Sociology Glossary (A to Z)

Written and peer-reviewed by PhD-Level Academics


Definition: Ableism is discrimination against people who are disabled. It includes discrimination against people with physical, mental, and cognitive disabilities.

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Achieved Status

Definition: Achieved status is a social status someone has earned or chosen rather than the one hey have been born with.

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Agents of Socialization

Definition: An agent of socialization is a person or group that is influential in teaching social norms and rules, both to children and adults.

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American Dream

Definition: The belief that anyone in American can achieve upward social mobility thanks to the nation’s embrace of freedom, individual liberty, entrepreneurialism, and capitalism.

American Dream Examples Definition


Definition: Anomie in individuals and society is a condition of instability and disintegration. It stems from the breakdown of previously shared norms and values.

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Ascribed Status

Definition: An ascribed status is a social status that you didn’t choose and is usually given to you from birth.

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Blue Collar

Definition: Blue-collar professions are classified as manual labor jobs with hourly wage compensation. They are contrasted to white-collar workers who stereotypically engage in mostly intellectual labor.

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Definition: Bureaucracy is a system of government in which power is divided among different departments and officials.

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Cancel Culture

Definition: The practice of withdrawing support for individuals or organizations after they have been accused of objectionable behavior.

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Definition: In sociology, ‘capital’ is a term used to refer to a person or group’s accumulated status within a stratified society.

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Definition: Capitalism describes any economic system that is based on the private ownership of capital. It’s usually associated with free enterprise and pro-business government policies.

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Caste System

Definition: Caste systems are forms of social stratification that separate groups of people based on their ancestry.

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Charismatic Authority

Definition: A type of authority that is based on the personal attributes and dynamic personality of a leader.

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Collective Consciousness

Definition: Durkheim defined collective consciousness as “the totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average citizens of the same society” (Durkheim, 1893).

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Definition: Colonialism is a social and political system of domination, whereby one political entity (an empire) dominates another one (a colony).

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Definition: A community is a group of people who have a shared sense of belonging and identity around which they can coalesce.

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Conflict Theory

Definition: “Conflict theory posits that conflict is a fundamental part of the social order” (Chernoff, 2013)

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Constitutional Monarchy

Definition: A form of government in which a hereditary monarch serves as the head of state but political power is also constitutionally granted to another body through a constitution.

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Definition: The circumstances and setting that provide background information about an event, statement, or idea. The context helps you more fully understand something.

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Definition: Countercultures are groups of people who attempt to challenge the prevailing cultural norms, assumptions, trends, or ideologies of a society.

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Cultural Appropriation

Definition: Cultural appropriation is the co-optation of elements, customs, or practices of one culture by another culture without acknowledgment or consent..

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Cultural Bias

Definition: A cultural bias occurs when a person is inclined to interpret a situation from their own cultural perspective. This can cause conflict and misinterpretation of situations.

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Cultural Capital

Definition: Cultural capital, a term introduced by Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, refers to a person’s cultural competencies. Examples of cultural capital include your accent, how you dress, how you speak, your knowledge of taboos and manners, and so on.

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Cultural Deviance Theory

Definition: Cultural Deviance Theory states that crime is correlated strongly to the cultural values and norms prevalent in a society.

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Cultural Relativism

Definition: “What is believed or practiced as true, or right, or wrong for any culture is whatever that culture believes or practices as true, or right, or wrong” (Gairdner, 2008, p. 29).

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Cultural Transmission

Definition: Cultural transmission refers to the idea that culture is passed down from one generation to the next through means such as language, religion, and education.

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Cultural Universalism

Definition: Cultural Universalism is the concept that values, concepts, and behaviors within diverse cultures can be examined, understood, and judged according to universal standards of right and wrong.

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Definition: Cultures are groups of people who share a common set of values and beliefs. They may also share cultural elements like languages, festivals, rituals and ceremonies.

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Definition: Deindividuation is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when people are part of a group. It involves losing your sense of self and conforming to the group norm without regard for morality.

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Definition: Deviant behavior is behavior that diverges from social and cultural norms. It can be formal (breaking the law) and informal (socially taboo).

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Differential Association Theory

Definition: The differential association theory states that criminal behavior is learned when you associate with other people who indulge in criminal behavior.

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Definition: The act of treating someone differently based on their membership in a particular group. It can be based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other factors.

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Definition: Social inequality is “the condition where people have unequal access to valued resources, services and positions in society” (Kerbo, 2003, p. 11).

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Definition: Dramaturgical analysis is a descriptive method to analyze day-to-day human interactions in society. It compares real-life interactions to a stageplay.

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Ecological Systems Theory

Definition: Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory states that child development is influenced by a child’s interpersonal, social, and cultural settings.

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Economic Capital

Definition: Economic capital is a term used to describe the amount of monetary or exchange value a person or entity possesses.

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Definition: Ethnicity is a cultural classification based on the language, traditions, and cultural origins of a group of people.

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Definition: Ethnocentrism is the belief that your culture is natural and correct while other people’s cultures are incorrect, unnatural, or inferior.

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Definition: Ethnomethodology is the study of how social order emerges from and through social interaction processes.

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Family Systems Theory

Definition: Family systems theory is a theory that views the family as a complex system of interconnected and interdependent individuals.

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Definition: Femininity refers to stereotypical cultural characteristics of women.

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Definition: Feminism broadly refers to the theories and movements for women’s rights and liberation. Feminists argue that the modern society favors men’s perspectives and interests, therefore treating women and girls unfairly.

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Formal Norms

Definition: A formal norm is a norm that has been “codified and may be enforced by sanction” (Kendall 2006, 55–56).

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Definition: Functionalism in sociology sees the parts of society as components of a cohesive whole. Each part performs a useful function.

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Definition: A gatekeeper is a person who controls access, opportunity, or power. The gatekeeper’s role is to discriminate and filter candidates.

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Gender Norms

Definition: Gender norms are socially and culturally mediated principles that govern the expected behavior of women, men, girls, and boys in a society.

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Gender Socialization

Definition: Gender socialization refers to the learning of socially approved behaviors, gender norms, values, and attitudes that have been associated with a biological sex.

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Glass Ceiling

Definition: The glass ceiling refers to impediments and invisible barriers that women, ethnic minorities, and other groups encounter in the workplace that stop them from advancing professionally.

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Definition: Groupthink is a type of thinking when members of a group accept the group consensus uncritically.

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Definition: Habitus is a sociological term that refers to people’s embodied traits and behaviors (ie. Your skills, habits, and dispositions).

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Hegemonic Masculinity

Definition: Hegemonic masculinities represent the “masculine norms” and the dominant ways of “being a man” in a given society at a given time.

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Definition: Hegemony refers to the dominance of one group over all others. A hegemon holds unrivaled power and can use their power to exert influence over others.

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High Culture

Definition: High culture refers to the cultural pursuits of the elites. It is often expensive and exclusionary, giving it high social status.

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Human Capital

Definition: Human capital refers to the value human beings contribute towards achieving the set goals of a given organization.

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Definition: An ideology is a belief system that underpins a political or economic theory. Ideologies form the operating principles for running a society.

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Imagined Communities

Definition: Imagined communities are large groups of people inside a nation-state who have perceived solidarity and cultural unity promoted by print capitalism.

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Informal Norms

Definition: The unwritten rules that govern social behavior. They are passed down from one generation to the next and are often based on cultural traditions.

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In-Groups and Out-Groups

Definition: A group that a person identifies with is their “in-group”. People who do not fall within the in-group are the “out-group”.

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Definition: Intersectionality refers to the overlap, or intersection, of various identity factors such as race, ethnicity, social class, nationality, gender, sexuality, and ability.

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Labeling Theory

Definition: The labeling theory of deviance states that individuals become deviants as a result of the labels imposed on them by society.

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Low Culture

Definition: Low culture refers to the habits, tastes, hobbies, and interests of the masses. It is contrasted to high culture which is the culture of the upper-class elite.

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Definition: Macrosociology is a sub-field of sociology. “Macro” means “large”; thus, the term describes the analysis of large-scale social phenomena.

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Definition: Marxism is a philosophy that theorizes that social conflict exists due to constant power struggles between capitalists and workers.

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Definition: Masculinity refers to stereotypical cultural characteristics of men.

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Mass Media

Definition: Mass media is any of the many forms of media that enable communication to the masses, e.g. television, radio, and newspaper.

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Master Status

Definition: The social identity that is your primary identity. It comes ahead of all other identities when describing yourself, and will be different for different people.

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Material Culture

Definition: Material culture refers to the physical objects that are a meaningful part of a culture. It includes anything from buildings and tools to clothes and art.

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Definition: “Research that deals with “small” social units such as family and couple relationships, small social groups, or the individual.” (Maiwald & Suerig, 2019)

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Moral Panic

Definition: Moral panics are irrational fears that have been spread and exaggerated by the media.

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Muted Group Theory

Definition: Muted group theory (MGT) says that the English language devalues the words, thoughts and experiences of marginalized groups.

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Definition: A belief in the superiority of your nation over all other nations. At its most extreme, is a view that can lead to discrimination and prejudice.

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New Media

Definition: “Those digital media that are interactive, incorporate two-way communication, and involve some form of computing” (Logan, 2010, p. 4)

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Definition: Standards, particularly of social behavior, that are expected within a cultural or social group.

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Pop Culture

Definition: Pop culture is short for “popular culture”. It is the cultural activities, practices, and beliefs of the masses (and often targeted at youths) within a society.

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Primary Deviance

Definition: Behavior that is seen as unacceptable by society. Unlike secondary deviance, the person has not yet been ‘labeled’ as a deviant person.

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Primary Groups

Definition: Primary groups refer to social groups that are characterized by intimate, face-to-face, and continuous relationships.

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Primary Socialization

Definition: A primary agent of socialization is a person, place, or thing responsible for socialization during the early years of an individual’s life.

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Rational Choice Theory

Definition: Rational choice theory is a theory that assumes human beings are rational creatures, which means they rely on reason and logic to make decisions.

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Rational-Legal Authority

Definition: Rational-legal authority is a form of government in which decisions are made based on laws and regulations, rather than on the personal whims of those in power.

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Relational Dialectics Theory

Definition: Relational dialectics theory (RDT) is a communication theory that explains human interaction. The 4 key features of RDT are: contradiction, totality process and praxis.

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Resource Mobilization Theory

Definition: Focuses on the capabilities and resources of aggrieved groups as a way of explaining the development and outcome of social movements.

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Role Conflict

Definition: Role conflict occurs if a person is expected to take on two incompatible roles at the same time.

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Secondary Deviance

Definition: Secondary deviance is a stage of deviance from the labeling theory of deviance in which a person internalizes the labels applied to them by society.

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Secondary Groups

Definition: A secondary group can be defined as any group of people which is impersonal and goal-oriented.

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Secondary Socialization

Definition: Socialization that occurs outside of the family home. Secondary agents of socialization include the school, sports groups, mass media, and the church.

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Definition: Segregation refers to the process that results in individuals or social groups being separated or isolated from one another. It can be both self-selected (e.g. self-isolation) and imposed by others (discrimination).

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Social Capital

Definition: Social capital refers to the network of relationships and acquaintances that a person has developed over their life.

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Social Construct

Definition: A social construct is a concept or category that has socially and culturally mediated meaning. They are concepts that generate their meaning through social and cultural worldviews.

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Social Control

Definition: Social control is a concept referring to rules and restrictions that shape, supervise, and regulate the behaviors of individuals and societies.

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Social Disorganization Theory

Definition: Social disorganization theory states that crime in a neighbourhood is a result of the weakening of traditional social bonds.

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Social Exchange Theory

Definition: Social exchange theory postulates that people form a relationship through cost-benefit analysis.

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Social Fact

Definition: Any phenomenon that exercises control over the lives of individuals due to its being accepted as a norm by a large number of people.

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Social Graces

Definition: A framework for understanding aspects of identity and how they shape our practices.

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Social Identity Theory

Definition: The social identity theory explains how people develop their identities. Its main argument is that people develop their identity through interaction with society.

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Social Inequality

Definition: Social inequality is “the condition where people have unequal access to valued resources, services and positions in society” (Kerbo, 2003, p. 11).

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Social Mobility

Definition: A concept that explains the ability of individuals or groups to change their position within their society’s class structure during their lifetime.

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Social Reaction Theory

Definition: Focuses on the way a majority group’s act of labeling a defiant person negatively (often as a ‘deviant’) pushes them to more deviant acts.

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Social Roles

Definition: Social roles are sets of social behaviors assigned to people based upon social status.

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Social Status

Definition: Social status refers to the level of prestige, privilege, and honor someone is perceived to have in society.

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Social Structures

Definition: social structures in sociology are the relationships or interactions between groups of different people in a society.

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Definition: Socialization is the process of learning about and adopting the social norms and values of society.

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Socioeconomic Status

Definition: Socioeconomic status refers to a person’s position in the social hierarchy, as determined by a combination of economic and social factors.

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Sociological Imagination

Definition: Sociological imagination refers to a way of seeing the world which transcends the individual and takes a sociological view of the world.

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Sociological Paradigms

Definition: Sociological paradigms are the broad schools of thought in sociology. The three key sociological paradigms are functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.

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Definition: A person or group with an interest in something, such as a business or institution.

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Definition: Stereotypes are oversimplified perceptions of people based on their characteristics.

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Definition: Social stratification is the categorization of society into a hierarchy based upon group identification.

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Definition: Subcultures are cultural groups that fit within a larger culture but have distinct cultural features that set them apart.

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Symbolic Interactionism

Definition: The symbolic interaction theory states that the meaning we ascribe to objects, processes, ideas, concepts, and systems are subjective.

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Total Institutions

Definition: A place where a large number of individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life.

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Traditional Authority

Definition: Traditional authority is a type of authority that relies on cultural norms and practices for its legitimacy.

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White Collar

Definition: White-collar jobs are jobs where workers do intellectual rather than manual labor. It typically involves office work and the laborer often wears a suit (or ‘white collar’).

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White Privilege

Definition: A term used to describe the cultural and social advantages that white people face in today’s Western societies compared to non-white counterparts.

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World Systems Theory

Definition: A theory that the world exists as a single socio-economic system made up of a core, periphery, and semi-periphery regions.

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Definition: A worldview is a belief system that shapes one’s perceptions, values, and actions.

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