What Is the Meaning of Social Context?


The term “social context” is generally used to describe the types of settings in which people are engaged, including the groups with whom they interact and the culture in how they live. Varieties of peoples’ customs, mindsets, traditions, and behaviors all influence their social context. Social context is also referred to as “social environment.”

Social Context in Today’s World

People often learn in social circles how to adopt prevailing behaviors, traditions, and norms. This learned behavior is a person’s recognition of social context in the environment. For instance, companies have particular ways that the workday is structured. Adhering to this structure may help someone be successful at the company. Going against the grain of certain attitudes and norms in a company may not help a person to remain for a long time with the company. 

Social Context as Social Environment

Social environment is another way of explaining social context. These social environments help to direct how people relate to one another, how family members live and communicate with each other, and even how governments interact with its citizens. Creating the right social environment will help to evolve the group’s social context. 

Social Context and Morality

A key concept behind social context is that it’s a foundation of a strong society. When people in social circles share their learned behaviors to help one another, they are creating a moral compass for the group, an element of a just and moral society. 

You see this in action when a tornado or flood strikes a town or city. People band together, mobilizing resources, and helping one another to seek shelter or clean up in the aftermath. These people show that their way of living ― their social context ― can benefit others through altruistic and moral good works.  

Examples of Social Context

In a particular social environment, people with these shared values find ways to build trust and reliance on one another. For example, local townspeople may bond together to thwart an unwanted development in their town. In doing so, they exhibit the characteristics of a shared social environment. 

In a classroom context, the class’s social context helps to define the spirit and ambiance of the classroom or its social context. For children, their social context is partially created by the teachers and administrators with whom they interact, the physical space in which learning takes place, and the strength of the teaching program. All of these factors can affect many of their activities, from participating in school activities to after-school sports activities. In these interactions with students, teachers, and facilitators, a student experiences levels of emotional and social growth. 

Social Context Study

A recent University of Chicago study focused attention on how we learn concepts of social context. Researchers looked at how young children might learn about concepts of hypocrisy and condemnation. The study showed how children as young as 7 years old were forming thoughts and notions that stealing is a moral failing, and those who would face condemnation were less likely to steal in the future. 

Negative Aspects of Social Context

Society is not without its negative aspects of social context. Sociologists study humans to learn about social context and how and when social context might veer to bad from good. This might be a shift in power or balance from one side to another. We see this in the divisive world of politics and the people who seek to protect and nurture their own interests. People in this social environment are often pressured to conform to the group’s ways to show uniformity among its members.