A society is a group of people that form a semi-closed (or semi-open) system, in which most interactions are with other individuals belonging to the group. More abstractly, a society is a network of relationship between entities. A society is an interdependent community. The casual meaning of society simply refers to a group of people living together in an ordered community. Societies are the main subject of study of the social sciences.
Human societies are often organized according to their primary means of subsistence: 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 separate from traditional agricultural societies.
The origin of the word society comes from the Latin societas, a "friendly association with others." Societas is derived from socius meaning "companion" and thus the meaning of society is closely related to what is social. Implicit in the meaning of society is that its members share some mutual concern or interest in a common objective. As such, society is often used as synonymous with the collective citizenry of a country as directed through national institutions concerned with civic welfare.
Peoples of many nations united by common political and cultural traditions, beliefs, or values are sometimes also said to be a society (for example: Judeo-Christian, Eastern, Western, etc). When used in this context, the term is being used as a means of contrasting two or more "societies" whose representative members represent alternative conflicting and competing worldviews.
Also, some groups apply the title "society" to themselves, such as the "American Society of Mathematics". These groups include academic, learned and scholarly societies and associations, which in the United Kingdom are normally non-profit making and have charitable status. Academic societies may have interest in a wide range of subjects, including the arts, humanities and science. In science they range in size to include national scientific societies including the Royal Society to regional natural history societies.
In the United States, the title "society" is most common in commerce, in which a partnership between investors to start a business is usually called a "society". 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).
If society is something of a shibboleth, confusions in its understanding can often be traced to the various nuances in which it has been used to describe a great variety of political opinion. For example, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously denied that society exists at all. However, Thatcher's use of the term was narrow and should be understood within the context of her polemic. In the interview in Women's Own magazine, October 3, 1987, Thatcher argued that the obligation for solving social problems, commonly expected of the government, was more properly the responsibility of individuals and families: "no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first" (Thatcher 1987). Thatcher only denies the existence of "society" as she understands it -- the idea that social welfare is the responsibility of society at large (or, in a narrower sense, governments) and not individuals.
As a related note, there is still an ongoing debate in sociological and anthropological circles if there exists an entity we could call society. Some Marxist theorists, like Louis Althusser, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek, argued that society is nothing more than an effect of the ruling ideology of a certain class system, and shouldn't be used as a sociological notion.
- Group (sociology)
- Evolution of societies
- Information society
- Social capital
- Social change
- cultural identity
- Definition of Society (social)
- Learning Commons - What is Culture ? - Glossary Item - Societyast:Sociedá
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