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The term 'value' has a meaning in sociology that is both similar to and yet distinct from the meaning assigned to it in everyday speech. In sociological usage, values are group conceptions of the relative desirability of things. Sometimes 'value' means 'price'. But the sociological concept of value is far broader than here neither of the objects being compared can be assigned a price.

What is the value, for illustration, of the right of every human being to dignity in comparison to the need to improve the technical aspects of education? This issue is directly involved in the desegregation of the public schools and has been debated bitterly. Some attempts have been made to estimate the dollar costs of the old system of segregated schools and, more recently, estimates have been made of the costs of using both black and white children to end segregation. Most of the social costs of the two systems, however, defy statement in monetary terms and most people take their stand on the issue in terms of deeply held convictions about what is important in life.

The idea of deeply held convictions is more illustrative of the sociological concept of value than is the concept of price. In addition, there are four other aspects of the sociological concept of value. They are: (1) values exist at different levels of generality or abstraction; (2) values tend to be hierarchically arranged (3) values are explicit and implicit in varying degrees; and (4) values often are in conflict with one another.

General and Specific Values

Such values as democracy, freedom, and the right to dissent are stated at a very broad level of generality. Each of them pervades many aspects of life and each is anything but situationally specific. If a comprehensive list of values were prepared, a large proportion of them would be found to be very general and abstract. Values are, however, also stated in fairly specific terms.

Thus, we may define values as physical health or affluence. On more specific levels yet, we may value between symphonies or powerful automobiles. We may also value silk rather than nylon or the writing of a particular novelist rather than that of another.

Means Values, ends values, and ultimate values

Values tend to be hierarchically arranged. This may be shown through use of the concepts of means values and ends values. As the words themselves imply, means values are instrumental values in that they are sought as part of the effort to achieve other values. Ends values are both more general and more important in the eyes of the groups who are doing the valuing. Thus, if health is an American value, then the maintenance of good nutrition, the securing of proper rest and the avoidance of carcinogenic and mind-destroying substances all become means to that end.

The distinction between means values and ends values is a matter of logic and relates to the context of a particular discussion. When the context shifts, so also may change the definition of particular values as means values or ends values. To a narcotics agent, the avoidance of hallucinogenic substances might be defined as an end in itself requiring no further justification. To a religious person, health might not be an end in itself but only a means to the continued worship of the deity. One additional distinction may be useful that implied in the concept of ultimate values. The concept of ultimate value is arrived at by following the same logical procedures used in distinguishing between means values and end values, and continuing the process until it can be pursued no further. If good nutrition is sought as a means to health, health as a means to longevity, and long life to permit one to be of service to God, is there any higher or more ultimate value than service to the deity? Regardless of which way the question is answered, it is obvious that one is about to arrive at an ultimate value that can no longer be justified in terms of other values.

Values conflict with one another

The examples of the right to dissent, conformity, and respect for authority as American values illustrate the point that values frequently are in conflict with one another. At least in complex societies, there is generally not just one value system but multiple, overlapping, and sometimes opposing ones. In America, for example, the problem is not that they value religions working over personal gratification or vice versa, but that they value them both at the same time; along with the achievement of status, the accumulation of wealth, and a host of other values. These potentially conflicting values are so pervasive that it is virtually impossible to pursue some of them without violating others. Societies probably differ in the extent to which their value systems are internally consistent and in small homogeneous societies than in large heterogeneous ones. American society has long had the reputation of embracing many and deep value conflicts.

Social Norms

Social norms grow out of social value and both serve to differentiate human social behavior from that of other species. The significance of learning in behavior varies from species to species and is closely linked to processes of communication. Only human beings are capable of elaborate symbolic communication and of structuring their behavior in terms of abstract preferences that we have called values. Norms are the means through which values are expressed in behavior.

Norms generally are the rules and regulations that groups live by. Or perhaps because the words, rules and regulations, call to mind some kind of formal listing, we might refer to norms as the standards of behavior of a group. For while some of the appropriate standards of behavior in most societies are written down, many of them are not that formal. Many are learned, informally, in interaction with other people and are passed "that way from generation to generation.

The term "norms" covers an exceedingly wide range of behaviour. So that the whole range of that behaviour may be included. Sociologists have offered the following definition. Social norms are rules developed by a group of people that specify how people must, should, may, should not, and must not behave in various situations.

Some norms are defined by individual and societies as crucial to the society. For example, all members of the group are required to wear clothing and to bury their dead. Such "musts" are often labeled "mores", a term coined by the American sociologist William Graham Sumner.

Many social norms are concerned with "should "; that is, there is some pressure on the individual to conform but there is some leeway permitted also. The 'should behaviors' are what Sumner called "folk-ways"; that is, conventional ways of doing things that are not defined as crucial to the survival of either the individual or the society. The 'should behaviors' in our own society include the prescriptions that people's clothes should be clean, and that death should be recognized with public funerals. A complete list of the should behaviors in a complex society would be virtually without end.

The word "May" in the definition of norms indicates that, in most groups, there is a wide range of behaviors in which the individual is given considerable choice. To continue the illustration, in Western countries girls may select to wear dresses or halters and jeans. Funerals may be held with or without flowers, with the casket open or closed, with or without religious participation, and so on. We have confined our examples to just two areas, but students should be able to construct their own examples from all areas of life.

The remainder of the definition, including the 'should-not' and the 'must-not' behaviours, probably does not require lengthy illustration because such examples are implicit in what has already been said. One should not belch in public, dump garbage in the street, run stop signs, or tell lies. One must not kill another person or have sexual intercourse with one's sister or brother.

Social norms cover almost every conceivable situation, and they vary from standards where almost complete conformity is demanded to those where there is great freedom of choice. Norms also vary in the kinds of sanctions that are attached to violation of the norms. Since norms derive from values, and since complex societies have multiple and conflicting value systems, it follows that norms frequently are in conflict also.

Taking the illustration of American sex norms, two proscriptive norms prohibit premarital intercourse and extramarital intercourse. But many boys also have been taught that sex is good and that they should seek to "score" with girls whenever possible. Somewhat similarly, girls have been taught that promiscuous intercourse before marriage is bad; but they have also been taught that sex is acceptable within true love relationships. Members of both sexes, then, find themselves faced with conflicting demands for participation in sex and for abstinence from it. They also discover that there are sanctions associated with either course of action.

Normative conflict is also deeply involved in social change. As statistical norms come to differ too blatantly from existing prescriptive norms, new prescriptive norms give sanction to formerly prohibited behaviour and even extend it. Recent changes in the sex norms of teenage and young adult groups provide examples. The change is more apparent in communal living groups where sometimes there is an explicit ideology of sexual freedom and the assumption that sexual activities will be shared with all members of the group. In less dramatic fashion, the change is evident among couples who simply begin to live together without the formality of a marriage ceremony.

Social Institutions

A social institution is a complex, integrated set of social norms organized around the preservation of a basic societal value. Obviously, the sociologist does not define institutions in the same way as does the person on the street. Lay persons are likely to use the term "institution" very loosely, for churches, hospitals, jails, and many other things as institutions.

Sociologists often reserve the term "institution" to describe normative systems that operate in five basic areas of life, which may be designated as the primary institutions. (1) In determining Kinship; (2) in providing for the legitimate use of power; (3) in regulating the distribution of goods and services; (4) in transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next; and (5) in regulating our relation to the supernatural. In shorthand form, or as concepts, these five basic institutions are called the family, government, economy, education and religion.

The five primary institutions are found among all human groups. They are not always as highly elaborated or as distinct from one another as into the United States, but, in rudimentary form at last, they exist everywhere. Their universality indicates that they are deeply rooted in human nature and that they are essential in the development and maintenance of orders. Sociologists operating in terms of the functionalist model society have provided the clearest explanation of the functions served by social institutions. Apparently there are certain minimum tasks that must be performed in all human groups. Unless these tasks are performed adequately, the group will cease to exist. An analogy may help to make the point. We might hypothesize that cost accounting department is essential to the operation of a large corporation. A company might procure a superior product and distribute it then at the price which is assigned to it, the company will soon go out of business. Perhaps the only way to avoid this is to have a careful accounting of the cost of each step in the production and distribution process.


Cooperation involves individuals or groups working together for the achievement of their individual or collective goals. In its simplest form, cooperation may involve only two people who work together towards a common goal. Two college students working together to complete a laboratory experiment, or two inter-city youths working together to protect their 'turf' from violation by outsiders are examples. In these cases, solidarity between the collaborators is encouraged and they share jointly the reward of their cooperation. Again at the level of two-person interactions, the goals towards which the cooperation parties work may be consistent with each other, but they may not be identical or shared. From the college experience again, student and professor may cooperate towards the student's mastery of professor's discipline, but the student may be working to make a good grade while the professor is working to establish or reinforce his/her reputation as a good teacher. If some of their rewards are shared, some also are individual but attainable only through joint effort. The cooperating parties in this case may be either neutral or kindly disposed towards one another but their relationship is not likely to have lasting solidarity.

Man can't associate without cooperating, without working together in the pursuit of like to common interests. It can be divided into five principal types.

1. Direct Cooperation:

Those activities in which people do like things together play together, worship together, labor together in myriad ways. The essential character is that people do in company, the things which they can also do separately or in isolation. They do them together because it brings social satisfaction.

2. Indirect Cooperation: Those activities in which people do definitely unlike tasks toward a single end. Here the famous principle of the 'division of labour' is introduced, a principle that is imbedded in the nature of social revealed wherever people combine their difference for mutual satisfaction or for a common end.

3. Primary Cooperation:

It is found in primary groups such as family, neighborhood, friends and so on. Here, there is an identity end. The rewards for which everyone works are shared or meant to be shared, with every other member in the group. Means and goals become one, for cooperation itself is a highly prized value.

4. Secondary Cooperation:

It is the characteristic feature of the modern civilized society and is found mainly in social groups. It is highly formalized and specialized. Each performs his/her task, and thus helps others to perform their tasks, so that he/she can separately enjoy the fruits of his/her cooperation.

5. Tertiary Cooperation:

It may be found between 2 or more political parties, castes, tribes, religions groups etc. It is often called accommodation. The two groups may cooperate and work together for antagonistic goals.

Cooperation is important in the life of an individual that it is difficult for man to survive without it. C.H. Cooley says that Cooperation arises only when men realize that they have a common interest. They have sufficient theme, intelligence and self control, to seek this interest through united action.


Just as cooperation exists as a universal form of social interaction, so is competition found in all societies. Competition grows out of the fact that human needs and desires appears to be insatiable and the goods, prestige, and perquisites that are the rewards for successful competition always are in short supply. People everywhere compete for dwelling space, for mates, for elaborate clothing and other bodily ornaments, and for wealth whether defined in terms of land, animals, money or even cockle shells.

Although all societies acknowledge and support the value of competition in some areas of life, they differ in the relative emphasis that they place on competition and cooperation, cooperation and competition always exist as reciprocal aspects of the same general experience. European capitalist society, generally, has accepted the view that the collective interest further by individual and group competition spurs people on to accomplish more than can be managed under other circumstances. This stands in marked contrast to the beliefs of some other societies; to that of the Zuni Indians of the American South west. The Zunis discouraged the accumulation of wealth and they minimize status differences among themselves. They also regard overt competitiveness as a matter of taste in their children. There is some justification for this reaction to competition. Competition, however, is an ideal type. An ideal type is a form of concept that is constructed by taking one or more characteristics of a phenomenon and accentuating those characteristics to their logical maximum or reducing them to their logical minimum. The type thus constructed does not represent reality because the very process of its construction involves exaggeration. Ideal types, nevertheless, are very useful as logical standards by which reality can be measured. This often is done by making a pair of ideal types and letting them represent the ends of a continuum or scale. Because the ends of the scale are defined in terms of logical extremes, no existing case falls at either end of the continuum, but all cases may be ranged somewhere along the continuum between the two end points.

Nature and characteristics of Competition

1. Scarcity as a condition of competition: Wherever there are commonly desired goods and services, there is competition. Infact economics starts with its fundamental proposition that while human wants are unlimited the resources that can satisfy these wants are strictly limited. Hence people compete for the possession of these limited resources. As Hamilton has pointed out competition is necessitated by a population of insatiable wants and a world of stubborn and inadequate resources.

2. Competition is continuous: it is found virtually in every area of social activity and social interaction- particularly, competition for status, wealth and fame is always present in almost all societies.

3. Competition is a cause of social change: Competition is a cause of social change in that; it causes persons to adopt new forms of behavior in order to attain desired ends. New forms of behavior involve inventions and innovations which naturally bring about social change.

4. Competition may be personal or impersonal: Competition is normally directed towards a goal and not against any individual. Some times, it takes place without the actual knowledge of other's existence. It is impersonal as in the case of civil service examination in which the contestants are not even aware of one another's identity. Competition may also be personal as when two individuals contest for election to an office. As competition becomes more personal it leads to rivalry and shades into conflict. Competition in the social world is largely impersonal.

5. Competition is always governed by norms: Competition is not limitless nor is it un- regulated. There is no such thing as unrestricted competition. Such a phrase is contradiction in terms. Moral norms or legal rules always govern and control competition. Competitors are expected to use fair tactics and not cut throat devices.

Some sociologists have also spoken of cultural competition. It may take place between two or more cultural groups. Human history provides examples of such a competition for example; there has always been a keen competition between the culture of the native and that of the invaders. Like cooperation, competition occurs at personal, group, and organizational levels. People competing for affection, a promotion, or public office all are examples of personal competition. The competitors are likely to know one another and to regard others defeat as essential to the attainment of their own goals.


Conflict is goal-oriented, just as cooperation and competition are, but, there is a difference, in conflict, one seeks deliberately to harm and/ or destroy one's antagonists. The rules of competition always include restrictions upon the injury that may be done to a foe. But in conflict these rules break down; one seeks to win at any cost. In talking about conflict, the notion of a continuum or scale is again useful. It is useful in at least two ways: in differentiating conflict from competition; and in differentiating personal form group and organizational conflict. If we have the data with which to do it, all rival situations probably could be ranged along a continuum defined at one end by pure competition and at the other end by pure conflict. There might be a few situations that would be located near to each end of the continuum, but many would prove to be mixed types and would cluster near the centre. Conflict also tends to be more or less personal, just as is the case with cooperation and competition. First, fights and 'shoot-out' illustrate highly personal conflicts. The conflicts within football games generally are a little less personal, and the conflict between students and campus police at a sit-in or rally is personal. Yet, when two labor unions or two corporations set out to destroy each other, personal conflict may be almost completely submerged in organizational struggle. Perhaps the most impersonal of all conflicts is war between nations, where the enemy is perceived to be almost faceless. Again, rather than being discrete types of personal and impersonal conflicts, conflicts probably range almost imperceptibly along a continuum from the purely personal to the completely impersonal.

Probably the most striking thing about conflict is its destructive potential. The word 'conflict' itself often conjures up images of heads being broken, of buildings burning, and of deaths and destruction. Moreover, the destructiveness that accompanies conflicts quickly cumulates. In a confrontation between police and students, for example, things may be orderly until the first blow is struck. Once that happens, however, a frenzy of skull cracking, shootings, burning, and destroying may follow. Because the immediate results of conflict often are so horrible, there is a tendency to see it, not as a normal and universal process of social interaction, but as pathological process. It is very difficult for the unsophisticated not to imply value judgments in discussing these social processes because our society as a whole tends to do so. Cooperation and competition are more often perceived to be socially useful; but conflict, to be harmful.

The situation, however, it is not that simple. Few would defend the cooperation of a group of men in the rape of a woman. And the school drop-out problem is hardly a beneficial effect of competition. Thus, competition and cooperation, which otherwise receive a good deal of social approval, also have untoward effects. So it is, also with conflict. Conflict is an abnormal and universal form of social interaction as are any of the others. Analysis of conflict needs to describe both the ways in which it is harmful and destructive and the way in which it is useful and socially integrative

Harmful Effects of Conflict

The harmful effects probably are easier to see. We have already indicated that conflict tends to cumulate rapidly. This snowballing tendency may lead to complete breakdown before the self-limiting features of most inter-personal exchanges have a chance to operate. Before people can decide that the pain is not worth it, people may have been killed and property destroyed. Establishments may be closed or they may find themselves in chaos. Similarly, a company of soldiers may shoot down women and children in an orgy of destruction. A second negative feature of conflict, closely related to the first, is that it is often extremely costly. War probably provides the best example, for nothing else in human experience exacts such a toll.

The third negative feature has to do with social costs. Conflict is inherently divisive. It sets person against person and group against group in ways that threaten to destroy organized social life. United States has seen conflict so widespread as to raise questions whether anarchy might prevail. Youth against the establishment, blacks against whites, the poor against the affluent, and Jews against Arabs represent something of the range of conflicts. In such situations, the question becomes not simply how many people will be killed, how much property destroyed, or who will win; it becomes one of the societal survival. Can race wars be avoided? Can the police maintain order? Can universities operate? And can presidents keep the support of the populace? Whatever else they may be, these are real questions. And the answers are by no means obvious. Conflict threatens the existence of society itself.

Useful Functions of Conflict

The explosiveness, the outward costs, and the divisiveness of conflict are so great that it is often difficult to see the ways in which conflict fulfils socially useful functions. Yet it does at least the following three things. First, it promotes loyalty within the group. Second, it signals the needs for and helps promote short-run social change. And third, it appears intimately involved in moving societies towards new levels of social integration.

If conflict pits groups and organizations against one another, it also tends to promote unity within each of the conflicting groups. The necessity to work together against a common foe submerges rivalries within the group and people, who otherwise are competitors, to work together in harmony. Competing football halfbacks flock for each other, rival student leaders work together to win concessions from the administration, and union leaders join forces against management. Nations that are torn by dissent in peacetime rally together when they are attacked by other countries. Thus, conflict is not simply divisive, it works to unify groups.

A second positive function of conflict is that it serves to notify the society that serious problems exist that is not being handled by the traditional social organization. It forces the recognition of those problems and encourages the development of new solutions to them.

The third general positive function of conflict is closely related to the second. And it is much more problematic. One view of human history tends to focus upon conflict particularly upon war - as a primary mechanism through which nations have developed. In other words, war was the mechanism that permitted the consolidation of scattered, weak societies into large, powerful ones. Similar arguments have been advanced that war was necessary during the early modern period in Europe to permit the formation of nations as we know them.

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