A human society is a group of people involved
in persistent interpersonal relationships, or a large social grouping sharing the same
geographical or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and
dominant cultural expectations. Human societies are characterized by patterns
of relationships between individuals who share a distinctive culture and institutions; a
given society may be described as the sum total of such relationships among its constituent
members. In the social sciences, a larger society often
evinces stratification or dominance patterns in subgroups. Insofar as it is collaborative, a society
can enable its members to benefit in ways that would not otherwise be possible on an
individual basis; both individual and social benefits can thus be distinguished, or in
many cases found to overlap. A society can also consist of like-minded
people governed by their own norms and values within a dominant, larger society. This is sometimes referred to as a subculture,
a term used extensively within criminology. More broadly, and especially within structuralist
thought, a society may be illustrated as an economic, social, industrial or cultural infrastructure,
made up of, yet distinct from, a varied collection of individuals. In this regard society can mean the objective
relationships people have with the material world and with other people, rather than “other
people” beyond the individual and their familiar social environment. Members of a society may be from different
ethnic groups. A society can be a particular ethnic group,
such as the Saxons; a nation state, such as Bhutan; or a broader cultural group, such
as a Western society. The word society may also refer to an organized
voluntary association of people for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political,
patriotic, or other purposes. A “society” may even, though more by means
of metaphor, refer to a social organism such as an ant colony or any cooperative aggregate
such as, for example, in some formulations of artificial intelligence. Etymology and usage The term “society” came from the Latin word
societas, which in turn was derived from the noun socius used to describe a bond or interaction
between parties that are friendly, or at least civil. Without an article, the term can refer to
the entirety of humanity, although those who are unfriendly or uncivil to the remainder
of society in this sense may be deemed to be “antisocial”. Adam Smith wrote that a society “may subsist
among different men, as among different merchants, from a sense of its utility without any mutual
love or affection, if only they refrain from doing injury to each other.” Used in the sense of an association, a society
is a body of individuals outlined by the bounds of functional interdependence, possibly comprising
characteristics such as national or cultural identity, social solidarity, language, or
hierarchical structure. Conceptions
Society, in general, addresses the fact that an individual has rather limited means as
an autonomous unit. The great apes have always been more or less
social animals, so Robinson Crusoe-like situations are either fictions or unusual corner cases
to the ubiquity of social context for humans, who fall between presocial and eusocial in
the spectrum of animal ethology. Human societies are most often organized according
to their primary means of subsistence. Social scientists have identified 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. 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 does not always take the form of hierarchical social organization or stratification. Cultural relativism as a widespread approach
or ethic has largely replaced notions of “primitive”, better/worse, or “progress” in relation to
cultures. According to anthropologist Maurice Godelier,
one critical novelty in human society, in contrast to humanity’s closest biological
relatives, is the parental role assumed by the males, which supposedly would be absent
in our nearest relatives for whom paternity is not generally determinable. In political science
Societies may also be structured politically. 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. 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. In sociology Sociologist Gerhard Lenski differentiates
societies based on their level of technology, communication, and economy: hunters and gatherers,
simple agricultural, advanced agricultural, industrial, and special. This is 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: Hunter-gatherer bands. Tribal societies in which there are some limited
instances of social rank and prestige. Stratified structures led by chieftains. Civilizations, with complex social hierarchies
and organized, institutional governments. In addition to this there are:
Humanity, mankind, upon which rest all the elements of society, including society’s beliefs. Virtual society, 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
food stocks to become agrarian villages. Villages grew to become towns and cities. Cities turned into city-states and nation-states. Many societies 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, joking relationships
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
it certain elements that could be detrimental to the population it serves. Some societies 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 in the
form of a name, title, manner of dress, or monetary reward. In many societies, adult male or female status
is subject to a ritual or process of this type. Altruistic action in the interests of the
larger group is seen in virtually all societies. The phenomena of community action, shunning,
scapegoating, generosity, shared risk, and reward are common to many forms of society. Types
Societies are social groups that differ according to subsistence strategies, the ways that humans
use technology to provide needs for themselves. Although humans have established many types
of societies throughout history, anthropologists tend to classify different societies according
to the degree to which different groups within a society have unequal access to advantages
such as resources, prestige, or power. Virtually all societies have developed some
degree of inequality among their people through the process of social stratification, the
division of members of a society into levels with unequal wealth, prestige, or power. Sociologists place societies in three broad
categories: pre-industrial, industrial, and postindustrial. Pre-industrial In a pre-industrial society, food production,
which is carried out through the use of human and animal labor, is the main economic activity. These societies can be subdivided according
to their level of technology and their method of producing food. These subdivisions are hunting and gathering,
pastoral, horticultural, agricultural, and feudal. Hunting and gathering The main form of food production in such societies
is the daily collection of wild plants and the hunting of wild animals. Hunter-gatherers move around constantly in
search of food. As a result, they do not build permanent villages
or create a wide variety of artifacts, and usually only form small groups such as bands
and tribes. However, some hunting and gathering societies
in areas with abundant resources lived in larger groups and formed complex hierarchical
social structures such as chiefdoms. The need for mobility also limits the size
of these societies. They generally consist of fewer than 60 people
and rarely exceed 100. Statuses within the tribe are relatively equal,
and decisions are reached through general agreement. The ties that bind the tribe are more complex
than those of the bands. Leadership is personal—charismatic—and
used for special purposes only in tribal society. There are no political offices containing
real power, and a chief is merely a person of influence, a sort of adviser; therefore,
tribal consolidations for collective action are not governmental. The family forms the main social unit, with
most societal members being related by birth or marriage. This type of organization requires the family
to carry out most social functions, including production and education. Pastoral Pastoralism is a slightly more efficient form
of subsistence. Rather than searching for food on a daily
basis, members of a pastoral society rely on domesticated herd animals to meet their
food needs. Pastoralists live a nomadic life, moving their
herds from one pasture to another. Because their food supply is far more reliable,
pastoral societies can support larger populations. Since there are food surpluses, fewer people
are needed to produce food. As a result, the division of labor becomes
more complex. For example, some people become craftworkers,
producing tools, weapons, and jewelry. The production of goods encourages trade. This trade helps to create inequality, as
some families acquire more goods than others do. These families often gain power through their
increased wealth. The passing on of property from one generation
to another helps to centralize wealth and power. Over time emerge hereditary chieftainships,
the typical form of government in pastoral societies. Horticultural Fruits and vegetables grown in garden plots
that have been cleared from the jungle or forest provide the main source of food in
a horticultural society. These societies have a level of technology
and complexity similar to pastoral societies. Some horticultural groups use the slash-and-burn
method to raise crops. The wild vegetation is cut and burned, and
ashes are used as fertilizers. Horticulturists use human labor and simple
tools to cultivate the land for one or more seasons. When the land becomes barren, horticulturists
clear a new plot and leave the old plot to revert to its natural state. They may return to the original land several
years later and begin the process again. By rotating their garden plots, horticulturists
can stay in one area for a fairly long period of time. This allows them to build semipermanent or
permanent villages. The size of a village’s population depends
on the amount of land available for farming; thus villages can range from as few as 30
people to as many as 2000. As with pastoral societies, surplus food leads
to a more complex division of labor. Specialized roles in horticultural societies
include craftspeople, shamans, and traders. This role specialization allows people to
create a wide variety of artifacts. As in pastoral societies, surplus food can
lead to inequalities in wealth and power within horticultural political systems, developed
because of the settled nature of horticultural life. Agrarian Agrarian societies use agricultural technological
advances to cultivate crops over a large area. Sociologists use the phrase Agricultural Revolution
to refer to the technological changes that occurred as long as 8,500 years ago that led
to cultivating crops and raising farm animals. Increases in food supplies then led to larger
populations than in earlier communities. This meant a greater surplus, which resulted
in towns that became centers of trade supporting various rulers, educators, craftspeople, merchants,
and religious leaders who did not have to worry about locating nourishment. Greater degrees of social stratification appeared
in agrarian societies. For example, women previously had higher social
status because they shared labor more equally with men. In hunting and gathering societies, women
even gathered more food than men. However, as food stores improved and women
took on lesser roles in providing food for the family, they increasingly became subordinate
to men. As villages and towns expanded into neighboring
areas, conflicts with other communities inevitably occurred. Farmers provided warriors with food in exchange
for protection against invasion by enemies. A system of rulers with high social status
also appeared. This nobility organized warriors to protect
the society from invasion. In this way, the nobility managed to extract
goods from “lesser” members of society. Feudal Feudalism was a form of society based on ownership
of land. Unlike today’s farmers, vassals under feudalism
were bound to cultivating their lord’s land. In exchange for military protection, the lords
exploited the peasants into providing food, crops, crafts, homage, and other services
to the landowner. The estates of the realm system of feudalism
was often multigenerational; the families of peasants may have cultivated their lord’s
land for generations. Industrial Between the 15th and 16th centuries, a new
economic system emerged that began to replace feudalism. Capitalism is marked by open competition in
a free market, in which the means of production are privately owned. Europe’s exploration of the Americas served
as one impetus for the development of capitalism. The introduction of foreign metals, silks,
and spices stimulated great commercial activity in European societies. Industrial societies rely heavily on machines
powered by fuels for the production of goods. This produced further dramatic increases in
efficiency. The increased efficiency of production of
the industrial revolution produced an even greater surplus than before. Now the surplus was not just agricultural
goods, but also manufactured goods. This larger surplus caused all of the changes
discussed earlier in the domestication revolution to become even more pronounced. Once again, the population boomed. Increased productivity made more goods available
to everyone. However, inequality became even greater than
before. The breakup of agricultural-based feudal societies
caused many people to leave the land and seek employment in cities. This created a great surplus of labor and
gave capitalists plenty of laborers who could be hired for extremely low wages. Post-industrial Postindustrial societies are societies dominated
by information, services, and high technology more than the production of goods. Advanced industrial societies are now seeing
a shift toward an increase in service sectors over manufacturing and production. The U.S. is the first country to have over
half of its work force employed in service industries. Service industries include government, research,
education, health, sales, law, banking, and so on. It is still too early to identify and understand
all the ramifications this new kind of society will have for social life. In fact, even the phrase “postindustrial”
belies the fact that we don’t yet quite know what will follow industrial societies or the
forms they will take. Contemporary usage
The term “society” is currently used to cover both a number of political and scientific
connotations as well as a variety of associations. Western The development of the Western world has brought
with it the emerging concepts of Western culture, politics, and ideas, often referred to simply
as “Western society”. Geographically, it covers at the very least
the countries of Western Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. It sometimes also includes Eastern Europe,
South America, and Israel. The cultures and lifestyles of all of these
stem from Western Europe. They all enjoy relatively strong economies
and stable governments, allow freedom of religion, have chosen democracy as a form of governance,
favor capitalism and international trade, are heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian
values, and have some form of political and military alliance or cooperation. Information Although the concept of information society
has been under discussion since the 1930s, in the modern world it is almost always applied
to the manner in which information technologies have impacted society and culture. It therefore covers the effects of computers
and telecommunications on the home, the workplace, schools, government, and various communities
and organizations, as well as the emergence of new social forms in cyberspace. One of the European Union’s areas of interest
is the information society. Here policies are directed towards promoting
an open and competitive digital economy, research into information and communication technologies,
as well as their application to improve social inclusion, public services, and quality of
life. The International Telecommunications Union’s
World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva and Tunis has led to a number of policy
and application areas where action is required. These include:
promotion of ICTs for development; information and communication infrastructure;
access to information and knowledge; capacity building;
building confidence and security in the use of ICTs;
enabling environment; ICT applications in the areas of government,
business, learning, health, employment, environment, agriculture and science;
cultural and linguistic diversity and local content;
media; ethical dimensions of the information society;
and international and regional cooperation. Knowledge As access to electronic information resources
increased at the beginning of the 21st century, special attention was extended from the information
society to the knowledge society. An analysis by the Irish government stated,
“The capacity to manipulate, store and transmit large quantities of information cheaply has
increased at a staggering rate over recent years. The digitisation of information and the associated
pervasiveness of the Internet are facilitating a new intensity in the application of knowledge
to economic activity, to the extent that it has become the predominant factor in the creation
of wealth. As much as 70 to 80 percent of economic growth
is now said to be due to new and better knowledge.” The Second World Summit on the Knowledge Society,
held in Chania, Crete, in September 2009, gave special attention to the following topics:
business and enterprise computing; technology-enhanced learning;
social and humanistic computing; culture, tourism and technology;
e-government and e-democracy; innovation, sustainable development, and strategic
management; service science, management, and engineering;
intellectual and human capital development; ICTs for ecology and the green economy;
future prospects for the knowledge society; and
technologies and business models for the creative industries. Other uses
People of many nations united by common political and cultural traditions, beliefs, or values
are sometimes also said to form a society. 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. Some academic, professional, and scientific
associations describe themselves as societies. In some countries, e.g. the United States,
France, and Latin America, 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 co-operatives or mutuals are often known as societies. See also Notes Further reading
Effland, R. 1998. The Cultural Evolution of Civilizations Mesa
Community College. Jenkins, R. 2002. Foundations of Sociology. London: Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 0-333-96050-5. Lenski, G. 1974. Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology. New York: McGraw- Hill, Inc. Raymond Williams, “”,
in: Williams, Key Words: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Fontana, 1976. External links
Society at DMOZ Definition of Society from the OED. Lecture notes on “Defining Society” from East
Carolina University. Internet Modern History Sourcebook: Industrial
Revolution The Day the World Took Off Six part video
series from the University of Cambridge tracing the question “Why did the Industrial Revolution
begin when and where it did.” BBC History Home Page: Industrial Revolution
National Museum of Science and Industry website: machines and personalities
Industrial Revolution and the Standard of Living by Clark Nardinelli – the debate over
whether standards of living rose or fell. Cliff Notes on Types of Societies
Perceptions of Knowledge, Knowledge Society, and Knowledge Management

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