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A society is a body of individuals of a species, generally seen as a community or group, that is outlined by the bounds of functional interdependence, comprising also possible characters or conditions such as cultural identity, social solidarity, or eusociality. Human societies are characterized by patterns of relationships between individuals that share a distinctive culture or institutions. Like other groups, a society allows its individual members to achieve individual needs or wishes that they could not fulfill separately by themselves, without the existence of the social group. Society, however, may be unique in that it is ontologically independent of, and utterly irreducible to, the qualities of its constituent individuals. As a reality sui generis, or "of its own kind", it is emergently composed of social facts that often hinder rather than help the pursuits of the subjects that form its physical and psychological underpinnings.

More broadly, a society is an economic, social or industrial infrastructure, made up of a varied multitude of individuals. Members of a society may be from different ethnic groups. A society may be a particular ethnic group, such as the Saxons; a nation state, such as Bhutan; a broader cultural group, such as a Western society; or even a social organism such as an ant colony.

The word society may also refer to an organized voluntary association of people for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes. Sociology is the study of society and social behavior.

Contents

Origin and usage

The English word "society" emerged in the 15th century and is derived from the French société. The French word, in turn, had its origin in the Latin societas, a "friendly association with others," from socius meaning "companion, associate, comrade or business partner." The Latin word is probably related to the verb sequi, "to follow", and thus originally may have meant "follower".

In political science, the term is often used to mean the totality of human relationships, generally in contrast to the State, i.e., the apparatus of rule or government within a territory:

I mean by it [the State] that summation of privileges and dominating positions which are brought into being by extra-economic power... I mean by Society, the totality of concepts of all purely natural relations and institutions between man and man...[1]

In the social sciences such as sociology, society has been used[citation needed]to mean a group of people that form a semi-closed social system, in which most interactions are with other individuals belonging to the group. Society is sometimes contrasted with culture. For example, Clifford Geertz has suggested that society is the actual arrangement of social relations while culture is made up of beliefs and symbolic forms.

According to sociologist Richard Jenkins, the term addresses a number of important existential issues facing people:

  1. How humans think and exchange information – the sensory world makes up only a fraction of human experience. In order to understand the world, we have to conceive of human interaction in the abstract (i.e., society).
  2. Many phenomena cannot be reduced to individual behavior.
  3. Collectives often endure beyond the lifespan of individual members.
  4. The human condition has always meant going beyond the evidence of our senses; every aspect of our lives is tied to the collective.[2]

Evolution of societies

A half-section of the 12th century Song Dynasty version of Night Revels of Han Xizai, original by Gu Hongzhong; the painting, which is a masterpiece of the era's artwork, portrays servants, musicians, monks, children, guests, hosts all in a single social environment, serves as an in-depth look into 10th-century Chinese social structure.

According to anthropologist Maurice Godelier, one critical novelty in human society, in contrast to humanity's closest biological relatives (chimpanzees and bonobo), is the parental role assumed by the males, which were unaware of their "father" connection[clarification needed].[3][4]

Gerhard Lenski, a sociologist, differentiates societies based on their level of technology, communication and economy: (1) hunters and gatherers, (2) simple agricultural, (3) advanced agricultural, (4) industrial.[5] and now (5) virtual. This is somewhat similar to the system earlier developed by anthropologists Morton H. Fried, a conflict theorist, and Elman Service, an integration theorist, who have produced a system of classification for societies in all human cultures based on the evolution of social inequality and the role of the state. This system of classification contains four categories:

In addition to this there are:

  • Humanity, mankind, that upon which rest all the elements of society, including society's beliefs.
  • Virtual-society is a society based on online identity, which is evolving in the information age.

Over time, some cultures have progressed toward more-complex forms of organization and control. This cultural evolution has a profound effect on patterns of community. Hunter-gatherer tribes settled around seasonal foodstocks to become agrarian villages. Villages grew to become towns and cities. Cities turned into city-states and nation-states.[6]

Today, anthropologists and many social scientists vigorously oppose the notion of cultural evolution and rigid "stages" such as these. In fact, much anthropological data has suggested that complexity (civilization, population growth and density, specialization, etc.) does not always take the form of hierarchical social organization or stratification.

Also, cultural relativism as a widespread approach/ethic has largely replaced notions of "primitive," better/worse, or "progress" in relation to cultures (including their material culture/technology and social organization).

BABY KONGA

Characteristics of society

The following three components are common to all definitions of society:

Organization of society

Human societies are often organized according to their primary means of subsistence. As noted in the section on "Evolution of societies", above, social scientists identify hunter-gatherer societies, nomadic pastoral societies, horticulturalist or simple farming societies, and intensive agricultural societies, also called civilizations. Some consider industrial and post-industrial societies to be qualitatively different from traditional agricultural societies.

One common theme for societies in general is that they serve to aid individuals in a time of crisis. Traditionally, when an individual requires aid, for example at birth, death, sickness, or disaster, members of that society will rally others to render aid, in some form—symbolic, linguistic, physical, mental, emotional, financial, medical, or religious. Many societies will distribute largess, at the behest of some individual or some larger group of people. This type of generosity can be seen in all known cultures; typically, prestige accrues to the generous individual or group. Conversely, members of a society may also shun or scapegoat members of the society who violate its norms. Mechanisms such as gift-giving and scapegoating, which may be seen in various types of human groupings, tend to be institutionalized within a society. Social evolution as a phenomenon carries with itself certain elements that could be detrimental to the population it serves.

Some societies will bestow status on an individual or group of people, when that individual or group performs an admired or desired action. This type of recognition is bestowed by members of that society on the individual or group in the form of a name, title, manner of dress, or monetary reward. Males, in many societies, are particularly susceptible to this type of action and subsequent reward, even at the risk of their lives. Action by an individual or larger group in behalf of some cultural ideal is seen in all societies. The phenomena of community action, shunning, scapegoating, generosity, and shared risk and reward occur in subsistence-based societies and in more technology-based civilizations.

Societies may also be organized according to their political structure. In order of increasing size and complexity, there are bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and state societies. These structures may have varying degrees of political power, depending on the cultural geographical, and historical environments that these societies must contend with. Thus, a more isolated society with the same level of technology and culture as other societies is more likely to survive than one in closer proximity to others that may encroach on their resources (see history for examples}. A society that is unable to offer an effective response to other societies it competes with will usually be subsumed into the culture of the competing society (see technology for examples).

Shared belief or common goal

People of many nations united by common political and cultural traditions, beliefs, or values are sometimes also said to be a society (such as Judeo-Christian, Eastern, and Western). When used in this context, the term is employed as a means of contrasting two or more "societies" whose members represent alternative conflicting and competing worldviews (see Secret Societies).

Some academic, learned and scholarly associations describe themselves as societies (for example, the American Mathematical Society). More commonly, professional organizations often refer to themselves as societies (e.g., the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Chemical Society). In the United Kingdom and the United States, learned societies are normally nonprofit and have charitable status. In science, they range in size to include national scientific societies (i.e., the Royal Society) to regional natural history societies. Academic societies may have interest in a wide range of subjects, including the arts, humanities and science.

In some countries (for example the United States and France), the term "society" is used in commerce to denote a partnership between investors or the start of a business. In the United Kingdom, partnerships are not called societies, but cooperatives or mutuals are often known as societies (such as friendly societies and building societies). In Latin America, the term society may be used in commerce denoting a partnership between investors, or anonymous investors; for example: "Proveedor Industrial Anahuac S.A." where S.A. stands for Anonymous Society (Sociedad Anónima); however in Mexico in other type of partnership it would be declared as S.A. de C.V. or S.A. de R.L., indicating the level of commitment of capital and the responsibilities from each member towards their own association and towards the society in general and supervised by the corresponding jurisdictional civil and judicial authorities.

Ontology

In 1987 Margaret Thatcher famously said "There is no such thing as society".[7]

"The imaginations which people have of one another are the solid facts of society." - Charles Cooley[8]

See also

Society portal

Notes

  1. ^ "The State by Franz Oppenheimer". http://www.franz-oppenheimer.de/state0.htm. Retrieved on 15 August 2008. 
  2. ^ Jenkins, R. 2002. Foundations of Sociology.
  3. ^ Maurice Godelier, Métamorphoses de la parenté, 2004
  4. ^ "New Left Review - Jack Goody: The Labyrinth of Kinship". http://newleftreview.org/?view=2592. Retrieved on 2007-07-24. 
  5. ^ Lenski, G. 1974. Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology.
  6. ^ Effland, R. 1998. The Cultural Evolution of Civilizations.
  7. ^ Herrmann, Peter (2007). Social Professional Activities and the State. Nova Publishers. ISBN 9781600217418. http://books.google.com/books?id=nYyhZXbNL_AC&pg=PA41&dq=Margaret+Thatcher+Women%27s+Own+magazine+October+1987&lr=. 
  8. ^ Cooley, Charles Horton; Philip Rieff (1983). Philip Rieff. ed. Human nature and the social order. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 9780878559183. http://books.google.com/books?id=mfvunHOUelsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Human+Nature+and+the+Social+Order.  p121

References


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Contents

English

Most common English words: personal « due « Henry « #796: society » boat » heaven » v.

Pronunciation

Etymology

From Old French societe (French: société).

Noun

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Singular
society

Plural
countable and uncountable; plural societies

society (countable and uncountable; plural societies)

  1. (countable) A long-standing group of people sharing cultural aspects such as language, dress, norms of behavior and artistic forms.
    This society has been known for centuries for its colorful clothing and tight-knit family structure.
  2. (countable) A group of people who meet from time to time to engage in a common interest.
    It was then that they decided to found a society of didgeridoo-playing unicyclists.
  3. (countable) The sum total of all voluntary interrelations between individuals.
  4. (uncountable) The people of one’s country or community taken as a whole.
    It’s not for society to decide whether I can play the didgeridoo in my own home.
    He thinks that the fact that this child grew up to be a murderer is the fault of society.
  5. (uncountable) high society.
    Smith was first introduced into society at the Duchess of Grand Fenwick's annual rose garden party.
    • 1813, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice:
      "What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! There is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished society."
  6. (law) A number of people joined by mutual consent to deliberate, determine and act a common goal.

Related terms

Translations


Simple English

Society is the term to describe human beings together (collective, the sum of their social networks and power networks). It does not refer to everything everybody thinks or does, but only to those things that everybody acts upon - or refuses to do - quite reliably.

Because it must keep even the poorest and weakest members of a society willing to help even the richest and strongest, a society is very concerned with its citizenship, rights, ethics and time limits. These are basic ways to achieve fairness. If they break down badly, people will think the society is unfair and start taking things from each other, refusing to help each other, or seeing those who have more as cheats.

While every society is different, the way it breaks down and fails is very often the same: fraud, theft, violence, war and sometimes even genocide if people stop identifying with the society and thus identify with what they think of as a "race" of people. A new society may be formed out of only those who still agree, or who just survive the collapse of an old failed one.

If the strength and unity of any society's members' willingness to help each other is to be measured, it is called social capital, because it substitutes for other styles of capital. One needs less money with more solidarity in society, because the collective substitutes for the currency.

However, usually, the strength is not directly measured, but only assumed. People take risks that society will support them, without knowing for sure that it will. For instance, they may refuse to obey the law, and count on their fellow society members to free them in a jury or court of appeal.

A social contract sets out rules for this kind of cooperation. One kind of social contract is a constitution - which allows for a jury or court to decide that the law, not the person, is wrong, according to the society's rules.

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