Tag Archives: term of art


None of us know, I guess, what’s going to happen with schools opening in the fall. Even with the best case scenario, opening schools is a dicey proposition. In any case, health teachers or just about anyone in a classroom come September, you may find this reading on neurosis and its attendant vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet useful for helping your students understand their feelings.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Term of Art: Social Fact

Social Fact: A complex notion, with attributes of externality, constraint, and ineluctability. It is to be understood within the context of Emile Durkheim’s conception of collective conscience and collective representations. Social facts are ways of acting which emanate from collectively elaborated and therefore authoritative rules, maxims, and practices, both religious and secular. Norms and institutions are examples of social facts in more or less solidified forms. They constitute practices of the group taken collectively and thus impose themselves and are internalized by the individual. Because they are collectively elaborated they are moral and therefore constrain individual behavior. The interesting problem for sociologists concerns the gap between the ideal representations and the material social organizations and their constituent actions—as, for example, between the socially approved forms and the actual practice.

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Term of Art: Theism

“Theism: A term which refers to the belief in the existence of a divine being, especially in the existence of a single God, who is thought to be personal and who is the Creator of the universe. Theism involves the idea of divine revelation, and consequently is contrasted with deism, the rational belief in divinity independent of faith in a revealed truth.”

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Term of Art: Social Work

Social Work: The generic term applied to the various applied methods for promoting human welfare through the prevention and relief of suffering. In the late nineteenth century, social work was largely voluntary (notably as a charitable activity on the part of middle-class women), and aimed primarily at the alleviation o fmaterial poverty. In the period since the Second World War, social work practice has become increasingly professionalized, and now has a much wider remit embracing emotional and mental as well as economic well-being.

Contemporary social work tends to suffer from a lack of differentiation from the various other social services which comprise the modern welfare state. In Britain, for example, social workers have no legal obligation (and no practical resources) to deal with issues of unemployment, housing, and poverty—all of which are responsibility of other social services. What they are expected to deal with are the wide range of problems which diminish the ‘quality of inner life’; for example, problems and crises associated with adoption, fostering of the young and old, marital reconciliation, sexual and physical abuse, and people’s relationships with one another generally.


There are several models of social work practice. The ‘problem-solving’ approach involves the social worker in reinforcing the client’s emotional and organizational resources to deal with his or her difficulties. The various ‘psycho-social therapies’ stress the need for prior psycho-social diagnosis as a prerequisite for psycho-social treatment. Partly as a reaction against the deterministic and mechanical view of action implied in these approaches, ‘functionalists’ have emphasized the role of the social worker in helping (rather than treating) the client, by sustaining an appropriate supporting relationship with him or her. Other models are oriented towards behavior-modification, crisis-intervention, and short-term task-centeredness. In reality, practice tends to be characterized by eclectic pragmatism, rather than adherence to a specific method. Strong recent influences include feminist theory and anti-oppressive practice. Good recent overviews are Malcolm Payne, Modern Social Work Theory (1991) for Britain, and J. Heffernan et al., Social Work and Social Welfare (2nd edn., 1992) for the United States.

Not surprisingly, many outside observers have expressed concern at the periodic psychotherapeutic takeover of social work; similarly, given its inherently moral character, social work practice has been subject to repeated controversy involving those who view it as primarily a political tool—either for promoting or hindering social justice.

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Term of Art: Sacred, Sacred versus Profane Distinction (in a Time of Gaslighting this Dichotomy)

“Sacred, Sacred versus Profane Distinction: For Emile Durkheim and all subsequent sociologists of religion, the recognition of the absolute nature of the distinction between these two terms was and has been fundamental to their subdiscipline, both as a social fact and as something to be explained. Durkheim’s classic statement or the distinction is that ‘Sacred things are those which the [religious] interdictions protect and isolate; profane things, those to which these interdictions are applied and which must remain at a distance from the first’ (The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 1912). Sacred phenomena are therefore considered extraordinary and set apart from everything else.”

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Term of Art: Stereotype

“Stereotype, Stereotyping: Derived from Greek (stereos = solid, typos = mark), and applied in the late eighteenth century as a technical term for the casting of a papier mache copy of printing type, the concept was developed by the North American journalist Walter Lippmann in his book Public Opinion (1922) to mean the fixed, narrow ‘pictures in our head,’ generally resistant to easy change. It usually carries a pejorative meaning—in contrast to the sociological process of typification.”

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Term of Art: Usage

“Usage: The way in which the elements of language are customarily used to produce meaning, including accent, pronunciation, words, and idioms. The term occurs neutrally in formal usage, disputed usage, and local usage, and it has strong judgmental and prescriptive connotations in bad usage, correct usage, usage and abusage, and usage controversies.”

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Term of Art: Illusion

“Illusion: The semblance of reality and verisimilitude (q.v.) in art which most writers seek to create in order to enable the reader to think that he is seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting and smelling, or, conceivable, having some extra-sensory or kinesthetic experience. The creation of illusion is a cooperative act between writer and reader. It brings about in the reader what Coleridge called “the willing suspension of disbelief” (q.v.). However, the writer also destroys illusion, sometimes for a specific purpose: for example, to address the reader directly—a not uncommon practice among 18th and 19th century novelists. The contrast helps the illusion and at the same time sharpens and clarifies the impression of things happening at a distance. Illusion should be distinguished from delusion and hallucination.”

Excerpted from: Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Term of Art: Teleology

“Teleology: A teleological explanation either explains a process by the end-state towards which it is directed; or explains the existence of something by the function it fulfills. In sociology, the former tends to be confined to theories of purposive human action, whereas the latter is a feature of functionalism. It is widely argued that teleological explanations are admissible only with reference to individuals and groups since they alone have explicitly formulated purposes or goals. Societies, by contrast, set themselves no such objectives. Evolutionary and systems theories, as well as theories which imply a historical logic or inevitability (such as historical materialism), are often criticized as being unacceptably teleological—although there have been controversial attempts to argue that even these explanations can be translated into conventional causal accounts.”

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Term of Art: Society

“Society: Generally, a group of people who share a common culture, occupy a particular territorial area, and feel themselves to constitute a unified and distinct entity—but there are many different sociological conceptions (see D. Frisby and D. Sayer, Society, 1986).

In everyday life the term society is used as if it referred in an unproblematic way to something that exists ‘out there’ and beyond the individual subject: we speak of ‘French society,’ and ‘capitalist society,’ and of ‘society’ being responsible for some observed social phenomenon. On reflection, however, such a usage clearly has its problems: for example, is British society a clear unity, or can we talk also of Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish societies? And, even within England, are there not wide cultural differences between (say) north and south? Is there one capitalist society—or many? Nor is a society the same thing as a nation-state. The former Yugoslavia clearly contained several societies: Croat, Slovenian, Serbian, and so on.

While many sociologists use the term in a commonsense way others question this use. Some symbolic interactionists, for example, argue that there is no such thing as society: it is simply a useful covering term for things we don’t know about or understand properly (see P. Rock, The Making of Symbolic Interactionism, 1979). Others, such as Emile Durkheim, treat society as a reality in its own right (see The Rules of Sociological Method, 1895).”

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.