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In-Groups and Out-Groups

Michael J. McCallion

Subject Social Psychology » Sociology of Groups

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


An in-group is a social unit an individual belongs to, interacts with, and shares a sense of “we-ness” with. An out-group, on the other hand, is a social unit or group of people that an individual neither belongs to nor identifies with. The construction and maintenance of boundaries (physical or symbolic) are the primary ways by which groups establish what it means to be “in” and, by contrast, what it means to be “out.” The basis of in-group identity, then, is socially constructed through symbolic markers (boundaries) such as narratives, creeds, rituals, and social practices. Moreover, sociologists view such boundaries along a continuum of permeability (open) and impermeability (closed), which influences group member entrance and exit processes. In-group identity, in other words, is always an ongoing achievement in which group boundaries are collectively generated, affirmed, maintained, and employed to mark differences between insiders and outsiders ( Hadden & Lester 1978 ). In his classic study of folkways, William Graham Sumner (1906) articulated the enduring notions of in-groups and out-groups and the dialectical relation between them. Sumner stressed the negative reciprocity between in-groups and out-groups, especially in the context of conflict over scarce resources. In an environment of scarcity, Sumner argued, individuals need to band together to compete with other ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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