Chapter 7. Groups and Organizations

Chapter 7 Resources and Activities

Key Terms

aggregate:  A collection of people who exist in the same place at the same time, but who do not interact or share a sense of identity.authoritarian leader:  A leader who issues orders and demands compliance from subordinates.

bureaucracy:  A formal organization characterized by a hierarchy of authority, a clear division of labour, explicit rules, impersonality and meritocracy.

category: People who share similar characteristics but who are not otherwise socially connected.

coercive organization: Organization that people do not voluntarily join, such as prison or a mental hospital.

collective effervescence: The elevated feeling experienced by individuals when they come together as a group

conformity: The extent to which an individual complies with group or societal norms.

contents: The specific drives, needs, purposes, or interests of individuals that motivate them to interact with others.

core discussion group: The group of close, personal contacts with whom one confides on personal matters and with whom one chooses to spend free time.

democratic leader: A leader who encourages group participation and consensus-building before acting.

division of labour: Organizational structure in which each individual has a specialized task to perform.

dyad: A two-member group.

explicit rules: Rules that are explicitly stated, written down, and standardized.

expressive function: A group function that serves an emotional need.

expressive leader: A leader who is concerned with process and with ensuring everyone’s emotional well-being.

formal organizations: Large, impersonal organizations.

formal sociology:  The study of how specific social contents are organized into regular patterns of social coordination.

forms: The patterns of behaviour that guide or regulate individuals’ actions in different social settings.

glass ceiling: An invisible barrier that prevents women from achieving positions of leadership.

group: Any collection of at least two people who interact with some frequency and who share a sense that their identity is aligned with the group.

groupthink:  The tendency to conform to the attitudes and beliefs of the group despite individual misgivings.

hierarchy of authority: A clear chain of command.

ideal type: An abstract model of a recurring social phenomenon that describes the form and logical relation of components.

impersonality: The absence of personal feelings in the conduct of organizational tasks.

in-group: A group a person belongs to and feels is an integral part of their identity.

instrumental function: A group function that serves achieving a task or goal efficiently and effectively.

instrumental leader: A leader who is goal oriented with a primary focus on accomplishing tasks.

iron law of oligarchy: The theory that an organization is ruled by a few elites rather than through collaboration.

laissez-faire leader: A hands-off leader who allows members of the group to make their own decisions.

leadership function: The role of the leader in determining how an organization decides what its goals are and how it will attain them.

leadership style: The style a leader uses to achieve goals or elicit action from group members.

McDonaldization: The increasing presence of the fast-food business model of control, predictability, calculability and efficiency in common social institutions.

macro-level of analysis: A research focus on the properties of large scale, society-wide, social interactions.

meso-level of analysis: A research focus on the characteristics of local networks, groups, and organizations.

micro-level of analysis: A research focus on the social dynamics of small groups and face-to-face interaction.

meritocracy: An organization principle where group membership and advancement are based on merit as shown through proven and documented skills.

normative or voluntary organizations: Organizations that people choose to join to pursue shared interests or because they provide intangible rewards.

out-group: A group that an individual is not a member of and may compete with.

primary groups: Small, informal groups that provide the individual with intimacy and support.

pure sociability: The experience and attraction to the act of being together for its own sake, regardless of the content of the interaction.

realistic conflict theory: An explanation of in-group/out-group behaviour which predicts that  antagonism will develop between groups if there is a competition for a resource in which only one group can be the winner and in the absence of superordinate goals requiring cooperation.

reference groups: Groups to which an individual compares herself or himself.

scapegoating: A process in which a dominant group displaces their unfocused aggression and violence onto a subordinate group

secondary groups: Large, impersonal groups that are task-focused and time-limited.

six degrees of separation: Any two individuals on Earth can be linked on average by six network connections.

significant other:  An individual who has a large impact on a person’s socialization or plays a formative role in shaping their life.

social network: A collection of people tied together by a specific configuration of connections through which resources are exchanged.

three degrees of influence: An individual in a network is influenced by their immediate social contacts, their social contacts’ contacts, and their social contacts’ contacts’ contacts.

total institution: An organization in which participants live a controlled life focused on resocialization.

tragedy of culture: The tendency for the products of culture to detach themselves from lived experience and become increasingly complex, specialized, alienating, or oppressive.

triad: A three-member group.

utilitarian organization: An organization that people join to fill a specific material need.

Section Summary

7.1  How is society possible?
Georg Simmel argues that “there is no such thing as society as such” because society is nothing except for the ongoing interactions between individuals at any particular moment. Nevertheless the forms of interaction can be analyzed independently of the contents of interaction. Whether at a micro, meso, or macro level of analysis, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

7.2 Groups
Groups largely define how people think of themselves and their place in the world. There are two main types of groups: primary and secondary. Primary groups are small, long-term, intimate, and expressive, whereas secondary groups are large and instrumental in focus. People divide into in-groups and out-groups and use reference groups as standards of comparison to define themselves—as both who they are and who they are not. Sometimes groups can be used to exclude people or as a tool that strengthens prejudice.

The size and dynamic of a group greatly affects how members act. Primary groups rarely have formal leaders, although there can be informal leadership. Groups generally are considered large when there are too many members for a simultaneous discussion.

In secondary groups, there are two types of leadership functions, with expressive leaders focused on emotional health and wellness, and instrumental leaders more focused on results. Further, there are different leadership styles: democratic leaders, authoritarian leaders, and laissez-faire leaders.

Within a group, conformity is the extent to which people want to go along with the norm. Groupthink is the tendency to conform to the attitudes and beliefs of the group despite individual reservations. A number of experiments have illustrated how strong the social pressure to conform can be. It is worth considering real-life examples of how conformity and obedience can lead people to ethically and morally suspect acts.

7.3 Networks
Social networks are collections of people tied together by a specific configuration of connections through which resources like information, goods, diseases and feelings flow. The structure of the connections, and the function and degree of contagion of the resources that flow through them, determine what the network is capable of and how it influences its members.

7.4 Formal Organizations
In modern societies, large organizations are organized as bureaucracies based on hierarchy of authority, clear division of labour, explicit rules, impersonality and meritocracy. They fall into three main categories: normative/voluntary, coercive, and utilitarian. Despite their focus on rational organization and efficiency, the outcome of bureaucratic organization is often contradictory in contemporary society. While the pace of change and technology are requiring people to be more nimble and less bureaucratic in their thinking, large bureaucracies like hospitals, schools, and governments are more hampered than ever by their organizational format. At the same time, the past few decades have seen the development of a trend to bureaucratize and streamline local institutions. Over the last 50 years, main streets across the country increasingly resemble each other; instead of a Bob’s Coffee Shop and Jane’s Clothing Boutique there is a Dunkin Donuts and a Gap store. This trend has been referred to as the McDonaldization of society.

7.5 A Sociological Analysis of the Holocaust

The Holocaust is a traumatic example of how sociological principles of group behaviour can explain attrocities. The Holocaust would not have been possible without the formation of in-groups and out-groups, conformity to structures of authority, groupthink, networks and the rational structure of bureaucratic organizational forms.


Quiz: Groups and Organizations

7.1 How is society possible?

  1. Which of the following is an example of a social phenomenon that would be best understood at the meso-level of analysis?
    1. The gender differences in facial expressions of couples on first dates.
    2. The impact of social class on voter preference.
    3. The informal networks that form within bureaucratic structures.
    4. The effect of new technologies on knowledge transfer between First World and Third World nations.
  2. An example of a social form and a social content would be:
    1. An employment application and an employment history.
    2. Sexual desire and flirtation relationship.
    3. Cooperation and conflict.
    4. A hockey game and having fun.

7.2. Groups

  1. What role do secondary groups play in society?
    1. They are task-based, filling practical needs.
    2. They provide intimacy and emotional resources.
    3. The members provide a voluntary, family-like support system outside the home
    4. They allow individuals to challenge their beliefs and prejudices.
  2. When a high school student gets teased by her basketball team for receiving an academic award, she is dealing with competing                 .
    1. Primary groups
    2. Out-groups
    3. Reference groups
    4. Secondary groups
  3. Which of the following is NOT an example of an in-group?
    1. The Ku Klux Klan
    2. A university club
    3. A synagogue
    4. A high school
  4. What is a group whose values, norms, and beliefs come to serve as a standard for one’s own behaviour?
    1. Secondary group
    2. Formal organization
    3. Reference group
    4. All of the above
  5. A parent who is worrying over her teenager’s dangerous and self-destructive behaviour and low self-esteem may wish to look at her child’s                 .
    1. Reference group
    2. In-group
    3. Out-group
    4. All of the above
  6. Who is more likely to be an expressive leader?
    1. The sales manager of a fast-growing cosmetics company
    2. A high school teacher at a youth correctional facility
    3. The director of a summer camp for chronically ill children
    4. A manager at a fast-food restaurant
  7. Which of the following is NOT an appropriate group for democratic leadership?
    1. A fire station
    2. A college classroom
    3. A high school prom committee
    4. A homeless shelter
  8. In Asch’s study on conformity, what contributed to the ability of subjects to resist conforming?
    1. A very small group of witnesses
    2. The presence of an ally
    3. The ability to keep one’s answer private
    4. All of the above
  9. Which type of group leadership has a communication pattern that flows from the top down?
    1. Authoritarian
    2. Democratic
    3. Laissez-faire
    4. All of the above

7.3 Networks

  1. In terms of network analysis, two people who have just had a baby have turned from a                  to a                 .
    1. Primary group; secondary group
    2. Dyad; triad
    3. Couple; family
    4. De facto group; nuclear family
  2. Networks can be characterized by the structure of ties, the functions of ties, and                 .
    1. Who is connected to whom.
    2. The content of the resources that pass between nodes
    3. Social media platforms.
    4. The degree of transmissibility of resources.

7.4 Formal Organizations

  1. Which of these is an example of a total institution?
    1. Jail
    2. High school
    3. Nazi Party
    4. All of the above
  2. Why do people join utilitarian organizations?
    1. Because they feel an affinity with others there
    2. Because they receive a tangible benefit from joining
    3. Because they have no choice
    4. Because they feel pressured to do so
  3. Which of the following is NOT a characteristic of bureaucracies?
    1. Coercion to join
    2. Hierarchy of authority
    3. Explicit rules
    4. Division of labour
  4. What are some of the intended positive aspects of bureaucracies?
    1. Increased productivity
    2. Increased efficiency
    3. Equal treatment for all
    4. All of the above
  5. What are some of the unintended negative aspects of bureaucracies?
    1. Horizontalization.
    2. Undermines efficient oligarchical decision-making.
    3. Red tape.
    4. All of the above
  6. What is a disadvantage of the McDonaldization of society?
    1. There is less variety of goods.
    2. There is an increased need for employees with postgraduate degrees.
    3. There is less competition so prices are higher.
    4. There are fewer jobs so unemployment increases.

[Quiz answers at end of chapter]

Short Answer

7.1. How is society possible?

  1. Choose an example of a social activity like hockey, business or dating. How would this activity be approached at a micro, meso, and macro level of analysis?
  2. Think of a recent social encounter in which you interacted with one or more people. What purely individual  drives, needs, purposes, or interests (i.e., contents) drew you together?  Can you describe the characteristics of the form of the interaction (e.g., cooperation, competition, division of labour, polite, informal, etc.)? Were there a set of rules that structured the encounter? If so, were they implicit or explicit? Can you list them? What would have happened if you had broken a rule?

7.2 Groups

  1. How has technology changed your primary groups and secondary groups? Do you have more (and separate) primary groups due to online connectivity? Do you believe that someone, like Levy, can have a true primary group made up of people she has never met? Why or why not?
  2. Compare and contrast two different political groups or organizations, such as the MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Anti-Vaxxer  or White Nationalist movements. How do the groups differ in terms of leadership, membership, and activities? How do the group’s goals influence participants? Do they have in-groups  and out-groups? Explain your answer.
  3. The concept of hate crimes has been linked to in-groups and out-groups. Can you think of an example where people have been excluded or tormented due to this kind of group dynamic?
  4. Describe a time you were led by a leader using, in your opinion, a leadership style that did not suit the situation. When and where was it? What could she or he have done better?

7.3 Networks

  1. From personal experience, describe how the group dynamics between two people changes when a third person joins the group (or vice versa, when one person leaves a group of three). Do your observations corroborate Simmel’s analysis of dyads and triads?
  2. How often do you get valuable information from a friend? From a friend of a friend? How significant do network connections seem to be in your life, i.e., with regard to your political preferences, your body weight and dietary choices, your life style, etc.?
  3. How many friends would you call “close”? How many friends would your parents and grand parents call close? Does this correspond with Marsden’s research that the size of one’s “core discussion group” decreases as one ages?

7.4 Formal Organizations

  1. What do you think about fast-food restaurants? Do you think there is a trade-off between the loss of local diversity and a cheap, low quality, standardized service? Is that the best framework to analyze their role in society? Have you ever worked in a fast-food restaurant? What did you learn?
  2. Think of an interaction you have had with a bureaucracy, either as an employee or as a client. Did you encounter any of the irrational aspects of bureaucracy? Which aspect applies best to your interaction and why?
  3. Where do you prefer to shop, eat out, or grab a cup of coffee? Large chains like Walmart or smaller retailers? Starbucks or a local restaurant? What do you base your decisions on? How does McDonaldization influence your experience?

Further Research

7.2 Groups
Information about cyberbullying causes and statistics from the Cyberbullying Research Centre.

Take the quiz What is your leadership style? by Kendra Cherry (updated on October 05, 2021) at Verywell Mind.

Explore the Stanford Prison experiment on conformity on the official Stanford Prison Experiment website.

7.3 Networks
If you have a Facebook account, you might be interested in downloading the networking software “Touchgraph” from Christakis and Fowler’s website to see a visual representation of your own network connections.

7.4 Formal Organizations
As mentioned above, the concept of McDonaldization is a growing one.

7.5 A Sociological Analysis of the Holocaust

For more on Zygmunt Bauman’s analysis of the Holocaust, see his lecture Lessons of the Holocaust from January 27, 2012 at Radbout University, Netherlands.


7.0 Introduction to Groups and Organizations
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7.2 Groups

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7.5 A Sociological Analysis of the Holocaust

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Solutions to Quiz: Groups and Organizations

1 C, | 2 D, | 3 A, | 4 C, | 5 D, | 6 C, | 7 D, | 8 C, | 9 A, | 10 D, | 11 A, | 12 B, | 13 D, | 14 A, | 15 B, | 16 A, | 17 D, | 18 C, | 19 A, [Return to quiz]


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