Social Phenomena: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Social Phenomena?
  • 1:50 Behavioral Social Phenomena
  • 3:06 Historical Social Phenomena
  • 4:05 Political Social Phenomena
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
David White
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.

Social phenomena are an incredibly important aspect of everyone's lives. In this lesson, you'll explore a number of examples of social phenomena that should provide insight into how they influence the evolution of societies.

What is Social Phenomena?

If you think about all of the knowledge and experiences that we gain over the course of our lives, the amount that helped shape our worldview are probably too numerous to count. For example, when we are young, our parents' perspectives directly inform our own opinions on things like politics or religion, while later experiences, like romantic relationships, shape our perception of love and the levels of emotional risk that we find acceptable.

In sociology, such knowledge and experiences are referred to as social phenomena, which are the individual, external, social constructions that influence our lives and development, and are constantly evolving as we age. If this definition sounds vague or confusing, it's probably because the category of social phenomena is incredibly broad and complicated, but the fundamental principle of social phenomena is that it is created by society, as opposed to something that occurs naturally in the world, like earthquakes, viruses, or acts of weather.

One of the most important aspects of social phenomena is that it involves one person's observable behavior influencing another person. For example, racism is a social phenomenon because it is an ideology that people have constructed that directly affects another group, forcing them to change their behaviors. On the other end of the spectrum, marriage is also a social phenomenon because it is an observable act for which people have created and applied meaning, which alters the concept of love and relationships as that meaning evolves.

Weddings are an example of a social phenomenon because it is an act that changes the opinions or behaviors of others

There are many different types of social phenomena and it would be impossible to explain them all within this single lesson. The following examples, however, should give you some insight into how social phenomenon works and why it influences our lives so significantly.

Behavioral Social Phenomena

There are many different ways that other people can influence or change our lives, but among them, behavioral phenomena are probably one of the most significant. For example, imagine if you were walking down a city street and were suddenly mugged by a stranger. Once the initial shock of the experience had worn off, think of the ways that it could alter your own behavior from that point forward. You would probably become much more cautious in similar situations, perhaps more fearful of strangers, and so on.

In the context of social phenomena, crime and other acts of violence are incredibly influential when it comes to shaping our behavior or opinions on certain subjects. In the example we just used, one person's behavior, a criminal act towards you, has affected your sense of physical and emotional safety, and changed the way that they will behave and think from that point forward.

Similarly, wars have an equally important influence as a social phenomenon. Take, for example, the ongoing conflict in Israel between Palestinians and Israelis. In this case, the actions and rhetoric of each side is constantly influencing the individuals within those groups, and subsequently changing the way that they behave and the ways that they perceive the other side.

Historical Social Phenomena

Unlike other types of social phenomena, historical social phenomena tend to be a little more complicated and less easy to identify. In the simplest sense, a historical social phenomenon refers to the ways in which previous actions or events influence the lives of and behaviors of a particular person or group.

The civil rights movement is an example of historical social phenomena because it is influenced by the oppressive actions and racism of the past
civil rights

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Additional Activities

Social Phenomena

Activity 1:

You read about how marriage is a social phenomenon, in that it has been created by people and given meaning. The one act of a wedding changes the behaviors of others. How do you think that society treats a married couple differently than an unmarried couple, even when all other variables such as age and length of time together, are equal? In what way does this affect the married couple and the unmarried couple? Write a two to three paragraph reflective paper about your thoughts on these questions.

Activity 2:

Racism was given as an example of a social phenomenon in the lesson. Have you ever experienced racism, gender discrimination, religious discrimination, or cultural discrimination? If so, how has it affected your thoughts and behaviors? Have you tried to prove negative stereotypes incorrect by performing at a very high level? Have you inadvertently succumbed to stereotype threat, wherein a person unwittingly conforms to a stereotype that society holds about a given group? What is the best way to overcome negative stereotypes that are held against a group to which you belong? Are positive stereotypes harmful as well? If so, how? Examine your thoughts on these issues and write a journal entry describing your answers to these questions and your reflections about how the social phenomenon of prejudice can affect people's lives.

Activity 3:

You may have seen the video on the news wherein an 8-year-old girl was kidnapped in broad daylight while walking with her mother in a safe neighborhood. Fortunately, the girl has been rescued. How do you think this event will change her mother's behavior in the future? How will her perception of the world change? In what way will this behavioral phenomenon of being a victim of crime alter the rest of the mother's life? Write two to three paragraphs explaining how her life might change in both the short-term and the long-term.

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