It is the relationship of the individual with the group. Sociologists call any group that individuals use as a standard for evaluating themselves and their own behaviour a reference group. Reference groups are used in order to evaluate and determine the nature of a given individual or other group’s characteristics and sociological attributes.


The concept of reference group was first developed by Hayman. He explains the inter relationship between individual and group using the concept of reference group. He rejects Durkheim’s theory that considers that in every normal social situation, individual and group are strongly embedded to each other. As result, harmony is persistent in social life. Hayman considers that every individual compares his own group with other groups. He always intends to improve his status, striving for better social recognition. Individual’s relationship with group is always not harmonic. When a member of the group manifest behaviour not prescribed by the group, it leads to role conflict, and social isolation of the individual from that group.

Furthermore, Muzzafer Sherrif introduces the concept of reference group to explain how an actor identifies reference points within his own group. Thereby imitating their behavioural pattern to ensure that in the future he obtains social status like his point of reference. He considers that one’s own group can be the reference group for an individual.


Merton, taking inspirations from theories like above and introduces the concept of anticipatory socialization. He considers that this concept is useful to explain social mobility in the class structure, assimilation of ethnic minorities into the culture of dominant groups. Anticipatory socialization explains how it leads to role strain, role conflict in different structural situation. In forwarding his concept of reference group he rejects Parsonian theory of value consensus, integration and social continuity.

For members of a particular group, another group is a reference group if any of the following circumstances prevail:

1)      When members of the first aspire to membership in the second group, the second group serves as the reference group of the first.

2)      When members of the first group strive to be like the members of the second group in some respect, the second group serves as the reference group of the first. It is to be noted here that the first group wants to be like the second group simply because the first group cannot secure the membership of the second group.

3)      When the members of the first group derive some satisfaction from being unlike the members of the second group in some respect, and even strive to maintain the difference between themselves and the members of the second group, later group is the reference group of the first.

An individual may compare his own group with the other group to understand his relative position, status advantage or disadvantage, openness or closeness of the group therefore comparative reference group always operates as foundation to individual’s perception of relative deprivation and remedies to it. A person can have multiple reference groups and he may selectively borrow elements from them. One’s own group can also be reference group to an individual.

Merton explains reference group behaviour under the following head

  • Identification of reference group
  • Understanding of comparative advantage or disadvantage i.e. gathering information about reference group
  • Identification of reference points
  • Acceptance of the values and culture of reference group (acculturation)
  • Internalization of reference group behaviour
  • Role conflict within one’s own group
  • Resolution to role conflict within one’s own group
  • Entry into reference group
  • Resolution of conflict with reference group
  • Assimilation with reference group
  • Reference group is converged into new in-group

Merton’s study of reference groups bring forward new concepts in sociology like

  • Role conflict
  • Role strain
  • Anticipatory socialization
  • Marginal man
  • Relative deprivation; what he calls serendipity.


This theory is applied to Indian society by M. N. Srinivas. His theory of Sanskritization is a form of anticipatory socialization that provides space for tribes, lower cates to experience mobility in their caste position in search of a superior caste status.

In the field of sociological research. The outcomes of research is not planned. Therefore sociological research is different from natural science research in the true sense. Therefore Merton is truly a sociologist who establishes connectivity between theory and facts and liberating sociology from the bondage of extreme empiricism and extreme form of determinism.





Robert Merton in his theoretical analysis of ‘Social Structure and Anomie’ takes inspiration from Durkheim‘s work. It provided the intellectual foundation for Merton‘s attempt to develop a macro-level explanation of rates of norm violating behaviour in American society.

In contrast to Durkheim, Merton bases his theory on sociological assumptions about human nature. Merton replaces Durkheim‘s conception of limitless needs and appetites with the assumption that human needs and desires are primarily the product of a social process: i.e., cultural socialization. For instance, people raised in a society where cultural values emphasize material goals will learn to strive for economic success.

Anomie, for Durkheim, referred to the failure of society to regulate or constrain the ends or goals of human desire. Merton, on the other hand, is more concerned with social regulation of the means people use to obtain material goals.


Merton in his theory of deviance indicates that deviants are not a cub-cultural group. Rather people manifest deviant behaviour in different spheres of social life. A mismatch between cultural prescriptive means and socially prescriptive goals give way to deviant behaviour. He finds out that deviant behaviour persists in society because it has not outlived its function therefore sociology should not be concerned about deviance as a pathological problem rather one should study the latent and manifest orientations of deviance.

Merton considers that anomie is not a product of rapid social change. Rather it is a form of behaviour manifested by the people when they are suffering from social strain. Therefore anomie theory is also known as social strain theory. The strain is the product of mismatch between culturally prescriptive means and socially prescriptive goals. When people experience social strain, they channelize there strains in different ways in order to manifest different forms of anomic behaviour. At different points of time. These forms of deviant behaviours are functional, dysfunctional and non-functional.

This chronic discrepancy between cultural promises and structural realities not only undermines social support for institutional norms but also promotes violations of those norms. Just how do people adapt to these environmental pressures? Merton‘s answer to this question is perhaps his single most important contribution to the anomie tradition.

Merton presents an analytical typology, shown in the following table, of individual adaptations to the discrepancy between culture and social structure.


1. Conformity + +
2. Innovation + –
3. Ritualism – +
4. Retreatism – –
5. Rebellion +/- +/-


Note: (+) signifies acceptance; (–) signifies rejection; and (+/-) signifies rejection of prevailing goal or means and substitution of new goal or means.

These adaptations describe the kinds of social roles people adopt in response to cultural and structural pressures.

  • Conformity, is a non-deviant adaptation where people continue to engage in legitimate occupational or educational roles despite environmental pressures toward deviant behaviour. That is, the conformist accepts and strives for the cultural goal of material success (+) by following institutionalized means (+).
  • Innovation, on the other hand, involves acceptance of the cultural goal (+) but rejection of legitimate, institutionalized means (). This type of adaptation occurs when the individual has assimilated the cultural emphasis on the goal without equally internalizing the institutional norms.
  • Ritualism, represents quite a different sort of departure from cultural standards than does innovation. The ritualist is an over conformist. Here, the pursuit of the dominant cultural goal of economic success is rejected or abandoned () and compulsive conformity to institutional norms (+) becomes an end in itself.
  • Retreatism, is the rejection of both cultural goals () and institutionalized means (). Therefore, retreatism involves complete escape from the pressures and demands of organized society. Merton applies this adaptation to the deviant role ―activities of psychotics, outcasts, chronic drunkards, and drug addicts.
  • Rebellion, is indicated by different notation than the other adaptations. The two (+/-) signs show that the rebel not only rejects the goals and means of the established society but actively attempts to substitute new goals and means in their place. This adaptation refers, then, to the role behaviour of political deviants, who attempt to modify greatly the existing structure of society. In his later work, Merton uses the term nonconformity to contrast rebellion to other forms of deviant behaviour that are atypical. The nonconforming rebel is not secretive as are other, the rebel publicly acknowledges his or her intention to change those norms and the social structure that they support in the interests of building a better, more just society.

Having identified the modes of individual adaptations, Merton defines anomie as: “a breakdown in the cultural structure, occurring particularly when there is an n acute disjunction between the cultural norms and goals and the socially structured capacities of members of the group to act in accordance with them.” In this conception cultural values may help to produce behaviour which is at odds with mandates of the values themselves.


Merton insists that anomie is essentially a sociological concept. Anomie refers to a “property of a social system, not to the state of mind of this or that individual within the system.” For example, the condition of anomie exits when there is a general loss of faith in the efficacy of the government, when contractual cooperation is characterised more by mistrust that trust, or when there is an uneasiness gripping the community because of alarming increase in crime rate.

Thus, the appeal of Merton‘s theory and a major reason for its far-reaching impact upon the field of deviance lies in his ability to derive explanations of a diverse assortment of deviant phenomena from a relatively simple analytical framework. This is precisely what a general theory of deviance must do.




Sociology/Max Weber – Ideal Type



“An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those one sided emphasized viewpoints into unified analytical construct… In its conceptual purity, this mental construct… cannot be found empirically anywhere in reality.” – (Weber, 1903)


The ideal type is one of Weber’s best known contributions to contemporary sociology. Weber believed it was the responsibility of sociologist to develop conceptual tools, which could be used later by historians and sociologists. The most important such conceptual tool was the ideal type.

According to Weber, at its most basic level, an ideal type is a concept constructed by a social scientist, on the basis of his or her interests and theoretical orientation, to capture the essential features of some social phenomenon.

The most important thing about ideal type is that they are heuristic devices; they are to be useful and helpful in doing empirical research and in understanding a specific aspect of the social world. An ideal type is essentially a “measuring rod” or a “yardstick”. As Weber puts it, “Its function is the comparison with empirical reality in order to establish its divergences or similarities, to describe them with the most unambiguously intelligible concepts, and to understand and explain them casually”. For example, social scientists would construct an ideal-typical bureaucracy on the basis of their immersion in historical data. This ideal type can then be compared to actual bureaucracies.


Ideal types are not the product of whims and fancy of a social scientist, but are logically constructed concepts.

The ideal type has to be derived inductively from the real world of social history. Thus, in order to produce ideal types, researchers had first to immerse themselves in historical reality and then derive the types from the reality.

Ideal types should be neither too general nor too specific, so as to find a middle ground between nomothetic and ideographic knowledge. Ideal types are developed from intermediate phenomena such as Calvinism, Methodism etc.

Although ideal types are to be derived from the real world, they are not to be mirror images of that world. Rather, they are to be one-sided exaggerations of the essence of what goes on in the real world.

The use of the word ideal should not be constructed to mean that the concept being described is in any sense the best of all possible worlds. As used by Weber, the term meant that the form described in the concept was rarely, if ever found in the real world.

Ideal type should make sense in themselves, and they should aid us in making sense out of the real world.


  1. HISTORICAL IDEAL TYPES: These relate to phenomena found in some particular historical epoch. For example, the modern capitalistic marketplace.
  2. GENERAL SOCIOLOGICAL IDEAL TYPES: These relate to phenomena that cut across a number of historical periods and societies. For example, bureaucracy.
  3. ACTION IDEAL TYPES: These are pure types of action based on the motivations of the actor. For example, affectual action.
  4. STRUCTURAL IDEAL TYPES: These are forms taken by the causes and consequences of social action. For example, traditional domination.

Thus, we can say that an ideal type is an analytical construct that serves the investigator as a measuring rod to ascertain similarities as well as deviations in concrete cases. It is neither a statistical average nor a hypothesis; rather it is a mental construct, an organization of intelligible relations within a historical entity, formed by exaggerating certain essential features of a given phenomenon.



Sociology/Weber – Social Action



The word action refers to a human behaviour which an acting individual gives meaning to. An action is meaningful behaviour.  Thus, social action is any sort of behaviour which is meaningfully oriented to the past, present or expected behaviour of others and involves social relationships. Further we will try to understand how weber differentiates between Action and purely reactive behaviour.


According to Turner, Weber’s entire sociology, if we accept at face value, was based on his concept of social action. He was concerned with action clearly involved the intervention of thought processes and the resulting meaningful action. Action was said to occur when individuals attached subjective meanings to their actions. To Weber, the task of sociological analysis involved the “interpretation of action in terms of its subjective meanings”. In embedding his analysis in the mental process weber was careful to point out that, sociologists are interested in mental processes, but this is not the same as psychologists’ interest in the mind, personality, and so forth.


According to weber, sociology is a science which attempts “interpretive understanding of social action”. That is the object of sociology “is to interpret the meaning of social action’. But this interpretation, sociology gives a causal explanation of

  • The way in which the social action proceeds
  • The effects which it produces

The concept of action describes all human behaviour to which the actor attaches a subjective meaning. An action is social when it is oriented or directed to others in society. Sociology, however, is not concerned with all meaningful action. It deals with only those meaningful social action which is directed towards or takes account of other people with the help of examples from actual social life. Thus, the collision between two bi-cyclists is an accident and is not a social action. But when both of them try to give way to each other (to avoid collision) or when, after collision, they engage in a fight or offer an apology to each other, their action becomes meaningful social action.

Action takes place in a situation which has a number of components or aspects. It includes the actor i.e. the person on whose behaviour we are for the present focussing our attention, and objective situation. Which may be social (other individual actors or groups) or non-social (physical environment. Analysis of action is an examination of how the actor reacts to the objective situation as he finds it.

An actor reacts to the situation with an eye to attainment of some goal. All action is, therefore, goal oriented or motivational. What are the motives which generally prompt a man to act? The views of max weber may be considered in this regard;

Max Weber classifies types of action into four categories:

  1. RATIONAL ACTION in relation to goal: the actor conceives his goal clearly and adopts means with a view to attaining it.
  2. AFFECTIVE OR EMOTIONAL ACTION: this refers to the emotional reaction of an actor to his objective situation.
  3. TRADITIONAL ACTION: such action is dictated by customs or beliefs which have become habitual and second nature, as it were, of the actor. Observance of folkways comes under this category.
  4. RATIONAL ACTION in relation to a value: the action that is determined by a conscious belief in the value for its own sake of some ethical, aesthetic, religious or other form of behaviour, independently of its prospects for success.