Topic of the lecture: Social Groups, Organizations and Institutes
1. Social groups: aggregate, category, in-groups, out-groups
2. Reference groups
3. Group size: dyad, triad
4. Group dynamics: group formation, leadership, power, conformity, obedience, group decision making, institutions and conformity, formal organizations.
1. Social groups: aggregate, category, in-groups, out-groups
The study and understanding of social groupsis central to sociology. We live most of our lives within social settings, so sociology isactually 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 1998, 7).
The term grouphas 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 groupis 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.
Ex:Individuals riding the bus or walking their dogs in a park are examples of aggregates. If these people interact and develop some sort of shared interestsor sense of themselves as a group, then they become a group by definition.
Ex: 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 term that is often confused with group is category. A categoryrefers 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 a 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.
Categorization of the groups:
In-groups- those groups with which we identify and feel a sense of belonging and loyalty;
Out-groups- those with which we do not identify or toward which we may even feel animosity(strong hostility).
We also tend to develop a bias (prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person) in which we favor our in-groups, perceiving them in a better light than those “others” (Sumner 1906). For this reason, we often prefer our fraternity or sorority, our church, or people from our ethnic group over others.
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 (Collins 1989) 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 groupcan 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, focus on an out- group can strengthen the 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. Street gangs or racist groups such as skinheads or the Ku Klux Klan illustrate this concept in action.
This group identity can even overpower and eliminate any previously existing relationshipsmembers held with those of the “other” group. Well- known research conducted by Sherif and associates demonstrate this process in their Robbers Cave Experiment.A number of boys participated in a camping trip during which they were closely observed by the researchers. The research team set up and manipulated various situations involving group membership and com- petition. After the boys had participated in camp activities and formed friend- ships for a week, researchers divided the boys into two competitive groups, purposely putting best friends into different groups. The resulting in-group/out- group conflict became stronger than the previous friendship ties (Sherif and Sherif 1953).
Robers Cave Experiment
Sociologists are also interested in how we use groups to judge ourselves and our attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and actions. The groups we use for this purpose are reference groups. Reference groupsare those with which we compare ourselves. Any group can become a reference group if we use them to judge something about ourselves. Ex: considering what best friends will think about your new boyfriend or girlfriend or how to dress to fit in with your new colleagues on your first day of work are both ways of using reference groups.
We can also have negative reference groups that we do not want to be like. Dressing in hip-hop, punk, or goth (a style of rock music derived from punk) styles sets children apart from their parents and a conservative establishment. Reference groups do not even have to be real. Girls and women who judge their bodies against the apparently flawless, thin, air-brushed models shown on the cover of women’s magazines or advertisements are measuring themselves against a fictional, and unattainable, reference group (Kilbourne 2000). Children who compare their parents to parents on television sitcoms are making a similar fictional reference-group comparison.
Group size influences the interactions that take place within the group.
Sociologist Simmel G. addressed the importance of this concept. Simmel notes that the smallest possible group is composed of two persons. This group of two is called a dyad.These are often our strongest, most intimate relationships, such as a marriage. The existence of the dyad depends on both people. If one leaves, the group ceases to exist. As Simmel says, “for its life, [the dyad] needs both, but for its death, only one”. Each person holds full responsibility for group accomplishment or failure, since there are no additional members to which to shift the blame or effort. Because of the importance of marriage to society and the instability of the dyad as a group, cultural, religious, and legal guidance are often provided to support marriages and enhance the dyad’s stability.
A three-person group is a triad.The addition of the third person changes the group dynamics considerably.
The addition of just this one person also makes the group more stable.
Simmel noted that this third person adds the possibility of mediatorwhen two members disagree.
If one person takes some attention away from maintaining group relationships, the group continues to exist with the effort of the other two members.
However, the addition of the third person also adds the possibility of a coalition forming against one person.
Another possibility is that this third person might instigate (initiate) trouble between the other two for personal benefit.
Simmel also noted that as groups become larger in size, they generally become more stable and less intimate, with less required of each member. Larger groups can lose members and still exist. For example, owners regularly trade members of sports teams, and a military unit can lose members in battle but still exist. Although the relationships between individuals in the unit may have been somewhat intense, the lost members are replaced by new arrivals, and the unit continues to function. Interaction with members outside the group may also increase as the group gets larger(Blau 1977; Carley 1991). As groups become larger, they also tend to develop formal structures such as bureaucracies.
An entire field of study known as group dynamicshas developed around the scientific study of groups and group processes. Drawing from both sociology and psychology, group dynamics includes studying the influences groups have on our behavior