Sumner's Ingroups and Outgroups
All groups set boundaries by distinguishing between insiders. who are members, and outsiders. who are not Sociologist Willianl Graham Sumner (1959/1906) coined the terms ingroup and outgroup to describe people's feelings toward members of their own and other groups. An ln group is a group to which a person belongs and with which the person feels a sense of identity, An outgroup is a group to which a person does not belong and toward which the person may feel a sense of competitiveness or hostility. Distinguishing between our ingroups and our outgroups helps us establish our individual identity and self-worth. Likewise, groups are solidified by ingroup and outgroup distinctions; the presence of an enemy or hostile group binds members more closely together (Coser, 19S6).
Group boundaries may be formal, with clearly defined criteria for membership. For example, a country dub that requires an applicant for membership to be recommended by four current members and to pay a $25,000 initiation fee has clearly set requirements for its members (see "Sociology Works!" on pages 180-181). However, group boundaries are not always that formal. For example, friendship groups usually do not have clear guidelines for membership; rather, the boundaries lend to be very informal and vaguely defined. Ingroup and outgroup distinctions may encourage social cohesion among members, but they may also promote classism, racism, sexism, and ageism. Ingroup members typically view themselves positively and members of outgroups negatively, These feelings of group superiority, or ethnocentrism, are somewhat inevitable. However, members of some groups feel more free than others to act on their beliefs. If groups are embedded in larger groups and organizations, the large organization may discourage such beliefs and their consequences (Merton; 1968). Conversely, organizations may covertly foster these ingroup/outgroup distinctions by denying their existence or by failing to take action when misconduct occurs.