“12 Years a Slave” by Steve McQueen

The movie 12 Years a Slave offers a detailed analysis of the challenges and obstacles many people experience in their unequal societies. The concepts studied in class can be examined and analyzed using various examples from this film. A detailed description of such issues can guide more individuals to appreciate their differences and consider evidence-based approaches to transform their life situations. This paper identifies and describes 20 sociological terms using various examples from the film.

Sociological Concepts

The term social imagination (Ballantine/OSW: 8) is the ability for an individual to see events and happenings socially and examine how they influence and interact with each other. The most appropriate example from the movie to describe this concept occurs when Solomon Northup is living in New York as a free African American at a time when slavery is permitted. He can view this kind of predicament and consider how it affects different minorities. This choice is the best illustration because he is an outsider at the time and can describe and examine the issues surrounding slavery.

The concept of social institutions (Ballantine/OSW: 14) refers to patterns that define the established social order in any given human community. An outstanding example from the film is Northup’s family. This choice is appropriate since the viewer can relate and learn more about Northup’s life, how it changes abruptly after he is kidnapped. It will also describe the way he reunites with his wife and children after being rescued from New Orleans.

The term symbolic interaction (Ballantine/OSW: 31) refers to the enlivened process arising from people’s practical considerations and how they utilize dialect to normal implications and images for relating with others. The example from this movie is the idea of being a slave. This selection is appropriate since the viewer is capable of identifying the malpractice as a scenario whereby someone is required to provide unpaid labor. However, the term will go further to describe an individual who faces oppression or is raped by his or her master. The example of Patsey from the film supports such an argument.

The concept of conflict theory (Ballantine/OSW: 35) explains how societies will always be in constant conflict since individuals are competing for resources that are limited in nature. The outstanding example from this film is how slaves and their masters relate. This choice is appropriate since it describes how enslaved people lack adequate resources, encounter numerous

challenges, and have to follow orders. This trend means that there is not conformity or consensus in the specific community. The actions Northup undertakes as a slave portray him as someone in constant conflict with the established system.

The concept of culture (Ballantine/OSW: 58) refers to the social behaviors, customs, notions, and ideas defining a particular society. The promoted race relations in the movie try to describe the nature of culture in the American society. This choice is appropriate since it describes the challenges, beliefs, and ideas that government this country. The viewer realizes that the American culture is characterized by inequality and injustice.

The term beliefs (Ballantine/OSW: 76) identifies the subset of notions, faith, and acceptance of specific ideas and propositions. The best example to support the concept from the movie is the established way of life whereby slave-owners identify themselves as superior while their servants are inferior. This choice is meaningful since it describes the notions and ideologies that dictate the behaviors and practices of the greatest majority in the presented community.

Looking-glass self (Ballantine/OSW: 99) is a concept that describes how people base their ideas and sense of the self and how they understand others view or treat them. In the selected film, the conversations between Brown and Hamilton reveal that most of the whites in the American society identify African Americans as people who need to be oppressed and enslaved. This example is worth presenting since it describes how these individuals view minorities in the wider community. Such people can then learn that they are unwanted or disempowered in their societies.

The concept of social class (Ballantine/OSW: 108) describes how people in a given society occupy unique hierarchical categories, such as the middle, lower, and upper classes. The outstanding example from the selected movie is the positions slaves and their masers occupy in the American society. The viewer observes that slavers are in the lower class while the rich in the upper. This choice is appropriate since it helps describe how the two groups relate or interact with each other.

The concept of re-socialization (Ballantine/OSW: 104) describes the manner in which individuals acquire and uphold new practices, values, and norms, thereby changing their social roles. In the selected film, the fact that Northup has to embrace new ideas and behaviors after becoming a slave shows how re-socialization can take place involuntary. This example describes the new practices and ideas that emerge or develop.

Social networks (Ballantine/OSW: 121) is a concept that captures the tools and processes that enable people to stay connected, share ideas, and pursue their common goals. While the term has gained a new meaning in the era of the Internet, the letter that Northup intends to send to New York can be described as a powerful tool for pursuing social network. This example is outstanding since it describes how he is planning to share information with others about his experiences as a slave.

The term nonverbal communication (Ballantine/OSW: 123) entails the use of eye contact, gestures, posture, and body language to communicate with other people. The best example from the film is when Northup goes back home. The viewer observes that he cries as he tries to walk up the apartments’ stairs. This presentation is essential since it shows how Northup communicates pain and anger to the members of his family in a non-verbal manner.

The term consensus crime (Ballantine/OSW: 147) refers to any offense that is believed to be serious by almost every person in a given society. The film reveals that Epps rapes Patsey frequently simply because she is a slave and incapable of protesting. This example is practical and worth identifying since it ruins the victim’s life and experience. Such a crime is detestable and dehumanizing in any given society.

The concept of hate crime (Ballantine/OSW: 161) identifies any form of offense whereby prejudice and hatred motivate the perpetrator. The abuse Northup goes through in his life could be as a result of this malpractice. This example is appropriate for describing this term since it focuses on offenses that are bias-motivated and capable of affecting the rights and freedoms of the victim.

The term inequality (Ballantine/OSW: 183) identifies a situation whereby some people in a community receive negative treatment and disempowerment in comparison with the dominant majority. In the selected film, the viewer realizes that African Americans are at the bottom of the social hierarchy and unequal in comparison with the whites. This example supports the existence of slavery and the behavior of mistreating and oppressing others.

The concept of ascribed stratification system (Ballantine/OSW: 205) defines a system whereby individuals belong to a specific lass or caste depending on the status of their parents irrespective of their merits and achievements. A good example of this term in the movie is the position of masters and slaves. This selection is worth using since it describes how African Americans are expected to remain slaves and continue providing forced labor. Patsey is unable to change her situation despite the fact that she is the most hardworking slave in the described plantation.

The term minority groups (Ballantine/OSW: 218) refers to communities and ethnicities that are deemed inferior due to their small numbers and inability to record meaningful social progress. The best example to support this concept is that of African Americans as described in the movie. Such a choice is appropriate since it examines how members of this cultural group encounter diverse challenges and are unable to lead better and admirable lives.

The concept of discrimination (Ballantine/OSW: 227) examines the malpractice promoted in a given society whereby some groups tend to be subjected to abuse and misappropriation of resources. The malpractice is evident in the video when slaves are oppressed, beaten, raped, and denied some basic freedoms. This example is agreeable since it examines the fate and experiences of most of the African Americans in the society under investigation.

The term gender roles (Ballantine/OSW: 257) will refer to values, attitudes, behaviors, and roles that members of a given community consider desirable for females and males. The outstanding example from the film is that females are expected to complete a variety of tasks in their respective families or plantations. Men, on the other hand, appear to take up leadership or master roles as it is with Epps’ case. This example is outstanding since it describes how different individuals have to pursue their values and responsibilities as members of the wider society.

Sexuality (Ballantine/OSW: 256) is a concept that describes the manner in which individuals will express and experience their sexuality. In this film, it is evident that Northup is keen to pursue his emotional and physical goals despite being an enslaved person. Before he is kidnapped, this character is keen to engage in activities that can provide for his family. Similarly, Northup appears to be attracted and willing to do anything for the sake of his children and wife. However, the challenges experienced in the society make such goals unattainable. Such an example is appropriate since it describes how sexuality remains a common subject throughout this film.

Environment (Ballantine/OSW: 16) refers to a person’s surrounding that dictates his or her life experiences. In the studied film, Northup appears to grow up and live in a region that is friendly to people of color. However, Patsey lives in a harsh social environment simply because she is an enslaved African American. The nature of the environment dictates the people’s ability to achieve their aims or address most of the challenges they have to go through.

The term dysfunction (Ballantine/OSW: 34) would identify the nature of disruption recorded in social relations. Such issues might emerge due to the nature of the established policies and conditions. In the presented era of slavery, it is evident that most of the victims are unable to pursue their goals or record positive social mobilities. Those in positions of leadership fail to offer the required support and meet the demands of the less privileged.

The term means of production (Ballantine/OSW: pg35) would focus on the inputs, both physical and non-physical, required to support the production and delivery of services and goods to members of the public. In the selected film, the viewer observed that enslaved humans and tools form an integral part of the production process. Land is also a major factor that dictates the success and performance of the plantation economy.

The concept of slavery (Ballantine/OSW: 183) will describe a situation whereby some members of the society are forced to provide unpaid labor and support the process of production. This malpractice is evident whereby different people remain slaves for the better part of their lives. Patsey, for example, is compelled to continue engaging in slavery while Northup finds himself in the same situation after being kidnapped.

The concept of race (Ballantine/OSW: 219) defines the grouping of individuals into specific groups with identifiable attributes or traits. In the film, African Americans are presented as the oppressed race. The whites, on the other hand, form the majority and are identified as superior.

The term lifestyle (Ballantine/OSW: 195) will describe the behaviors, experiences, opinions, and interests of individuals or groups. Intangible and tangible factors will dictate a person’s life outcomes. In many societies, the rich will have a better lifestyle while the less fortunate will record poor experiences. The best example from the movie is Patsey who leads a pathetic and troubled life.

Social interaction (Ballantine/OSW: 22) is the process through which individuals will interact with one another and establish desirable systems and institutions. In the film, whites appear to have unique mechanisms that dictate the manner in which they oppress their counterpart African Americans in the wider society. Northup and Patsey find it easier to exchange their feelings and views since they belong to the same racial group and appear to share the same experience or fate.

The term technology (Ballantine/OSW: 65) describes the process through which individuals implement advanced knowledge and scientific notions to improve production and take the economic performance to the next level. In the analyzed movie, it is evident that the plantations rely on mechanized techniques for planting and harvesting. Human labor is required to support the use of such technologies and ensure that positive results are recorded. Additionally, most of the people rely on the developed transport systems to move from point A to B and pursue their economic aims. These achievements and practices explain why and how technology forms an integral part of the society examined in this movie.


The above discussion has outlined and described several sociological concepts that dictate people’s relations, goals, and behaviors in their respective communities. The studied movie provides a powerful example for examining such terms and understanding how they apply to the lives and experiences of different characters. People should, therefore, consider these concepts and identify new ways of promoting ideas that can guide and support them to achieve their maximum potential.