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Meaning of a Social Group

Updated on April 13, 2012


A social group is a set of two or more people who interact regularly and in a manner this is defined by some common purpose, a set of norms and a structure of statuses and roles within the group. By this i mean, a college class, a family, a football team and a work group all qualify as a social groups. Members of a social groups maintain common interests and observed the rules and regulations governing behavior within the group.

A group should be distinguished from a crowd or an appregate. A crowd has no system of membership, nor rules governing behavior. A crowd is always spontaneous, for instance in an automobile accident, curious passerby, or sympathizers gather to see what happened and how they can help. After the resolution of the problem, the crowd disperses, everyone goes to his own tent. in the same way, applicants that gather in an employment office in response to an advertisement do not qualify as a group, even if they do interact. There is no regularity in their interaction, nor any division of roles and statuses. They share a common interest only to the extent that they all came for an interview, after which they all will disperse in different directions. This cluster of people are referred to as an aggregate.

A group however, has some system of membership and member's depend on one another in performing their functions. A group therefore is no mere collection of individuals, rather constitutes individuals united for some purpose or interest under some rules and regulations. A group require that its members take part in its life and behave in a particular way. Such behavioral expectations sets limits on what any member can do to others within the group. This is because all members are bound together by some specific form of social relations. Sociologists posit that a group is one of the most basic form of social organization, in fact the family is referred to as the primary unit of social organization.

From the background of the foregoing, the characteristic of a social group have been identified as follows:
1. Definable membership: a group of two or more people who may be identified by name or type, for example john's family, christian union, sociology association.

2. Group consciousness: The members think of themselves as belonging to a group and have a conscious identification with each other.

3. A sense of shared purpose: The members have the same goals and ideals.

4. Interdependence in satisfaction of needs; The members need the help of one another to accomplish the purpose for which they joined the group.

5. Interaction: The members communicate with one another, influence each other and reacts to one another.

6. Ability to act in a unitary manner: The group can behave or act as a separate entity.

Types of social Groups

Basically, there are two types of social group namely the Primary and Secondary groups. Primary groups has three characteristics: members associated with each other directly and continually; they have a "we feeling" of belonging to the group, setting boundaries between themselves and outsiders; and they have a common spirit which is concerned for the good of the group. The chief example is the family, but a set of tight friends, residents of a small village e.t.c. might also form primary groups. A group is primary when it is fundamental in forming the basic ideas and social nature of the individual and when it is characterized by intimate interaction and co-operation. Primary groups are the source of love, co-operation and genuine concern for one another. the conditions that permit the development of primary groups are physical closeness, small size, and intensive interaction for an extended period of time. In such a group relationship, members are usually concerned about one another well being. There is warmth, companionship, relaxation, free expression of emotion, and open communication. Members value the relationship more than what they can gain from it. the individual's behavior within the primary group relationship is regulated by such informal controls as shame, teasing, show of disapproval and exclusion from the group.

on the other hand, a secondary group is a large number of people interacting impersonally, for some specific purposes. Secondary groups are usually large, interpersonal relationships are much less close and are secondary to some other purpose of the organization. secondary relationships are business-like with very little personal concern

the well-being of the others involved. Secondary groups are usually run with rules and regulations. Members have the choice to join or not to join, once they join such groups, it means as the objectives of the group. it is important to note that secondary groups are special-purpose organizations. Secondary groups would include the Armed forces, colleges, and universities, business corporations, government offices. In these groups, interpersonal contacts occur for the purpose of conducting business, gaining an education, or influencing politics

Although the preceding description of primary groups emphasizes co-operation and concern, not all primary groups provide a relationship of love or security. Members of a family group for example may emotionally exploit one another, produce insecurity, hate, lack of co-operation and generally make life miserable for one another. A relationship that is primary, is not necessary desirable. primary relationship can promote human development, or they can be psychologically harmful to an individual member of the group. It would be equally incorrect to assume that secondary relationship are completely devoid of friendly interaction. Contacts with such persons as doctors, lawyers, academic administrators, can be warm, humane encounters. These secondary relationships can evoke a pleasant mood or feeling that may be absent in the intimate primary groups.

The line between primary groups and secondary groups is not always clear, and real-life groups can be placed along a range, or continuum from clear cut primary groups like family, roommates and friends, through ambiguous cases like football team, physical education class and religious group to clear cut secondary groups like university, corporation and city or local government staff membership. Also, primary groups can and do form within a larger secondary group. in fact, a large secondary group typically includes many primary groups. Most formal organizations are secondary groups, but within them, primary groups often develop among members or co-workers.

Historically, secondary groups, have increased in numbers, as society modernizes. prior to industrialization, people spent most of their time in small, informal primary groups, centered around family, kinship, tribal and religious affiliations. Today, we come into contact with far more people, and most of this contact is impersonal and centers around business, education, government or some other large formal organizations like the Army. Although secondary groups have become much more important in modern society, they have not replaced primary groups. Even in modern urban society, friends and families remain important to most people, and primary group relationships, still play an important role in people's lives.

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