Sociology Terms

Terms related to Sociology


achieved status: A position that a person attains voluntarily — often through effort and personal ability.

ascribed status: A position that a person did not choose to adopt but which, once acquired, has social implications.

consensus doctrine: The focus of the consensus doctrine is the shared values, beliefs and experiences that tie individuals to the groups in which they live.

doctrine of private interest: At the core of this orientation is the belief that different people have their own distinct interests, and that societal relations can be efficiently worked out if individuals are allowed to rationally work to achieve their own self interest.

institution: A complex and enduring social structure whose rules and rewards make the pattern of relations relatively stable. To describe a social structure is to specify in what way roles and statuses are interrelated in a particular area of human activity, and to describe an institution is to add an explanation for why these relationships are maintained.

interests: Wants, hopes, wishes, and claims that are associated with outcomes that are seen as being personally significant (or important to a larger group). You may have an interest in seeing laws passed that would reduce taxes, for example, or that would redistribute wealth. You may have an interest in seeing land turned back to Native Americans, or in seeing more restrictions on immigration. Such interests could be associated with your personal well being, in financial or other terms, or they could result from your values, whether or not you would benefit by seeing the interests realized. Interests may be related to any sphere of life, whether political, economic or cultural.

interest group: A collectivity that tries to promote rules or outcomes that will be in some way favorable to the group’s well-being or to its priorities. The National Rifle Association is an interest group, as are Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the American Civil Liberties Union.

macrosociology: Uses a broad canvas to examine overarching patterns and trends. Researchers doing macrosociological analysis often study larger systems — the political or the economic system, for example — to learn how trends in one area are tied to changes in another.

microsociology: Directs our attention to ongoing, day-to-day relationships among people. It is concerned with behavior in face-to-face situations and small groups.

role: A set of behaviors that are seen as being appropriate to a particular status, or to a cluster of statuses.

scientific method: An approach to inquiry that centers on theories and the process of testing theories through systematic data collection and analysis. It demands a level of detachment on the part of the investigator that is intended to eliminate the distorting effects of personal bias in the research process.

social contract doctrine: Holds that people with conflicting interests can work together by agreeing on rules that will govern their interaction

social identities: Self-definitions and decisions about how to live that are consciously made to distinguish ourselves from others around us and from our larger culture.

social structures: Patterns we find in societal life that reflect the workings of social systems. A simplesocial structure reflects the range of statuses or roles in a system. A population pyramid showing the age distribution of males and females in a country, for example, is an age structure. More complex social structures are built on interrelations among these statuses and roles. And social systems are connected to one another through additional social structures.

social system: Any enduring arrangement in which relationships among the component parts are relatively close and are ordered in ways that are somewhat unique to that particular system — thus different in key respects from relations that can be found in other social systems. The key components that define a social system are statuses, roles, social structures and institutions.

sociology: The scientific study of arrangements that give structure and continuity to human relations and also of forces that produce change.

status: A position in a social system that carries with it a set of expectations, rights, and duties that are recognized both by the holder of the position and by others.

values: Conceptions about what is desirable and good. Values are the central components of culture.