PRIMARY AND SECONDARY GROUPS
Several times a day, one person greets another with a smile and a simple phrase such as «Hi! How are you?» Of course, an honest reply may be actually expected, but not often. Usually the other person responds with a well-scripted «Fine, and how are you?» In most cases, providing a complete account of how one really is doing would lead the other person to make a hasty and awkward exit.
The extent of personal concern for others in social interaction was used by Charles Horton Cooley to draw a distinction between two general types of social groups. The primary group is a social-group in which interaction is both personal and enduring. Within primary groups, people have personal and lasting ties Cooley designated as primary relationships. The members of primary groups share broad dimensions of their lives, generally come to know a great deal about one another, and display genuine concern for another’s welfare. The family is perhaps the most important primary group within any society.
Cooley used the term primary because social groups of this kind are among the first groups we experience in life and are important in shaping our personal attitudes and behaviour. They are also of major importance in shaping our social identity, which is reflected in the fact that the members of any primary group typically think of themselves as «we».
The strength of primary relationships gives individuals a considerable, sense of comfort and security, which is clearly evident in personal performances. Within the familiar social environment of family or friends, people tend to feel they can be themselves and not worry about being continually evaluated by others. At the office, for example, people are usually self-conscious about their clothing and behaviour; at home, they feel free to dress and act more or less as they wish.
Members of primary groups certainly provide many personal benefits to one another, including financial as well as emotional support. But people generally perceive the primary group as an end in itself rather than as a means to other ends. Thus, for example, we expect a family member or close friend to help us without pay when we move into a new apartment. At the same time, primary group members usually do expect that such help will be mutual.