A social phenomenon refers to any pattern of behavior, thought, or action that occurs within a society or group of people. Sociologists attempt to study social phenomena using sociological methods which can help them understand their causes and effects.
The concept is often used to refer to undesirable situations that a group or population may go through.
Examples of social phenomena are:
- Educational level disparities,
- Poverty, and
Social Phenomenon Definition
Within sociology, social phenomena are behaviors, thoughts and actions that are subject to mathematical measurement (Park, 1926). The concept is often used to refer to undesirable situations that a group or population may go through.
Durkheim defined them as such:
“Social phenomena are things and should be treated as such. […] To treat phenomena as things is to treat them as data, and this constitutes the starting point for science” (Durkheim, É., 2016)
During the 1800’s many sociologists had ideas about investigating the contents of society, but at that time there were no developed methods for this. Durkheim was the first to develop a sociological rational empirical science and methodology. In his work, he called those measurable social occurrences as phenomena.
(Note: The plural of phenomenon is phenomena. We can refer to one phenomenon but many phenomena.)
Social Phenomenon Examples
- Competition – Competition is a phenomenon whereby we witness a contest between people or groups to get control over resources. In this definition, resources can have both material and social meaning. People can compete over tangible resources like land, food, and money, but also over intangible resources, such as social capital, partners, and friends.
- Conflict – Conflict is the struggle for action or power in society. Conflict occurs when groups come into active opposition during a social interaction. Types of conflicts include war, revolution, poverty, and discrimination.
- Marriage – Marriage is a phenomenon that is a permanent social and legal contract and relationship generally between two people that is based on mutual rights and obligations among the spouses.
- Divorce – Divorce is a social phenomenon that involves the legal dissolution of marriage and the separation of a couple. This phenomenon changes society’s values, population growth, economy, and child protection.
- Immigration – Movement of citizens from one country to another. Important effects on society are assimilation, enculturation, marginalization, multiculturalism, and social unity.
- Racism – Racial discrimination concerns the unequal treatment of races, whereas racial inequality concerns unequal outcomes in, for example, income, education, and health. Racism originates from the ideology of racial domination.
- Religion – Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred matters, that includes traditions, customs, and values.
- Legal system – The collection of human behavior patterns are transformed into the form of law. It is a measure of behavior or attitudes that must be obeyed by every member of society.
- Social movements – A social movement is a loosely organized group campaigning and supporting a social goal. Typically, this implies the implementation or the prevention of a change in society’s structure or values.
- Unemployment – Unemployment is a process by which a part of the population does not have a job despite applying and searching for it.
- Destruction of the environment – A social phenomenon where the action of man degrades and contaminates different natural resources, such as land, water, air, minerals, and forests.
Conflict is the struggle for action or power in society. Conflict occurs when groups come into active opposition during a social interaction. These conflicts include war, revolution, poverty, discrimination, and domestic violence.
Social conflict is characteristic of all social groups worldwide, making it a core feature of the human condition. It occurs both within and between social groups.
Conflict theorists are particularly concerned with the study of conflict. They see conflict as the result of limited resources within society, causing people to fight for control over those resources (Solomatina, 2011).
In psychology, however, conflict is often looked at as a result of a range of other factors, including but not limited to personal attributes and environmental factors attributes.
Due to the pervasiveness of conflicts in human societies, it is necessary to study the factors, causes, and conflict management methods in order to prevent and solve conflict situations.
Racial discrimination refers to discrimination against people based upon their racialized status (whereas racial inequality concerns unequal outcomes in, for example, income, education, and health). Racism originates from the ideologies of racial domination, such as white supremacy.
Sociologists who study racism look at the attitudes and policies of individuals at an individual and group level. Group-level racism often manifests as systemic discrimination (systemic racism), which is often more pernicious and harder to measure (Clair, & Jeffrey, 2015).
As racism is a belief system and set of behaviors that occur within societies, and it is measurable through sociological analysis, we can refer to racism as a central sociological phenomenon of concern to sociological analysis.
We can also see that it’s a phenomenon that has occurred throughout history and caused widespread damage to entire groups of people.
The movement of citizens from one country to another is a social phenomenon that is sped up with the increasing globalization of the world.
Sociolgoists study the effects and policies of immigration, including factors such as: cultural assimilation, enculturation, marginalization of immigrants, rise of multiculturalism within societies, and effects on social unity.
When expansive enough, this phenomenon can cause irreversible changes to social structures in host nations, which can lead to conflict and change anxiety among the host population.
Immigration as a social phenomenon is analyzed as an object of sociology instead of as a social problem per se. However, many of the effects are seen as social problems.
Marriage is a social phenomenon also seen in nearly every culture. It is considered in most societies to be a permanent social and legal contract and relationship generally between two people based on mutual rights and obligations among the spouses.
One of the most interesting features of this social phenomenon that is under analysis on sociology is the changing definition of the term.
Marriage between two consenting adults of the same sex is increasingly recognized as legitimate in most western societies.
Another feature that is regularly analyzed is the types of families that occur in contemporary societies, including not only traditional nuclear families but hybrid, single-parent, and multigenerational families.
No matter which forms the family may take in different societies, it is the group itself that defines the procedures for admission, recognition, and dissolution of marriage.
Religion is another social phenomenon that is found in just about every culture.
The difficulty of classifying and even defining religion is due to the vast religious diversity throughout history.
This diversity itself makes religion worthy of sociological analysis.
Anthropologists, in particular, are concerned with the history of religion across cultures and how it emerges, is practiced, and shapes social life (Adams, 2018).
Sociologists observe that religious customs fundamentally inform how societies organize their social norms, which then impact upon a society’s legal system, healthcare system, education, and other essential social institutions.
Social phenomena are the products of human interaction that are measurable. They are as diverse as the existence of conflict through to the rituals around marriage and religion.
We study these phenomena in order to better understand causes and effects within society, which can then inform social policy and even change people’s personal belief systems. Social phenomenon examples looked at this article include: globalization, immigration, conflict, and religion.
Park, R. E. (1926). The concept of position in sociology. In papers and proceedings of the American Sociological Society (Vol. 20, No. 1926, pp. 1-14).
Durkheim, E. (2016). The rules of sociological method. In Social Theory Re-Wired (pp. 10-15). Routledge. (Original work published 1895)
Hartanto, D. (2020). Sociology Review of Social Phenomenon, Social Rules and Social Technology. Budapest International Research and Critics Institute-Journal (BIRCI-Journal) Vol, 3(2), 1175-1184.
Solomatina, E. N. (2011). Formation and development of the sociology of conflict in Russia. Bulletin of Moscow State University, 18(2), 207-221.
Clair, M., Jeffrey S. D. (2015). Sociology of Racism. The International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences 19:857-863.
Shryock, H. S., Siegel, J. S., & Larmon, E. A. (1973). The methods and materials of demography (Vol. 2). US Bureau of the Census.
Foster Hartley, S. (1975). Marriage as a Social Phenomenon. Illegitimacy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975, pp. 119-135. https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520332850-009
Adams, C. J. (2018). Classification of religions. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/topic/classification-of-religions