Society: Definition, Meaning, Features, Types, and More

What is Society?

The term society is derived from the Latin word ‘socius’ which means ‘association, companionship, togetherness. Thus, society refers to a group of people living together with shared cultures, having social interactions and inter-relationships.

Society has been viewed as a system, made up of inter-related and inter-dependent parts that function together to maintain the system as a whole.

Human beings are called social animals. We cannot live alone. Family alone cannot satisfy our needs. We need a society where are people similar to us. We feel at home when people in our surroundings share common interests, religion, language, and way of life. Being social animals, we live together in a group, in a community, and in society. Society is a must for human beings, we help one another, we give something to others, and take something from others.

society picture

In sociology, the term society refers not to a group of people but to the complete pattern of the norms of interaction that arise among them. It is a process rather than a thing, motion rather than the structure. The important aspect of society is the system of relationships, that patterns of norms of interaction by which the members of society maintain themselves.

Some sociologists say that society exists only when the members know each other and possess common interests or objects. Thus, if two persons are traveling in a bus, their relationship of co-existence in the same compartment, of being same time in the same place does not constitute society but as soon as possible they come to know each other, the element of society is created. This idea of reciprocal awareness is implied in Giddings’s definition of society as “a number of like-minded individuals, who know and enjoy their like-mindedness and are therefore able to work together for common ends.”


Different scholars have defined society in various ways:

  • To Anthony Giddings, ‘Society is the union itself, the organization, the sum of formal relations in which associating individuals are bound together.
  • To Talcott ParsonSociety may be defined as the total complex of human relationships in so far as they grow out of action in terms of mean-end relationships intrinsic or symbolic.’
  • To R.T. LaPierreSociety refers not to a group of people but to the complex pattern of norms of interaction that arise among and between them’.


Society is viewed as a process as well as a structure that is complementary to each other. It means that society exists only when they behave to each other (process) and it is a structure as it is made up of a web or network of relationships among the people and institutions. Society has the following basic features as follows:

Society is Abstract: It is abstract in nature. We can not see the structure of it, we can just feel it. It is made up of social relationships. It consists of social relations, human behavior, customs, rituals, etc.

It is Dynamic: Society is not static, it is dynamic. Change is ever-present in it. According to Herbert Spencer change is the rule of society. It is like water in a stream or river that forever flows. New associations, institutions, and groups may come into being and old ones may die a natural death. Changes take place slowly, or gradually, or suddenly or abruptly.

It Consists of People: It is composed of people. Without people, there is no society. No social relationships and no social life is possible.

It is not only a group of persons: According to sociologist Wright, society is not a group of persons rather it is a relationship and interaction process among and between people and groups.

It is a complex system: It is ever-changing. Due to continuous change in people’s roles, right, and duties, and conditions whole social structure gets change. Its nature changed from simple to complex due to its dynamic nature.

It is based upon interdependence: Social relationships are characterized by interdependence. Society’s people and groups are interdependent. One has to depend upon others for the satisfaction of needs.

Cooperation and conflict: It is based on cooperation. It is the very basis of our social life. People can satisfy their desires and fulfill their needs with the help of cooperation. Due to a lot of differences, we find conflicts in society. In it, like cooperation, the conflict also existed directly or indirectly.

It is means of social control: It has its own ways and means of controlling the behavior of its members. It has various formal as well as informal means of social control. It means it has customs, traditions, conventions and folkways, mores, manners, etiquettes, laws, legislations, police, court, and other formal or informal means of social control to regulate the behavior of its members.

It consists of culture: Each society is distinct from others. Every society is unique because it has one way of life, called culture. Human societies are distinguished from animal societies because of the culture we share.

Mutual interaction and awareness: It is a group of people in continuous interaction with each other. Social interaction is made possible because of mutual awareness. So without interaction and awareness, there are no societies.

Types or Categories of Societies

Sociologists classify societies into various categories depending on certain criteria. One such criterion is the level of economic and technological development attained by countries. Thus, the countries of the world are classified as:

  • First World (highly industrially advanced and economically rich
  • Second World (industrially advanced but not as much as the first category), and
  • Third World (least developed, or in the process of developing).

Another important criterion for classifying societies is on the basis of a major source of economic organization which classifies society into the following types:

Pre-industrial or Pre-modern Society:

  • Hunting and gathering societies: The simplest type of society that is in existence today and that may be regarded as the oldest is that whose economic organization is based on hunting and gathering. This society depends on hunting and gathering for its survival.
  • Pastoral and horticultural societies: Pastoral societies are those whose livelihood is based on pasturing of animals, such as cattle, camels, sheep, and goats. Horticultural societies are those whose economy is based on cultivating plants by the use of simple tools, such as digging sticks, hoes, axes, etc.
  • Agricultural or Agrarian societies: This society, which still is dominant in most parts of the world, is based on large-scale agriculture, which largely depends on plows using animal labor.

Industrial or Modern or Technological Society

The Industrial Revolution which began in Great Britain during the 18th century gave rise to the emergence of industrial society. Industrial society is one in which goods are produced by machines powered by fuels instead of by animal and human energy.

Post-industrial Society

Sociologists also have come up with a fifth emerging type of society called post-industrial society. This is a society based on information, services, and high technology, rather than on raw materials and manufacturing. The highly industrialized which have now entered the post-industrial level include the USA, Canada, Japan, and Western Europe.

Differences between Pre-industrial and Industrial Society

Social structure is comparatively simple. Simple
division of labor, which is mostly based on age
and sex. For e.g. such as men-hunting and fishing
and women raising children or gather food.
Social structure is complex. Complex
division of labor which is based
on personal talents, abilities, efficiency,
experience and preferences than age and sex.
Fewer statuses and roles.A vast number of statuses and roles
Social institutions other than family and kinship,
are either non-existent or in a developing stage.
Social institutions such as marriage, family
and kinship, economy, polity, education, etc. are
much developed.
Social life occurs domination of primary groups
such as family, kinship groups, small communities,
etc. So, social relationships intimate and emotional.
Social life occurs in the context of secondary
groups and large anonymous urban communities.
So, social relationships are non-intimate, impersonal, and
with little or no emotional involvement.
Statuses are normally ascribed.Many statuses are achieved.
There is social mobility to move up and
down the status based on personal talents,
capacities, efficiencies, etc.
Homogeneous culture as the ways of thinking,
behaving, dressing, conversing, believing, etc.
resemble among the members. Unity and
uniformity in social life are largely visible.
Heterogeneous culture as there is diversity
and pluralism of values, outlooks, opinions,
and beliefs.
Social control i.e. behavior of the people is
regulated by informal means such as social
customs, traditions, folkways, mores.
Social control i.e. behavior of the people is
regulated by more formal or institutionalized
means like laws, legislations, written contracts
with specific penalties and procedures for dealing
with offenders.
The rate of social change is usually very slow
as people are normally not ready for the sudden change.
Rapid social change becomes a normal
state of attires as people identity change
as progress towards a better life.

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