal Internal Revenue Service. As Max Weber (1919/1946) first recognized almost 100 years ago, modern societies are increasingly dependent on formal organizations. One reason is that formality is often a requirement for legal standing. For a college or university to be legally accredited, for example, it must satisfy explicit written standards governing everything from faculty hiring to fire safety. Today, formal organizations are the dominant form of organization across the globe.


Thousands of different kinds of formal organizations serve every imaginable purpose. Sociology seeks to simplify this diversity by identifying the principal types. Amitai Etzioni (1975) grouped organizations into three main types based on the reasons people join them: utilitarian, coercive, and normative. In practice, of course, many organizations, especially utilitarian and normative organizations, include elements of more than one type.

Utilitarian organizations are those that people join primarily because of some material benefit they expect to receive in return for membership. For example, you probably enrolled in college not only because you want to expand your knowledge and skills but also because you know that a college degree will help you get a better job and earn more money later in life. In exchange, you have paid tuition and fees, devoted countless hours to studying, and agreed to submit to the rules that govern your school, your major, and your courses. Many of the organizations people join are utilitarian, particularly those in which they earn a living, such as corporations, factories, and banks.

Coercive organizations are those in which members are forced to give unquestioned obedience to authority. People are often forced to join coercive organizations because they have been either sentenced to punishment (prisons) or remanded for mandatory treatment (mental hospitals or drug treatment centers). Coercive organizations may use force or the threat of force, and sometimes confinement, to ensure compliance with rules and regulations. Guards, locked doors, barred windows, and monitoring are all features of jails, prisons, and mental hospitals. Sometimes people join coercive organizations voluntarily, but once they are members they may not have the option of leaving as they desire. An example of such an organization is the military: While enlisting is voluntary in the United States, once a person joins he or she is subject to close discipline and the demand for submission to authority in a rigidly hierarchical structure. Coercive organizations are examples of total institutions, which you read about in Chapter 4. By encompassing all aspects of people’s lives, total institutions can radically alter people’s thinking and behavior.




How did you do on your last exam or assignment in school? Certainly, all of us want to perform well and earn good grades. If your grade was outstanding, you probably credited the time you devoted to studying and preparing for class. If your grade was mediocre or poor, perhaps you attributed that to a lack of adequate time or effort on your part. Clearly, our own educational decisions and actions are of consequence in explaining our academic performance. Some research suggests, however, that academic ability grouping—that is, inclusion in a stronger, intermediate, or weaker group of learners—has a discernible effect on academic achievement. Consider the study described below, which was performed at the U.S. Air Force Academy (Carrell, Sacerdote, & West, 2011).

In an effort to improve academic performance and address the problem of dropouts, U.S. Air Force Academy leaders made a conscious effort to group cadets with weaker records together with those who had grade point averages above the mean. Their hypothesis was that the more academically able cadets would exercise a positive influence on their weaker peers, who were at greater risk of dropping out of the challenging program. In some instances, however, only stronger and weaker students were grouped, while in other experimental squadrons, stronger and weaker students were also mixed with those whose work was categorized as being in the middle. How would you hypothesize the effect of the conscious integration of academically weaker cadets with stronger students?

Perhaps predictably, the study found that weaker students did perform better in squadrons with stronger peers. Other research has also documented a positive effect for weaker learners in an environment with stronger students (Schofield, 2010). However, in the Air Force Academy study, that effect was present only when the weaker students were grouped with high performers and middle-level students. When the middle-level students were removed, leaving the strongest and weakest students in a group, the low-performing students did worse than their prior results would have predicted. Why would this be the case?

The researchers suggest that when only the strongest and weakest students were grouped together, they splintered into academically homogeneous groups—that is, the stronger students hung together and the weaker students hung together, muting the effect of mixing the cadets. When middle-level students were also part of a group, they functioned as a “glue,” binding the group together, hindering the splitting of the ability groups, and thus bringing up the performance of the weakest students.

Notably, the researchers also found that the middle-level performers did best when they had their own group. The presence of the stronger and weaker students appeared, then, to lead to lower test scores than the middle-level students achieved when working in a homogeneous group.

Clearly, groups matter: Academic achievement is the outcome of individual effort and, as the research suggests, is subject to group effects. The findings of this research present a challenge that may not be easy for academic leaders to resolve: What can they do when some students benefit from being in groups with mixed levels of ability while others see greater results in single-level groups? What do you think?


 What are we to conclude from this research? Who benefits and who loses from academic ability grouping? If the better performance of one group comes at a cost to the performance of another group, how should school leaders proceed in grouping by ability?


Scott Olson/Getty Images

The individuals here are part of a total institution, in which they are subject to regimentation and control of their daily activities by an authoritative body. They are expected to exhibit obedience to authority and to elevate the collective over the individual good. 

Normative organizations, or voluntary associations, are those that people join of their own will to pursue morally worthwhile goals without expectation of material reward. Belonging to such organizations may offer social prestige or moral or personal satisfaction. (Of course, such organizations may also serve utilitarian purposes, such as a charitable group you join partly to hand out your business card and boost your chances for monetary gain.)

The United States is a nation of normative organization joiners. Individuals affiliate with volunteer faith-related groups such as the YMCA, Hillel, and the Women’s Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; charitable organizations such as the Red Cross; social clubs and professional organizations; politically oriented groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (2009), there are more than 110,000 civic leagues and social welfare organizations, 77,000 fraternal societies, and 57,000 social and recreational clubs nationwide. They provide their members with a sense of connectedness while enabling them to accomplish personal and moral goals.

Normative organizations may also erect barriers based on social class, race, ethnicity, and gender. Those traditionally excluded from such organizations, including women, Latinos, Native Americans, African Americans, and other people of color, have, in response, formed their own voluntary associations. Although it may seem that these, too, are exclusionary, such groups have a different basis for their creation—the effort to remedy social inequality. Social justice, as a result, is often their primary concern.

Below we shift our gaze from voluntary and coercive organizations to a phenomenon that is familiar to most of us—the bureaucracy. While we have some control over our membership in many organizations, we are all—as U.S. residents, taxpayers, students, or recipients of mortgage or college loans, among others—subject to the reach of modern bureaucracy.


The authority structure of most large organizations today is bureaucratic. In this section we will look at the modern bureaucracy—the way it operates and some of its shortcomings. We will also see how bureaucratic structures have been modified or reformed to offer an alternative type of organization.

Max Weber (1919/1946) was the first sociologist to examine the characteristics of bureaucracy in detail. As noted in Chapter 1, Weber defined a bureaucracy as a type of formal organization based on written procedural rules, arranged into a clear hierarchy of authority, and staffed by full-time paid officials. Although Weber showed that bureaucracies could be found in many different societies throughout history, he argued that they became a dominant form of social organization only in modern society, where they came to touch key aspects of our daily lives. In particular, Weber suggested that bureaucracies are a highly rational form of organization because they were devised to achieve organizational goals with the greatest degree of efficiency—that is, to optimize the achievement of a task.

Note that when Weber characterized bureaucracies as rational he did not assume that they would always be reasonable. By rational, he meant that they were organized based on knowable rules and regulations that laid out a particular path to a goal rather than on general or abstract principles or ideologies. As we know from our own contacts with bureaucratic structures—whether they involve long waits on the phone to speak to a human being rather than a computer or the confusing pursuit of the correct person to whom one must turn in a critical student loan application—they are not, in fact, always reasonable.

To better understand the modern bureaucracy, Weber (1919/1946) identified what he referred to as the ideal type of this form of organization, describing the characteristics that would be found if the quintessential bureaucracy existed (Figure 5.4). While Weber recognized that no actual bureaucracy necessarily possesses all of the characteristics he identifies, he argued that, by clearly articulating them, he was describing a standard against which actual bureaucracies could be judged and understood.

Bureaucracy CLICK TO SHOW



Today, a great deal of bureaucratic paperwork is done online. If we wish to apply for a passport, open a bank account, or renew a license, many of these tasks can be accomplished in front of a computer screen. What are some of the positive functions of this development? What are some dysfunctions? 


The routine operation of the bureaucracy is governed by written rules and regulations, the purpose of which is to ensure that universal standards govern all aspects of bureaucratic behavior. Typically, rules govern everything from the hiring of employees to the reporting of an absence due to illness. They are usually spelled out in an organizational manual or handbook, now often available to employees on a human resources website, that describes in detail the requirements of each organizational position. While these rules and regulations can be lengthy and complex, they are, in theory, knowable, and the expectation is that those who work in and seek the services of a given organization will adhere to them—sometimes even if they don’t seem to make sense!

•    Specialized offices: Positions in a bureaucracy are organized into “offices” that create a division of labor within the organization. The duties of each office, such as bookkeeping or paying invoices, are described in the organizational manual. Each office specializes in one particular bureaucratic function to the exclusion of all others. Such specialization is one of the reasons that bureaucratic organization is said to be efficient; bureaucratic officials are supposed to become experts at their particular tasks, efficient cogs in a vast machine. The efficiency is, ideally, beneficial for the organization and its clients. If you are seeking to clear up a problem with your tuition bill, you will not visit the admissions office because you know the expert advice you seek is to be found in the student accounts office.

•    Hierarchy: A bureaucracy is organized according to the vertical principle of hierarchy, so that each office has authority over one or more lower-level offices, and each in turn is responsible to a higher-level office. At the top, the leader of the organization stands alone; in the well-known words of then U.S. president Harry S. Truman, “The buck stops here.” The organizational chart of a bureaucracy therefore generally looks like a pyramid. Again, efficiency is achieved through the knowable hierarchy of power that governs the organization.

•    Impersonality in record keeping: Within a bureaucracy, communications are likely to be formal and impersonal. Written forms—“paperwork” or the electronic equivalent—substitute for more personalized human contact, because bureaucracies must maintain written records or databases of all important actions. Modern computer technology has vastly increased the ability of organizations to maintain and access records. In some ways, this is an advantage—for example, when it allows you to register for classes via smartphone instead of standing in line for hours waiting to fill out forms. On the other hand, you may regret the loss of human contact and the inflexibility of the process, however efficient it may be. This “impersonality” also, ideally, has the effect of ensuring that all clients are treated equally and efficiently rather than capriciously; in reality, however, people with substantial economic, social, or cultural capital often have the easiest time navigating bureaucracies.

FIGURE 5.4 The Ideal Typical Bureaucracy


•    Technically competent administrative staff: A bureaucracy generally seeks to employ a qualified professional staff. Anyone who by training and expertise is able to perform the duties of a particular position in an office of the organization is deemed eligible to fill the position. Work in the bureaucracy is a full-time job, ideally providing a career path for the bureaucrat, who must demonstrate the training and expertise necessary to fill each successive position. In its “ideal” form, the system is a meritocracy—that is, positions are filled on the basis of merit or qualifications, typically demonstrated by performance on competitive exams, rather than based on applicants’ knowing the “right” people. In practice, however—as is true of the other characteristics listed above—an actual bureaucracy is unlikely to meet this standard fully. In fact, getting hired into the organization and advancing in it are likely to be influenced not strictly by objective criteria such as education and experience but also by such social variables as age, gender, race, and social connections.


Bureaucracies popularly evoke images of “paper pushers” and annoying red tape. In their studies of bureaucracy, sociologists, too, have had much to say about this form of organization, with mixed conclusions. Max Weber recognized that bureaucracies can, indeed, provide organizational efficiency in getting the job done. In contrast to earlier organizational forms, many of which filled positions through nepotism, bribes, or other non–merit-based forms of promotion and were founded to serve the needs of their leaders or small elite groups, modern bureaucracies have many redeeming qualities in spite of the frustrations they cause.

At the same time, Weber argued that a bureaucracy may create what he termed an iron cage—a prison of rules and regulations from which there is little escape (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Weber, 1904–1905/2002). The iron cage, which Weber memorably described as having the potential to be a “polar night of icy darkness,” is a metaphor. We become “caged” in bureaucratic structures when we build them to serve us (as rules and regulations would ideally do) but they ultimately come to trap us by denying our humanity, creativity, and autonomy.

As you think about this metaphor of the iron cage, consider encounters with bureaucratic structures that you have had: If you’ve ever had the feeling that solving a personal or family problem with something like tuition, taxes, or immigration would require speaking to a human being with the power to make a decision or to see that your case is an exception in some way—but no such human was available!—then you can see what Weber meant. We make rules and regulations to keep order and to have a set of knowable guidelines for action and decisions, but what happens when the rules and regulations and their enforcement become the ends of an organization rather than a means to an end? Then we are in the iron cage.

Sociologists have identified a number of specific problems that plague bureaucracies, many of which may be familiar and could be thought of as representing irrationalities of rationality:

•    Waste and incompetence: As long as administrators appear to be doing their jobs—filing forms, keeping records, responding to memos, and otherwise keeping busy—nobody really wants to question whether the organization as a whole is performing effectively or efficiently. Secure in their positions, bureaucrats may become inefficient, incompetent, and often indifferent to the clients they are supposed to serve.

•    Trained incapacity: We have all seen bureaucrats who “go by the book” even when a situation clearly calls for fresh thinking. Thorstein Veblen (1899), a U.S. sociologist and contemporary of Weber’s, termed this tendency trained incapacity, a learned inability to exercise independent thought. However intelligent they may otherwise be, such bureaucrats make poor judgments when it comes to decisions not covered by the rule book. They become so obsessed with following the rules and regulations that they lose the ability and flexibility to respond to new situations.

•    Goal displacement: Bureaucracies may lose sight of the original goals they were created to accomplish. Large corporations such as General Motors and Hewlett-Packard and government organizations such as the Department of Homeland Security employ thousands of “middle managers” whose job it is to handle the paperwork required in manufacturing automobiles or computers, or in protecting the country. Perhaps understandably, such people may over time become preoccupied with getting their own jobs done and, driven by the need to ensure the continuation of particular practices or programs linked to their positions, eventually lose touch with the larger goals of the organization. The organization then becomes a sanctuary for bureaucrats who know and care little about making high-quality cars or computers or about keeping the country secure. This process adds to costs, lowers efficiency, and may prove detrimental to corporations that compete in a global economy and governments seeking to accomplish goals and stay within tight budgets.

Although Weber presented a sometimes chilling picture of bureaucracies operating as vast, inhuman machines, we all recognize that, in practice, there is often a human face behind the counter. In fact, much important work done in bureaucratic organizations is achieved through informal channels and personal ties and connections rather than through official channels, as sociologist Peter Blau showed in his research (Blau & Meyer, 1987). For example, a student who wishes to register late for a class may avoid having to get half a dozen signatures if he or she knows the professor or a staff person in the registrar’s office. However, because of the shortcomings of bureaucratic forms of organization, some theorists have argued for the development of alternative organizational forms. We discuss some of these after looking at the relationship between bureaucracy and democracy.



Max Weber argued that bureaucracies were an inevitable outgrowth of modern society, with its large-scale organizations, complex institutional structure, and concern with rationality and efficiency. Yet many observers have viewed bureaucracy as a stifling, irrational force that dominates our lives and threatens representative government. In Les Employés (1841/1985), French novelist Honoré de Balzac, who popularized the term bureaucracy, called it “the giant power wielded by pigmies” and a “fussy and meddlesome” government. Do bureaucracies inevitably lead to a loss of freedom and erosion of democracy? Are there more humanistic alternatives to bureaucracies that allow freer, more fulfilling participation in the organization? Let’s look briefly at the views of sociologist Robert Michels on the incompatibility between democracy and bureaucracy, then see what some people have done to try to reform this organizational structure.

Michels (1876–1936), another contemporary of Weber’s, argued that bureaucracy and democracy are fundamentally at odds. He observed that the Socialist Party in Germany, originally created to democratically represent the interests of workers, had become an oligarchy, a form of organization in which a small number of people exert great power. For him this was an example of what he termed the iron law of oligarchy, an inevitable tendency for a large-scale bureaucratic organization to become ruled undemocratically by a handful of people. (Oligarchy means the rule of a small group over many people.)

Following Weber, Michels argued that in a large-scale bureaucratic organization, the closer you are to the top, the greater the concentration of power. People typically get to the top because they are ambitious, hard-driving, and effective in managing the people below, or because they have economic and social capital to trade for proximity to power. Once there, leaders increase their social capital through specialized access to information, resources, and influential people, access that reinforces their power. They also often appoint subordinates who are loyal supporters and thus further enhance their position. Such leaders may come to regard the bureaucracy as a means to meet their own needs or those of their social group. The democratic purposes of an organization may become subordinate to the needs of the dominating group.

Since all modern societies require large-scale organizations to survive, Michels believed that democracies—or, in some cases, organizations—may sow the seeds of their own destruction by breeding bureaucracies that eventually grow into undemocratic oligarchies. While there are few signs that, for instance, the United States, which has many large-scale bureaucracies, is drifting from democracy, one could make a case that institutions like the U.S. Congress show some tendencies to act in the interests of political parties or powerful members rather than the interests of constituents. For example, a bill on disaster relief or unemployment insurance may be held up when a party leader feels that stalling the bill might confer political advantage on his or her party.

In response to what they feel is the stifling effect of bureaucratic organizations, some people have sought alternative forms of organizations designed to allow greater freedom and more fulfilling participation. For example, as part of the sweeping countercultural spirit of the late 1960s and early 1970s, many youthful activists joined collectives, small organizations that operate by cooperation and consensus. Food cooperatives, employee-run newspapers and health clinics, and “free schools” sprang up as organizations that sought to operate by consensus rather than by bureaucracy. Members of these organizations shunned hierarchy, avoided a division of labor based on expertise, and happily sacrificed efficiency in favor of more humanistic relationships.

The founders of these organizations believed they were reviving more personal organizational arrangements that could better enable society to reach certain goals. Although these organizations initially met with some success and left a legacy, they also confronted a larger society in which more conventional forms of organization effectively shut them out.

Members of such organizations as the food cooperatives and employee-run newspapers and health clinics of the 1960s and 1970s favored the values of cooperation and service over the more competitive and materialistic values of the larger society. In the exuberance of that period, members of collectives believed they were forging a radically new kind of antibureaucratic organization.

In her examination of early collectives, sociologist Joyce Rothschild-Whitt (1979) studied several that self-consciously rejected bureaucracy in favor of more cooperative forms. In one health clinic, for example, all jobs were shared (to the extent legally possible) by all members: Doctors would periodically answer telephones and clean the facility, while nurses and paramedical staff would conduct examinations and interview patients. While the doctors were paid somewhat more than the other staff members, the differences were not large and were the subject of negotiation by everyone who worked at the clinic.

As long as the collectives remained small, they were able to maintain their founders’ values. On the other hand, vastly reduced pay differentials between professional and nonprofessional staff, job sharing, and collective decision making often made it difficult for the collectives to compete for employees with organizations that shared none of these values (Rothschild-Whitt, 1979). Doctors, for example, could make much more money in conventional medical practice, without being expected to answer telephones or sweep the floor. Over time the original cooperative values tended to erode, and many of the new organizations came to resemble conventional organizations in the larger society. Still, more than three decades after Rothschild-Whitt studied them, a number of these original groups still exist. Although they may have lost some of their collective zeal, they still operate more cooperatively than most traditional organizations.


A more recent foray away from hierarchically and bureaucratically organized entities has been made by the online retailer Zappos. In early 2014, the company announced that it planned to introduce a “holacracy,” replacing traditional management structures with “self-governing ‘circles.’” The goal of holacracy, according to a media account of the practice, is to “organize a company around the work that needs to be done instead of around the people who do it.” Hence, a holacracy is devoid of job titles; instead, employees are integrated into multiple circles of cooperative workers. A few other companies are experimenting with holacracy as well (McGregor, 2014). Do workers perform well in contexts of dispersed or ambiguous authority? Can these self-governing circles exceed the productivity—and perhaps work satisfaction—of more traditionally organized companies? These questions remain to be answered.


Organizations from multinational corporations to charitable foundations span the globe and increasingly contribute to what some sociologists believe is a “homogenization” of the world’s countries (McNeely, 1995; Neyazi, 2010; Scott & Meyer, 1994; Thomas, Meyer, Ramirez, & Boli, 1987). You can listen to the same music, employ the same Internet search engine, see the same films, and eat the same meals (if you wish) in Bangalore and Baku as you do in Berlin and Boston.

Global organizations are not new. The Hanseatic League, a business alliance between German merchants and cities, dominated trade in the North and Baltic Seas from the mid-12th to the mid-18th centuries. The British East India Company virtually owned India and controlled the vast bulk of trade throughout the Far East for several centuries. In 1919, following World War I, the League of Nations was formed, uniting the most economically and militarily powerful nations of the world in an effort to ensure peace and put an end to war. When Germany withdrew and began expanding its borders throughout Europe, however, the League dissolved.

After World War II, a new effort at international governance was made in the form of the United Nations, begun in 1945. The United Nations is still important and active today: Its power is limited, but its influence has grown. It not only mediates disputes between nations, but it is also ever present in international activities ranging from fighting hunger and HIV/AIDS to mobilizing peacekeeping troops and intervening to address conflicts and their consequences.

International organizations exist in two major forms: those established by national governments and those established by private organizations. We consider each separately below.


The first type of global organization is the international governmental organization (IGO)established by treaties between governments. Most IGOs exist to facilitate and regulate trade between the member countries, promote national security (both the League of Nations and the United Nations were created after highly destructive world wars), protect social welfare or human rights, or, increasingly, ensure environmental protection.

Some of the most powerful IGOs today were created to unify national economies into large trading blocs. One of the most complex IGOs is the European Union, whose rules now govern 28 countries in Europe; 5 additional countries have applied for EU entry. The European Union was formed to create a single European economy in which businesses could operate freely across borders in search of markets and labor and workers could move freely in search of jobs without having to go through customs or show passports at border crossings. EU member states have common economic policies, and 18 of them share a single currency (the euro). Not all Europeans welcome economic unity, however, since it means their countries must surrender some of their economic power to the EU as a whole. Being economically united by a single currency also means the economic problems felt by one country are distributed among all the other countries to some degree. Thus, when economic crisis hit Europe in 2008, the severe economic woes of Greece, Portugal, and Spain, among others, caused serious problems for stronger EU economies, like that of Germany.

IGOs can also wield considerable military power, provided their member countries are willing to do so. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the United Nations, for example, have sent troops from some of their participating nations into war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. Yet because nations ultimately control the use of their own military forces, there are limits to the authority of even the most powerful military IGOs, whose strength derives from the voluntary participation of their member nations.


IGOs often reflect inequalities in power among their members. For example, the UN Security Council is responsible for maintaining international peace and security and is therefore the most powerful organization within the United Nations. Its five permanent members include the United Kingdom, the United States, China, France, and Russia, which gives these countries significant clout over the Security Council’s actions. The remaining 10 Security Council member countries are elected by the UN General Assembly for 2-year terms and therefore have less lasting power than the permanent members.

FIGURE 5.5 Increase in Number of IGOs, 1909–2011

SOURCE: Union of International Associations. (2011). Historical overview of number of international organizations by type, 1909–2011. In Yearbook of international organizations, 2011/2012 edition. Herndon, VA: Brill.

FIGURE 5.6 Increase in Number of INGOs, 1909–2011

SOURCE: Union of International Associations. (2011). Historical overview of number of international organizations by type, 1909–2011. In Yearbook of international organizations, 2011/2012 edition. Herndon, VA: Brill.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were only about three dozen IGOs in the world, although data for that time are incomplete. By 1981, when consistent reporting criteria were adopted, there were 1,039; by 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 7,608 (Union of International Associations, 2011; see also Figures 5.5 and 5.6).


The second type of global organization is the international nongovernmental organization (INGO), established by agreements between the individuals or private organizations making up the membership and existing to fulfill an explicit mission. Examples include the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the International Sociological Association, the International Council of Women, and the environmental group Greenpeace. Global business organizations (GBOs) represent a subtype within the broader category of INGOs. The concept of the GBO captures the fluid and highly interconnected nature of our modern, globalized labor market in which employees often interact and communicate with people from other nations and cultures, facilitated by technology and online networks. Like the number of IGOs, the number of INGOs, including GBOs, has increased exponentially in recent years—from fewer than 200 near the beginning of the 20th century to more than 20,000 by 1985 and up to 56,834 in 2011 (Union of International Associations, 2011).

INGOs are primarily concerned with promoting the global interests of their members, largely through influencing the United Nations, other IGOs, or individual governments. They also engage in research, education, and the spread of information by means of international conferences, meetings, and journals. INGOs have succeeded in shaping the policies of powerful nations. One prominent (and highly successful) INGO is the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). The organization, along with its founder, Jody Williams, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for its success in getting a majority of the world’s countries to agree to a treaty banning the devastating use of land mines. The Nobel Committee commended the ICBL for changing “a vision to a feasible reality,” adding that “this work has grown into a convincing example of an effective policy for peace that could prove decisive in the international effort for disarmament” (quoted in ICBL, 2012).





Arrested in Bahrain for organizing peaceful protests against conditions for teachers and public school children, the woman pictured here, Jalila al-Salman, was arrested for “inciting hatred of the regime.” Amnesty International engaged in a human rights campaign to help al-Salman escape injustice. 

In 2011, Jalila al-Salman, vice president of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA), was arrested, held in solitary confinement for a week, and beaten. Both she and Mahdi Abu Dheeb, president of the BTA, were charged with using their positions “to call for a strike by teachers, halting the educational process, ‘inciting hatred of the regime’ and ‘attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force’” (Amnesty International, 2012). Although al-Salman was released on bail, Abu Dheeb has been sentenced to 10 years in prison. In April 2012, he testified that he was being tortured, but his request to be released on bail was denied. Amnesty International (2012), a normative organization pursuing global human rights, believes al-Salman and Abu Dheeb are prisoners of conscience, arrested for no crime greater than being leaders of the BTA and “peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.” The organization also believes their status as civilians makes their prosecution in a military court inappropriate and illegal.

According to Amnesty International (2012), governments in more than 20 countries executed 676 prisoners in 2011—but the actual total is likely much higher. A record number of protests occurred worldwide that year, leading to widespread brutality, arrests, and torture perpetrated by governments, since 91 countries uphold laws that restrict freedom of expression. Amnesty International also reports that tens of thousands of people throughout the world are imprisoned without having been charged with any crime.

Amnesty International has more than 5,000 affiliated local groups and 2.8 million members across more than 150 countries and territories, including 250,000 in the United States. One of its goals is to help secure the freedom of people imprisoned because of their political beliefs or actions, especially those in immediate danger of torture or execution. Amnesty International has helped thousands of individual prisoners since it was founded in Britain in 1961. It functions as a global pressure group made up of ordinary citizens. Anyone can join, pay nominal annual dues, and become part of a global “urgent action network” that is regularly mobilized to send government officials faxes, express mail, and e-mail requests on behalf of prisoners. Amnesty International also sends delegations to countries where government abuses are rampant. The reports these delegations write draw worldwide media attention to the world’s prisons and political prisoners.


 In cases of groups like Amnesty International, does size matter? Is a larger group more effective than a smaller collective of activists? Does the use of Internet platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in social action campaigns make the size of the group of supporters more or less important?



The ICBL is affiliated with more than a thousand other INGOs in some 60 countries. Together they have focused public attention on the dangers posed to civilians of the more than 100 million antipersonnel mines that are a deadly legacy of past wars fought in Europe, Asia, and Africa. These mines are unlike other weapons. They can remain active for decades after a war, terrorizing and trapping whole populations. In Cambodia, for example, fertile croplands have been mined, threatening starvation to farmers who are not willing to risk a misstep that would reduce them or their family to a shower of scraps. The campaign’s efforts resulted in a treaty banning the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel land mines. The treaty, which became international law in March 2012, has been signed and ratified by 160 countries (ICBL, 2012).

Although they are far more numerous than IGOs and have achieved some successes, INGOs have far less power over state actions and policies, since legal power (including enforcement) ultimately lies with governmental organizations and treaties. In the effort to ban land mines, for instance, although most of the major powers in the world have signed the treaty, the United States, citing security concerns in Korea, has refused, as has Russia. Some INGOs, such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace, nonetheless wield considerable influence.


You now have a good idea of how the groups and organizations to which you belong exert influence over your life. They help to determine who you know and, in many ways, who you are. The primary groups of your earliest years were crucial in shaping your sense of self—a sense that will change only very slowly over the rest of your life. Throughout your life, groups are the wellspring of the norms and values that enable and enrich your social life. At the same time, they are the source of nonconforming behavior; the rebel is shaped by group membership as much as the more mainstream and conventional citizen.

Although groups remain central in our lives, group affiliation in the United States is rapidly changing. To some degree, long-standing conventional groups appear to be losing ground. For example, today’s typical college students are less likely to join civic groups and organizations—or even to vote—than were their parents. At the same time, many are active “netizens,” joining and creating groups for both amusement and civic or political causes through such vehicles as Facebook and Twitter.

The global economy and information technology are also redefining group life in ways we can already perceive. For instance, workers in earlier generations spent much of their careers in a relatively small number of long-lasting, bureaucratic organizations; younger workers today are much more likely to be part of a succession of networked, “flexible,” and even virtual organizations.

How will these trends affect the quality of our social relationships? Will the blurring between primary and secondary groups continue and expand? Will our growing reliance on social media as a key forum for interaction foster integration or alienation? In our changing social environment, these questions pose important frontiers for sociological analysis.




Social change comes about as a result of shifts in the social order of society. While the changes may be evolutionary or revolutionary in pace, change is inevitable. Understanding social change and the factors that underlie its dynamics is key to bringing about positive change, whether at the micro or the macro level. Sociologists study factors that bring about large-scale social change—for instance, shifts in population growth or health, technological progress, economic changes, the mobilization of civil society, or the rise of a charismatic leader—and seek to understand barriers to normative or structural change. They are also interested in factors that affect change or resistance to change in smaller groups and communities. Skills in the areas of leadership, communications, strategic thinking, motivation and mobilization, and advocacy can evolve from knowledge gained in the study of social change. Students interested in social change may also take advantage of internships or practicums in community or political organizations involved in fostering positive change. Supervised practice and the opportunity for reflection on your work nurture skills in the area of social change.

In Chapter 5, we examined the phenomenon of groupthink—a form of decision making that elevates consensus and conformity over a critical, multidimensional approach to a problem. Groupthink may be a powerful obstacle to social action and social change. Consider the chapter’s opening story, which focused on the decision of a small group of administrators and coaches at Pennsylvania State University to keep silent about the pedophilia of a colleague in order to maintain his and the athletic program’s respectability. Could a trained leader have overcome the obstacles to action and challenged the consensus of resistance to altering the status quo? Could a skilled advocate have spoken out in favor of interests—such as those of the victimized children—that diverged from the perceived interests of the Penn State leaders? Sociologists are deeply interested in social change, which comes in many forms—it can range from normative changes in a small group to massive national political revolutions. Sociology is a discipline dedicated to understanding how change comes about, knowledge that is at the foundation of transformation.

Careers in social change may focus on specific areas, including the environment, labor, human rights, free speech, legal reform, social justice, conflict resolution, poverty, health care, gender equity, economic justice, and corporate ethics. They may be careers in public service (such as in federal, state, or local government) or in the private sector (with advocacy organizations or in research-focused organizations, for instance). An understanding of social change and the development of skills associated with fostering positive social change are important in occupational fields that include government, social services, nonprofit management and advocacy, education, health care, entrepreneurship, politics and lobbying, community service and volunteerism, and the law, among others. Some specific job titles associated with these fields are community outreach and education specialist, policy analyst, advocacy and public policy coordinator, community organizer, labor union organizer, human rights advocate, social worker, lobbyist, social policy analyst, program evaluator, and researcher.


 What kinds of social, political, economic, ecological, or other issues are of interest to you?

 What kinds of career paths might you envision emerging from your interests?



•    The importance of social groups in our lives is one of the salient features of the modern world. Social groups are collections of people who share a sense of common identity and regularly interact with one another based on shared expectations. There are many conceptual ways to distinguish social groups sociologically in order to better understand them.

•    Among the most important characteristics of a group is whether or not it serves as a reference group—that is, a group that provides standards by which we judge ourselves in terms of how we think we appear to others, what sociologist Charles Horton Cooley termed the “looking-glass self.”

•    Group size is another variable that is an important factor in group dynamics. Although their intensity may diminish, larger groups tend to be more stable than smaller groups of two (dyads) or three (triads) people. While even small groups can develop a formal group structure, larger groups develop a formal structure.

•    Formal structures include some people in leadership roles—that is, those group members who are able to influence the behavior of the other members. The most common form of leadership is transactional—that is, routine leadership concerned with getting the job done. Less common is transformational leadership, which is concerned with changing the very nature of the group itself.

•    Leadership roles imply that the role occupant is accorded some power, the ability to mobilize resources and get things done despite resistance. Power derives from two principal sources: the personality of the leader (personal power) and the position that the leader occupies (positional power). Max Webe r highlighted the importance of charisma as a source of leadership as well as leadership deriving from traditional authority (a queen inherits a throne, for example).

•    In general people are highly susceptible to group pressure. Many people will conform to group norms or obey orders from an authority figure, even when there are potentially negative consequences for others or even for themselves.

•    Important aspects of groups are the networks that are formed between groups and among the people in them. Networks constitute broad sources of relationships, direct and indirect, including connections that may be extremely important in business and politics. Women, people of color, and lower-income people typically have less access to the most influential economic and political networks than do upper-class White males in U.S. society.

•    As a consequence of unequal access to powerful social networks, there is an unequal division of social capital in society. Social capital is the knowledge and connections that enable people to cooperate with one another for mutual benefit and to extend their influence. Some social scientists have argued that social capital has declined in the United States during the last quarter century—a process they worry indicates a decline in Americans’ commitment to civic engagement.

•    Formal organizations are organizations that are rationally designed to achieve their objectives by means of rules, regulations, and procedures. They may be utilitarian, coercive, or normative, depending on the reasons for joining. One of the most common types of formal organizations in modern society is the bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are characterized by written rules and regulations, specialized offices, a hierarchical structure, impersonality in record keeping, and professional administrative staff.

•    The iron law of oligarchy holds that large-scale organizations tend to concentrate power in the hands of a few people. As a result, even supposedly democratic organizations tend to become undemocratic when they become large.

•    A number of organizational alternatives to bureaucracies exist. These include collectives, which emphasize cooperation, consensus, and humanistic relations. Networked organizations, which increase flexibility by reducing hierarchy, are like collectives in their organization.

•    Two important forms of global organizations are international governmental organizations (IGOs) and international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs). Both kinds of organizations play increasingly important roles in the world today, and IGOs—particularly the United Nations—may become key organizational actors as the pace of globalization increases.



dyad, 108

triad, 108

alliance (or coalition), 108

social closure, 110

transformational leader, 111

transactional leader, 111

legitimate authority, 111

positional power, 112

personal power, 112

groupthink, 113

structuralism, 114

economic capital, 114

social capital, 114

organization, 115

formal organization, 115

utilitarian organizations, 115

coercive organizations, 115

normative organizations, 117

iron law of oligarchy, 120

international governmental organization (IGO), 121

international nongovernmental organization (INGO), 122


1.   This chapter began with a look at the Penn State child sex abuse scandal through the conceptual lens of groupthink. Can you think of a time when a group to which you belonged was making a decision you thought was wrong—ethically, legally, or otherwise—but you went along anyway? How do your experiences confirm or refute Janis’s characterization of groupthink and its effects?

2.   List the primary and secondary groups of which you are a member, then make another list of the primary and secondary groups to which you belonged 5 years ago. Which groups in these two periods were most important for shaping (a) your view of yourself, (b) your political beliefs, (c) your goals in life, and (d) your friendships?

3.   Think of a time when you chose to “go along to get along” with a group decision even when you were inclined to think or behave differently. Think of a time when you opted to dissent, choosing a path different from that pursued by your group or organization. How would you account for the different decisions? How might sociologists explain them?

4.   What did Stanley Milgram seek to test in his human experiments at Yale University? What did he find? Do you think that a similar study today would find the same results? Why or why not?

5.   Max Weber suggested that bureaucracy, while intended to maximize efficiency in tasks and organizations, could also be highly irrational. He coined the term the iron cage to talk about the web of rules and regulations he feared would ensnare modern societies and individuals. On one hand, societies create organizations that impose rules and regulations to maintain social order and foster the smooth working of institutions such as the state and the economy. On the other hand, members of society may often feel trapped and dehumanized by these organizations. Explain this paradox using an example of your own encounters with the “iron cage” of bureaucracy.

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Fill out the order form and provide paper details. You can even attach screenshots or add additional instructions later. If something is not clear or missing, the writer will contact you for clarification.
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How to get the most out of your experience with Scholary Essays
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If you like the writer, you can hire them again. Just copy & paste their ID on the order form ("Preferred Writer's ID" field). This way, your vocabulary will be uniform, and the writer will be aware of your needs.
The same paper from different writers
You can order essay or any other work from two different writers to choose the best one or give another version to a friend. This can be done through the add-on "Same paper from another writer."
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Our college essay writers work with ScienceDirect and other databases. They can send you articles or materials used in PDF or through screenshots. Just tick the "Copy of sources" field on the order form.
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Check out the latest reviews and opinions submitted by real customers worldwide and make an informed decision.
WRTG 393 6360 Advanced Technical Writing (2222)WRTG-393
Patience and truly superb service considering all the information was not uploaded.
Customer 452995, February 4th, 2022
Awesome work!
Customer 452521, June 27th, 2020
Paper was received before time which I was quite please with.
Customer 453101, June 18th, 2022
Thank you, I have been averaging 16/20 points for the past discussions 1-4). Unsure why, but I will know how this one goes in a few days. Thank you for your assistance.
Customer 452919, February 16th, 2023
Business Studies
This is fantastic! Thank you so much! Great customer service and help!
Customer 453131, November 15th, 2022
Great Job !!
Customer 453117, September 17th, 2022
Thank you for answering all of the questions provided. The last 3 discussions, I only received a grade of 14 out of 20 points. Let's see how it goes after the grades are posted next week.
Customer 452919, February 9th, 2023
The second attempt was an unplagiarized paper. Thank you
Customer 452545, September 25th, 2020
Thank you so much!! Very much appreciated!
Customer 452717, April 20th, 2021
Thank you for following the guidelines of discussion. Awesome! Hopefully the grade will be better than the first 2 discussions submitted. I was fearful when I received an email requesting to send a copy of the book. Please remember that I confirmed whether or not you all had access to the book before I submitted my first request for assistance.
Customer 452919, February 1st, 2023
Computer science
Thank You
Customer 453099, August 28th, 2022
Customer 452963, November 11th, 2021
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3 pages
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