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    Example and Directions
    Words (or words that have the same definition) The definition is case sensitive (Optional) Image to display with the definition [Not displayed in Glossary, only in pop-up on pages] (Optional) Caption for Image (Optional) External or Internal Link (Optional) Source for Definition
    (Eg. "Genetic, Hereditary, DNA ...") (Eg. "Relating to genes or heredity") The infamous double helix CC-BY-SA; Delmar Larsen
    Glossary Entries
    Word(s) Definition Image Caption Link Source
    achieved status

    A status achieved at some point after birth, sometimes through one’s own efforts and sometimes because of good or bad luck.

    activity theory

    The view by social gerontologists that older people will benefit both themselves and their society if they remain active and try to continue to perform the roles they had before they aged.

    adult literacy

    Percentage of people 15 and older who can read and write a simple sentence.

    Affirmative action

    The preferential treatment of minorities and women in employment and education.


    Negative views about, and prejudice and discrimination toward, various age groups, especially the elderly.

    Agricultural societies

    Societies that cultivate large amounts of crops with plows and other relatively advanced tools and equipment.


    Containing aspects of both femaleness and maleness, or of both femininity and masculinity.


    Normlessness, a state in which social norms are unclear.


    The material objects that constitute a society’s material culture.

    ascribed status

    The status that someone is born with and has no control over.

    authoritarian personality

    A personality emphasizing such things as obedience to authority, a rigid adherence to rules, and low acceptance of people not like oneself and said to help account for racial and ethnic prejudice.

    background assumptions

    Our understanding of the roles expected of people in a given encounter.

    blaming the system

    The belief that personal difficulties stem from problems in society.


    A formal organization with certain organizational features designed to achieve goals in the most efficient way possible.

    bureaucratic ritualism

    In a bureaucracy, a greater devotion to rules and regulations (red tape) than to organizational goals.

    capital flight

    The moving of manufacturing companies from U.S. cities to sites in the developing world in Asia and elsewhere.


    An economic system in which the means of production are privately owned.

    caste system

    A stratification system based on rigid placement at birth into unequal groups based on one’s parents’ status, with no chance of moving out of these groups.

    Charismatic authority

    Authority that stems from an individual’s extraordinary personal qualities and from that individual’s hold over followers because of these qualities.

    child mortality

    The number of children who die before age 5 per 1,000 children.

    civil religion

    The devotion of a nation’s citizens to their society and government.

    civil war

    War within nations.

    civilian labor force

    All noninstitutionalized civilians 16 years old or older who work for pay or are looking for work.

    class consciousness

    Awareness of one’s placement in the social structure and the interests arising from this placement.

    class systems

    A system of stratification containing unequal groups but with a relatively high degree of social mobility.

    classless societies

    Societies with no social stratification.

    coercive organizations

    Formal organizations that people enter involuntarily.

    collective behavior

    Relatively spontaneous and relatively unstructured behavior by large numbers of individuals acting with or being influenced by other individuals.

    collective conscience

    From Émile Durkheim, the combined norms of society.

    comparable worth

    The idea that women’s and men’s jobs may be of roughly equal value and thus deserve the same pay, even though women’s jobs typically pay less than men’s jobs.

    conflict theory

    The view that society is composed of groups with different interests arising from their placement in the social structure.

    control group

    In an experiment, the group that does not experience the experimental condition.

    convenience sample

    A nonrandom sample that is used because it is relatively quick and inexpensive to obtain.

    conventional crime

    Violent and property offenses, including homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.


    An organization that has a legal existence apart from that of its members.


    A subculture whose norms and values directly oppose those of the larger culture.


    A temporary activity that attracts the obsessive enthusiasm of a relatively small group of people.

    credential society

    A society in which higher education is seen as evidence of the attainment of the needed knowledge and skills for various kinds of jobs.


    Behavior that violates criminal laws.


    A large number of people who gather together with a common short-term or long-term purpose.

    crude birth rate

    The number of live births for every 1,000 people in a population in a given year.

    crude death rate

    The number of deaths for every 1,000 people in a population in a given year.


    A small religious organization that is at great odds with the norms and values of the larger society.

    cultural diversity

    Variation in the elements of culture from one society to the next.

    Cultural lag

    The delay between an initial social change and a resulting social change.


    The artifacts and ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that are part of any society.

    de facto segregation

    School segregation stemming from neighborhood residential patterns.

    de jure segregation

    School segregation stemming from legal requirements.

    debunking motif

    From Peter L. Berger, a theme of sociology in which the aim is to go beyond superficial understandings of social reality.

    degradation ceremony

    An encounter designed to humiliate an individual.


    A political system in which citizens govern themselves either directly or indirectly.

    democratic socialism

    An economic system in which the government owns several important industries, but much property remains in private hands, and political freedom is widespread.

    demographic transition theory

    A theory that links population growth to the level of technological development across three stages of social evolution.


    The study of population growth and changes in population composition.


    A large, bureaucratically organized religious organization that is closely integrated into the larger society but is not a formal part of the state.

    dependency theory

    The view that global stratification results from colonization and exploitation of the poorest nations by the richest ones.

    dependent variable

    A variable that is influenced by an independent variable.

    differential association theory

    Edwin Sutherland’s view that deviance stems from interacting with primary group members who commit deviance and have values conducive to deviance.

    Differential opportunity theory

    Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin’s view that differential access to illegitimate means helps determine the types of deviance in which poor people engage.

    direct-fee system

    A system of medicine in which patients pay for health care, prescriptions, and other medical costs themselves.


    An accident or natural catastrophe that causes many deaths and much property destruction.

    disaster behavior

    Behavior that occurs during and after a disaster.


    The arbitrary denial of rights, privileges, and opportunities to members of subordinate racial and ethnic groups.

    disengagement theory

    The view, now largely abandoned, by some past social gerontologists that a society needs to encourage its elderly to disengage from their previous roles and to take on roles more appropriate to their declining physical and mental abilities.

    division of labor

    The specialization of work, such that individuals perform only specific aspects of a task or project.

    dowry deaths

    The murder of a new wife by her husband and/or his relatives because she has not paid the groom money or goods.

    dramaturgical approach

    Erving Goffman’s metaphor that likens social interaction to a performance in a dramatic production.


    A two-person group.


    A large, bureaucratically organized religious organization that is a formal part of the state and has most or all of a state’s citizens as its members.

    economic inequality

    The extent of the economic difference between the rich and the poor in a society.


    The social institution that organizes the production, distribution, and consumption of a society’s goods and services.

    egalitarian families

    A family where both spouses share authority equally.

    elder abuse

    Physical violence, mental and emotional abuse, neglect of care, and financial exploitation committed against the elderly, most often by their relatives who are caring for them.

    elite theories

    Theories that say that power in a democracy is concentrated in the hands of a relatively few individuals, families, and/or organizations.


    The stealing of money in its various dimensions (cash, electronic transactions, etc.) by employees from their workplaces.


    Feelings that begin with a stimulus and that often involve psychological changes and a desire to engage in specific actions.


    Marriage within a social category or group, including race, ethnicity, social class, and religion.

    environmental justice

    Scholarship on environmental inequality and racism, and public policy efforts and activism aimed at reducing these forms of inequality and racism.

    environmental sociology

    The study of the interaction between human behavior and the natural and physical environment.

    episodic poverty

    As defined by the Census Bureau, being poor for at least 2 consecutive months in some time period.

    equilibrium model

    Talcott Parsons’s functionalist view that society’s balance is disturbed by sudden social change.

    Estate systems

    A system of stratification characterized by control of land that was common during feudalism.

    ethnic group

    A subgroup of a population with a set of shared social, cultural, and historical experiences; with relatively distinctive beliefs, values, and behaviors; and with some sense of identity of belonging to the subgroup.

    ethnic pride

    The sense of self-worth that many people derive from their ethnic backgrounds.


    The tendency to judge another culture by the standards of our own, and the belief that our own culture is superior to another culture.


    The view, popular in the early 20th century, that certain categories of people were biologically inferior and hence should be sterilized.


    Marriage between social categories or groups.

    expressive leader

    A leader whose main focus is to maintain and improve the quality of relationships among group members and more generally to ensure group harmony.

    Extended families

    A family in which parents, children, and other relatives live in the same household.

    false consciousness

    A failure to possess class consciousness.


    A group of two or more people who are related by blood, marriage, adoption, or a mutual commitment and who care for one another.

    Feminist theory

    The view that society is filled with gender inequality characterized by women being the subordinate sex in the social, political, and economic dimensions of society.


    A term used for children who have been extremely socially isolated.

    focal concerns

    Walter Miller’s term for the key values of lower-class subcultures.

    formal organization

    A large group that follows explicit rules and procedures to achieve specific goals and tasks.

    formal organizations

    A large group that follows explicit rules and procedures to achieve specific goals and tasks.

    frustration or scapegoat theory

    As an explanation of racial and ethnic prejudice, the view that individuals blame the problems they experience on racial and ethnic minorities and thus scapegoat them instead of recognizing the real sources of their own misfortunes.


    The view that social institutions are important for their contributions to social stability.

    gender identity

    Individuals’ beliefs about themselves as either females or males.

    general fertility rate

    The number of live births per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years.


    A conclusion drawn from sociological research that is meant to apply to broad categories of people but for which many exceptions will always exist.

    generalized other

    George Herbert Mead’s term for society’s conscience.

    generational equity

    The argument by critics of political activism on behalf of older Americans that programs for the elderly threaten to take money from programs to help younger Americans either now or as they age.


    The study of aging.


    A large society characterized by weak and impersonal social ties.


    Movements of the hands, arms, head, and other parts of the body that are meant to convey ideas or emotions nonverbally.

    glass escalator

    The smooth path afforded men in promotion in the workplace, especially in occupations primarily filled by women.

    Global stratification

    The unequal distribution of wealth, power, prestige, resources, and influence among the world’s nations.


    The tendency of group members to remain silent and, against their better judgments, to go along with the desires and views of other group members.


    The extent of a person’s physical, mental, and social well-being.

    health maintenance organizations

    Prepaid health plans with designated providers that typically enroll their subscribers through their workplaces.

    hidden curriculum

    The beliefs and values that children learn in school.

    Horizontal social structure

    The social relationships and social and physical characteristics of communities to which individuals belong.

    human ecology school

    The study by early University of Chicago sociologists of the effects of urbanization on various aspects of city residents’ lives.

    hunting-and-gathering societies

    Societies of a few dozen members whose food is obtained from hunting animals and gathering plants and vegetation.

    impression management

    Erving Goffman’s term for the process whereby individuals who are interacting try to convey a favorable impression of themselves.

    individual discrimination

    Discrimination that individuals practice in their daily lives.

    Industrial societies

    Large societies that rely on machines and factories as their primary modes of economic production.

    Informal education

    Learning that occurs outside the schools, traditionally in the home.

    informal norms

    Relatively unimportant norms, often unwritten, that still affect people’s behavior.

    institutional discrimination

    Discrimination that pervades the practices of whole institutions, such as housing, medical care, law enforcement, employment, and education, even if such discrimination is not intended.

    Insurgent terrorism

    Terrorism committed by private citizens against their own government or against businesses and institutions seen as representing the “establishment.”

    Intragenerational mobility

    Vertical mobility within a person’s own lifetime.

    iron law of oligarchy

    Robert Michels’s prediction that large organizations inevitably develop an oligarchy, or the undemocratic rule of many people by just a few people, because their leaders monopolize knowledge and act to advance their own positions.

    Labeling theory

    The view that extralegal factors affect whether someone acquires a deviant label and that being labeled deviant increases the chances of future deviance.

    laissez-faire leadership

    Leadership that allows a group to function on its own.

    Legitimate authority

    Power whose use is considered just and appropriate by those over whom the power is exercised.

    life chances

    The degree to which people succeed in life in such areas as education, income, and health.

    life expectancy

    The average number of years that a nation’s citizens can be expected to live.

    looking-glass self

    Charles Horton Cooley’s term for one aspect of the process whereby we gain an understanding of our self-image and self-identity.

    male privilege

    The advantages a male enjoys in a patriarchal society just because he is a male.


    The status of being inadequately nourished, arising from a lack of good food combined with infections and diseases such as diarrhea that sap the body of essential nutrients.


    Cultural expectations of boys and men, including toughness and bravery.

    Mass hysteria

    Widespread, intense fear of and concern for a danger that turns out to be false or greatly exaggerated.

    master status

    A status that is so important that it overrides other statuses a person may hold.

    material culture

    An element of culture consisting of society’s material objects, or artifacts.

    maternal mortality

    The number of women who die during childbirth for every 100,000 live births.


    Inheritance through the female line.


    The social institution that seeks to prevent, diagnose, and treat illness and to promote health in its various dimensions.


    That part of sociology that deals with social interaction in small settings.


    The movement of people into or out of specific regions.


    An overemphasis on military policy and spending.

    military-industrial complex

    The close relationships among military leaders, government officials, and defense contractors.


    The process and impact of becoming more modern.

    modernization theory

    The view that global stratification results from a failure of poor nations to have the beliefs, values, and practices necessary for industrialization and rapid economic growth.


    A political system in which power resides in a single family that rules from one generation to the next generation.

    moral panic

    Widespread concern over a perceived threat to the moral order that turns out to be false or greatly exaggerated.

    multinational corporation

    A corporation with headquarters in one nation but with factories and other operations in many other nations.

    National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)

    An annual survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice that asks a representative sample of the American public about crimes they have suffered.

    national health insurance

    A system of medicine in which the government pays all or most of the costs of health care, prescriptions, and other items for the entire population.

    natural growth rate

    The difference between the crude birth rate and the crude death rate.

    nonparticipant observation

    Field research in which the researcher merely observes a group or setting.

    nonverbal communication

    Ways of communicating that do not involve talking.


    Socially acceptable ways of behaving.

    organic solidarity

    Émile Durkheim’s conception of the type of social bonds and community feeling in large, modern societies resulting from their division of labor and interdependence of roles.


    A group with which an in-group feels it is competing for various kinds of rewards and compared to which the in-group feels superior.


    The hiring by U.S. companies of overseas workers for customer care, billing services, and other jobs that Americans used to do.


    A sudden reaction by a crowd that involves self-destructive behavior.

    Part I Offenses

    The FBI’s term for the major crimes included in the Uniform Crime Reports, including homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson.

    pastoral societies

    Societies that raise livestock as their primary source of food.


    Male domination.

    pluralist theory

    The view that political power in the United States and other democracies is dispersed among several veto groups that compete in the political process for resources and influence.

    political action committees (PACs)

    An organization formed by special-interest groups to raise and spend money on behalf of political campaigns and various political issues.

    political alienation

    A lack of faith that voting makes any difference and that government can be helpful.

    Political ideology

    Views on social, political, and economic issues.

    political opportunity theory

    The view that a social movement is more likely to arise and persist when economic or political conditions weaken the government’s ability to oppose the movement.

    political party

    An organization that supports particular political positions and tries to elect candidates to office to represent those positions.

    political system

    The type of rule by which a state is run.


    The political institution through which power is distributed and exercised.


    Believing in more than one god.

    postindustrial societies

    Societies in which information technology and service jobs have replaced machines and manufacturing jobs as the primary dimension of the economy.

    poverty line

    The government’s measure of official poverty, based on the cost of a minimal diet for a family multiplied by three.


    The ability to have one’s will carried out despite the resistance of others.

    power elite

    C. Wright Mills’s term for the leaders from government, big business, and the military who he thought constitute a ruling class that controls society and works for its own interests, not for the interests of the citizenry.


    The status and esteem people hold in the eyes of others.

    primary group

    A group that is usually small, that is characterized by extensive interaction and strong emotional ties, and that lasts over time.


    Aspects of life that are practical and down-to-earth.


    The working class.


    Referring to policies that encourage women to have children.

    psychological aging

    The psychological changes, including those involving mental functioning and personality, that occur as we age.

    quota sample

    A nonrandom sample in which units in the sample are chosen according to one or more characteristics so that the sample resembles these characteristics of the population as closely as possible.


    A category of people who share certain inherited physical characteristics, such as skin color, facial features, and stature.

    random sample

    A subset drawn from the larger population in which every unit in the population has the same chance of being included in the subset.

    rational choice theory Utilitarianism.        
    rational-legal authority

    Authority that derives from law and is based on a belief in the legitimacy of a society’s laws and rules and in the right of leaders acting under these rules to make decisions and set policy.

    reference groups

    A group that sets a standard for guiding our own behavior and attitudes.

    relative deprivation

    The feeling by individuals that they are deprived relative to some other group or to some ideal state they have not reached.


    The set of beliefs and practices regarding sacred things that help a society understand the meaning and purpose of life.


    The significance of religion in a person’s life.

    Religious conservatism

    In the U.S. context, the belief that the Bible is the actual word of God.

    religious preference

    A synonym for religious affiliation.

    Resource mobilization theory

    The view that social movements are a rational response to perceived grievances and that they arise from efforts by social movement leaders to mobilize the resources, especially the time, money, and energy, of aggrieved peoples and to direct them into effective political action.

    response rate

    The percentage of a sample that agrees to be included in a study, usually a survey.


    A relatively spontaneous outburst of violence by a large group of people.


    Established procedures and ceremonies that often mark transitions in the life course.


    The behavior expected of someone with a certain status.

    role conflict

    The problems arising when a person has to deal with competing demands on two or more roles that the person is expected to play.

    role strain

    The problems arising when a person performing a role has to deal with competing demands on that role.

    routinization of charisma

    The transformation of charismatic authority into either traditional authority or rational-legal authority.


    A story based on unreliable sources that is nonetheless passed on from one person to another person.


    A subset of a population.

    Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

    The view that language influences the thoughts and perceptions of people in a society.

    scientific method

    The classic steps by which scientific research is conducted, including the formulation of a hypothesis and the gathering and analysis of data.

    secondary data analysis

    The analysis of data from existing records.

    secondary groups

    A group that is larger and more impersonal than a primary group and that exists to achieve a specific purpose.

    secondary sex characteristics

    Biological differences between females and males that emerge during puberty.


    A relatively small religious organization that is not closely integrated into the larger society and that often conflicts with at least some of its norms and values.


    The weakening importance of religion in a society.


    Self-image, self-identity, or self-concept.

    self-report survey

    A survey given to individuals, usually adolescents, that asks them about offenses they have committed.

    sex segregation

    In the workplace, the concentration of women in a relatively few low-paying clerical and service jobs.


    The belief that women are inferior to men.

    sexual harassment

    Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or physical conduct of a sexual nature used as a condition of employment or promotion or that interferes with an individual’s job performance and creates an intimidating or hostile environment.

    Sexual orientation

    Preference for sexual relationships with individuals of the opposite sex, the same sex, or both sexes.

    sick role

    Expectations of how people are supposed to think and act when they are ill.


    The ownership of people.

    social aggregate

    A collection of people who are in the same place at the same time but who otherwise don’t necessarily interact, except in the most superficial of ways, or have anything else in common.

    Social aging

    The changes in roles and relationships that occur as people age.

    social category

    A collection of individuals who have at least one attribute in common but otherwise don’t necessarily interact.

    Social change

    The transformation of culture (especially norms and values), behavior, social institutions, and social structure over time.

    social construction

    A concept that has no objective reality but rather is what people decide it is.

    social construction of reality

    The process by which individuals understand and create reality through their interaction with other individuals.

    Social control

    The ways in which society prevents and sanctions behavior that violates social norms.

    social control theory

    Travis Hirschi’s view that deviance results from weak bonds to conventional social institutions, such as the family and schools.

    social disorganization

    The weakening of social bonds and conventional social institutions in a community.

    Social epidemiology

    The study of how health and illness vary by social and demographic characteristics such as social class, race and ethnicity, and gender.

    social group

    Two or more people who regularly interact on the basis of mutual expectations and who share a common identity.

    social inequality

    The unequal distribution of resources, such as wealth, that a society values.

    social institution

    Patterns of beliefs and behavior that help a society meet its basic needs.

    social interaction

    The ways in which people act with other people and react to how other people are acting.

    social movement

    An organized effort by a large number of people to bring about or impede social, political, economic, or cultural change.

    social network

    The totality of relationships that link us to other people and groups and through them to still other people and groups.


    An economic system in which the means of production are collectively owned, usually by the government.


    The process whereby individuals learn the culture of their society.


    A group of people who live within a defined territory and who share a culture.


    The view that genes and other aspects of human biology influence human behavior and values.

    socioeconomic status (SES)

    A measure based on occupation, education, and income favored by functionalist sociologists as an indicator of social class position.

    sociological imagination

    From C. Wright Mills, the realization that personal troubles are rooted in public issues.

    sociological perspective

    The belief that people’s social backgrounds influence their attitudes, behaviors, and life chances.

    spurious relationships

    A relationship between an independent variable and a dependent variable that exists only because the effects of a third variable have not been taken into account.

    State terrorism

    Violence by a government that is meant to frighten its own citizens and thereby stifle their dissent.


    The position that someone occupies in society.

    status frustration theory

    Albert Cohen’s view that delinquency results from school failure and the concomitant need to regain self-esteem by being successful in delinquent activities.

    status set

    All the positions an individual occupies.

    status symbols

    An object that signifies a particular status that a person holds.


    Simplified, mistaken generalizations about people because of their race and/or ethnicity.

    strain theory

    Robert Merton’s view that deviance is caused by a failure to achieve the American goal of financial success through the conventional means of working.


    A smaller culture within a larger culture with distinctive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.

    subculture of violence

    Marvin Wolfgang and Franco Ferracuti’s term for the value system of poor, urban neighborhoods that calls for violent responses to insults and other interpersonal problems.


    Sigmund Freud’s term for society’s conscience.

    symbolic interactionism

    A micro perspective in sociology that focuses on the meanings people gain from social interaction.


    Things that stand for something else and that often evoke various reactions and emotions.

    take the role of the other

    George Herbert Mead’s term for what children do when they play that helps them acquire an understanding of their self.


    The use of unexpected violence to intimidate or coerce people in the pursuit of political or social objectives.

    tertiary sector

    The part of the economy that provides services rather than products.

    total fertility rate

    The number of children an average woman is expected to have in her lifetime, sometimes expressed as the number of children an average 1,000 women are expected to have in their lifetimes.

    total institutions

    Institutions that have total control over their residents’ lives.


    Political systems that are more repressive than authoritarianism because they try to regulate and control all aspects of citizens’ lives and fortunes.

    traditional authority

    Power that is rooted in traditional, or long-standing, beliefs and practices of a society.

    Transnational terrorism

    Terrorism committed by the citizens of one nation against targets in another nation.


    A three-person group.

    Uniform Crime Reports (UCR)

    The FBI’s regular compilation of crime statistics, most of them on Index Crimes.


    The rise and growth of cities.

    Utilitarian organizations

    Organizations that people join to provide them an income or some other personal benefit.


    The view that people interact so as to maximize their benefits and minimize their disadvantages.


    Criteria of what is desirable or undesirable and right or wrong.


    Any characteristic that varies among units of analysis.

    vertical mobility

    Movement up or down through a society’s stratification system.

    Victimless crime

    Illegal behavior in which people participate voluntarily, including drug use, prostitution, and gambling.

    Vigilante terrorism

    Terrorism committed by private citizens against other private citizens.

    voluntary organizations

    Normative organizations.

    vulnerability to poverty

    A significant probability that people who are not officially poor will become poor within the next year.


    The revealing by an employee of organizational practices that the employee believes to be illegal and/or immoral.

    white privilege

    The advantages that U.S. whites enjoy in their daily lives simply because they are white, whether or not they are aware of these advantages.

    White-collar crime

    Crime committed in the course of one’s occupation.