Sociology is the scientific study of society – the structures, institutions, and relationships that bind us together as human beings. It is a vast and complex subject. Here are some of the essential terms and vocabulary you should know. They will make you a budding sociology student or enthusiast.
Socialization: This term is used to describe the process of group influence that shapes an individual’s values, actions, and behaviors. For example, children learn to share because their parents are taught to do so. These children’s actions are heavily influenced by the society in which they grow up.
Oedipus complex: Was a term used by Sigmund Freud to describe an individual’s unconscious sexual desire for their mother. This is usually resolved through identification with the father, which leads to an acceptance of his authority.
A self-fulfilling prophecy: This is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true because it changes the situation it predicts. For example, if a teacher constantly tells students that they are stupid, the students may become so convinced that their grades will suffer as a result. You can check examples of self-fulfilling propheicies.
Subculture: Is a group within a society that has its distinctive norms, values, and tastes. They are not widely shared across society. You may check subculture theories as well.
Collective consciousness: These are shared beliefs, ideas, and sentiments of a group or society as a whole. For example, national pride is part of the collective consciousness of the United Kingdom.
Interactionist perspective: This theory views society as a collection of individuals, where everyone plays some role in the production of social life. It argues that society is made up only of our interactions with other people and nothing else.
Social constructionism: This theory argues that society is constantly changing, depending on how we define it. For example, the idea of marriage has changed over time – for some people. It is a union between two people who love each other. For others, it involves multiple partners. This theory stands in opposition to more structuralist ideas such as functionalism.
Functionalism is a broad term used to describe how society is organized into different institutions that coordinate to maintain order. The education system is responsible for passing knowledge from one generation to the next.
Marginalized: People who occupy a very disadvantaged position within society often face discrimination. For example, our patriarchal society marginalizes women because they may be denied access to education, employment, or political activities.
Prejudice: is a preconceived judgment about someone or something. It can be negative and lead to discrimination against the target of that prejudice.
Social structure: It is a complex network of social relationships that exist in any society. They are usually ordered into groups, job roles, and positions.
Economic system: This is the method by which a society organizes its production and distribution of goods. For example, capitalism is an economic system where the factors of production such as land and labour are privately owned, and goods are traded.
Social system: A social system comprises all the shared beliefs, ideas, and institutions that characterize a society. These take many forms, including language, religion, gender norms, and national and regional identities.
Capitalism: It is an economic system where the factors of production such as land and labor are privately owned, and goods are traded.
Status quo: Status quo refers to the current state of affairs. For example, the US is a capitalist society where money buys power, and racial inequality maintains the status quo.
Social interaction: Social interaction is the process by which individuals give meaning to each other’s behaviors based on the setting.
Norm: A norm is a social rule for how people should behave in a given situation. For example, it is considered polite to shake hands when meeting someone for the first time.
Human societies: A human society is a social community of humans that is more advanced than a human group and not as complex as a civilization.
Culture: It is a set of shared, learned, and socially transmitted ideas, customs, symbols, and practices.
Achieved status: It refers to the status that one has within society. It is achieved rather than ascribed and is based on merit. People can rise from working class to middle class through the acquisition of skills.
Ascribed status: It is fixed by ascribing a set of predetermined traits to an individual before birth and which they cannot change. For example, race, gender, and age are all ascribed statuses.
Caste: It is an ascribed status that is hereditary and fixed. For example, a Brahmin caste would be born into the highest caste in Hindu society.
Social construction: This refers to how social phenomena are created by society. For example, social constructionism explains how gender is a category that exists because we believe it does.
Power: Power is the ability of an individual to create and affect change through social relationships.
Class system: A class system in society refers to how people are ordered regarding their socio-economic status.
Majority groups: They have a privileged position within the society and are generally economically, socially, and politically powerful.
Social hierarchy: Refers to the stratification of society into unequal classes.
Ethnic groups are culturally distinct groups formed based on specific shared characteristics such as language, nationality, and religion.
Social class is a category of people who share similar economic, political, and social statuses.
Social status: This refers to the particular position that someone holds within a society, such as your occupation and economic situation.
Nuclear family: This is the traditional family unit of parents and children.
Extended family: It refers to people related by blood or marriage, usually consisting of three or more generations.
Human interaction. This is how individuals give meaning to each other’s behaviors based on the setting.
Social groups: A social group is a group of two or more humans who interact and share a set of norms, values, beliefs, and meanings.
Mass media: This is produced for a large audience, usually unsolicited and paid for by an organization.
Dominant group: This refers to the group with the most power and status compared to other groups. You may also check Master Status Examples and Ranks
Gender socialization: This refers to the process by which boys and girls are taught how to behave in socially appropriate ways.
Sociologist: A sociologist is someone who studies society and human social interactions.
Sociology: It is the study of society and the relationships within it.
Social psychology: This is a branch of psychology that studies how humans think about each other and their individual and collective behaviors.
Gender inequality: This is where one gender is given more privileges than another.
Social movements: These are movements that have the aim of bringing about social change.
Conflict theory: This sociological approach explains how society is made up of opposing forces in a constant state of conflict.
Symbolic interactionism: This sociological perspective argues that the meaning of social objects and behaviors is derived from the social interactions that use them.
Social norms: A social norm is a rule that is created by society. For example, wearing a seatbelt in cars is a social norm because it benefits everyone if we all do it.
Ethnic groups: They refer to people who share a culture and similar history.
Racial groups: This categorizes people based on physical characteristics such as skin color, facial features, etc.
Prejudice: This is a preconceived opinion towards certain people and objects.
Discrimination: This is the unfair treatment of people based on prejudice.
Stereotype: A stereotype is an overgeneralized perception of a person or group based on their race, gender, etc.
Life expectancy: This is the average age a person can expect to live.
Demography: It is the study of population dynamics and characteristics.
Middle class: Middle class is a group of people who have more privileges than the working class but are less so than the upper class.
Working class: This is a group of people employed in low-paying, unskilled and semi-skilled jobs.
Deviant act: A deviant act is any act that breaks the rules of society.
Crime: Crime is an act that falls outside the law and can result in punishment
Primary deviance: It refers to an act that is recognized as deviant by the individual who commits it.
Secondary deviance: It occurs when an individual starts to identify with other people who are committing deviant acts. You may check learn more on primary and secondary deviance
Deviant behavior: This is any behavior that does not follow social norms.
Cultural relativism: Cultural relativism is the belief that no culture is superior to any other.
Ethnic group: An ethnic group is a large group of people who share a common culture and may have the same racial or religious background.
Social relationships: These are connections between two or more people.
Primary group: A primary group is a small, intimate group of people.
Secondary group: This refers to groups that are not as intimate or close.
Ethnic relations: These are the relationships between different ethnic groups.
Conflict theory: This is a sociological approach that explains how society is made up of opposing forces in a constant state of conflict.
Racial group: This categorizes people based on physical characteristics such as skin color, facial features, etc.
Power elite: This is a small group of people who control the majority of resources in society.
Positive sanctions: These are rewards given to encourage desired behavior.
Negative sanctions: These are punishments given for breaking the rules or laws.
Social world: It is the shared way of life created by social interaction.
Impression management: This refers to the act of trying to control the way people view us.
Primary socialization: Primary socialization is how we learn our society’s social norms and values.
Secondary socialization refers to when a person starts to acquire the values, norms, and social skills of another group or subculture.
Social institutions: These are the structures that society uses to maintain order and provide for collective needs.
Social relations: They refer to the ways we interact with each other on a personal level.
Role: A role is the set of behaviors expected from a person in a specific situation.
Group membership: It is the factor that makes a person a member of a specific group.
Self-identity: This is the sense of who we are based on what we believe and value.
Social position: It is the social rank or status of a person in society.
Social control: It refers to the influence that society has over people to ensure conformity.
Social cohesion: This is how well a group gets on with each other.
Formal organizations: A formal organization has official rules and is governed by a leader.
Informal organizations: These are groups that have no official rules and may not have a leader.
Reference group: These are other groups we compare ourselves to and whose views, opinions, and values affect our own.
Social stratification: Social stratification refers to the unequal distribution of valued resources within a society.
Social organization: This refers to how society is structured and controlled.
Civil religion is a set of religious beliefs that underpin a political system but are not explicit.
Social network: Social network is the term used to refer to our social relations and connections.
Social construction refers to how our social world is created by our interactions and responses to other people.
Nonverbal communication: Nonverbal communication refers to the ways we communicate without using words.
Sociological imagination refers to the ability to view our own experiences in a broader social context.
Self-concept: The self-concept is the term used to describe our sense of who we are.
Society: Society is all the people in a certain culture living together.
Community: This refers to a group of people who regularly interact and share common ideals and values.
Collectivistic culture: A collectivistic culture focuses on the group and puts group needs before individual needs.
Affirmative action: This is a range of policies designed to encourage positive social change.
Strategy: A strategy is a set of plans which guide your actions and work towards a goal.
Social change: This refers to the process where society gradually changes over time
American dream refers to the belief that anyone can achieve their desired goals if they work hard enough.
Repressive government: A repressive government is one that severely restricts people’s rights and freedoms.
Social problem: This refers to a condition that causes harm to people or prevents society from achieving its goals.
Conformity: This is when a person or group of people publicly follows the social norms and rules.
Deviance: Deviance refers to a divergence from social norms or the breaking of rules and laws.
Deindividuation: This is when people lose self-awareness and personal responsibility due to being in large crowds.
Crowd behavior: This is the way people behave when they are part of a large group.
Collective behavior: This is the same as crowd behavior but can describe any size of the group.
Race riots: These are violent forms of deviance caused by people who are angry about something.
Mob behavior: When people act together to achieve their goals in a disorderly and violent way.
Mob mentality: People behave recklessly and violently because they are part of a group.
Aversive racism is when people believe that they are not prejudiced and believe that other races deserve adverse treatment.
Closed system: It refers to a system where nothing is allowed in or out.
Open system: An open system allows things to come and go freely, including resources and people.
Systems perspective refers to how all the parts of a system work together to produce a result.
Counterculture: A counterculture is a group of people against their society’s mainstream beliefs, opinions, and culture.
Ecological system: This is another term for a natural environment.
Crime: Crime is a form of organized, illegal activity.
Cult: A cult is a system of religious values, symbols, and practices that oppose mainstream beliefs.
Naturalistic observation: This is a method of research involving observing people and recording what you see without interfering.
Survey: A survey is a structured interview with questions asked of several different people.
Unstructured interview: An unstructured interview is an informal discussion between a researcher and subject where no questions are planned.
Observation: It refers to the collection of data by watching people and recording what you see.
Ethnography: A researcher studies a group of people who have a common culture and identity.
Criminal law: This is the set of laws that define criminal offenses and punishments.
Alienation: Alienation means you feel disconnected from other people.
Cohort: This group of people who shared the same social, economic, or cultural experiences.
Correlation: It is when there is a connection between two things.
Experiment: An experiment is a scientific approach to answering a question or solving a problem.
Hindsight bias: Hindsight bias is the tendency to falsely believe you could have predicted a negative event after it has happened.
Nature laws: These are the laws of nature that cannot be changed or broken.
Scientific law: A scientific law is a theory that has been proven through repeated testing.
Random assignment: It refers to when research subjects are given different treatments at random.
Scientific method: It is the systematic approach to problem-solving and learning about the world around us.
Phenomenological approach: It is a way of understanding human phenomena, including people’s thoughts and feelings.
Societal laws: These are the laws made by governments, which apply to all citizens.
Structural functionalism: This is a sociological theory that society has certain parts that work together to keep it working.
Social action: Social action is any form of behavior involving people, which has a purpose.
Social dilemma: This is a situation where the best outcome for an individual is not the best outcome for the group.
Social issues: These are problems found in a society that are not easily solved.
Cultural revolution: This is when there is a dramatic change in a society’s cultural values or beliefs.
Social regulation: This means that governments and organizations control how people behave.
Cultural homogenization: It means that cultural differences are becoming less important.
Cultural hegemony: This is a situation where a particular culture has control over the rest.
Cultural relativism: This means that different cultures have different ideas about what is right and wrong.
Social order: Social order is the way that society works.
Denomination: A denomination is a religious group that has broken off from another religion or church.
Disaggregate: To separate data into individual parts.
Dominant culture: This is the cultural characteristic that most people in society value.
Division of labor: A division of labor is where people are separated into specific occupations.
Dominant ideology: This is the way of thinking that influences most of the society, even if people do not understand it.
Representative sample: A representative sample is a group of people designed to represent the whole population.
Establishment: The ruling elite in society.
Elite theory: This is when very few people control power and wealth.
Public sphere: The public sphere is the realm of our social life in which we interact with strangers.
Public opinion: This is the view that is held by the majority of people in a society.
Public: A public is a group of people who have something in common.
Delinquence: It is the state of someone breaking the law or disobeying authority.
Diaspora: A diaspora is a group of people who have been forced to leave their homeland.
Eidetic memory: This refers to the ability to remember images in great detail.
Indigenous culture: This is a culture that has always been connected to a particular place.
Ethnocentrism: It refers to when someone is convinced that their culture and beliefs are the best.
Ethnobiology: This is the study of different cultures focusing on their language, traditions, and beliefs.
Ethnology: Ethnology is the study of different cultures.
Ethnography: Ethnography is the study of a particular culture or group of people.
Ethnomusicology: This is the study of music in different cultures.
Economy: An economy is how goods and services are produced, distributed, and consumed.
Economic growth: This is an increase in the production of goods and services.
Ecological fallacy refers to when researchers try to make connections between different pieces of research which are not necessarily linked.
Epidemic: An epidemic is a disease that spreads very quickly through a population.
Epidemiology: This is the study of how diseases are spread throughout society.
Egalitarianism: This refers to a society where everyone is seen as equal.
Emancipation: This is the act of freeing someone from being dependent on or having a duty towards their parents.
Emotion work: This refers to the process of showing certain emotions to help someone conform to social norms.
Empathy: This is when a person can understand and share another’s feelings.
Emergency: An emergency is an event that needs immediate attention.
Emotion: An emotion is a strong feeling that can vary in intensity from mild to extreme.
Euphemism: This is when someone uses a more excellent way of saying something.
Expatriate: Someone who has been expelled from their home country is an expatriate.
Externality: A negative consequence that affects people who are not involved in making something happen.
Extremism: This can be defined as more radical actions than what most people would be willing to support.
Exogamy: This refers to when someone marries outside their own culture or social group.
Exoteric: This can be defined as intended for a general audience.
Folkways: Folkways are norms that vary from society to society, but not necessarily between classes.
Family: A family can be defined as a group of people who share the same home and live together.
Family of orientation: This is a family where someone has their biological parents still living.
Family of procreation: This is when someone has their biological parents not living with them.
Family structure: The way people’s family looks, for example, single parent, one child, etc.
Feminist ethics: This is a branch of philosophy that tries to understand the ethical issues women face. You may check feminist movements to learn more!
Fanon: Fanon is a theory that gives an account of how people create their own culture based on the customs and values they have learned while living in a certain place.
Fan culture: This can be defined as people getting involved in a popular activity or idea.
Fantasy violence: Violent images in movies or video games that are not real.
Fascism: This is a political theory that emphasizes the importance of having a strong nation with a powerful military.
Federalism: In politics, federalism describes a system where power is given to smaller government units with their rights and responsibilities.
Feminism: Feminism is a political movement that fights for women’s rights, especially the right to vote.
Fetish: In social sciences, a fetish is an object or idea with more value or importance than it deserves.
Fieldwork: In the social sciences, fieldwork is observing and recording what happens in real-life settings.
Field theory: This is based on the idea that behavior results from someone’s situation.
Femininity: Socially constructed ideas about how women should act, look, and speak.
Festivity: This can be defined as a time of celebration and happiness.
Fetishism: Fetishism is the excessive importance given to an object or idea.
Dramaturgical analysis: This theory is based on the idea that people act differently depending on which part they are playing.
Charisma: This can be defined as an intense feeling of attractiveness or charm.
Cultural capital: This type of capital is related to the knowledge that a person has about a certain society.
Civil law: This is the law that deals with conflicts between individuals and groups within a society.
Civil rights: These are the rights that every person should have to be treated equally.
Dyad: A dyad is a very close relationship usually made up of two people.
Drug abuse: Drug abuse can be defined as the excessive use of a drug despite the harm it is doing.
Drug addiction: Drug addiction can be defined as when someone usually becomes dependent on an outside substance to feel good or function.
Dialectical materialism: Dialectical materialism is a branch of philosophy that argues that the world is constantly changing and is driven by conflict.
Dialectic: A dialectic is an argument or theory that explores two opposite ideas and attempts to reconcile them.
Differential association: This is when someone learns the behavior they display in a certain situation by associating with people who behave in this way.
Sociology is a complex and extensive subject—the terms described here are just a few of the many you need to master. Research further to learn more terminologies that will help you understand sociology more.
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