Sociology Glossary

Sociology Concepts used by The Other Sociologist*

  • Applied Sociology: Non-academic researchers and activists who work with clients and community groups primarily outside universities.
  • Blackface: Exaggerated stage makeup that has been historically used to ridicule and subjugate African Americans in comedy acts, plays and movies. William Mahar has traced the history of blackface to an appropriation of Italian and English play conventions, which were adopted in American minstrels (musical acts and skits) in the early 1800s. Versions continue in the present day in “costumes” and pop culture.
  • Community: A group who follow a social structure within a society (culture, norms, values, status). They may work together to organise social life within a particular place, or they may be bound by a sense of belonging sustained across time and space. As Benedict Anderson noted, “all communities are imagined communities.” This means that ideas shape the meaning of communities, not necessarily concrete facts. You can be born in one nation and feel like you belong to another, for example. Different theories have emerged to describe different functions of community.
  • Culture: The social practices, materials and symbols that guide human interaction and shape our sense of meaning. It includes language, dress, and our way of life.
  • Cultural Relativity: Judging another culture by that culture’s standards, rather than our own. Rather than thinking other people’s customs are strange or threatening, we understand that this behaviour makes sense for people given their local history and social context. (And that we probably seem strange to Others too!) This is the opposite of ethnocentricity.
  • Discrimination: Treating others unequally due to their social background. This is an exercise of power by dominant groups who have the ability to impede the social mobility or progress of minorities, such as by denying children fair and equal access to education, or deciding not to hire minority women due to racial and gender bias. Discrimination is sustained actively and tacitly by institutions such as the law, the healthcare system, media, and so on.
  • Eating the Other: Term used by bell hooks in Black Looks: Race and Representation. Refers to pop culture’s fascination with portraying non-white or Indigenous cultures as primitive, exotic, uncivilised, violent and threatening to ‘Western’ people (women especially). This term also addresses how popular culture repackages and exploits indigenous religions in reductionist and insensitive ways.
  • Ethnocentricity: Judging another culture by one’s own standards, rather than thinking about other people’s cultural practices within the context of that specific culture, values and norms. This is the opposite of cultural relativity.
  • Habitus: Term popularised by Pierre Bourdieu. It refers to a lifetime process of socialisation where people absorb ideas about history and culture, and reproduce them without a conscious appreciation of how their ideas of reality came to be formed.
  • Hegemonic: How one group dominates Others though ideology and a process of consent, rather than through violent coercion. Cultural relations and socialisation affect our ideas (consciousness), and how we come to understand reality. Historical relations, including past violence such as colonialism and present-day institutions maintain the status quo. The cultural order is accepted as”natural” and “normal.”
  • Otherness: Groups that are defined as being different from the norm, marginalised, fetishised or rendered invisible from mainstream society. (Read more on my Otherness page.)
  • Prejudice: An irrational generalisation about a group. It is a mental pre-judgment – an idea that somebody already holds and applies indiscriminately and inflexibly to Others with little regard for facts. It is effectively making judgements and acting without critical thinking based on stereotypes. Prejudices can lead to hostility and discrimination.
  • Racism: The institutional processes by which racial inequality is sustained. Racism is driven by the belief that one racial group is innately superior to Others. It is more than just an insult or an individual act of violence; it is about historical patterns; unconscious bias that affect social relations; and structural discrimination.
  • Reverse racism: This concept supposedly describes minorities who “discriminate” against majority members, but in fact it does not describe social reality. Racism can only be perpetuated by a social system favouring a dominant or majority group. All groups hold positive and negative prejudice towards outsiders but this is not racism. A dominant member acting out prejudice against a minority is backed by institutional power and historical violence that minorities do not have.
  • Society:  This refers to people who feel they share a sense of culture or who interact within a shared space, as well as the institutions that bind people together. Society is therefore best thought of as the “complex patterns” that shape social relationships.
  • Sociology: Literally means the study of companionship; or in other words, what makes up society, including culture, and its impact upon social membership in different societies.
  • Stereotypes: Attitudes that exaggerate generalised ideas and feelings about certain social groups, both positive and negative.
  • Whiteness: Process of hegemony of dominant culture in White-majority nations. This refers to the ways in which White experiences become taken-for-granted as the universal norm. Whiteness refers to the representation of social reality, such as by the fact that most characters in books, TV shows, film, art, music and other cultural institutions reflect White people’s interests. Whiteness is seen as “natural” and “logical” to the point where people don’t notice or don’t question the extent to which Other experiences are marginalised.
  • White privilege: The process by which a dominant White culture “normalises” White experiences so that members of the dominant group do not see how racial relations are set up to benefit them. Refer to Peggy McIntosh’s Invisible Knapsack.

*This is an evolving document I will add to from time to time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s