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A term often used in the discussion of drug users, prostitutes, etc. Rather than taking a moralistic approach, perhaps focusing on punishment or rehabilitation, the system tries to reduce the harm that comes to such offenders. For example, provide drug users with clean needles, or perhaps with a safe place to shoot-up, or even to provide them with standardized heroin. Or the community could provide a safe area for prostitutes to work, provide free testing for infectious diseases, etc. All of this will reduce harm to the ‘offenders’ but in the long-term should also reduce harm to the community.

An increase in worker productivity observed at the Chicago Hawthorne plant of General Electric in the 1920's and 1930's attributed to improvements in worker-management communication and increased involvement of workers with each other. The term is now used more generally to refer to improvement of worker productivity that does not result from any objective change in working conditions or work organization, but seems to arise from workers having more positive psychological feelings about the workplace.

Street language for having courage.

A concept of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) which refers to the way that the political and social domination of the bourgeois class in capitalist society is pervasively expressed not only in ideologies but in all realms of culture and social organization. The comprehensive expression of the values of class divided society in social life lends this form of society an appearance of naturalness and inevitability that removes it from examination, criticism and challenge. While arising in the analysis of a class divided society the term is also used in discussion of a patriarchal society or a colonial society.

The extent to which a characteristic of a living organism is genetically determined, rather than shaped by the surrounding environment. In the social sciences, this term is chiefly associated with debate about the heritability of characteristics such as intelligence, criminality, gender behaviour, aggressiveness: are each of these (however measured) shaped most by biological (genetic) inheritance or by the influence of environmental factors like culture, socialization and physical nutrition?

An abstract concept or model useful for thinking about social and physical phenomena. For example, sociologists use of the concept social structure to help them in defining and analysing aspects of society that create patterns and regularity in the everyday roles and activities of individuals. Sociologists do not imagine that individuals mechanically and automatically act in precisely prescribed ways within social structures or that social structures are unchanging or fixed, but the concept of structure and regularity is an essential tool for understanding how social life itself is possible.

The norms, values and social expectations indirectly conveyed to students by the styles of teaching, unarticulated assumptions in teaching materials and the organizational characteristics of educational institutions. Social scientists find that the influence of the hidden curriculum on educational outcomes is equal to or greater than the overt or intended curriculum.

A structuring of social statuses and roles within an organization or society ranked according to differentiations of power, authority, wealth, income, etc. Related terms are ranking or stratification.

See metropolis-hinterland.

A lawyer who rose to become a significant public official in the United States through the 1930's and 1940s. In 1948 a magazine editor, who confessed to being a communist, accused Hiss of assisting in the transmittal of documents to the Russians. Hiss denied any involvement but was found guilty in his second trial and sentenced to five years in prison. Many did not believe his pleas of innocence and the case stimulated support for Senator McCarthy and the hunt for communists in places of influence in American society. It is now widely believed that Hiss (who was probably wrongfully accused) was the scapegoat for the loss of China to the Communists and the Russian development of the atomic bomb. Americans found it difficult to believe that either of these events could have happened without duplicity and thus looked to subversion, spies, lack of loyalty and moral degeneration as explanations for these world developments. See: MCCARTHYISM / .

The central concept of social analysis in the work of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Frederick Engels (1820-1895). The core idea is that the political and intellectual history of human societies is shaped most importantly by the social and technical organization of economic production and exchange. This view suggests that it is not principally intellectual ideas and knowledge that shape the structure and cultural values of social life, but rather the shape of social life, especially in the social organization of economic production, that chiefly shapes intellectual ideas and knowledge. See: DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM / .

Marriage between individuals who are, in some culturally important way, similar to each other. The similarity may be based on ethnicity, religion or socio-economic status. Canadians, for example, tend to be homogamous, with marriage partners usually having quite similar social and economic status and ethnic affiliation. This is a descriptive concept only and does not refer to rules or customs about mate selection. See: ENDOGAMY / .

Literally an uncontrollable fear of homosexuals and of homosexuality, but the term is generally used for a negative and contemptuous attitude to same-sex sexual relationships and to those who participate in them.

The expansion of a corporation to include other previously competitive enterprises within the same sector of goods or service production. For example, one candy maker may take over another candy maker. This process is characteristic of capitalist economies which have a marked tendency to sectoral concentration into fewer and fewer enterprises and business conglomerates. See: CONGLOMERATE / .

The Hudson's Bay Company was incorporated in 1684 by Royal Charter of the King of England to exercise political and economic control over all the lands and the sea around Hudson's Bay and the entire area which drained its lakes and rivers into Hudson's Bay. The Bay's main interest was to monopolise the extraordinarily profitable fur trade, particularly in the beaver pelts that were prized by European hat makers. The extent of the Bay's territory ran from Edmonton in the west to north of Ottawa in the east and from south of the present border with the United States to Baffin Island in the north. Over this vast territory the Bay wielded unchallengeable political and economic power and was for almost 200 years the effective government of this area. After confederation the new government of Canada determined immediately that the Bay must be shorn of its monopoly domination of trade and resources and of its quasi-governmental powers. In 1869, under pressure from the British government, Canada and the Bay reached an agreement by which the Bay surrendered almost all its territory. The company retained great tracts of land, however, and for another hundred years exercised extensive powers and influence in Canada's remote northern communities. In 1987 this role in the north was ended when the Bay sold its northern stores and the company then became similar to any large corporate retail organization.

The talents and capabilities that individuals contribute to the process of production. Companies, governments and individuals can invest in this ‘capital’ just as they can invest in technology and buildings or in finances.


An ethical doctrine that asserts the central importance of human life and experience on earth and the right and duty of each individual to explore and develop their potential. Humanism is, to some extent, in opposition to religious doctrines, like Christianity, that diminish the importance of earthly life and assert that human existence is merely a stage of preparation for heavenly life after death. In the social sciences humanism is evident in those groups who argue that social theory must conceive of the human actor as a subject rather than an object.

The earliest form of human society and still persisting to some extent in remote regions of the world. These societies have an economic base that rests on the use of the naturally occurring animal and plant resources of the environment. They do not practice agriculture or raise and herd animals. Social structure is usually egalitarian with little economic and gender inequality. Private property is minimal. In Canada the Inuit and many First Nations communities were hunter-gatherer societies prior to European contact. This aboriginal life style had generally disappeared by the second half of this century, but many communities are now attempting to recover traditional ways.

An Anabaptist (opposed to infant baptism) group which emerged in central Europe in 1528 under the leadership of Joseph Hutter. The basic components of their religious beliefs are communal ownership of property, communal living, nonviolence and commitment to adult baptism. A large number of Hutterites emigrated to Canada in 1918 and the majority now live in the prairie provinces and retain traditional styles of dress and custom. Mennonites originated at approximately the same time as the Hutterites but arrived in Canada from the USA in 1786. See: SECT / .

A testable statement (i.e., it may be true or false) of a specific relationship between or among variables. In the classic model of science this testable statement is deduced from a theory. See: HYPOTHETICO-DEDUCTIVE MODEL OF SCIENCE / .

The classical or traditional model of how science operates: scientists are assumed to begin with a theory, deduce a hypothesis from the theory and then gather evidence to test the hypothesis. If the hypothesis is confirmed the theory is assumed to be correct or useful. See: HYPOTHESIS / THEORY / .

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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