It means, it depends on the nature of social contact and the degree of intimacy among the members concerned. Primary groups are also called ‘face-to-face’ groups and secondary groups, the ‘derivative=group’.
The classification of social groups into ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’ resembles Sumner’s classification of in-groups’ and ‘Out-groups’ and Ferdinand Tonnies’ classification of groups into the ‘Gemeinschaft’ [community] and the 1Gesellschaft’ [society].
But the distinction between primary groups and secondary groups is only relative but not absolute. Both the kinds of groups are in a way ‘ideal types’. In the actual world the groups may not possess such distinct characteristics and satisfy all the conditions.
The groups that we call ‘primary’ are those in which we find the dominance of .primary relations and in the same way, the ‘secondary’ groups exhibit the dominance of secondary relations. It is relevant here to make a distinction between two types of social contacts namely: ‘sympathetic contact’ and ‘categorical contact’, which play an important role in the analysis of ‘primary groups’ and ‘Secondary groups’.
Sympathetic Contact and Categorical Contact:
It is on the basis of the nature of social contacts and social relations that the groups can be classified into “primary” and “secondary”, ‘in-groups’, and ‘out-groups’, and so on. The social contacts are of two types: Sympathetic Contact and Categorical Contact.
(i) Sympathetic Contact:
Sympathetic Contact is a kind of contact between two or more persons characterised by some degree of mutual understanding and interest in the whole personality of the other. It represents one’s personal involvement in the affairs of another.
Example: Contacts between the mother and the child, parents and children, close relatives, close friends etc. represent sympathetic contacts. Individuals, among whom such types of contacts exist, are mutually helpful, co-operative, sympathetic and merciful. The primary groups are characterised by sympathetic contact.
(ii) Categorical Contact:
A categorical contact is a contact between two people whose interaction is governed by the positions which they occupy. The interaction is limited to what is appropriate to these positions.
Example: Contacts between lawyer and client, store-keeper and customer, doctor and patient, bank officer and the peon, teacher and student and so on. Such a contact may be bereft of intimacy, friendliness, sympathy and mutual helpfulness. It does not indicate one’s personal interest in the other person. In the secondary groups the categorical contacts are predominantly found.