sociology terms

affirmative action: a set of policies made by the government or a private organisation, designed to redress historic injustices and discrimination against certain groups (for example based on gender, race, age, sexuality, nationality etc) by making special efforts to provide members of these groups with access to educational and employment opportunities

agrarian/ agricultural society:
a society whose main source of income comes from agriculture and occupations such as barbers, blacksmiths, and craftsmen (pottery, weaving etc)

the condition of workers who feel estranged from themselves, or society due to a lack of power, control, fulfillment, and satisfaction. Marxist theory suggests that due to capitalism, workers are alienated from: 1. their own labour; 2. the products of their labour; 3. each other (must compete for work); 4. their own species being

anomie: a social condition caused by rapid social change, where norms and values disappear or weaken. individuals feel disconnected from society, and a lack of belonging. theorised by Durkheim, and developed by Merton (Strain theory)

achieved status: status that is acquired through merit. their position or status is earned, and a reflection of their skills, ability and effort. (ex: profession, popularity, intelligence, education, wealth… but if a child is born into these conditions, their status is ascribed not achieved)

ascribed status:
a status given to an individual at birth, something they cannot choose and have no control over. (example: race, sex, age, birth location)

marxist term for the social class of people that owns the means of production needed to produce wealth: businesses, factories, equipment etc.

a term coined by Weber, a formal, hierarchal organisation of non-elected officials who implement rules and regulations, with rigid procedures and strict authority

an economic system based on private ownership, and private means of production. individuals are free to keep the profit they make

class conflict:
Marxist theory describes it as the tension between the bourgeoise (the capitalist class) and the proletariat (the working class), as a result of conflicting socioeconomic interests (example: maintenance of power, working conditions, pay gap)

collective behaviour:
a voluntary activity engaged in rapidly and randomly by a large number of individuals, that does not reflect societal norms. three types: fads, mass hysteria, and riots. it can be observed in four types of groupings of people: the crowd, the mass, the public, and social movements.

colonialism: when a country exerts control over another, usually exploiting its natural and human resouroces for economic advantage. the colonisers often force their own language, religion, political practices and cultural values upon the indigenous population. commonly refers to the conquest and exploitation of parts of the world by European countries

commodity: a product that can be sold, purchased and traded for other goods

commodification: the process of taking something’s original form and commercialising it, making it an object of capital – it can turn anything into something to be purchased and sold for profit. (examples: feminism, lgbt pride, spirituality, mental health). academics have theorised two elements of commodification: cultural diffusion and defusion, which have been defined by Haenfler (2017) as:

  • cultural diffusion: “the process of spreading styles, ideas, values, and norms into a wider society… once the market focuses on an object or identity to commodify, it starts the process of advertising and promoting that thing to the public.” (example: alternative rock from the 90s becoming ‘mainstream’, the ‘grunge aesthetic’ on tumblr)
  • cultural defusion: “the process of depoliticizing or ‘watering down’ the values, meanings, ideals, and subversive potential of a groupthey are able to present certain ‘enjoyable’ parts of identities and leave out other aspects, constructing the identity or item to be more marketable.” (examples: queer culture, body positivity and feminism)

communism: an economic system based on collective ownership of property and the means of production, and the profit is be shared equally by everyone.

counter culture: a culture whose values and lifestyles are opposed to those of the established mainstream culture. (examples: hippies in the 60s, queer culture)

culture: the characteristics and knowledge that are developed by members of social groups that make their social environments meaningful, including language, customs, beliefs, values, and norms.

deviance: behaviour that violates societal norms. it is relative, it varies according to factors such as time, location, age, social status . a good example is that since social distancing became a norm due to covid, activities like hugging and social gatherings have become acts of deviance. (more examples: talking loudly at home vs at a funeral; dancing at a job interview vs at a club; a toddler crying loudly in public vs an adult)

domestic labour: theorised by feminists to describe the unpaid work usually performed by women in the home such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for children, the elderly and the sick

emotional labour: the work of managing your own emotions that is required by certain professions, including suppressing and inducing feelings to satisfy another individual such as a customer. (theorised by Hochschild, 1983). (example: a waitresses who must be polite to the customer making her uncomfortable; or a flight attendant who must keep smiling no matter how rude the passengers are)

ethnography: the study of a cultural group in order to develop an understanding of the dynamics, social relations, and the workings of their society and culture by observing them in their ‘natural setting’

gender expression: external manifestations of gender, expressed through a person’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behaviour, voice, and/or body characteristics. society identifies these cues as masculine and feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture. (GLAAD)

gender identity: an individual’s internal, deeply held sense of their gender. for transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. most people have a gender identity of man or woman (or boy or girl). for some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of those two choices as gender is a spectrum of masculine to feminine. unlike gender expression, gender identity is not visible to others. (GLAAD)

gender roles: certain behaviours, attitudes, and characteristics expected and encouraged of an individual based on their gender. for example: masculinity- the colour blue, trucks, aggression, sports, non-emotional, career-oriented; femininity- the colour pink, dolls, gentle, innocent, graceful, nurturing.

gentrification: the process by which wealthy individuals of the middle class gradually move into historically minority and working class neighbourhoods. the rising cost of living and a changing culture may make it difficult for the longtime residents to adjust. wine bars, craft beer shops, artisan bakeries and coffee shops owned by the middle class replace old shops and restaurants to cater for the new residents. as estate agencies notice more enquiries about buying houses in the area, they suggest higher asking prices by those selling property, and increase in rent makes drives the longtime residents out of their homes

globalisation: the increasing interconnectedness and interdependence of societies around the world, as media and culture, consumer goods, and economic interests spread globally

halo effect: the assumption that a physically attractive individual also possesses other good qualities

laissez-faire: an economic system in which the government tries to avoid interfering in the free market, works closely with capitalism

mass culture


microlevel phenomena

moral panic




nuclear family

(the) other


performative activism


power structures


race-conflict theory




social agency

social institutions

social trends


socioeconomic status



systemic discrimination




white collar crime