Elements of Social Interaction

Social Status

Social status refers to one’s standing in the community and his position in the social hierarchy.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the basis of both ascribed and achieved social status and how they influence one another and a person’s standing within different groups of society

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Social status may be achieved (earned) or ascribed (assigned at birth).
  • Both achieved and ascribed statuses influence one another.
  • Social mobility allows an individual to move between social levels in the general social hierarchy.
  • Max Weber suggests that social status is the confluence of property, prestige, and power.
  • Pierre Bourdieu argues that social status is a combination of economic and social capital, which combine to produce a difference of social “tastes” that are decided by class.
  • Pierre Bourdieu argues that social status is a combination of economic and social capital, which combine to produce a difference of social “tastes” that divide by class.

Key Terms

  • hierarchy: Any group of objects ranked so that everyone but the topmost is subordinate to a specified group above it.
  • Pierre Bourdieu: A twentieth century French sociologist who developed the notion of social capital.
  • prestige: A measure of how good the reputation of something or someone is, or how favorably something or someone is regarded.

Social status refers to the honor or prestige attached to one’s position in society. It may also refer to a rank or position that one holds in a group, such as son or daughter, playmate, pupil, etc. One’s social status is determined in different ways. One can earn his or her social status by his or her own achievements; this is known as achieved status. Alternatively, one can inherit his or her position on the social hierarchy; this is known as ascribed status. An ascribed status can also be defined as one that is fixed for an individual at birth, like sex, race, and socioeconomic background.

Social status is most often understood as a melding of the two types of status, with ascribed status influencing achieved status. For example, a baby born into a high-income household has his family’s high socioeconomic status as an achieved status and is more likely to be exposed to resources like a familial emphasis on education that will make it more likely for him or her to get into an elite university. Admission, therefore, is an achieved status that was heavily influenced by resources made available by the person’s ascribed status.

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Max Weber: Max Weber and Wilhelm Dilthey introduced verstehen—understanding behaviors—as goal of sociology.

It is easy to see how achieved and ascribed statuses accumulate into the social status of an individual. Pulling back into a larger perspective, these same factors accumulate into a system of social stratification. Social stratification is a conceptual social hierarchy in which individuals are ranked in terms of their perceived value to society. In capitalist countries, this hierarchy is largely socioeconomic, in that high-income individuals are ranked at the top of the social hierarchy with low-income individuals at the bottom. However, social stratification is not limited to economics; perceived moral value is also integrated into the stratification so that a poor member of the clergy is in a higher social rank than a rich criminal.

Social status, or the social sphere in which one belongs, can be changed through a process of social mobility. One can move either up or down the social hierarchy and the process is described in terms of upward or downward mobility. Simply, social mobility allows a person to move into a social status other than the one into which he was born depending upon one’s ambition, lack thereof, or other factors.

One’s social status depends on the context of a his or her situation and is therefore malleable. Take, for example, an employee who works on the floor of a manufacturing company. When considered in light of the larger social hierarchy, this worker will probably fall somewhere toward the mid-bottom of the hierarchy because of his socioeconomic status. Yet, perhaps this man is the floor manager and therefore has control of hundreds of other employees. When he’s at his place of work, he is high on the ladder of social hierarchy.

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Pierre Bourdieu: According to Bourdieu’s 1979 work Distinction, social capital is just as significant a factor in social status as economic capital.

Social status has been theorized by major sociologists, including Max Weber. Weber was a prominent German social theorist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Weber proposes that there are three primary components to social stratification: property, prestige, and power. Property refers to one’s material possessions and subsequent life chances. Prestige refers to the reputation or esteem associated with one’s social position. Weber uses power to mean the ability to do what one wants, regardless of the will of others. These “three P’s” combine to produce social stratification.

Twentieth century French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu continued to theorize social status. According to Bourdieu’s 1979 work Distinction, social capital is just as significant a factor in social status as economic capital. By this, Bourdieu means that indicators of one’s class are not limited to how much money one has in the bank, but also one’s cultural tastes which one acquires beginning in his youth. These tastes are influenced by class. For example, tastes for classical music and foie gras would typically signal an upbringing from a higher social class than one whose tastes are for Cheetos and Top 40 hits. Thus, social stratification is demonstrated by economic class and the cultural preferences that it engenders.

Role Theory

Role theory argues that human behavior is guided by expectations held both by the individual and by others in the community.

Learning Objectives

Explain how the development and fulfillment of particular roles within society (both occupational and relational) relates to a person’s behavior

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A role is a set of rules or norms that function as plans or blueprints to guide behavior within a particular society.
  • Roles can be occupational or relational. An occupational role relates to a person’s individual function (for example, a profession). A relational role governs how the individual behaves towards others (for example, being a father or a boss).
  • Role theory is structural functionalist in that it seeks to explain human behavior by looking at what social function is fulfilled by holding a given role.
  • Role theory suggests that a substantial proportion of observable, day-to-day behavior is simply people carrying out roles and negotiating which role to prioritize. Once you understand someone’s role and which of their many roles they are prioritizing, you can predict how they are going to behave.

Key Terms

  • self-neglect: It refers to behaviors that threaten the person’s own health and safety.
  • abuse: Physical or verbal maltreatment; injury.

A virtual world is an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another. Individuals create online representations of themselves called avatars that can interact on the internet under direction of the avatar’s creator. Such modeled worlds and their rules may draw from reality or fantasy worlds. Example rules are gravity, topography, locomotion, real-time actions and communication.

Social interaction between users can range from communication via text, graphical icons, visual gesture, sound, touch, voice command, and balance senses. Many MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) have real-time actions and communication. Players create a character who travels between buildings, towns and worlds to carry out business or leisure activities. Communication is usually textual, but real-time voice communication is also possible.

Many studies of virtual worlds have questioned the virtual world’s ability to convey nuanced emotional messages as people do in face-to-face interactions. Certainly, users have developed techniques in the virtual world to communicate emotion. Beyond writing messages, users can communicate using emoticons, or simple “smilies” that visually depict simple emotions. While emoticons obviously do not convey the same range of mixed emotions as a human face, it is clear that participants in virtual worlds are innovating with language and images to develop new forms of communication.

Another aspect of social interaction in virtual worlds is variation of interactions between participants. While interaction with other participants in virtual worlds can often be done in real-time, time consistency is not always maintained in online virtual worlds.

Although the social interactions of participants in virtual worlds are often viewed in the context of online games, other forms of interaction are common. These include forums, wikis, chat rooms and video-conferences. Communities are born which have their own rules, topics, jokes and even language. Members of such communities can find like-minded people to interact with, whether this be through a shared passion, the wish to share information, or a desire to meet new people and experience new things.

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Elderly Women Gathering: This image shows that elderly people can be active, social, and in good spirits.

Role Conflict

Role conflict describes the conflict between or among the roles corresponding to two or more statuses held by one individual.

Learning Objectives

Interpret how role conflict affects an individual’s perception of him/herself and his/her place within society

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • We experience role conflict when we find ourselves pulled in various directions as we try to respond to the many statuses we hold.
  • The most common form of role conflict is work/family conflict, in which one needs to prioritize familial or professional obligations.
  • The effects of role conflict are related to individual personality characteristics and interpersonal relations.

Key Terms

  • work/family conflict: A conflict one faces when one must choose between family needs and work obligations.
  • role conflict: A conflict between or among the roles corresponding to two or more statuses in one individual.

Role conflict describes a conflict between or among the roles corresponding to two or more statuses fulfilled by one individual. We experience role conflict when we find ourselves pulled in various directions as we try to respond to the many statuses we hold.

The most obvious example of role conflict is work/family conflict, or the conflict one feels when pulled between familial and professional obligations. Take, for example, a mother who is also a doctor. She likely has to work long hours at the hospital and may even be on call several nights a week, taking her away from her children. Many individuals who find themselves in this position describe feeling conflicted and distressed about their situation. In other words, they experience role conflict.

The above example is presented as a personality role conflict: The woman is torn between the part of her personality that values being a mother and the part that identifies as being a doctor. For an example of interpersonal relations causing role conflict, consider an individual who is a school superintendent and a father. He might think that his wife and children expect him to spend most of his evenings with them, but he may also feel that his school board and parents’ groups expect him to spend most of his after-office hours on educational and civic activities. He is therefore unable to satisfy both of these incompatible expectations, and role conflict is the result.

Conflict among the roles begins because of the human’s desire to reach success, and because of the pressure put on an individual by two imposing, apposing and incompatible demands competing against each other. The effects of role conflict, as found through case studies and nationwide surveys, are related to individual personality characteristics and interpersonal relations. Individual personality characteristic conflicts can arise when “aspects of an individual’s personality are in conflict with other aspects of that same individual’s personality. ”

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Family Taught Gender Roles

Culture

Culture is the set of beliefs, values, symbols, rituals, fashions, etiquette, foods, and art that unite a particular society.

Learning Objectives

Analyze how culture is defined, materially and symbolically

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Culture elements are learned behaviors; children learn them while growing up in a particular culture as older members teach them how to live. As such, culture is passed down from one generation to the next. This process of learning culture is called “acculturation”.
  • Culture can be studied either through material or symbolic cultural forms.
  • Biology and learned experiences influence one another to create cultural norms.
  • Culture provides the rules for behaviors and patterns of thought in social life.
  • Ethnocentrism is the tendency to view the world primarily from the perspective of one’s own culture and tends to place different culture’s below one’s own.
  • Cultural relativism insists that no culture is better or worse than any other, only different.

Key Terms

  • acculturation: A process by which the culture of an isolated society changes on contact with a different one, especially a more advanced society.
  • nature versus nurture debate: The nature versus nurture debate concerns the relative importance of an individual’s innate qualities (“nature,” i.e., nativism, or innatism) versus personal experiences (“nurture,” i.e., empiricism or behaviorism) in determining or causing individual differences in physical and behavioral traits.

Culture is the set of beliefs, values, symbols, means of communication, religion, logics, rituals, fashions, etiquette, foods, and art that unite a particular society. Culture elements are learned behaviors; children learn them while growing up in a particular culture as older members teach them how to live. As such, culture is passed down from one generation to the next. This process of learning culture is called “acculturation. ”

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High culture: Ballet is traditionally considered high culture.

One way of understanding culture is to think of the nature versus nurture debate. In this debate, social scientists asked whether nature or nurture is more influential in human life. Nature was considered to be things like our biology and genetics, while nurture was considered to be learned behaviors and other environmental influences on our identities. In this debate, culture is lumped together with the nurture side because both include learned behaviors and systems of thought that we pick up on from our surroundings. To illustrate the nature versus nurture debate, think of any human being. That person’s genetic material and physical body is what is considered his nature. But anything that the person does falls in the nurture side of the debate. This includes how he dresses, what he eats, what language he speaks, and every way in which he behaves.

While the nature versus nurture debate is useful to understand what culture is, the debate in academia has been somewhat settled by the acknowledgement that nature and nurture influence each other. Biology gives us the neural capacity for things like language and culture, but our environments teach us how to use these capacities. For example, biology enables humans to learn a language; this makes us different from other species. However, nothing about our biology dictates whether a baby learns English, Spanish, or Tagalog. Which language one speaks is a learned behavior. Likewise, our cultural behaviors influence our biology. For example, before 4000 BCE, the gene that creates a protein that allows for the digestion of lactose was present in babies for consuming their mothers’ milk, but then that protein would disappear after a baby was weaned. In 4000 BCE, humans began to domesticate animals and continue to drink their milk even after infancy. As such, over generations of using this cultural practice of animal domestication, the gene mutated to continue to produce the protein in adulthood. Thus, over time, the cultural practice influenced human biology. Nature and nurture contribute to one another.

In sum, culture provides the rules for behaviors and patterns of thought in social life. Because culture is learned, it is necessarily an aspect of social life and, therefore, requires a society or a group of people who interact and engage with one another. One way of thinking of a culture is the group of people to whom a set of symbols is understandable. For example, a rectangle with 13 alternating red and white stripes and a set of 50 white stars set on a blue patch in the upper left corner might not mean anything to someone in Greenland. To most Americans, the described design is an American flag, which itself connotes national pride.

It is tempting to associate a particular society with a particular country, but this isn’t always the case. Certainly, some symbols (like flags) are understandable within a particular country, but it is important to consider dissent and subcultures. Culture can be difficult to pinpoint and individuals within a given culture might disagree over what their culture is. Culture is both unifying and contentious.

Culture spreads through material and symbolic means, each demanding different methodologies and techniques to study. Material culture consists of the goods used to exhibit particular cultural behaviors. One could say that coffee cups, laptops, sweatshirts, and pizza are elements of the material culture of life on a college campus. Cultural anthropologists and sociologists use material culture to understand a culture at large and archaeologists use digs to reveal the material culture of the past in order to learn more about life in that culture. Symbolic culture consists of the belief systems that found and motivate life in a particular culture. Well circulated stories about a college’s founding, which professors are good to take classes with, and the college’s motto are all elements of the symbolic culture of a university. Both types of cultures can spread between different societies, in this case, different college campuses.

Social Class

Social class is a measure of where a particular person falls on the social hierarchy.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the concept of social hierarchy as related to the development of social class

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A social hierarchy refers to the arrangement of people in society, with some people having more power and others having less.
  • Max Weber evaluated an individual’s social class by a measure of power, property, and prestige.
  • Social class is typically thought of in a three-class model, dividing a population into upper, middle, and lower classes.
  • In the United States, very few people are in the upper class, but the upper class possesses a disproportionate amount of the nation’s wealth.

Key Terms

  • socioeconomics: The branch of economics that deals with social aspects.
  • White Collar Workers: The term white-collar worker refers to a person who performs professional, managerial, or administrative work, in contrast with a blue-collar worker, whose job requires manual labor. Typically white collar work is performed in an office or cubicle.
  • Three-Class Model: It includes the “rich,” the “middle class,” and the “poor. “
  • social facts: the values, cultural norms, and social structures which transcend the individual and are capable of exercising a social constraint

A social hierarchy refers to the arrangement of people in society, with some people having more power and others having less. Social hierarchies, also referred to as social stratification, largely refers to socioeconomics, or the amount of material and social capital that an individual possesses. However, the socioeconomic classification is a stand-in for the amount of power possessed by an individual. Thus, one can layer and categorize individuals and classify them by group according to how much social power they possess.

Social class is the layer or social stratum denoting socioeconomic power into which an individual falls. In other words, social class describes how people are differentiated based upon their wealth or power. In the late eighteenth century, class came to replace such categories as estates, rank, and orders as the primary means of organizing society into hierarchical divisions. This corresponded to a general decrease in the significance ascribed to hereditary characteristics and an increase in the significance of wealth and income as indicators of position in the social hierarchy. While hereditary characteristics, such as being born into a wealthy family, continue to influence the ease with which one establishes adult social standing, the model that emphasizes class and achieved status maintains the status quo in capitalistic societies, particularly the United States.

The study of social class and hierarchies fundamentally asks questions about inequality. Sociology has a long history of studying stratification and teaching about various kinds of inequality, including economic inequality, racial and ethnic inequality, and gender inequality. Inequality means that people have unequal access to scarce and valued resources in society, such as health care, education, jobs, property, housing, and political influence. Sociologists study the causes and effects of inequality.

As such, sociologists pay particular attention to socioeconomic status, as it signifies an equation of power and wealth that denotes a particular form of inequality. Late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century German social theorist Max Weber proposed that socioeconomic status was configured by a combination of power, property, and prestige. For Weber, power refers to an individual’s ability to impose his will on others, regardless of their wishes. Property refers to the sum total of one’s possessions in addition to their income. Property therefore goes beyond income as a measure of social class because it measures accumulated wealth in addition to one’s earning potential. Prestige refers to the reputation or esteem associated with one’s position in society. Prestige used to be associated with family name, but now more frequently is yoked to occupation. Occupations like physicians or lawyers tend to hold more prestige than bartenders or janitors.

Power, prestige, and property tend to go hand in hand. An individual who is born into a wealthy family is likely to be born with more property and have access to better educational resources to achieve prestige, culminating in more power. Yet this is not always the case. For example, a professor may have little property, but has high prestige. Conversely, a “trust-fund baby” or someone left family money, might have much property, but little prestige in a society that values personal achievement.

Social class is commonly organized into a three-class model, by which individuals are separated into upper, middle, and lower classes. The upper class consists of the wealthy and powerful individuals who own and control the means of production. In the United States, the upper class is comprised of the richest 1-2% of the country, but other countries, particularly in Europe, still emphasize aristocracy and the family into which one was born. The middle class is the broadest swath of society, consisting of professional workers, small business owners, and low-level managers. These people are also referred to as “white collar workers. ” The lower class consists of people who work wage jobs rather than salaried positions. Referred to as “blue collar workers,” the lower class has little economic security and includes both individuals working lower-paying positions and unemployed and/or homeless people.

Social class in the United States looks a little bit different than one might suppose given the three-class model. Consider the following facts: Four hundred Americans have the same wealth as the bottom 50% of Americans combined. Twenty-five Americans have a combined income almost as great as the combined incomes of two billion of the world’s poor. In 2007, CEOs in the top American companies received an average salary of $10.5 million per year, 344 times the pay of the average worker. Half of American children will reside in a household that uses food stamps at some point in their childhoods. As you can see, the upper class in the United States contains very few Americans; the population is concentrated in the middle and lower classes. Yet, the few people in the upper class control a disproportionate amount of American wealth.

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U.S. Poverty Rate 1959-2009: This chart depicts the number of people living in poverty during each year from 1959-2003. The poverty rate corresponds to what proportion of Americans live in the lowest economic strata of the hierarchical class system.

Groups

Groups are collections of people who identify and interact with one another and are united in some way.

Learning Objectives

Discuss how heuristics allow people to learn about people within a society based on group affiliation and give examples of both positive and negative heuristics

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Groups can be united by shared interests, values, language, backgrounds, social roles, or family ties.
  • Group identification is one way that individuals make assumptions about others’ identities.
  • Groups operate as cognitive heuristics. Heuristics are sometimes perceived to be legitimate assumptions about an individual and sometimes deemed illegitimate. Legitimate heuristics tend to just be those that import positive generalizations to a particular person.
  • Group affiliation is negotiated. Sometimes an individual will protest an assumed group affiliation. Other times, a group will contest an individual’s claim to membership.

Key Terms

  • Legitimate Heuristic: Generally, a heuristic that imports positive generalizations to a particular person.
  • stereotype: A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image of a group of people or things.
  • heuristic: An experience-based technique for problem solving, learning, and discovery. Examples include using a rule of thumb or making an educated guess.

A social group is a collection of people who identify and interact with one another. They are united in some way, meaning that they may share interests, values, language, backgrounds, social roles, or family ties.

Perceiving society as a composite of groups allows for one to generalize about a particular person. If you know something about which groups a particular person belongs to, you may import certain character traits to that particular individual. In this way, groups operate as a cognitive heuristic, meaning that people use groups as a shortcut to use generalized information to learn about a particular person. If you know that Johnny is a member of the Computer Geek Club, you will assume that Johnny likes computers. Thus, you use group identity to generalize and make assumptions about a specific individual. Heuristics are sometimes perceived to be legitimate assumptions about an individual and sometimes deemed illegitimate. Legitimate heuristics tend to just be those that import positive generalizations to a particular person. For example, if you know that Sue holds an undergraduate degree, you may assume that Sue is an educated individual. However, the same heuristic can function in negative ways; this is the underlying mechanism that enables stereotypes. Stereotyping is when one makes generalizations about a particular person in a negative way based on their perceived group identity. Racism is one example of this; making assumptions about an individual because of their racial background is an example of negative group heuristics and stereotyping. Both legitimate and illegitimate heuristics demonstrate how knowledge about one’s group affiliations conveys perceived social knowledge about that individual.

In this way, a person’s group affiliation is associated with that person’s identity. The relationship between identity and politics is dynamic and contested. Sometimes a person is perceived to be part of a group to which they identify, such as when someone makes assumptions about another person’s identity based on their racial background. Conversely, an individual may claim membership to a group that rejects the petition. Take, for example, Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 campaign for the United States Senate. In public remarks, Warren declared that she had Native American heritage and was part Cherokee. However, many Cherokee individuals protested the declaration and insisted that Ms. Warren was not Cherokee until she could prove otherwise. By this, one can see how groups can serve as an interface between an individual and society at large.

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Elizabeth Warren: Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren claimed membership to Native American groups in her 2012 campaign, raising questions about what it means to belong to a group.

Social Institutions

An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given community.

Learning Objectives

Discuss how the development of social institutions, both formal and informal, acts a guide for the rules and expectation of people within society

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Institutions can either be formal, in that they are designed to govern behavior, or informal, in that they govern behavior by socialization rather than overt practices.
  • Institutionalization refers to the process of embedding something, such as a concept, a social role, a value, or a logic within an organization, social system, or society as a whole.
  • Institutions can also be abstract, such as the institution of marriage.

Key Terms

  • Informal Institutions: They are those that are not designed to regulate conduct, but often end up doing so as members seek to conform to communal standards.
  • Formal Institutions: They are those that are created with the intention of governing human behavior.

An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given community. Institutions are identified with a social purpose and permanence, transcending individual lives and intention by enforcing rules that govern cooperative behavior. While institutions are obviously comprised of individuals and create rules through these individuals’ agentic actions, institutions act as forces of socialization, meaning that they teach individuals to conform to their norms.

Institutions can be either formal or informal. Formal institutions are those that are created with the intention of governing human behavior. Examples include the United States Congress, an institution that is designed to create the laws of the United States. However, formal institutions do not have to have the force of the law at their disposal. Another example is the Roman Catholic Church. While violating the tenets of the Catholic Church is not in violation of law, the Church expects its members to adhere to its religious codes. Informal institutions are those that are not designed to regulate conduct, but often end up doing so as members seek to conform to communal standards. Institutions can also be abstract, such as the institution of marriage. This means that marriage has become a social expectation, with informal rules for how married people are expected to behave.

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Formal institutions: The United States Congress, housed in the Capitol Building, is one example of a formal institution.

While institutions tend to appear to people in society as part of the natural, unchanging landscape of their lives, sociological studies of institutions reveal institutions a social constructs, meaning that they are created by individuals and particular historical and cultural moment. Sociology traditionally analyzes social institutions in terms of interlocking social roles and expectations. Social institutions are created by and defined by their own creation of social roles for their members. The social function of the institution is the fulfillment of the assigned roles.

Institutionalization refers to the process of embedding something, such as a concept, a social role, a value, or a logic within an organization, social system, or society as a whole. The process of institutionalization elucidates how values, norms, and institutions are so closely intertwined.

Social Networks

A social network is a social structure that exists between actors—individuals or organizations.

Learning Objectives

Assess the role of social networks in the socialization of people

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A social network is comprised by various nodes and the ties that connect them.
  • Nodes can be individuals or organizations.
  • Ties are the various types of connections these nodes. Ties are assessed in terms of strength. Loose connections, like mere acquaintances, are called weak ties. Strong ties, like family bonds are called strong ties.
  • The study of networks is called either social network analysis or social network theory.
  • The small world phenomenon is the hypothesis that the chain of social acquaintances required to connect one arbitrary person to another arbitrary person anywhere in the world is generally short. The concept gave rise to the phrase “six degrees of separation” after Stanley Milgram’s 1967 experiment.

Key Terms

  • Ties: They are the various types of connections between nodes.
  • node: They are the individual actors within the networks, and ties are the relationships between the actors.
  • Social Network Analysis: It is the study of social networks

A social network is a social structure that exists between actors—individuals or organizations. A social network indicates the way that people and organizations are connected through various social familiarities, ranging from casual acquaintance to close familial bonds. Social networks are composed of nodes and ties. The person or organization participating in the network is called a node. Ties are the various types of connections between these nodes. Ties are assessed in terms of strength. Loose connections, like mere acquaintances, are called weak ties. Strong ties, like family bonds are called strong ties.

Shape and Size

The shape and size of social networks influence their utility for their nodal participants. Smaller, tighter networks composed of strong ties behave differently than larger, looser networks of weak ties. The looser and larger the network, the more likely nodes are to introduce new ideas and opportunities to their members. Participants in smaller networks are more likely to share values and information, increasing efficiency, but decreasing creativity.

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Diagram of a Network: Individuals in groups are connected to each other by social relationships.

Small World Phenomenon

The small world phenomenon is the hypothesis that the chain of social acquaintances required to connect one arbitrary person to another arbitrary person anywhere in the world is generally short. The concept gave rise to the famous phrase “six degrees of separation” after a 1967 small world experiment by psychologist Stanley Milgram which found that two random US citizens were connected by an average of six acquaintances.

Facebook as a Social Network: This video discusses the merits and problems with Facebook as a social network.

The study of social networks is called either social network analysis or social network theory. Research has indicated that social networks operate on many levels—from familial to national—and play a critical role in determining the ways that problems are solved, the way organizations are run, and the degree to which individuals succeed in achieving their goals. Social network theory argues that individual traits and characteristics usually presumed to have significance actually matter far less than an individual’s relationship and ties to other actors in a network. Critics argue that this perspective diminishes the power and agency of the individual. Despite these criticisms, sociologists study social networks because of their influence on individuals. Social networks are seen as the basic tool individuals use to connect to society.

Virtual Worlds

A virtual world is an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact.

Learning Objectives

Explain how virtual worlds are changing the face of societal interactions, such as through the development of new language and like-minded communities

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Such modeled worlds and their rules may draw from reality or fantasy worlds. Social interaction between users can range from communication via text, graphical icons, visual gesture, touch, voice command, and balance senses.
  • Researchers have questioned the virtual world ‘s ability to convey nuanced emotional messages in face-to-face interactions. That said, participants in virtual worlds are innovating with language and images to develop new forms of communication like emoticons.
  • Another aspect of social interaction in virtual worlds is variation in interactions between participants. While the interaction with other participants in virtual worlds can often be done in real-time, time consistency is not always maintained in online virtual worlds.

Key Terms

  • emoticon: A graphical representation, either in the form of an image or made up of ASCII characters, of a particular emotion of the writer.
  • Virtual World: It is an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another.
  • avatar: The physical embodiment of an idea or concept; a personification.

A virtual world is an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another. Individuals create online representations of themselves called avatars that can interact on the internet under direction of the avatar’s creator. Such modeled worlds and their rules may draw from reality or fantasy worlds. Example rules are gravity, topography, locomotion, real-time actions and communication.

Social interaction between users can range from communication via text, graphical icons, visual gesture, sound, touch, voice command, and balance senses. Many MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) have real-time actions and communication. Players create a character who travels between buildings, towns and worlds to carry out business or leisure activities. Communication is usually textual, but real-time voice communication is also possible.

Many studies of virtual worlds have questioned the virtual world’s ability to convey nuanced emotional messages as people do in face-to-face interactions. Certainly, users have developed techniques in the virtual world to communicate emotion. Beyond writing messages, users can communicate using emoticons, or simple “smilies” that visually depict simple emotions. While emoticons obviously do not convey the same range of mixed emotions as a human face, it is clear that participants in virtual worlds are innovating with language and images to develop new forms of communication.

Another aspect of social interaction in virtual worlds is variation of interactions between participants. While interaction with other participants in virtual worlds can often be done in real-time, time consistency is not always maintained in online virtual worlds.

Although the social interactions of participants in virtual worlds are often viewed in the context of online games, other forms of interaction are common. These include forums, wikis, chat rooms and video-conferences. Communities are born which have their own rules, topics, jokes and even language. Members of such communities can find like-minded people to interact with, whether this be through a shared passion, the wish to share information, or a desire to meet new people and experience new things.

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World of Warcraft: This is a still from World of Warcraft, a popular online game in which players direct avatars who interact with one another.

Virtual Worlds: This video provides an overview of three different virtual worlds (There.com, Second Life, and World of Warcraft) and shows how different individuals and companies use the websites.