Social Groups and Organizations: An Overview

Social Groups

A social group consists of two or more individuals who:

  • Recognize each other’s identity
  • Share some link or lasting relationship
  • Interact frequently

Distinguishing Social Groups from Other Concepts

It’s important to differentiate social groups from:

Social Categories

A set of individuals sharing common characteristics but lacking social ties or relationships.

Meetings or Agglomerations

A set of individuals who coincide in an experience and disintegrate without significant interaction or lasting relationships.

Types of Social Groups

Primary Groups

Small groups characterized by primary social bonds (established early in life). Members interact in a personalized and lasting way, spending time together, knowing each other well, and showing personal interest. Integration is high, with each member feeling unique and irreplaceable. The group is considered an end in itself.

Secondary Groups

Large groups whose members come together to maintain a common activity or pursue a common goal. Emotional distance is greater, and personal knowledge is less extensive. However, if lasting, they can acquire primary group traits like loyalty.

Important Difference: Members are defined by who they are in primary groups, while in secondary groups, they are defined by what they do and achieve to reach a specific objective.

Reference Groups

These groups provide criteria for evaluating situations, attitudes, and behaviors, helping individuals make decisions. They can be primary or secondary and may or may not include the individual. People have preferences among groups and evaluate other groups, a key aspect of group dynamics (opposing our group to others).


The social group that demands support and loyalty from its members and only exists in relation to an outgroup.


The social group that is rejected and contrasted with the ingroup. Conflicts and tensions can arise, often leading to better definition of the groups and their identities, as well as strengthening member loyalty.

Social Networks

Social networks are characterized by:

  • Temporary and superficial links uniting different people (weak ties)
  • Absence of close or permanent relationships
  • Diffuse structure with limited connection or loyalty
  • Outward orientation (groups within the network)
  • Sporadic interaction

However, as networks grow, individuals can gain prestige and social capital, adding value to their membership.

Formal Organizations

While essentially a modern phenomenon, formal organizations are not a modern invention. Previously minor groups like churches, armies, and bureaucracies served as precursors. They are associations of people with goals who work according to a preset scheme that outlines each member’s tasks.

Types of Formal Organizations

Utilitarian Organizations

Voluntary membership in exchange for extrinsic rewards, usually a salary.

Normative Organizations

Driven by moral or ethical goals, membership is voluntary and offers intrinsic rewards (although instrumental benefits may arise).

Coercive Organizations

Non-voluntary membership aimed at achieving a fundamental objective, often isolating members from the outside world. These can become mass organizations (e.g., re-education organizations).

Differences: Members are divided into personal (professionals who control others’ lives) and impersonal categories. Submission occurs in two stages: personality cancellation (self-mortification) and acquisition of a new identity (through a system of rewards and punishments). Rehabilitated individuals may emerge unchanged, resentful, or destroyed.


A rationally designed organization based on criteria of effectiveness and efficiency.

Features of Bureaucracy

  • Rules and procedures
  • Formal and written communication
  • Specialization and expertise
  • Command hierarchy
  • Impersonality

Problems of Bureaucracy (Bureaucratization)

  • Bureaucratic alienation (dehumanization)
  • Inefficiency and ritualism
  • Bureaucratic inertia
  • Oligarchies
  • Parkinson’s Law (work expands to fill available time)
  • Peter Principle (bureaucrats rise to their level of incompetence)

Informal Relations within Bureaucracy

In an ideal bureaucracy, everything is regulated in advance. However, this is impossible. Therefore, a formal structure (container) is often superimposed by an informal one (archipelago) formed from personal relationships. This informal structure can hinder the formal organization’s objectives.

Organizational power lies in the positions, not the individuals occupying them. However, effective leaders and coalitions can impose their views. Subordinates also create their own rules, roles, and informal sanctions, becoming a countervailing power to the formal structure. Efficiency also depends on the environment: technological innovation, economic progress, political changes, and demographic shifts.