An essential guide to the basic concepts that comprise the study of sociology with contributions from an international range of leading experts Core Concepts in Sociology is a comprehensive guide to the essential concepts relevant to the current study of the discipline and wider social science. The contributing authors cover a wide range of concepts that remain at the heart of sociology including those from its academic founding and others much more recent in their development. The text contains contributions from an international panel of leading figures in the field, utilizing their expertise on core concepts and presenting an accessible introduction for students. Drawing on the widest range of ideas, research, current literature and expert assessment, Core Concepts in Sociology contains over 90 concepts that represent the discipline. Coverage includes concepts ranging from aging to capitalism, democracy to economic sociology, epistemology to everyday life, media to risk, stigma and much more. This vital resource: * Sets out the concepts that underpin the study of sociology and wider social science * Contains contributions from an international panel of leading figures in the field * Includes a comprehensive review of the basic concepts that comprise the foundation and essential development of the discipline * Designed as a concise and accessible resource Written for students, researchers and wider professionals with an interest in the field of sociology, Core Concepts in Sociology offers a concise, affordable and accessible resource for studying the underpinnings of sociology and social science.
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List of Contributors
Aging, Sociology of
Embodying Structure and Agency
Capital: Cultural, Social, and Economic
Capital, Capitalists, and Capitalism
Capitalism as an Analytical Term
Capitalism: A Dynamic, Expanding, Unstable, Dialectical, Social Formation
Colonialism and Postcolonialism
Constructionism vs. Essentialism
Principal Points of Contention
Consumption and Social Inequality
Consumption and Capitalism
Crime and Juvenile Delinquency, Sociology of
Deviance, Crime, and Juvenile Delinquency
Sociological Theories of Crime and Juvenile Delinquency
Culture, Sociology of
“Cultural Sociology” versus the “Sociology of Culture”
Methodology and Methods
Demography and Population Studies
Development, Sociology of
Poverty and Disrepute
Disability, Sociology of
Education, Sociology of
Emotion, Sociology of
Environment, Sociology of the
Family and Kinship, Sociology of
Kinship and Family: An Overview
Fictive Kin: By Any Other Name?
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Family and Kin
Double‐Edged Sword: Frontiers and Reinforcement of Kinship and Family Through Reproductive Technologies
Frames, Narratives, and Ideology
A Framing Perspective
Connection to Ideology
Social Construction and the Gender Binary
Gender Identity and Expression
Fluid, Not Fixed
Gender and Power
The Future of Gender Studies
Definition of Homelessness
Trends and Numbers
Homophobia and Heterosexism
Human Rights, Sociology of
Future Directions in Research, Theory, and Methodology
Immigration, Migration, and Refugees
Theories of Migration
Integration of Migrants
Inequality, Racial and Ethnic
Historical Foundations of Racial and Ethnic Inequality
Responses to Racial and Ethnic Inequality
Knowledge, Sociology of
Media, Sociology of the
The Post‐Sick‐Role Era
Period of Maturity: 1970–2000
The Twenty‐First Century
Mental Health and Illness
Stressors and Support
Considerations Within and Across Groups
Life Course Considerations
Organizations, Sociology of
Postmodernism and Poststructuralism
Power and Authority
Technology and Qualitative Research
Relations Between Variables – Functions
Variable’s Array – Distributions
Race and Ethnicity
Rationalization, Bureaucratization, and McDonaldization
Religion, Sociology of
Science and Technology, Sociology of
Merton, Logical Positivism, and Science as an Institutional System
Kuhn, the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK), and the Science Wars
The Era of Empirical and Topical Diversification
Origins of the Study of Sexualities
Sexualities and Social Theory
Macro‐Sociology of Sexualities
Ethnographies of Sexualities
Social Media and Virtual Communities
Social Movements and Social Change
Social Network Analysis
Modern Developments in Social Networks
Types of Sociological Theory
History of Sociological Theory
Space and Place
Sport, Sociology of
Origins of Sociology of Sport
Growth and Current Status
Theory and Research
Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination
Stratification and Inequality
Variations and Developments in Stratification
Dimensions of Stratification and Inequality
Theoretical Interpretations and Explanations
Structure and Agency
Contemporary Symbolic Interactionism
Major Urban Development Patterns
Political Economy of Place
The Role of Theory in Urban Sociology
Urban Sociology in the Twenty‐First Century
Work, Occupations, and Professions, Sociology of
Milestones in the Sociological Study of Work
Major Themes in the Sociology of Work and Occupations
Current and Future Influences on Work and Occupations
End User License Agreement
Table 1 Psychological and sociological approaches to stigma along four categories.
Table of Contents
Edited by J. Michael Ryan
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Names: Ryan, J. Michael, editor.Title: Core concepts in sociology / edited by J. Michael Ryan, Lisbon, Portugal.Description: Hoboken, NJ : Wiley,  | Includes bibliographical references and index. |Identifiers: LCCN 2018004195 (print) | LCCN 2018005456 (ebook) | ISBN 9781119168645 (pdf) | ISBN 9781119168638 (epub) | ISBN 9781119168614 (cloth) | ISBN 9781119168621 (pbk.)Subjects: LCSH: Sociology.Classification: LCC HM585 (ebook) | LCC HM585 .C67 2018 (print) | DDC 301–dc23LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018004195
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Barry D. AdamUniversity of Windsor, Canada
Julie M. AlbrightUniversity of California, USA
Christopher AndrewsDrew University, USA
Joseph AsomahUniversity of Saskatchewan, Canada
Rob BeamishQueen’s University, Canada
Robert D. BenfordUniversity of South Florida, USA
Colin BernatzkyUniversity of California, Irvine, USA
Gurminder K. BhambraUniversity of Warwick, UK
Gary BowdenUniversity of New Brunswick, Canada
Gaspar BrändleUniversidad de Murcia, Spain
Peter L. CalleroWestern Oregon University, USA
Andrew P. CarlinManchester Metropolitan University, UK
Hongming ChengUniversity of Saskatchewan, Canada
Valerie CheppHamline University, USA
Matthew ClairHarvard University, USA
Stewart CleggUniversity of Technology Sydney, Australia
Jay CoakleyUniversity of Colorado, Colorado Springs, USA
William C. CockerhamUniversity of Alabama at Birmingham, USA
Peter ConradBrandeis University, USA
James E. CôtéUniversity of Western Ontario, Canada
Marci D. CottinghamUniversity of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Ryan T. CragunUniversity of Tampa, USA
Graham DayBangor University, UK
Mathieu DeflemUniversity of South Carolina, USA
Gerard DelantyUniversity of Sussex, UK
Rutledge M. DennisGeorge Mason University, USA
Kylan Mattias de VriesSouthern Oregon University, USA
Robert DingwallDingwall Enterprises Ltd., UK
Riley E. DunlapOklahoma State University, USA
Peter EvansBrown University, USA
Sherelle FergusonUniversity of Pennsylvania, USA
Kenneth J. GergenSwarthmore College, USA
Erich GoodeStony Brook University, USA
Katie M. GordonSUNY at Stony Brook, USA
Kevin Fox GothamTulane University, USA
William HallerClemson University, USA
Ashley HarrellUniversity of South Carolina, USA
Elizabeth HartungCalifornia State University, Channel Islands, UK
Patrick HellerBrown University, USA
Patricia HynesUniversity of Bedfordshire, UK
Cate IrvinTulane University, USA
Robert Max JacksonNew York University, USA
Guillermina JassoNew York University, USA
Ryan KeltyU.S. Air Force Academy, USA
Michael KimmelSUNY at Stony Brook, USA
Roberto Patricio KorzeniewiczUniversity of Maryland, USA
Peter KivistoAugustana College, USA
Beryl LangerLa Trobe University, Australia
Annette LareauUniversity of Pennsylvania, USA
Charles LeeArizona State University, USA
Valerie LeiterSimmons College, USA
Rolf LidskogÖrebro University, Sweden
John R. LoganBrown University, USA
Sebastián MadridP. Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile
Amir MarvastiPenn State Altoona, USA
E. Doyle McCarthyFordham University, USA
Lisa McCormickUniversity of Edinburgh, UK
Susan A. McDanielUniversity of Lethbridge, Canada
Arthur McLuhanYork University, Canada
Jeremiah C. MorelockBoston College, USA
Jeylan T. MortimerUniversity of Minnesota, USA
Aurea MotaUniversity of Barcelona, Spain
Nancy NaplesUniversity of Connecticut, USA
Leonard NevarezVassar College, USA
Richard OcejoCity University of New York, USA
Esther OliverUniversity of Barcelona, Spain
Emily Allen PaineUniversity of Texas, Austin, USA
Sangeeta ParasharMontclair State University, USA
Alexandra ParrsAmerican University in Cairo, Egypt, and University of Antwerp, Belgium
Michael PickeringLoughborough University, UK
Christina PrellUniversity of Maryland, USA
Tetyana PudrovskaUniversity of Texas, Austin, USA
Maria C. RamosDuke University, USA
Damien W. RiggsFlinders University, Australia
George RitzerUniversity of Maryland, USA
Helen RizzoThe American University in Cairo, Egypt
Juliet B. SchorBoston College, USA
Kathleen C. SchwartzmanUniversity of Arizona, USA
Alan ScottUniversity of New England, Australia
David R. SegalUniversity of Maryland, USA
Linda L. SemuMcDaniel College, USA
Tracy ShildrickUniversity of Leeds, UK
Chris ShillingUniversity of Kent, UK
Leslie SklairLondon School of Economics and Political Science, UK
Lynn Smith‐LovinDuke University, USA
David A. SnowUniversity of California, Irvine, USA
Michele SoriceLUISS University, Rome, Italy, and University of Stirling, Scotland, UK
Alan SpectorPurdue University Northwest, USA
Liz StanleyUniversity of Edinburgh, UK
Jeffrey StepniskyMacEwan University, Canada
John StoneBoston University, USA
Piotr SztompkaJagiellonian University, Poland
Shane ThyeUniversity of South Carolina, USA
Charalambos TsekerisAcademy of Athens, Greece
Rens VliegenthartUniversity of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Rudi VoltiPitzer College, USA
John B. WilliamsonBoston College, USA
Nico WilterdinkUniversity of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Bronwyn WinterUniversity of Sydney, Australia
James D. WrightUniversity of Central Florida, USA
Chris YuillRobert Gordon University, UK
Milan ZafirovskiUniversity of North Texas, USA
The idea for this project was borne not only from my experience as an academic sociologist but also from my 15 years of experience working as a senior managing editor for Wiley Blackwell. Starting in my second year of graduate school until the present day, I have been involved in managing, advising on, and/or co‐editing over a dozen major sociological reference works with Wiley totaling more than three dozen individual volumes. These experiences have given me an unusual perspective in that I have been continually exposed to the broad range of fields and subfields within the discipline, including topics extending far outside the realm of my own individual research and interests. This broad exposure to topics, people, and writings from across the sociological spectrum is what inspired this project.
This volume is designed to be a handy reference for anyone working in, studying, or simply interested in the field of sociology. Contributions have been written to provide the reader with a general overview of many of the concepts widely considered to be at the heart of the field today. The volume has been envisioned in such a way so as to be useful to everyone from the novice undergraduate student taking their first introduction to sociology course up to the seasoned expert in the field looking for a quick refresher on a critical concept.
The first major challenge when conceptualizing this project was to determine what exactly is a “core” concept in sociology. To do so I consulted a range of sources including introductory textbooks, headword lists from a dozen sociology‐related encyclopedias, and my own experience (itself a concept that could be considered anathema to any broad‐based sociological endeavor!) and came up with a list of 90 or so concepts that I thought fit the bill. That list was then circulated amongst several “big names” in the field who each came back with their own recommendations on what was missing and what might be a bit superfluous. This project represents a synthesis of that research and feedback. It is fair to assume that most readers of this volume will no doubt be able to identify concepts that they feel are glaringly absent and probably also point out a few that seem peripheral to the field. Such reactions are inevitable with a project of this nature.
Building on the above, there is no doubt that the idea of a core concept will vary depending not just on one’s personal background and interests but also on where they are (no doubt such a list compiled in France or Japan or Kenya might look a bit different), when they are (one can imagine how this list might have looked 25 years ago, or will look 25 years from now), who they are (as good sociologists we recognize that one’s personal demographics can color their perceptions), the methods they use (I can imagine quantitative, qualitative, and mixed‐methods‐oriented folks having some interesting discussions over this list), and even their own motivations to be interested in sociology (revolutionaries, reformers, and pragmatists would all no doubt conceive of such a list differently). That said, every attempt was made to create a volume that was as global, in both the literal and the metaphoric sense, as possible.
The contributors in this volume come from a wide range of backgrounds but nearly all are recognized names at the top of their respective fields. Thus, amongst the contributors one will find many names that will be familiar to anyone who has taken so much as an introduction to sociology course. The contributor list also draws on experts from around the world, and not just the so‐called “Global North.” I believe the real strength of this volume lies in that broad range of expertise. I am grateful to each and every one of these contributors for allowing me to compile their combined expertise into a single volume.
There are many people to thank on a project such as this as this volume represents the efforts of more than one hundred people. First, and foremost, I would like to thank Justin Vaughan, my publisher, who believed in me enough to let me undertake this challenging project. Justin and I have worked together on projects such as this for some 15 years now and I cannot imagine a more supportive publisher. I would also like to thank Liz Wingett, Dominic Bibby, Emily Corkhill, Louise Spencely, and the rest of the team at Wiley for their hard work and dedication to this project. They have continued to be a joy with whom to work.
An obvious thank you goes to each of the contributors to this volume. It was their hard work, expertise, and generosity of time and intellect that really made this project possible. It is with sincere gratitude that I acknowledge this project as a fruit of their labor. A special thank you goes to the anonymous reviewers who gave feedback on early drafts of the proposed headword list for this volume. Their feedback was invaluable in putting this together, and while their input only made this volume stronger, any shortcomings are strictly a fault of mine alone.
J. Michael RyanEditor, Core Concepts in SociologyThe University of LisbonDecember 2017
Susan A. McDaniel
University of Lethbridge, Canada
Sociology of aging takes a social lens to the complex processes of aging from birth to death. It focusses not only on older adults, but on the entirety of the life course, and how social factors such as education, income, and ethnicity, for example, contribute to life‐long aging. Structural factors in societies, such as the degrees of inequality, political systems, or policy regimes also have consequences for how we age, or even whether we age or die young.
Sociology of ageing has a relatively short history among sociology sub‐areas. It only became a Research Committee (which is a thematic specialization) in the International Sociological Association in 1974, although there had been a working group on “Sociology of Old Age” earlier. The Research Committee is now called “Sociology of Aging and Life Course,” indicative of the expanded focus of the field. Sociologists turning their attention to aging or older people had to fight for recognition in the discipline. Identity questions arose on whether sociologists of aging were really sociologists or gerontologists. The latter focus on older populations with an interdisciplinary and often a practice‐oriented lens. Sociologists studying ageing, like older adults themselves in society, were not seen as having high status.
This sociological sub‐area has been both constrained and advantaged by its early focus on empirical and often policy‐relevant research questions. Methods used initially were often descriptive, cross‐sectional, and both quantitative and qualitative. The often practical and easily interpreted research made sociology of aging interesting for policy makers and the public. It did less to encourage acceptance in wider sociological circles which tended to see it as less than real sociology. The field has been sharply critiqued in recent decades for its lack of theory (Marshall and Bengstson 2011). That is now changing, and indeed, may have been an overplayed critique.
Age stratification theories infused some early studies in sociology of aging, essentially taking the classical sociological theories of Durkheim, Marx, and Weber and applying them to age. Disengagement theory (Cumming and Henry 1961) was a truly transdisciplinary theoretical innovation, one which brought both interest and acclaim to the field. It posited that with the physical and psychological decline of older adults, they withdrew from society, serving a purpose both for the aging individuals of whom less was expected, and for the society in preparing for eventual death of older people. Activity theory, which still contrasts with, and contests, disengagement, begins with the practical concept of remaining active to stay younger longer. The degree to which this is an actual sociological theory remains open to debate, but it is popular in policy and research circles, as well in the popular mind perhaps particularly in US sociology of aging.
As both sociological theories of aging such as the life course perspective (McDaniel and Bernard 2011) advanced, sociology of aging gradually moved out of the margins of sociology. It is now a vibrant field, infused with feminist sociology, globalization, theories and research on intergenerational relations and dynamics, and, perhaps most importantly, with insights and methods of biology, psychology, and public policy. The infusion of other disciplines makes sociology of aging research no less sociological; in fact, the contribution of social factors to the aging process become more not less vivid.
The current emphasis on life course theory as central to sociology of ageing is both welcome and concerning. Life course theory, with its emphasis on life transitions and linked lives, has enabled deeper understanding of aging as a social process. So central is life course theory to the sociology of aging that the ISA research committee on aging has added life course to its title. There is no doubt that life course theory as a fully complex sociological theory adds much to the sociology of ageing. That said, concerns have been expressed that it is perhaps too individual‐focussed without taking social structures as much into account. Whether this is a justified critique or not remains to be seen. Matilda White Riley (1987) in her very early exposition of life course and aging, argues that individual processes of aging over the life course change social structures while, at the same time, social structures change aging.
Future directions that sociology of aging might take include a remarkable breadth and depth. Caring and care provision remains a huge topic to explore, particularly in the context of globalized care, both families that are multinational and thus caring across borders, and carers who are imported. Intergenerational supports, dynamics, and inequalities, both micro and macro are another area likely to be mined in future for new insights (Biggs and Lowenstein 2011). Social supports and their absence is another ongoing direction for research, particularly with new insights about the negative health impacts of loneliness. Changing work and non‐work life course patterns and their implications for ageing in future is a big challenge. Lastly, but no less importantly, data sets that link various records about health, lifestyle, families, education, and work enable deeper understanding of the factors and forces that contribute to mortality and illness differentials as we age.
SEE ALSO: Body, the; Demography and Population Studies; Family and Kinship, Sociology of; Life Course
Biggs, Simon, and Ariela Lowenstein. 2011.
Generational Intelligence: A Critical Approach to Age Relations
. London and New York: Routledge.
Cumming, Elaine, and William Henry. 1961.
Growing Old: The Process of Disengagement
. New York: Basic Books.
Marshall, Victor W., and Vern L. Bengtson. 2011. “Theoretical Perspectives on the Sociology of Aging.” In
Handbook of Sociology of Aging
, edited by Richard A. SetterstenJr. and Jacqueline L. Angel, 17–33. New York: Springer.
McDaniel, Susan A., and Paul Bernard, eds. 2011. “Life Course as a Policy Lens.”
Canadian Public Policy/Analyse de Politiques
37, Supplement February. Online at:
Riley, Matilda White. 1987. “On the Significance of Age in Society.”
American Sociological Review
52 (February): 1–14. Online at:
Hyde, Martin, and Paul Higgs. 2016.
Ageing and Globalisation
. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.
McDaniel, Susan A., ed. 2008.
Ageing: Key Issues for the 21
SAGE Major Work Series. London: Sage.
McDaniel, Susan A., and Zachary Zimmer, eds. 2013.
Global Ageing in the 21
Century: Challenges and Opportunities
Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing.
Settersten, Jr., Richard A., and Jacqueline L. Angel, eds. 2011.
Handbook of Sociology of Aging. Series: Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research
. New York: Springer.
Robert Gordon University, UK
Alienation theory speaks to the lived experience of capitalist society. The basic premise is that social agents are estranged from their talents and creativity, and lose control of their ability to work meaningfully with others. Capitalist economic and social relations are the cause of that estrangement. Human activity is directed towards the creation of profit rather than working collectively to make human society a better place in which to live. The subjective lived experience of alienation is the denial of self‐actualization, which results in poor health, lower all‐round wellbeing, including depression, being frustrated with life, and a sense of social fragmentation.
The theory of alienation is most commonly associated with Marx, forming a crucial element of his wider critique of capitalism, but it does also share some common ground with Durkheim’s and Merton’s ideas on anomie. Marx identified four basic expressions or modalities of alienation:
: where the social agent loses control of what they have produced.
: where the social agent loses control over how they work.
Human nature alienation
: where social agents cannot exercise their innate abilities to be creative, and to use their talents and skills.
Other human alienation
: where social agents are distanced from each other, and other people are recast as an object of competition, threat, or hate.
Within sociology the use of alienation theory reached its peak in the 1960s and 1970s. A considerable output of research‐based journal articles and theory‐orientated books were published at that time, however it was often intellectually fractious, with alienation theory being the subject of much debate. The empirical research was often criticised as lacking theoretical rigor, while the reverse was claimed about the theoretical work being insufficiently tested with research. Debates also surrounded whether to focus on the subjective and psychological experiences of alienation or the objective causes of alienation within the economic and social structures of capitalist society.
The rapid decline of alienation theory from the early 1980s onwards can be traced to a number of other reasons too: the collapse of the general Marxist political project, the rise of neoliberalism, the move towards poststructural and postmodern theories within sociology and the rise of new light or immaterial service industries. By the early 1990s interest in alienation theory had waned.
There has been a modest re‐engagement with alienation theory within sociology of late. Some sociologists have begun to explore how alienation can be used to understand the modern workplace and how alienation theory can provide insights into a diverse range of areas such as technology, and health and wellbeing. This renewed interest has arisen due to what are seen as the analytical shortcomings of postmodernist theory and that the modern neoliberal corporate workplace is filled with the sort of power relations that Marx would easily recognize. Workers and social agents across the Global North and South face meaningless fragmented working conditions, where they are subject to increasing levels of exploitation and managerial control.
SEE ALSO: Anomie; Class; Marxism; Sociological Theory; Work, Occupations and Professions, Sociology of.
Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society
, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rahel, Jaeggi. 2014.
Alienation (New Directions in Critical Theory)
. Columbia: Columbia University Press.
Wendling, Amy. 2009.
Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation
. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Yuill, Chris. 2011. “Forgetting and Remembering Alienation.”
The History of Human Sciences
24 (2): 103–119.
University of South Carolina, USA
Anomie refers to a society’s relative degree of normlessness or an ineffectiveness of norms to regulate behavior (Deflem 2015). Derived from the Greek terms ‘anomia’, the concept was first introduced in sociology by Emile Durkheim, who had adopted the term from French moral philosopher Jean‐Marie Guyau, to develop it sociologically in his study on the social division of labor (Durkheim  1984). Durkheim’s concept of anomie refers to the exceptional social circumstances under which the division of labor is not, or not sufficiently, regulated. In his seminal study on suicide, Durkheim ( 1951) similarly employs anomie to differentiate that social type of suicide which results from a sudden or chronic lack of regulation.
In modern sociology, anomie was popularized in Robert K. Merton’s work on deviance where he argues that various types of deviant behavior result from the strain that is exerted under conditions of a lack of opportunities to legitimate means of advancement (Merton 1957a, 1957b). Anomie results from the great emphasis that is placed in American society on attaining the cultural dominant goal of individual success irrespective of the means by which those goals are to be attained. Merton argues this de‐institutionalization of means to be characteristic of American society as a whole.
In contemporary sociology, the anomie concept has lost the centrality it enjoyed in post‐World War II sociology when structural‐functionalism was the dominant paradigm. Yet, a resurgence of anomie has since also taken place. Merton’s anomie concept has continued to be of intellectual interest via the popularity of the related strain theory of deviance. Moreover the Durkheimian concept of anomie as societal deregulation has also remained of significance, both theoretically in view of the continued centrality of Durkheimian thought as well as empirically to describe the impact of dramatic societal changes such as the fall of communism and the globalization of capitalism.
SEE ALSO: Alienation; Class; Deviance
Deflem, Mathieu. 2015. “Anomie: History of the Concept.” In
International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Volume 1, edited by James D. Wright, 718–721. Oxford: Elsevier.
Durkheim, Emile.  1984.
The Division of Labor in Society
. New York: The Free Press.
Durkheim, Emile.  1951.
Suicide: A Study in Sociology
. New York: The Free Press.
Merton, Robert K. 1957a. “Social Structure and Anomie.” In his
Social Theory and Social Structure
. Revised and Enlarged Edition, 131–160. New York: The Free Press.
Merton, Robert K. 1957b. “Continuities in the Theory of Social Structure and Anomie.” In his
Social Theory and Social Structure
. Revised and Enlarged Edition, 161–194. New York: The Free Press.
University of Kent, UK
Body matters have long been viewed as the province of the natural rather than the social sciences, as evident in Durkheim’s insistence that sociology involves studying “social facts” that are qualitatively different from the subject matter of biology. Yet sociology has, since the early 1980s, focused increasingly on the physical constitution, the senses and affects of human being. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the “rise of embodiment” has been one of the most influential sociological developments over the last thirty years, culminating in the establishment of an interdisciplinary field of “body studies.” It is not just the social sciences, moreover, that have recognized the societal importance of bodies. Epigenetics has acknowledged that social factors can determine the expression of genes, for example, while bioarchaeology has revealed how human bones can illuminate patterns of migration and gender differences in diet. Perspectives from outside as well as inside the discipline have thus recognized the importance of studying the body as a social as well as an organic phenomenon.
It is social developments themselves, however, that have highlighted most visibly the importance of the body for understanding modern societies. The rise of consumer culture from the 1950s was associated with a proliferation of “slim, sexy and youthful” body images in advertising and social media. Relatedly, people’s pursuit of the “body beautiful” has intensified recently, with 15.6 million cosmetic procedures performed in the United States alone during 2014. This obsession with bodily perfection has also been associated with social problems, including eating disorders, and the invention of new terms such as “muscle dysmorphia” and “tanorexia” to denote obsessions with physical appearance. The prominence of such issues helps account for why sociologists, interested in an array of contemporary developments, have felt compelled to incorporate body matters into their research.
Sociology has also become interested in the body as a means of reinterpreting its heritage in order to enhance the discipline’s explanatory power. In this context, while the status of the body may have been submerged within classical sociology, analysts have unearthed a “secret history” of relevant writings. These include Spinoza’s monism, Marx’s materialism, and Nietzsche’s analyses of Apollonian rationality and Dionysian sensuality. Within sociology itself, Comte linked morally harmonious societies with actions informed by mind and heart, while Tönnies understood the shift from medieval to modern societies as the outcome of contrasting embodied wills. It was the writings of Durkheim, Weber, and Elias, however, that have arguably proven of most enduring worth to sociological studies of the body.
Despite associating sociology with the study of institutions, Durkheim developed a theory of religion and society based on a concern with the body’s social potential. While bodies generate egoistic appetites, they conceal “a sacred principle that erupts onto the surface” via markings or adornments that facilitate the circulation in social assemblies of a collective effervescence enabling individuals to become attached to and emboldened by entities greater than themselves (Durkheim  1995: 138, 233). These themes continue to resonate in studies of forms of embodiment, forms of sociality, and diverse manifestations of the sacred.
Emanating from the contrasting methodologically individualist tradition of German thought, Weber also recruited the body to his writings on the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Weber analyzed how religious beliefs shaped bodily identities and behavior. Eschewing sinful pleasure, and immersing themselves in labor while searching for worldly signs of election, the physical habits stimulated by the Reformers provided a corporeal basis for rational capitalism. Weber’s writings continue to influence body studies of rationalization, diet, frailty, and religion.
Norbert Elias’s writings on long‐term civilizing processes (recognized increasingly as an essential contribution to the foundations of the discipline) have inspired contemporary analyses of the intercorporeal interdependences that drive social developments. Elias explored how codes of body management gained increasing importance in almost every European country from the Renaissance onwards, promoting a heightened tendency among people to monitor and mold themselves in relation to these criteria. These developments were assisted by wider social contexts: in contrast to earlier periods, survival depended less on physical battles and more on skills of impression management in which the body became a location for social codes.
Classical sociological resources continue to influence contemporary studies, but two areas in which considerations of the body have exerted a particular effect across sociology concern conceptions of social structures and human agency. Social structures have often been conceived of as operating via ideological forces, while people’s capacities to act have been linked to status or class‐based capacities for cognitive thought. Yet this focus on the mind ignores the corporeal correlates of constraint and enablement, as evident in the work of two of the most important figures within the sociology of the body: Michel Foucault and Marcel Mauss.
Foucault (1975) wrote extensively on the operation of disciplinary structures. In the European penal system, for example, medieval displays of monarchical power focused upon destroying the bodies of offenders. In the late early modern era, however, there emerged a new “art of penal government” in which disciplining the body became more important than destroying it. Focused upon improving the population’s human capital, this “art” was exemplified by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s design for a “panopticon” conducive to rehabilitation. Evident in developments across hospitals, asylums, prisons, and schools, the recent culmination of these more “positive” means of control is exemplified by a consumer culture that eschews “control by repression” in favor of control by stimulation.
In relation to human agency, in contrast, Marcel Mauss’s ( 1973) writings on “techniques of the body” have been central to analyses of culture and action. Mauss identifies social, psychological, and biological dimensions to body techniques, and emphasizes that our knowledge is intimately related to how we sense and move within our environment. In contrast to conventional Western philosophical conceptions of a “brain‐bound mind” trapped within an irrational body, learning involves transactions with our environment; taking our surroundings into our bodies through breath, sight, hearing, etc., while also transforming them through our actions. This approach towards the embodied basis of human agency has been complemented by studies of “body pedagogics” that draw on the writings of the pragmatists Dewey, Mead, Peirce, and James ‐ and also on the phenomenologist Merleau‐Ponty ‐ in suggesting that action passes through cycles of habit, crisis and creativity as individuals experience equilibrium or disturbance within their environment.
If body matters are key to understanding structures and agency, so too they are for comprehending related social processes. Social divisions and power relations are articulated through various features of the body. Racism is a prominent example, with the history of plastic surgery highlighting how discrimination and persecution operate through the medium of the body. Social solidarities also emerge through the body. Tattooing and scarification have long been used to signify tribal and communal membership, while the food incorporated into or excluded from bodies during periods of religious observance including Ramadan has traditionally been associated with the promotion of collective experiences of belonging. Such examples suggest the body is our most natural symbol (Douglas 1970). It is often experienced intensely as a sign and vehicle of identity and belonging that can also signal deep differences between peoples.
Having outlined the background to and foundations of body studies, it is important to highlight the diverse trajectories associated with the subject as well as the contemporary conflicts with which it is associated. The distinctive factors that have shaped current writings on embodiment include “second wave” feminism’s focus on gendered bodies, and ecological concerns about “one‐dimensional” consumption‐oriented lifestyles. Elsewhere, there has been a focus on commodification processes and the body, ranging from the brutal selling of women and children into the sex industry, to the global problem of organ trafficking and the pervasive standing of appearance as a form of physical capital. The significance of the body as a commodity has also added to the valuation placed upon youth, and the stigma associated with ageing and dependence.
From a different perspective, current sociological trajectories involving the body have also been influenced by the rise of embodied artificial intelligence in the form of robotics. This helped validate the discipline’s concern to view the body as a constructed phenomenon. Scientific advances in medicine encouraged a distinct concern with the body in sociological writings on the rise of self‐governance, while the discipline has maintained its concern with “heavy and ponderous” means of governance following the Bush government’s “war on terror” and the intensified concern with “alien bodies.” Finally, while the body used to be seen as natural, determined by the parameters of nature, advances in science and technology have resulted in it being viewed as alterable and subject to the designs of individuals; a project amenable to alteration as a consequence of individual, national, religious, or other agendas.
These developments highlight very different aspects of the body. From its gendered, constructed, governmental, exchange, and medical values, the body slips and slides, metamorphosing in terms of its meaning and status. At a time when scientific and technological interventions into the body have increased our capacity to alter our physical appearances and capacities to unprecedented levels, body matters have become increasingly contested as well as being increasingly visible. In this context, if we consider the current relevance of Durkheim’s work, it is reasonable to explore whether bodies are now prized and even rendered sacred on the basis of varied and opposing factors that are likely to keep them central to sociology for the foreseeable future.
SEE ALSO: Emotion, Sociology of; Gender; Identity
Douglas, Mary. 1970.
Natural Symbols. Explorations in Cosmology
. London: Cressett.
Durkheim, Emile.  1995.
The Elementary Forms of Religious Life
. New York: Free Press.
Foucault, Michel. 1975.
Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Mauss, Marcel.  1973. “Techniques of the Body.”
Economy and Society
Elias, Norbert.  2000.
The Civilising Process
. Oxford: Blackwell.
Gilman, Sander L. 2000.
Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery
. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Shilling, Chris.  2012.
The Body and Social Theory
, 3rd ed. London: Sage.
Shilling, Chris. 2016.
The Body: A Very Short Introduction
. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Turner, Bryan S., ed. 2012.
Routledge Handbook of Body Studies
. London: Routledge.
Clemson University, USA
Cultural, social, and economic capital are three of various forms of capital distributed unevenly in human populations. It is the instrumentality of these forms of capital for enabling social mobility, and how their lack can prevent or restrict said mobilities, which makes them particularly important for sociological analysis. Other forms of capital exist and may operate similarly as enablers or restrictors of social mobility and esteem.
“Capital is … derived from … capitalis (Latin root caput, head), meaning principal, chief” (Fetter 1930: 187). For Fetter in 1930 capital was solely economic, referring mainly to ownership of commercial and technological goods, and real estate. Application of adjectives to the term, capital, denoting other kinds of resources owned or controlled by individuals or corporate entities appeared later. Conception of the economic value of skills accruing from education began appearing in the years immediately following WWII (Teixeira 2014), developed in the early work of economist Gary Becker, in writings on human capital. Generally, resources of persons that are accumulable to an indefinite extent and that provide potential access to other kinds of (economic or non‐economic) resources are capital.
Propagation of “capital” as a generalized concept emerged from the writings of Bourdieu. DiMaggio (1979: 1463) explained that Bourdieu diverged “critically from conventional economics in his recognition that capital need not be strictly economic” and elaborated that “capital, defined implicitly as attributes, possessions, or qualities of a person or a position exchangeable for goods, services, or esteem, exists in many forms – symbolic, cultural, social, or linguistic, as well as economic.” However, as “capitals proliferate … the metaphorical currency undergoes inflation” (1468–1469). Despite this, Bourdieu is the premier social theorist who has addressed the cultural, social, and economic forms of capital, and their interrelationships, within a broader theoretical framework of social actors operating within their respective fields of action.
In “The Forms of Capital” Bourdieu (1986) discusses three subtypes of cultural capital: embodied, objectified, and institutionalized. Embodied cultural capital is vested “in the form of long‐standing dispositions of the mind and body” and “presupposes a process of embodiment, incorporation, which, insofar as it implies a labor of inculcation and assimilation, costs time, time which must be invested personally by the investor.” It is “external wealth converted into an integral part of the person [and] cannot be transmitted instantaneously (unlike money, property rights, or even titles of nobility) by gift or bequest, purchase or exchange” (47–48). Although it cannot be shorn from its possessor, neither can it “be accumulated beyond [a person’s] appropriating capacities” (49).
Objectified cultural capital adheres to material artifacts “such as writings, paintings, monuments, instruments [and] is transmissible in its materiality.” However, to “consume” objectified cultural capital requires embodied cultural capital. Objectified cultural capital thus exists only if there is a receiver or audience with the literacy to understand, interpret, and appreciate it.
Institutionalized cultural capital, according to Bourdieu, permits “a form of objectification that must be set apart because … it confers entirely original properties on the cultural capital which it is presumed to guarantee” (47). Particularly in the case of educational credentials it protects its bearer because “the objectification of cultural capital in the form of academic qualifications is one way of neutralizing some of the properties it derives from the fact that, being embodied, it has the same biological limits as its bearer” (50). Academic qualifications provide “a certificate of cultural competence which confers on its holder a conventional, constant, legally guaranteed value … which has a relative autonomy vis‐à‐vis its bearer and even vis‐à‐vis the cultural capital he effectively possesses at a given moment in time” (50–51). Bourdieu thus points to a social function of institutionalized cultural capital as buffering individuals from their own (embodied) fallibility. Thus, the cultural capital accrued from educational credentialing is separate and distinct from the human capital developed and transmitted in even the very same institutions.
The key conceptual definition of social capital is also from Bourdieu. He defined social capital as “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition” (Bourdieu 1986: 248).
As alluded to above, a basic feature of all forms of capital is convertibility. One form of capital can be converted into at least one other (but not necessarily “any”) form of capital. Social capital is important not because of some nebulous potential for bridging one individual or group with others, or for the subjective sense of solidarity (or bonding) it brings, but because it involves the social determination or influence over peoples’ fates, both positive and negative.
The importance of social capital is much more than simply being embedded more or less deeply in social networks. It is about the resources disproportionately available through social networks and, indeed, the strategies and tactics of intergenerational status transmission even when equalization of opportunity is increasingly codified into law. “[T]he holders of capital have an ever greater interest in resorting to reproduction strategies capable of ensuring better‐disguised transmission … by exploiting the convertibility of the types of capital” (Bourdieu 1986: 55). Thus what frequently and officially passes for talent or accomplishment may be cultural capital purchased through elite university educations which, through a combination of credentialing (institutionalized cultural capital) and connections (social capital), opens doors to well‐salaried positions (DiMaggio 1979: 1466). Though universalism and particularism are commonly portrayed as opposites, attention to cultural and social capital reveals that particularism can operate within universalism. Although “social ties can … provide privileged access to resources; they can also … bar outsiders from gaining access to the same resources through particularistic preferences” (Portes 1998: 21).
Bourdieu asserts that economic capital is the most basic of the various forms of capital. It is undeniably a powerful attractant of human endeavor, tied to the material resources necessary for human cultural maintenance and survival. It is also calculable to very precise degrees within established or negotiated price structures. Economic capital provides the necessary motivation to carry out work, including that which is dirty and dangerous (and sometimes demeaning) across the full range of economic sectors and occupations. Thus, as viewed from the labor theory of value, economic capital involves much more than the ownership of commercial and technological goods, and real estate and includes human capital.
SEE ALSO: Class; Class, Capitalist; Culture, Sociology of; Economic Sociology; Marxism; Power and Authority; Social Network Analysis; Stratification and Inequality
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1986. “The Forms of Capital.” In
Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education
, edited by J.G. Richardson, 241–258. New York: Greenwood.
DiMaggio, Paul. 1979. “On Pierre Bourdieu.”
American Journal of Sociology
84: 1460–1474. DOI:10.1086/226948.
Fetter, Frank A. 1930. “Capital.” In
Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 3
, edited by Edwin R.A. Seligman and Alvin Johnson, 187–190. New York: The MacMillan Company.
Portes, Alejandro. 1998. “Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology.”
Annual Review of Sociology
24: 1–21. DOI:10.1146/annurev.soc.24.1.1.
Teixeira, Pedro Nuno. 2014.
IZA Journal of Labor Economics
3: 12. DOI:10.1186/s40172‐014‐0012‐2.
Queen’s University, Canada
Contemporary capitalism is a global phenomenon; no society is untouched by it. The word is used in everyday conversations, on daily newscasts, and in tweets and posts on social media; “capitalism” appears everywhere. One asks, “what’s to learn about it that I don’t already know?” In fact, capitalism is a very complex, highly multi‐faceted term. A short overview of its etymology is a good starting point for understanding the concept fully.
Capitalism is a derivative of “capital” which stems from the Latin “caput” (meaning head, principal, or chief). It is not until the eighteenth century that capital is defined as a productive form of stock, funds, or money. This meaning is further consolidated in the late eighteenth century by early political economists (e.g., François Quesnay, Jean Baptiste Say, and Adam Smith) and becomes the dominant meaning by the late nineteenth century.
The term “capitalist” first appears in the mid‐seventeenth century as one of several words describing the wealthy (others included moneyed men, men of means, nouveau riches). Each term carried a negative connotation. Even as capitalist is used more widely by the late eighteenth century, it remains a negative term. Capitalist, as a scholarly term describing individuals who employed workers, begins in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, even though capitalist, as a technical term, gains wider acceptance as industrial capitalism is established in Europe, it still retains several negative associations.
Capitalism is the most recent term used first, in the mid‐nineteenth century, to describe the conversion of things into capital. It quickly becomes a technical term designating an economic system in which capital expands but it is not positively associated with the benefits of the emerging industrial market economy. French radicals like Louis Blanc, Joseph‐Pierre Proudhon, and August Blanqui use capitalism as a negative reference point to glorify the future societies they predict will come into existence.
This overview of capitalism’s etymology leads to three important points. First, one is reminded that words like capital, capitalist, and capitalism have not always had the meanings commonly associated with them today. The emergence and changing meaning of capital, capitalist, and capitalism parallel the shifts in Europe’s economy and social structure from the twelfth century onwards as trade began to expand. As a fledgling economic term, capital began as a stock of agricultural goods (crops and livestock) which were exchanged for other goods of capital or chief importance. As trade expanded, money was loaned at interest (capitalis pars debiti) to merchants who purchased a stock of goods to trade. Because capital was not the primary source of wealth, the words capitalist and capitalism did not exist during the medieval period. Those words emerged with the changing nature of trade, production, and wealth accumulation.
Second, although Smith is regarded as the father of free market capitalism, he did not use the terms capitalist or capitalism in The Wealth of Nations. Furthermore, rather than calling his preferred system “laissez faire capitalism” – the term so closely associated to his name – Smith (1776: 290) identified it as the “system of natural liberty.” This would be an economy where all preferences or restraints are removed and a “simple system of natural liberty establishes itself of its own accord.” Every individual is left perfectly free to pursue his or her own interests “and to bring both his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man, or order of men.” This, Smith maintained, is the economic system that is most conducive to expanding the wealth of nations.
The third point concerns Marx. Although capitalism originated as a negative term and is frequently associated with Marx, he rarely used the word. Capitalism does not appear anywhere in the Communist Manifesto and occurs only once in Capital’s three volumes.
Although nineteenth‐century economists used capitalist as a term, only those influenced by Marxism wrote about capitalism. Werner Sombart and Max Weber are the first to use capitalism as a scholarly, analytical concept.
Sombart (1902) argues that capitalism is driven by an “acquisition principle” which makes increasing wealth the real goal of economic activity rather than producing goods for specific human needs or wants. In addition, the “economic rationalism” that capitalism establishes results in capitalists pursuing the most expedient and efficient means to capitalist acquisition.
Weber distinguishes early merchant capitalism from “modern” capitalism by the particular frame of mind found in the latter. Regarding modern capitalism, Weber ([1904/5] 2002: 19, 12) writes that the “spirit of capitalism” involves “the pursuit of a calling [berufsmäsig]” in which the capitalist seeks “profit for its own sake in the manner exemplified by Benjamin Franklin [i.e. an ethic of ‘the making of money and yet more money, coupled with an avoidance of all uninhibited enjoyment’].”
Three points arise from Sombart’s and Weber’s analyses. First, they recognize that capitalism has gone through different phases. Moreover, while some aspects are found in all of capitalism’s phases, certain characteristics are unique to each phase. Capitalism is not one overarching social formation – its different periods have specific, identifiable, distinguishing characteristics.
Second, despite Sombart’s, Weber’s, and subsequent analyses, people rarely view capitalism as a neutral, analytical term; it remains a controversial one. The word is so strongly associated with the politicized critique of nineteenth‐century industrial capitalism that many economists, sociologists, commentators, and laypersons avoid it; they prefer allegedly “neutral” terms like market economy, free enterprise system, or something similar. Capitalism’s use as an analytical term and a politicized one is the outcome of capitalism’s history and the term designating it as a social system.
Third, for Sombart, modern capitalism is an economic system involving owners of the means of production and propertyless workers. The primary goal is profit and owners’ use economic rationalism in concert with the acquisition principle.
Weber’s image of modern capitalism is similar, although he emphasizes the dominant spirit of modern capitalism in which the quest for more and more money is a calling and a duty. In addition, Weber ([1904/5] 2002: 120–121) laments that modern capitalism and its relentless pursuit of profit, through the planned, long‐term rationalization of economic activity, has created the “mighty cosmos of the modern economic order” which affects everyone “born into this mechanism,” trapping them within a housing as hard as steel (stahlhartes Gehäuse). And there appears to be no escape.
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