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What is society

12 Apr 2017Other Essays


Society, in sociology, is a group composed of men, women, and children that has established patterns of cooperation by means of which its members are able to survive and reproduce. In its simplest form the group provides its members with protection so that infants can grow to adulthood and breed a new generation. In more complex forms o society assumes the responsibility of providing its members with a great variety of their needs.

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There are many different kinds of human society and many different kinds of human society and many examples of each kind. Each consists of a group of persons who live more or less together in a certain place, such as a continent, country, region, or island. In order for such a group to be identified as a society, it must be organized to continue through succeeding generations, its members must be dependent on one another, and it must be able to exist independently of other groups. The study of man and his social institutions (systems of procedures and the establishments that observe them) is sociology. The people in each society develop their own culture, or ways of acting, thinking, and feeling, which is one of the areas of study in anthropology (see Daley, N.K., and T.R. Shannon. The American Social Structure (Kendall-Hunt, 2001).

Kinds of Societies

Societies may be distinguished by size and complexity. A large-scale society, such as the United States or the Soviet Union, is made up of a large population bound together by intricate networks of communication and transportation. Each person in the society has the opportunity to have numerous social relations with other persons, many of whom he sees infrequently or only in specific situations. A small-scale society is made up of a scattered or small population, living generally in an isolated area such as a desert or an island. The social relations of an individual are largely confined to the relatively few persons whom he sees everyday (see Goodman, Norman, and Gary Marx. Society Today, 7th edition (Random House, 1999).

There are several special types of small-scale societies. A segmentary society has a relatively large population, but it is divided into segments, or smaller groups, such as tribes. The Navajo Indians, with several tribal units making up one common society, are an example. A village society consists of the residents of a small community which, because of isolation and self0sufficient, is nearly free from outside influences. Such isolated villages may exist even within a large0scale society. Mountain villages often exemplify this type o small-scale society (see Goodman, Norman, and Gary Marx. Society Today, 7th edition (Random House, 1999).

A society may also be classified according to its cultural pattern; a society, for example, may refer to as primitive, rural, urban, or technological. Other classifications are by geographical area, such as a Latin American or Polynesian society; and by cultural-ethnic identity, such as an Arab or Bushman society (see Daley, N.K., and T.R. Shannon. The American Social Structure (Kendall-Hunt, 2001).

Function of Society

The primary functions of a society are divided by most sociologists into five basic areas of established group procedure, called institutions. The society provides for the food, shelter, and clothing of its members through the economy. The family functions to ensure the care and feeling of children. Knowledge and learning in a society are acquired through education. The political institution is the means of maintaining order and protecting the society from enemies. Finally, man’s place in the universe is interpreted by religion (see Pasternak, Burton. Introduction to Kinship and Social Organization (Prentice-Hall, 2002).


Members within a society are organized informally or formally into different kinds of groups and subgroups, some of which correspond to the various social institutions.

An informal grouping is one that creates itself more or less spontaneously and whose structure is not deliberately planned but merely evolves. The family is one example of such a grouping. Other informal groupings can be related to such areas as one’s occupation (a group of workers who have coffee together each morning), age (a group of children who frequently spend time together in unorganized play), or leisure-time interests (a hunting party).

Formal groupings are those deliberately created for a purpose and given a formal structure. Armies, government organizations and religious bodies are such groupings. In more complex societies formal groupings include voluntary associations formed by the members for a variety of purposes, especially the use of leisure time or the pursuit of shared special interests.

The rank of an individual in his society is determined by status—a person’s power within a given institution or sector of society. For example, earning an advanced degree gains an individual higher status in the educational field, while being unemployed gives him negative status in the economic sector. A negative status such as unemployment is called stigma. A person’s overall rank is determined by the society’s evaluation of positive and negative statuses. Status inconsistency occurs when a person has high status in one area and low status in another. For example, a clergyman may have high job prestige but a low income Pasternak, Burton. Introduction to Kinship and Social Organization (Prentice-Hall, 2002).

The various statuses may be either ascribed or achieved. An ascribed status derives from birth. For example, a hereditary ruler has high ascribed political status. Political status may also be achieved, by election or other means of elevation to high public office.


  • Daley, N.K., and T.R. Shannon. The American Social Structure (Kendall-Hunt, 2001).
  • Goodman, Norman, and Gary Marx. Society Today, 7th edition (Random House, 1999.
  • Pasternak, Burton. Introduction to Kinship and Social Organization (Prentice-Hall, 2002).
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