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Sociological Terms

Sociological Terms

Here’s a rundown of some of the most basic yet essential sociological concepts that one must know when learning about the study of society. Read on and refresh your memory!

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Glossary of Terms and Concepts in Sociology

Acting crowds – people who come together and have a specific goal to achieve or action to undertake.

Agricultural society – occurred when humans began to invent tools such as digging sticks and hoes and farming became a way of living among most of the members of the society.

Alienation – estrangement of a person from the rest of humanity.

Alternative movements – focus on specific changes in individuals’ beliefs and behaviors to reach self-improvement.

Anomie – state of normlessness.

Anomie theory – deviance is caused by individuals, usually from the minority groups, who want to attain a socially approved goal.

Authoritarianism – a political system that allows limited people’s participation in the political process.

Bartering – a system where individuals exchange their goods and services without the use of money.

Bilateral descent – tracing one’s ancestry through both the paternal and maternal ancestors.

Bourgeoisie – owners of the means of production especially in a capitalist social system.

Capitalism – a type of economic system where the means of production are privately owned.

Casual crowds – people who do not have many interactions but are in the same place at the same time.

Charismatic authority – grounded on the leader’s ‘charisma’ and personality.

Class consciousness – the act of the proletariat’s realization of their exploitation.

Coalescence stage – (social movements) – when people organize and come together to publicize a certain issue.

Coercive organization – membership is forced or required and without affinity.

Collective behavior – an activity that is spontaneous and non-institutionalized where people voluntarily engage in.

Commodities – goods put on sale in the market.

Communism –  a type of economic system where properties and resources are shared.

Compensatory social control – violator is required to pay and compensate for his offense.

Conciliatory social control – aims to reconcile disputed parties.

Conflict theory – sees society as a result of the continuing competition of people over limited resources.

Contagion theory – individuals are rational but this rationality is blurred once they become part of the crowd.

Conventional crowds – those who come together for a scheduled event.

Convergence theory – crowds reflect the individuals’ beliefs and emotions; thus different individuals converge and find themselves in a crowd having almost a similar stance on a particular issue.

Countercultures – groups whose values, beliefs, and practices are substantially different from the widely accepted culture.

Critical sociology – centered on the basic tenets of historical materialism and seeks to use sociological knowledge to ameliorate human and societal conditions.

Crowds – people in the same place at the same time who are sharing close proximity.

Cult – a religious movement that rejects the accepted norms and values of the larger society.

Cultural hegemony – society’s dominant ideology reflects that of the interests of the ruling class.

Cultural imperialism – the act of imposing one’s values on another culture.

Cultural relativism –  the manner of looking at other cultures in their contexts.

Cultural universals – common cultural patterns that were identified to be common across all societies globally.

Culture – beliefs, values, and practices shared in a society.

Democracy – a form of government characterized by the rule of the people.

Democratic socialism –  a type of economic system where some important industries are owned by the government and other properties are privately owned.

Decline stage –  (social movements) – occurs once the goal is reached or the people do not show interest in a certain issue anymore.

Denomination – a mainstream and large religious organization that is not sponsored by the state.

Deviance – a term used when cultural and social norms are not followed.

Differential-association theory – environment is a factor that plays a major role in creating room for deviant acts; deviant behaviors are learned by an individual from their interactions.

Digital divide – the increasing gap among regions that have access to communications technology and modern information and those who do not have or little means to acquire it.

Dyad – the smallest type of group composed of two persons characterized with the most intense relationship.

Dysnomia – inconsistency or functional disunity among parts of society; opposite of eunomia.

Ecclesia – a religious congregation that is closely allied with the state and is recognized on a national level.

Economic determinism – a theory originated from Karl Marx that emphasizes economic forces as the main factor that shapes society and its structures.

Economy – a social institution that manages society’s resources.

Emergent-norm theory – asserts that crowds respond to rather unfamiliar circumstances by developing new norms that deem to be appropriate for that certain situation.

Emigrationleaving an area to reside in another place.

Environmental racism – ethnic and racial minority groups and members of the low-socioeconomic class have a disproportionate exposure to hazardous and dangerous items.

Environmental sustainability – the degree to which the quality of human life is improved and its activities are sustained without undermining the earth’s supporting ecosystems.

Equilibrium theory – social changes will threaten the social order unless other aspects of society will make appropriate adjustments.

Ethnocentrism – view of other cultures based on how it is compared to their own beliefs, values, and practices.

Expressive crowds – people who are gathering to communicate their emotions, like the ones attending funeral services.

Extended family – a structure where parents and grandparents are present; can also consist of the uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Eunomia – functional unity and harmonious relationship between the parts of society.

Evolutionary theory(used to explain social change); states that all societies move in specific directions and go through stages of evolution—progressing continuously.

Family of orientation – the family where a person is born.

Family of procreation – a family that is formed through marriage.

Fecundity number – measured number of offspring that women of childbearing age could give birth to.

Fertility rate – number of born children.

Folkways – conventional behaviors without moral significance.

Formal organizations – groups with a common goal who follow formal relationships and systems of authority.

Goods – physical things individuals discover, make, or nurture to meet one’s own needs or those of others.

Government – makes and enforces laws for society.

Habitualization – a process through which habits become part of social patterns, which then will be organized into social structures.

Historical materialism – the belief that societies are shaped mainly by power relations and collective economic activities.

Horticultural societies – as people began to cultivate plants, they gradually formed permanent settlements.

Hunter-gatherer society – nomadic people who rely heavily on wild plants and animals in their surroundings for their food.

Immigration – entering a new area where you’ll establish your permanent residence.

In-group – a group where a person has a sense of belongingness.

Industrial society – characterized by economic production and work is primarily based on machines like the steam engine.

Institutionalization – a process through which values and beliefs are ingrained in the larger society.

Institutionalization stage – (social movements) – when the movements grow bigger, the organization becomes established, and grassroots volunteerism is no longer required because usually there will now be a paid staff.

Interpretive sociology – accounts for the meanings that an individual attributes to his actions and its focus is to have an in-depth understanding of human activities.

Labeling theory – states that deviant behaviors are only considered as such because of how society labels them.

Laws – formal rules enforced by the state.

Looking-glass self – a social psychological concept, where the “self” is formed and shaped based on other people’s perception of them.

Material culture – physical objects and artifacts that are part of the culture.

Matrilineal descent – tracing of kinship through the mother’s side.

Matrilocal residence – a system where the husband is supposed to live with or near the wife’s relatives.

Mass – composed of many people but are not capable of acting together because they are dispersed and unknown to one another.

Mechanical solidarity – integration among people that is based on their shared values and beliefs.

Metaphysical stage – (law of three stages of societies) – views are based on abstract forces in the form of essences and ideas.

Modernization – a process where there is an increase in the differences among structures and the amount of work specialization.

Monarchy – a political system where a single person serves as the head of the state.

Monogamy – a marriage where a person is married to only one.

Mores – norms of morality that embodies society’s moral views and principles.

Mortality rate – the measure of the frequency of death’s occurrence in a given population within a particular time interval.

Multilinear evolutionary theory – proposed by Gerhard Lenski Jr., it states that societies undergo through different lines and that change does not necessarily steer in the same direction.

Nonmaterial culture – consists of shared ideas, attitudes, and beliefs.

Normative organization – membership is voluntary and is based on a shared interest.

Norms – established and agreed-upon expectations and rules in the society.

Nuclear family – a structure that includes married parents and children.

Oligarchy –  a government by the few, which is usually composed of the elite group.

Organic analogy – society’s parts (institutions and structures) are interrelated and interdependent just like the human body.

Organic solidarity – social cohesion that is a result of work specialization, which then leads to the interdependence of society’s members with one another.

Out-group – a group wherein an individual sees himself as an outsider.

Pastoral societies – the time when people discovered their ability to breed animals and started to have surplus goods and engage in trading.

Patriarchy – male-dominant societies and where structures and systems are oppressive and unequal to women

Patrilineal descent – tracing of kinship through the father’s side.

Patrilocal residence – a system where the wife is supposed to live with or near the husband’s relatives.

Penal social control – addressing violations and deviant behavior through punishments.

Personal troubles – private issues that are within the individual’s control and character.

Politics – the activity of sharing power and influencing its distribution among groups in a society.

Polygamy – the practice of having multiple spouses.

Power – individual’s ability to exercise his will on the other person.

Positive stage – (law of three stages of societies) – society is dominated by a scientific way of thinking and the main basis are facts that can be observed and gathered.

Positivist sociology – the application of scientific methods from natural sciences in order to find the natural laws of social behavior.

Postindustrial societies – (also referred to as information or digital societies) – centered on producing non-material goods such as information and services.

Pre-industrial – (evolution of societies) – mostly agricultural and are limited to human labor.

Preliminary stage – (social movements) – the stage when individuals reach awareness about a certain issue and key potential leaders are seen.

Primary economic sector – part of the economy that utilizes raw materials coming directly from the earth’s resources.

Primary groups – a small group with strong emotional ties, intimate interaction, and is composed of one’s significant others.

Profane things – the mundane things.

Proletariat – the working class in a capitalist society.

Public – composed of many people who share similar ideas on certain issues.

Public goods – goods provided for everyone and nonrivalrous in terms of consumption.

Public issues – challenges that are linked to the society’s structures, institutions, and processes.

Quaternary sector – comprises of the specialized activities that are information and knowledge-based service.

Quinary sector – focuses on high-levels of decision making.

Rational-legal authority – power made legitimate by written rules and regulations.

Reference groups – serves as a standard of measurement where people compare themselves with.

Reform movements – movements that seek to change a particular thing on the social structure.

Religious beliefs – specific ideas of a particular faith that members believe in.

Religious experiences – refer to the sensation that they feel as they connect to the ‘divine’.

Religious/Redemptive movements – referred to as “meaning-seeking” movements; the goal of this is to inspire spiritual growth or inner change among individuals.

Religious rituals – practices that are expected from members of a particular religious group.

Resistance movements – movements that attempt to impede change in society’s structure.

Revolutionary movements – aims to radically and completely change the ways of society.

Roles – expected behavioral patterns that represent a person’s status.

Sacred things – collective representations that are set apart and forbidden.

Secondary economic sector – transforms raw materials into finished and valuable products.

Secondary groups – usually a task-focused group, larger in size, and more impersonal in nature.

Sect – a smaller and less organized religious group.

Self-fulfilling prophecy – false beliefs and expectations about a person would lead them to act in a way that would make the false conception true.

Significant others – individuals who play a vital role when it comes to one’s socialization.

Social aggregate – people who are in the same place at the same time, have superficial interactions but do not have a shared sense of identity.

Social category – individuals who have at least one similar attribute but not interacting.

Social control – regulation of norms.

Social Darwinism – inspired by the work of Charles Darwin, it is the application of principles of biological evolution to the evolution of societies.

Social dynamics – highlights the social change that was founded on Comte’s law of three stages of societies.

Social facts – things external to the individual and exert certain control over him.

Social group – two or more people who share a common identity and have regular interactions.

Social inequality – the condition of having unequal access to the benefits one can get from society.

Social institutions – mechanisms of social order with the goal of addressing the needs of society.

Social movements – a collective behavior that is an organized effort and goal-driven.

Social statics –  focuses on how social structures interact with one another to maintain social order.

Social stratification –  the ranking of people within the society based on socioeconomic factors.

Social structures – patterned social relations and organized social institutions.

Socialism – the means of production is collectively owned.

Socialization – a lifelong process of internalizing society’s values, norms, and beliefs.

Society – a group of people interacting within a defined spatial territory who share cultural beliefs and practices.

Sociological imagination – a quality of mind that enables one to “grasp the interplay of individuals and society, of biography and history, of self and world” (Mills, 1959).

Sociology – the scientific study of society.

Status – one’s social position within a group.

Status quo – current structures, values, and state of a group.

Structural-functionalist perspective – views society as an organism with interrelated parts that work together to maintain social order.

Subcultures – groups that possess the dominant culture but have specific identifications at the same time.

Symbolic interactionist perspective – focuses on human actions and patterns across individual behaviors; human action is based on the meanings they attribute toward a situation and these meanings are formed from their interactions with one another and the society, which can also be modified through an interpretive process.

Taboos – societal behaviors that are prohibited.

Tertiary economic sector – service-oriented economy.

Theological stage – (law of three stages of societies)  – a time when the world is viewed in terms of supernatural powers and deities.

Totalitarianism – the state possesses unlimited power and control over its people.

Traditional authority – the legitimacy of authority is based on the acceptance of people in the past.

Triad – a three-person group that is deemed to be more stable than a dyad because the third person can help balance the first two individuals whenever conflict happens.

Unilateral descent – tracing of kinship with one parent only.

Unilinear evolutionary theories – all societies go through the almost similar order of stages of evolution toward a common end.

Utilitarian organization – the reason for membership is to get a specific material reward.

Verstehen – a German term, which means to understand; this simply means putting oneself in someone’s shoes.



Little, W. (2014). Introduction to Sociology – 1st Canadian Edition. Victoria, B.C.: BCcampus. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/i

Schmitz, A. (2012). Sociology Comprehensive Edition. Retrieved from https://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/sociology-comprehensive-edition/s09-groups-and-organizations.html


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Arleia Agustin

A graduate of Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Arleia Agustin took interest in research and writing during her collegiate years. The time she spent at the University of the Philippines Los Baños taught her the essence of social sciences, to understand the society in each of its facets, and to believe that it could be changed for the better. She loves to read, dream, observe and discover beautiful stories of the people she encounters.

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