Society is made up of individual members. These members band themselves into together, at times informally providing a social force that affects the manner of how things are organized. These are the social groups, organizations of people who are on their own individual social agents. This is because any organization, whatever the nature and type is a social agency where people, social agents come together to share ideas, share lives. This sharing, exchanging and giving creates new knowledge, practices & traditions and ultimately leads to the creation of a certain culture – beliefs & practices shared by a group.
There are varied changes in society that agencies and agents can influence or cause to happen – economic, political and of course socio-structural (also plainly known as social although economic and political change fall under the heading of social by nature). Every culture and society has its rules and the status quo is dictated by it. One of the biggest social changes America had recently was the election of the first African-American President, Barack Obama which is socio-political in nature. It changed leadership from republican to democratic and also made history what with women joining the race.
Groups are defined in the social sciences as the building block of society. A group is an organization of social agents, people, who come together to share membership and gather. It is in groups that culture and traditions begin. There are 3 classifications of social groups -primary, secondary and referential. It is this groups that make up society. * Primary – basic and intimate, the ‘first hand’ group whereby the individual experiences socialization first hand & is most his/herself. This is his family, his group of very close friends or relatives/clan.
Membership here gives the individual shelter and fulfilment of his most important needs – kinship, belonging, purpose, and support. Here, family traditions happen and contribute greatly to ones identity. * Secondary – bigger than primary and are usually formal and informal in nature. Membership here is a big part of one’s socialization and it contributes greatly to one’s identity and social status.
Examples are school and work – the military, hospitals, government agencies, companies, etc. * Referential – this group could be as small as primary or big as secondary. Membership here is usually voluntary. An example of this is Clubs & unions (fan clubs, book clubs, hobby clubs, etc.).
A Personal Experience
From the day I was born I instantly became a part of a primary group, that of my family. it is from them – my parents, elder siblings, relatives – that I learned my initial social skills that by continued experience & education allowed me to build up my capacity in performing complex & demanding social skills to become a productive individual as part of my family and of the other primary groups & secondary groups I have come to be a part of. My group of friends, an informal yet intimately primary setting.
The schools that I have attended where my friends and I a part of as a secondary and formal group as well as the reference groups that I have come to join. In grade school I was part of the Math Club. In High school I joined several clubs including the Math Club, the News Paper and the Photography Club – they are all formal as they were part of the extracurricular activities of the school. But the members are informal in approach with each other and I recall I have created close friends within these clubs making them secondary & reference groups that I have belonged in whereby I can also count a primary circle I am a member of within.
These Clubs, despite the primary-group nature of intimacy was governed by a set of officers elected by members. Therefore when we have to function as a group, we function controlled by our hierarchy. The president leads and the rest of the officers – vice president, secretary, treasurer, research, and logistics must perform their responsibilities. While I was never elected as a member I was a part of certain committees and it was my duty to perform tasks accordingly.
These clubs helped young students like me then understand responsibility & social hierarchy as well as the importance of taking an elected post seriously. It gave us a working experience of what it is like in a complex social network – being a part of both an informal & formal group with secondary, referential & primary groupings thrown into the dynamics. It is by all means using Weberian bureaucratic ideals; our student clubs were ”with the configuration into which (hypothetical) ‘factors’ are arranged to form a cultural phenomena which is historically significant” (1904 in Martin et. al., 1994).
In other words, we followed the democratic suffrage to chose our leader as well as select those who should be responsible for certain offices/functions following what was in effect the ‘American Way’ of governance mirroring the real world into our secondary group.
My Current Social Group/Experience
While I was in high school I was employed part time as a Library Assistant. It is a formal structure in a sense that my employment bridges the relationship I have with the organizational structure of the Library. Most people think that assisting the Librarian is only about putting books back in place. It is however more complicated than that. To qualify even for the 15/hour a week load I’ve had to undergo training on Library science for up to a semester.
Archiving & classifying books requires a collective knowledge in database management, cataloguing, etc. At the time my best friend was also a library assistant. We usually hang out at the cafe by the library in between classes. The cafe is also a hangout for literature students (my best friend is one) especially those with a fond affection for sci-fi and Tolkien. I find myself joining debates on Tolkien’s world most of time as I have loved Tolkien.
I confess that since hanging out in the cafe, my Tolkien I.Q. has increased not just because of the debates but because of the access I have to all his work: it’s nice to prepare for it at times. There are about 6 of us who are quite literally ‘fans’ of the Middle Earth Series and we’ve actually started a Tolkien website where other Tolkien fans can visit and join. While membership into the fan club is informal with our love for Tolkien’s work as the main element, my employment as a library assistant required that I fill certain categories and take on responsibilities in exchange for pay as well as work experience.
In our small ‘fan club’ we have no social hierarchy, we hang out and share the responsibilities of running our website because it is fun although once in awhile I have to prod my friends for the tests so I can upload it online — it’s hard being the main web guy. At work in the library the hierarchy is in place: I report to my section head who reports to the department head who reports to the main librarian.
On the weekends I report to the I.T. manager who also report to the main/head librarian. Sometimes while working I would usually talk to my best friend when we share the same time period informally, especially if we are shelving books. I would never in my life dream of calling the head librarian “Dude” though —- I might get fired. Communicating within the library hierarchy is different that when I communicate with members of my ‘informal Tolkien club’, it’s part of the territory.
Human beings are social agents, society is dynamic due to the nature of its members – susceptible to internal & external forces and adaptable according to the need of all its members to cope, develop and survive. Despite the formal and informal nature of groups one thing is similar; all organizations are there because of its members – people. Culture happens within social groups.
Traditions established, identities referenced and opinions shared. When internal or external forces influence a social group to change be they structural (new members are replaced or a group is realigned), environmental/ecological (a transplant of the organization to a new location, for example, the library is moved to a new building), technological (installation of new equipment that will affect the group, for example a new biometrics ID system), cultural (changes in tradition, for example, Coffee Breaks are not allowed anymore), and demographic (change in statistics/number, for example, employees are laid off due to the current recession) the reaction within groups influence social dynamics changing relationships & perspectives.
As it stands the primary groups I am a part of continue to change as well as the secondary and referential groups I belong to. In my family, as time goes by, new dimensions to my role as a sibling and a ‘child of’ are added. I get more responsibilities to myself and to my family.
The Tolkien Book club I am a member of started as a referential informal group. Now all the members are my friends and we hang out together, it is a primary-referential group for me where friendship and deeper relationships allow for us to share things as ‘friends’ making it more intimate. As for my secondary group membership in the library, I have gained invaluable friends through my work giving me a circle of friends in a secondary environment. I now belong to a primary group within a secondary system.
References:Hare, A. P. (1962), Handbook of small group research, New York: Macmillan. Kornblum, William (2004), Sociology in a Changing World, Wadsworth Publishing. Martin, Michael & McIntyre, lee C. (eds.)(1994), Readings in the Philosophy of Social Science, MIT Press. Schermerhorn, John R. Jr., Hunt, James G., Osborn, Richard N. (2005), Organizational Behavior, (Ninth Edition), John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Sherif, Muzafer & Sherif, Carolyn W. (1956), An Outline of Social Psychology, Harper & Brothers: New York