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Absolute poverty Poverty as defined in terms of the minimum requirements necessary to sustain a healthy existence.

Achieved status Social status based on an individual’s effort rather than on traits assigned by biological factors. Examples include ‘veteran’, ‘graduate’ or ‘doctor’.

Affective individualism The belief in romantic attachment as a basis for contracting marriage ties.

Age–crime curve Describes the consistent finding that involvement in criminality increases during adolescence, peaks in the mid- to late teenage years, but then falls back, decreasing as people move into adulthood.

Age-grade The system in small-scale cultures in which people belonging to a similar age group are categorized together and have similar rights and obligations.

Ageing The combination of biological, psychological and social processes that affect people as they grow older.

Ageism Discrimination or prejudice against a person on the grounds of age.

Agencies of socialization Social contexts within which processes of socialization take place. The family, peer groups, schools, the media and the workplace are key socializing agencies.

Agrarian societies Societies whose means of subsistence is based on agricultural production (crop-growing).

Alienation The feeling that we are losing control over our own abilities as human beings. Karl Marx saw alienation under capitalism as workers’ loss of control over their labour tasks, the products of their labour, other workers and their essential ‘species being’.

Alter-globalization movements An international or global coalition of groups and protest networks that is opposed to the dominant, neo-liberal, global economy but advocates alternative forms of cooperative globalization under the slogan ‘Another world is possible’.

Alternative medicine Numerous therapies which lie outside orthodox biomedical practice and tend to adopt a holistic approach to health and illness.

Animism The belief that events in the world are mobilized by the activities of spirits.

Anomie ‘Normlesseness’ or a lack of social norms. Used by Durkheim to describe desperate feelings of aimlessness and despair provoked by rapid social change, which loosens the hold of existing norms.

Anthropocene A recently widely accepted new geological era, which acknowledges that human activity has become a key influence on planetary systems.

Anthropogenic climate change Any significant change in the global climate (mainly global warming) brought about wholly or in part by human activities.

Apartheid The official system of racial segregation established in South Africa and existing between 1948 and 1994.

Applied social research Research which not only aims to understand or explain social problems but also contributes to solving them.

Artificial intelligence (AI) Computerized machines which are able to perform tasks that would normally require human intelligence, such as decision-making, speech

Ascribed status Social status based on biological factors, such as race, sex or age. recognition and visual perception.

Assimilation The acceptance of a minority group by a majority population, in which the former adopts the values and norms of the dominant culture.

Assisted dying An option being sought by campaigners that would allow terminally ill people (who meet certain criteria) to take prescribed life-ending medication.

Asylum-seeker A person who has applied for refuge in a foreign country because of fear of religious or political persecution in his or her country of origin.

Atavism In criminology, a nineteenth-century theory that criminals display traits held over from the history of human evolution and which accounts for their criminality.

Austerity politics The framework of discussion or discourse, which developed after the 2008 global financial crisis, that focuses on reducing the budget deficits of governments through a mix of public spending cuts and tax increases.

Authoritarian states Political systems in which the needs and interests of the state take priority over those of citizens and participation in politics is severely limited or denied.

Authority Following Max Weber, the legitimate power which one person or a group holds over another. Authority depends on the acceptance by subordinates of the right of those above them to give orders or directives.

Automation Production processes monitored and controlled by machines with only minimal supervision from people.


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Back region An area away from ‘front region’ performances (such as staff rest rooms in restaurants), where individuals are able to relax and behave in an informal way.

Bias Generally a preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgement. In statistical sampling or testing, an error caused by systematically favouring some outcomes over others.

Big data analytics The process of analysing very large datasets to uncover patterns, trends and correlations.

Binuclear family Family structure in which a child has parents living in two different homes after separating, with both still involved in the child’s upbringing.

Biodiversity The diversity of species of life forms on planet Earth.

Biographical research Research that takes individual lives or life histories as the main focus. Oral histories, life stories, autobiographies and biographies are examples.

Biomedical model A set of principles underpinning Western medical systems and practices. Biomedicine defines diseases objectively via the presence of recognized symptoms and treats illness according to scientific principles.

Bisexual An orientation of sexual activities or feelings towards people of either sex.

Black feminism A strand of feminist thought highlighting the multiple disadvantages of gender, class and race which shape the experiences of non-white women. Black feminists reject the idea of a single unified gender oppression experienced evenly by all women.

Blended family A family in which at least one adult has children from a previous relationship. Also commonly called a ‘step-family’ or ‘reconstituted family’.

Bureaucracy Hierarchical organizational form based on a pyramid of authority. According to Weber, modern bureaucracy is the most efficient type of large-scale human organization and thus is likely to spread.


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Capitalism An economic system based on profit-seeking and market exchange. ‘Capital’ refers to any asset, including money, property and machines, which can be used to produce commodities for sale or be invested in a market with the hope of achieving a profit.

Capitalists Those who own the means of production – companies, land, stocks and shares – and use these to generate an economic return.

Caste A form of stratification in which an individual’s social position is fixed at birth and cannot be changed. India’s caste system has been established for the longest time.

Causal relationship A relationship in which one state of affairs – the effect – is brought about by another – the cause.

Causation The causal influence of one factor on another. Causal factors in sociology include the reasons individuals give for what they do, as well as external influences on their behaviour.

Childhood The early period of a person’s life, usually divided into stages (such as infant, child, youth), leading towards adulthood. Childhood is always subject to social construction.

Church A large body of people belonging to an established religious organization. Churches normally have a formal structure with a hierarchy of religious officials.

Cisgender A term denoting people whose gender identity and/or performance corresponds with that which is assigned at birth or according to dominant norms of masculinity and femininity.

City In modern times, the largest form of human settlement. In sociological theory, ‘a sociological entity that is formed spatially’, characterized by loose social bonds and the rational, matter-of-fact attitudes of its inhabitants.

Civil inattention The process whereby individuals in the same physical setting, without being threatening or overly friendly, demonstrate to one another that they are aware of one another’s presence.

Civil partnership A legally sanctioned relationship between two people of the same sex; it gives same-sex couples legal recognition as well as some or all of the rights of married couples.

Civil society The realm of activity between the state and the market, including family, schools, community associations and non-economic institutions.

Civilizing process A theory of social change in the work of Norbert Elias, linking the formation of European nation-states with the pacification of society, changes in the internalized emotional controls of individuals, and social codes of manners.

Class For Marx, a group of people standing in a common relationship to the means of production as owners or non-owners. Weber saw class as an economic category but stressed its interaction with social status and the affinities of ‘party’ affiliation. More recent definitions stress occupation, the ownership of property and wealth or lifestyles.

Class consciousness The process through which the working classes in capitalist societies would become aware of their subordinate and exploited class position. In Marxist theory, this is a necessary step towards revolution.

Cloud computing The practice of using a service over the internet, via remote datacentres which store, manage and process data, rather than an individual device.

Cognition Human thought processes involving perception, reasoning and remembering.

Cohabitation Two people living together in a sexual relationship of some permanence without being married to each other.

Cohort A group of people sharing common experiences within a certain period of time, usually in ‘birth cohorts’ – people born in the same year or few years.

Cold War The conflictual relationship between the USA and the Soviet Union, together with their allies, from the late 1940s until 1990. The period was known as the ‘Cold War’ because the two sides never engaged in direct military confrontation with each other.

Collective behaviour Group activities that normally emerge spontaneously, such as crowds, riots, crazes and panics.

Collective consumption A concept used by Manuel Castells, referring to the consumption of common goods promoted by the city, such as transport services and leisure amenities.

Collective effervescence The sense of heightened energy created in collective gatherings and rituals, used by Durkheim to explain the religious experience as essentially social.

Colonialism The process through which Western nations established their rule in parts of the world far away from their home territories.

Communication The transmission of information from one individual or group to another, including face-to-face conversation, the use of language and bodily cues, and print and electronic media such as internet chatrooms and smartphones.

Communism Theoretically, a society characterized by communal ownership of the means of production and distribution. Usually associated with Karl Marx and used to describe the former Soviet Union and much of Eastern Europe.

Comparative questions Questions concerned with drawing comparisons between one context in a society and another, or contrasting examples from different societies, for the purposes of sociological theory or research.

Comparative research Research that compares a set of findings about one society with the same type of findings about other societies.

Complicit masculinity Raewyn Connell’s term for a type of masculinity embodied by many men who do not live up to the ideal of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ yet benefit from its dominant position in the gender order.

Compulsion to proximity A need felt by individuals to interact with others in face-to-face settings rather than at a distance.

Concrete operational stage A stage of cognitive development in Piaget’s theory, in which the child’s thinking is based primarily on physical perception of the world rather than abstract concepts or hypothetical situations.

Conflict theories Sociological theories which focus on the tensions, divisions and competing interests that are present in all human societies as groups struggle to gain access to and control scarce resources.

Confluent love Active and contingent forms of love, as opposed to the ‘forever’ qualities of romantic love.

Consumer society A type of society which promotes the consumption of mass-produced products, partly through the ideology of consumerism, which suggests that increasing mass consumption is beneficial for all.

Control theory A theory which sees crime as the outcome of an imbalance between impulses towards criminal activity and the controls which deter it. Criminals are seen as rational beings who maximize rewards unless rendered unable to do so through social or physical controls.

Controls Statistical or experimental means of holding some variables constant in order to examine the causal influence of other variables.

Conurbation A clustering of towns or cities in an unbroken urban environment.

Convenience sampling The arbitrary selection of respondents for a study, based on simple opportunity rather than a rigorous quest for representativeness; used to study hard-to-reach social groups.

Conversation analysis The empirical study of conversations, employing techniques drawn from ethnomethodology. Conversation analysis tries to uncover the organizational principles of talk and its role in the social order.

Core countries According to world-systems theory, the most advanced industrial countries, which take the lion’s share of profits from the world economic system.

Corporate crime Offences and major harm committed by large corporations in society, including pollution, false advertising and violations of health and safety regulations.

Correlation A regular relationship between two dimensions or variables, often expressed in statistical terms. Correlations may be positive or negative. A positive correlation exists where a high rank on one variable is regularly associated with a high rank on the other. A negative correlation exists where a high rank on one variable is regularly associated with a low rank on the other.

Cosmopolitanism A concept describing the shift beyond nation-state-based thinking towards analysing the human world as a single community.

Created environment Those aspects of the physical world deriving from the application of technology, such as cities and towns involving roads, railways, factories, offices, private homes and other buildings.

Crime Any action that contravenes the laws established by a political authority.

Criminalization The processes through which certain individuals, groups or behaviour become categorized as criminal and therefore subject to legal sanctions.

Criminology The study of forms of behaviour that are sanctioned by criminal law and justice systems.

Crip theory A branch of disability theory which examines literary and artistic products as well as everyday life, uncovering the embedded and unspoken ‘ableist’ assumptions within these. Crip theory draws from queer theory to destabilize existing discourses of disability, which are seen as ‘ableist’.

Crisis of masculinity The idea that traditional forms of masculinity are being undermined and that young men are unsure of themselves and their role in society.

Critical race theory (CRT)  A perspective on ethnic relations which begins from the premise that racism is embedded in legal systems and other social institutions and is the normal, everyday experience of many minority ethnic groups.

Critical realism An approach to science which insists on the existence of an objective external reality that is amenable to investigation (contrast with social constructionism). Critical realists look to uncover the underlying causes of observable events, which are not usually directly observable.

Crude birth rate A basic statistical measure representing the number of births within a given population per year, normally calculated in terms of the number of births per 1,000 members.

Crude death rate A statistical measure representing the number of deaths that occur annually in a given population per year, normally calculated as the ratio of deaths per 1,000 members.

Cult A fragmentary religious grouping to which individuals are loosely affiliated but which lacks any permanent structure. Cults quite often form round an inspirational leader.

Cultural capital Types of knowledge, skills and education which confer advantages on those who acquire them. Cultural capital can be embodied (in forms of speech or bodily comportment), objectified (in cultural products such as works of art) or institutionalized (in educational qualifications).

Cultural pluralism The coexistence of numerous cultures within a given society.

Cultural reproduction The transmission of cultural values and norms from generation to generation. Cultural reproduction refers to the mechanisms by which continuity of cultural experience is sustained across time.

Culture of poverty The thesis that poverty is not the result of individual inadequacies but the outcome of being socialized into a wider culture that transmits values, beliefs, lifestyles, habits and traditions common among people in conditions of material deprivation.

Cyberbullying The targeting, harassment and threatening of people via digital technologies, including social media, chatrooms, email and text messaging.

Cybercrime Criminal activities conducted through electronic networks or involving the use of new information technologies. Electronic money laundering, personal identity theft and electronic hacking are types of cybercrime.

Cyberspace Electronic networks of interaction between individuals at different computer terminals, linking people in a dimension that crosses space and territorial boundaries.


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Dataveillance The practice of following a data trail, or harvesting data relating to individuals and groups, for the purpose of monitoring activities, usually for commercial ends or as part of state surveillance.

Decommodification In the context of welfare provision, the degree to which welfare services are free of market principles. In a commodified system, welfare services are treated as commodities to be sold on the market.

Deforestation The destruction of forested land, often by commercial logging.

Deinstitutionalization The process by which individuals cared for in state facilities are returned to their families or to community-based residences.

Democracy A political system providing for the participation of citizens in political decision-making, often by the election of representatives to governing bodies.

Demographic transition An interpretation of long-term population change, which suggests a series of stages in the ratio of births to deaths, culminating in population stability once a certain level of economic prosperity has been reached.

Demography The study of the characteristics of human populations, including their size, composition and dynamics.

Denomination A religious sect which has lost its revivalist dynamism and has become an institutionalized body commanding the adherence of significant numbers of people.

Dependency culture A term popularized by Charles Murray to describe the way that reliance on welfare benefits undermines individuals’ capacity to forge a living through their own efforts.

Dependency ratio The ratio of people of dependent ages (children and the elderly) to people of economically active ages. Old-age and young-age ratios can be independently calculated.

Dependent variable A variable, or factor, causally influenced by another (the independent variable).

Desertification Instances of intense land degradation resulting in desert-like conditions over large areas.

Deskilling The process through which the skills of workers are downgraded or, over time, eliminated and taken over by machines and/or managers.

Developed countries Those high-income countries that have undergone a process of industrialization and have relatively high GDP per capita and high living standards.

Developing countries Those low-income countries which have relatively low GDP per capita and have not yet industrialized as fully as the developed societies.

Developmental questions Questions posed by sociologists trying to understand the origins and paths of development of social institutions from the past to the present.

Deviance Actions which do not conform to the norms or values held by most of the members of a group or society. What is regarded as ‘deviant’ varies widely across societies.

Deviancy amplification The consequence when an agency of control unintentionally provokes more (amplifies) deviant behaviour.

Diaspora The dispersal of an ethnic population from an original homeland into foreign areas, often in a forced manner or under traumatic circumstances.

Differential racialization The history and experience of different ethnic groups in relation to the stereotypes and characterizations of them deployed at various times by the dominant groups in societies.

Digital divide Inequality in access to digital devices, computing, the internet and online services. Digital inequality particularly disadvantages older people, but it also tends to mirror existing social inequalities of class, disability, race and ethnicity.

Digital revolution A shift and its social consequences, which began in the second half of the twentieth century, away from analogue, mechanical and electronic devices to digital electronics, particularly in computerized systems.

Digital sociology A field of sociology that studies (and involves) digital media use in daily life, often employing online data (such as blogs, social media posts, etc.) to better understand social life.

Direct action A form of political action, associated with new social movements, in which activists protest at the actual site of the issue at hand – for instance, climate change activists clamping themselves to aircraft on runways rather than lobbying MPs.

Disability studies A field of inquiry that investigates the position of disabled people in society, including their experiences, their history and campaigns, and their organizations.

Discourse analysis A general term covering several approaches to the study of the impact of language in society. Most sociological versions aim to understand language use within specific social and historical contexts.

Discourses The frameworks of thinking in a particular area of social life. For instance, the discourse of criminality refers to dominant ways of thinking about and discussing crime.

Discrimination Actions which deny to the members of a particular group the resources or rewards that are available to the majority.

Disengagement theory A functionalist theory of ageing which holds that it is functional for society to remove people from their traditional roles when they become elderly, thereby freeing up those roles for others.

Displacement The transferring of ideas or emotions from their true source to another object.

Division of labour The division of a production or economic system into specialized work tasks or occupations, creating economic interdependence.

Doubling time The time it takes for a particular level of population to double.

Dramaturgical analysis Goffman’s approach to the study of social interaction, based on the use of metaphors derived from the theatre.

Dualism Literally, the condition of being divided into two parts. In sociological theorizing, dualisms include mind and body, individual and society, structure and agency, micro and macro.

Dysfunctions Features of social life that challenge or create tensions in a social system.


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Eco-efficiency The development of technologies that generate economic growth, but which do so at minimal cost to the natural environment.

Ecological citizenship A relatively recent extension of citizenship to include the rights and responsibilities of people towards the natural environment or ‘nature’.

Ecological modernization Economic development that also incorporates environmental protection. Advocates of ecological modernization argue that economic growth and ecological protection are not incompatible.

Economic capital In Pierre Bourdieu’s work, resources such as money, property or land that form part of a system of material exchange.

Economic interdependence The outcome of specialization and the division of labour, when people come to depend on one another for the things they need to sustain their lives.

Economic recession Typically, the decline of economic activity – often measured in GDP – for two or more consecutive months.

Economic sociology The study of economic phenomena, including markets, corporations, finance and work, using sociological theories and concepts.

Economy The system of production and exchange which provides for the material needs of individuals living in a given society. Economic systems differ markedly; capitalism has become the most dynamic and widely adopted system in the contemporary world.

Education A social institution which promotes and enables the transmission of knowledge and skills across generations.

Egocentric Egocentric thinking involves understanding objects and events in the environment solely in terms of a very young child’s own position.

Elaborated code A form of speech, typical of the middle classes, involving the deliberate and constructed use of words to designate precise meanings, that is adaptable to various cultural settings.

Elite A small, more or less cohesive social group that rules over the majority of people in a society.

Embodiment In sociology, the notion that self-experience and identity are bounded by individual bodies which express and partly shape self-identities.

Embourgeoisement thesis The process through which middle-class aspirations and styles of life become institutionalized within the working class.

Emigration The movement of people out of one country in order to settle in another.

Emphasized femininity In Raewyn Connell’s writings, emphasized femininity is an important complement to hegemonic masculinity, because it is oriented to accommodating the interests and needs of men. Many representations of women in the media embody emphasized femininity.

Empirical investigation Factual inquiry carried out in any given area of sociological study.

Encounter A meeting between two or more individuals in a situation of face-to-face interaction. In modern societies, many encounters involve strangers rather than friends and family.

Endogamy The forbidding of marriage or sexual relations outside one’s social group.

Endogenous In sociology, things which develop or originate within the society being studied rather than being introduced from outside (exogenous).

Environment The non-human, natural world within which human societies exist. In its broadest sense, the environment is the planet Earth.

Environmental criminology An approach to crime reduction and prevention focusing on designing crime-resistant environments rather than trying to reform criminals.

Environmental issues All of those issues in society which involve both social relations and non-human, natural phenomena – that is, they are hybrids of society and nature.

Environmental justice The idea that all people have the right to a healthy and sustainable environment. Campaigns have focused on removing the disproportionate environmental risks borne by poor communities.

Epidemic The occurrence of an infectious disease which spreads rapidly throughout a particular community.

Epidemiology The study of the distribution and incidence of disease and illness within a population.

Essentialism The assumption that human behaviour and/or social phenomena can be explained with reference to a fixed ‘human nature’ or some other immutable and universal biological element(s).

Estate A form of stratification involving inequalities between groups of individuals established by law.

Ethnic cleansing The creation of ethnically homogeneous territories through the mass expulsion of other ethnic populations.

Ethnicity A form of social identity related to ‘descent and cultural differences’ which become effective or active in certain social contexts.

Ethnie A term used by Anthony Smith to describe a group that shares ideas of common ancestry, a common cultural identity and a link with a specific homeland.

Ethnocentrism Understanding the ideas or practices of another culture in terms of one’s own. Ethnocentrism judges other cultures negatively in comparison with the host culture.

Ethnography The study of people at first hand using participant observation or interviewing.

Ethnomethodology The study of how people make sense of what others say and do in the course of day-to-day social interaction. Ethnomethodology is concerned with the ‘ethnomethods’ by means of which human beings sustain meaningful interchanges with one another.

Euthanasia The intentional ending of a person’s life in order to relieve extreme suffering.

Evangelicalism A form of Protestantism characterized by a belief in spiritual rebirth (being ‘born again’).

Experiment A research method in which a hypothesis can be tested in a controlled and systematic way, either in an artificial situation constructed by the researcher or in naturally occurring settings.

Exploitation A social or institutional relationship in which one party benefits at the expense of the other through an imbalance in power.

Extended family A family group consisting of more than two generations of close relatives living in the same household or in close and continuous relationships with one another.

External risk Hazards that spring from the natural world and are unrelated to the actions of humans, such as droughts, earthquakes, famines and storms.


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Factual questions Questions that raise issues concerning matters of fact rather than theoretical or moral issues.

Fake news Information, presented as news, that is either wholly false or contains deliberately misleading elements within the content.

Family A group of individuals related to one another by blood ties, marriage or adoption that form a unit, the adult members of which are responsible for the upbringing of children.

Family displays All of the ways by which people demonstrate to others that they are engaged in appropriate ‘family’ practices and relationships.

Family practices All of those activities engaged in by people which they perceive to be related to family life.

Fecundity A measure of the number of children that it is biologically possible for a woman to produce.

Feminist theories Those theories which emphasize the centrality of gender for any analysis of the social world. All strands of feminist theory share the desire to explain gender inequalities in society and to work to overcome them.

Fertility The average number of live-born children produced by women of childbearing age in a particular society.

Field In Pierre Bourdieu’s work, the social contexts within which people struggle for competitive advantage and dominance using various forms of capital. Each field has its own set of rules: for instance, art and art appreciation has a very different set of rules to that of business.

Figurational studies A theoretical perspective, stemming from the work of Norbert Elias, which dispenses with philosophical forms of thinking, insisting that sociology is a distinct subject that studies people and the interdependent relations they form with one another.

Figurations In figurational sociology, the social patterns formed by the interweaving of people who are inevitably in relations of interdependence with one another.

Flexible production Process in which computers design customized products for a mass market.

Focus group A small group of people, selected from a larger sample, to take part in a discussion on topics of interest to the researcher.

Focused interaction Interaction between individuals engaged in a common activity or a direct conversation with one another.

Fordism The system of production and consumption, pioneered by Henry Ford, involving the introduction of the moving assembly line, linking methods of mass production to the cultivation of a mass market for the goods produced, such as Ford’s Model T car.

Formal operational stage According to Piaget, a stage of cognitive development at which the growing child becomes capable of handling abstract concepts and hypothetical situations.

Front region A setting of social activity in which individuals seek to put on a definite ‘performance’ for others.

Functionalism A theoretical perspective based on the idea that social institutions can best be explained in terms of the functions they perform – that is, the contributions they make to the continuity of a society.

Fundamentalism A religious belief in returning to the literal meanings of scriptural texts; the term is also used to describe movements based on this belief.


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Gender Social expectations about behaviour regarded as appropriate for the members of each sex, conventionally as masculine or feminine.

Gender dysphoria A situation in which an individual experiences distress on account of the perceived mismatch between biological sex and gender identity.

Gender inequality The differences in the status, power and prestige that women and men have in groups, collectivities and societies.

Gender order A term associated with the writings of R. W. Connell to represent the structured power relations between masculinities and femininities that exist in society.

Gender regime The configuration of gender relations within a particular setting, such as a school, a family or a neighbourhood.

Gender relations The societally patterned interactions between men and women.

Gender roles Social roles assigned to each sex and labelled as masculine or feminine.

Gender socialization The processes through which individuals develop different gender characteristics in the course of socialization.

Generalized other In the work of George Herbert Mead, when the individual takes over the general values of a given group or society during the socialization process.

Generation The whole group of individuals who are born and are living at the same time. Generations are born into and their experience is shaped by a particular society.

Genetically modified organisms Plants or crops that have been produced through manipulation of the genes that compose them.

Genocide The systematic, planned attempt to destroy a racial, political or cultural group.

Gentrification A process of urban renewal in which older, decaying housing is refurbished by affluent people moving into the area.

Gig economy A sector of the economy characterized by short-term, zero-hours or freelance contracts, in which workers are paid per ‘gig’ rather than being permanent employees.

Glass floor The ability of affluent parents in the higher social class groups to use their resources to protect their children from downward mobility.

Global city A city, such as London, New York or Tokyo, which has become an organizing centre of the new global economy.

Global commodity chains A worldwide network of labour and production processes yielding a finished product.

Global economic inequality Inequality of income and material standards of life between the nation-states of the world. Many studies of global economic inequality concentrate on the differences between the developed and the developing countries.

Global governance The framework of rules and norms governing international affairs and the diverse set of institutions needed to guarantee this framework.

Global North/Global South The roughly drawn geographical division of the world’s societies which highlights global inequalities, especially between the mainly industrialized North and the postcolonial countries of the South.

Global village An idea associated with Marshall McLuhan, who saw the spread of electronic communication (such as TV and the internet) as binding the world into a coherent single community.

Global warming The gradual increase in average temperature at the surface of the Earth. Although the ‘greenhouse effect’ occurs naturally, global warming implies an enhanced greenhouse effect resulting from human activity.

Globalization Growing interdependence between different peoples, regions and countries as social and economic relationships come to stretch worldwide.

Glocalization The mix of globalizing processes and local contexts which often leads to a strengthening rather than a diminishing of local and regional cultures.

Government We can speak of ‘government’ as a process or of ‘the government’ to refer to political authorities overseeing the implementation of their policies by officials. In most modern societies, political authorities are elected and their officials appointed on the basis of expertise and qualifications.

Grand theories Theories which attempt to arrive at an overall explanation of social life and/or overall social development. Karl Marx’s theory of class conflicts as the driving force of history is the best example.

Greenhouse effect The build-up of heat-trapping gases within the Earth’s atmosphere. A ‘natural’ greenhouse effect keeps the Earth’s temperatures at a comfortable level, but the build-up of high concentrations of greenhouse gases through human activities has been linked to rapid global warming.

Greying A term used to indicate that an increasing proportion of a society’s population is becoming elderly.

Gross domestic product (GDP)  All the goods and services produced by a country’s economy in a particular year.

Gross national income (GNI)  GDP plus net property income (interest, rent, dividends and profits) from abroad. GNI is now used in preference to GNP – gross national product – which is an older measure.

Group closure The means whereby a group establishes a clear boundary for itself and thereby separates itself from other groups.


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Habitus In Pierre Bourdieu’s work, the set of dispositions (including ways of thinking and acting) which members of particular social groups and social classes acquire, largely unconsciously, by virtue of living in similar objective conditions.

Hate crimes Criminal acts (such as assaults) targeting members of a specific social group purely because of that membership. Hate crimes include attacks on members of religious or ethnic groups, gay men and lesbians, disabled people and others.

Health technologies Material (such as prosthetic limbs and ultrasound scanning) and social (such as fasting and dieting) interventions aimed at achieving a state of socially defined ‘good health’.

Health transition The shift from predominantly acute, infectious diseases to chronic non-infectious diseases as the main cause of death in a society.

Hegemonic masculinity In Raewyn Connell’s work, the dominant form of masculinity within the gender hierarchy. In most Western societies today, hegemonic masculinity is associated with whiteness, heterosexuality, marriage, authority and physical toughness.

Heteronormativity The dominant assumption and set of attitudes in a society that there are two genders (male and female) and that heterosexuality is the ‘natural’ norm.

Heterosexuality An orientation in sexual activity or feelings towards people of the opposite sex.

Hidden curriculum Traits of behaviour or attitudes that are learned at school, but not through a formal curriculum. The hidden curriculum is the ‘unstated agenda’ conveying, for example, aspects of gender differences.

Higher education Education beyond school level, in colleges or universities.

High-trust systems Organizations or work settings in which individuals are permitted a great deal of autonomy and control over the work task.

Homeless people Those who have no permanent residence and sleep over with friends and family, are temporarily housed by the state, or sleep in free shelters or public places. A small proportion of the homeless are ‘rough sleepers’.

Homophobia An irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals.

Homosexual masculinity According to Connell, forms of masculinity associated with gay men which are stigmatized and located at the bottom of the gender hierarchy for men.

Homosexuality The orientation of sexual activities or feelings towards others of the same sex.

Housework Unpaid work carried out, usually by women, in the home: domestic chores such as cooking, cleaning and shopping.

Human trafficking The forced movement of people across national borders or within countries for the purposes of sexual exploitation, labour, begging, adoption or delinquency. Most trafficked people are women, young adults and children.

Hunting and gathering societies Societies whose mode of subsistence is gained from hunting animals, fishing, and gathering edible plants.

Hyperreality The ‘more real than real’, hyperreality results from the spread of electronic communications, as there is no longer a separate ‘reality’ to which representations refer.

Hypothesis An idea, or an educated guess, about a given state of affairs, put forward in exact terms to provide the basis for empirical testing.

Hypothetico-deductive method A model of scientific practice which posits that science begins with a general hypothesis or theory about the world from which specific, testable hypotheses can be deduced and tested against observable evidence.


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Iatrogenesis ‘Physician-caused illness’. Ivan Illich saw clinical, social and cultural forms. Clinical iatrogenesis is when people become ill as a consequence of medical treatment. Social and cultural iatrogenesis occur as medicine becomes powerful and dominant, deskilling ordinary people, who become dependent on medical professionals.

Ideal type A ‘pure type’, constructed by emphasizing certain traits of a given social phenomenon into an analytical model which does not necessarily exist anywhere in reality. An example is Max Weber’s model of bureaucratic organization.

Identity The distinctive aspects of a person’s character which relate to who they are and what is meaningful to them. The main sources are gender, sexual orientation, nationality or ethnicity, and social class.

Ideology Shared ideas or beliefs which serve to justify the interests of dominant groups.

Immigration The movement of people into one country from another for the purpose of settlement.

Impression management People’s attempt to ‘manage’ or control the impressions others have of them by choosing what to conceal and what to reveal.

Incest Sexual activity between close family members.

Independent variable A variable, or factor, that causally influences another (the dependent variable).

Individual model of disability A model which holds that individual limitations are the main cause of the problems experienced by disabled people: bodily social model of disability ‘abnormality’ is seen as causing some degree of ‘disability’ or functional limitation.

Induction A model of scientific practice which posits that scientists gather evidence from which patterns may be observed. General theories may follow which provide explanations for the observations and patterns.

Industrial Revolution The broad spectrum of social, economic and technological transformations that surrounded the development of modern forms of industry in the mid-eighteenth and the early twentieth century.

Industrial societies Societies in which the vast majority of the labour force works in industrial production or associated employment sectors.

Industrialization The replacement of human and animal labour with machines, beginning with the development of modern forms of industry in factories, machines and large-scale production processes.

Infant mortality rate The number of infants who die during the first year of life, per 1,000 live births.

Informal economy Economic transactions carried on outside the sphere of orthodox paid employment.

Informalization The social process through which formal codes of manners and behaviour, characteristic of an earlier period, lose their hold, resulting in a wider range of acceptable behaviours.

Information technology Forms of technology based on information processing and requiring microelectronic circuitry.

Institutional racism The collective failure of organizations to provide services to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. This can involve processes, attitudes and behaviour and can intentionally or unwittingly generate prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people.

Interactional vandalism The deliberate subversion of the tacit rules of conversation.

Intergenerational equity A concept based on the idea that fairness and justice should apply
across generations. Current concern relates to disadvantages experienced by younger generations.

Intergenerational mobility Movement up or down a social stratification hierarchy from one generation to another.

International governmental organization (IGO)  An international organization established by treaties between governments for the purpose of conducting business between the nations making up its membership.

International non-governmental organization (INGO)  An international organization established by agreements between the individuals or private organizations making up its membership.

Internet A global system of connections between computers allowing people to communicate with one another and find information on the worldwide web by visuals, sounds and text.

Internet-based learning Educational activity connected through the medium of the internet.

Internet of Things The insertion of internet capability into everyday objects and devices (and novel devices) that allow the sending and receiving of data without additional human involvement.

Interpretative sociology Several approaches to the study of society, including symbolic interactionism and phenomenology, which investigate the meaningful character of social life for its participants.

Intersectionality The study of multiple oppressions and their impact. For instance, where class and ethnicity or gender and class overlap, people may face deeper and more complex forms of inequality.

Interviews One-to-one conversations aimed at eliciting information about some aspect of social life. Interviews can be structured, semi-structured or open-ended depending on the kind of information being sought.

Intragenerational mobility Movement up or down a social stratification hierarchy within the course of an individual career.

Iron law of oligarchy A term coined by Robert Michels, meaning that large organizations always centralize power in the hands of a small minority.


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Job insecurity A sense of apprehension experienced by employees about both the stability of their work position and their role within the workplace.


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Kinship Relationships which link individuals through blood ties, marriage or adoption. Kinship relations are involved in marriage and the family but extend much more broadly.

Knowledge economy A society no longer based primarily on the production of material goods but, rather, on the production of knowledge in universities and research facilities, which is applied to production.

Knowledge society Another common term for the information society – a society based on the production and consumption of knowledge and information.

Kuznets Curve A formula, advanced by the economist Simon Kuznets, showing that inequality increases during the early stages of industrial capitalism, then declines, and eventually stabilizes at a relatively low level.


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Labelling theory An approach to the study of deviance which suggests that people become ‘deviant’ in part through the application of labels by others.

Latent functions Functional consequences that are not intended or recognized by the members of a social system in which they occur.

Lateral mobility Movement of individuals from one region of a country to another, or across countries.

Left Realism A strain of criminology, popularized in the 1980s by the work of Lea and Young, that focused on the victims of crime and called for socialist criminology to engage with issues of crime control and social policy.

Legitimacy The acceptance by those being governed that a given situation is just and valid.

Lesbianism Same-sex activity or attachment between women.

Liberal democracy A system of democracy based on parliamentary institutions, coupled to the free market system in the area of economic production.

Liberal feminism A type of feminist theory that sees gender inequality as the product of reduced access for women and girls to equal rights. Liberal feminists seek solutions through legislative change.

Life course The various transitions people experience over their lives. Such transitions vary widely across history and cultures, thus the life course is socially as well as biologically shaped (contrast with life cycle).

Life cycle The common-sense view that all human beings pass through the same biological stages from birth to death (contrast with life course).

Life expectancy The length of time, on average, that people can expect to live. Specifically, the number of years a newborn infant can be expected to live if prevailing patterns of mortality stay the same throughout life.

Life histories Studies of the overall lives of individuals, often based on both self-reporting and documents such as letters or diaries.

Lifespan The maximum length of life that is biologically possible for a member of a given species.

Lifelong learning The idea that learning and the acquisition of skills should occur at all stages of an individual’s life, not simply in the compulsory, formal educational system. Adult continuing education programmes, mid-career training, internet-based learning opportunities, and community-based ‘learning banks’ are all forms of lifelong learning.

Lifestyle choices Decisions made by individuals about their consumption of goods, services and culture; these are seen by many sociologists as important reflections of class positions.

Lifeworld The everyday world of routine, lived experience. A concept devised by Alfred Schutz, it forms the basic subject matter of phenomenological sociology.

Literacy The ability to read and write.

Logical positivism A philosophy of science which focuses on deductive reasoning and empirical verification and adopts a correspondence theory of truth which demands that scientific statements are ‘true’ only if they correspond exactly with real-world phenomena.

Low-trust system An organizational or work setting in which individuals are allowed little responsibility for, or control over, the work task.


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Macrosociology The study of large-scale groups, organizations or social systems.

Majority/minority worlds  Umbrella terms to describe collectively the societies of the Global South, which constitute the majority of the world’s population, and those of the Global North, which form the minority; an alternative conceptualization of the commonly used ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries.

Male breadwinner Until recently, in many developed societies the traditional role of the man in providing for the whole family through employment outside the home. The ‘male breadwinner model’ has declined in significance with the steady growth in the number of women entering the labour market.

Male inexpressiveness The difficulties men have in expressing, or talking about, their feelings to others.

Malestream sociology Most of the sociological theories and research before the feminist interventions of the 1960s and later, which paid scant regard to women or issues of gender relations.

Malthusianism The idea, first advanced by Thomas Malthus in 1798, that population growth tends to outstrip the resources available to support it. Malthus argued that people must limit their frequency of sexual intercourse to avoid a future of misery and starvation.

Manifest functions The functions of a type of social activity that are known to and intended by the individuals involved in the activity.

Manufactured risk Dangers created by the impact of human knowledge and technology on the natural world. Examples include global warming and genetically modified foods.

Market-oriented theories Theories about economic development which assume the best possible economic consequences will result if individuals are free to make their own economic decisions, uninhibited by governmental constraint.

Marriage A socially approved sexual relationship between two individuals. Marriage has been restricted to people of opposite sexes, but in some cultures certain types of homosexual marriage are allowed. Recently, many developed societies have moved towards the acceptance of gay marriage.

Masculinity The set of expected behaviours and norms, attributes and characteristics associated with men and boys in a particular society. Masculinity is not fixed but changes over time.

Mass customization The large-scale production of items designed for particular customers through the use of new technologies.

Mass media Forms of large-scale communication, such as newspapers, magazines, radio and television, designed to reach mass audiences.

Mass production The production of long runs of goods using machine power. Mass production was one outcome of the Industrial Revolution.

Master status The status or statuses that generally take priority over other indicators of social standing and determine a person’s overall position in society.

Materialist conception of history The view developed by Marx according to which ‘material’ or economic factors have a prime role in determining historical change.

Mature adulthood In modern societies, the period of individual lives between the late thirties and retirement age, typically characterized by formal employment and the formation of a family.

Means of production The means whereby the production of material goods is carried on in a society, including not just technology but the social relations between producers.

Means-tested benefits Welfare services that are available only to citizens who meet certain criteria based not only on need but also on levels of income and savings.

Mechanical solidarity According to Durkheim, an early form of social solidarity characterized by similarities and the subsumption of individualism within the collectivity.

Media convergence The increasing intertwining of previously separate and distinct forms of media.

Media imperialism A version of imperialism enabled by communications technology, claimed by some to have produced a cultural empire in which media content originating in the industrialized countries is imposed on less developed nations which lack the resources to maintain their cultural independence.

Median The number that falls halfway in a range of numbers – a way of calculating central tendency that is sometimes more useful than calculating a mean.

Medical gaze In modern medicine, the detached and value-free approach taken by medical specialists in viewing and treating a sick patient.

Medicalization The process through which ‘normal’ behaviours, such as hyperactivity in children, come to be defined and treated as medical conditions.

Megacities A term favoured by Manuel Castells to describe large, intensely concentrated urban spaces that serve as connection points for the global economy.

Megalopolis A term meaning ‘city of all cities’, coined in ancient Greece to refer to a city-state that was planned to be the envy of all civilizations. Used in modern times to refer to very large – or overlarge – conurbations.

Melting pot A model of migration based on the idea that ethnic differences can be combined to create new patterns, with flourishing, diverse cultural sources.

Meritocracy A system in which social positions are filled on the basis of individual merit and achievement rather than on ascribed criteria such as inherited wealth or social background.

Meso level A level of social reality between the micro and the macro. Often said to include families, groups and organizations.

Metanarratives Broad, overarching theories or beliefs about the operation of society and the nature of social change.

Microsociology The study of human behaviour in contexts of face-to-face interaction.

Middle class A broad spectrum of people working in professional, managerial and administrative occupations with associated norms, values and lifestyles.

Minority ethnic group A group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, find themselves in situations of discrimination or inequality. Minority ethnic groups are not necessarily in a numerical minority.

Mixed methods The use of both quantitative and qualitative research methods as part of a single research study.

Mobilities A sociological perspective that analyses the movement of things, people and information rather than focusing on relations between static, national societies.

Mode of production Within Marxism, the constitutive characteristic of a society based on the socio-economic system predominant within it – for example, capitalism, feudalism or socialism.

Modern slavery All forms of slavery-like practices that are common in the contemporary world, including sex trafficking, forced domestic labour, forced marriage and debt bondage.

Modernity The period following the mid-eighteenth-century European Enlightenment, characterized by the combination of secularization, rationalization, democratization, individualism and the rise of scientific thinking.

Modernization theory A version of market-oriented development theory which argues that low-income societies develop economically if they adopt modern economic institutions, technologies, and cultural values that emphasize savings and productive investment.

Monarchies Those political systems headed by a single person whose power is passed down through their family across generations.

Monopoly A situation in which a single firm dominates in a given industry.

Monotheism  Belief in a single God.

Moral consensus The shared values emphasized by functionalists which, they argue, are necessary for a well-ordered society.

Moral panic A term popularized by Stan Cohen to describe a societal overreaction to a certain group or type of behaviour that is taken as symptomatic of general social disorder.

Mortality rate The death rate in a society, usually expressed as number of deaths per 1,000 head of population.

Multiculturalism Adoption by the state of a policy encouraging and facilitating cultural pluralism, which allows all ethnic groups to share equally in economic and political life.


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Nation A group of people bound together by a strong sense of shared values, cultural characteristics such as language and religion, and a perceived common history.

Nation-state A particular type of state in which a government has sovereign power within a defined territorial area and the mass of the population are citizens who know themselves to be part of a single national community.

National populism A ‘thin’ political ideology combining nationalism and right-wing political positions. Also the political parties rooted in this ideological position.

Nationalism A set of beliefs, political ideas and movements expressing identification with a given national community and pursuing the interests of that community.

Nations without states Instances in which the members of a nation lack political sovereignty (a state) over the area they claim as their own.

Nature Generally taken today to be the non-human environment of animals, plants, seas and land.

Neoliberalism The economic belief that free market forces, achieved by minimizing government restrictions on business, provide the only route to economic growth.

Netiquette The emerging body of advice, rules and norms governing online communications, particularly those on email and social media sites.

New Age movement The diverse spectrum of beliefs and practices oriented towards inner spirituality, including paganism, Eastern mysticism, shamanism, alternative forms of healing and astrology.

New criminology The ‘new criminologists’ of the 1970s argued that crime and deviance could be understood only in the context of power and inequality within society. Crime was therefore often political in character.

New media All of those media forms founded on digital technology and digitization –mobile and smartphones, the internet, digital TV, and radio and video games.

New migration A term referring to changes in patterns of migration in Europe in the years following the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, altering the dynamic between traditional ‘countries of origin’ and ‘countries of destination’.

New racism Racist attitudes, also referred to as cultural racism, predicated on perceived cultural or religious differences rather than biological ones.

New religious movements (NRMs) The broad range of religious and spiritual groups, cults and sects that have emerged alongside mainstream religions.

New social movements (NSMs) A group of social movements which emerged in Western societies in the 1960s and 1970s, including student movements, second-wave feminism, environmentalism, the anti-nuclear movement and ‘anti-globalization’ demonstrations. NSMs exhibit new social issues, loose organizational form, a new middle-class base and non-violent action repertoires.

New sociology of childhood A paradigm that emerged in the late 1980s and the 1990s which begins from the premise that childhood is a social construction that differs across societies.

New Urban Sociology From the 1970s, an approach to the study of urban life and development that draws from Marx, Marxism and political economy rather than the urban ecology perspective of the Chicago School.

Newly industrializing countries Those developing countries, such as South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil and Singapore, which have rapidly developed a strong industrial base and economy.

Non-binary Gender identities that are neither exclusively male nor exclusively female and lie outside of this binary distinction.

Non-Aligned Movement A large group of countries that align themselves neither with nor against major power blocs such as the USA or Russia/the former Soviet Union. The movement was formed in 1955 and today has 120 members.

Non-verbal communication Communication between individuals based on facial expression or bodily gesture rather than on the use of language.

Norms Rules of behaviour that reflect or embody a culture’s values, either prescribing a given type of behaviour or forbidding it.

Nuclear family A family group consisting of mother, father (or one of these) and dependent children.


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Occupation Any form of paid employment in which an individual works in a regular way.

Occupational gender segregation The way that men and women are clustered in different types of jobs, based on prevailing understandings of what is appropriate ‘male’ and ‘female’ work.

OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – an international organization formed in 1961. The OECD aims to assist its members to achieve ‘sustainable economic growth’ and employment.

Offshoring The relocation of businesses, business operations or work tasks from one country to another. The practice has recently spread from the manufacturing to the service sector, largely facilitated by the digital revolution.

Oral history Information gathered through interviews with people about events they witnessed or experienced earlier in their lives.

Organic solidarity According to Emile Durkheim, a form of social cohesion that results from the various parts of a society functioning as an integrated whole, particularly through the extended division of labour.

Organized crime Types of activity which are similar to orthodox businesses but are illegal, including human trafficking, illegal gambling, drug trading, prostitution, large-scale theft and protection rackets.

Outsourcing The contracting out of a company’s work tasks, previously carried out internally, from simple tasks, such as the production of one part of a product, to the work of whole departments.


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Pandemic According to the World Health Organization, an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and affecting a large number of people.

Paradigm  In science, a framework of theoretical assumptions about the world within which scientific practice and the training of new scientists takes place.

Participant observation A method of research, widely used in sociology and anthropology, in which the researcher takes part in the activities of a group or community being studied.

Participatory culture A culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement which involves sharing and support for sharing, and which erodes the boundary between active producers and passive consumers.

Participatory democracy A system of democracy in which all members of a group or community participate collectively in the taking of major decisions.

Party A group of individuals who work together because they have common backgrounds, aims or interests. According to Weber, party is one factor, alongside class and status, that shapes patterns of social stratification.

Pastoral societies Societies whose subsistence derives from rearing domesticated animals, though there is often a need to migrate according to seasonal changes.

Patriarchy A type of societal organization based around the central domestic authority of the father, involving the generalized dominance of men over women.

Pauperization Literally, to make a pauper of, or impoverish. Marx used the term to describe the process by which the working class grows increasingly impoverished.

Peace processes All of those activities aimed at preventing violence in post-conflict situations, whether official efforts by professionals or the informal actions of groups in civil society.

Peer group A friendship group composed of individuals of similar age and social status.

Peripheral countries Countries that have a marginal role in the world economy and are thus dependent on the core-producing societies for their trading relationships.

Personal space The physical space individuals maintain between themselves and others.

Personality stabilization According to functionalists, the emotional security provided by the conventional nuclear family for the adult individuals that constitute it.

Phenomenology A sociological perspective centred on understanding how the taken-for-granted social world is variously experienced by individuals.

Philosophy of science A branch of philosophy concerned with the basis and practices of science as compared to other forms of knowledge.

Pilot studies Trial runs in survey research.

Plastic sexuality Human sexuality freed from the needs of reproduction and moulded by individual choices.

Political economy Study of the ways in which political institutions of government and economic systems influence each other.

Political party An organization established with the aim of achieving governmental power by electoral means and using that power to pursue a specific programme.

Politics The means by which power is employed and contested to influence the nature and content of governmental activities. The sphere of the ‘political’ includes the activities of government and also those of social movements and other groups.

Portfolio worker A worker who possesses a diversity of skills or qualifications and is therefore able to move easily from job to job.

Positivism In sociology, the view that the study of the social world should be conducted according to the principles of natural science. A positivist approach to sociology holds that objective knowledge can be produced through careful observation, comparison and experimentation.

Postcolonial theories/postcolonialism Social theories which seek both to expose the implicit colonial legacy embedded in mainstream social theory and concepts and to transform these in distinctively postcolonial directions by bringing in the forgotten voices and accounts of the colonized.

Post-development A critical perspective on mainstream theories of development which looks to promote alternative modes of progress in the developing countries to the dominant Western ideas of capitalism and industrialization.

Post-Fordism A general term used to describe the transition from mass industrial production, characterized by Fordist methods, to more flexible forms of production favouring innovation and aimed at meeting niche markets for customized products.

Post-industrial society Post-industrial societies are based on services and the production of information rather than material goods. Most developed societies are post-industrial in this sense.

Post-truth politics A form of political culture characterized by the mistrust of experts, expertise, and a range of establishments and establishment figures in favour of appeals to ‘common sense’ and emotions.

Postmodern feminism Postmodern feminism involves, among other things, opposition to essentialism in the study of gender and a belief in plural modes of knowledge.

Postmodernism A perspective based on the idea that society is not governed by history or progress but is highly pluralistic and diverse, with no ‘grand narrative’ guiding its development.

Poststructuralism An approach to social science derived from the field of linguistics and popularized in sociology by the work of Michel Foucault. Poststructuralists reject the idea that absolute truths about the world can be discovered, arguing instead that plural interpretations of reality are inevitable.

Post-violence societies Those societies that have experienced war or internal communal violence and are moving towards non-violence.

Poverty line An official measure used by governments to define those living below a certain income level as living in poverty.

Power Power is a contested concept. For Weber, it is the ability of individuals or groups to achieve their aims or further their interests, even against opposition. Others see power as a pervasive aspect of all human relationships which can be productive as well as destructive (see Foucault).

Precariat An emerging social class of the twenty-first century, consisting of various social groups and individuals whose life chances are marked by insecurity, unpredictability and instability.

Precautionary principle The presumption that, where there is sufficient doubt about the possible risks, it is better to maintain existing practices than to change them.

Prejudice Preconceived ideas about an individual or group; ideas that are resistant to change even in the face of new information. Prejudice may be either positive or negative.

Pre-operational stage A stage of cognitive development, in Piaget’s theory, in which the child has advanced sufficiently to master basic modes of logical thought.

Primary deviance An initial act of crime or deviance. According to Lemert, acts at the level of primary deviance remain marginal to an individual’s self-identity.

Primary identity Those identities formed in early life such as gender and ethnicity.

Primary socialization The process by which children learn the cultural norms of the society into which they are born. Primary socialization occurs largely in the family.

Primary source Any source that is originally produced in the time period which researchers are interested in studying (contrast with secondary source).

Profane That which belongs to the mundane, everyday world.

Proletariat For Karl Marx, the working class under capitalism.

Prostitution The granting of sexual services or favours for monetary gain.

Public sphere An idea associated with the German sociologist Jürgen Habermas. The public sphere is the arena of public debate and discussion in modern societies.

Pure relationship A relationship of sexual and emotional equality.

Push and pull factors In the early study of global migration, internal and external forces believed to influence patterns of migration. ‘Push factors’ refer to dynamics within the country of origin, such as unemployment, war, famine or political persecution. ‘Pull factors’ describe features of destination countries, such as a buoyant labour market, a lower population density and a high standard of living.


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Qualitative research methods Those methods which gather detailed, rich data with the aim of gaining a better understanding of the social phenomena being studied.

Quantitative research methods Those sociological methods which allow social phenomena to be measured and analysed using mathematical models and statistical techniques.

Queer theory  From the 1990s, theories and discourses which oppose gender essentialism, initially aiming to deconstruct the established concepts of sexuality and gender. Queer theorists view sexuality and gender as socially constructed and hence gender and sexual identities are plural, fluid, performative and lacking any ‘natural’ or fixed location in human biology.


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Race A set of social relationships which allow individuals and groups to be located, and various attributes or competencies assigned, on the basis of biologically grounded features.

Racialization The process through which an understanding of ‘race’ is used to classify individuals or groups of people to the advantage of some and the disadvantage of others.

Racism The attribution of characteristics of superiority or inferiority to a population sharing certain physically inherited features, often skin colour. Racist ideas became entrenched during the period of Western colonial expansion but also rest on mechanisms of prejudice and discrimination found in many other human societies.

Radical feminism A form of feminist theory that believes that gender inequality is the result of male domination in all aspects of social and economic life.

Random sampling A method in which a sample is chosen so that every member of the population has the same probability of being included.

Rationalization A concept used by Max Weber to refer to the process by which modes of precise calculation and organization, involving abstract rules and procedures, increasingly come to dominate the social world.

Reconstituted family A family in which at least one of the adults has children from a previous union, either living in the home or nearby; commonly known as a ‘step-family’.

Reference group A group to which other groups or individuals compare themselves for purposes of evaluation.

Reflexivity In sociological research studies, the researchers’ awareness of how their own ethnicity, class, gender or political views might impact on their practice, along with strategies to mitigate or eliminate such impacts.

Regionalization Divisions of time and space which may be used to ‘zone’ activities at the local, domestic level or the larger division of social and economic life into regional settings or zones at a scale either above or below that of the nation-state.

Relative deprivation The thesis that people’s subjective feelings of deprivation are not absolute but related to their assessment of themselves in comparison with others.

Relative poverty Poverty defined by reference to the overall standard of living in any given society.

Religious economy A theoretical framework which argues that religions can be fruitfully understood as organizations in competition with one another for resources and followers.

Representative democracy A political system in which decisions affecting a community are taken not by its members as a whole but by people they have elected for this purpose.

Representative sample A sample from a larger population that is statistically typical of that population.

Reproductive technology Techniques of influencing the human reproductive process.

Research methods The diverse methods of investigation used to gather empirical (factual) information. Numerous research methods are used in sociology, and there is a trend towards ‘mixed methods’.

Resistant femininity A term associated with Raewyn Connell’s writings. Women embodying resistant femininity reject the conventional norms of femininity in society (‘emphasized femininity’) and adopt liberated lifestyles and identities. Feminism and lesbianism, for example, are forms of resistant femininity.

Resource allocation How different social and material resources are shared out between and employed by social groups or other elements of society.

Resource mobilization theory (RMT)  An American approach to social movement studies which begins from the premise that movements require resources to be successful. Studying how movements gather resources in a competitive field is the basis of the theory.

Response cries Seemingly involuntary exclamations which individuals make when, for example, being taken by surprise, dropping something inadvertently or expressing pleasure.

Restricted code A mode of speech that rests on strongly developed cultural understandings, so that many ideas do not need to be – and are not – put into words.

Revolution A process of political change, involving the mobilizing of a mass social movement, which successfully overthrows an existing regime. Revolutions are distinguished from coups d’état because they entail a mass movement. They can involve violence, but in recent times some have also been essentially peaceful or ‘velvet revolutions’.

Right Realism In criminology, Right Realism links the perceived escalation of crime and delinquency to a decline in individual responsibility and moral degeneracy. To Right Realists, crime and deviance are an individual pathology – a set of destructive lawless behaviours actively chosen and perpetrated by individual selfishness, a lack of self-control and morality.

Risk society A thesis associated with Ulrich Beck, who argued that advanced industrial societies have created many new hazards or manufactured risks unknown in previous ages, such as global warming.

Rituals Formalized modes of behaviour in which the members of a group or community regularly engage. Religion represents one of the main contexts in which rituals are practised, but the scope of ritual behaviour extends into many other spheres of life.

Romantic love Romantic love, which emerged in the eighteenth century, involves the idea that marriage is based on mutual attraction rather than economic convenience. It is a prelude to, but is also in tension with, the idea of a pure relationship.


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Sacred That which inspires attitudes of awe or reverence among believers in a given set of religious ideas.

Salafism A school of Sunni Islam with diverse strands, all of which insist that the behaviour of Muslims should match, as far as is possible, that of the first three generations following the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

Sample A proportion of individuals or cases from a larger population as representative of that population as a whole.

Sanction A mode of reward or punishment that reinforces socially expected forms of behaviour.

Scapegoating Blaming an individual or social group for perceived wrongs that generally arise from socio-economic change.

Schooling A formal process of instruction, usually in specialized organizational settings – schools. Schooling transmits skills and knowledge via a designated curriculum.

Science Science – and sociology as a scientific endeavour – involves the disciplined marshalling of empirical data, combined with the construction of theories which illuminate or explain those data.

Secondary deviance An idea associated with Lemert. Secondary deviance is where a label becomes attached to the individual who carried out the act, as where the person stealing from the shop is labelled a ‘shoplifter’.

Secondary identity An identity which is mainly learned; secondary identities include roles and achieved statuses.

Secondary source Any sources which discusses, interprets or re-presents material that originated at an earlier time (contrast with primary source).

Sect A religious movement which breaks away from orthodoxy.

Secularization A process of gradual decline in the influence of religion in society. Secularization can refer to levels of involvement with religious organizations, the social and material influence wielded by religious organizations, and the extent to which people hold religious beliefs.

Self-consciousness Awareness of one’s distinct social identity, as a person separate from others. Human beings are not born with self-consciousness but acquire an awareness of self as a result of early socialization.

Semi-peripheral countries Countries that supply sources of labour and raw materials to the core industrial countries and the world economy but are not themselves fully industrialized.

Sensorimotor stage According to Piaget, a stage of human cognitive development in which the child’s awareness of its environment is dominated by perception and touch.

Service class A term adopted by John H. Goldthorpe to describe those whose employment is based on a code of service rather than on a labour contract, and whose work therefore involves a high degree of trust and autonomy. The service class refers to professional, senior administrative and senior managerial employees.

Sex Anatomical differences between males and females. Sociologists often contrast sex with gender, which refers to the socially constructed norms associated with men and women.

Sex tourism International travel oriented towards procuring prostitution and sexual services. The term usually describes the practices of men from developed countries who travel for the opportunity to engage in sexual liaisons with women and children.

Sex work All forms of labour involving the provision of sexual services in a financial exchange between consenting adults.

Sexual harassment Unwanted sexual advances, remarks or behaviour by one person towards another, persisted in even though it is made clear that such conduct is unwelcome.

Sexual orientation The direction of one’s sexual or romantic attraction.

Sexuality A broad term which refers to the sexual characteristics, and sexual behaviour, of human beings.

Shared understandings The common assumptions which people hold and which allow them to interact in a systematic way with one another.

Sick role A term, associated with Talcott Parsons, to describe the patterns of behaviour which a sick person adopts in order to minimize the disruptive impact of his or her illness on others.

Simulacra In the theory of hyperreality evoked by Jean Baudrillard, simulacra are copies of items for which there is no original.

Situational crime prevention An approach to crime prevention that focuses on the creation of crime-resistant environments and communities to reduce the opportunities for people to commit crimes. It is based on the principles of surveillance and target hardening.

Slavery A form of social stratification in which some individuals are literally owned by others as their property.

Smart city A city or city region designed with embedded digital technologies, aimed at eliminating some of the chronic problems that bedevil conventional cities, including congestion, poor air quality and a lack of coordination.

Snowball sampling A method of gathering a sample for research studies based on research participants recruiting acquaintances and friends for the study.

Social ageing The norms, values and roles that are culturally associated with a particular chronological age.

Social capital The social knowledge and connections that enable people to accomplish their goals and extend their influence.

Social change Alteration in the basic structures of a social group or society. Social change is an ever-present phenomenon in social life but has become especially intense in the modern era.

Social closure The process through which social groups maintain their advantages by implementing criteria that control and exclude who is allowed to join the group. Often seen in professional bodies in high-status occupations.

Social constructionism An approach to sociological research which sees social reality as the creation of the interaction of individuals and groups.

Social evolution A theory originally used by nineteenth-century scholars who sought to use evolutionary theory from biology to study the long-term development of societies.

Social exclusion The outcome of multiple deprivations which prevent individuals or groups from participating fully in the economic, social and political life of the society in which they are located.

Social facts According to Emile Durkheim, the aspects of social life that shape our actions as individuals. Durkheim believed that social facts could be studied scientifically.

Social gerontology The study of ageing and the elderly.

Social group A collection of individuals who interact in systematic ways with one another. Groups may range from very small associations to large-scale organizations or societies. It is a defining feature of a group, whatever its size, that its members have an awareness of a common identity.

Social inequality The structured, unequal distribution of resources, rewards, opportunities and rights, rooted in major social divisions such as social class, gender, race and ethnicity.

Social interaction Any form of social encounter between individuals. Social interaction refers to both formal and informal situations in which people meet one another. An illustration of a formal situation of social interaction is a school classroom; an example of informal interaction is two people meeting in the street or at a party.

Social mobility Movement of individuals or groups between different socio-economic positions. Vertical mobility refers to movement up or down a hierarchy in a stratification system. Lateral mobility is physical movement of individuals or groups from one region to another.

Social model of disability A theory that locates the cause of disability within society rather than in the individual. It is not individual limitations that cause disability but the barriers that society places in the way of full participation for disabled people.

Social movement Collective attempts to further a common interest or secure a common goal through action outside the sphere of established political institutions. Social movements seek to bring about or block social change and normally exist in relations of conflict with organizations whose objectives and outlook they frequently oppose.

Social position The social identity an individual has within a given group or society. Social positions may be either general in nature (those associated with gender roles) or more specific (occupational positions).

Social reflexivity The increasing and continuous reflection of people on the circumstances of their own lives and the choices they must make.

Social reproduction The process through which a society reproduces its institutional and structural continuity over a long period of time.

Social role The expected behaviour of an individual occupying a particular social position. In every society, individuals play a number of different social roles according to the varying contexts of their activities.

Social self The basis of self-consciousness in human individuals, according to the theory of G. H. Mead. The social self is the identity conferred upon an individual by the reactions of others.

Social stratification The existence of structured inequalities between groups in society, in terms of their access to material or symbolic rewards. While all societies involve some forms of stratification, the most distinctive form in modern societies involves class divisions.

Social structure Patterns of interaction between individuals, groups and institutions. Most of our activities are structured: they are organized in a regular and repetitive way.

Social theories Theories of society that do not necessarily develop from within sociology and often contain normative or political critiques of the existing social order.

Social unrest The stage of dissatisfaction with existing society which can give rise to more focused collective behaviour and social movements.

Socialist feminism A perspective based on the idea that women are treated as second-class citizens in patriarchal capitalist societies and that both the ownership of the means of production and women’s social experience need to be transformed.

Socialization The social processes through which children develop an awareness of social norms and values and achieve a distinct sense of self. Although socialization processes are particularly significant in infancy and childhood, they continue to some degree throughout life.

Socialization of nature The process by which we control phenomena regarded as ‘natural’, such as reproduction.

Society A system of structured social and institutional relationships within a bounded territory. Societies can be small, numbering a few dozen people, or very large, encompassing hundreds of millions.

Sociological imagination The application of imaginative thought to the asking and answering of sociological questions. The sociological imagination involves ‘thinking oneself away’ from the familiar routines of day-to-day life.

Sociological theories  Theories of society or aspects of society which are developed from within professional sociology, using scientific methods and aiming to avoid normative bias.

Sociology The scientific study of interactions, human groups and whole societies. Sociology is one of a group of social sciences which also includes anthropology, economics, political science and human geography.

Sociology of deviance The branch of sociology concerned with the study of deviant behaviour and with understanding why some behaviour is identified as deviant.

Sociology of knowledge A branch of sociology which studies the relationship between human knowledge and the social context from which it emerges and develops.

Sociology of the body The branch of sociology that focuses on how our bodies are affected by social influences and how embodiment influences individual lives.

Soil degradation The process by which the quality of the Earth is made worse and its valuable natural elements are stripped away through over-use, drought or inadequate fertilization.

Solidarity For Durkheim, the internal social forces of cohesion, which can be divided into ‘mechanical’ and ‘organic’ forms.

Sovereignty The title to supreme power of a monarch, leader or government over an area with a clear-cut border.

State A political apparatus (government institutions, plus civil service officials) ruling over a given territory, with an authority backed by law and the ability to use force. Not all societies are characterized by the existence of a state. The emergence of the state marks a distinctive transition in human history, because the centralization of political power involved in state formation introduces new dynamics into processes of social change.

State-centred theories Development theories which argue that appropriate government policies do not interfere with economic development but, rather, can play a key role in bringing it about.

State crime Broadly speaking, criminal or deviant activities committed by governments or state agencies for their own benefit.

Status The social honour or prestige accorded to a person or a particular group by other members of a society. Status groups normally involve distinct styles of life – patterns of behaviour which the members of a group follow. Status privilege may be positive or negative.

Status set An individual’s group of social statuses.

Stereotypes Fixed and inflexible characterizations of a group of people based on little or no evidence.

Sticky ceiling The phenomenon of children born to wealthy and professional families at the top of the income scale being highly likely to stay there, which reduces social mobility from below.

Stigma Any physical or social characteristic believed to be demeaning.

Strike A stoppage of work/withdrawal of labour by a group of workers for specific ends.

Structural functionalism A theoretical perspective rooted in the work of Talcott Parsons. Structural functionalism analyses societies as social systems in which interlinked social institutions perform specific functions, ensuring the smooth operation of the system as a whole.

Structuration The two-way process by which we shape our social world through our individual actions but are ourselves reshaped by society.

Subalterns All of those social groups who have been marginalized and silenced by the dominance of Western imperial and colonial power and its discursive constructions of ‘the other’ as inferior beings.

Subculture Any segment of the population which is distinguishable from the wider society by its cultural pattern.

Suburbanization The development of suburbia, areas of low-rise housing outside inner cities.

Super-diversity A concept used in studies of racial and ethnic diversity within a society to describe a level of complexity surpassing anything that has been experienced previously.

Surveillance The supervising of the activities of some individuals or groups by others in order to ensure compliant behaviour.

Survey A method of sociological research usually involving the administration of questionnaires to a population being studied and the statistical analysis of their replies to find patterns or regularities.

Sustainable city A type of city designed to minimize the input of energy and other resources and to reduce its output of wastes, including CO2 and pollutants. Sustainable cities aim to reduce their ecological footprint as far as is practicable.

Sustainable development The notion that economic growth should proceed only insofar as natural resources are recycled rather than depleted, biodiversity is maintained, and clean air, water and land are protected.

Sweatshop A derogatory term for a factory or shop in which employees work long hours for low pay under poor conditions.

Symbolic capital In the work of Pierre Bourdieu, those resources that confer high status, distinction, honour and social prestige on people. For example, voluntary charity work may lead to a person being held in high esteem that would not otherwise have accrued from their formal employment or business ownership.

Symbolic interactionism A theoretical approach, developed by G. H. Mead, which emphasizes the role of symbols and language as core elements of all human interaction.


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Target hardening Crime-deterrence techniques that aim to make it more difficult for crime to take place through direct interventions into potential crime situations. Vehicle immobilizers and CCTV are examples.

Taylorism A set of ideas, also referred to as ‘scientific management’, developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor, according to which productivity could be immensely increased by breaking down industrial tasks into a series of simple operations that could be precisely timed and optimally coordinated.

Technology The application of knowledge to production from the material world. Technology involves the creation of material instruments (such as machines) used in human interaction with nature.

Telecommunications The communication of information, sounds or images at a distance through a technological medium.

Terrorism Usually, violent acts designed to instil fear into a population for political ends.

Theoretical questions Questions posed by the sociologist when seeking to explain a particular range of observed events. The asking of theoretical questions is crucial to allow us to generalize about the nature of social life.

Theory An attempt to identify general properties that explain regularly observed events. While theories tend to be linked to broader theoretical approaches, they are also strongly influenced by the research results they help generate.

Third Way A political philosophy, pioneered by New Labour and favoured by other centrist democratic leaders, committed to preserving the values of socialism while endorsing market-based policies for generating wealth and reducing inequality.

Three worlds model An older model dividing the world into first, second and third worlds: a first world of countries with high levels of economic development, a second world of emerging economies, and a third world of poorer countries in the southern hemisphere with little or no industrial development.

Total institutions A term popularized by Erving Goffman to refer to facilities, such as asylums, prisons and monasteries, that impose on their residents a forcibly regulated system of existence in complete isolation from the outside world.

Totemism A system of religious belief which attributes divine properties to a particular type of animal or plant.

Transgender A term which covers a variety of people exhibiting ‘gender variance’, including those whose gender identity and/or performance of gender diverges from that assigned at birth or expected according to dominant social norms of femininity and masculinity.

Transnational corporations (TNCs)  Business corporations located in two or more countries. Even when TNCs have a clear national base, they are oriented to global markets and global profits.

Triangulation The use of multiple research methods as a way of producing more reliable empirical data than are available from any single method.

Typification A concept used by Alfred Schutz to describe the way that people make judgements of individuals, based on prior assumptions about the typical character and behaviour of categories of people.


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Underclass A class of individuals situated right at the bottom of the class system, often composed of people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Underdevelopment A concept used in social science to describe the economic state of societies that were exploited and/or previously colonized by Western countries. Underdevelopment suggests a process through which powerful, wealthy states actively exploit the poor and less powerful.

Underemployment The situation where workers are unable to work for the number of hours they wish to, or that is typical for that sector.

Unemployment The state of being out of formal, paid employment. Rates of unemployment measure the proportion of people who are ‘economically active’ but also available for work. A person who is ‘out of work’ is not necessarily unemployed. Housewives, for instance, do not receive any pay, but they usually work very hard.

Unfocused interaction Interaction occurring among people present in the same setting but who are not engaged in direct face-to-face communication.

Unintended consequences All of those unpredicted effects that result from the intentional actions of people, organizations and governments, especially those that work against the original objectives of the actors involved.

Universal benefits Welfare benefits that are available equally to all citizens, regardless of their level of income or economic status, as opposed to being means-tested.

Upper class A social class broadly composed of the more affluent members of society, especially those who have inherited wealth, own large businesses or hold large numbers of stocks and shares.

Urban ecology An approach to the study of urban life based on an analogy with the adjustment of plants and organisms to the physical environment. According to ecological theorists, the various neighbourhoods and zones within cities are formed as a result of natural processes of adjustment on the part of urban populations as they compete for resources.

Urban recycling The refurbishing of deteriorating neighbourhoods by encouraging the renewal of old buildings and the construction of new ones on previously developed land, rather than extending out to fresh sites.

Urban renewal Reviving deteriorating neighbourhoods by such processes as recycling land and existing buildings, improving the urban environment, managing local areas better and with the participation of local citizens, and using public funds both to regenerate the area and to attract further private investment.

Urbanism A term used by Louis Wirth to denote the distinctive characteristics of urban social life, such as its impersonality.

Urbanization The development of towns and cities.


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Value-added model of social movements Neil Smelser’s stage model of social movement development in which each succeeding stage ‘adds value’ to the movement’s overall development.

Values Ideas held by human individuals or groups about what is desirable, proper, good or bad. Differing values represent key aspects of variations in human culture. What individuals value is strongly influenced by the specific culture in which they happen to live.

Variable A dimension along which an object, individual or group may be categorized, such as income or height, allowing specific comparisons with others or over time.

Vertical mobility Movement up or down a hierarchy of positions in a social stratification system.

Vicarious religion The situation in which an active minority of people attend church regularly on behalf of and with the tacit approval of the non-active majority.

Victimization studies Surveys aimed at revealing the proportion of the population that has been victimized by crime over a certain period. Victim surveys attempt to compensate for the ‘dark figure of unreported crime’ by focusing directly on people’s actual experience of crime.

Virtual community Internet-based groups, rooted in public discussions which are long-lasting and contain sufficient human feeling to constitute personal relationships in cyberspace.


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War The clash of at least two organized armed forces that seek to destroy each other’s power and especially their will to resist, principally by killing members of the opposing force.

Welfare dependency A situation where people on welfare, such as those receiving unemployment benefit, treat this as a ‘way of life’ rather than attempting to secure a paid job.

Welfare state A political system that provides a wide range of welfare benefits for citizens.

White-collar crime Criminal activities carried out by those in white-collar or professional jobs.

Work The activity by which human beings produce useful things from the natural world and so ensure their survival. In modern societies there remain many types of work, including housework, which do not involve direct payment of wages or salary.

Working class A social class broadly composed of people involved in blue-collar or manual occupations.

World-accommodating movement A religious movement that emphasizes the importance of inner religious life and spiritual purity over worldly concerns.

World-affirming movement A religious movement that seeks to enhance followers’ ability to succeed in the outside world by helping them to unlock their human potential.

World-rejecting movement A religious movement that is exclusive in nature, highly critical of the outside world, and demanding of its members.

World-systems theory Pioneered by Immanuel Wallerstein, this theory emphasizes the interconnections among countries based on the expansion of a capitalist world economy. The world-system is made up of core countries, semi-peripheral countries and peripheral countries.


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Young adulthood A life course stage between adolescence and mature adulthood. Young adulthood is not seen as a universal life course stage, but the concept has some currency in the developed societies.

Youth culture The specific cultural forms associated with young people in a given period. Youth culture involves behavioural norms, dress codes, language use and other aspects, many of which tend to differ from the adult culture of the time.


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Zemiology In criminology, the study of all of the various causes of social harm rather than just those harms caused by crimes and criminal acts.

Zero-tolerance policing An approach to crime prevention and control that targets petty crime and minor disturbances as a way of deterring more serious crime.