“No man is an island,” said John Donne. A person is a sociable being, born into a group, and living in a social group. Even the so-called loners or the monks of the Middle Ages associated and participated with their fellow monks.
Social groups are essential to a person’s existence. One is born into a family, is raised up in a family, plays in the neighborhood, goes to school, worship with others, and joins work groups and other associations. From the group, one acquires personal habits, values, attitudes, and ambitions. From the group, one acquires a social identity and depends on it for his or her physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs. Social groups not only influence people’s lives but also affect the structure of the society.
Three strangers are standing at a street corner waiting for a traffic light to change. Do they constitute a group? Five hundred women and men are first-year graduate students at a university. Do they constitute a group?
Groups, Aggregate, and Categories
SOCIAL GROUP is a collection of two or more people who interact frequently with one another, share a sense of
belonging, and have a feeling of interdependence.
Several people waiting for a traffic light to change constitute an AGGREGATE – a collection of people who happen to be in the same place at the same time but share little else in common. People in aggregates share a common purpose (such as purchasing items or arriving at their destination) but generally do not interact with one another, except perhaps briefly.
The first-year graduate students, at least initially, constitute a CATEGORY – a number of people who may never have met one another but share a similar characteristic (such as education level, age, race, or gender).
The Concept of Society
Sociology is the science of society and the social interactions taking place. Society includes the totality of social organizations and the complex network of interconnected, interdependent, and overlapping social relationships. Kendall (2000) defines society as a large social grouping whose members share the same geographical territory and are subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations.
Types of Groups
Groups have varying degrees of social solidarity and structure. This structure is flexible in some groups and more rigid in others. Some groups are small and personal; others are large and impersonal.
Primary and Secondary Groups (Charles Cooley)
Primary Group is a small, less specialized group in which members engage in face-to-face, emotion-based
interactions over an extended period of time.
Secondary Group is a larger, more impersonal, goal-oriented relationships for a limited period of time.
Ingroups and Outgroups (William Graham Sumner)
Ingroup is a group to which a person belongs and with which the person feels a sense of identity.
Outgroup is a group to which a person does not belong and toward which the person may feel a sense of
competitiveness or hostility.
■ Ingroups provide us not only with a source of identity but also with a point of reference.
A reference group is a group that strongly influences a person’s behavior and social attitudes, regardless of
whether that individual is an actual member.
Group Characteristics and Dynamics
What purpose do groups serve? Why are individuals willing to relinquish some of their freedom to participate in groups?
♦ According to the functionalists, people form groups to meet instrumental and expressive needs.
Instrumental, or task-oriented, needs cannot always be met by one person, so the group works cooperatively to fulfill a specific goal. In addition to instrumental needs, groups also help people meet their expressive, or...