What is Society? Here’s a Simple Explanation

This article dives into the questions on what society is and this particular question has been debated, fought and multiple meanings have been formed and made thus this paper tries to give an insight on it and the importance of tolerance and acceptance of differences to continue living.

what is society

We often hear from people that we have a responsibility to society or will not approve of what we have done? Who are the we in society, is it a group of people or questions such as what size is the right size to be called one? one thing is sure is that it is not a physical object that can be touched as sociologist such as Peter L. Bergers says it is a manmade idea as it is a concept of the mind, therefore, it is an abstract concept so every person will have their own version and understanding of what society is.  We know this from the number of different governments, groups, communities, and tribes that show that many types and diverse forms of governments exist and that shows that there is not just one right way to live as a society.

When we talk about what does society approves of can be very different as in one monogamy is approved where a husband can marry only one wife and in another, a husband can have many wives like the tribal Gond in India who practise polygyny. Therefore it has different definitions according to different sociologists thus it is difficult for a universal definition of what society actually is to be made.

In sociology, there is the social contract theory which talks about the beginning of society, and according to this theory, all human beings are born free and equal in the world. The three famous classical representatives of this theory are Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and J.J Rousseau. Therefore to provide a small insight into the theory let us take Thomas Hobbes that held that without it existing, human life would be “solitary poor, nasty, brutish and short.” According to Thomas Hobbes, it came to existence and was formed because people needed something (which is society) which would offer protection by binding everyone to a set of rules to avoid chaos and would benefit them. However, this theory does have its criticisms as it may not have come up from a contract that which is made up by individuals who have decided to work together for further benefit especially when they have been said to be brutish and nasty and anthropologist has found that most primitive people lived in some form of society or another however unorganized it is.

Societies are complex ever-changing and might be what glues us together as people in it can be very different from each other as they can come from various backgrounds, speak different languages have different occupations, religion or beliefs still come together and is shaped by the relationships between these individuals no matter the differences. Therefore if you look into the past and the present you will notice that societies have been evolving in order to survive. Hence it has gone through countless changes, for example, the renaissance stands for rebirth which was a movement to promote a new wave of thinking which is largely connected to social change.

Just as individuals are the ones who mold society, it shapes us too. We shape it by bringing in certain reforms, changes like the recent protest on black lives matters will hopefully change the direction of the society which aims to end systematic racism and privilege which has been the present USA for centuries. The stark realities on how corrupt, twisted humanity can be is baffling however at the same time there are positive aspects such as unity, love and the difference in it. Individuals and groups may be socially unified in some aspects and disintegrated in other ways therefore different aspects of a society and culture change at different speeds. There are thoughts on if society ends will the world go into chaos as there are many dystopian books and movies on a world with different types of living and communities and some of these books showcase the harsh realities of our world which we either refuse to acknowledge or do not realize therefore it has its negatives aspects as well as its positives aspects.

To live in a society that is free from discrimination seems too perfect and far-fetched however even this has its questions on what is right and wrong thus this idea may seem too utopian. However once a dreamer always a dreamer and just as there are many ways of being human there are many types and aspects of society that have existed, changed, and will in future change again.

Some interesting books and videos for an insight:

  1. Between the World and Me: written by Ta-Nehisi Coates is an easy read but has deep meanings and provides a dept insight into our society. It may also be considered timely with the current situation in the north as it gives some perspective on why it is “black lives matter”, and why that phrase is much more than just “all lives matter”.
  2. BRAVE NEW WORLD – written by Aldous Huxley is set in a London dystopia on its own created timeline. It shows us a different type of society we could live in. the book describes a world in which the individuals are brainwashed and mentally manipulated by a dictating which leaves you with chills as it feels similar to some situations on our planet.
  3. Émile Durkheim on Suicide & Society: Crash Course Sociology #5: In this YouTube series Nicole Sweeney talks about the questions whether big and small about society.
  4. What is society?: If you want to read a short paper instead of watching the crash course series on YouTube then “What is a society?” written by Thomas Hylland Eriksen is the paper to read as it raises basic questions on what is society and what do we mean when we say “we” in society.

Read: Types of Societies

Share on:

Mayumi Oseng Apang Nongrum is currently an undergraduate student pursuing anthropology, history and international relations. She is an individual striving for a better tomorrow.