Sociology Groups and Organizations
Sociology Groups and Organizations
the study and understanding of social groups and organizations is central to sociology. We live most of our lives within social settings, so sociology is actually a study of our experiences within groups. Sociologists devote much attention to groups of all sizes and characteristics. Much sociological study investigates “how individuals are shaped by their social groups, from families to nations, and how groups are created and maintained by the individuals who compose them” – Kimmel 1987
The term group has a specific definition in sociology that differs from everyday usage. In everyday language, almost any collection of people might be called a group. However, two or more people being in close physical proximity does not constitute a group in the sociological meaning of the word. Sociologically speaking, a group is a collection of people who interact regularly based on some shared interest and who develop some sense of belonging that sets them apart from other gatherings of people. They form a social relationship. This is sometimes referred to as developing a sense of “we-ness”. All groups share this factor of interdependence. – Lewin 1948.
People who just happen to be in the same place at the same time are not a group. Rather, they are an aggregate. Individuals riding the bus or walking their dogs in park are examples of aggregates. If these people interact and develop some sort of shared interests or sense of themselves as a group, then they become a group by definition. For example, the individual dog walkers might begin to talk with each other about their pets, start to walk their dogs on the same schedule and even plan events together, such as an obedience class. Through these shared interests and interactions, the dog walkers may begin to identify themselves as members of a group. They might even adopt some sort of name to identify themselves. Another, albeit tragic, example of an aggregate developing very quickly into a group was on September 11, 2001, when hijackers flew airplanes into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania started as an aggregate and became a group when they joined together to fight the hijackers.
Another term that is often confused with group is category. A category refers to people who share some common characteristic or status. Categories are often used by sociologists and other researchers interested in studying social life. Age, race, gender, income level, religious affiliation, being a musician, owning a pet, or living in an apartment are all categories. People in a category do not necessarily interact or share any sense of belonging and may not even know each other.
Researchers have also pointed out that sometimes categorizations are as basic in our minds as those groups with which we identify and feel a sense of belonging and loyalty. In-groups and those with which we do not identify or toward which we may even feel animosity, out-groups. We also tend to develop a bias in which we favor our in-groups, perceiving them in a better light than those “others” – Summer 1906. We often prefer our fraternity or sorority, our church, or people from our ethnic group, for example, over others for this reason.
This in-group/out-group distinction works to build group identity and solidarity.Groups use a variety of means to distinguish who is “in” and who is “out”. Rituals such as secret handshakes or symbols such as team uniforms, gang colors, or awards honoring member’s accomplishments are all ways to exhibit group identity and reinforce membership.
Conflict with another group can also strengthen group solidarity. The members of one group draw together to challenge a common enemy – the age old idea of “us” against “them”. Thus, having an out-group to focus on can strengthen that sense of belonging and support the development of a sense of group identity as members tend to focus on differences between groups rather than any similarities.
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