Book Report: Sociology: Changing Societies

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[. . .] A union leader in Washington, D.C., isn't a miner, but miner's groups are his reference group because he identifies so strongly with their needs and aspirations.

Primary groups refer to groups where a person received his or her first important lessons about life and social realities - most often, a typical primary group is the family. Individuals develop their self-concepts and their sense of themselves in a primary group. In a secondary group, such as the HR department at work, a person is less emotionally connected, and feels less totally included in the group's values and actions. A secondary group allows for roles to be played in order to carry out that group's utilitarian functions, whereas in a primary group, one's role is pretty much set in cement. When the size of the group is increased, the number of interaction "linkages" within the group also increases, decreasing the personal relationships within the expanding group. Once the group is large, it is difficult for individual members to form primary-like relations, such as happens when the group is two (a married couple). Amitai Etzioni has identified three types of formal organizations: normative organizations are like Boy Scouts, little league teams, where people join because they perceive that those groups are worthwhile and add social or moral contributions to the greater society; coercive organizations require people to join (prisons and military boot camps are examples), and remove them from the larger society for the duration of their membership; utilitarian organizations attract people who are seeking material benefits from their participation in the organization (an example would be a student attending college to better his or her future). Bureaucratic organizations are simply structural devices for making things happen, maximizing the efficiency of humans through the "logical, orderly structuring of individual behaviors within a particular setting." Some strengths of bureaucratic organizations: jobs and authority is clearly delineated and defined; expectations are understood by all within the organization. Shortcomings of a bureaucracy: they can be slow to change, unresponsive and plodding, causing citizens who need help from various bureaus within the government to become frustrated and even angry. It is an old protest by now, issued by multitudes, that government bureaucrats are more concerned with "covering their butts" than serving the best interests of the public.

Societies are groups of people who seek to perpetuate themselves and continue to occupy their defined territory, to continue to interact with one another based on their shared values and culture. The society is different from other groups because a society provides all the services and resources to sustain their members, replace those who are lost, add new members, and hence, perpetuate the society. Gemeinschaft societies were based mainly on primary-group relations; they were smaller groups where friendships were vital and everyone knew everyone else. However, Gesellschaft societies are the larger groups where not everyone knows everyone else, and individualistic values are more important because those cohesive groupings and primary, one-on-one neighborly values are gone, and a larger, less familiar society is now being created.

Chapter Four Summary of Key Concepts

Human social behaviors differ from non-human behaviors because humans' biological inheritance provides people with a set of behavioral "potentials" - the nuts and bolts of raw materials for human development - and additionally, society and culture provide the tools for socialization, which bring the biological potentials into fruition. Non-humans are not blessed with the socialization opportunities and biological potentials as are humans. Social interaction is very important for children because they have no other way in which to learn the attributes known as "human" attributes. When children are raised in isolated environments, as some case studies have shown, they fail to learn the most basic functions, such as feeding themselves, verbal skills, and more.

Socialization, from the point-of-view of Piaget, is the combined interactions of social, cultural and individual factors in terms of shaping humans' ability to learn (cognitive abilities). The focus of sociological models of socialization is to examine the impact group experiences have on the development of the personality. Mead's view of socialization processes is that increasing social contact between an individual and others creates role-playing, and in so doing a young person develops social structure awareness with the "generalized other" (larger structure of social groups) in his or her relationships. The family functions as a primary socialization unit - and sets the stage for the person's first position in society, for the internalizing of cultural values, and for the learning of how to communicate and interact with others and with groups.

Peer groups have a tremendous influence on young people, because they are buffers between the individuals in peer groups and the larger society, and, because they actually become little primary group communities unto themselves. Since the status of their own primary groups hasn't been clearly defined, the peer group is a bit of security for the young person while those other social forces are formed. The mass media play significant - even frighteningly powerful - roles in social learning because, for example, Americans, on average, watch over 4 hours of TV daily, and listen to 3 hours of radio, and no matter what is presented on TV - pap, violence, sex - it has enormous impact, especially on young, susceptible, impressionable minds. Young girls see skinny models on TV and they believe that is the correct way to look. Young boys see killings with guns, and they want that power, too. The fact that TV ads or programming can easily form impressions in young minds is made even more potentially alarming by the recent FCC ruling which allows single corporations to own multiple media outlets in one city. A corporation, for example, could own the main TV station, 2 or 3 of the most listened to radio stations, and the daily newspaper in a medium size community. That kind of power is excessive, potentially undemocratic, and likely abusive to a free society.

Adult socialization is vital in a quickly changing world, because marriage and family life are not the same as they were 20, 30 years ago. In most marriages, both spouses work, and that requires learning both about work and how to manage a family. Resocialization differs from socialization because resocialization occurs in rapid, dramatic patterns, well after the initial socialization, and it involves the making of a new identity. Resocialization may occur in an environment apart from the normal social situation for the person - such as a prison, boot camp, etc.

Chapter Five Summary Key Concepts

Social inequality alludes to unequal distribution of goods and services among a portion of the population at a given time; social stratification refers to the permanent inequality, the permanent lack of equal distribution of goods and services - a situation passed from generation to generation which has become the norm, or the value.

The Davis-Moore functionalist approach is that social stratification is an inevitable result of the human condition; some will always have, some will always be among the "have-nots." In all societies, they argue, humans are best motivated to succeed when they are given the challenge of obtaining fame, fortune, and power; and the more vital the task, the smaller the number of people - because only a few will have the ability to meet the challenge due to generations of stratification. Functionalism is like a "natural superiority" kind of system - the strong will stay strong, the weak will struggle. Melvin Tumin disagreed with Davis-Moore: his "strangulation of talent" effect states that "offering different levels of rewards to different statuses" of people may at first encourage open competition in which the most qualified people will achieve the most desirable social positions. But Tumin said that after some time passes, the children of successful parents will likely be successful, and children of poor parents will also be poor - and hence, competition for those top favored positions will not be "open" competition anymore.

Karl Marx had this basic assumption: stratification was rooted in people's relationship to the economy; class conflicts were the driving force of social history, and every aspect of social life is determined by the material conditions at a given time and place. Human populations, Marx believed, had a mechanism for producing wealth, called its mode of production. In the end, Marx felt that a system of social equality was better than social stratification. Max Weber, meantime, thought Marx's social stratification was too simplistic and simply wrong. He rejected Marx's economic theories, and said that access to basic opportunities and resources, not ownership of private property, defined the class position of the individual. "Life chances" was Weber's phrase for the access to opportunities for all people. Weber saw a social hierarchy (level of prestige or honor), and a political hierarchy (the ability to gather and use power), as ways to define inequality. Studying social classes finds an "open-class" and a "closed-caste" society; open means people can move up the ladder and closed alludes to the fact… [END OF PREVIEW]

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