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During the 1948 presidential election in the United States President Truman ran on a platform of human rights. When elected he was able to get a great deal of liberal legislation passed extending aspects of the welfare state first introduced as part of the ‘new deal’ of Roosevelt.. His proposal to introduce a national health insurance plan, however, was blocked by the American Medial Association. See: NEW DEAL / WELFARE STATE / .


When trying to identify dangerous offenders (or other things as well), researchers often make mistakes. One of these mistakes is known as a false positive. The error is identifying someone as dangerous (and possibly keeping them incarcerated or denying them parole) when they are not dangerous. The other type of error would be a false negative: identifying someone as non-dangerous when they in fact go on to commit a dangerous act.

A central tenet of science which demands that all claims or assertions investigated by science must be open to being proven false. If a researcher cannot define what would count as empirical or experimental disproof of a claim then the claim itself must fall outside the domain of science. This tenet is consistent with the belief that in science it is possible to prove something false, but not to prove something true. In fact it is assumed that we can never prove something to be true, we can only fail to disprove something and therefore accept its truth for the time being. Science does not simply try to illustrate or demonstrate its theories or hypotheses, rather, it actively tries to disprove them.

Refers to core values of a family type which emphasizes commitment to the family as a unit. Staying together for the sake of the children would be an indication of this value. Found in the ‘bourgeois family’ which reflects the cultural belief that it is the family that is the foundation of society and the source of human identification and moral discipline. The modern conjugal family, by contrast, is typically described as having a central value of individualism that de-emphasizes the importance of the family unit. See: INDIVIDUALISM / BOURGEOIS FAMILY / .

Introduced in 1945, a monthly payment given to the mother of every child under age 16 (changed to age 18 in 1973) and who, if of school age, was attending school. Beginning in 1978 a merging of social security programs and income tax provisions introduced the notion of a child tax credit as a way to target families in need of government assistance. This eventually led to the elimination of the family allowance and, many argued, to the end of universality as a principle of Canadian social security. The family allowance was also known as the ‘baby bonus’. While the government once fulfilled an obligation to every child we now have a system in which the government makes no tax or social security allowance for many children. See: UNIVERSALITY / .


A family system first emerging in the 16th and 17th centuries in the towns of Europe among the growing middle class of merchants, professionals and administrators. It later spreads to the working class during the industrial revolution. This family type is centred on private homelife, the relationship of the couple and their children and based on a clear division of gender roles, with men as chief income earners and women centred in the domestic world of home and family. For many conservatives this remains the ideal form of family . Although this structure of family life is often assumed to be typical of modern Canadian families, it is a minority life style: only about 30% of Canadian families with children maintain this household organization and it accounts for only about 8% of all households.

A nuclear family of adult partners and their children (by birth or adoption) where the family relationship is principally focused inwardly and ties to extended kin are voluntary and based on emotional bonds, rather than strict duties and obligations. See: family, nuclear

A family system of nuclear families linked through shared descent from a common ancestor. The individual nuclear families are bound into complex ties of obligation and daily activity with each other. Consanguineal families can be linked either matrilineally or patrilineally.

A family system based on the equality of the participants and in direct contrast to the patriarchal family. It usually refers to an equal relationship between the adult partners, though it can mean permissive, rather than authoritarian, parent-child relationship. In North American families this family form is most likely to be found among young and well-educated couples. The term ‘symmetrical family’ is sometimes used as an equivalent. The concept is in many respects an ideal, rather than descriptive of typical or usual family relationships. See: DOUBLE BURDEN / .

This has the same composition as the conjugal family, but the term ‘nuclear’ does not imply that the family is inwardly focused and relatively autonomous from extended kin as in the case of the conjugal family. Extended, or consanguineal (based on shared blood descent), families can be thought of as composed of linked nuclear families.

A political doctrine opposed to democracy and demanding submission to political leadership and authority. A key principle of fascism is the belief that the whole society has a shared destiny and purpose which can only be achieved by iron discipline, obedience to leadership and an all-powerful state. Fascism first developed in Italy, under the leadership of Benito Mussolini (dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943) and later influenced the development of German fascism in the Nazi movement led by Adolf Hitler (dictator of Germany from 1933-1945) . While fascism increases the power and role of the state in society and suppresses free trade unions and political opposition, it preserves private ownership and private property.

A type of suicide, identified by Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), occurring in social conditions where the individual experiences pervasive oppression. For example the condition of slavery may make an individual may feel the only way to find escape is suicide.

Refers to the potential number of children a woman can have. Fertility rate, on the other hand, refers to the actual number of children a woman has.

Where a federal system of government does not accord precisely the same legal powers and areas of jurisdiction to all its constituent states or provinces. In Canada, this form of federalism has been advocated as a way to reconcile Quebec to the federal system by awarding the province specific additional powers connected to the protection and promotion of French language and culture.

A federal system where there is a strong federal government and weaker provincial governments. Its opposite is centrifugal federalism, where power would be dispersed from the centre to the provincial governments. In Canada the debate over these visions of federalism has continued since before confederation and is still unresolved. See: CONFEDERATION / .

a diverse political and intellectual movement chiefly developed by women, but having increasing influence with both sexes, that seeks to criticize, re-evaluate and transform the place of women in social organization and in culture. Common to feminists is the assumption that social organization and culture have been dominated by men to the exclusion of women and that this exclusion has been accompanied by a diverse pattern of devaluation and disadvantagement that have marginalized women's status in most known societies. Consequently, a major area of concern to feminism is the recovery and articulation of women's' experience in history and in contemporary societies and a wholesale reconstruction of the fundamental intellectual assumptions of social practices and of many areas of study including especially sociology, psychology, history and other social and humanistic disciplines. See: PATRIARCHY / LIBERAL FEMINISM / RADICAL FEMINISM / ECOFEMINISM / .

A form of feminism which rejects the belief that the differences between men and women are socially constructed or are established through socialization. Rather, it believes men and women are different in essence and that these differences arise from differing human natures. Cooperation and competition, therefore are not just values which have been socially assigned to women and men respectively, but are values that arise from the fundamentally different character of the two sexes.

A perspective influenced by the sociology of knowledge that claims less powerful members of society are able to achieve a more complete view of social reality than are others. Less powerful groups, like women and minorities, may be less incorporated into the reward system of society and more clear sighted and critical about its inequalities and deficiencies. The sociology of knowledge assumption behind this is the idea that knowledge is socially constructed and shaped by the social position occupied by the knower. It follows then that the point of view of the researcher is also shaped by their position in society and standpoint feminism acknowledges this and claims for it a positive role in contributing to a rounded understanding of the character of the society. This acknowledgment is a rejection of traditional notions of objectivity. See: SOCIOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE / .

A social movement whose goal has been, and continues to be, the elimination of the patriarchal nature of society. Two large waves of feminist organization can be identified, the first following the French Revolution and extending the principles of liberty and freedom to women. This period is associated with Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797). The second can be identified with French writer Simone De Beauvoir's The Second Sex in 1952 and, in North America, with the publication of Betty Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique, in 1963. See: SOCIAL MOVEMENT / .

While there is not a single feminist theory, central to all such theories is an attempt to understand the social, economic and political position of women in society, with a view to liberation. Feminist theory has challenged the claims to objectivity of previous social science and by examining society from women's position has called much social science into question as being male-centred and a component of the hegemonic rule of patriarchy. See: LIBERAL FEMINISM / RADICAL FEMINISM / MARXIST FEMINISM / ECOFEMINISM / .

A social process in which the incidence of poverty among women becomes much higher than among men. Changes in social policy, the structure of the family and the workplace, social security provisions, life expectancy and other aspects of society have had the unintended result of increasing the female proportion of the population on low incomes or in poverty. In Canada, poverty rates are particularly high among female single parents and among elderly women. The feminization of poverty is often cited as an explanation for an increase in women's involvement in crime and contrasted to a ‘liberation’ explanation.

A child who, in legend or in fact, has been raised and protected from infancy by animals. The most famous example is the ‘Wild Boy of Averon’ who was discovered in 1800 at the age of eleven or twelve after having apparently been raised by animals. Although considerable effort was made to ‘civilize’ the young man, there was little success and only a few words were mastered. The case is offered in the social sciences to emphasize the importance of socialization and the social nature of the human species. A more recent example of a child growing up in isolation from human contact is found in the story of Genie (Curtiss 1977). See: SOCIALIZATION / .

The number of children born to women in their fertile years within a given population. Usually expressed as the average number of children born to women over their life time. Not to be confused with the birth rate. See: BIRTH RATE / .

A system of economic and social organization found historically in several areas of the world including Japan, other parts of Asia, the Americas and many countries of eastern and western Europe. In western Europe, feudalism was at its height between about 1000 and 1500. The system was founded on a web of military obligations between powerful overlords and their vassals. Vassals, who were usually landlords of knightly rank, owed duties of military service in return for grants of land (fiefs) from the overlord. The land, and the military obligations, were usually passed from father to son. The usual economic foundation of the system was the feudal manor, an agricultural organization that included a central farm owned by the landlord and small land holdings for a class of bonded farm labourers (serfs). The serfs were required to work the central manorial farm and to provide the lord with produce and money payments in return for their own rights to land use. The system gradually declined as cities and towns grew, money became the basis for economic transactions and power became centralized in nation states under monarchies. Loss of rural population from plague also hastened the end of this system of economic organization, especially in England.

Those individuals and institutions that deal directly with the public and have power to initiate legal process against individuals under criminal justice or mental health laws.

This term has emerged in the mid 1980's to describe Canadian Indian individuals and communities. The traditional term ‘Indian’ has fallen into disfavor as it is both mistaken (it was applied only because European explorers had expected to find India across the Atlantic ocean) and ignores the great variety of history and culture among First Nations societies. The name is also politically significant, since it implies possession of rights arising from original historical occupation of Canadian territory. Canada's principal national organization of aboriginal (but not including Inuit) people is the Assembly of First Nations.

Refers broadly to a long-term situation where government expenditures exceed government revenues. Within modern Marxist theory (neo-Marxism), the term has been used more specifically to refer to a situation where governments have increased their role in society in serving the needs of private capital, but have not been able to adequately tax private capital to support the expenditures. For example, technical employment training has now largely become a preserve of the state (rather than the private employer), leaving the state with additional expenditures, but without corresponding revenues. According to neo-Marxism, this tendency is linked to the development of economic concentration and monopoly and inbuilt in the capitalist economic system. The fiscal crisis of the state is thought to drive much contemporary government policy on social programs.

Government economic policies that rely on economic regulation and control exercised through government taxation and budgetary policy. These policies are in contrast to monetary policy which seeks to influence the direction of the economy and regulate levels of economic activity and inflation by control of both the rate of interest (the cost of borrowing money) and the amount of money available within an economy (the money supply). See: MONETARY POLICY / .

A tax structure that has gained significant public support in North America in which all citizens would pay the same percentage of taxation on their income. This would simplify tax law and the completion of a tax return but would make income tax regressive. See: REGRESSIVE TAXATION / .

A society of primary communal relationships with little complexity, minimal division of labour and largely insulated from contact with other societies. The term is an ideal type associated with American anthropologist/sociologist Robert Redfield (1897-1958) and it is closely related to F. Tonnies' (1855-1936) concept of Gemeinschaft. See: GEMEINSCHAFT / .

In Marxian terms, the essential component of the economic system of society. Refers to the materials used in the production of goods as well as the tools, knowledge and techniques used to transform these materials. Does not include the class structure or relations of society, known as the ‘relations of production’. See: MODE OF PRODUCTION / RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION / .

Refers to the system of mass production (eg: the assembly line) pioneered by Henry Ford to meet the needs of a mass market.

Title of book written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851), the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft. This book, published in 1818, depicts the creation of a man through the application of science, who subsequently gets out of control and kills his creator. Taken as a metaphor of the limited vision but overwhelming arrogance of scientific ‘man’ or rational ‘man’ the book is now seen as an indictment of the modern society emerging in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A group of chiefly German social theorists associated with the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research founded in 1923. Authors associated with the School are T.W. Adorno, Max Horkeimer, Herbert Marcuse, Friedrich Pollock. The underlying philosophy of this group can also be found in the more recent work of Jurgen Habermas, a student of Adorno. The school developed critical theory, an extension and development of the ideas of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Much important work flowed from this school examining culture as a lived experience and its role in modern societies. See: CRITICAL THEORY / CULTURAL STUDIES / .

Trade between nations that is conducted on free market principles, without tariffs, import quotas or other restrictive regulations. Free trade, especially with the United States, has been controversial throughout post -confederation Canadian history and has been widely distrusted as likely to lead to Canada playing the role of resource provider to a more advanced US manufacturing and service economy. Since 1989, when a Free Trade Agreement with the United States was introduced, Canadian opinion has tended to become more supportive of this policy especially in light of the general globalization of trade and international communication. Since the initial free trade agreement there is growing consensus that there has been an economic (and to some extent social) integration of the two nations. In 1993, Canada, the United States and Mexico entered into a trilateral free trade agreement: the North American Free Trade Agreement. See: CONTINENTALISM / DEPENDENT DEVELOPMENT / METROPOLIS-HINTERLAND THEORY / STAPLE TRAP.

Specially designated geographical areas within a nation that are exempt from the regulations and taxation normally imposed on business. They are intended to facilitate cross border production and trade. Examples of these zones are found along the United States-Mexico border where they are referred to as ‘maquilladora.’

The French revolution brought the ideas of liberty, equality and democracy to continental Europe and set off a profound and irreversible historical transformation. The revolution began in 1789 and some historians have traced the end of the revolution to the overthrow of Robespierre, its most radical leader in 1794, others to the seizure of power by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 and yet others to final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. From 1789 to 1815 France was transformed by revolution. It began with the overthrowing of the monarchy and soon became a reign of revolutionary terror. The King and Queen and many of the aristocracy were executed and there were mass executions of political opponents. Attempts were made to export the revolution to the rest of Europe as the French armies moved east and forced monarchs to give up power, granted freedom and land to the serfs and recruited thousands of the ordinary people into the French army to help carry forward the message of equality and liberation. Then began a period of international wars against Britain and the old powers of Europe finally leading to ultimate defeat of the French forces at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. For the social sciences, the French revolution is important for representing the triumph of the liberal claim that all humans are essentially equal and all have a right to liberty and freedom of choice. Along with the Bloodless Revolution in England of 1688, which irreversibly established the principle of a limited constitutional monarchy, the Industrial Revolution, which gained momentum in the mid 1700's and the American Revolution of 1776, this event ushered in the social, economic and political transformation of western societies and helped create the age of modernity, democracy, economic development and legal equality for all citizens. The history of the French revolution has fascinated social scientists since the early nineteenth century and continues to shape modern culture and intellectual ideas.

Sigmund Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis, the theory that adult personality is shaped in early infancy and is especially influenced by the individual's experiences in sexual exploration and development.

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud argued that our hidden or suppressed thoughts have a tendency to emerge unexpectedly in what appear to be ordinary mistakes of language or errors of memory. These errors reveal our hidden wishes and desires.

The explanations offered by functionalists or structural functionalists have a property referred to as teleology - explaining things in terms of their end results or purposes. Functionalist tend to explain features of social life in terms of their function (the part they play) in social life. These kinds of explanations are found in biology as well and it is not surprising that functionalists like Durkheim adopted an organic metaphor. The lungs, for example, are explained in terms of what they do in and for the human body. The classic example of this reasoning is found in Durkheim's discussion of the functions of crime in any society. He argues that as darkness needs light, a moral society needs immorality as a way to make morality visible. Others have argued that crime or deviance also help the society by clarifying the moral boundaries of the group. Many would argue that these are not explanations at all, but are logically circular. See: STRUCTURAL FUNCTIONALISM / .

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Athabaca University ICAAP

© Robert Drislane, Ph.D. and Gary Parkinson, Ph.D.
The online version of this dictionary is a product of
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*This social science dictionary has 1000
entries covering the disciplines of sociology, criminology, political
science and women's study with a commitment to Canadian examples and
events and names