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1.  What did Stanley Milgram seek to test in his experiments at Yale University?  What were the results?  Do you think that the findings would be similar today?  Why or why not?  Thinking about the information shared in Chapter 2 regarding ethics in research, what are the ethical concerns of the study?

2.  Do you agree with Emile Durkheim that deviance provides certain functions for society? What functions might deviance provide?  In your answer be sure to describe Durkheim’s main thesis regarding deviance and provide examples or evidence to support your position.

The Week 3 Forum meets the following course objectives:

· Apply a sociological perspective to the social world.

· Analyze contemporary social issues using the sociological imagination and use sociological theories and concepts to analyze everyday life.

· Identify and describe bureaucracies and formal organizations.

· Describe deviance and social control from a sociological perspective.

Instructions for all Forums:

Each week, learners will post one initial post per week.  This post must demonstrate comprehension of the course materials, the ability to apply that knowledge in the real world.  Learners will engage with the instructor and peers throughout the learning week.  To motivate engaged discussion, posts are expected to be on time with regular interaction throughout the week.  All posts should demonstrate college level writing skills. To promote vibrant discussion as we would in a face to face classroom, formatted citations and references are not required.  Quotes should not be used at all, or used sparingly.  If you quote a source quotation marks should be used and an APA formatted citation and reference provided.

  Points  Exemplary (100%)   Accomplished (85%)   Developing (75%)  Beginning (65%)  Not Participating (0%) 
Comprehension of course materials 4 Initial post demonstrates rich comprehension of course materials.  Detailed use of terminology or examples learned in class.  If post includes opinion, it is supported with evaluated evidence. Initial post demonstrates clear comprehension of course materials.  Use of terminology or examples learned in class. If post includes opinion, it is supported with evaluated evidence. Initial post demonstrates some comprehension of course materials.  Specific terminology or examples learned in class may be incorrect or incomplete.  Post may include some opinion without evaluated evidence. Initial post does not demonstrate comprehension of course materials.  Specific terminology or examples learned in class are not included.  Post is opinion based without evaluated evidence. No posting, post is off topic, post does not meet minimum criteria for demonstrating beginning level of comprehension. Post may be plagiarized, or use a high percentage of quotes that prevent demonstration of student’s comprehension.
Real world application of knowledge 2 Initial post demonstrates that the learner can creatively and uniquely apply the concepts and examples learned in class to a personal or professional experience from their life or to a current event. Initial post demonstrates that the learner can apply the concepts and examples learned in class to a  personal or professional experience from their life or to a current event. Initial post does not clearly demonstrate that the learner can apply the concepts and examples learned in class. Unclear link between the concepts and examples learned in class to personal or professional experience or to a current event. Initial post does not demonstrate that the learner can apply the concepts and examples learned in class. No link to a personal or professional experience or to a current event is made in the post. No posting, post is off topic, post does not meet minimum criteria for demonstrating beginning level of application. Post may be plagiarized, or use a high percentage of quotes that prevent demonstration of student’s ability to apply comprehension.
Active Forum Engagement and Presence 3 Learner posts 4+ different days in the learning week. Replies to at least one response from a classmate or instructor on the learner’s initial post to demonstrate the learner is reading and considering classmate responses to their ideas.  Posts two or more 100+ word responses to initial posts of classmates.  Posts motivate group discussion and contributes to the learning community by doing 2+ of the following:· offering advice or strategy· posing a question,· providing an alternative point-of-view,· acknowledging similar experiences· sharing a resource Learner posts 3 different days in the learning week. Posts two 100+ word responses to initial posts of classmates.  Posts motivate group discussion and contribute to the learning community by doing  2+ of the following: · offering advice or strategy· posing a question,· providing an alternative point-of-view,· acknowledging similar experiences· sharing a resource Learner posts 2 different days in the learning week.  Posts one 100+ word response to initial post of classmate.  Post motivates group discussion and contributes to the learning community by doing 1 of the following: · offering advice or strategy· posing a question,· providing an alternative point-of-view,· acknowledging similar experiences· sharing a resource Learner posts 1 day in the learning week.  Posts one 100+ word response to initial post of classmate.  Post does not clearly motivate group discussion or clearly contribute to the learning community. Responses do not:· offering advice or strategy· posing a question,· providing an alternative point-of-view,· acknowledging similar experiences· sharing a resource Learner posts 1 day in the learning week, or posts are not made during the learning week and therefore do not contribute to or enrich the weekly conversation. No peer responses are made.  One or more peer responses of low quality (“good job, I agree”) may be made.
Writing skills 1 Post is 250+ words.  All posts reflect widely accepted academic writing protocols like using capital letters, cohesive sentences, and no texting language. Dialogue is also polite and respectful of different points of view. Post is 250+ words.  The majority of posts reflect widely-accepted academic writing protocols like using capital letters, cohesive sentences, and no texting language. Dialogue is polite and respectful of different points of view. Post is 175+ words.  The majority of posts reflect widely-accepted academic writing protocols like using capital letters (“I am” not “i am”), cohesive sentences, and no texting language. Dialogue may not be respectful of different points of view. Post is 150+ words.  The majority of the forum communication ignores widely-accepted academic writing protocols like capital letters, cohesive sentences, and texting; Dialogue may not be respectful of different points of view. No posting, post is off topic and does not meet minimum criteria for demonstrating beginning level of comprehension.



© Marianna Day Massey/ZUMA/Corbis

Media Library

CHAPTER 2 Media Library


Fallout from a contemporary experiment based on the Milgram study.

Facebook’s Newsfeed Study


Milgram’s Experiment

Qualitative v. Quantitative Research Methods

Steven Colbert on Validity Research

Asch Conformity Experiment

Ethnography in Context

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment


Sentencing Reform for Drugs


Survey v. Public Opinion

The Organ Detective


Validity and Reliability homicide studies

Field Work Methods

Unobtrusive Research in Criminal Justice

Participatory Research Methods in Skid Row Los Angeles



Sociology and Common Sense

Research and the Scientific Method

Doing Sociological Research

Doing Sociology: A Student’s Guide to Research

Sociology and You: Why Learn to Do Sociological Research?


1.   What kinds of research questions could one pose in order to gain a better understanding of sociological issues like bullying, long-term poverty, gang violence, or the high dropout rate in some high schools? What kinds of research methods would be appropriate for studying these issues?

2.   What factors do you think affect the honesty of people’s responses to survey questions?

3.   What makes a sociological research project ethical or unethical?



REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The United States imprisons more of its people than any other modern country on the planet. About 3% of U.S. adults are in the correctional system: “2.2 million people in prisons and jails, and an additional 4.8 million on probation or parole” (Goffman, 2014, p. xi). Data show that the climb in the prison population began in the 1970s and rose steeply in the 1980s, with significant numbers of poor men and women of color pulled into the criminal justice system, many for minor drug crimes and other nonviolent offenses. The effects of this “prison boom” are not only individual; mass incarceration has also had consequences for already struggling neighborhoods in urban America (see Figures 2.1a and 2.1b).

In On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (2014), sociologist Alice Goffman writes that her work is an on-the-ground account of the U.S. prison boom: a close-up look at young men and women living in one poor and segregated Black community transformed by unprecedented levels of imprisonment and by the more hidden systems of policing and supervision that have accompanied them. Because the fear of capture and confinement has seeped into community members’ basic activities of daily living—work, family, romance, friendship, and even much-needed medical care—it is an account of a community on the run (p. xii).

Goffman explores the norms and practices that govern life in a neighborhood ravaged by economic and social marginality and the pervasive effects of the reality and threat of imprisonment. For example, in the absence of opportunities for legitimate employment, she notes the birth of a shadow economy that caters to the “fugitive life” she describes: Some wily entrepreneurs peddle “clean” urine to neighbors who are on parole and subject to drug testing. Goffman’s work is significant because it carefully examines the effects of the mass incarceration phenomenon on personal lives and relationships and the daily life of a community.

Goffman conducted research in the city of Philadelphia for six years, combining interviews with individuals working in the criminal justice system, including police and prison guards, and regular interactions with residents of her adopted neighborhood. She utilized participant and nonparticipant observation in gathering information about the social environment. Goffman’s work is a good example of qualitative sociological research, and she recognizes its potential significance to academic and policy debates. Utilizing a scientific approach and rigorous field research, Goffman is able to cast light on how neighborhoods and their residents, whether or not they are involved in criminal activity, understand and experience the powerful consequences of mass imprisonment. 


FIGURE 2.1A Imprisonment Rates in Selected Philadelphia Neighborhoods, 2008

SOURCE: Based on data from the The Justice Mapping Center.

FIGURE 2.1B Percentage of Non-Whites in Selected Philadelphia Neighborhoods, 2008

In this chapter, we examine the ways sociologists like Alice Goffman study the social world. First, we distinguish between sociological understanding and common sense. Then we discuss the key steps in the research process itself. We examine how sociologists test their theories using a variety of research methods, and, finally, we consider the ethical implications of doing research on human subjects.


Science is a unique way of seeing and investigating the world around us. The essence of the scientific method is straightforward: It is a process of gathering empirical (scientific and specific) data, creating theories, and rigorously testing theories. In sociological research, theories and empirical data exist in a dynamic relationship (Figure 2.2). Some research begins from general theories, which offer “big picture” ideas about social life: Deductive reasoning starts from broad theories but proceeds to break them down into more specific and testable hypotheses. Sociological hypotheses are ideas about the world that describe possible relationships between social phenomena. Some research begins from the ground up: Inductive reasoning starts from specific data, such as interviews or field notes, which may focus on a single community or event, and endeavors to identify larger patterns from which to derive more general theories.


FIGURE 2.2 The Relationship Between Theory and Research

Sociologists employ the scientific method in both quantitative and qualitative research. Quantitative research, which is often done through methods such as large-scale surveys, gathers data that can be quantified and offers insight into broad patterns of social behavior (for example, the percentage of U.S. adults who use corporal punishment with their children) and social attitudes (for example, the percentage of U.S. adults who approve of corporal punishment) without necessarily delving into the meaning of or reasons for the identified phenomena. Qualitative research, such as that conducted by Alice Goffman, is characterized by data that cannot be quantified (or converted into numbers), focusing instead on generating in-depth knowledge of social life, institutions, and processes (for example, why parents in particular social groups are more or less likely to use spanking as a method of punishment). It relies on the gathering of data through methods such as focus groups, participant and nonparticipant observation, interviews, and archival research. Generally, population samples in qualitative research are small because they focus on in-depth understanding.

Personal experience and common sense about the world are often fine starting points for sociological research. They can, however, mislead us. In the 14th century, common sense suggested to people that the earth was flat; after all, it looks flat. Today, influenced by stereotypes and media portrayals of criminal behaviors, many people believe Black high school and college students are more likely than their White counterparts to use illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, crack, and heroin. But common sense misleads on both counts. The earth is not flat (as you know!), and Black high school and college students are slightly less likely than White students to use illegal drugs (Table 2.1).

Consider the following ideas, which many believe to be true, though all are false:

Common Wisdom:

I know women who earn more than their husbands or boyfriends. The gender wage gap is no longer an issue in the United States.

Sociological Research:

Data show that men as a group earn more than women as a group. For example, in the first quarter of 2014, men had a weekly median income of $872 compared to $722 for women for all full-time occupations (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014f). According to statistical data, women earn about 82% of what men earn. This statistic compares all men and all women who work full-time and year-round. Reasons for the gap include worker characteristics (such as experience and education), job characteristics (such as hours required), devaluation of “women’s work” by society, and pay discrimination against female workers (Cabeza, Johnson, & Tyner, 2011; Reskin & Padavic, 2002). So while some women, of course, earn more than some men, the overall pattern of men outearning women remains in place today. This topic is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 10.

Common Wisdom:

Homeless people are poor and lack adequate shelter because they do not work.

Sociological Research:

Some of the homeless cannot find work or are too disabled by mental or physical problems to work. Many, however, do work. Research suggests that about 44% of homeless adults work for pay (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009b), and the U.S. Conference of Mayors (2011) reports that 15% of the homeless are regularly employed full- or part-time. However, low wages and poor benefits in the service industry, where many less educated people work, as well as a shortage of adequate housing options for low-income families, can make finding permanent shelter a challenge even for those who work for pay. To under stand how declining wages magnify the strain on low-income families, consider this: In many U.S. cities, to make ends meet, a household needs more than one full-time minimum-wage employee to afford the fair market rent price for a two-bedroom apartment (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2009). The contemporary reality is that wages are not keeping up with the rate of inflation, which further adds to the economic hardships that low-income families endure. These topics are discussed in fuller detail in Chapter 7.

TABLE 2.1   Annual Prevalence Rate of Drug Use by 12th Graders, 2013.

Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E. & Miech, R.A. (2014). Demographic subgroup trends among adolescents in the use of various licit and illicit drugs, 1975–2013. Monitoring the Future Occasional Paper No. 81. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research.


© Bettmann/CORBIS

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments distinguishes between the “permanently supported homeless,” who have housing but are at risk due to extreme poverty and/or disability, and the “chronically homeless,” who are continually homeless for a year or more or at least four times in three years. Do you think that these categories fully encompass the homeless population? 

Common Wisdom:

Education is the great equalizer. All children in the United States have the opportunity to get a good education. Low academic achievement is a personal failure.

Sociological Research:

Public education is free and open to all in the United States, but the quality of education can vary dramatically. Consider the fact that in many U.S. states and localities, a major source of public school funding is local property taxes, which constitute an average of about 44% of funding (state and federal allocations make up the rest). As such, communities with high property values have richer sources of funding from which to draw educational resources, while poor communities—even those with high tax rates—have more limited pools. As well, high levels of racial segregation persist in U.S. schools. In fact, Latino and Black students are more likely to be in segregated schools today than were their counterparts in earlier decades. Research shows a relationship between academic performance and class and racial segregation: Students who are not isolated in poor, racially segregated schools perform better on a variety of academic measures than those who are (Condron, 2009; Logan, Minca, & Adar, 2012). The problem of low academic achievement is complex, and no single variable can explain it. At the same time, the magnitude and persistence of this problem suggests that we are looking at a phenomenon that is a public issue rather than just a personal trouble. We discuss issues of class, race, and educational attainment further in Chapter 12.

Even deeply held and widely shared beliefs about society and social groups may be inaccurate—or more nuanced and complex than they appear on the surface. Until it is tested, common sense is merely conjecture. Careful research allows us to test our beliefs to gauge whether they are valid or merely anecdotal. From a sociological standpoint, empirical evidence is granted greater weight than common sense. By basing their decisions on scientific evidence rather than personal beliefs or common wisdom, researchers and students can draw informed conclusions and policy makers can ensure that policies and programs are data driven and maximally effective.


Scientific theories answer questions about how and why scientific observations are as they are. A good scientific theory has the following characteristics:

•    It is logically consistent. One part of the theory does not contradict another part.

•    It can be disproved. If the findings contradict the theory, then we can deduce that the theory is wrong. While we can say that testing has failed to disprove the theory, however, we cannot assume the theory is “true” if testing confirms it. Theories are always subject to further testing, which may point to needed revisions, highlight limitations, or strengthen conclusions.


© Martin Ruetschi/Keystone/Corbis

Some research on bullying relies on self-reports, while other data come from peer reports. Recent research (Branson & Cornell, 2009) suggests that more than twice as many students (11%) were labeled bullies in peer reports than in self-reports (5%), highlighting the fact that any method of data collection has limitations. 

Theories are made up of concepts, ideas that summarize a set of phenomena. Concepts are the building blocks of research and prepare a solid foundation for sociological work. Some of the key concepts in sociology are social stratification, social class, power, inequality, and diversity, which we introduced in the opening chapter.

In order to gather data and create viable theories, we need to define concepts in ways that are precise and measurable. A study of social class, for example, would need to begin with a working definition of that term. An operational definition of a concept describes the concept in such a way that we can observe and measure it. Many sociologists define social class in terms of dimensions such as income, wealth, education, occupation, and consumption patterns. Each of these aspects of class has the potential to be measurable. We may construct operational definitions in terms of qualities or quantities (Babbie, 1998; Neuman, 2000). In terms of qualities, we might say, for instance, that the “upper-middle class” is composed of those who have completed graduate or professional degrees, even though there may be a broad income spread between those with master’s degrees in English and those with master’s degrees in business administration. This definition is based on an assumption of class as a social position that derives from educational attainment. Alternatively, using quantity as a key measure, we might operationally define “upper class” as households with annual income greater than $150,000 and “lower class” as households with annual income of less than $20,000. This definition takes income as the preeminent determinant of class position, irrespective of education.

Consider a social issue of contemporary interest—bullying. Imagine that you want to conduct a research study of bullying to determine how many female middle schoolers have experienced bullying in the past academic year. You would need to begin with a clear definition of bullying that operationalizes the term. That is, in order to measure how many girls have experienced bullying, you would need to articulate what constitutes bullying. Would you include physical bullying? If so, how many instances of being pushed or punched would constitute bullying? Would you include cyberbullying? What kinds of behaviors would be included in that category? To study a phenomenon like bullying, it is not enough to assume that “we know it when we see it.” Empirical research relies on the careful and specific definition of terms and the recognition of how definitions and methods affect research outcomes.


In studying social relationships, sociologists also need variables. A variable is a concept that can take on two or more possible values. For instance, sex can be male or female, work status can be employed or unemployed, and geographic location can be inner-city, suburbs, or rural area. We can measure variables both quantitatively and qualitatively. Quantitative variables include factors we can count, such as crime rates, unemployment rates, and drug use frequency. Qualitative variables are variables that express qualities and do not have numerical values. Qualitative variables might include physical characteristics, such as gender or eye color, or attitudinal characteristics, such as a parent’s preference for a private or public school or a commuter’s preference for riding public transportation or driving to work.

Sociological research often tries to establish a relationship between two or more variables. Suppose you want to find out whether more education is associated with higher earnings. After asking people about their years of schooling and their annual incomes, both of which are quantitative variables, you could estimate the degree of correlation between the two. Correlation—literally, “co-relationship”—is the degree to which two or more variables are associated with one another. Correlating the two variables “years of education” and “annual income” demonstrates that the greater the education, the higher the income (Figure 2.3). (Do you see the exception to that relationship? How might you explain it?)


© Ed Kashi/VII/Corbis

Getting enough sleep is one factor that can help students maintain good grades in college. How would you design a research study to examine the question of which factors correlate most strongly with solid grades? 

When two variables are correlated, we are often tempted to infer a causal relationship, a relationship between two variables in which one is the cause of the other. However, just because two variables are correlated, we cannot assume that one causes the other. For example, ice cream sales rise significantly during the summer, as does the homicide rate. These two events are correlated in the sense that both increase during the hottest months. However, because the sharp rise in ice cream sales does not cause rates of homicide to increase (nor, clearly, does the rise in homicide rates cause a spike in ice cream consumption), these two phenomena do not have a causal relationship. Correlation does not equal causation.

Sometimes an observed correlation between two variables is the result of a spurious relationship—that is, a correlation between two or more variables caused by another factor that is not being measured. In the example above, the common factor missed in the relationship is, in fact, the temperature. When it’s hot, more people want to eat ice cream. Studies also show that rising temperatures are linked to an increase in violent crimes—though after a certain temperature threshold (about 90 degrees), crimes wane again (Gamble & Hess, 2012). Among the reasons more violent crimes are committed in hot weather is the fact that people spend more time outdoors in social interactions when it is hot, which can lead to confrontations.

FIGURE 2.3 Correlation Between Education and Median Weekly Earnings in the United States, 2013

SOURCE: Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2013). Education pays. Employment projections. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Let’s take another example that is close to home: Imagine that your school newspaper publishes a study concluding that coffee drinking causes poor test grades. The story is based on a survey of students that found those who reported drinking a lot of coffee the night before an exam scored lower than did their peers who had consumed little or no coffee. Having studied sociology, you wonder whether this relationship might be spurious. What is the “something else” that is not being measured here? Could it be that students who did not study in the days and weeks prior to the test and stayed up late the night before cramming—probably consuming a lot of coffee as they fought sleep—received lower test grades than did peers who studied earlier and got adequate sleep the night before the test? The overlooked variable, then, is the amount of studying students did in the weeks preceding the exam, and we are likely to find a positive correlation and evidence of causation in looking at time spent studying and grade outcomes.

Sociologists attempt to develop theories systematically by offering clear operational definitions, collecting unbiased data, and identifying evidence-based relationships between variables. Sociological research methods usually yield credible and useful data, but we must always critically analyze the results to ensure their validity and reliability and to check that hypothesized relationships are not spurious.


Once we have defined concepts and variables with which to work, we can endeavor to test a theory by positing a hypothesis. Hypotheses enable scientists to check the accuracy of their theories. For example, consider state-level data on obesity and poverty (Figures 2.4 and 2.5). Data from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2012 show that some positive correlation exists between obesity and poverty rates at the state level. A positive correlation is a relationship showing that as one variable rises or falls, the other does as well. The variables’ common trajectory suggests a possible relationship between poverty and obesity (Table 2.2), although, as we noted above, sociologists are quick to point out that correlation does not equal causation. Researchers are interested in creating and testing hypotheses to explain cases of positive correlation—they are also interested in explaining exceptions to the pattern of correlation between two (or more) variables.


FIGURE 2.4 Self-Reported Obesity Rates by State, 2012

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control. (2011). Prevalence of self-reported obesity among U.S. adults. Behavior risk factor surveillance system. Washington, DC.

In fact, researchers have explored and hypothesized the relationship between poverty and obesity. Among the conclusions they have drawn is that living in poverty—and particularly living in poor neighborhoods—puts people at higher risk of obesity, though the risk is greater for women than for men (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012d; Hedwig, 2011; Smith, 2009). Among the factors that researchers have identified as contributing to a causal path between poverty and obesity are the lack of access to healthy food choices, the lack of access to safe and nearby spaces for physical exercise, and a deficit of time to cook healthy foods and exercise. They have also cited the stress induced by poverty. While the data cannot lead us to conclude decisively that poverty is a cause of obesity, research can help us to gather evidence that supports or refutes a hypothesis about the relationship between these two variables. We look at this issue in greater depth in Chapter 16.

In the case of a negative correlation, one variable increases as the other decreases. As we discuss later in Chapter 11, which focuses on the family and society, researchers have found a negative correlation between male unemployment and rates of marriage. That is, as rates of male unemployment in a community rise, rates of marriage in the community fall. Observing this relationship, sociologists have conducted research to test explanations for it (Edin & Kefalas, 2005; Wilson, 2010).

FIGURE 2.5 Poverty Rates by State, 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, “American FactFinder,” 2010 American Community Survey.

Keep in mind that we can never prove theories to be decisively right—we can only prove them wrong. Proving a theory right would require the scientific testing of absolutely every possible hypothesis based on that theory—a fundamental impossibility. In fact, good theories are constructed in a way that makes it logically possible to prove them wrong. This is Karl Popper’s (1959) famous principle of falsification, or falsifiability, which holds that to be scientific, a theory must lead to testable hypotheses that can be disproved if they are wrong.


For theories and hypotheses to be testable, both the concepts used to construct them and the measurements used to test them must be accurate. When our observations adequately reflect the real world, our findings have validity—that is, the concepts and measurements accurately represent what they claim to represent. For example, suppose you want to know whether the crime rate in the United States has gone up or down. For years sociologists depended on police reports to measure crime. However, researchers could assess the validity of these tallies only if subsequent surveys were administered nationally to victims of crime. If the victim tallies matched those of the police reports, then researchers could say the police reports were a valid measure of crime in the United States. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) enables researchers to assess validity because it offers data on victimization, even for crimes that have not been reported to authorities.


TABLE 2.2   Top 10 States: Obesity and Poverty, 2012

SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau. (2013). Poverty: 2000 to 2012, American Community Survey Briefs; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Prevalence of self-reported obesity among U.S. adults, 2012.

Sociologists are also concerned with the reliability of their findings. Reliability is the extent to which the findings are consistent with the findings of different studies of the same phenomenon, or with the findings of the same study over time. Sociological research may suffer from problems of validity and reliability because of bias, a characteristic of results that systematically misrepresent the full dimensions of what is being studied. Bias can creep into research due to the use of inappropriate measurement instruments. For example, suppose the administrator of a city wants to know whether homelessness has risen in recent years. She operationally defines “the homeless” as those who sleep in the street or in shelters and dispatches her team of researchers to city shelters to count the number of people occupying shelter beds or sleeping on street corners or park benches. A sociologist reviewing the research team’s results might question the administrator’s operational definition of what it means to be homeless and, by extension, her findings. Are the homeless solely those spending nights in shelters or on the streets? What about those who stay with friends after eviction or camp out in their cars? In this instance, a sociologist might suggest that the city’s measure is biased because it misrepresents (and undercounts) the homeless population by failing to define the concept in a way that captures the broad manifestations of homelessness.

Bias can also occur in research when respondents do not tell the truth (see Table 2.3). A good example of this is a study in which respondents were asked whether they used illegal drugs or had driven while impaired. All were asked the same questions, but some were wired to a machine they were told was a lie detector. The subjects who thought their truthfulness was being monitored by a lie detector reported higher rates of illegal drug use than did subjects who did not. Based on the assumption that actual drug use would be about the same for both groups, the researchers concluded that the subjects who were not connected to the device were underreporting their actual illegal drug use and that simply asking people about drug use would lead to biased findings because respondents would not tell the truth. Do you think truthfulness of respondents is a general problem, or is it one researchers are likely to encounter only where sensitive issues such as drug use or racism are at issue?


Even if sociologists develop theories based on good operational definitions and collect valid and reliable data, like all human beings they have passions and biases that may color their research. For example, criminologists long ignored the criminality of women because they assumed that women were not disposed toward criminal behavior. Researchers therefore did not have an accurate picture of women and crime until this bias was recognized and rectified.




The Washington Post/Contributor/Getty Images

Understanding of research methods will help you recognize the challenges in gathering reliable statistics on populations that are outside the mainstream. In this photo, a volunteer conducts an interview with a homeless man, which helps local authorities assess how many homeless people are in the city and why they lack shelter. 

Homelessness is a social problem in the United States. But how extensive is it? The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (2012) estimates that more than 3 million people experience homelessness over the course of a year across the United States. Of these, 1.3 million are children; more than one-third of the entire homeless population is made up of families. While the majority of the homeless have access to transitional housing or emergency shelters, approximately 4 out of 10 are unsheltered, living in improvised conditions that are not suited for human habitation. Despite a decrease in the homeless population nationally, the rates for 24 individual states and the District of Columbia increased between 2009 and 2011 (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2012).

Statistics vary, however, depending on the definitions and counting methodologies employed. In the early 1980s, the U.S. government was under pressure to provide services and assistance to a population of homeless that some claimed was large and growing. In response, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducted a study to determine the number of homeless people in cities and towns across the country. After analyzing all existing studies, government researchers called providers of services to the homeless and other experts in 60 cities and asked them to estimate the numbers of homeless people in their communities. Based on this research, the government concluded there were 250,000 to 350,000 homeless people in the United States. This figure was considerably lower than the estimate of 2 million that came from other sources outside the government (Burt, 1992).

Politicians used the HUD figures extensively, although some sociologists were skeptical (Appelbaum, 1986; Appelbaum, Dolny, Dreier, & Gilderbloom, 1991). First, HUD’s operational definition of homelessness included only people sleeping on the streets and in shelters; it effectively excluded homeless people living in cars or abandoned buildings or taking temporary shelter with friends. Second, HUD based its figures on the estimates of shelter providers, police officers, and other local experts who admitted they were often only guessing. Finally, the HUD figures were based almost entirely on estimates of the homeless in the downtown areas of big cities, a methodological bias that excluded the numerous homeless people who lived in surrounding towns and suburbs. As a result of these problems, HUD’s estimate of the national homeless population lacked validity.


 Subsequent research has confirmed that by the early 1990s there were as many as 1 million homeless in the United States—three to four times the estimate produced by the government study. An axiom of sociological research is that it is not what you think you know that matters, but how you came to know it. The homeless represent a transient population that is challenging to count. The homeless have no fixed addresses, no consistent billing statements, and no easy way for researchers to locate them. What methods might you employ to attempt to systematically count the homeless people in your community? What kinds of resources do you think you would need?


TABLE 2.3   How Truthful Are Survey Respondents? (in percentages)

SOURCE: Adams, J., Parkinson, L., Sanson-Fisher, R. W., & Walsh, R. A. (2008). Enhancing self-report of adolescent smoking: The effects of bogus pipeline and anonymity. Addictive Behaviors, 33(10), 1291–1296.

Personal values and beliefs may affect a researcher’s objectivity, or ability to represent the object of study accurately. In the 19th century, sociologist Max Weber argued that in order for scientific research to be objective it has to have value neutrality—that is, the course of the research must be free of the influence of personal beliefs and opinions. The sociologist should acknowledge personal biases and assumptions, make them explicit, and prevent them from getting in the way of observation and reporting.

How can we best achieve objectivity? First, recall Karl Popper’s principle of falsification, which proposes that the goal of research is not to prove our ideas correct but to find out whether they are wrong. To accomplish this, researchers must be willing to accept that the data they collect might contradict their most passionate convictions. Research should deepen human understanding, not prove a particular point of view.

A second way we can ensure objectivity is to invite others to draw their own conclusions about the validity of our data through replication, the repetition of a previous study using a different sample or population to verify or refute the original findings. For research to be replicated, the original study must spell out in detail the research methods employed. If potential replicators cannot conduct their studies exactly as the original study was performed, they might accidentally introduce unwanted variables. To ensure the most accurate replication of their work, researchers should archive original materials such as questionnaires and field notes and allow replicators access to them.

Popper (1959) described scientific discovery as an ongoing process of “confrontation and refutation.” Sociologists usually subject their work to this process by publishing their results in scholarly journals. Submitted research undergoes a rigorous process of peer review, in which other experts in the field of study examine the work before the results are finalized and published. Once research has been published in a reputable journal such as the American Sociological Review or the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, other scholars read it with a critical eye. The study may then be replicated in different settings.


Sociological research requires careful preparation and a clear plan that guides the work. The purpose of a sociological research project may be to obtain preliminary knowledge that will help formulate a theory or to evaluate an existing theory about society and social life. As part of the strategy, the researcher selects from a variety of research methods—specific techniques for systematically gathering data. In the following sections, we look at a range of research methods and examine their advantages and disadvantages. We also discuss how you might prepare a sociological research project of your own.


Sociologists employ a variety of methods to learn about the social world (Table 2.4). Since each has strengths and weaknesses, a good research strategy may be to use several different methods. If they all yield similar findings, the researcher is more likely to have confidence in the results. The principal methods are the survey, fieldwork (either participant observation or detached observation), experimentation, working with existing information, and participatory research.


TABLE 2.4   Key Sociological Research Methods


A survey relies on a questionnaire or interviews with a group of people in person or by telephone or e-mail to determine their characteristics, opinions, and behaviors. Surveys are versatile, and sociologists often use them to test theories or simply to gather data. Some survey instruments, such as National Opinion Research Center questionnaires, consist of closed-ended questions that respondents answer by choosing from among the responses presented. Others, such as the University of Chicago’s Social Opportunity Survey, consist of open-ended questions that permit respondents to answer in their own words.

An example of survey research conducted for data collection is the largest survey in the nation, the U.S. Census, which is conducted every 10 years. The census is not designed to test any particular theory. Rather, it gathers voluminous data about U.S. residents that researchers, including sociologists, use to test and develop a variety of theories.

Usually, a survey is conducted on a relatively small number of people, a sample, selected to represent a population, the whole group of people to be studied. The first step in designing a survey is to identify the population of interest. Imagine that you are doing a study of behavioral factors that affect grades in college. Who would you survey? Members of a certain age group only? People in the airline industry? Pet owners? To conduct a study well, we need to identify clearly the survey population that will most effectively help us answer the research question. In your study you would most likely choose to survey students now in college, because they offer the best opportunity to correlate grades with particular behaviors.

Once we have identified a population of interest, we will usually select a sample, as we seldom have the time or money to talk to all the members of a given population, especially if it is a large one. Other things being equal, larger samples better represent the population than smaller ones. However, with proper sampling techniques, sociologists can use relatively small (and therefore inexpensive) samples to represent large populations. For instance, a well-chosen sample of 1,000 U.S. voters can be used to represent 100,000 U.S. voters with a fair degree of accuracy, enabling surveys to make election predictions with reasonable confidence. Sampling is also used for looking at social phenomena such as drug or alcohol use in a population: CNN reported recently that 17% of high schoolers drink, smoke, or use drugs during the school day, based on a 1,000-student sample polled by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (Azuz, 2012).


© James Marshall/Corbis

Since it is often impossible to sample every person in a target population, being well versed in research methodology enables a researcher to produce empirically rigorous data with a representative population sample. 

Ideally, a sample should reflect the composition of the population we are studying. For instance, if you want to be able to use your research data about college students to generalize about the entire college student population of the United States, you would need to collect proportional samples from 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, large universities, community colleges, online schools, and so on. It would not be adequate to survey only students at online colleges or only female students at private 4-year schools.

To avoid bias in surveys, sociologists may use random sampling, whereby everyone in the population of interest has an equal chance of being chosen for the study. Typically, they make or obtain a list of everyone in the population of interest. Then they draw names or phone numbers, for instance, by chance until the desired sample size is reached (today, most such work is done by computers). Large-scale random sample surveys permit researchers to draw conclusions about large numbers of people on the basis of relatively small numbers of respondents. This is an advantage in terms of time and money.

In constructing surveys, sociologists must take care to ensure that the questions and their possible responses will capture the respondents’ points of view. The wording of questions is an important factor; poor wording can produce misleading results, as the following example illustrates. In 1993, an American Jewish Committee/Roper poll was taken to examine public attitudes and beliefs about the Holocaust. To the astonishment of many, results indicated that fully 22% of survey respondents expressed a belief the Holocaust had never happened. Not immediately noticed was the fact that the survey contained some very awkward wording, including the question “Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened?” Can you see why such a question might produce a questionable result? The question’s compound structure and double-negative wording almost certainly confused many respondents.

The American Jewish Committee released a second survey with different wording: “Does it seem possible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened, or do you feel certain that it happened?” The results of the second poll were quite different. Only about 1% of respondents thought it was possible the Holocaust never happened, while 8% were unsure (Kagay, 1994). Despite the follow-up poll that corrected the mistaken perception of the previous poll’s results, the new poll was not as methodologically rigorous as it could have been; a single survey question should ask for only one type of response. The American Jewish Committee’s second survey contained a question that attempted to gauge two different responses simultaneously.

A weakness of surveys is that they may reveal what people say rather than what they do. Responses are sometimes self-serving, intended to make the interviewee look good in the eyes of the researcher. As we saw in an earlier example, a respondent may not wish to reveal his or her drinking or drug habits. A well-constructed survey, however, can overcome these problems. Assuring the respondent of anonymity, assigning interviewers with whom respondents feel comfortable, and building in questions that ask for the same information in different ways can reduce self-serving bias in survey research.


Fieldwork is a method of research that uses in-depth and often extended study to describe and analyze a group or community. Sometimes called ethnography, it takes the researcher into the “field,” where he or she directly observes—and sometimes interacts with—subjects in their social environment. Social scientists, including sociologists and anthropologists, have employed fieldwork to study everything from hoboes and working-class gangs in the 1930s (Anderson, 1940; Whyte, 1943) to prostitution and drug use among inner-city women (Maher, 1997) and Vietnam veterans motorcycling across the country to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Michalowski & Dubisch, 2001). Alice Goffman’s (2014) work on the underground economy is another example of the use of fieldwork in sociological research.


Most fieldwork combines several different methods of gathering information. These include interviews, detached observation, and participant observation.

An interview is a detailed conversation designed to obtain in-depth information about a person and his or her activities. When used in surveys, interview questions may be either open-ended or closed-ended. They may also be formal or informal. In fieldwork, the questions are usually open-ended to allow respondents to answer in their own words. Sometimes the interviewer prepares a detailed set of questions; at other times, the best approach is simply to have a list of relevant topics to cover.

Good researchers guard against influencing respondents’ answers. In particular, they avoid the use of leading questions—that is, questions that tend to elicit particular responses. Imagine a question on attitudes toward the marine environment that reads “Do you believe tuna fishing with broad nets, which leads to the violent deaths of dolphins, should be regulated?” The bias in this question is obvious—the stated association of broad nets with violent dolphin deaths creates a bias in favor of a yes answer. Accurate data depend on good questions that do not lead respondents to answer in particular ways.

Sometimes a study requires that researchers in the field keep a distance from the people they are studying and simply observe without getting involved. The people being observed may or may not know they are being observed. This approach is called detached observation. In his study of two delinquent gangs (the “Saints” and the “Roughnecks”), William J. Chambliss, coauthor of this text, spent many hours observing gang members without actually being involved in what they were doing. With the gang members’ permission, he sat in his car with the window rolled down so he could hear them talk and watch their behavior while they hung out on a street corner. At other times, he would observe them playing pool while he played at a nearby table. Chambliss sometimes followed gang members in his car as they drove around in theirs and sat near enough to them in bars and cafés to hear their conversations. Through his observations at a distance, he was able to gather detailed information on the kinds of delinquencies the gang members engaged in. He was also able to unravel some of the social processes that led to their behavior and observe other people’s reactions to it.

Detached observation is particularly useful when the researcher has reason to believe other forms of fieldwork might influence the behavior of the people to be observed. It is also helpful for checking the validity of what the researcher has been told in interviews. A great deal of sociological information about illegal behavior has been gathered through detached observation.

One problem with detached observation is that the information gathered is likely to be incomplete. Without actually talking to people, we are unable to check our impressions against their experiences. For this reason, detached observation is usually supplemented by in-depth interviews. In his study of the delinquent gang members, Chambliss (1973, 2001) periodically interviewed them to complement his findings and check the accuracy of his detached observations.

Another type of fieldwork is participant observation, a mixture of active participation and detached observation. Participant observation can sometimes be dangerous. Chambliss’s (1988b) research on organized crime and police corruption in Seattle, Washington, exposed him to threats from the police and organized crime network members who feared he would reveal their criminal activities. Goffman’s (2014) work also included participant observation; she spent significant amounts of time with the residents of the Philadelphia neighborhood she studied, seeking to carefully document their voices and experiences.


Experiments are research techniques for investigating cause and effect under controlled conditions. We construct experiments to measure the effects of independent or experimental variables, variables we change intentionally, on dependent variables, which change as a result of our alterations to the independent variables. To put it another way, researchers modify one controllable variable (such as diet or exposure to violent movie scenes) to see what happens to another variable (such as willingness to socialize or the display of aggression). Some variables, such as sex, ethnicity, and height, do not change in response to stimuli and thus do not make useful dependent variables.

In a typical experiment, researchers select participants who share characteristics such as age, education, social class, or experiences that are relevant to the experiment. The participants are then randomly assigned to two groups. The first, called the experimental group, is exposed to the independent variable—the variable the researchers hypothesize will affect the subjects’ behavior. The second group is assigned to the control group. These subjects are not exposed to the independent variable—they receive no special attention. The researchers then measure both groups for the dependent variable. For example, if a neuroscientist wanted to conduct an experiment on whether listening to classical music affects performance on a math exam, he or she might have an experimental group listen to Mozart, Bach, or Chopin for an hour before taking a test. The control group would take the same test but would not listen to any music beforehand. In this example, exposure to classical music is the independent variable, and the quantifiable results of the math test are the dependent variable.


Daniel Hurst/Stock Connection Worldwide/Newscom

When looking at the relationship between violent video games and violent behaviors, researchers must account for many variables. What variables would you choose to test? 

To study the relationship between violent video game play and aggression, researchers took a longitudinal approach by examining the sustained violent video game play and aggressive behavior of 1,492 adolescents in grades 9 through 12 (Willoughby, Adachi, & Good, 2012). Their results showed a strong correlation between playing violent video games and being more likely to engage in, or approve of, violence. This body of literature represents another example of the importance of research methodology; the same researchers, in a separate study, found that the level of competitiveness in a video game, and not the violence itself, had the greatest influence on aggressive behavior (Adachi & Willoughby, 2011). More research on this topic may help differentiate between the effects of variables and avoid conclusions based on spurious relationships.


Sociologists frequently work with existing information and data gathered by other researchers. Why would researchers choose to reinterpret existing data? Perhaps they want to do a secondary analysis of statistical data collected by an agency such as the U.S. Census Bureau, which makes its materials available to researchers studying issues ranging broadly from education to poverty to racial residential segregation. Or they may want to work with archival data to examine the cultural products—posters, films, pamphlets, and such—used by an authoritarian regime in a given period to legitimate its power or disseminated by a social movement like the civil rights movement to spread its message to the masses.

Statistical data include quantitative information obtained from government agencies, businesses, research studies, and other entities that collect data for their own or others’ use. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, for example, maintains a rich storehouse of information on a number of criminal justice social indicators, such as prison populations, incidents of crime, and criminal justice expenditures. Many other government agencies routinely conduct surveys of commerce, manufacturing, agriculture, labor, and housing. International organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank collect annual data on the health, education, population, and economies of nearly all countries in the world. Many businesses publish annual reports that yield basic statistical information about their financial performance.

Document analysis is the examination of written materials or cultural products: previous studies, newspaper reports, court records, campaign posters, digital reports, films, pamphlets, and other forms of text or images produced by individuals, government agencies, private organizations, and others. However, because such documents are not always compiled with accuracy in mind, good researchers exercise caution in using them. People who keep records are often aware that others will see the records and take pains to avoid including anything unflattering. The diaries and memoirs of politicians are good examples of documents that are invaluable sources of data but that must be interpreted with great caution. The expert researcher looks at such materials with a critical eye, double-checking with other sources for accuracy where possible.

This type of research may include historical research, which entails the analysis of historical documents. Often such research is comparative, examining historical events in several different countries for similarities and differences. Unlike historians, sociologists usually identify patterns common to different times and places; historians tend to focus on particular times and places and are less likely to draw broad generalizations from their research. An early master of the sociological approach to historical research was Max Weber (1919/1946, 1921/1979), who contributed to our understanding of—among many other things—the differences between religious traditions in the West and those in East Asia.

Content analysis is the systematic examination of forms of documented communication. A researcher can take a content analysis approach by coding and analyzing patterns in cultural products like music, laws, tweets, blogs, and works of art. An exciting aspect of social science research is that your object of curiosity can become a research question. In 2009, sociologists conducted a content analysis of 403 gangsta rap songs to assess whether rap’s reputation of being misogynistic (hostile to women) was justified (Weitzer & Kubrin, 2009). The analysis found that the songs did contain significant misogynistic undertones, reflecting larger stereotypical views of male and female characteristics.




© Sam Bloomberg-Rissman/Blend Images/Corbis

Has technology helped or hindered your studying in college? Does it mostly offer research help—or additional distractions? 

In 2011, as it has every year since 2000, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) surveyed about 416,000 U.S. students at 673 institutions of higher education, asking about student relationships with faculty, note taking and study habits, and hours spent studying. One of the 2011 findings, consistent with the results of other recent surveys, was that students were spending far fewer hours studying than did their counterparts in previous decades. If in 1961 the average student reported studying about 24 hours per week, by 2011 the average student reported about 14 hours of study time (Babcock & Marks, 2010; NSSE, 2012). Within this figure are variations by major, ranging from about 24 hours per week for architecture majors to 10 for speech majors. Sociology majors reported studying an average of 13.8 hours per week (de Vise, 2012).

This study presents a number of interesting research questions, few of which are answered by the NSSE, which collected quantitative data but did not analyze the results. What factors might be behind the precipitous decline in self-reported hours spent studying?

Some existing hypotheses implicate modern technology for at least two reasons. First, it has been suggested that students study less because they are spending substantial time using social media such as Facebook. One pilot study at Ohio State University concluded that students who used Facebook had poorer grades than those who did not (Karpinski & Duberstein, 2009). These data suggest that another study could profitably look for correlations between social media use and study time.

Second, students may be reporting less study time because technology has cut the hours of work needed for some tasks. While preparing a research paper in the past may have demanded hours in the library stacks or in pursuit of an expert to interview, today an online search engine can bring up a wealth of data earlier generations could not have imagined. Far fewer students consult research librarians or use library databases today. Notably, however, a recent study suggests that the quality of data students have the skills to find in their searches is mixed and often low (Kolowich, 2011).

Technology is only one possible factor in the decline in the time U.S. students spend studying. Two economists, for instance, suggest that studying time has decreased as achievement standards have fallen (Babcock & Marks, 2010). But there is no denying that one of the most dramatic differences between the 1960s and today is the proliferation of technology, which suggests that an explanatory relationship may exist.


 Imagine that your final paper for this semester involves answering the research question, “What is the impact of technology on studying and learning?” How would you go about answering this question? How would you collect data for your project?



While sociologists usually try to avoid having an impact on the people they study, one research method is employed specifically to foster change. Participatory research supports an organization or community trying to improve its situation when it lacks the necessary economic or political power to do so by itself. The researcher fully participates by training the members to conduct research on their own while working with them to enhance their power (Freire, 1972; Park, 1993; Whyte, 1991). Such research might be part of, for instance, empowering a community to act against the threat of HIV/AIDS, as has been done in places like San Francisco and Nairobi, Kenya. Participatory research is an effective way of conducting an empirical study while also furthering a community or organizational goal that will benefit from the results of the study.


Sociological research seldom follows a formula that indicates exactly how to proceed. Sociologists often have to feel their way as they go, responding to the challenges that arise during research and adapting new methods to fit the circumstances. Thus, the stages of research can vary even when sociologists agree about the basic sequence. At the same time, for student sociologists, it is useful to understand the key building blocks of good sociological research. As you read through the following descriptions of the stages, think about a topic of interest to you and how you might use that as the basis for an original research project.


“Good research,” Thomas Dewey observed, “scratches where it itches.” Sociological research begins with the formulation of a question or questions to be answered. Society offers an endless spectrum of compelling issues to study: Does exposure to violent video games affect the probability of aggressive behavior in adolescents? Does religious faith affect voting behavior? Is family income a good predictor of performance on standardized college entrance tests such as the SAT? Beyond the descriptive aspects of social phenomena, sociologists are also interested in how they can explain relationships between the variables they examine.

Formulating a research question precisely and carefully is one of the most important steps toward ensuring a successful research project. Research questions come from many sources. Some arise from problems that form the foundation of sociology, including an interest in socioeconomic inequalities and their causes and effects, or the desire to understand how power is exercised in social relationships. Sociologists are also mindful that solid empirical data are important to public policies on issues of concern such as poverty, occupational mobility, and domestic violence.

FIGURE 2.6 Sociological Research Formula

Keep in mind that you also need to define your terms. Recall our discussion of operationalizing concepts. For example, if you are studying middle school bullying, you need to make explicit your definition of bullying and how that will be measured. The same holds true if you are studying a topic such as illiteracy or aggressive behavior.


Once you identify the question you want to ask, you need to conduct a review of the existing literature on your topic. The literature may include published studies, unpublished papers, books, dissertations, government documents, newspapers and other periodicals, and, increasingly, data disseminated on the Internet. The key focus of the literature review, however, is usually published and peer-reviewed research studies. Your purpose in conducting the literature review is to learn about studies that have already been done on your topic of interest so that you can set your research in the context of existing studies. You will also use the literature review to highlight how your research will contribute to this body of knowledge.



Now you are ready to think about how your research question can best be answered. Which of the research methods described earlier (1) will give the best results for the project and (2) is most feasible for your research circumstances, experience, and budget?

If you wish to obtain basic information from a relatively large population in a short period of time, then a survey is the best method to use. If you want to obtain detailed information about a smaller group of people, then interviews might be most beneficial. Participant observation and detached observation are ideal research methods for verifying data obtained through interviews, or, for the latter, when the presence of a researcher might alter the research results. Document analysis and historical research are good choices for projects focused on inaccessible subjects and historical sociology. Remember, sociological researchers often use multiple methods.


Research conducted on other human beings—as much of sociological research is—poses certain ethical problems. An outpouring of outrage after the discovery of gruesome experiments conducted by the Nazis during World War II prompted the adoption of the Nuremberg Code, a collection of ethical research guidelines developed to help prevent such atrocities from ever happening again (Table 2.5). In addition to these basic guidelines, scientific societies throughout the world have adopted their own codes of ethics to safeguard against the misuse and abuse of human subjects.

Before you begin your research, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the American Sociological Association’s Code of Ethics (, as well as the standards of your school, and carefully follow both. Ask yourself whether your research will cause the subjects any emotional or physical harm. How will you guarantee their anonymity? Does the research violate any of your own ethical principles?

Most universities and research institutes require researchers to complete particular forms before undertaking experiments using human subjects, describing the research methods to be used and the groups of subjects who will take part. Depending on the type of research, a researcher may need to obtain written agreement from the subjects for their participation. Today, a study like that conducted by Philip Zimbardo in the 1970s at Stanford University (described in the Private Lives, Public Issues box) would be unlikely to be approved because of the stress put on the experiment’s subjects in the course of the research. Approval of research involving human subjects is granted with an eye to both fostering good research and protecting the interests of those partaking in the study.

TABLE 2.5   The Nuremberg Code

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Collecting data is the heart of research. It is time-consuming but exciting. During this phase, you will gather the information that will allow you to make a contribution to the sociological understanding of your topic. If your data set is qualitative—for example, open-ended responses to interview questions or observations of people—you will proceed by carefully reviewing and organizing your field notes, documents, and other sources of information. If your data set is quantitative—for example, completed closed-ended surveys—you will proceed by entering data into spreadsheets, comparing results, and analyzing your findings using statistical software.


Galerie Bilderwelt/Contributor/Getty Images

During the Nuremberg Trials, which brought key figures of the Nazi Party of Germany to justice, the practices of some Nazi medical personnel were found to be unethical and even criminal. The Nuremberg Code, which emerged from these trials, established principles for any type of human experimentation. 

Your analysis should offer answers to the research questions with which you began the study. Be mindful in interpreting your data and avoid conclusions that are speculative or not warranted by the actual research results. Do your data support or contradict your initial hypothesis? Or are they simply inconclusive? Report all of your results. Do your findings have implications for larger theories in the discipline? Do they suggest the need for further study of another dimension of the issue at hand? Good research need not have results that unequivocally support your hypothesis. A finding that refutes the hypothesis can be instructive as well.


However fascinating your research may be to you, its benefits are amplified when you take advantage of opportunities to share it with others. You can share your findings with the sociological community by publishing the results in academic journals. Before submitting research for publication, you must learn which journals cover your topic areas and review those journals’ standards for publication. Some colleges and universities sponsor undergraduate journals that offer opportunities for students to publish original research.

Other outlets for publication include books, popular magazines, newspapers, video documentaries, and websites. Another way to communicate your findings is to give a presentation at a professional meeting. Many professional meetings are held each year; at least one will offer a panel suited to your topic. In some cases, high-quality undergraduate papers are selected for presentation. If your paper is one, relevant experts at the meeting will likely help you interpret your findings further.


The news media provide us with an immense amount of round-the-clock information. Some of it is very good; some of it is misleading. Reported “facts” may come from sources that have agendas or are motivated by self-interest, such as political interest groups, lobbying groups, media outlets, and even government agencies. Perhaps the most problematic are “scientific” findings that are agenda driven, not scientifically unbiased. In particular because we live in a time of information saturation, it is important that we learn to be critical consumers of information and to ask questions about the quality of the data presented to us. Carefully gathered and precise data are important not only as sources of information but also as the basis of informed decision making on the part of elected officials and others in positions of power.

Because you now understand how valid and reliable data are gathered, you can better question the veracity and reliability of others’ claims. For example, when a pollster announces that 80% of the “American people” favor Joe Conman for Congress, you can ask, “What was the size of the sample? How representative is it of the population? How was the survey questionnaire prepared? Exactly what questions were asked?” If it turns out that the data are based on the responses of 25 residents of a gated Colorado community or that a random sample was used but the survey included leading questions, you know the results do not give an accurate picture.

Similarly, your grasp of the research process allows you to have greater confidence in research that was conducted properly. You should put more stock in the results of a nationwide Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of college students’ drug use or safe-sex choices that used carefully prepared questionnaires tested for their validity and reliability and less stock in data gathered by a reporter untrained in scientific methods who interviewed a small, nonrandom sample of students on a single college campus.

You have also taken the first step in learning how to gather and evaluate data yourself. Realizing the value of theories that can be tested and proven false if they are wrong is the first step in developing your own theories and hypotheses. By using the concepts, processes, and definitions introduced in this chapter, you can conduct research that is valid, appropriate, and even publishable.

In short, these research tools will help you be a more critical consumer of information and enhance your understanding of the social world around you. Other benefits of learning sociology will become apparent throughout the following chapters as you discover how the research process is applied to cultures, societies, and the institutions that shape your life.




Stanford University archives

Despite questions about the ethics of Philip Zimbardo’s experiment, sociologists still study his work. Is it wrong to use research data gathered by means we now consider unethical? Do the results of research ever justify subjecting human beings to physical or psychological discomfort, invasion of privacy, or deception?

Social psychologist Philip Zimbardo (1974; Haney, Banks, & Zimbardo, 1973) wanted to investigate how role expectations shape behavior. He was intrigued by the possibility that the frequently observed cruelty of prison guards was a consequence of the institutional setting and role, not the guards’ personalities.

In an experiment that has since become well known, Zimbardo converted the basement of a Stanford University building into a makeshift prison. A newspaper ad seeking young men to take part in the experiment for pay drew 70 subject candidates, who were given a battery of physical and psychological tests to assess their emotional stability and maturity. The most mature 24 were selected for the experiment and randomly assigned to roles as “guards” or “prisoners.” Those assigned to be prisoners were “arrested,” handcuffed, and taken to the makeshift prison by the Palo Alto police. The behavior of the guards and the prisoners was filmed. Within a week, the prison setting took on many of the characteristics of actual prisons. The guards were often aggressive and seemed to take pleasure in being cruel. The prisoners began planning escapes and expressed hostility and bitterness toward the guards.

The subjects in the experiment so identified with their respective roles that many of them displayed signs of depression and anxiety. As a result, some were released early, and the experiment was canceled before the first week was over. Since the participants had all been screened for psychological and physical problems, Zimbardo concluded that the results could not be attributed to their personalities. Instead, the prison setting itself (the independent variable) appeared to be at the root of the guards’ brutal behavior and the prisoners’ hostility and rebelliousness (the dependent variable). Zimbardo’s research shows how profoundly private lives are shaped by the behavioral expectations of the roles we occupy in social institutions.


 Zimbardo’s experiment could not be repeated today, as it would violate guidelines for ethical research with human subjects. How might a researcher design an ethical experiment to test the question of the circumstances under which apparently “normal” individuals will engage in violent or cruel acts?




The skills and knowledge of career development and your job search are learned, practiced, and mastered over time. You will learn about yourself, make career decisions, manage workplace expectations, and pursue new opportunities throughout your professional life. Your career success starts with self-reflection, exploration, the effective implementation of career and job search action plans, and a personal and professional commitment to your career. The basic activities linked to these processes are shown in the career development wheel.

In this chapter, we focus on your assessment of career interests and preferences and your exploration of career and job options.

Assessment of Individual Career Interests and Preferences

Self-knowledge is an important element of career assessment and development. Learning about your career identity—the values, aspirations, interests, talents, skills, and preferences related to careers—is fundamental to your career success.

Careful self-assessment will help you determine what you do well and enjoy, what skills and talents you possess, how you prefer to work, what interests you actively pursue, what values drive your choices, and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. By matching your characteristics to careers and occupations, you will establish a basis for identifying your career options and a guide to further research and exploration.

Assessments may be completed individually, online, in a group setting, and/or with a career professional. Assessments often include information linking your career interests to potential academic majors. You may want to access the following online assessment resources to research your career identity:

• (What Color Is Your Parachute?)

• (Focus 2 Online Career Planning System)

• /program/do-what-you-are (Do What You Are)

• (CareerOneStop)


 Consider the components of a career identity noted above. What characteristics of your career identity can you identify at this point? How will you begin to establish the key aspects of your career identity?



•    Unlike commonsense beliefs, sociological understanding puts our biases, assumptions, and conclusions to the test.

•    As a science, sociology combines logically constructed theory and systematic observation in order to explain human social relations.

•    Inductive reasoning generalizes from specific observations; deductive reasoning consists of logically deducing the empirical implications of a particular theory or set of ideas.

•    A good theory is logically consistent, testable, and valid. The principle of falsification holds that if theories are to be scientific, they must be formulated in such a way that they can be disproved if wrong.

•    Sociological concepts must be operationally defined to yield measurable or observable variables. Often, sociologists operationally define variables so they can measure these in quantifiable values and assess validity and reliability, to eliminate bias in their research.

•    Quantitative analysis permits us to measure correlations between variables and identify causal relationships. Researchers must be careful not to infer causation from correlation.

•    Qualitative analysis is often better suited than quantitative research to producing a deep understanding of how the people being studied view the social world. On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to measure the reliability and validity of qualitative research.

•    Sociologists seek objectivity when conducting their research. One way to help ensure objectivity is through the replication of research.

•    Research strategies are carefully thought-out plans that guide the gathering of information about the social world. They also suggest the choice of appropriate research methods.

•    Research methods in sociology include survey research (which often relies on random sampling), fieldwork (including participant observation and detached observation), experiments, working with existing information, and participatory research.

•    Sociological research typically follows seven steps: framing the research question, reviewing the existing knowledge, selecting appropriate methods, weighing the ethical implications of the research, collecting data, analyzing data, and sharing the results.

•    To be ethical, researchers must be sure their research protects the privacy of subjects and does not cause them unwarranted stress. Scientific societies throughout the world have adopted codes of ethics to safeguard against the misuse and abuse of human subjects.


scientific method, 31

deductive reasoning, 31

hypotheses, 31

inductive reasoning, 31

quantitative research, 32

qualitative research, 32

scientific theories, 33

concepts, 34

operational definition, 34

variable, 34

quantitative variables, 34

qualitative variables, 34

correlation, 34

causal relationship, 35

spurious relationship, 35

negative correlation, 36

principle of falsification, 36

falsifiability, 36

validity, 37

reliability, 37

bias, 37

objectivity, 39

value neutrality, 39

replication, 39

research methods, 39

survey, 40

sample, 40

population, 40

random sampling, 41

fieldwork, 41

interview, 42

leading questions, 42

experiments, 42

independent or experimental variables, 42

dependent variables, 42

statistical data, 43

document analysis, 43



1.   Think about a topic of contemporary relevance in which you may be interested (for example, poverty, juvenile delinquency, teen births, or racial neighborhood segregation). Using what you learned in this chapter, create a simple research question about the topic. Match your research question to an appropriate research method. Share your ideas with classmates.

2.   What is the difference between quantitative and qualitative research? Give an example of each from the chapter. In what kinds of cases might one choose one or the other research method in order to effectively address an issue of interest?

3.   Sociologists often use interviews and surveys as methods for collecting data. What are potential problems with these methods of which researchers need to be aware? What steps can researchers take to ensure that the data they are collecting are of good quality?

4.   Imagine that your school has recently documented a dramatic rise in plagiarism reported by teachers. Your sociology class has been invited to study this issue. Consider what you learned in this chapter about survey research and design a project to assess the problem.

5.   In this chapter, you learned about the issue of ethics in research and read about the Zimbardo prison experiment. How should knowledge collected under unethical conditions (whether it is sociological, medical, psychological, or other scientific knowledge) be treated? Should it be used just like data collected under ethically rigorous conditions?

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Media Library

CHAPTER 4 Media Library


Careers & Self-Identity

Gender and Self-Talk


Wild Child: The Story Of Feral Children

South park and Gender Socialization

Teen Shaming

Advertising Invades the Classroom

Virtual Identities


Deprivation of Social Interaction

Socialization and Education


Socialization and Men

Parenting and Empathy


Socialization and Teenage Activism

Media Socialization, Kids and Food

Social Roles in Total Institutions


Total Institutions



The Birth of the Social Self

Agents of Socialization

Socialization and Aging

Total Institutions and Resocialization

Social Interaction

Why Study Socialization and Social interaction?


1.   Is the personality of an individual determined at birth?

2.   Are the media today as important in a child’s socialization as the child’s family? Might the media be more important?

3.   Do people adjust the presentation of their personalities in interactions in order to leave particular impressions? Might we say that we have different “social selves” that we present in different settings?




We can find a box (or several boxes) of toys in most U.S. homes with children. Many of us can look back on our childhoods—whether they are a recent or distant memory—and recall a favorite toy. It might have been a smiling doll, a stuffed animal, a hardy truck or tank, or a set of colorful blocks. If we were lucky, we had an array of toys from which to choose our fun. In this chapter, we talk about agents of socialization, that is, the entities (like families, peers, and schools) that teach us the norms, rules, and roles of society. From a sociological perspective, toys are not just toys—rather, they too are agents of socialization, contributing to children’s early ideas of who they are and who they can be in society.

Like other key agents of socialization—families, peers, the media, school, and organized sports, among others—toys may contribute to a child’s sense of socially accepted roles, aspirations for the future, and perceptions of opportunities and limitations. If we as social beings are made not born, as sociologists argue, then toys contribute to the construction of boys and girls in ways that can be both predictable and surprising.

In 2014, two researchers at Oregon State University published a study with some attention-getting results. In this research, 37 girls ages 4 to 7 were each given one of three toys with which to play: a Mrs. Potato Head, a glamorous Barbie doll, or a doctor Barbie doll. After a short period of play, each subject was shown pictures depicting 10 female- and male-dominated professions, like librarian, teacher, and flight attendant (“female” jobs) and pilot, doctor, and firefighter (“male” jobs). With each picture, the subject was asked, “Could you do this job when you grow up?” and “Could a boy do this job when he grows up?” (see Figure 4.1). Notably, girls who played with either of the Barbie dolls identified fewer jobs that they could do than did the girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head—and all of the girls in the study thought that a boy would be able to do a greater number of both the male- and female-dominated jobs (Sherman & Zurbriggen, 2014). Other research has shown that young girls exposed to Barbies express a stronger desire to be thin and have lower body self-esteem than do girls exposed to dolls with more realistic body proportions (Dittmar, Halliwell, & Ive, 2006).


FIGURE 4.1 Number of Jobs Girls Think They Can Do Better or Worse Than Boys Based on Occupation Type

SOURCE: Sherman, A.M. and Zurbriggen, E.L. (2014). “‘Boys Can Be Anything’: Effect of Barbie Play on Girls’ Career Cognitions.” Sex Roles, online publication, March 5. Copyright © 2014 Springer Science + Business Media New York. Reprinted with permission.


A young girl prays for blessings in the New Year on the shoulders of her father at the Meiji shrine in Tokyo. Many components of one’s culture are seamlessly passed down through habit, observational learning, and family practices. 

These findings are provocative and raise some interesting questions: What is the power of toys? Do toys affect children’s aspirations and perceptions? And why did all of the girls in the 2014 study judge themselves less capable than boys of doing a variety of jobs? Efforts have been made to expose young girls to more career options through toys; for instance, the popular Lego brand has introduced female Lego scientist figures, including an astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist, complete with a beaker (Gambino, 2014). Might such changes encourage greater future interest among girls in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, where women are underrepresented? Do “boyish” toys already do that for boys? What do you think? 

In this chapter, we examine the process of socialization and the array of agents that help shape our social selves and our behavioral choices. We begin by looking into the “nature versus nurture” debate and what sociology says about that debate. We then discuss the key agents of socialization, as well as the ways in which socialization may differ in total institutions and across the life course. We then examine theoretical perspectives on socialization. Finally, we look at social interaction and ways in which sociologists conceptualize our presentation of self and our group interactions.


Socialization is the process by which people learn the culture of their society. It is a lifelong and active process in which individuals construct their sense of who they are, how to think, and how to act as members of their culture. Socialization is our primary way of reproducing culture, including norms and values and the belief that our culture represents “normal” social practices and perceptions.


Nina Leen/Contributor/Getty Images

Given the choice in an experiment between a wire mother surrogate and a surrogate covered with cloth, the infant monkey almost invariably chose the cloth figure. How are human needs similar to and different from those we find in the animal kingdom?

The principal agents of socialization—including parents, teachers, religious institutions, friends, television, and the Internet—exert enormous influence on us. Much socialization takes place every day, usually without our thinking about it: when we speak, when others react to us, when we observe others’ behavior—even if only in the movies or on television—and in virtually every other human interaction.

Debate has raged in the social sciences over the relative influence of genetic inheritance (“nature”) and cultural and social experiences (“nurture”) in shaping people’s lives (Coleman & Hong, 2008; Ridgeway & Correll, 2004). If inborn biological predispositions explain differences in behaviors and interests between, say, sixth-grade boys and girls, or between a professional thief and the police officer who apprehends him, then understanding socialization will do little to help us understand those differences. On the other hand, if biology cannot adequately explain differences in attitudes, characters, and behaviors, then it becomes imperative that we examine the effects of socialization.

Almost no one today argues that behavior is entirely determined by either socialization or biology. There is doubtless an interaction between the two. What social scientists disagree about, however, is which is more important in shaping a person’s personality, life chances, philosophy of life, and behavior. In this text we lean toward socialization because we think the evidence points in that direction.

Social scientists have found little evidence to support the idea that personalities and behaviors are rooted exclusively in “human nature.” Indeed, very little human behavior is actually “natural.” For example, humans have a biological capacity for language, but language is learned and develops only through interaction. The weight of socialization in the development of language, reasoning, and social skills is dramatically illustrated in cases of children raised in isolation. If a biologically inherited mechanism alone triggered language, it would do so even in people who grow up deprived of contact with other human beings. If socialization plays a key role, however, then such people would not only have difficulty learning to speak like human beings, but they would also lack the capacity to play the social roles to which most of us are so accustomed.

One of the most fully documented cases of social isolation occurred more than 200 years ago. In 1800, a “wild boy,” later named Victor, was seen by hunters in the forests of Aveyron, a rural area of France (Shattuck, 1980). Victor had been living alone in the woods for most of his 12 or so years and could not speak, and although he stood erect, he ran using both arms and legs like an animal. Victor was taken into the home of Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, a young medical doctor who, for the next 10 years, tried to teach him the social and intellectual skills expected of a child his age. According to Itard’s careful records, Victor managed to learn a few words, but he never spoke in complete sentences. Although he eventually learned to use the toilet, he continued to evidence “wild” behavior, including public masturbation. Despite the efforts of Itard and others, Victor was incapable of learning more than the most rudimentary social and intellectual skills; he died in Paris in 1828.

Other studies of the effects of isolation have centered on children raised by their parents, but in nearly total isolation. For 12 years, from the time she was 1½ years old, “Genie” (a pseudonym) saw only her father, mother, and brother, and only when one of them came to feed her. Genie’s father did not allow his wife or Genie to leave the house or have any visitors. Genie was either strapped to a child’s potty-chair or placed in a sleeping bag that limited her movements. Genie rarely heard any conversation. If she made noises, her father beat her (Curtiss, 1977; Rymer, 1993).

When Genie was 13, her mother took her and fled the house. Genie was unable to cry, control her bowels, eat solid food, or talk. Because of her tight confinement, she had not even learned to focus her eyes beyond 12 feet. She was constantly salivating and spitting, and she had little controlled use of her arms or legs (Rymer, 1993).


Gradually Genie learned some of the social behavior expected of a child. For example, she became toilet trained and learned to wear clothes. However, although intelligence tests did not indicate reasoning disability, even after 5 years of concentrated effort on the part of a foster mother, social workers, and medical doctors, Genie never learned to speak beyond the level of a 4-year-old, and she never spoke with other people. Although she responded positively to those who treated her with sympathy, Genie’s social behavior remained severely underdeveloped for the rest of her life (Rymer, 1993).

Genie’s and Victor’s experiences underscore the significance of socialization, especially during childhood. Their cases show that however rooted in biology certain capacities may be, they do not develop into recognizable human ways of acting and thinking unless the individual interacts with other humans in a social environment. Children raised in isolation fail to develop complex language, abstract thinking, notions of cooperation and sharing, or even a sense of themselves as people. In other words, they do not develop the hallmarks of what we know as humanity (Ridley, 1998).

Sociologists and other social scientists have developed a number of theories to explain the role of socialization in the development of social selves. What these theories recognize is that whatever the contribution of biology, ultimately people as social beings are made, not born. Below, we explore four approaches to understanding socialization: behaviorism, symbolic interactionism, developmental stage theories, and psychoanalytic theories.


Behaviorism is a psychological perspective that emphasizes the effect of rewards and punishments on human behavior. It arose during the late 19th century to challenge the then-popular belief that human behavior results primarily from biological instincts and drives (Baldwin & Baldwin, 1986, 1988; Dishion, McCord, & Poulin, 1999). Early behaviorist researchers such as Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936) and John Watson (1878–1958), and later B. F. Skinner (1904–1990), demonstrated that even behavior thought to be purely instinctual (such as a dog salivating when it sees food) can be produced or extinguished through the application of rewards and punishments. Thus, a pigeon will learn to press a bar if that triggers the release of food (Skinner, 1938, 1953; Watson, 1924). Behaviorists concluded that both animal and human behavior can be learned, and neither is just instinctive.

When they turned to human beings, behaviorists focused on social learning, the way people adapt their behavior in response to social rewards and punishments (Baldwin & Baldwin, 1986; Bandura, 1977; Bandura & Walters, 1963). Of particular interest was the satisfaction people get from imitating others. Social learning theory thus combines the reward-and-punishment effects identified by behaviorists with the idea that we model the behavior of others; that is, we observe the way people respond to others’ behavior.

Social learning theory would predict, for example, that if a boy gets high fives from his friends for talking back to his teacher—a form of encouragement rather than punishment—he is likely to repeat this behavior. What’s more, other boys may imitate it. Social learning researchers have developed formulas for predicting how rewards and punishments affect behavior. For example, rewards given repeatedly may become less effective when the individual becomes satiated. If you have just eaten a huge piece of cake, you are less likely to feel rewarded by the prospect of another.

Social behaviorism is not widely embraced today as a rigorous perspective on human behavior. One reason is that only in carefully controlled laboratory environments is it easy to demonstrate the power of rewards and punishments. In real social situations the theory is of limited value as a predictor. For example, whether a girl who is teased (“punished”) for playing football will lose interest in the sport depends on many other experiences, such as the support of family and friends and her own enjoyment of the activity. The simple application of rewards and punishments is hardly sufficient to explain why people repeat some behaviors and not others.

In addition, behaviorist theories violate Popper’s principle of falsification (discussed in Chapter 2). Since what was previously rewarding may lose effectiveness if the person is satiated, if a reward does not work, we can always attribute its failure to satiation. Therefore, no matter the outcome of the experiment, the theory has to be true; it cannot be proven false. For these reasons sociologists find behaviorism an inadequate theory of socialization. To explain how people become socialized, they highlight theories that emphasize symbolic interaction.


Recall from the introductory chapter that symbolic interactionism views the self and society as resulting from social interaction based on language and other symbols. Symbolic interactionism has proven especially fruitful in explaining how individuals develop a social identity and a capacity for social interaction (Blumer, 1969, 1970; Hutcheon, 1999; Mead, 1934, 1938).

An early contribution to symbolic interactionism was Charles Horton Cooley’s (1864–1929) concept of the looking-glass self, the self-image that results from our interpretation of other people’s views of us. For example, children who are frequently told they are smart or talented will tend to see themselves as such and act accordingly. On the other hand, children who are repeatedly told they lack intelligence or are “slow” will lose pride in themselves and act the part. According to Cooley (1902/1964), we are constantly forming ideas about how others perceive and judge us, and the resulting self-image—the way we view ourselves—is in turn the basis of our social interaction with others.



As a reference group, high school peers may provide the normative standards for a young person to judge his or her fashion sense, musical tastes, behavioral choices, and academic commitment. Does the power of peers as a reference group change in the college years? 

Cooley recognized that not everyone we encounter is equally important in shaping our self-image. Primary groups are small groups characterized by intense emotional ties, face-to-face interaction, intimacy, and a strong, enduring sense of commitment. Families, close friends, and lovers are all examples of primary groups likely to shape our self-image. Secondary groups, on the other hand, are large and impersonal, characterized by fleeting relationships. We spend much of our adult lives in secondary groups, such as college classrooms and workplaces, but secondary groups typically have less influence in forming our self-image than do primary groups. Both kinds of groups act on us throughout our lives; the self-image is not set in concrete at some early stage but continues to develop throughout adulthood (Barber, 1992; Berns, 1989).

Both primary and secondary groups also serve as reference groups, or groups that provide standards for judging our attitudes or behaviors. When you consider your friends’ reactions to your dress or hairstyle or the brand of mobile phone you plan to buy, you are using your peers as a reference in shaping your decisions.

George Herbert Mead (1863–1931), widely regarded as the founder of symbolic interactionism, explored the ways in which self and society shape one another. Mead proposed that the self comprises two parts: the “I” and the “me.” The I is the impulse to act; it is creative, innovative, unthinking, and largely unpredictable. The me is the part of the self through which we see ourselves as others see us. (Note the similarity between Mead’s “me” and Cooley’s “looking-glass self.”) The I represents innovation; the me, social convention and conformity. In the tension between them, the me is often capable of controlling the I. When the I initiates a spontaneous act, the me raises society’s response: How will others regard me if I act this way?

Mead further argued that people develop a sense of self through role-taking, the ability to take the roles of others in interaction. For example, a young girl playing soccer may pretend to be a coach; in the process, she learns to see herself (as well as other players) from a coach’s perspective. Mead proposed that childhood socialization relies on an ever-increasing ability to take on such roles, moving from the extreme self-centeredness of the infant to an adult ability to take the standpoint of society as a whole. He outlined four principal stages in socialization that reflect this progression: the preparatory, play, game, and adult stages. The completion of each stage results in an increasingly mature social self.

1.  During the preparatory stage, children younger than 3 years old relate to the world as though they are the center of the universe. They do not engage in true role-taking but respond primarily to things in their immediate environments, such as their mothers’ breasts, the colors of toys, or the sounds of voices.

2.  Children 3 or 4 years of age enter the play stage, during which they learn to take the attitudes and roles of the people with whom they interact. Significant others are the specific people important in children’s lives and whose views have the greatest impact on the children’s self-evaluations. By role-playing at being mothers or fathers, for example, children come to see themselves as their parents see them. However, according to Mead, they have not yet acquired the complex sense of self that lets them see themselves through the eyes of many different people—or society.


© Jim West / Alam

Game playing is an activity found in some form in every culture. Some games, including basketball and soccer, require teamwork, while others, including checkers and mancala, are played by one person against another. Team sports games provide many socialization benefits, as young children learn how to interact with one another and develop their motor skills. 

3.  The game stage begins when children are about 5 and learn to take the roles of multiple others. The game is an effective analogy for this stage. For example, to be an effective basketball player, an individual must have the ability to see him- or herself from the perspective of teammates, the other team, and the coach, and must play accordingly. He or she must know the rules of the game. Successful negotiation of the social world also requires that people gain the ability to see themselves as others see them, to understand societal “rules,” and to act accordingly. This stage signals the development of a self that is aware of societal positions and perspectives.

4.  Game playing takes the child to the final, adult stage, which can appear as early as the first and second grades. Children at this stage have internalized the generalized other, the sense of society’s norms values by which people evaluate themselves. They take into account a set of general principles that may or may not serve their self-interest—for example, voluntarily joining the army to fight in a war that might injure or kill them because patriotic young people are expected to defend their country. By the adult stage, a person is capable of understanding abstract and complex cultural symbols, such as love and hate, success and failure, friendship, and morality.

Mead also had a vision that in the future people would be able to assimilate a multitude of generalized others, adapting their behavior in terms of their own but also other people’s cultures. Mead’s “dream of a highly multicultural world” may someday be a reality as globalization makes ever more people aware of the value of other cultures.


Like Mead and Cooley, the Swiss social psychologist Jean Piaget (1896–1980) believed humans are socialized in stages. Piaget devoted a lifetime to researching how young children develop the ability to think abstractly and make moral judgments (Piaget, 1926, 1928, 1930, 1932). His theory of cognitive development, based largely on studies of Swiss children at play (including his own), argues that an individual’s ability to make logical decisions increases as the person grows older. Piaget noted that infants are highly egocentric, experiencing the world as if it were centered entirely on them. In stages over time, socialization lets children learn to use language and symbols, to think abstractly and logically, and to see things from different perspectives.

Piaget also developed a theory of moral development, which holds that as they grow, people learn to act according to abstract ideas about justice or fairness. This theory parallels his idea of cognitive development, since both describe overcoming egocentrism and acquiring the ability to take other points of view. Eventually children come to develop abstract notions of fairness, learning that rules should be judged relative to the circumstances. For example, even if the rules say “three strikes and you’re out,” an exception might be made for a child who has never played the game or who is physically challenged.

Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987) extended Piaget’s ideas about moral development. In his best-known study, subjects were told the story of the fictitious “Heinz,” who was unable to afford a drug that might prevent his wife from dying of cancer. As the story unfolds, Heinz breaks into the druggist’s shop and steals the medication. Kohlberg asked his subjects what they would have done, emphasizing that there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. Using experiments such as this, Kohlberg (1969, 1983, 1984) proposed three principal stages (and several substages) of moral development:

1.  The preconventional stage, during which people seek simply to achieve personal gain or avoid punishment. A person might support Heinz’s decision to steal on the grounds that it would be too difficult to get the medicine by other means, or oppose it on the grounds that Heinz might get caught and go to jail. Children are typically socialized into this rudimentary form of morality between ages 7 and 10.


2.  The conventional stage, during which the individual is socialized into society’s norms and values and would feel shame or guilt about violating them. The person might support Heinz’s decision to steal on the grounds that society would judge him callous if he let his wife die, or oppose it because people would call Heinz a thief if he were caught. Children are socialized into this more developed form of morality at about age 10, and most people remain in this stage throughout their adult lives.

3.  The postconventional stage, during which the individual invokes general, abstract notions of right and wrong. Even though Heinz has broken the law, his transgression has to be weighed against the moral cost of sacrificing his wife’s life. People at the highest levels of postconventional morality will go beyond social convention entirely, appealing to a higher set of abstract principles.

Some scholars have argued that Kohlberg’s theory reflects a strong male bias because it derives from male rather than female experience. Foremost among Kohlberg’s critics is Carol Gilligan (1982; Gilligan, Ward, & Taylor, 1989), who argues that men may be socialized to base moral judgment on abstract principles of fairness and justice, but women are socialized to base theirs on compassion and caring. She showed that women scored lower on Kohlberg’s measure of moral development because they valued how other family members were affected by Heinz’s decision more than abstract considerations of justice. Because it assumes that abstract thinking represents a “higher stage” of development, Gilligan suggests, Kohlberg’s measure is necessarily biased in favor of male socialization.

Research testing Gilligan’s ideas has found that men and women alike adhere to both care-based and justice-based forms of moral reasoning (Gump, Baker, & Roll, 2000; Jaffee & Hyde, 2000). Differences between the sexes in these kinds of reasoning are in fact small or nonexistent. Studies of federal employees (Peek, 1999), a sample of men and women using the Internet (Anderson, 2000), and a sample of Mexican American and Anglo-American students (Gump et al., 2000) have all found no significant difference between men and women in the degree to which they employ care-based and justice-based styles of moral reasoning. In her effort to correct Kohlberg’s research, which looked only at men, might Gilligan have also contributed to gender stereotypes?


Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), an Austrian psychiatrist, had a major impact on the study of socialization as well as the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry. Freud (1905, 1929, 1933) founded the field of psychoanalysis, a psychological perspective that emphasizes the complex reasoning processes of the conscious and unconscious mind. He stressed the role of the unconscious mind in shaping human behavior and theorized that early childhood socialization is essential in molding the adult personality by age 5 or 6. In addition, Freud sought to demonstrate that in order to to thrive, a society must socialize its members to curb their instinctive needs and desires.

FIGURE 4.2 The Id, Ego, and Superego, as Conceived by Freud

According to Freud, the human mind has three components: the id, the ego, and the superego (Figure 4.2). The id is the repository of basic biological drives and needs, which Freud believed to be primarily bound up in sexual energy. (Id is Latin for “it,” reflecting Freud’s belief that this aspect of the human personality is not even truly human.) The ego (Latin for “I”) is the “self,” the core of what we regard as a person’s unique personality. The superego consists of the values and norms of society, insofar as they are internalized, or taken in, by the individual. The concept of the superego is similar to the notion of a conscience.


Freud believed that babies are all id. Left to their own devices, they will seek instant gratification of their biological needs for food, physical contact, and nurturing. Therefore, according to Freud, to be socialized they must eventually learn to suppress such gratification. The child’s superego, consisting of cultural “shoulds” and “should nots,” struggles constantly with the biological impulses of the id. Serving as mediator between id and superego is the child’s emerging ego. In Freud’s view, the child will grow up to be a well-socialized adult to the extent that the ego succeeds in bending the biological desires of the id to meet the social demands of the superego.

Since Freud claimed that personality is set early in life, he viewed change as difficult for adults, especially if psychological troubles originate in experiences too painful to face or remember. Individuals must become fully aware of their repressed or unconscious memories and unacceptable impulses if they ever hope to change (Freud, 1933). Freud’s psychoanalytic therapy focused on accessing deeply buried feelings in order to help patients alter current behaviors and feelings. Whereas Mead saw socialization as a lifelong process relying on many socialization agents, for Freud it stopped at a young age. Table 4.1 compares Mead’s and Freud’s views point by point.

TABLE 4.1   Comparison of Mead’s and Freud’s Theories of Socialization

SOURCE: Adapted from Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

FIGURE 4.3 Agents of Socialization


Among primary groups, the family is for most people the single most critical agent of socialization. Other significant agents are school, peer groups, work, religion, and technology and mass media, including the Internet and social media (Figure 4.3).


The family is a primary group in which children, especially during the earliest years of their lives, are physically and emotionally dependent on adult members. It plays a key role in transmitting norms, values, and culture across generations, and as a result it is the first and usually the foremost source of socialization in all societies.

Children usually first encounter their society in the family, learning socially defined roles like father, mother, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, and grandparent, and the expected behaviors attached to them. Parents often hold stereotypical notions of how boys and girls should be, and they reinforce gender behaviors in countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways. A father may be responsible for grilling and yard work, while a mother cooks dinner and cleans the house. On the other hand, some families embrace egalitarian or nonconventional gender roles. Although same-sex couple families are more likely than families headed by opposite-sex couples to challenge gender-normative roles and behaviors, they sometimes still enforce or support typical gender roles for their children (Ackbar, 2011; Bos & Sandfort, 2010).

The way parents relate to their child affects virtually every aspect of the child’s behavior, including the ability to resolve conflicts through the use of reason instead of violence and the propensity for emotional stability or distress. The likelihood that young people will be victims of homicide, commit suicide, engage in acts of aggression against other people, use drugs, complete their secondary education, or have an unwanted pregnancy also is greatly influenced by childhood experiences in the family (Campbell & Muncer, 1998; McLoyd & Smith, 2002; Muncer & Campbell, 2000). For example, children who are regularly spanked or otherwise physically punished internalize the idea that violence is an acceptable means of achieving goals and are more likely than peers who are not spanked to engage in aggressive delinquent behavior. They are also more likely to have low self-esteem, suffer depression, and do poorly in school (Borgeson, 2001; Straus et al., 1997). (See the Private Lives, Public Issues box on page 88.)




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Should parents spank their children? Ask some friends or classmates what they think. You may find a wide range of opinions on this practice. 

While many people still believe in the adage “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” the use of physical punishment in socializing children varies largely by social class. At a rate that has largely held steady in the past decades, about 65% of U.S. adults approve of spanking under certain circumstances. Interestingly, these adults are most likely to be members of the working class, rather than the middle or upper class (Berlin et al., 2009; Borgeson, 2001; Rosellini & Mulrine, 1998). Remember Kohn’s (1989) research, which concluded that the experience of people in working-class employment is reflected in their child-rearing practices: Working-class parents are more likely to emphasize obedience than are middle-class parents, who tend to stress independent thinking. The use of corporal punishment, however, is not only a matter of social class or a private decision made by parents in the home. It is also a public issue with social consequences.

Murray Straus, a prominent sociologist at the University of New Hampshire, found that when boys and girls 6 to 9 years old were spanked, they became more antisocial—more likely to cheat, tell lies, act cruelly to others, break things deliberately, and get into trouble at school (Straus, Sugarman, & Giles-Sims, 1997; also see McKee et al., 2007). Straus and his colleagues concluded that reducing corporal punishment would not only benefit children but also possibly reduce antisocial behavior.

Other research evidence supports Straus’s conclusions (Borgeson, 2001; de Paul & Domenech, 2000). For example, one study concluded that corporal punishment, and even some lesser forms of parental punishment, could have a strong effect on a child’s ability to cope later in life (Welsh, 1998). Similarly, the authors of a study of Israeli high school students found that adolescents whose parents routinely resorted to physical punishment were more likely than others to have psychiatric symptoms and lower levels of well-being in general (Bachar, Canetti, Bonne, DeNour, & Shalev, 1997). On the other hand, research by psychologist Marjorie Lindner Gunnoe (1997), which tracked more than 1,100 children over a 5-year period, found that while some 8- to 11-year-old boys, but not girls, who had been spanked regularly got into more fights at school, children of both sexes ages 4 to 7 who had been spanked regularly got into fewer fights than children who were not spanked. Most research, however, confirms the negative effects of spanking.

Although not all the research findings on the effects of physical punishment are in agreement, the evidence does suggest that spanking—an aggressive form of punishment—may result in aggressive behavior on the part of children. The parents’ “private” decision to use corporal punishment becomes a “public issue,” since children who are physically punished at home are more likely to become physically aggressive outside the home.


 Using the knowledge you have gained through the study of socialization, and knowing the results of research on the effects of physical punishment on children’s behavior, could you design a social policy or program to reduce the use of physical punishment in the home?


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Schools are an important agent of socialization. Students learn academic skills and knowledge, but they also gain social skills, acquire dominant values of citizenship, and practice obedience to authority.

Child-rearing practices within families can vary by ethnicity or religious affiliation. Because U.S. culture is ethnically diverse, it is difficult to describe a “typical” American family (Glazer, 1997; Stokes & Chevan, 1996). Among Latinos, for example, the family often includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws, who share child-rearing responsibilities. Among African Americans as well, child rearing may be shared among a broader range of family members than in White families (Lubeck, 1985). Extended family patterns also occur among Afro-Caribbean immigrants and the Amish religious community of Pennsylvania (Forsythe-Brown, 2007; Ho, 1993; Stokes & Chevan, 1996).

Child-rearing practices may vary by social class as well. Parents whose jobs require them to be subservient to authority and to follow orders without raising questions typically stress obedience and respect for authority at home, while parents whose work gives them freedom to make their own decisions and be creative are likely to socialize their children into norms of creativity and spontaneity. Since many working-class jobs demand conformity while middle- and upper-middle-class jobs are more likely to offer independence, social class may be a key factor in explaining differences in child rearing (Kohn, 1989; Lareau, 2002).

Family patterns are changing rapidly in the United States, partly because of declining marriage rates and high rates of divorce. Such changes affect socialization. For example, children raised by a single parent may lack role models for the parent who is missing or experience economic hardship that in turn determines where they go to school or with whom they socialize. Children raised in blended families (the result of remarriage) may have stepparents and stepsiblings whose norms, values, and behavior are unfamiliar. Same-sex couple families may both challenge and, as noted earlier, reinforce conventional modes of socialization, particularly with respect to gender socialization. Although families are changing, the influence of agents of socialization remains powerful.


Children in the United States often begin “schooling” when they enter day care or preschool as infants or toddlers, and they spend more hours each day and more days each year in school than was the case a hundred years ago (although they spend less time in school than their peers in Europe and Asia). Indeed, education has taken on a large role in helping young people prepare for adult society. In addition to reading, writing, math, and other academic subjects, schools are expected to teach values and norms like patriotism, competitiveness, morality, and respect for authority, as well as basic social skills. Some sociologists call this the hidden curriculum, that is, the unspoken classroom socialization into the norms, values, and roles of a society that schools provide along with the “official” curriculum. The hidden curriculum may include “lessons” in gender roles taught through teachers’ differing expectations of boys and girls, with, for instance, boys pushed to pursue higher math while girls are encouraged to embrace language and literature (Sadker, Zittleman, & Sadker, 2003). It may also entail “lessons” that reinforce class status, with middle- and upper-class children having access to classes and schools with advanced subjects and high technology and poor children provided a smaller selection of less academically challenging or vocational classes and limited access to advanced teaching technologies (Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Kozol, 2005).


Peers are people of the same age and, often, the same social standing. Peer socialization begins when a child starts to play with other children outside the family, usually during the first year of life, and grows more intense in school. Conformity to the norms and values of friends is especially compelling during adolescence and continues into adulthood (Harris, 2009; Ponton, 2000; Sebald, 2000). In U.S. society, most adolescents spend more time with their peers than with their families due to school, athletic activities, and other social and academic commitments. Sociological theories thus often focus on young people’s peer groups to account for a wide variety of adult behavioral patterns, including the development of self-esteem and self-image, career choices, ambition, and deviant behavior (Cohen, 1955; Hine, 2000; Sebald, 2000).



Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, millions of girls have had the opportunity to participate in organized sports. Do social messages conveyed by male-dominated sports differ from those in female-dominated sports? 

Judith Rich Harris (2009) argues that after the first few years of life, a child’s friends’ opinions outweigh the opinions of parents. To manage these predominant peer group influences, she suggests, parents must try to ensure that their children have the “right” friends. But this is an increasingly complex problem when “friends” may be Internet acquaintances who are difficult to monitor and of whom parents may be unaware.

The adolescent subculture plays an extremely important part in the socialization of adolescents in the modern world. Researchers have described the following characteristics of this subculture (Hine, 2000; Sebald, 2000):

1.  A set of norms not shared with the adult or childhood cultures and governing interaction, statuses, and roles.

2.  An argot (the special vocabulary of a particular group) that is not shared with nonadolescents and is often frowned upon by adults and school officials. Think about the jargon used by young people who text—many adults can read it only with difficulty!

3.  Various underground media and preferred media programs, music, and Internet sites.

4.  Unique fads and fashions in dress and hairstyles that often lead to conflict with parents and other adult authorities over their “appropriateness.”

5.  A set of “heroes, villains, and fools.” Sometimes adults are the “villains and fools,” while the adults’ “villains and fools” are heroes in the adolescent subculture.

6.  A more open attitude than that found in the general culture toward experimentation with drugs and at times violence (fighting, for example).

Teenagers differ in the degree to which they are caught up in, and therefore socialized by, the adolescent subculture. Harris’s (2009) claim that parents are largely irrelevant is no doubt an overstatement, yet in Western cultures peer socialization does play a crucial part in shaping many of the ideas, self-images, and attitudes that will persist throughout individuals’ lives.

Sociologists use the term anticipatory socialization to describe the process of adopting the behaviors or standards of a group one emulates or hope to join. For example, teens who seek membership into a tough, streetwise gang will abandon mainstream norms for the dress and talk of the tougher youth they seek to emulate. Similarly, young people who aspire to be part of a respected group of athletes may adopt forms of dress and training practices that may lead to acceptance by the group. Anticipatory socialization looks to future expectations rather than just present experience.


Organized sports are a fundamental part of the lives of millions of children in the United States: By one estimate, 21.5 million children and teens ages 6 to 17 participate in at least one organized sport (Kelley & Carchia, 2013). If it is the case, as psychologist Erik Erikson (1950) posited, that in middle childhood children develop a sense of “industry or inferiority,” then it is surely the case that in a sports-obsessed country like the United States, one avenue for generating this sense of self is through participation in sports.

Being part of a sports team and mastering skills associated with sports are activities that are widely recognized in U.S. society as valuable; they are presumed to “build character” and to contribute to hard work, competitiveness, and the ability to perform in stressful situations and under the gaze of others (Friedman, 2013), all of which are positively evaluated. In fact, research suggests that there are particular benefits of sports for girls, including lower rates of teen sexual activity and pregnancy (Sabo, Miller, Farrell, Melnick, & Barnes, 1999) and higher rates of college attendance, labor force participation, and entry into male-dominated occupations (Stevenson, 2010). Some studies have also found improved academic performance relative to nonparticipants for all athletes, though they have shown some variation in this effect by race and gender (Eccles & Barber, 1999; Miller, Melnick, Barnes, Farrell, & Sabo, 2005).


Silver Screen Collection/Contributor/Getty Images

Television offers a variety of female images ranging from independent working women to “fashionistas.” From the Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977) to Sex and the City (1998-2004) to Pretty Little Liars (2010–Present), images can both reflect and construct ideas about femininity. 

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© AF archive/Alamy

At the same time, sports participation has been associated in some research literature with socialization into negative attitudes, including homophobia. In a study of more than 1,400 teenagers, Osborne and Wagner (2007) found that boys who participated in “core” sports (football, basketball, baseball, and/or soccer) were three times more likely than their nonparticipant peers to express homophobic attitudes. In a country in which sports and sports figures are widely venerated and participation, particularly for boys, is labeled as “masculine,” there may also be negative effects for boys who are not athletic or who do not enjoy sports.


Religion is a central part of the lives of many people around the world. While the United States has a notable proportion of inhabitants who identify as atheists, about 80% of U.S. adults indicate they are members of a religion, and nearly 40% attend religious services once a week. Even among the one-fifth of the population who declare themselves unaffiliated with any particular religion, 68% believe in God, and more than 20% say that they pray every day (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2012b). Beginning with Émile Durkheim, sociologists have noted the role of religion in fostering social solidarity. Talcott Parsons (1970) pointed out that religion also acts as an agent of socialization, teaching fundamental values and beliefs that contribute to a shared normative culture.

Different religions function in similar ways, giving their followers a sense of what is right and wrong, how to conduct themselves in society, and how to organize their lives. Some socialize their followers with abstract teachings about morality, service, or self-discipline, directing believers to, for example, serve their fellow human beings or to avoid the sin of vanity. Others contain abstract teachings but specific rules about dress and hairstyles. The Amish faith entreats young men to remain clean-shaven prior to marriage, but married men must grow beards. Sikh men of India wear turbans that cover their hair, which they do not cut.

Like other agents of socialization and social control, religion directs its followers to choose certain paths and behaviors and not others. This is not to say that we are compelled to behave a certain way but rather that socialization often leads us to control our own behavior because we fear social ostracism or other negative consequences.


Among the most influential agents of socialization in modern societies are technology and the mass media. Newspapers, magazines, movies, radio, and television are all forms of mass media. Television may be a particularly influential agent of socialization: In the United States, the average child aged 2 to 11 spends more than 26 hours a week in front of the TV (Nielsen, 2011; see also Figure 4.4), and by age 5 to 8, nearly half have televisions in their bedrooms (Lewin, 2011b). By the time the typical American child reaches 18, he or she will have viewed nearly 18,000 hours of television. While television remains a staple in the daily lives of most children and young people, an increasing proportion of screen time is spent surfing Internet sites, watching online videos, texting, or interacting through sites like Facebook, all of which also contribute to socialization.


FIGURE 4.4 Average Weekly Television Viewing by Age Group in the United States, 2011

SOURCE: Data from Nielsen (2011) State of the Media: The Cross Platform Report. New York City: Nielsen Media Research.

Child psychologists, sociologists, and parents’ groups pay special attention to the impact of TV and other media violence on children and young adults. Media studies during the past 20 years have largely come to a common conclusion: Media violence has the clear potential to socialize children, teenagers, and even adults into a greater acceptance of real-life violence. This is true for males and females, Whites and non-Whites. Much media violence is directed against women, and a large body of research supports the conclusion that media violence promotes tolerance among men for sexual violence, including rape (Anderson et al., 2003; Greene & Krcmar, 2005). The argument is not that viewing violent shows is a direct cause of violence; rather, viewers may become immunized to the sight of violence. Still, given that most people who are exposed to violence in the media do not become violent, the part played by the media as an agent of socialization is probably less important than the contribution made by other agents, such as family and peers.

The media play a role in socialization by creating fads and fashions for how people should look, what they should wear, and what kinds of friendships they should have. These influences, and accompanying gender stereotypes, are particularly strong during adolescence. Children’s cartoons, prime-time television, TV advertisements, and popular networks like MTV, TLC, and VH-1 often depict males and females, as well as people of particular races and ethnicities, in stereotyped ways. Teenage girls, for example, are likely to be depicted as boy-crazy and obsessed with their looks; teenage boys are shown as active, independent, and sexually and physically aggressive (Kahlenberg & Hein, 2010; Maher, Herbst, Childs, & Finn, 2008). Females’ roles also portray mostly familial or romantic ideals, whereas males fulfill work-related roles (Lauzen, Dozier, & Horan, 2008). These stereotypes have been found to influence children’s gender perceptions (Aubrey & Harrison, 2004; Gerding & Signorielli, 2014). Additionally, gender stereotypes influence beliefs across the spectrum of sexual orientation, with gay teens embracing stereotypes in ways comparable to their heterosexual peers (Bishop, Kiss, Morrison, Rushe, & Specht, 2014).

By some estimates, people in the United States now spend more than a billion hours per month using social networking sites, 407 million hours participating in online gaming, and 329 million hours e-mailing (Nielsen, 2010, 2011). While the long-term impacts of this massive level of use have yet to be determined, one clear way the Internet affects socialization is by changing social interaction. To name just one effect that was impossible 20 years ago, large groups of semianonymous individuals, often separated by great distances, can interact with one another in virtual communities, even forming close ties and friendships.

On the positive side, especially when online interactions are mixed with off-line face-to-face interactions, Internet use can foster new personal relationships and build stronger communities (Rule, 1999; Valentine, 2006; Wellman & Hampton, 1999). The types of friendships adolescents create and maintain through social media reflect the friendships they have off-line (Mazur & Richards, 2011). Since online interaction is often anonymous and occurs from the safety of familiar places, people with characteristics society tends to stigmatize, such as obesity or a stutter, can enter virtual communities where differences are not perceived or punished (McKenna & Bargh, 1998) and interests such as chess or movies can be shared. Finally, the moderate use of e-mail and the Internet can help children and teens maintain and strengthen interpersonal relationships (Subrahmanyam & Lin, 2007).

The Internet can have negative social consequences, too. Researchers have linked high levels of use with declines in communication within households, shrinking social circles, and increased depression and loneliness (Dokoupil, 2012a, 2012b; Kraut et al., 1998; Yen, Yen, & Ko, 2010). Extreme cases can develop into Internet addiction, a relatively recent phenomenon characterized by a search for social stimulation and escape from real-life problems (Armstrong, Phillips, & Saling, 2000; Block, 2008). Although the Internet can be a valuable learning tool for children, it can also damage their development by decreasing the time they spend in face-to-face interactions and exposing them to inappropriate information and images (Bremer & Rauch, 1998; Lewin, 2011b; Livingstone & Brake, 2010).


Another form of negative socialization is cyberbullying—taunting, teasing, or verbal attacks through e-mail, text, or social networking sites with the intent to hurt the victim (Van DeBosch & Van Cleemput, 2008). Cyberbullying is a growing problem of acute concern to social workers, child psychologists, and school administrators (Slovak & Singer, 2011). Children and adolescents who are bullied in real life are sometimes both cyberbullies and victims of cyberbullying (Dilmac, 2009; Smith et al., 2008; Tyman, Saylor, Taylor, & Comeaux, 2010). Victims take to the Internet to get revenge, often through anonymous attacks, but this perpetuates the bullying cycle online and in real life. One study found that hurtful cyberteasing between adolescents in romantic relationships can escalate into real-life shouting, throwing of objects, or hitting (Madlock & Westerman, 2011).

Modern technology may foster positive socialization, but it also has the potential to be detrimental on both the micro level of individual and small-group interactions and the macro level of communities and countries. Consider the role played today by social media in turning interest groups, and even ethnic groups, against one another. The Internet can be a powerful source of information, but it can also be a source of profound disinformation and hatred, as we discuss in the Global Issues box on page 95.


For most adults in the United States, postadolescent socialization begins with entry into the workforce. While workplace norms calling for conformity or individuality are frequently taught by parents in the home, expectations at work can differ from those we experience in primary groups such as the family and peer groups.

Arguably, workplace socialization has had a particular influence on women, dramatically changing gender roles in many countries, including the United States. Beginning in the 1960s, paid work afforded women increased financial independence, allowing them to marry later—or not at all—and bringing them new opportunities for social interaction and new social roles.

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Meyrowitz (1985) writes that “old people are respected [in media portrayals] to the extent that they can behave like young people.” Betty White is a highly recognized actress, whose roles are often humorous and appealing to younger crowds. Think about portrayals of the elderly you have seen recently in movies or on television. Do you agree with this assessment? 

Employment also often socializes us into both the job role and our broader role as a “member” of a collective sharing the same employer. Becoming a teacher, chef, factory worker, lawyer, or retail salesperson, for instance, requires learning specific skills and the norms, values, and practices associated with that position. In that role, the employee may also internalize the values and norms of the employer and may even come to identify with the employer: Notice that employees who are speaking about their workplaces will often refer to them rather intimately, saying, for instance, not that “Company X is hiring a new sales manager” but rather that “we are hiring a new sales manager.”

Even “occupations” outside the bounds of legality are governed by rules and roles learned through socialization. Harry King, a professional thief studied by one of the authors, learned not only how to break into buildings and open safes but also how to conform to the culture of the professional thief. A professional thief never “rats” on a partner, for example, or steals from mom-and-pop stores. In addition, King acquired a unique language that enabled him to talk to other thieves while in the company of nonthieves (“Square Johns”), police officers, and prison guards (King & Chambliss, 1984).


Most theories of socialization focus on infancy, childhood, and adolescence, but people do not stop changing once they become adults. Work, relationships, and the media, for example, shape socialization over the life course.

As people near the end of their working lives, anticipatory socialization again kicks in to help them envision their futures. Seniors may pay more attention to how friends react to retirement, whether they are treated differently as they age, and how the elderly are portrayed in the media. In U.S. media programming and advertisements, seniors are seriously underrepresented relative to their numbers in the nation’s population. Older characters that are present are often gender stereotyped and wealthier than in the real world, but portrayals are usually positive, perhaps reflecting an attempt to appeal to this growing group (Kessler, Racoczy, & Staudinger, 2004; Lee, Carpenter, & Meyers, 2007).

There is a perception that seniors are more likely than younger adults to disengage from society, moving away from relationships, activities, and institutions that previously played key roles in their lives. While this is the case for some seniors, research suggests that most remain active as long as they are healthy (Rubin, 2006). In fact, the notion that seniors are disengaged is belied by the fact that many seniors are politically active (they have the highest rates of voting of any age group). As well, recent data published by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project shows that the strongest growth in Facebook use in 2013 was among users 65 years of age or older. About 45% of seniors who use the Internet are, the study shows, Facebook users (Pew Research Center, 2014b).


As people age, health and dying also become increasingly important and influential in structuring their perceptions and interactions. Married couples face the prospect of losing a spouse, and all seniors may begin to lose close friends. The question of what it might be like to live alone is more urgent for women than for men, since men, on average, die several years younger than women do. Very old people in particular are likely to spend time in the hospital, which requires being socialized into a total institution (discussed below). Growing older is thus influenced by socialization as significant and challenging as in earlier life stages.

Clearly, socialization is a lifelong process. Our early primary socialization lays a foundation for our social selves, which continue to develop through processes of secondary socialization, including our interactions with technology, media, education, and work. But can we be “resocialized”? That is, can our social selves be torn down and reconstituted in new forms that conform to the norms, roles, and rules of entirely different social settings? We explore this question in the following section.


Although individuals typically play an active role in their own socialization, in one setting—the total institution—they experience little choice. Total institutions are institutions that isolate individuals from the rest of society in order to achieve administrative control over most aspects of their lives. Examples include prisons, the military, hospitals—especially mental hospitals—and live-in drug and alcohol treatment centers. Administrative control is achieved through rules that govern all aspects of daily life, from dress to schedules to interpersonal interactions. The residents of total institutions are subject to inflexible routines rigidly enforced by staff supervision (Goffman, 1961; Malacrida, 2005).

A major purpose of total institutions is resocialization, the process of altering an individual’s behavior through total control of his or her environment. The first step is to break down the sense of self. In a total institution, every aspect of life is managed and monitored. The individual is stripped of identification with the outside world. Institutional haircuts, uniforms, round-the-clock inspections, and abuse, such as the harassment of new recruits to a military school, contribute to breaking down the individual’s sense of self. In extreme situations, such as in concentration camps, psychological and even physical torture may also be used.

Once the institutionalized person is “broken,” the institution begins rebuilding the personality. Desirable behaviors are rewarded with small privileges, such as choice of work duty in prisons. Undesirable behaviors are severely punished, as by the assignment of humiliating or painful work chores. Since the goal of the total institution is to change attitudes as well as behaviors, even a hint that the resident continues to harbor undesirable ideas may provoke disciplinary action.

How effective are total institutions in resocializing individuals? The answer depends partly on the methods used, partly on the individual, and partly on peer pressure. In the most extreme total institutions imaginable, Nazi concentration camps, some inmates came to identify with their guards and torturers, even helping them keep other prisoners under control. Most, however, resisted resocialization until their death or release (Bettelheim, 1979).

Prisons often fail at resocialization because inmates identify more with their fellow prisoners than with the administration’s agenda. Inmates in U.S. prisons may well be resocialized, but it is not likely to be to the norms of prison officials or the wider society. Rather, prisoners learn the norms of other prisoners, and, as a result, many come out of prison more hardened in their criminal behavior than before.

Even when an institution is initially successful at resocialization, individuals who return to their original social environments often revert to earlier behavior. This reversal confirms that socialization is an ongoing process, continuing throughout a person’s lifetime as a result of changing patterns of social interaction.


Socialization at every stage of life occurs primarily through social interaction—interaction guided by the ordinary, taken-for-granted rules that enable people to live, work, and socialize together (Ridgeway & Smith-Lovin, 1999). Spoken words, gestures, body language, and other symbols and cues come together in complex ways to enable human communication. The sociologist must look behind the everyday aspects of social interaction to identify how it unfolds and how social norms and language make it possible.





A woman walks past a wall decorated with the national colors in a street of Stepanakert, the capital of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly Armenian-populated enclave claimed by Azerbaijan. The final status of the republic has yet to be resolved, and it is recognized only by Armenia. 

Throughout history, human beings everywhere have engaged in conflicts pitting one ethnic group against another. In the South Caucasus, conflict between ethnic groups has a long and bloody history. Nagorno-Karabakh, for example, is a sliver of land to which both Armenia and Azerbaijan lay historical claim. From 1988 to 1994, the two countries fought a deeply destructive war over the territory that killed 30,000 people and displaced more than a million others. While armed conflict is now limited to border skirmishes, formal and informal media in both countries exacerbate tensions—and perhaps increase the risk of future conflict—by socializing Armenians and Azeris to hate one another.

In 2011, the London-based nongovernmental organization International Alert ( used document analysis to study the way Armenians and Azeris perceive one another. Examining sources from school texts to online news sites and blogs to political speeches, the researchers hoped “to identify key words, narratives, and other innuendos that reference the concept of ‘us vs. them’ or ‘friend vs. enemy’” (Geybullayeva, 2012). They found some alarming trends, particularly in the blogosphere.

Armenians and Armenia were common topics in the Azeri blogosphere, and many posts offered deeply negative and dehumanizing characterizations. Geybullayeva (2012) writes that in one post, “the author compared Armenia to a disease that should be eradicated.” Other posts celebrated the killing of a civilian Armenian shepherd living near the border, lauding his death as “happy news” because there was one fewer Armenian. Geybullayeva suggests that youth, who are the most active users of the Internet, are the most likely to be affected by such messages, which both reflect and reproduce hatred for their ethnic neighbors.

Azeris are hardly alone in the blogosphere of hate. The Internet can bring people together through social networking and other means, but it can also tear them apart, functioning as a platform for socializing groups, and even generations, into hostility and hatred.


 Should national laws or international agreements seek to restrict the use of the Internet as a platform for expressing or disseminating hatred of social groups? Would such laws violate the democratic value of “free speech”?


Social interaction usually requires conformity to social conventions. According to Scheff (1966), violation of the norms of interaction is generally interpreted as a sign that the person is “abnormal,” perhaps even dangerous. A person in a crowded elevator who persists in engaging strangers in loud conversations, for example, and disheveled homeless people who shuffle down the street muttering to themselves evoke anxiety if not repugnance.

Norms govern a wide range of interactive behaviors. For example, making eye contact when speaking to someone is valued in mainstream U.S. culture; people who don’t make eye contact are considered dishonest and shifty. By contrast, among the Navajo and the Australian Aborigines, as well as in many East Asian cultures, direct eye contact is considered disrespectful, especially with a person of greater authority. Norms also govern how close we stand to friends and strangers in making conversation. In North American and Northern European cultures, people avoid standing closer than a couple of feet from one another unless they are on intimate terms (Hall, 1973). Men in the United States are socialized to avoid displays of intimacy with other men, such as walking arm in arm. In Nigeria, however, men who are close friends or relatives hold hands when walking together, while in Italy, Spain, Greece, and some Middle Eastern countries, men commonly throw their arms around each other’s shoulders, hug, and even kiss.

Two different approaches to studying social interaction are Erving Goffman’s metaphor of interaction as theater and conversation analysts’ efforts to study the way people manage routine talk. We discuss these approaches later, but first we look briefly at some sociologists’ studies of social interaction.


Studies of social interaction have frequently drawn on the symbolic interactionist perspective. They illuminate nearly every form and aspect of social interaction. For example, research on battered women shows how victims of domestic violence redefine their situations to come to grips with abusive relationships (Hattery, 2001). One strategy is to deny the partner’s violent behavior altogether, whereas another is to minimize the partner’s responsibility, attributing it to external factors like unemployment, alcoholism, or mental illness. Or the victim will define her own role as caretaker and assume responsibility for “saving” the abusive partner. A woman who eventually decides to leave an abusive relationship must, some research suggests, redefine her situation so as to change her self-image. She must come to see herself as a victim of abuse who is capable of ending the abusive relationship, rather than as someone responsible for “solving” her mate’s “problem” (Johnson & Ferraro, 1984).

Recent studies of social interaction have covered many topics, including the following:

•    The way online gamers coordinate their individual actions with one another and through the user interface in order to succeed at games such as World of Warcraft (Williams & Kirschner, 2012)

•    The strategies homeless youth use to manage and alleviate stigma, including creating friendships or attempting to pass as nonhomeless, as well as acting aggressive and fighting back (Roschelle & Kaufman, 2004)

•    The ways in which a sense of “corporate social responsibility” is promoted and learned by corporate executives in the work environment (Shamir, 2011)


Erving Goffman (1959, 1961, 1963a, 1967, 1972), a major figure in the study of social interaction, developed a set of theoretical ideas that make it possible to observe and describe social interaction. Goffman used what he termed the dramaturgical approach, the study of social interaction as if it were governed by the practices of theatrical performance.

According to Goffman, people in their everyday lives are concerned, much like actors on a stage, with the presentation of self, that is, the creation of impressions in the minds of others in order to define and control social situations. For instance, to serve many customers simultaneously, a waiter must take charge with a “presentation of self” that is polite but firm and does not allow customers to usurp control by taking too much time ordering. After only a short time, the waiter asserts control by saying, “I’ll give you a few minutes to decide what you want” and walks away.

As people interact, they monitor themselves and each other, looking for clues that reveal the impressions they are making on others. This ongoing effort at impression management results in a continual realignment of the individuals’ “performances,” as the “actors” refit their roles using dress, objects, voice, and gestures in a joint enterprise.

Continuing the metaphor of a theatrical performance, Goffman divides spheres of interaction into two stages. In the front stage, we are social actors engaged in a process of impression management through the use of props, costumes, gestures, and language. A professor lecturing to her class, a young couple on their first date, and a job applicant in an interview all are governed by existing social norms, so the professor will not arrive in her nightgown, nor will the prospective employee greet his interviewer with a high-five rather than a handshake. Just as actors in a play must stick to their scripts, so too, suggests Goffman, do we as social actors risk consequences (like failed interactions) if we diverge from the normative script.


Everett Collection

The film The Wizard of Oz offers a good example of mystification. Though the wizard is really, in his own words, “just a man,” he maintains his status in Oz by hiding behind a curtain and using a booming voice and fiery mask to convey the impression of awesome power. 

Goffman offers insights into the techniques we as social actors have in our repertoire. Among them are the following:

•    Dramatic realization is the actor’s effort to mobilize his or her behavior to draw attention to a particular characteristic of the role he or she is assuming. What impression does a baseball umpire strive to leave on his audience (the teams and fans)? Arguably, he would like to embody authority, so he makes his calls loudly and with bold gestures.

•    Idealization is an actor’s effort to embody in his or her behaviors the officially accredited norms and values of a community or society. Those with fewer economic resources might purchase faux designer bags or watches in order to conform to perceived societal expectations of material wealth.

•    Misrepresentation is part of every actor’s repertoire, ranging from kind deception (telling a friend she looks great when she doesn’t) to self-interested untruth (telling a professor a paper was lost in a computer crash when it was never written) to bald-faced prevarication (lying to conceal an affair). The actor wants to maintain a desired impression in the eyes of the audience: The friend would like to be perceived as kind and supportive, the student as conscientious and hardworking, and the spouse as loyal and loving.

•    Mystification is largely reserved for those with status and power and serves to maintain distance from the audience in order to keep people in awe. Corporate leaders keep their offices on a separate floor and don’t mix with employees, while celebrities may avoid interviews and allow their on-screen roles to define them as savvy and smart.

We may also engage in impression management as a team. A team consists of two or more actors cooperating to create a definition of the situation favorable to them. For example, members of a sports team work together, though some may be more skilled than others, to convey a definition of themselves as a highly competent and competitive group. Or the members of a family may work together to convey to their dinner guests that they are content and happy by acting cooperatively and smiling at one another during the group interaction.

The example of the family gives us an opportunity to explore Goffman’s concept of the back stage, where actors let down their masks and relax or even practice their impression management. Before the dinner party, the home is a back stage. One parent is angry at the other for getting cheap rather than expensive wine, one sibling refuses to speak to the parent who grounded her, and the other won’t stop texting long enough to set the table. Then the doorbell rings. Like magic, the home becomes the front stage as the adults smilingly welcome their guests and the kids begin to carry out trays of snacks and drinks. The guests may or may not sense some tension in the home, but they play along with the scenario so as not to create discomfort. When the party ends, the home reverts to the back stage, and each actor can relax his or her performance.

Goffman’s work, like Mead’s and the work of other sociologists focusing on socialization, sees the social self as an outcome of society and social interactions. Goffman, however, characterizes the social self not as a possession—a dynamic but still essentially real self—but rather as a product of a given social interaction, which can change as we seek to manage impressions for different audiences. Would you say that Mead or Goffman offers a better characterization of us as social actors?


Routine, day-to-day social interactions are the building blocks of social institutions and ultimately of society itself. Ethnomethodology is used to study the body of commonsense knowledge and procedures by which ordinary members of a society make sense of their social circumstances and interactions. Ethno refers to “folk,” or ordinary people; methodology refers to the methods they use to govern interaction—which are as distinct as the methods used by sociologists to study them. Ethnomethodology was created through Harold Garfinkel’s work in the early 1960s. Garfinkel (1963, 1985) sought to understand exactly what goes on in social interactions after observing that our interpretation of social interaction depends on the context. For example, if a child on a playground grabs another child’s ball and runs with it, the teacher may see this as a sign of the child’s aggressiveness, while fellow students see it as a display of courage. Social interaction and communication are not possible unless most people have learned to assign similar meanings to the same interactions. By studying the specific contexts of concrete social interactions, Garfinkel sought to understand how people come to share the same interpretations of social interactions.




David R. Frazier / Photo Researchers, Inc.

Do you think that men and women communicate differently? How would you articulate differences you observe? Would you attribute them to nature or nurture? 

Men often claim they “cannot get a word in edgewise” when talking to women. However, conversation analysis research challenges this claim: In hundreds of recorded conversations between men and women, researchers found that men more frequently interrupted women than women interrupted men and that men used the interruptions to dominate the conversation. Men tended to speak more loudly and to be less polite than women, using loudness and rudeness (such as sarcastic remarks about what a woman had said) to control the conversation (Campbell, Klein, & Olson, 1992; Fishman, 1978; West, 1979; West & Zimmerman, 1977, 1983; Zimmerman & West, 1975, 1980). While men set the agenda and otherwise dominated the conversation, women often did the “work” of maintaining conversations by nodding their heads, saying “a-hah,” and asking questions (DeFrancisco, 1991; Fishman, 1978; Leaper & Robnett, 2011; Tannen, 2001; West & Zimmerman, 1977, 1983).

This research shows that the rules and conventions governing ordinary talk are grounded in the larger society—society’s gender roles, in which men generally assume a dominant position in interaction with women without even realizing it. In fact, not only do men not realize they are dominating the conversation; they think women dominate and “talk too much.”

The apparently private conversations between men and women thus reflect a fundamental issue in contemporary society: inequality between the sexes, including how inequality gets reproduced in subtle ways. The cultural stereotype of women as talkative and emotional and men as quiet and rational affects women even though its basis in reality is weak. No matter that men talk more and dominate conversations—women are made to feel unequal by the reproduction of the stereotype, and inequality between the sexes is reinforced. The private lives of people in conversations thus cannot be divorced from the way the larger social norms and stereotypes shape relationships between men and women.


 The above discussion demonstrates how sociological research can shed light on “commonsense” assumptions—such as the assumption that women dominate conversations more than do men—by empirically testing them. Can you identify other stereotypical ideas about social interactions between different groups or individuals? How could you go about testing these ideas empirically?


Garfinkel also believed that in all cultures people expect others to talk in a way that is coherent and understandable and become anxious and upset when this does not happen. Making sense of one another’s conversations is even more fundamental to social life than cultural norms, Garfinkel argued, since without ways of arriving at meaningful understandings, communication, and hence culture, is not possible. Because the procedures that determine how we make sense of conversations are so important to social interaction, another field developed from ethnomethodology that focuses on talk itself: conversation analysis.

Conversation analysis investigates the way participants in social interaction recognize and produce coherent conversation (Schegloff, 1990, 1991). In this context, conversation includes virtually any form of verbal communication, from routine small talk to emergency phone calls to congressional hearings and court proceedings (Heritage & Greatbatch, 1991; Hopper, 1991, Whalen & Zimmerman, 1987, 1990; Zimmerman, 1984, 1992).

Conversation analysis research suggests that social interaction is not simply a random succession of events. Rather, people construct conversations through a reciprocal process that makes the interaction coherent. One way in which we sequentially organize conversations is turn taking, a strategy that allows us to understand an utterance as a response to an earlier one and a cue to take our turn in the conversation. A person’s turn ends once the other conversants indicate they have understood the message. For example, by answering “Fine” to the question “How are you?” you show that you have understood the question and are ready to move ahead.

On the other hand, answering “What do you mean?” or “Green” to the question “How are you?” is likely to lead to conversational breakdown. Conversational analysts have identified a number of techniques commonly used to repair such breakdowns. For example, if you begin speaking but realize midsentence that the other person is already speaking, you can “repair” this awkward situation by pausing until the original speaker finishes his or her turn and then restarting your turn.

Later research emphasized the impact of the larger social structure on conversations (Wilson, 1991). Sociologists looked at the use of power in conversations, including the power of the dispatcher over the caller in emergency phone calls (Whalen, Zimmerman, & Whalen, 1990; Zimmerman, 1984, 1992), of the questioner over the testifier in governmental hearings (Molotch & Boden, 1985), and of men over women in male–female interactions (Campbell et al., 1992; Fishman, 1978; West, 1979; West & Zimmerman, 1977, 1983; Zimmerman & West, 1975, 1980). The last instance, in particular, illustrates how the larger social structure—in this case, gender structure—affects conversation. Even at the most basic and personal level—a private conversation between two people—social structures exercise a potentially powerful influence.


Have you ever wondered why you and some of your classmates or neighbors differ in worldviews, coping strategies for stress, or values concerning right and wrong? Understanding socialization and social interaction sheds light on such differences and what they mean to us in everyday life. For example, if you travel abroad, you will have a sense of how cultural differences come to be and appreciate that no culture is more “normal” than another—each has its own norms, values, and roles taught from earliest childhood.

By studying socialization, you also come to understand the critical socializing roles that peers, schools, and work environments play in the lives of children, adolescents, and young adults. The growing influence of the mass media, including the Internet and other technological innovations in communication, means we must pay close attention to these sources of socialization and social interaction as well. As people spend more time on the Internet talking to friends and strangers, experimenting with new identities, and seeking new forms of and forums for social interaction, sociologists may need to rethink some of their ideas about the influence of agents like parents and schools; perhaps these may recede in importance—or grow. Sociologists also ask how our presentation of self is transformed when we create social selves in the anonymous space of social media. What kinds of research could you imagine conducting to learn more about the digital world as an agent of socialization and a site of modern social interaction?




Your job search action plan should build on your career goals and focus on short- and medium-term activities. Break your goals into specific and manageable tasks to create action items. Strive to be as specific as possible with your action items by including details about who and what is involved in completing each task, identifying measurable outcomes, and noting time-based deadlines for when activities will be completed. Include in your job search action plan job search strategies that are likely to produce results.

We briefly discuss each of these strategies below. Additional resources for each can be found on the book’s student study site,

Target Employers

Based on your research, develop a list of 10 to 15 potential employers that align with your career and job search goals. Track the employers regularly to update your organizational knowledge and learn about new opportunities. Utilize LinkedIn and other social media sites to identify individuals and groups with whom you might connect in the organizations for information, introductions, and leads.


Networking is about building relationships for the purpose of making connections to enhance your career and/or job search. People build their networks online, at their places of employment, through internships, and in their communities, as well as through professors, friends, friends of friends, family members, former employers, and fellow alumni. Consider conducting informational interviews such as those you previously used for career exploration to network and to learn about particular employers, industries, and individuals.

Market Yourself: Résumés

A résumé reviews your education, academic awards, employment and volunteer experiences, college and leadership activities, and language and technical skills. Start your experience descriptions with action verbs and omit all personal pronouns. Use qualifiers and quantifiers to describe the breadth and depth of your involvement in activities. Your résumé should be a single page in a standard 10- to 12-point font, printed on bond paper, and error-free.

Market Yourself: Cover Letters

Cover letters are a form of business writing and should follow a business letter format. The first paragraph of your cover letter should start with information about the reason for writing, identify how you learned of the position, and succinctly state how your skills, degree, and experience match the requirements of the position. The second paragraph should expand on information about your fit for the position, discuss your accomplishments, and use specific examples that parallel the experience and skills that the employer seeks. The third paragraph should identify career-related characteristics that will support your success in the position, such as resourcefulness, time management, and persistence. The final paragraph should restate your interest in the position, your availability to discuss the opportunity, and a reference to your contact information.


Market Yourself: Utilizing the Online Advantage

Utilize resources online to brand and market yourself, connect with individuals and groups, access job listings, link to employer and job listing sites, research employer information and occupational trends, and/or create a website or blog to highlight your career and professional activities and accomplishments. Expand your network by connecting with individuals and groups via social media and job listing sites.

Interview Strategies

An interview is your opportunity to articulate to the employer your skills, abilities, and accomplishments that best match the attributes that he or she is seeking in an ideal candidate. Be sure that you have researched the employer so that you can ask informed questions. Plan ahead so that you are able to arrive early for the interview. When you greet the interviewer, make eye contact, smile, and shake his or her hand firmly. As the interview begins, be professional, but be yourself. Listen to the interviewer’s questions without interruption and allow yourself time to form responses before answering questions. Speak clearly and enthusiastically about your experiences and skills and offer detailed responses to questions that emphasize your experience, skills, and knowledge.

Within 24 hours after an interview, e-mail or mail a thank-you letter to each person with whom you met. Learn more about interviewing strategies, as well as questions frequently asked by employers and interviewees, on the book’s online student site.

Evaluate and Negotiate Offers

When you receive a job offer, consider it carefully by reviewing the entire compensation package, which includes both salary and benefits. In addition to the compensation package, review the related pros or cons of accepting the position. To negotiate a change in the package, start with the salary by stating your preferred salary range. Restate your selling points, including why you believe that your skills, knowledge, and experience are the best fit for the position and how you will add value to the organization. Always frame your argument in relation to the employer’s hiring needs and the goals of the organization rather than your preferences.

Reflect and Pursue Lifelong Career Development

Even when you have completed a specific job search, your career development is continuous. Practice lifelong learning and actively engage in professional development. Build your network, develop connections to colleagues, and demonstrate ethical behaviors in your professional activities. Continue to explore new opportunities and review and update your career goals. Seek to know and remain true to your career identity—the values, aspirations, interests, talents, skills, and preferences related to careers that are fundamental to your career satisfaction and success.



•    Socialization is a lifelong, active process by which people learn the cultures of their societies and construct a sense of who they are.

•    What we often think of as “human nature” is in fact learned through socialization. Sociologists argue that human behavior is not determined biologically, though biology plays some role; rather, human behavior develops primarily through social interaction.

•    Although some theories emphasize the early years, sociologists generally argue that socialization takes place throughout the life course. The theories of Sigmund Freud and Jean Piaget emphasize the early years, while those of George Herbert Mead (although his role-taking theory focuses on the earlier stages of the life course), Lawrence Kohlberg, and Judith Harris give more consideration to the whole life course. According to Mead, children acquire a sense of self through symbolic interaction, including the role-taking that eventually enables the adult to take the standpoint of society as a whole.

•    Kohlberg built on Piaget’s ideas to argue that a person’s sense of morality develops through different stages, from that in which people strictly seek personal gain or seek to avoid punishment to the stage in which they base moral decisions on abstract principles.

•    The immediate family provides the earliest and typically foremost source of socialization, but school, work, peers, religion, sports, and mass media, including the Internet, all play a significant role.

•    Socialization may differ by social class. Middle-class families place a somewhat greater emphasis on creativity and independence, while working-class families often stress obedience to authority. These differences, in turn, reflect the corresponding workplace differences associated with social class.

•    In total institutions, such as prisons, the military, and hospitals, individuals are isolated so that society can achieve administrative control over their lives. By enforcing rules that govern all aspects of daily life, from dress to schedules to interpersonal interactions, total institutions can open the way to resocialization, which is the breaking down of the person’s sense of self and the rebuilding of the personality.

•    According to Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical approach, we are all actors concerned with the presentation of self in social interaction. People perform their social roles on the “front stage” and are able to avoid performing on the “back stage.”

•    Ethnomethodology is a method of analysis that examines the body of commonsense knowledge and procedures by which ordinary members of a society make sense of their social circumstances and interaction.

•    Conversation analysis, which builds on ethnomethodology, is the study of the way participants in social interaction recognize and produce coherent conversation.


socialization, 81

behaviorism, 83

social learning, 83

looking-glass self, 83

primary groups, 84

secondary groups, 84

reference groups, 84

I, 84

me, 84

role-taking, 84

significant others, 84

generalized other, 85

cognitive development, 85

egocentric, 85

psychoanalysis, 86

id, 86

ego, 86

superego, 86

hidden curriculum, 89

anticipatory socialization, 90

total institutions, 94

resocialization, 94

dramaturgical approach, 96

presentation of self, 96

ethnomethodology, 97

conversation analysis, 99



1.   What are agents of socialization? What agents of socialization do sociologists identify as particularly important? Which of these would you say have the most profound effects on the construction of our social selves? Make a case to support your choices.

2.   The United States is a country where sports are an important part of many people’s lives—many Americans enjoy playing sports, while others follow their favorite sports teams closely in the media. How are sports an agent of socialization? What roles, norms, or values are conveyed through this agent of socialization?

3.   What role does the way people react to you play in the development of your personality and your self-image? How can the reactions of others influence whether or not you develop skills as an athlete or a student or a musician, for example?

4.   Recall Goffman’s ideas about social interaction and the presentation of self. How have social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram affected the presentation of self? Have there been changes to what Goffman saw as our front and back stages?

5.   What are the characteristics of total institutions such as prisons and mental institutions? How does socialization in a total institution differ from “ordinary” socialization?

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