Most learned societies are non-profit organizations. Their activities typically include holding regular conferences for the presentation and discussion of new research results and publishing or sponsoring academic journals in their discipline. Some also act as professional bodies, regulating the activities of their members in the public interest or the collective interest of the membership.
Learned societies are of key importance in the sociology of science. The formation of a society is an important step in the emergence of a new discipline or sub-discipline.
Societies can be very general in nature, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, specific to a given discipline, such as the Modern Language Association, or specific to a given area of study, such as the American Association of Professors of Yiddish
Most are either specific to a particular country (though they generally include some members from other countries as well), often with local branches, or are international, such as the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), in which case they often have national branches. But many are local, such as the Massachusetts Medical Society, the publishers of the internationally known New England Journal of Medicine.