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I. 2.2.4 Social groups

Humans are social beings. They live together and form a society. Although they make society, neither they can see it nor can they touch it. But what all they can do is that they can perceive the society, they can feel the presence of society all around them. It is the basic reason behind calling society as an abstract entity.

The whole collection of individuals in which social interaction takes place is called as ‘Social Group’. It is the group in a form or the other which fulfills various needs of an individual. It provides a medium for social interaction and establishes social relationships. Even though group is small, still it is the true representative and reflection of society.

  1. Group is the basic element of society and is a concrete phenomenon;
  2. A group requires more than one individual; and
  3. There is a compulsory interaction between the individuals forming a group i.e. social relationships.

Max Weber opines that it is the mutual awareness or mutual recognition that establishes the relations among the group members. And it is the system of social relations that serves as a mean to fulfill the common interests of all the members. Talcott Parsons (1951) considers culture as a basic element behind social relationships. It is the culture which defines the patterns of behaviour in a group which are shared by all the members of the group. These shared norms or patterns define the roles of the members and differentiate them from non-members.

Definition of group

Anderson and Parker (1966)

“Groups are units of two or more people meeting in the same environment, or overcoming distance by some means of communication, who are influencing each other psychologically. The distinctive bond of the group is reciprocal interaction. Friends in conversation, a committee in action and children playing together are examples.”

This definition of group implies that the relations among group members are not temporary, they are recurrent and influence the other members of the group i.e. members are conscious about the presence of other members. This consciousness of membership influences their behaviour and also differentiates a group. Physical collection of people or an aggregation also it is a collection of people who shares common characteristics and organised pattern of persistent interaction and are aware of each other’s presence. The group are one of the most stable social units of the society. They endure for a longer period and make the society sustained. They also perform a number of functions like socialisation necessary for the maintenance of the society.

Social group is a social unit which has the following basic elements:

  1.  an aggregation of two or more individuals,
  2.  definite relations among the members comprising it,
  3.  mutual awareness or consciousness.

Different scholars have seen group from different point of views and classified groups in different ways. There is broad range of facts on whose basis groups have been classified. Some of the chief basis include functions, size, stability, status, rule of membership, degree of interaction and many more.

A classification of groups was made by C.H. Cooley (1909)in his book ‘Social Organisation: Human Nature and Social Order’. Two types of groups were identified i.e. PRIMARY and SECONDARY groups. Although, Cooley has never mentioned the term ‘secondary group’ in his writings but other scholars have popularised the term secondary group to those groups which do not fall in the category of primary groups.


Primary group are those groups in which a small number of persons come into direct contact with one another. There is sense of mutual co-operation, companionship and sharing of personal feelings. They are small groups and every person necessarily belongs to any of the primary groups. Due to their important nature, they form the nucleus of the social organisation.

He has observed intimate and close social relations among the members of certain small groups and termed those groups as Primary groups. In his analysis of primary group he defined it in term of face-to face interaction, co-operation and association, emotional involvement, identification and sentiments of loyalty. In primary groups emotions and sentiments carry more importance than the size of the group. Primary group is considered to be a product of long and intimate informal interactions. The relations among the members of primary groups are as in themselves not a mean to those ends.

Cooley considers family, playmates of children, neighbourhood and community groups and groups of elders as primary groups. He believes in the universal presence of these primary groups in all the times and all the stages of development. He argues upon the presence of some degree of primary relations in all sorts of groups. This primary association create consensus which further adds a ‘we’ feeling among the group members. Thus primary association is seen in all the groups and cannot therefore be used as the bases of differentiation between primary and secondary groups.

A large number of people cannot interact in highly personal and face-to-face manner and they tend to break down into small, more intense cliques. So a primary group consists of a small number of people who interact in intense, direct and personal manner. The relationships between the members carry an emotional depth and the group is likely to endure for a longer time. The members know each other at personal level and share their experiences, gossip agreeably and fill the need for intimate human companionship.

Essential conditions  for a primary group formation:

  1. Close face-to-face proximity
  2. Smallness of the group
  3. Durability of the bond

Characteristics of Primary Group

Characteristics of primary groups can be divided into two broad categories i.e.

external characters and internal characters

External characters include following aspects:

  •  Physical proximity among group members
  • Small size of the group
  • Stability and durability
  • Continuity in the relations

Internal characters include:

  •  Common objectives of the group
  • The relations are ends in themselves
  • Relationships are spontaneous
  • Personal relationships
  • Inclusive relations among members
  • Control over the members

Primary groups are essential for social life. They play a very important role in an individual’s life. They are significant at both individual and social level. They provide the medium through which we learn our culture and patterns of behaviour.

Importance of a Primary Group

At the level of individual, a primary group

  • Helps in development of personality
  • Increases the efficiency of an individual
  • Fulfills the psychological needs.

At the level of society, a primary group

  • Transfers the culture from one generation to another
  • Carries cultural norms of the society within the society
  • Provides means of social control and helps maintaining the social order
  • Ensures the performance of social roles in accordance with society norms.

Though primary relations and primary groups seem to be very important for the society, it would be over imperative to consider them as ideal for social interactions. At times primary groups interfere with other elements of the society. At the time of making objective decisions, primary relations create hurdle. For example, if a teacher shows leniency towards a student and gives him high marks which he does not deserve, it would be considered as dysfunctional. Many situations arise in modern society where primary relationships are inappropriate at best and harmful at worst. In large bureaucratic structure, so necessary to contemporary organisations, impersonality is more appropriate than intimacy, routine is more important than spontaneity, and division of labour more necessary than versatility. Societies and sub-societies composed of tight network of primary relationships are often more tolerant of differences, more resistant to change, and less receptive to freedom than societies where relationships are more casual (Merill,). Moreover, primary group asserts its control over its members in the form of restrictions, conformity and reactions. For example, a family provides liberties to its members and at the same time imposes restrictions on them; a peer group fosters the conformity in the group. Primary group also resists the intellectual, industrial and educational changes in order to maintain its hereditary ties.

Typical examples of primary group

  • The Army Group: Soldiers form primary groups with their commandants and form informal relationships within formal settings in order to defend its members against the arbitrary authority of officers.
  • The Peer Group: Boys and girls of the same age group and approximately same social background, as in a class, form a primary group and have personal social interaction which also helps in their personality development.
  •  The Clique: It is a form of friendship developed between two or more persons which bring them into joint activity. It satisfies the emotional needs of a person to be loved and respected by his peers. example, clique of Indian students in Australian universities.


Secondary groups fulfill maximum needs in life. Ssecondary groups as those which depend for communication on indirect media, such as newspapers (Faris, 1937).

In secondary groups, the relations are formal, impersonal, segmental and utilitarian. These groups are less intimate as the level of interaction is restricted at a formal level. They do not give close identity to its members as primary groups do. In secondary group, we very often interact with people of diverse background because we need their services and we have certain obligations to fulfill. In case of utilitarian or contractual obligations, there is no need to develop personal relations. These relations remain based on reciprocal needs. Hence, members of these groups regard each other as means not an end in themselves.

MacIver and Page (1952) has pointed out that primary group relations are characteristics of simple or primitive societies. As the population and territory of a society increases, interests would have become diversified and so the needs. It gave rise to the need of indirect, impersonal and utilitarian relations. He called these newly emerged impersonal relations as ‘great associations”. They are result of expansion of population and perhaps primarily, of growing cultural complexity.

He considers secondary group a character of industrialised and urbanised complex societies. In these societies due to complexity in the nature of work, more complicated relations develop which provides a very limited scope for intimate relations.

Ogburn and Nimkoff (1966) say that the “groups which provide experience lacking in intimacy, can be called as secondary group.” Here by experience he means the interaction with the varied kind of people in day to day life. They also separate individuals’ activities from the rest of the activities because in secondary group context every individual is supposed to play his own part. It also segments individuals’ personality in contrast to primary groups where his whole personality reflects.

Typical examples of secondary group

  • A group of co-workers: A group of people working together in the same organisation form a secondary group as they have impersonal relations but spends most of the time together in the organisation.
  • Clubs: Clubs are formed in order to fulfill some of the requirements of social life as fun clubs or sport clubs for entertainment, charity clubs for contributions or donations, hobby clubs for leisure pursuits and many more. These clubs are utilitarian in nature and form a secondary group as members of the group are less intimate.
  • University or college: University or a college also form secondary group as they are segmental in nature. People are dependent on colleges for educational requirements but it reflects just a part of their personality and people form formal contacts.

Characteristics of Secondary Group

Dominance of secondary relations: Secondary group relations are impersonal, indirect, non-inclusive and utilitarian. Members are connected to each other through contractual obligations or interests. Due to self-interest, individuality develops among the members.

Voluntary membership: Individuals are free to join or leave the group at any point of time i.e. membership of these groups are predominantly voluntary. But in case of secondary groups like ‘state’, membership becomes compulsory.

Large in Size: They might spread all over the world. For example, members of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are scattered all over the world.

Goal Oriented: Secondary groups are formed in order to fulfill the needs of the individuals. They serve the special functions in the society. Every secondary group emerges in response to specific purpose and joins the people having same type of need.

Indirect communication: Mode of communication among the members of secondary group is indirect. In many of the cases, group members seldom or rarely or never come into direct contact to each other. They rely on different forms of mass media communication which include radio, telephone, television, newspaper, movies, magazines, post and telegraph etc.

Role decides a person’s position: In secondary groups, position of a person depends upon his role. Socially achieved status and its corresponding role remains the key factor behind the position of a person in the secondary group. His position is not being decided by his ascribed status neither he is treated on the basis of his birth.

In modern society, many of the former functions of the primary groups have been assumed by large, impersonal, goal-oriented groups. Each of these secondary groups creates a new network of primary groups that provide intimacy and personal response in many impersonal situations also. So we should not see both of them mutually exclusive. The inflexible classification of groups into primary and secondary is not preferable as there is much overlapping of the two. Kingsley Davis writes that “Cooley’s emphasis on ‘we’ feeling cannot be taken as the distinctive element in the primary group as such feeling to some extent is necessary for any enduring community.” In between primary group like the family and a formal and rigid group like army there are hundreds of groups, some of which are more primary than others. Even in modern organisations, efforts are made to create a friendly atmosphere among the employees.

Hence, we can say that in modern societies both primary and secondary groups are important and it is not easy to substitute one for the other.


A community is called as a collection of people with residential ties to particular locality. It is the territorial boundary which differentiates a community with other groups because the concept of group is not restricted to a particular locality. It may be considered as a permanent local aggregation of people having diversified as well as common interests.

Word ‘Community’ is comprised of two Latin words namely ‘com’ and ‘munis’. In English ‘com’ means together and ‘munis’ means to serve. Thus, community means to serve together. In implies that the purpose of a community is to serve.

According to MacIver and Page (1952: 9) “Community is a group of people who live together, who belong together, so that they share, not ties or that particular interest, but as a whole set of interests, wide enough and complete enough to include their lives.” Kingsley Davis (1957) has defined community as the smallest territorial group that can embrace all the aspects of social life. Community is not an exclusive entity, it should not be seen as a separate part of society. They are within the society and form their integral part.

Community provides the individual a conducive environment to live wholly within it and also summarize his social relationships within it. In the simple societies, communities are considered as self-sufficient but in modern time character of community has become very complex. Moreover, community is a relative term. People live within a greater community such as a village within a district, a district within a region, a region within a state and a state within a country.

Characteristics of a Community

Definitive geographical area: Community is a spatial entity. A community is always considered in relation to a physical geographical area or territory. It is a compulsory condition for a community. But it should not be confused with those groups who live together without any separate physical boundary. As four friends living in a room do not form a community. Community is a broader term.

We feeling or community feeling: It is home instinct which lays the foundation of people’s attachment to their house, community or nation. It’s the ‘we’feeling through which people recognises their community and themselves. Community sentiments develop during a period of time within community.

Common culture and common life: Due to their common ecological conditions, they develop same type of culture, habits and behavioural patterns. Cultural uniformity and uniformity in their mode of life can be observed.

Close relationships: As a person mostly lives in a community, proximate relations develop. Collective participation becomes a common affair which brings people together and gives a chance to primary relations to develop. Thus, the psychological feelings of a community become more important.

Completeness of life: Community covers all the aspects of life. Community helps in the socialisation and also helps in developing the community sentiments in a person as well.

Permanent nature: Communities are never formed with any particular aim or objective. It grows itself spontaneously and so it is durable.

Not a legal body: A community is not a legal body i.e. it cannot sue, nor it can be sued. In the eyes of law, community has no rights and duties.

Apart from these basic elements, community shares feeling of one-ness and has a particular name. Though a community does not form with a particular aim, its ends remain wider and natural.

MacIver and Page (1952) has considered village and tribal societies as the best examples of community. Apart from it, they have also kept asylum and prison into the category of community.


In anthropology, association represents a group created for fulfillment of common needs. Human beings can fulfill their needs through three ways. One, independently; second, through conflict with one another and third, on co-operative basis i.e. in company. This co-operative pursuit may be determined by customs of the community.

So when a group organises itself especially for the purpose of pursuing certain interests, an association is born. As MacIver and Page (1952: 209) says that “an association is an organisation deliberately formed for the collective pursuit of same interest or set of interests, which its members share.” This definition clearly indicates the nature of association, its structure and functions.

Conditions to constitute an association:

  • Firstly, there must be a group of people;
  • Secondly, the group of people should be organised i.e. there must be certain rules for conduct;
  • Thirdly, there must be common purpose of the specific nature to follow.

Since, men have several interests and several purposes to pursue; they establish many associations to fulfill them. For example: political associations to serve the political motives, student associations to give out student welfare, professional associations like ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research), FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) to serve the interests of concerned people and international associations like Rotary Club, etc.

As society moves towards complexity, needs of the human beings also become diversified and this finally lead to more and more number of associations. In contemporary times, associations perform more than their conventional functions. Now people use associations to discharge their social obligations. Society is considered as a combination of associations and healthy associations represents a healthy society.

Characteristics of association

  • Association requires at least two individuals. It is considered as a concrete form of group.
  • Association has its own aims and objectives. No association can be formed without any aim. Aim can be broad or particular.
  • Association is always a result of deliberate action. Like communities, they do not grow spontaneously. They are deliberately created by men in order to fulfill certain aims.
  • In an association, membership remains voluntary. Members can join the association or establish an association as per their needs.
  • There are certain rules to get membership of an association. Every association establishes on the ground of certain rules and regulations. It also contains code of conduct for the members. On any contradictory action or disobeying the regulations, a member may be expelled from the membership. Associations are subjected to be terminated. The life of an association is upto the achievement of the aim for which it has been created. The existence of the association after the achievement of the objectives becomes meaningless and immaterial.

In simple societies, where there is less division of labour, there are a few associations and they are more inclusive. Thus, they lack specific limited functional character. They take such forms as age groups, kin groups and sex-groups etc. while in modern societies; associations are tend to be specialised so that each stands for a particular type of interest.

In a society, everybody needs a house to live. It is everybody’s aim but  we can not achieve it by our own exclusive efforts and resources. For that purpose Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) was established. Associations are formed in this manner only.

Hence, we can say that associations are those functional units of society through which a man fulfills his basic social needs. They are deliberately formed in order to attain certain purposes.


organisations are those associations of individuals through which certain value oriented interests are satisfied. They are systematically arranged units of individuals in which each person has a formal status and role, (Anderson and Parker).

Organisations are principally formed in order to attain certain goals. They emerge ‘when explicit procedures are established to coordinate the activities of a group in the interest of achieving specific objectives. The collective effort of the members of the group may become formally organised either because all of them have some common interests or because a sub-group has furnished inducements to the rest to work on behalf of its interests. Trade unions, government bureaus and army are few examples of organisations.

In modern society, needs of human being are diversified and so a number of organisations exist. Organisations provide a medium for expressing the interests like education, architecture, music, sports, cultural activities, etc. Parsons says that “organisations are social units that are deliberately constructed and reconstructed to pursue specific goals.” The government, trade unions, sports authorities and clubs are social structures formed to achieve certain objectives with special purposes. These all are counted as organisations.

Generally, organisations can be divided into formal and informal organisations. An organisation is developed when there is collectivity of people associated with one another. But, mere collection of individuals does not form a formal organisation. The defining criteria of a formal organisation is the existence of procedures for mobilising and coordinating the efforts of various, usually specialised, sub-groups in the pursuit of joint objectives.

Formal organisations are further divided into four types on the basis who benefits from the organisation.

  1. Mutual benefit organisations where the members are beneficiaries, for example a labour union.
  2. Business concerns where the main beneficiaries are owners.
  3. Client centered as in case of service organisations.
  4. Common-wealth organisations which are meant for the benefit of the public.

Formal organisation has fixed set of rules of intra-organisation procedures and structures. These rules are set out in writing leaving a little scope for interpretations. In some societies or in some organisations, such rules may be strictly followed; in others, they remain at the level of formalisation only. The informal organisations are informally organised by the participants themselves, and they compliment those formally organised for them by the management. It is the interlocking social structure that governs how people work together in practice. It is the aggregate of behaviours, interactions, norms, personal and professional connections through which work gets done and relationships are built among people who share a common organisational affiliation. It consists of a dynamic set of personal relationships, social networks, communities of common interest and emotional sources of motivation. Informal organisation originates or evolves spontaneously in response to changes in the work environment.

Characteristics of formal organisation

  1. Enduring unless deliberately altered,
  2. Static
  3. Very specified written rules
  4. Equates person with roles
  5. Hierarchical
  6. People are bounded together with formal rules and procedures

Characteristics of informal organisations

  1. Evolve or emerge spontaneously
  2. Dynamic and responsive
  3. Rules are not specified if written
  4. Treat people as individuals
  5. No hierarchical relations

Membership of an organisation along with its privileges entails duties and responsibilities. It is just like availing a new status in order to make the individual aware of his new responsibilities and status; many organisations go through the initiation ceremony along with oath taking process. Some organisations maintain secrecy which builds a kind of social distance between members and outsiders for example Mau Mau, a secret organisation of West Africa (Verghese, ).

In a large organisation, many smaller organisations exist. These smaller organisations, which are themselves formal organisations, work as sub units of larger network.

This whole network of organisations and its sub units is known as ‘complex organisations’. Etzioni opines, “Complex organisation constitutes one of the most important elements which make up social web of modern societies.

Modern organisations differ in three ways with social groups

  • (i) division of labour;
  • (ii) power centers; and
  • (iii) substitution of personnel.

Contemporary organisations are specialised and are likely to be formed when there is a complimentary or common interest which may bring the members together for activities of mutual interest.

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