Groups are a fact of human existence and permeate virtually every facet of our lives. Group size is important, as is the otherwise simple distinction between dyads and triads. Primary groups form the basic building blocks of social interaction in society.Reference groups play a major role in forming our attitudes and life goals, as do our relationships with in-groups and out-groups. Social networks partly determine things such as whom we know and the kinds of jobs we get. Networks based on race-ethnicity, social class, and other social factors are extremely closely connected—very dense.
The social influence groups exert on us is tremendous, as seen by the Asch conformity experiments. The Milgram experiments demonstrated that the interpersonal influence of an authority figure could cause an individual to act against his or her deep convictions. The torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war by American soldiers as prison guards serves as testimony to the powerful effects of both social influence and authority structures.
Groupthink can be so pervasive that it adversely affects group decision-making. Risky shift similarly often compels individuals to reach decisions that are at odds with their better judgment.
There are several types of formal organizations, such as normative, coercive, or utilitarian. Weber typified bureaucracies as organizations with an efficient division of labor, an authority hierarchy, rules, impersonal relationships, and career ladders. Bureaucratic rigidities often result in organizational problems such as ritualism and resulting "normalization of deviance", which may have been significantly responsible for the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986 and the space shuttle Columbia breakup in 2003. The McDonaldization of society has resulted in greater efficiency, calculability, and control in many industries, probably at the expense of some individual creativity.
Formal organizations perpetuate society's inequalities on the basis of race-ethnicity, gender, and social class. Even today, Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans are less likely to get promoted, and more likely to get fired, than Whites of comparable education and other qualifications. Women experience similar effects of inequality, especially negative effects of tokenism, such as stress and lowered self-esteem. Finally, persons of less than middle-class origins make less money and are less likely to get promoted than a middle- class person of comparable education.
Functional, conflict, and symbolic interaction theories highlight and clarify the analysis of organizations by specifying both organizational functions and dysfunctions (functional theory); by analyzing the consequences of hierarchical, gender, race, and social class conflict in organizations (conflict theory); and, finally, by studying the importance of social interaction and integration of the self into the organization (symbolic interaction theory).