What are the Characteristics of a secondary group?


Formal and impersonal’ relations; large in size; option of membership; active and inactive members; formality of rules; status of individual dependent on his role and goal oriented.

Primary and Secondary Relations in Modern World

Among primitive peoples and in villages and small town communities individuals are linked together for the most part by primary bonds – the other members of the group are known as persons, not merely as representatives of positions in the formal order.


Thus for his apprentices the member of the medieval guild was more than a “boss”: he was a counselor, disciplinarian, teacher, friend (or enemy), and so on. The early guild was itself a primary group. But today an increasingly large number of our relationships are secondary. Today the “boss” like the “politician” or “bureaucrat” or “expert” is apt to seem to us as stereotyped symbol, a category, not a living being one sees and works with and learns to know.

This categorization of individuals into functionally defined roles is particularly characteristic of those highly organized groups, such as military hierarchies and government bureaus, which endow each office with specific duties and prescrip­tions so that the office and not its human occupant becomes the entity to which we react.

As the complexity of society has increased and as the accomplishment of more of its tasks has required the development of bureaucratized large-scale organizations, a greater number of secondary ties have evolved and the groups within which they were expressed have been disturbed or displaced.

Reference Group


An important concept in sociology, it was introduced into the literature on small groups by Muzafer Sherif in his textbook An Outline of Social Psychology, 1948. Subsequently, this concept was elaborated and modified by sociologists like Turner, Hayman and Merton.

As a minimal definition, reference group refers to any group accepted as model or guide for our judgments and actions. However, it needs further elaboration for clarity.

In some situations we conform not to the norms to which we actually belong but rather to those of the groups to which we would like to be identified. A reference group may not be an actual group. It may even be an imaginary one. Any group is a reference group for someone if his conception of it, which may or may not be realistic, is part of his frame of reference for assessment of himself or of his situation. Thus, an individual who is anxious to move up the social ladder usually has a tendency to conform to the norms of etiquette and speech of a higher social class than his own because he seeks identification with this class. ‘Sanskritisation’ in the Indian context, is one of the best illustrations of the concept of reference group where people in the upper ladder of the caste hierarchy are taken as a ‘model’ and imitated by those below them.

For members of a particular group, another group is a reference group if any of the following circumstances prevail-


(i) When members of the first group aspire to membership of the second group, the second group becomes the reference group for the first. For example, IAS trainees serve as the reference group for many of the university students in India.

(ii) When members of the first group strive to be like the members of the second group in some respect, the second group serves as the reference group of the first. It is to be noted here that the first group wants to be like the second group simply because the first group cannot secure the membership of the second group. For example the non-brahmins in some parts of India have a tendency to emulate the ways of behaviour of the Brahmins in order to acquire the prestige of the Brahmins (as noted by Srinivas).

(iii) When the members of the first group derive some satisfaction from being unlike the members of the second group in some respect, and even strive to maintain the difference between themselves and the members of the second group, the latter group is the reference group of the first. For example, in the U.S.A. the whites strive to remain unlike the Negroes, and in this case the Negroes become the reference group for the whites.

(iv) When, without necessarily striving to be like or unlike or to belong to the second group, the members of the first group appraise their own group or themselves by using the second group or its members as a standard for comparison, the second group becomes the reference group of the first. For example, in some situations the non-teaching employees of colleges are found to assess their own performance or record of attendance with reference to those of the teachers.

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