School in a Book: Sociology

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Sociology is the subject you learned without realizing you learned it. This is because as one wends their way through discussions of news, politics, culture and more, the following terms are encountered many, many times. Consider this list a refresher.


Sociology: The study of human social life. Sociologists study human groups of all sizes and varieties, often with the aim of determining how people are socialized, how culture is formed and how society can be improved. Major areas of interest are: class structures; political structures; social upheaval; the role of religion; inequalities; culture; institutions; relationships; group dynamics and more.

Socialization: The process whereby individuals learn to become competent members of a group

Primary socialization: Social learning from the immediate family

Secondary socialization: Social learning from people outside the immediate family (as from society)

Role: A set of norms, values, and personality characteristics expected of a person based on the setting he or she is in

Self: The part of a person’s personality consisting of self-awareness and self-image

Identity: The personality, beliefs, looks, social groups and more that make a person (or group) unique

Value: A culturally determined belief about what is right or wrong, desirable or undesirable

Ideology: A set of values on which people base their religious, political and other choices

More/norm: A socially constructed guideline for behavior

Social status: A person’s social rank in a particular setting

Status symbols: Outward manifestations of prestige, such as expensive clothing. Some status symbols are not chosen and can be negative, such as one’s need for glasses.

Positive sanction and negative sanction: Socially constructed expressions of approval or disapproval

Peer pressure: The social pressure applied by groups, often unintentionally, to encourage conformity

Social control: The ways a society devises to encourage conformity to norms

Deviance: The violation of a norm

Stereotype: An assumption we make about a person or a group, often on the basis of incorrect or incomplete information

Stigma: A trait or characteristic we possess that causes us to lose prestige in the eyes of others

Taboo: A norm so strongly held by a society that its violation brings extreme disgust

Assimilation: The process whereby members of a group give up parts of their own culture in order to blend in to a new culture

Social integration: The degree to which an individual feels connected to the other people in his or her group or community

Resocialization: The learning of new norms and values that occurs when life circumstances change dramatically

Society: A collection of people who share space and culture

Culture: The commonalities of the people in a society, including shared objects, shared values and more

Subculture: A group that espouses a way of living that is different from that of the dominant culture

Consumerism: The acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts

Conspicuous consumption: The acquiring of luxury goods and services with the goal of public display

Popular culture/mass culture/pop culture: Ubiquitous cultural elements during a given time period

Mass media: Various communications media that direct messages and entertainment at a wide audience

Cultural relativism: The theory that in order to understand the traits of another culture, one must study them within the context of that culture

Social construction of reality: The theory that the way people view reality is based on how those around them view it

Social capital: The non-monetary resources available to a person that stem from their human interaction, including information, opportunities, power and influence, liking, reputation, cooperation and more

Group: Two or more people who interact regularly, have a sense of belonging and have their own chosen norms

Aggregate: A collection of people who happen to be at the same place at the same time

Network: A series of social ties that can be important sources of information, contacts, and assistance for its members

Nuclear family: One or both primary caregivers and their children

Primary group: A group that has emotional intimacy, a great sense of belonging and meets frequently, such as a family

Secondary group: A group that is more formal and less personal than a primary group but still meets regularly, such as a workplace or neighborhood group

Reference group: A group people compare themselves with for purposes of self-evaluation

Group dynamics: The ways in which an individual’s thoughts and behaviors are influenced by their groups

Master status: The main trait or status that a person is known by, such as their occupation (i.e. stay-at-home mom)

Groupthink: The tendency of people to follow the majority opinions of the group, leading to narrow, uncreative views and solutions

Multiculturalism: The existence and fair-minded acceptance of multiple cultural heritages living side by side

Ethnocentrism: The tendency to judge another culture by the standards of one’s own culture

Contact hypothesis: A hyposthesis stating that prejudice declines when people in an in-group become more familiar with the customs, norms, food, music, and attitudes of people in an out-group

Race: Shared physical characteristics corresponding (sometimes loosely or with complexity) to a genetically similar group

Ethnicity: however, refers to cultural factors, including nationality, regional culture, ancestry, and language.

Gender socialization: The tendency for boys and girls to be socialized differently

Feminism: An ideology aimed at achieving the full equality of the sexes

Sex: One’s anatomical gender

Gender: One’s felt or experienced gender

Cisgender: The quality of having the same anatomical and experienced gender

Transgender: The quality of having an experienced gender different from one’s anatomical gender

Transsexual: A person who has had gender reassignment surgery

Non-binary gender: An umbrella term for genders that fall somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum and are neither strictly male or female

Queer theory: A field of critical theory that interprets literature, culture and history through the lens of non-binary gender issues

Body dysphoria: Discomfort experienced because of the difference between gender and your sex, role, or gender expression

Social alienation: A condition of rejection or incomplete integration into a community

Disenfranchisement: The revocation of the right to vote and other legal rights

The Other: A person or group of people thought to be different, even alien, by another person or group

Human rights: Rights all people are entitled to and that some people fight to lawfully support

Pluralistic society: A society composed of many different races, ethnicities and cultures

Class conflict/class warfare/class struggle: The political tension and economic inequalities that exist between social classes

Power: The ability to achieve one’s goals, even in the face of resistance

Socioeconomic status (SES): A calculation of one’s education, income, occupation and possibly ethnicity and gender that results in a nonscientific social categorization

Social mobility: Movement up or down within the social hierarchy

Stratification: The hierarchical ranking of a society’s members members

Caste system: A social system based on ascribed statuses, traits or characteristics that people possess at birth

Class system: A social system based partly or largely on achieved statuses, traits or characteristics that are earned and chosen

Social classes in the United States: Upper class, new money, middle class, working class, working poor, poverty level

Elite: A small group of powerful people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, political power, or skill in a society

Power elite: A small group of the most wealthy, powerful, and influential people in business, government, and the military that are thought to run a society

Nobility: The highest stratum of the estate system of stratification whose members had significant inherited wealth and did little or no discernible work

Upper class: The class of people with inherited wealth and a recognizable family name

New money: The class of people whose wealth has been around only for a generation or two

Bourgeoisie and proletariat: In Marxist theory, the bourgeoisie is the class of people that owns the industrial means of production, to whom the much larger base of working class proletariat sells their services

Middle class: The class of people who earn their money by working at professional white-collar jobs

Working class: The class of people who earn their money by working at blue-collar jobs that require less training

Working poor: The class people whose work leaves them vulnerable to falling below the poverty level

Poor/poverty level people: The class of people who live below the poverty line

Meritocracy: A system of stratification in which positions are given according to individual merit

Skilled worker and unskilled worker: A skilled worker is a worker who is literate and has experience and expertise in specific areas of production or on specific kinds of machines. This is in contrast to an unskilled worker, who does not.

Domestic worker: A person who works within an employer’s household

Poverty level: An estimate set by the federal government of the minimum income that a family needs to survive

The American Dream: The idea that all people, regardless of the conditions into which they were born and their current SES, have the chance to succeed

Social darwinism: The late-nineteenth century theory that the strong should see their wealth and power increase while the weak should see their wealth and power decrease

Primogeniture: A law stipulating that only a first-born son could inherit his father’s wealth

Industrial society: A society that uses advanced sources of energy, rather than humans and animals, to run large machinery

Postindustrial society: A society that features an economy based on services and technology, not production

Industrializing nations/developing nations: Countries that are in the process of becoming industrialized

First-world, second-world and third-world nations: A classification of countries according to their level of modernization, infrastructure and wealth

Institution: A set of norms surrounding the carrying out of a function necessary for the survival of a society

Bureaucracy: An institution with a hierarchy of rigid, rule-bound officials

Neocolonialism: A theory concerning the tendency of the most industrialized nations to exploit less developed countries politically and economically

Hegemony: The political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others

The modern period/modernism: The historical period lasting from roughly the beginning of the nineteenth century and ending in the mid-twentieth century, which followed the Enlightenment period and was followed by the postmodern period.

The postmodern period/postmodernism: The postmodern period is the historical period that began in the mid-twentieth century as a reaction to the wars of the early part of the century and other political and social upheavals. Postmodernism is the underlying belief in the absence of truth, certainty and/or absolutes. It is a broad movement across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism, marking a departure from the more traditional views of modernism.

Patriarchy: A society in which men hold most of the power, including political, moral, financial and social power, and places of leadership.

Secularization: The transformation of a society from close identification with religious values and institutions toward nonreligious values and secular institutions

Urbanization: The process by which a large percentage of a population migrates toward urban centers

Gentrification: The changes that occur when wealthier residents and businesses move into a neighborhood or area in large numbers, including loss of unique local qualities; appropriation of unique qualities; and the pricing out of current residents

Sociocultural anthropology: The study of human behavior within a particular cultural group in the context of that group

Recidivism: The tendency of convicted criminals to repeat offenses

White-collar crime: Nonviolent crime committed by middle class professionals, often in the context of the workplace

Victimless crime: Crimes in which laws are violated but that lack an identifiable victim

Revolution: A violent overthrow of the government by its citizens

Polygamy: Marriage between one man and more than one woman

Sect: A religious group that sets itself apart from society as a whole

POC: Person of color

Racial prejuduce: The unavoidable mental associations and generalizations every person retains concerning race

Racial discrimination: A statement or act that seeks to remove power or dignity from a person of color. Discrimination comes in numerous forms, including: ignoring a person of color’s input or ideas, making statements that reveal racial prejuduce and remaining silent in response to an act of discrimination

Racism: The systemic, institutionalized discrimination and prejuduce that pervades every level of society, including workplaces, governments, the criminal justice system and many more

Microaggression: A statement or act that betrays a person’s racial prejuduce and in some way diminishes a person of color but does not overtly discriminate against them. An example is a careless statement about a person’s hair texture or not looking at a person of color when talking to a group.

White supremacy: The assumed intellectual, cultural and moral superiority of white people, as opposed to people of color. The term was first used to refer to white people who worked for racial segregation and the oppression of people of color, but is now widely used to refer to the innumerable cultural messages that permeate Western society.

White privilege: The sum total of the many small and large benefits of being white

White fragility: The defensiveness displayed by many white people during discussions about race, which leads them to provide overly simplistic solutions, dramatize their own suffering, display anger, avoid discussion, shut down discussion/change topic or focus, seek white solidarity and more.

Institutionalized racism:

The prison industrial complex:

The New Jim Crow: The modern system for denying numerous civil rights to people of color in the United States, particularly, but not limited to, people previously convicted of felony crimes. The New Jim Crow includes laws which allow for unconstitutional acts, such as search and seizure without cause, racial profiling, targeted policing, cruel and unusual punishment, unfair trials and much more. People with felony records are made second-class citizens and routinely denied access to job opportunities, business licenses, gun licenses, housing, food assistance, insurance, loans, educational assistance and much more. They are also unable to vote, serve on a jury and perform other civic duties. One of the results of the New Jim Crow is that currently, one in three black men in the U.S. will serve time in jail at some point during their lives.

Mass incarceration: The legally sanctioned imprisonment of over two million people in the United States, 40 percent of whom are people of color, and many of whom are required to provide very low-cost to free labor to many U.S. corporations working through contracts with the prison system. Overall rates of incarceration in the U.S. have gone from 350,000 in 1940 to over 2 million in 2015, with the majority of all prisoners worldwide residing in U.S. prisons. This statistic does not include inmates in detainment centers for undocumented workers and their families, which largely resemble U.S. prisons and are growing at a rapid rate.

Auguste Comte: The father of sociology. The upheavals of both the French Revolution, then those of the industrial revolution inspired him to found a new social science outside of the current social sciences of politics and history. He argued that industrialization is to blame for class struggle. Working in the early 19th century, he sought to hold sociology to the fact-based standards of other sciences.

Emile Durkheim: One of the first sociologists and the person who established the first department of sociology. He largely agreed with Comte’s ideas. These, in tandem with the controversial ideas of Karl Marx and Max Weber, helped the new science gain traction.

Karl Marx: The sociologist/philosopher who theorized that capitalism was the cause of class struggle. He argued that sociology should include not just facts, but social critique.

Weber: The sociologist who blamed secularization and rationalization for class struggle. Like Marx, he believed that social critique should be included in studies of sociology. After World War I,

Post-World War I advancements: Michael Foucault, Charles Wright Mills and others expanded the subject further, creating new research methods and focusing on a wider range of topics, including primary socialization, race issues and the corrupting nature of power. By the mid-twentieth century, sociology had gained traction in the academic community. Today, sociological research is used by businesses, governments and other institutions.


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