This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 15 table of contents.

Organizations and Movements

Some of the most powerful social phenomena occur when people act as a large group. Like other systems, social organizations must grow, maintain themselves, correct deviations or damage, fight off threatening influences, and (to be effective) they must identify and work toward institutional goals. Sociology is the study of social organizations as systems, but social psychology studies the role of the individual in shaping or being shaped by larger-scale organizations. A related discipline, industrial/organizational psychology, concentrates on a particularly important type of social institution in our present-day world: the corporation.


For a social organization to continue to exist, new members must be recruited. To enable this, benefits of membership must be publicized. Propaganda (literally messages to be propagated) must be generated and relayed through some medium, whether it is radio, TV, books, internet, or word of mouth.

How do organizations use propaganda?

Historically, in the United States, only enemy messages were called propaganda. However, if the word is taken literally, propaganda surrounds us in the form of advertising and public relations efforts by social institutions of all kinds. Religious movements use free books and pamphlets, radio and television, revival meetings, and in some cases volunteers who go from door to door. College admissions departments mail brochures and posters to secondary schools, send traveling admissions teams to high schools, and use advertising during sports broadcasts. Athletic teams contact good prospects by mail, send recruiters to visit them, and sponsor school visits. The military in the U.S. seeks volunteers using television, radio, print ads, and promises of money and educational benefits. In each case, the benefits of group membership are described vividly, and the objective is to recruit new members into an organization.

How are personal experiences used in recruiting?

Personal experience in a group setting is often very important for producing conversions or inducing somebody to join a social organization. Religious organizations commonly sponsor retreats during which young people are exposed to like-minded individuals and a concentrated dose of the belief system in a semi-isolated setting with few distractions. For highly recruited athletes, a school visit is often decisive. A highly sought-after professor may be offered a visiting professorship at another university, to test the waters and perhaps be induced to come to the institution on a more permanent basis.

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