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Primary and Secondary Groups

Several times a day, one person greets another with a smile and a simple phrase such as «Hi! How are you?» Of course, an honest reply may be actually expected, but not often. Usually the other person responds with a well-scripted «Fine, and how are you?» In most cases, providing a complete account of how one really is doing would lead the other person to make a hasty and awkward exit.

The extent of personal concern for others in social interaction was used by Charles Horton Cooley to draw a distinction between two general types of social groups. The primary group is a social group in which interaction is both personal and enduring. Within primary groups, people have personal and lasting ties Cooley designated as primary relationships. The members of primary groups share broad dimensions of their lives, generally come to know a great deal about one another, and display genuine concern for another's welfare. The family is perhaps the most important primary group within any society.

Cooley used the term primary because social groups of this kind are among the first groups we experience in life and are important in shaping our personal attitudes and behaviour. They are also of major importance in shaping our social identity, which is reflected in the fact that the members of any primary group typically think of themselves as «we».

The strength of primary relationships gives individuals a considerable sense of comfort and security, which is clearly evident in personal performances. Within the familiar social environment of family or friends, people tend to feel they can be themselves and not worry about being continually evaluated by others. At the office, for example, people are usually self-conscious about their clothing and behaviour; at home, they feel free to dress and act more or less as they wish.

Members of primary groups certainly provide many personal benefits to one another, including financial as well as emotional support. But people generally perceive the primary group as an end in itself rather than as a means to other ends. Thus, for example, we expect a family member or close friend to help us without pay when we move into a new apartment. At the same time, primary group members usually do expect that such help will be mutual. A person who consistently helps a friend who never returns the favour is likely to feel used and question the depth of the friendship.

A contrasting type of social group is the secondary group: a social group in which interaction is impersonal and transitory. Within a secondary group, which usually contains more people than a primary group, individuals share situational ties that are called secondary relationships. For example, individuals who work together in an office, enroll in the same college course, or belong to a particular political organization usually constitute a secondary group.

The opposite of the characteristics that describe primary groups apply to secondary groups. Secondary relationships involve little personal knowledge and weak emotional ties. They vary in duration, but are usually short-term, beginning and ending without particular significance. True, people may work in an office for decades with the same co-workers, but a more typical example of secondary relationships is students in a college course who never see one another after the semester ends. Since secondary groups are limited to a single specific activity or interest, their members have little chance to develop a deep concern for one another's overall welfare. Secondary groups are less significant than primary groups for personal identity. Although people in a secondary group sometimes think of themselves in terms of «we», the boundary that distinguishes members from nonmembers is usually far less clear than it is in primary groups.

Secondary groups are important mostly as a means of achieving certain specific ends. If relationships within primary groups have a personal orientation, those within ; secondary groups have a goal orientation. This does not mean that secondary relationships are always formal and unemotional. On the contrary, social interaction with fellow students, co-workers, and business contacts can be quite enjoyable. But personal pleasure is not what prompts the formation of secondary groups in the first place. In short, while members of a primary group have personal importance on the basis of who they are, members of secondary groups have significance on the basis of what they can do for us.

Individuals in primary groups are likely to be sensitive to patterns of social exchange — how benefits received by one member compare to those received by another -although such considerations are not of crucial importance. Within secondary groups, however, exchange is very important. In business transactions, for example, the people involved are keenly aware of what they receive for what they offer. Likewise, the secondary relationships that often characterize neighbours are based on the expectation that any neighbourly favour will be reciprocated in the future.

The goal orientation of secondary groups diverts the focus of social interaction from personal matters to mutually beneficial cooperation. With the wish to maximize these benefits, members of secondary groups are likely to craft their performances carefully, and usually expect others to do the same. Therefore, the secondary relationship is one in which the question «How are you?» may be politely asked without really wanting an answer.


XV. Answer the following questions:

1. What groups do sociologists distinguish?

2. Who was the first to speak on the importance of such distinction?

3. What group is called primary?

4. What is the most important primary group for a child?

5. What groups influence the child's social development?

6. How are secondary groups organized?

7. Give examples of such groups.

8. What group plays an important part in the formation of personality?

9. What does the child receive within the circle of his family and his playmates?

10. What else does he learn there?


XVI. Contradict the following statements. Start your sentence with: «Quite on the contrary...»

1. Primary groups are organized according to special interests of one kind or another.

2. For a young child the school group constitutes the most important group.

3. Secondary groups depend on face to face association.

4. Secondary groups are more characterized with intimate co-operation than primary groups.

5. It is the secondary group that plays the main part in the early formation of personality.

6. Within the secondary group the child receives the direct training as a member of society.


XVII. Ask your friend:

—who drew a distinction between social groups;

—what he understands by a primary group;

—what group the family presents;

—why the primary groups are of major importance in our lives;

—what the strength of primary relationships gives individuals;

—what a secondary group is characterized by;

—what ties individuals share within the secondary group;

—what groups are less significant — primary or secondary;

—in what respect group social exchange is more important.


XVIII. Find in the text the facts to prove that:

1. The family constitutes the most important primary group for a child.

2. Membership in a primary group is an important feature of a child's life.

3. Membership in a secondary group is an important feature of an adult life.


Date: 2016-04-22; view: 2990

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