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Primary Groups

David L. Elliott

Subject Social Psychology » Sociology of Groups

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Cooley (1909) coined the term primary group to denote intimate, comparatively permanent, and solidary associations of mutually identifying persons, and a century of sociological research has increased our understanding of primary groups in their variety of forms and multifaceted, contingent functions. According to Cooley, primary groups are primary in the sense of providing the first and (because of the greater openness and pliability of children) the most important socialization. The most important examples he cited in this sense are the family, children's play-groups, and the neighborhood or village community. Primary groups are also primary in the sense of being the source out of which emerge both individuals and social institutions. Cooley agreed with George Herbert Mead that the self and its ideals emerge out of such primary relations. As examples of social institutions, Cooley cites democracy as an outgrowth of the village community and Christianity as an outgrowth of the family. These groups are primary in the additional sense of providing primary human needs such as attachment, security, support, and recognition. Since these needs persist in some forms and to some degree throughout the life cycle, primary relations never cease to be important. In Cooley's conceptualization, a primary group instills feelings in its members of sympathy and identification with the group, its ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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