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Chapter 6 Groups and Organizations

Social Issues in the News

“Arrests Made in Vandalism Spree,” the headline said. In March 2010, three high school students, two juveniles and one 18-year-old, allegedly spray-painted obscenities on cars, homes, and an elementary school in Muncie, Indiana. A police captain said, “I think they just started out to do a friend’s house. The thing kind of carried away after that and went nuts through the rest of the neighborhood.” The estimated damage was in the thousands of dollars and was so extensive that the 18-year-old suspect was charged with a felony. The police captain said the boys felt sorry for their vandalism. “They probably wish they could take it back, but it happened and it’s a lot of damage.” (Werner, 2010)Werner, N. (2010, April 2). Arrests made in vandalism spree. The Star Press. Retrieved from

This news story depicts an unusual group activity, spray-painting. It is likely that none of these teens would have done the spray-painting by himself. If so, this news story reminds us of the importance of the many groups to which people typically belong. To recall Chapter 5 "Social Structure and Social Interaction", the English poet John Donne (1573–1631) once wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” (Donne, 1839, pp. 574–575).Donne, J. (1839). Meditation XVII. In H. Alford (Ed.), The works of John Donne (Vol. III, pp. 574–575). London, England: John W. Parker. Obviously meant to apply to both sexes, Donne’s passage reminds us that we are all members of society. At the more micro level, we are all members of social groups and categories. As we have seen in previous chapters, sociologists look at us more as members of groups and less as individuals, and they try to explain our attitudes and behavior in terms of the many groups and social backgrounds from which we come. For these reasons, sociology is often considered the study of group life, group behavior, and group processes. This chapter discusses the importance of many types of groups for understanding our behavior and attitudes and for understanding society itself. We will see that groups are necessary for many of our needs and for society’s functioning but at the same time can often lead to several negative consequences, as the story of vandalism in Muncie illustrates.