Definition and Formation of Groups

The members of Congress who compose the House of Representatives of the United States are a group. The urban committee deciding how to allocate budgetary resources for unwed mothers in a particular city is a group. The members of a car pool sharing a ride to the train station every day are a group. The family seated around the dinner table at home in the evening is a group. The acting troupe performing Hamlet is a group. There are other examples of groups, however, that may be a little less obvious. All the unwed mothers in an urban area might be considered a group. A line of people waiting to buy tickets to a Broadway show might be thought of as a group. People eating dinner at the same time in a diner might even be considered a group. The people in the audience who are watching an acting troupe perform could behave as a group.

There are several ways in which people come to join the groups to which they belong. People are born into some groups. Several types of groupings are influenced in large part by birth: family, socioeconomic status, class, race, and religion. Other groups are formed largely by happenstance: for example, a line of the same people waiting for the 8:05 ferry every day. Some groups, however, are determined more clearly by intentional, goal-oriented factors. For example, a group of people at work who share a concern for well-being, health, and fitness may decide to form an exercise and nutrition group. Students interested in putting on a concert might decide to form a committee to organize bake sales, car washes, and fund drives in order to raise the money needed to achieve this goal. Finally, group memberships are sometimes created or changed as an effort toward self-definition or self-validation. For example, one can try to change one's religion, political orientation, professional associations, friendships, or family in an effort to enhance how one feels about oneself—or how others feel about one. An individual searching for a positive self-definition may join a country club, for example, to benefit from the social status acquired from such group membership.

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