Key Concepts In Sociology


Sociology studies human social relationships as well as institutions. The subject matter is diverse ranging from race to radical change in every society. The concept of ‘race’ is still so universally believed. The durability and power of the ‘race’ idea is based on the ways in which it makes sense of the world for people. ‘Race’ provides a label for physical, social and cultural difference but also superiority/ inferiority, purity/impurity and inclusion/exclusion.

What has to be discussed in this question is that what we currently take for granted - that human differences (skin or color) - can divide us into ‘races’. Our current social understanding of ‘race’ has only emerged as an accepted ‘truth’ or social fact since 19th Century Europe when humanity was divided by skin and color.

There are several questions about ‘race’ that can be raised. What did society have before ‘race’? Indeed-which societies? What is our current understanding of ‘race’ - and are we now ‘post - race’ if we are saying that ‘race’ is an empty category? How is ‘race’ produced and internalized through language?

Here comes another concept into our discussion – ‘ethnicity’. The term ethnicity can be as problematic as the notion of ‘race’. Ethnicity is represented by a population group whose members are identifying with one another on the basis of shared cultural traditions. Ethnicity has connotations of shared group history. In the 19th century, a political ideology of ethnic nationalism was developed creating nations that are based on shared ethnic origins.

In relation to ethnicity, scientific racism defined two categories of the biologisation of ‘race’- that of color, and that of ‘stock’. Stock implied a gradation of inferior and superior beings which did not necessarily relate to skin color, but was wrapped up with science and politics namely ‘race science’ - and therefore the justification of class and slavery. The notion of ‘race’ has been associated with the biological, notions of inferiority/superiority, hierarchy and persecution (think of Nazi Germany or Israel/Palestine for example).

Whatever the term implies, there is an acceptance of the existence of biological differences between human beings, differences which express the existence of distinct, self-reproducing groups. There is an argument that sociology is very good at explaining how ‘race’ or ‘racism’ is used. The durability and power of the ‘race’ idea is based on the ways in which it makes sense of the world for people. Therefore, ‘race’ provides a label for physical, social and cultural difference but also superiority/ inferiority, purity/impurity and inclusion/exclusion.

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