classical sense society refers to a group of people who share a common
‘culture’, occupy a particular territorial area and feel themselves to
constitute a unified and distinct entity (Frisby and Sayer 1986).
Zinsberg “a society is a collection of individuals united by certain relation
or modes of behaviour which marks them from others who do not enter into these
relations or who differs from them in behaviour.”
has defined the society as “a largest group to which any individual belongs. A
society is made up of a population, organisation, time, place and interest.”
defines society as “a system of usage and proedurs, of authority and mutual aid
of many groupings and divisions, of control over human behaviour and of
liberties. This ever changing and complex system is society. It is a web of
classical sense, Society entails a number of characteristics:
is a network of social relations
society exists on social interactions and interface
sense of mutual awareness exists among the members of a society.
is a direct or indirect forms and varieties of interdependece among the members
of a society.
one cannot image to have a society without collection of individuals similarly,
one cannot have human beings without forming a mutual social relations.
has been the central theoretical object of much European anthropology,
especially *British social anthropology, so that any history of the theoretical
use of the term swiftly becomes a history of anthropological theory. In that
history, various tensions and oppositions appear and reappear: society and the
state, society and the individual, society and culture, society and nature,
primitive society and modern society. In recent years, as the particular use of
the term to denote a specific group of people and their way of life has grown
ever more problematic, while some of these tensions have approached
breaking-point, anthropologists have started to suggest abandoning the very
idea of society as a theoretical construct.
are different positions occupied by social scientists in explaining society.
Society in essentialist approach:
can be seen as a basic, but not exclusive, attribute of human nature: we are
genetically predisposed to social life. Becoming fully human depends on
interaction with our fellow creatures; the phylogenesis of our species runs
parallel to the development of language and labour, social abilities without
which the organism’s needs cannot be met.
Society in Constructivist approach:
can also be seen as constituting one particular, exclusive dimension of human
nature (Ingold 1994), our dependence on the rules of our particular society.
The very idea of social agency is revealed in behaviour which is not founded in
instincts, selected by evolution, but instead in rules which have their origins
in history rather than in the requirements of the human organism. The notion of
‘rule’ may be taken in different senses: in structural-functionalism it is moral and prescriptive; in structuralism or in symbolic anthropology
it is cognitive and descriptive. Despite this important difference, in both
cases an emphasis on rules expresses the institutional nature of the principles
of social action and organization. The rules of different human societies vary
in time and space, but there are rules of some sort everywhere (Lévi-Strauss
1969 , Fortes 1983).
Singular and Plural senses:
‘society’ is applicable to a human group having some of the following
properties: territoriality; recruitment primarily by sexual reproduction of its
members; an institutional organization that is relatively self-sufficient and
capable of enduring beyond the life-span of an individual; and cultural
distinctiveness. In this sense, society may denote the group’s population, its
institutions and relations, or its culture and ideology. Therefore, in its
singular sense it represents a group of people or a particular type
its plural sense of the term society is equivalent to ‘social system’ or
‘social organization’, the socio-political framework of the group is important:
its morphology (composition, distribution and relations between the subgroups
of society), its body of jural norms (ideas of authority and citizenship,
conflict regulation, status and role systems), and its characteristic patterns
of social relations (relations of power and exploitation, forms of
co-operation, modes of exchange).
the ways to handle the relation between the two senses of ‘society’ has been to
divide anthropology into ‘ethnographic’ description and interpretation,
focusing on the analysis of the particular and emphasizing the differences
between societies; and ‘theoretical’ comparison and explanation, which attempts
to formulate synthetic propositions valid for all human societies. In spite of
efforts to define the two activities as methodologically complementary
‘stages’, anthropology has tended to polarize between ‘ethnography’, which
deals with specific societies, and ‘theory’, which deal with society in its
abstract and general sense. The universalist perspective predominated in the
early years of anthropology, with an emphasis on the ‘comparative method’ and
on the definition of major types of society. The golden age of the ethnographic
method was the period of culturalism and functionalism, in which ethnography
was used polemically to demolish speculative typologies (by *Boas) or as the
royal road to the universal (for Malinowski). The structuralisms of
Radcliffe-Brown and Lévi-Strauss, and American neo-evolutionism (†White,
†Steward), in turn shifted back to comparison and generalization.
the 1960s this polarization has intensified. On the one hand, the interest in
meaning and interpretation has restored ethnography to a pre-eminent position,
privileging the actor’s perspective and seeking a critique of the
anthropologist’s concepts in the different emic views of society. Society in
the general sense came to be subordinated to society in the specific, plural
sense. On the other hand, developments in sociobiology, the psychological study
of cognition, and cultural ecology have led to ambitious hypotheses concerning
‘sociality’ as a genetic property of the human species, along with behavioural
and cognitive universals (eventually attributing the ‘phenotypic’ diversity of
the human ethogram to such extrinsic variables as the *environment). This
polarization between ever more specific culturalist interpretation and ever
more grandiose naturalist explanation has ultimately emptied the concept of
society of any significance, reducing it either to particular representations
or to universal behaviour.