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Inequalities in Patterns of Interaction

Inequalities in Patterns of Interaction

Author: Zach Lamb

Recognize characteristics and examples of different forms of inequality in society.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello and welcome to Sociological Studies. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to join me. I hope you're doing well.

We're going to discuss some forms of interaction in society between different groups. Different groups often have a hard time coexisting with each other. We see this in many societies. And so groups like to fight with each other and try to come up with some way to exist together if they don't want to fight.

So how do they do this? There are various ways that groups interact, the first of which we'll discuss is segregation, or the physical and social separation of a person or group from the main of society. And this can be both voluntary or involuntary or even forced and involuntary.

So sometimes segregation is voluntary. Like I said if you'd like to sit with people like you at the lunch table where you're going to school, this is voluntary segregation on a micro level. Segregation though, can be involuntary. It can be law-bound. So for instance, it was in this country where blacks and whites went to separate schools. Separate but equal was the law. Or they went to different restaurants and occupied different social spaces, different areas of buses, et cetera.

Now segregation is not law-bound in American society. We've gotten rid of that. We've moved beyond it. But it still happens because of custom, where people want to only be around people who are like themselves even though there are no laws making this the case anymore.

Some forms of segregation are so extreme and law-bound that they are qualitatively different. Apartheid is an example. Apartheid is a system of extreme segregation enforced by law.

The term originated through the persistence of apartheid in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. South African society was divided into four racial groups. And people were forcibly segregated and divided by law. The term has taken on now a broader meaning and is applied to situations of law-bound segregation. But the term originated in South African apartheid.

Often, though, what underlies extreme segregation is the hatred of one group by another, or animosity between groups. This can cause violence. And in some cases extreme forms of violence can result, like genocide. Genocide is the extreme form of racism where one group systematically kills members of another group.

Next let's shift gears from a divisive form of social interaction, segregation, to a more coherent, cohesive form of social interaction, assimilation. Assimilation occurs when minority groups abandon their cultural traditions and adopt the traditions of the majority group. This can be forced or voluntary, just like segregation can be forced or voluntary.

Forced assimilation took place in the 19th century in American society with Native American groups. Native American groups were systematically rounded up, the children were. And they were sent to boarding schools where they were essentially going to adopt into American school and become Americanized.

Assimilation can be voluntary as well. Immigrant groups might want to try to assimilate into the dominant American culture so that they can get ahead quicker and easier. Conformity to white norms has historically been the dominant form of assimilation in American society.

The highest level of assimilation is sometimes thought to be achieved when interracial marriages and interracial mating is proportionate to the rest of the population. So we sometimes call interracial mating, or the offspring of interracial marriages in particular, the process of miscegenation, or essentially racial mixing.

A third way that groups can interact in society that we'll discuss is pluralism. Pluralism occurs when groups maintain their uniqueness and cultural practices but are nonetheless united under an umbrella of civil society, of civic society or as a polity. So you can think of many different cultural or ethnic pockets in society.

They get along. They don't assimilate. And they're not segregated. But yet they're nonetheless united under an umbrella of America, for instance. Some have said America has pluralistic elements.

In this lesson, we discussed various forms of group interaction, pluralism, assimilation, segregation, even apartheid and genocide. Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know

An extreme form of segregation that is encoded in law.


When people of a minority group abandon their cultural traditions and adopt the cultural traditions of the dominant majority.


The mass killing of one group of people by another group of people.


Race Mixing between people, especially with respect to offspring.


A situation in which unique cultural traditions are upheld, but people are united under the umbrella of civic society or polity.


When groups are kept apart from each other.