This is a list of definitions for sociology concepts used by The Other Sociologist.*

  • Ableism: discrimination of disabled people, based on the belief that able-bodied people (people without disability) are superior, as well as the taken-for-granted assumptions that able-bodied experiences are “natural,” “normal” and universal.
  • Access: creating, measuring and redesigning opportunities to enhance participation by underrepresented groups.
  • Applied Sociology: Sociologically trained researchers, community workers and activists who use sociology methods, theories and concepts beyond academia, to answer the questions of clients and community groups in policy, not-for-profit work, and industry.
  • Blackface: Exaggerated stage makeup used to ridicule and subjugate African people and their descendants in comedy acts, plays and movies. With origins in Italian and English plays, Americans adopted these conventions in minstrels (racist musical acts and skits) in the early 1800s. Around the same time, blackface was imported to Australia, targeting Aboriginal and Torres Strait people, with intances continuing in the present day in racist “costumes” and popular culture acts and “satire.”
  • CommunityA group who follows a social structure within a society (including culture, norms, values, and social 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. Benedict Anderson (1983) argued, “all communities are imagined communities.” This means that ideas shape the meaning of communities.
  • Culture: The social practices, materials and symbols that guide human interaction and shape our sense of meaning. It includes language, dress, values, and 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 them 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 by social institutions such as the law, the healthcare system, media, and so on.
  • Diversity: An umbrella term that encompasses three distinct concepts of equity, access and inclusion.
  • Eating the Other: Popular culture’s fascination with portraying Black/ Indigenous cultures as primitive, exotic, uncivilised, violent and threatening to ‘Western’ people (to White women especially). This term also addresses how popular culture repackages and exploits Indigenous religions in reductionist and insensitive ways. Theorised by bell hooks in Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992).
  • 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.
  • Equity: barriers, issues and solutions to structural disadvantage.
  • Habitus: A lifetime process of socialisation where people absorb and embody ideas about history and culture, and reproduce them without a conscious appreciation of how their ideas of reality came to be formed. Term popularised by Pierre Bourdieu (1977).
  • Hegemony: The domination by elite, powerful or dominant groups using ideology, through a process of consent, rather than violent coercion. Hegemonic control is how the social order becomes accepted as”natural” and “normal,” through lifetime socialisation that influences 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.
  • Inclusion: actively seeking out, valuing and respecting differences.
  • Intersectionality: The interconnections between gender inequality and racism, as well as other structural inequalities, such as homophobia, transphobia, ableism, class stratification and other disadvtanges. Popular culture often confuses this term as one describing multiplicy of identities (for example, working class lesbian) and White feminism dilutes meaning by disconnecting this term from race. The concept actually refers to structural barriers faced by racial minority women. Originally theorised by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989to address the industrial disputes experienced by Black women in the USA, who simultaneously experience racism and sexism in the workplace, but are often forced to launch discrimination claims on grounds of either race or gender. In fact, multiple forms of discrimination are simultaneously experienced by Black women, Indigenous women and other women of colour, and so the exclusion, inequity and harm becomes compounded.
  • Microaggressions: subtle words, behaviour and ideas that are expressed in daily interactions, when a person from a majority or dominant group evokes a stereotype or passes judgement on minority or marginalised groups. Microaggressions may be informed by overt prejudice or by unconscious bias. Regardless of its intent, microaggressions operate through ideologies of power and privilege.
  • Otherness: Groups that are defined as being different from the norm, marginalised, fetishised or rendered invisible from mainstream society.
  • Prejudice: An idea based on an irrational generalisation about a group that is applied indiscriminately and inflexibly with little regard for facts. This leads to making mental pre-judgements based on stereotypes. Prejudices can lead to hostility and discrimination.
  • RacismThe 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 and cultural patterns; unconscious bias that affect social relations; and structural discrimination.
  • Racist ableism: the culmulative impact when ableism intersects with racial discrimination
  • Racial discrimination: the unfair treatment and lack of opportunities, due to ascribed racial markers such as skin colour or other perceived physical features, ancestry, national or ethnic origin, or immigrant status. The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 RDA makes it illegal to discriminate across public life, including in employment, education, services, housing, and accessing public places.(learn more on the Australian Human Rights Commission)
  • 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:  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.
  • Tone policingDiscursive practice when members of majority groups focus on the language and perceived emotion of marginalised or underrepresented groups during discussions of inequality, rather than the content, lived experiences and knowledge of minorities or disempowered groups.
  • White fragility: Defensive responses by White people during discussions of race and racism. This stems from disrupting Whiteness, such as making explicit that White people’s perspectives are driven by their race; or when people of colour share their lived experiences of racism; and when people of colour disagree with, or refuse to protect, White people’s incorrect notions of race and racism. Theorised by multicultural educator Robin DiAngelo.
  • Whiteness: The hegemonic process, including unconscious practices, through which White experiences become taken-for-granted as the universal norm. Whiteness is dominant in representations of social reality, such as in books, TV shows, film, art, music and other cultural institutions that centre White people’s interests. Whiteness is seen as “natural” and “logical” to the point where White people don’t notice nor question the extent to which other perspectives 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 and protect them in their day-to-day life. Theorised by Peggy McIntosh in The Invisible Knapsack.
  • White supremacy: One mechanism of racism, describing the values, conscious or unconscious beliefs, and formal social structures that maintain the ideology that White people are superior to people of colour.

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


How to cite this article:

Zevallos, Z. (2011) ‘Sociology Glossary,’ The Other Sociologist, 11 October. Online resource:

2 thoughts on “Sociology Glossary

  1. Thank you for your insightful work. I used this glossary for one of my online courses and will certainly continue to come here from time to time. It’s one of my saved pages from now on.


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