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group’s mores may differ from those of the general

society or even be in diametric opposition to

it. Hence, normative reference groups can be used

as a means of explaining how social deviance,

such as criminality, can be rule-bound.

In both these senses, reference groups can be

either positive or negative; collectivities that an

individual can either hope to join or emulate or

seek to avoid or rise above. ROBERT MILLER

reference group theory

– see reference group.

reflective modernization

– see Ulrich Beck.


A statistical technique to investigate the relationship

between two or more variables, in its simplest

sense, regression can be used to predict

the score of one variable from another variable,

if those two variables are correlated. For

instance, regression can be used to predict the

adult height of a baby when it will become an

adult. This could be done from just one variable,

such as the mother’s height. But more accurate

predictions would be possible if other variables

were also taken into account, such as the father’s

height and the baby’s sex. Regression (or, more

exactly multiple regression) can easily do this:

predict one outcome or dependent variable from

a number of causal or independent variables


As social scientists, we are rarely interested in

making predictions. More often, we are interested

in the nature of the relationship between several

variables. For instance, we might want to know

why, in the United Kingdom, men are still paid

more per hour, on average, than women? Is it

because men are better educated, more skilled,

physically stronger, choose higher-paid occupations,

have more experience in the labor market

because they are less likely to take time out of

employment to care for children, and so on? Or

is it partly due to raw discrimination against

women? A multiple regression would be able to

answer such a question by seeing how much of the

difference in hourly pay (the dependent variable)

between men and women was explained in

terms of each of the independent variables (skill,

education, or occupation), and how much

remained unexplained, which could be attributed

to discrimination.

There are many different statistical forms of

regression. The most common form, simply referred

to as multiple regression (or sometimes

OLS or ordinary least squares regression), is best

suited to situations where all of the variables are

continuous, interval, and Gaussian, involving two

independent random variables. Other forms of

regression, such as logistic regression, are also

available for when the variables are categorical

(such as male/female). Some more advanced forms

of regression can cope with situations where the

errors in variables are themselves correlated, so

simple regression could give misleading results.

Like correlation, multiple regression is not suitable

for determining the causal direction of a

relationship in cross-sectional data. In those cases

other research methods may be required, such as

cohort or panel studies. BRENDAN J . BURCHELL

regulation school

– see regulation theory.

regulation theory

This theory (also known as the regulation approach

and the regulation school) is a major paradigm

in institutional and evolutionary economics,

and is especially concerned with the contradictory

and conflictual dynamics of contemporary capitalism.

Its several schools examine the role of extraeconomic

as well as economic values, institutions,

and practices in securing, if only temporarily and

always in specific economic spaces, the inherently

reference group theory regulation theory


improbable and always crisis-prone process of capital

accumulation. This process involves alternating

periods of relatively stable accumulation and

of crisis-induced restructuring, rescaling, and

reregulation. In examining the extra-economic

aspects of the regularization of economic activities,

regulation theorists draw on, and provide

links to, other social sciences. This has enabled

them to make important contributions to the

study of advanced capitalist economies and, more

recently, to dependent capitalist economies and

the dynamics of global capitalism.

Regulation theory originated with French

heterodox economists in the mid-1970s, whose

work is collectively identified as the Parisian

School. Representative early work in English includes

Michel Aglietta’s pioneering study, A Theory

of Capitalist Regulation (1976), Robert Boyer’s critical

introduction, The Regulation School (1990), and

Alain Lipietz’s essays on Mirages and Miracles: The

Crises of Global Fordism (1987s [trans. 1987]). There

are two less well-known French regulation schools

dating from the 1960s and 1970s. One is linked to

the French Communist Party and focuses on the

ways in which profits in privileged sectors are

protected by reducing returns in other sectors;

and the Grenoble School focuses on the internal

regulation of distinctive plurinational productive

systems organized under the dominance of one

national capital and on the anarchic relations

between such systems. The Amsterdam School explored

how national and transnational economic

relations are regulated according to hegemonic

“concepts of control” associated with either

money or productive capital. The West German

School focused on the state’s role in securing

capitalist reproduction and on the repercussions

of different growth regimes for the wider society.

Finally, an American radical school focused on the

“social structures of accumulation” that secured

growth in different periods of American economic

history and applied this analysis to other economies

(these schools are surveyed by Bob Jessop

and Ngai-Ling Sum in Beyond the Regulation

Approach, 2006).

The variety of such schools means that, rather

than involving a single, homogeneous approach,

regulation theory is better seen as a broad, progressive

economic research program with major

implications for critical social science more generally.

As such it denies that there is anything

automatic about periods of economic stability

(capitalism is not self-stabilizing) or about capitalist

restructuring in response to crises (capitalism

is not self-healing). Social agency is crucial in both

respects – behavioral regularities are essential for

relative stability until the inherent contradictions

and crisis tendencies become too intense, and

new patterns of conduct are required during the

institutional restructuring that may eventually

reregularize economic expansion.

Thus, regulation theory explores the interconnections

between the institutional forms and dynamic

regularities of capitalist economies. Unlike

orthodox economics, it rejects any general, transhistorical

account of economics or rational

economic conduct. Instead it focuses on the historical

specificities of capitalism and regards its

continued growth as inherently improbable due

to its crisis tendencies and associated class

struggle. While first-generation regulationists

tended to cite the fundamental contradictions

and conflicts generated by capitalism’s distinctive

dynamics, later studies pursue more middle-range

analyses of the self-limiting or self-undermining

nature of particular accumulation regimes and

modes of regulation defined in more institutional

terms. Overall, while far from neglectful of the

essentially anarchic role of exchange relations

(or market forces) in mediating capitalist reproduction,

regulationists also stress the complementary

functions of other mechanisms (including

institutions, collective identities, shared visions,

common values, norms, conventions, networks,

procedures, and modes of calculation) in structuring,

facilitating, and guiding accumulation. In

addressing these issues, regulationists have developed

a wide array of concepts to study the

institutions and practices of capitalism, explain

the various crisis tendencies of modern capitalism

and/or likely sources of crisis-resolution, distinguish

among different stages (periods, phases,

and so forth) of capitalist development, compare

and contrast different accumulation regimes and

modes of regulation within a given stage of world

capitalism, and examine the social embedding

and social regularization of economic institutions

and conduct.

The dominant Parisian School developed four

key concepts for analyzing capitalism and its regulation.

First, an industrial paradigm is a model

governing the technical and social division of

labor (for example, mass production). Second, an

accumulation regime is a complementary pattern

of production and consumption that is reproducible

over a long period. The Fordist regime based

on mass production and mass consumption is the

most famous example. Third, a mode of regulation

is an emergent ensemble of norms, institutions,

organizational forms, social networks, and

regulation theory regulation theory


patterns of conduct that can stabilize an accumulation

regime. This is a more meso-level concept

and is generally analyzed in terms of five dimensions:

the wage relation (labor markets and

wage-effort bargaining, individual and social

wages, and lifestyles); the enterprise form (its

internal organization, the source of profits, forms

of competition, ties among enterprises, links to

banking capital); the nature of money (its dominant

form and its emission, the banking and credit

system, the allocation of money capital to production);

the state (the institutionalized compromise

between capital and labor, forms of state intervention);

and international regimes (the trade,

investment, monetary settlements, and political

arrangements that link national economies,

nation-states, and the world system). Fourth, a

model of development comprises a complementary

industrial paradigm, accumulation regime,

and mode of regulation that together secure for

a time the conditions for a long wave of capitalist

expansion. All four concepts are typically defined

to take account of the conflictual and antagonistic

nature of capitalism.

Regulation theory remains a progressive research

program (see, for example, the comprehensive

survey in Robert Boyer and Yves Saillard’s

2002 collection, Re´gulation Theory: The State of the

Art). But it has also been criticized by fundamentalist

leftwing critics for appearing to treat capitalism

as inevitable (crises are always eventually

overcome) and hence for supporting reformism;

and by more mainstream social scientists for its

one-sided concern with the economic logic of capital

accumulation. There has also been critical

historical and econometric work challenging the

original analyses of Fordism and its crisis on

empirical grounds. Regulation theorists have

responded by developing new analyses, extending

the approach to other national cases, examining

more sites and scales of economic organization,

developing alternative scenarios for post-Fordism,

and returning to some of the basic categories of

economic analysis (Jessop and Sum, 2006).



In its broadest sense, reification is the logical fallacy

of regarding an abstract concept (such as

society) as if it were a concrete thing, and consequently

treating fluid and mutable entities as

though they were natural and immutable. Sociological

usage of the term is associated with the

Hungarian Marxist, Georg Luka´cs. In History and

Class Consciousness (1923 [trans. 1971]) he argued

that in capitalist society the fetishistic commodity

form becomes universal. People appear to be confronted

by a world of autonomous things (commodities

and social relations) rather than by

historically contingent and socially produced

forms of life. Reification for Luka´cs involves a

methodological error that generates a fragmented

view of the world and loses sight of the dialectical

totality of capitalist society. Marxist intellectuals

(who take “the standpoint of the proletariat”)

avoid this error, but reified consciousness will

disappear only at the point of revolutionary transformation

when social relations will appear fluid

and transparent. Again within the Marxist tradition,

Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno used the concept

to refer to the social determination of

thinking (in, for example, Negative Dialectics, 1966

[trans. 1973]) in which concepts either impute

properties to the object that are absent (such as

freedom) or distort existing properties so that they

appear objective. In particular, the commodity

creates an illusory identity between concept and

object. However, in The Social Construction of Reality

(1966), Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann suggest

that only insofar as humans forget that social

reality is constructed does it attain permanence;

this implies that reification might be to some

extent necessary. LARRY RAY

relative deprivation

This concept focuses on comparisons between the

levels of deprivation suffered by different groups.

Deprivation can be absolute, when it is determined

against an independent standard of measurement,

or relative, when it is based on a

comparison with the resources of other groups.

The term relative deprivation was initially coined

by Samuel Stouffer et al., the authors of The American

Soldier (1949), a large-scale social-psychological

study carried out during World War II by a specialist

research branch within the United States

War Department. Soldiers posted overseas, for

example, experienced a sense of deprivation

relative to soldiers still at home, but felt less deprivation

relative to the combat soldier. Similarly,

black soldiers stationed in the American South

felt privileged in terms of wealth and status

compared with black civilians.

In Social Theory and Social Structure (1957), Robert

K. Merton linked The American Soldier’s treatment

of relative deprivation to the theory of reference

groups, noting the way in which groups orient

themselves to an array of membership and

reification relative deprivation


non-membership groups in shaping their behavior

and evaluations, but particularly emphasizing

the latter. Drawing on empirical inquiry he also

emphasized the counterintuitive implications of

such relative comparisons for subjective states of

mind, such that a family experiencing a great loss

in a mass disaster would feel less deprived than

others elsewhere suffering similar losses, if, in the

immediate circumstances, they were surrounded

by people whose losses were much more severe

than their own.

W. G. Runciman’s Relative Deprivation and Social

Justice (1966) linked relative deprivation to social

inequality along the three dimensions of social

class, social status, and power, and insisted that

the subjective “sense” of felt deprivation was essential

to the concept. Linking his analysis to the

conception of distributive justice in John Rawls’s

A Theory of Justice (1971), Runciman argued that

there was a difference between comparative inequalities

experienced subjectively as unjust, and

thus felt as unnecessary deprivations, and those

that could be seen as benefiting the social whole.

In his path-breaking analysis of household resources

and standards of living, Poverty in the

United Kingdom (1979), Peter Townsend systematically

applied the concept of relative deprivation

to the issue of poverty but moderated the socialpsychological

emphasis on felt deprivation. He

distinguished poverty narrowly defined in terms

of current low incomes from material and social

inadequacies that may or may not be directly

linked to these low incomes. The latter, poverty

as relative deprivation, was seen in terms of a

person’s lack of resources to obtain the kind of

diet, to enjoy the living conditions and amenities,

and to participate in the social activities considered

customary in the societies to which they

belong. These necessities could be anything from

damp-free housing or properly fitting shoes to the

resources to invite relatives around for a meal,

to send children on a school trip, or to have a

garden for them to play in. While all of these

have a subjective dimension, Townsend was adamant

that the importance of this could not be

assessed independently of the actual, objective,

deprivation of a group relative to others.



The strongest and crudest form of the relativist

attitude to knowledge is that any claim to knowledge

is as good as any other. This kind of relativist

does not believe that some knowledge claims

are more adequate than others. He ⁄ she does not

recognize the qualitative difference between an

unsubstantiated opinion, for example, and a belief

that has been subjected to current critical and selfcorrective

methods and rational standards of inquiry.

It is important to understand that it is possible

to be a voluntarist in Max Weber’s sense of

the word without being this kind of relativist.

Voluntarism for Weber indicated an acknowledgment

that the critical and rational standards

applied to knowledge claims are the result of

hard-fought and ongoing battles, and choices

(hence the voluntarism), between differing positions

within the social scientific community.

This entailed a concession that such standards

were culturally and historically situated. This

differs, however, from strong relativism as there

remains a clear distinction between theoretically

framed, conceptually consistent, logically coherent,

claims that are empirically substantiated, on

the one hand, and vague unsubstantiated views,

opinions, rhetoric, and prejudice, on the other.

In conceding the weak form of relativism that

accepts that knowledge is culturally and historically

situated, Weber, in effect, subscribes to what

Rom Harre´ and Michael Krausz in Varieties of

Relativism (1996) refer to as ontological relativism.

This indicates the relativity of beliefs about existence

to a particular conceptual system. This can

be seen when, in Madness and Civilization (1961

[trans. 1967]) Michel Foucault tells us that a scientific

description of a brain, commonplace around

1780, bore little resemblance to the description

offered twenty-five years later by the new physiology

of the very “same” organ on the marble slab.

It is also the case for the electric fluids that existed

for Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) but not for us, or

for the witches that existed for the Azande but not

for us. The conceptual systems that are used to

judge the objectivity of knowledge are irremediably

situated both culturally and historically.

Harre´ and Krausz list three other forms of relativism

besides the ontological. These are, first,

semantic relativism, associated with Ludwig

Wittgenstein, and, in a different way, with poststructuralism,

in which words take their meaning

from the form of life or language game in which

they are embedded. So, for example, a word could

not be translated into another language without

loss of meaning. Second, there is moral relativism,

in which conceptions of right and wrong alter

according to the times and places in which one

lives. And, finally, there is aesthetic relativism

where “the music of classical Chinese opera might

relativism relativism


well be judged cacophonous relative to the standards

of Bel Canto.” Pierre Bourdieu in Distinction

(1979 [trans. 1984]) showed how the aesthetic tastes

of different groups within the national cultural

formation of 1970s France were further stratified

along the lines of classes and class fractions.

In the recent debates around postmodernism,

those writers who took what Pauline Rosenau in

Postmodernism and the Social Sciences (1992) refers to

as an “affirmative” postmodernist position accord

with Weber’s combination of voluntarism and

ontological relativism. They consolidate the emphasis

on cultural and historical variability, however,

by emphasizing that viewpoints change and

differ not only according to academic paradigm or

along with the received scientific wisdom of the

age but also with respect to race, gender, ethnicity,

sexuality, culture, and so on. Those whom Rosenau

labels “skeptical” postmodernists took the

stronger and more radical relativist position as

they rejected any difference at all between fiction

and truth, and so implicitly rejected the claims

made by Weber, and by contemporary realists,

that there are epistemic gains to be had through

respecting the regulative frameworks provided by

ongoing academic debate, critique, and counterdebate.



– see Sampling.


Sacred things are believed to be so extraordinarily

important, powerful, and different from mundane

or profane affairs that they need to be

protected by special rules and restrictions or

taboos (see sacred and profane dichotomy).

Religion elaborates on experiences of the sacred,

building them into systems of belief, emotion,

action, and social relations oriented towards

higher realities that supposedly transcend the

level of empirical experience and thereby confer

ultimate meaning on life. The sense of ultimacy

may be associated with belief in such states as

eternal life, salvation, rebirth, reincarnation, the

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