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Society & Us: Feminism

The term ‘feminism’ embodies a very wide variety of meanings which can be divided into four:

  1. an over-arching theory about the nature of women’s oppression by men;
  2. a political theory (and associated practices), which aims to liberate women from male exploitation;
  3. a modern social movement that promotes specific changes in the legal, social, economic, political and cultural condition of women; and
  4. an ideology that opposes all misogynist (i.e. ‘women-hating’) ideas and behavior.

Although largely originating in the West, feminism is manifested worldwide and is represented by various institutions committed to activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. Feminism has made interpersonal relations, reproductive rights and domestic violence into issues of wide political significance.

Feminism 1.jpg

Feminist ideology can take many different forms. Broadly speaking, it is of the following types:

Liberal feminism


Liberal feminism emerged in the USA during the 1950s and the 1960s when many civil rights movements were taking place. Liberal feminists hold that all human beings are equal and deserve equal rights. They are of the view that women have the same mental capacity as their male counterparts and should be given the same opportunities in political, economic and social spheres. Consequently, liberal feminists support acts of legislation that ensure equal opportunities and rights for women, including equal access to jobs and equal pay. Liberal feminism has been criticized for failing to address the deeper ideology of patriarchy, and also for ignoring race and class issues.

Radical Feminism


Radical feminists believe that women’s emancipation is possible only through the dissolution of patriarchy and the rigid sex-gender system that results from it, not just through acts of legislation.

Socialist Feminism

Socialist feminists see a direct link between class structure and the oppression of women. They challenge the ideologies of capitalism and patriarchy. According to socialist feminists, western society rewards working men because they produce tangible, tradable goods, while women’s work in the domestic sphere is not valued as they do not produce tangible, tradable goods. This gives men power and control over women. Socialist feminists believe that the way to end this oppression is by putting an end to class and gender both.

Cultural Feminism

Cultural feminists believe that there are fundamental, biological differences between men and women, and that women should celebrate these differences. Western society values male thought and the ideas of independence, hierarchy, competition and domination, whereas females values ideas such as interdependence, cooperation, relationships, community, sharing, joy, trust and peace  are not valued. Cultural feminists are usually non-political, focusing instead on individual change.


Eco-feminists believe that patriarchy and male domination are harmful to women as well as the environment. There is a link between men’s desire to dominate women and wilderness. Men feel as though they must tame and conquer both in order to have complete power. Eco-feminists say that it is this desire that destroys both women and the earth. They believe that women have a central role in preserving nature because woman understand and are one with nature. There is a deep connection between the earth and women that men cannot understand and therefore women need to use their superior insight to reveal how humans can live in harmony with each other and with nature.

Stuti Das, India

Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series: 


  • Bruce, Steve, and Steven Yearley. The Sage Dictionary of Sociology. London: SAGE Publications, 2006. Print.
  • Brunell, Laura, and Elinor Burkett. “Feminism.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica, inc., 14 July 2016. Web. 07 Feb. 2017.
  • “Different Types of Feminist Theories.” Different Types of Feminist Theories. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Feb. 2017.

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Society & Us: Kinship

Kinship refers to the social relationships that derive from blood ties (real or imagined) and from marriage.  It is a universal phenomenon that takes highly variable cultural forms, and in almost all societies plays a major part in the socialization of individuals and in the maintenance of social groups.


In small-scale societies kinship ties may be so extensive and so important as to constitute the entire social system. However, in modern societies, kinship plays only a small part in the social system. Indeed, because it offends against egalitarian principles, undue favoritism to kin is often scorned and in some sectors specifically outlawed.


The modern study of kinship can be traced back to mid-19th-century interests in comparative legal institutions and philology. In the late 19th century, however, the cross-cultural comparison of kinship institutions became the particular province of anthropology.

If the study of kinship was defined largely by anthropologists, it is equally true that anthropology as an academic discipline was itself defined by kinship. Until the last decades of the 20th century, for example, kinship was regarded as the core of British social anthropology, and no thorough ethnographic study could overlook the central importance of kinship in the functioning of so-called stateless, nonindustrial, or traditional societies.

 Stuti Das, India

Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series: 


  • Bruce, Steve, and Steven Yearley. The Sage Dictionary of Sociology. London: SAGE Publications, 2006. Print.
  • Carsten, Janet. “Kinship.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 15 Oct. 2008. Web. 06 Feb. 2017.

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Society & Us: Kinds of Nationalism

It is possible to draw a distinction between two kinds of nationalism. The first is civic, and the second ethnic.


Civic nationhood is meant to describe a political identity built around shared citizenship in a liberal-democratic state.

A “civic nation,” in this sense, need not be unified by commonalities of language or culture. It simply requires a disposition on the part of citizens to uphold their political institutions, and to accept the liberal principles on which they are based. Membership is open to anyone who shares these values. In a civic nation, the protection or promotion of one national culture over others is not a goal of the state.

Ethnic nationalists, on the other hand, conceive of the nation as a community of culture and history, with a bond of solidarity that resembles the familial bond.


Here, a myth of common ancestry replaces residence in an historic homeland as the criterion of national membership; genealogy rather than territory defines the ethnic nation. Similarly, vernacular cultures, notably language and customs, are more highly prized than legal equality, and popular mobilization than citizenship. Finally, in place of a civic, mass culture, ethnic nationalists extol native history and a more circumscribed ethnic culture.

Both kinds of nationalism may breed homogenizing policies and exclusive attitudes, but these are more marked in the case of ethnic nationalisms.

Some contrasts between civic & ethnic nationalism:

Civic Nationalists emphasize on: 

Ethnic Nationalists emphasize on:


Common roots



Rational attachment

Emotional attachment

Unity by consent

Unity by ascription

Democratic pluralism

Ethnic majority rules



Individual creates nation

Nation creates individual

Stuti Das, India

Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series: 


  • Civic Nationalists Ethnic Nationalists. (n.d.). Retrieved February 05, 2017, from https://msu.edu/user/hillrr/161lec16.htm
  • Stilz, A. (2009). Civic Nationalism and Language Policy. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 37(3), 257-292. doi:10.1111/j.1088-4963.2009.01160.x
  • Smith, A. D. (1994). Ethnic Nationalism and the Plight of Minorities. Journal of Refugee Studies, 7(2-3), 186-198. doi:10.1093/jrs/7.2-3.186

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Society & Us: Means of Production

The term refers to the physical, non-human inputs used for the production of economic value, such as facilities, machinery, and tools.

The means of production includes two broad categories of objects: instruments of labor (tools, factories, infrastructure, etc) and subjects of labor (natural resources and raw materials). People operate on the subjects of labor, using the instruments of labor, to create a product.


Picture Credit: pinterest.com

Thus, in an agrarian society, the means of production is the soil and the shovel; in an industrial society it is the mines and the factories, and in a knowledge economy, it includes offices and computers.

The term is prominent in Marxist theory, since Marx’s characterization of capitalism hinges on the distinction between those who own the means of production (capitalists), and those who have nothing to sell except their own labor power (proletariats).

Author: Stuti Das, India

Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series: 

Society & Us: Varna & Caste

Society & Us: New International Division of Labor

Society & Us: Hidden Curriculum


  • Scott, John, and Gordon Marshall. A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
  • Henslin, James M. Essentials of sociology: a down-to-earth approach. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004. Print.
  • Evans, Michael. Karl Marx. Bloomington: Indiana U Press, 1975. Print.
  • Flower, B. O. The Arena, Volume 37. The Arena Pub. Co, originally from Princeton University.

Society & Us: Varna and Caste

An institution of considerable internal complexity, the caste system as a form of social stratification is unique to the Indian subcontinent.


Picture Credit: www.indusresearch.org

Possibly the clearest definition of caste is provided by Indian sociologist André Béteille in his work, Caste, Class and Power (1965).

Béteille describes a caste as a small and named group of persons characterized by endogamy, hereditary membership and a specific style of life which sometimes includes the pursuit by tradition of a particular occupation and is usually associated with a more or less distinct ritual status in a hierarchical system, based on concepts of purity and pollution.

The caste stratification has its origin in the Varna System which was prevalent during the Vedic period and was mainly based on the principle of division of labor and occupation.

According to the Chaturvarna doctrine, the Hindu society was divided into four main varnas, namely, the Brahmins (the priestly class), the Kshatriyas (the warrior class), the Vaishyas (the trader class) and the Shudras (the servant or the laborer class).

Varna is not something necessarily hereditary. If the son of a Brahmin is not fit to function as one, then he is to be assigned to a varna that is more suited to him. The same applies to people belonging to any other varna

Within each varna, there are myriad jatis or caste groups.

For example, sarasvata is a jati which is traditionally identified with the Brahmin varna and hence the name Sarasvasta Brahmin. Similarly, groups like Rajputs are traditionally identified with the Kshatriya varna. Thus, although varnas are just four in number, caste groups number in hundreds and thousands. Jatis, unlike varnas, are closed groups.

Author: Stuti Das, India

Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series: 

Society & Us: Sex, Gender, & Sexuality

Society & Us: New International Division of Labor

Society & Us: Hidden Curriculum


  • Scott, John, and Gordon Marshall. A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
  • “Back to the Basics: Understanding Jati, Varna, Gotra and Kula.” Hindu Human Rights. Hindu Human Rights – Serving Hindus Worldwide, 9 May 2014. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.
  • “Difference Between Jati and Varna.” DifferenceBetween.com. Difference Between., 22 Dec. 2012. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.

Society & Us: Hidden Curriculum

Schools have an obvious curriculum: the content of the subjects they teach.

In the 1960s it became popular to point out that they also have a hidden curriculum. In addition to teaching chemistry, biology and the like, schools teach pupils to respect authority, to accept being told what to do, to compete with each other and to get used to being judged. All these are championed as an important part of preparation for the world of work.


Picture Credit: wallpaperscraft.com

Hidden curriculum refers to the unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school.

The hidden curriculum is described as ‘hidden’ because of its obscure nature. Moreover, since the values and lessons reinforced by the hidden curriculum are often the accepted status quo, it is assumed that these practices and messages do not need to change.

A hidden curriculum can either reinforce the lessons of the formal curriculum, or contradict the formal curriculum, revealing hypocrisies or inconsistencies between a school’s stated mission and what students actually experience and learn while they are in school.

Philip Jackson, professor and researcher in education at the University of Chicago, in his classic work, Life in the Classroom (1968) points to three aspects of the hidden curriculum: crowds, praise, and power.

In classrooms, pupils are exposed to the delay and self-denial that goes with being one of a crowd; the constant evaluation and competition with others; and the fundamental distinction between the powerful and the powerless, with the teacher effectively being the infant’s first boss.

Much sociological research has been concerned with the undesirable aspects of the hidden curriculum, whereby schools are said to sustain inequality through sexism, racism and class bias.

 Author: Stuti Das, India

Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series: 

Society & Us: Sex, Gender, & Sexuality

Society & Us: New International Division of Labor

Society & Us: Definition of the Situation


  • Bruce, Steve, and Steven Yearley. The SAGE Dictionary of Sociology. London: SAGE Publications, 2006. Print.
  • Scott, John, and Gordon Marshall. A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
  • “Hidden Curriculum.” The Glossary of Education Reform. Great Schools Partnership, 13 July 2015. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.
  • Megan, Graydon. “Philip Jackson, U. of C. Professor Who Studied Education, Dies at 86.” Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune, 24 July 2015. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Society & Us: New International Division of Labor

The concept refers to the fact that the spread of markets and production processes worldwide has created a growing differentiation of economic activity resulting in the specialization of particular countries in distinct branches of production, whether this be in certain products, or in selected parts of the production process.

Whereas in orthodox economics the division of labor as such is seen as providing mutual benefit, alternative analyses of the New International Division of Labor stress the inequalities and structured hierarchies that it creates.


Picture Credit: www.nytimes.com

The concept was brought into general use by the work of Folker Fröbel, Jürgen Heinrichs and Otto Kreye in their book, The New International Division of Labour (1980).

Fröbel and his associates found that relocation of production to Third World countries was resulting from rising domestic costs, especially wage costs. Once some companies relocated overseas in order to source lower labor costs, competitive pressure on the remaining companies mounted to do likewise.

The New International Division of Labor has been facilitated by technical changes which have allowed the production process to be subdivided with different stages located in different places. The impact of this development on the Third World countries can be seen in terms of the emergence of a new working class, often mainly feminine, that works for lower wages and in inferior conditions.

Certain other studies have highlighted the fact that a significant proportion of industrial activity, and particularly its ecologically damaging and low-skill elements, are being shifted to intermediate and developing countries.

 Author: Stuti Das, India

Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series: 

Society & Us: Sex, Gender, & Sexuality

Society & Us: Labeling Theory

Society & Us: Definition of the Situation


  • Scott, John, and Gordon Marshall. A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
  • Jones, R. J. Barry. Routledge Encyclopedia of International Political Economy. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Society & Us: Definition of the Situation

The concept, first developed by American sociologist William Isaac Thomas and Polish philosopher and sociologist Florian Znaniecki in The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918-20), refers to the idea that people’s actions are shaped more by the subjective meaning they attribute to their situation than by the purely objective aspects of the situation.

Individuals construct the meaning of a situation on the basis of their experiences, needs and wishes, and also on the basis of the customs and beliefs of their social group.


Picture Credit: www.music-bazaar.com

The Polish peasants in Europe and America had emigrated from Poland during times of crisis and had to cope with the stress of losing the home they had always known and of adapting to an altogether different world. So for the authors they offered a natural group whose ‘definition of the situation’ had changed, and whose need to define a new situation into which they could fit was essential.

Thomas and Znaniecki describe the older people as managing the change, and the younger people as a group more likely to fall into deviance. They attributed this to social disorganization.

According to them, the older people were able to call on the rituals and structural contexts that they brought with them. But the young people were still in the process of being socialized, and the structural context in which the older people were wont to socialize them no longer existed in these urban European and American contexts. The process of socialization to old country ideals and patterns thus broke down when the situation was redefined to one that did not fit into the earlier set of norms.

In his highly acclaimed work, The Unadjusted Girl (1923), Thomas wrote:

“Preliminary to any self-determined act of behavior there is always a stage of examination and deliberation which we may call the definition of the situation. And actually not only concrete acts are dependent on the definition of the situation, but gradually a whole life-policy and the personality of the individual himself follow from a series of such definitions.”

According to Ashley Crossman, the definition of the situation is what people use to know what is expected of them and what is expected of others in a situation. Through the definition of the situation, people obtain a sense of the statuses and roles of those involved in the situation so that they know how to behave.

Author: Stuti Das, India

Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series: 

Society & Us: Sex, Gender, & Sexuality

Society & Us: Labeling Theory

Society & Us: McDonaldization


  • Scott, John, and Gordon Marshall. A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
  • Curran, Jeanne, and Susan R. Takata. “Florian Znaniecki.” Florian Znaniecki. University of Wisconsin, 14 Oct. 2001. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.
  • Harvey, Lee. “Definition of the Situation.” Social Research Glossary. Quality Research International, 26 Jan. 2016. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.
  • Thomas, W. I. “Definition of the Situation.” Sociosite. University of Amsterdam, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.
  • Crossman, Ashley. “Definition Of The Situation.” About.com Education. About, Inc., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.

Society & Us: Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

When people refer to someone’s sex (sometimes referred to as biological or physical sex), they’re talking about their anatomical features, that is, physical characteristics, genes and hormones. Many people think of male and female as the only sexes, but that is not true.

Some people have genetic, hormonal and physical features typical of both male and female at the same time, so their biological sex isn’t clearly male or female. They are called intersex.

Sex is typically assigned at birth (or before during ultrasound) based on the appearance of external genitalia. When the external genitalia are ambiguous other indicators such as internal genitalia, chromosomal and hormonal sex are considered to assign a sex that is most likely to be congruent with the child’s gender identity.

The term gender identity refers to a person’s deeply‐felt, inherent sense of being a boy, a man, or male; a girl, a woman, or female; or an alternative gender.

On the other hand, society expects people to look and behave a certain way depending on their biological sex. Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.

Behavior that is compatible with cultural expectations is referred to as gender-normative while behaviors that are viewed as incompatible with these expectations constitute gender non-conformity.

Gender identity may or may not correspond to a person’s sex assigned at birth. Although for most people, gender identity is congruent with the sex assigned at birth, there are those who experience incongruence between the gender assigned to them at birth and their gender identity. This condition is termed as gender dysphoria.

In common usage the term sexuality refers to the presumably biologically-based desire in people that finds expression through sexual activity and sexual relationships. Sexual orientation refers to the sex of those to whom one is sexually and romantically attracted.

Categories of sexual orientation typically have included attraction to members of one’s own sex (gay men or lesbians), attraction to members of the other sex (heterosexuals), and attraction to members of both sexes (bisexuals). While these categories continue to be widely used, research has suggested that sexual orientation does not always appear in such definable categories and instead occurs on a continuum. In addition, some research indicates that sexual orientation is fluid for some people, and this may be especially true for women.


Picture Credit: factmyth.com

The distinctive sociological take on sexuality is to challenge its biological basis and to draw attention to the great cultural variety in what counts as legitimate sexual activity. For example, in some societies (ancient Greek and nomadic Arab, for example) homosexuality is commonplace whereas in others it is repressed. Again, in some societies sexual activity is regarded as a source of pleasure; in others it is treated as a dangerous and destabilizing force, to be confined to what is necessary to reproduce the society.

Author: Stuti Das, India

Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series: 

Society & Us: Labeling Theory

Society & Us: McDonaldization

Society & Us: Alienation


  • Bruce, S., & Yearley, S. (2006). The SAGE Dictionary of Sociology. London: SAGE Publications.
  • American Psychological Association. (2015). Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People. American Psychologist, 70(9), 832-864. doi.org/10.1037/a0039906
  • American Psychological Association. (2012). Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients. American Psychologist, 67(1), 10–42. doi: 10.1037/a0024659
  • American Psychological Association & National Association of School Psychologists. (2015). Resolution on gender and sexual orientation diversity in children and adolescents in schools. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/polic y/orientation-diversity.aspx
  • Sex, sexuality and gender explained. (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2016, from http://au.reachout.com/sex-sexuality-and-gender-explained

Society & Us: Alienation

The term, very widely used to convey a sense of improper loss or detachment, was popularized by Karl Marx in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.

The theory of alienation is an intellectual construct in which Marx explains the devastating effect of capitalist production on human beings, on their physical and mental states and on the social processes of which they are a part.


Gif Credit: reddit.com

[The above is from the 1936 movie “Modern Times” directed by Charlie Chaplin wherein he plays the role of protagonist too. The movie showcases the plight of a tramp in a modern industrial society.]

Marx points out that in pre-capitalist society, the task of making objects for one’s own use or for fair exchange was properly human. However, in capitalist society, workers who do not own the means of production but are compelled to sell their labor are ‘alienated’ in four senses:

  1. From the product of their work because they have no control over the fate of the goods they produce;
  2. From the act of production itself because work is no longer a creative act but is merely a commodity that is bought and sold;
  3. From their ‘species being’ because work under capitalism lacks what should be its distinctly human quality; and
  4. From each other because what should be social relations of exchange are replaced by the market relationships of buying and selling.

Although Marxists present their analysis of labor under capitalism as a scientific theory, it rests on an un-testable assertion about what humans are really like: desirous of expressing themselves through work.

Assuming this assertion to be true, there is no reason to suppose that capitalism is any more alienating than other economic systems, as the working lives of most serfs and peasants in pre-capitalist societies were generally less pleasant than those of workers under industrial capitalism which, however alienated they might be, are markedly more prosperous.

In the 1960s, American sociologist Robert Blauner in his book, Alienation and Freedom: The Factory Worker and His Industry identified various forms of alienation that resulted from different types of modern work; each linked to the degree of personal control (or, as in the title ‘freedom’) inherent in different ways of working. He argued that as production moved from craftwork, through the use of machines, to the factory assembly line, the degree of personal control went down and that of alienation rose. However, he concluded that in the final stage – that of automated continuous-flow production – the control of the labor process returned to the worker as the job became more complex and hence more satisfying.


  • Bruce, Steve, and Steven Yearley. The Sage Dictionary of Sociology. London: SAGE Publications, 2006. Print.
  • Ollman, Bertell. “Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society.” Dialectical Marxism: The Writings of Bertell Ollman. Bertell Ollman, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.

Author: Stuti Das, India

Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series: 

Society & Us: Labeling Theory

Society & Us: McDonaldization