Social Integration: Definition & Theory

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  • 0:03 What Is Social Integration?
  • 0:54 Durkheim and Early Sociology
  • 2:26 Blau and Social Integration
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Emily Cummins
Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

How do different groups remain relatively cohesive in society? In this lesson, we'll talk about the sociological concept of social integration, which explains how groups live in relative harmony with one another in many societies.

What Is Social Integration?

How do people from different groups in society come together? And how is this maintained? In sociology, the concept of social integration refers to a situation where minority groups come together or are incorporated into mainstream society. Though, we should note, this doesn't mean in a forceful way.

Social integration also refers to a process of largely agreeing on a shared system of meaning, language, culture, and the like. This doesn't mean there aren't any differences, but that we kind of agree to live together and, at least to an extent, feel part of a larger community. Increased social integration helps reduce conflict in society, and it can help us feel more connected to our community. Let's talk about some of the ways that influential sociologists have thought about social integration.

Durkheim and Early Sociology

Émile Durkheim, considered one of the founders of modern sociology, had a lot to say about social integration. He was one of the first to explore the concept in a book called The Division of Labor in Society, written in 1892. Durkheim considered society to be the collective consciousness of people. In other words, the way we think, feel, and behave is influenced by society in a major way. But, how do we remain a cohesive whole and avoid too much conflict? Durkheim came up with a couple different types of social integration, which he referred to as kinds of solidarity.

First, mechanical solidarity is what binds more primitive, or smaller, societies together. In this kind of solidarity, it's things like kinship and shared beliefs that hold us together. We're integrated because we're all pretty similar. In more advanced societies, we see the emergence of organic solidarity. In a more complex society, a complex division of labor requires us to rely on each other more. This kind of interdependence creates increased social integration, instead of simply our similarities.

But what if we don't achieve this integration? In Durkheim's view, this leads to a problem known as anomie, or a sense of feeling very disconnected from others and from our community. Decreased social integration leads to anomie and, potentially, conflict. Now that we know a little about the foundation of social integration theory, let's talk about a more contemporary take.

Blau and Social Integration

Another important perspective on social integration comes from Peter Blau, a sociologist who began writing about social integration and related issues in the 1960s. Not unlike Durkheim, Blau saw social integration and how we might achieve it as key concerns in modern society. Group life consists of the different kinds of exchanges that groups have, and Blau saw some specific things that lead to group formation and, hopefully, social integration.

First, attraction is key to Blau's theory of social integration. Now, this doesn't mean exactly what we might think it means. Attraction is not necessarily based on physical appearance but instead on how well a person is able to demonstrate his or her value to a group. Blau saw potential members of a group making an effort to present themselves as very attractive to existing group members. The hope is that existing group members will see a new member as potentially making an important contribution to the group.

So, what factors make us attractive to others? Blau noted that things like high social status tend to make others view us favorably. Having an affable personality can also help us achieve what Blau called social bonds with others, which can lead to group cohesion. However we do it, in order to be fully integrated into a group, we need to be seen as attractive to the group.

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Additional Activities

Social Integration

Activity 1:

Think about your neighborhood and your city. Have you seen social integration in action? Is there a minority group, or a few minority groups, that live there and that have been incorporated into mainstream society? In the context of what you learned in this lesson, write two to three paragraphs discussing your observations regarding how social integration has been achieved, and to what level it has been accomplished. Be sure to note in your essay whether you belong to the mainstream culture or if you belong to a minority culture, because your observations will reflect your perspective.

Activity 2:

Imagine that you need to move to a different country as a high school or college student and there is a club you want to join (chess club, chorus group, math club, etc.). You are a minority in the other country, but you do know the language. Reflect on what you have learned in this lesson about how to facilitate social integration. Think about how you could make yourself attractive in terms of status and affability, but not too attractive such that competition and resentment are fostered. Write a journal entry describing how you would maximize your chances of successful social integration.

Activity 3:

Durkheim described the construct of anomie, which is a sense of feeling disconnected from others. Do you think that people are more prone to experiencing this today than in generations past, despite our level of technological connectedness? People have more "friends" than they ever have before, but are social media friends the same as everyday friends? Could the illusion of everyone having so many friends actually foster a sense that people lack friends, leading to a sense of disconnect with society? Write a three to four paragraph essay describing anomie, how it may be more or less prevalent in today's society than in generations past, and why.

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