What are the twelve core values in US society identified by sociologist Robin Williams?

According to Williams, the twelve core values of US society are individualism, achievement and success, activity and work, efficiency and practicality, science and technology, progress, material comfort, humanitarianism, freedom, democracy, equality, and racism and group superiority.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As noted by previous educators, Williams identified the twelve core values in US society as individualism, achievement and success, activity and work, efficiency and practicality, science and technology, progress, material comfort, humanitarianism, freedom, democracy, equality, and racism and group superiority. In sociology, these are called macro-level values, which means that...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

As noted by previous educators, Williams identified the twelve core values in US society as individualism, achievement and success, activity and work, efficiency and practicality, science and technology, progress, material comfort, humanitarianism, freedom, democracy, equality, and racism and group superiority. In sociology, these are called macro-level values, which means that they refer to the values of United States society as a whole rather than looking at small differences on an individual (micro) or community (meso) level. So while these values might not align with those of every person living in the United States, Williams is saying that they generally define values that people in the country tend to share.

While Williams noted twelve distinct values, closer analysis demonstrates how these twelve are related to one another. Individualism has always been a big part of the culture of the United States. The notion that people can make it on their own through their own hard work and determination is at the heart of ideologies like the American Dream. The push towards individualism encourages productivity and creativity, but it also often allows political and economic leaders to avoid taking responsibility for inequity by claiming that if people are struggling, it is because they are not working hard enough. This glorification of making it on one's own also demonstrates how much the country celebrates achievement, success, activity, and work.

While the country encourages independent work, it tends to place more value on practical types of work that seek efficient solutions to common problems, like engineering, and less value on work such as the study of the humanities or arts. This value is tied to the value placed on science and technology and the desire to be the most progressive global leader in technological advancements. Similarly, the desire for technological development is connected with the value placed on material comfort and making daily life as easy as possible. As the country strives to be a global leader in such fields, it also values coming across as humanitarian and displaying its power and success through attempting to help countries who are in need.

The last four values that Williams identified—freedom, democracy, equality, and racism and group superiority—may seem to contradict one another. That is because while the country was founded on the ideologies of freedom, democracy, and equality, it was built by white men seeking freedom from the British government. These men instilled their values into the political and social structures of this country, and the country has yet to change along with the times. Thus, racism is still embedded in the social fabric of the nation, from large-scale institutions like those of the prison industrial complex to small-scale interpersonal interactions.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In 1970, sociologist Robin Williams identified twelve core values in American society. These twelve values include personal achievement, work, individualism, humanitarianism, efficiency and practicality, progress, material comfort, science and rationality, equality, democracy, freedom, and racial and group superiority.

People in the US strive to become successful and accomplished and surpass others through personal achievement. Work is valued in the US as a way to be productive and contribute to achievement and society. Individualism is described as promoting and relying on a person's own strength and sense of self, or having one's own identity even while being part of a group or nation. Helping others in need and having sympathy for fellow human beings is expressed through humanitarianism. The ability to get things done quickly and efficiently while not wasting resources is practiced through efficiency and practicality. Americans value progress, the effort to move forward and make improvements in many different areas of life. Material comforts are important in the US: having basic needs met, such as food and shelter, and the ability to live in relative comfort. Adapting science and rationality to promote improvements in the world of scientific discovery and technology is a part of American life. Many Americans strive to promote equality within opportunity, culture, and society. Democracy has been a value of the United States since the founding of the country; it ideally allows for the expression of personal opinions and the making of decisions based on majority vote. The ability to conduct one's own life with few limitations gives Americans the value of freedom. On the negative end, racial and group superiority is the belief that some groups of people are superior to others.

As a note of interest, Robin Williams added three more values to his revised list of core values of US society in 1975. These were education, religiosity, and romantic love.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Robin Williams argues that American society has 12 major values that are basic to that society.  They are:

  •  Individualism.  We think that people can and should rise or fall on their own merits.  
  • Achievement and Success.  We think that it is important to succeed and to achieve big things.  It can be important to be more successful than others.
  • Activity and Work.  This is like the Puritan work ethic.  We think work is good for its own sake.
  • Efficiency and Practicality.  We think it is important to do things as efficiently as possible.
  • Science and Technology.  We prefer to use science and technology to solve all of our problems.
  • Progress.  We think everything should constantly get better.
  •  Material Comfort.  We expect to have a very high material standard of living.
  • Humanitarianism.  We think it is important to be kind and helpful to others, particularly those in need.
  • Freedom.  We feel it is important to be able to do whatever we want.
  • Democracy.  We think everyone has the right to be heard and that the majority should rule.
  • Equality.  We think that it is important for everyone to be equal in the eyes of the law.
  • Racism and Group Superiority.  Paradoxically, we think some groups are better than others.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team