Glossary of Terms

 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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- A -

achieved status
a status that is acquired by doing something.  For instance, someone acquires a criminal status by committing a crime.  Likewise, the status of mother is attained by having a baby.  See ascribed status.
age grades
age-based categories of people recognized by a culture.  In North America, for example, we generally label people as children, teenagers, adults, middle aged, and elderly or senior citizens.  See age sets.
age sets
age grades that are clearly recognized in a culture as distinct identifiable groups of people.  They consist of people of similar age and usually of the same gender who share a common identity and maintain close ties throughout their lives.  They also pass through age-related statuses together as a group.  The transition between these statuses is usually marked by a rite of passage.
ascribed status
a status that is the result of being born into a particular family or being born male or female.  Being a prince by birth or being the first of four children in a family are ascribed statuses.  See achieved status.
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- B -

bride price
things of high value given by a groom to his bride's father. It is a way of showing respect for the bride and her parents. At the same time, it is a compensation for the bride's family for the loss of her economic services. It is also a way of validating the groom's right to future offspring. Bride price is most common among polygynous, small-scale, patrilineal societies--especially in sub-Saharan Africa and among Native Americans. Bride price is also referred to as "bride wealth" and "progeny price."  See dowry.
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- C -

castes  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
carefully ranked, rigidly hereditary social divisions of society.  The most extensive caste system is in India where it is associated strongly with the Hindu religion.  Caste membership largely determines who one can marry in India and it prevents socializing across caste lines.
circumcision  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
removing all or part of the foreskin of the penis.  This surgery is usually done with a knife as part of a rite of passage marking the transition from childhood to adulthood for boys.
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- D -

descent  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
socially recognized links between ancestors and descendents, such as the bond between children and their parents.
dowry  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
money, property, or other things of high value given by a bride's family to the groom, ostensibly to establish a new household. It is her share of the family inheritance. A dowry is, in a sense, the reverse of a bride price.
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fictive kinship  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a socially recognized link between individuals created as an expedient for dealing with special circumstances, such as the bond between a godmother and her godchild.  Fictive kinship bonds are based on friendship and other personal relationships rather than marriage and descent.
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- G -

gender  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
sexual identity as male or female.
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- K -

kinship  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
culturally defined relationships between individuals who are commonly thought of as having family ties.  Kinship is based on marriage, descent, and, occasionally, fictive relationships as well.
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- L -

large-scale society
generally a society with cities, industry, intensive agriculture, and a complex international economy.  Such societies have socio-economic classes and a government with hierarchies of officials.  The importance of kinship is diminished in comparison to the common pattern of small-scale societies.
latent functions    (of institutions)
functions that are less apparent and more difficult to uncover (e.g., building a bridge to keep workers employed and provide a recognizable symbol of a city).  See manifest functions.
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- M -

manifest functions    (of institutions)
functions that are obvious and easily discovered even by strangers (e.g., building a bridge to get to quickly get across a narrow waterway).  See latent functions.
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- R -

rites of passage  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
ritual ceremonies intended to mark the transition from one phase of life to another.
role  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the part a society expects an individual to play in a given status (e.g., child, wife, mother, aunt, grandmother).  Social group membership gives us a set of role tags to allow people to know what to expect from each other.
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- S -

small-scale society
generally a society of a few dozen to several thousand people who live by foraging wild foods, herding domesticated animals, or non-intensive horticulture on the village level.  Such societies lack cities as well as complex economies and governments.  Kinship relationships are usually highly important in comparison to the common pattern of large-scale societies.
status  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the relative social position of an individual.  For instance, student, teacher, child, and parent are easily identifiable statuses in most cultures.  Each of us has a number of different statuses.  We usually acquire new ones and lose old ones as we go through life.  See role.
sub-Saharan Africa  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the region of Africa south of the Sahara desert.
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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 08, 2009.
Copyright 2003-2009 by Dennis O'Neil. All rights reserved.