Definitions

Society

peasant

[pez-uhnt]

Any member of a class that tills the soil as small landowners or agricultural labourers. The peasant economy generally has a simple technology and a division of labour by age and sex. The basic unit of production is the family or household. Peasant families traditionally consume what they produce, though a portion of their output may be sold in the market or paid to a landlord. Productivity per worker and yields per unit of land are usually low. Peasants as a class tend to disappear as a society industrializes, though peasantlike social structures may persist under new economic regimens. Seealso ejido; feudalism; hacienda; serfdom.

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Process of converting to a socioeconomic order in which industry is dominant. The changes that took place in Britain during the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th century led the way for the early industrializing nations of western Europe and North America. Industrialization entailed both technology and profound social developments. The freeing of labourers from feudal and customary obligations created a free market in labour, with a pivotal role for the entrepreneur. Cities attracted large numbers of people, massing workers in new industrial towns and factories. Later industrializers attempted to manipulate some of the elements: the Soviet Union eliminated the entrepreneur; Japan stimulated and sustained the entrepreneur's role; Denmark and New Zealand industrialized primarily by commercializing and mechanizing agriculture.

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Mutual aid organization formed voluntarily by individuals to protect members against debts incurred through illness, death, or old age. Friendly societies arose in 17th- and 18th-century Europe and England and became most numerous in the 19th century. They trace their roots to the burial societies of Greek and Roman artisans and the guilds of medieval Europe. In attempting to define the magnitude of the risk against which they guarded and to determine how much members should contribute to meet that risk, friendly societies used what is now the basic principle of insurance.

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Activist student organization in the U.S. Founded at the University of Michigan in 1960, its chapters were initially principally involved in the civil rights movement. Its “Port Huron Statement” of principles (1962) called for a new “participatory democracy.” After organizing a national march in 1965 to protest U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, it became more militant, organizing student sit-ins to protest universities' participation in defense-related research. By 1969 the SDS had split into factions; the most notorious was the terrorist-oriented Weathermen, or Weather Underground. By the mid-1970s the group was defunct.

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Hereditary, military, and patriotic organization formed in 1783 by officers who had served in the American Revolution. The group's aims were to promote union, maintain war-forged friendships, and help members in need. Membership was offered to all officers and their eldest male descendants. George Washington was its first president. The group took its name from the Roman citizen-soldier Cincinnatus. The city of Cincinnati was named in its honour in 1790.

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Member of the Roman Catholic order of religious men called the Society of Jesus. First organized by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1534 at the University of Paris, the order was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540. It discontinued many practices of medieval religious life, such as obligatory penances and fasts and a common uniform, and instead focused on military-style mobility and adaptability. Its organization was characterized by centralized authority, probation lasting many years before final vows, and special obedience to the pope. The Jesuits served as a preaching, teaching, and missionary society, actively promoting the Counter-Reformation, and by the time of Ignatius's death in 1556 their efforts were already worldwide. The success of their enterprise and their championship of the pope earned them much hostility from both religious and political foes. Under pressure from France, Spain, and Portugal, Pope Clement XIV abolished the order in 1773, but it was restored by Pius VII in 1814. The Jesuits have since become the largest male religious order.

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known as Quakers

Protestant denomination that arose in England in the mid-17th century. The movement began with radical English Puritans called Seekers, who rejected the Anglican church and other existing Protestant sects. They took their faith from itinerant preachers such as George Fox, who emphasized “inward light,” or inward apprehension of God, as the source of religious authority. Quaker meetings are characterized by patient silence in which members wait for inspiration to speak. The movement grew rapidly after 1650 (when a judge gave them their name because “we bid them tremble at the word of God”), but its members were often persecuted or imprisoned for rejecting the state church and refusing to pay tithes or swear oaths. Some emigrated to America, where they were persecuted in Massachusetts Bay Colony but found toleration in Rhode Island and in the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania, which was chartered by Charles II under the sponsorship of William Penn in 1681. Other marks that became characteristic of Quakerism were plain speech and dress, pacifism, and opposition to slavery. The group also emphasizes philanthropy, especially aid to refugees and famine victims; the American Friends Service Committee and (British) Friends Service Council shared the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize.

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Archipelago (pop., 2002: 214,445), western French Polynesia, South Pacific Ocean. Its chief island is Tahiti. The Society Islands comprise two groups, the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands. They are volcanic in origin and mountainous. Claimed for Britain in 1767, the islands were visited in 1769 by Capt. James Cook with a scientific expedition of the Royal Society (hence their name). They were claimed by France in 1786 and became a French protectorate in 1842, a French colony in 1881, and a part of French Oceania in 1903. Their chief products are copra and pearls.

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Leading scientific society in Britain and the oldest national scientific society in the world. Founded in 1660, its early members included Robert Hooke, Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton, and Edmond Halley. It has long provided an impetus to scientific thought and research in the U.K., and its achievements have become internationally famous. The society's Philosophical Transactions, the oldest scientific periodical in continuous publication, has published papers since 1665. The society awards several prizes, the most prestigious being the Copley Medal. At the beginning of the 21st century, the society had some 1,300 fellows and 130 foreign members.

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Organization founded in 1958 by Robert H. Welch, Jr. (1899–1985), a retired American candymaker, to combat communism and promote ultraconservative causes. It was named for an American missionary and army intelligence officer killed by Chinese communists in 1945, considered by the society the first hero of the Cold War. Its membership reached more than 70,000 in the 1960s. Its many publications warned of communist infiltration of the U.S. government and called for the impeachment of officials such as Earl Warren. The New American is the organization's biweekly magazine.

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Slogan used in 1965 by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson to identify his legislative program of national reform. In his first State of the Union address, Johnson described his vision of a “Great Society” that would include a “war on poverty” and federal support for education, medical care for the elderly, and legal protection for African Americans deprived of voting rights by state regulations. He also proposed a new department of housing and urban development to coordinate federal housing projects. Congress enacted almost all his programs, the largest number of such measures since the New Deal. Seealso Civil Rights Act of 1964; Medicare and Medicaid.

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known as Quakers

Protestant denomination that arose in England in the mid-17th century. The movement began with radical English Puritans called Seekers, who rejected the Anglican church and other existing Protestant sects. They took their faith from itinerant preachers such as George Fox, who emphasized “inward light,” or inward apprehension of God, as the source of religious authority. Quaker meetings are characterized by patient silence in which members wait for inspiration to speak. The movement grew rapidly after 1650 (when a judge gave them their name because “we bid them tremble at the word of God”), but its members were often persecuted or imprisoned for rejecting the state church and refusing to pay tithes or swear oaths. Some emigrated to America, where they were persecuted in Massachusetts Bay Colony but found toleration in Rhode Island and in the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania, which was chartered by Charles II under the sponsorship of William Penn in 1681. Other marks that became characteristic of Quakerism were plain speech and dress, pacifism, and opposition to slavery. The group also emphasizes philanthropy, especially aid to refugees and famine victims; the American Friends Service Committee and (British) Friends Service Council shared the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize.

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Socialist society founded in 1883–84 in London, to establish a democratic socialist state in Britain. The name derived from Fabius Maximus Cunctator, whose elusive tactics in avoiding pitched battles led to victory over stronger forces. Fabians believed in evolutionary socialism rather than revolution, and used public meetings and lectures, research, and publishing to educate the public. Important early members included George Bernard Shaw and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. They helped organize a separate party that became the Labour Party in 1906, and many Labour members of Parliament have been Fabians.

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Hereditary, military, and patriotic organization formed in 1783 by officers who had served in the American Revolution. The group's aims were to promote union, maintain war-forged friendships, and help members in need. Membership was offered to all officers and their eldest male descendants. George Washington was its first president. The group took its name from the Roman citizen-soldier Cincinnatus. The city of Cincinnati was named in its honour in 1790.

Learn more about Cincinnati, Society of the with a free trial on Britannica.com.

A society is a population of humans characterized by patterns of relationships between individuals that share a distinctive culture and institutions. More broadly, a society is an economic, social and industrial infrastructure in which a varied multitude of people or peoples are a part. Members of a society may be from different ethnic groups. A society may be a particular people, such as the Saxons, a nation state, such as Bhutan, or a broader cultural group, such as a Western society.

The word society may also refer to an organized voluntary association of people for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purpose.

Origin and usage

The English word "society" emerged in the 15th century and is derived from the French société. The French word, in turn, had its origin in the Latin societas, a "friendly association with others," from socius meaning "companion, associate, comrade or business partner." The Latin word is probably related to the verb sequi, "to follow", and thus originally may have meant "follower".

In political science, the term is often used to mean the totality of human relationships, generally in contrast to the State, i.e., the apparatus of rule or government within a territory:

In the social sciences such as sociology, society has been used to mean a group of people that form a semi-closed social system, in which most interactions are with other individuals belonging to the group. Society is sometimes contrasted with culture. For example, Clifford Geertz has suggested that society is the actual arrangement of social relations while culture is made up of beliefs and symbolic forms.

According to sociologist Richard Jenkins, the term addresses a number of important existential issues facing people:

  1. How humans think and exchange information – the sensory world makes up only a fraction of human experience. In order to understand the world, we have to conceive of human interaction in the abstract (i.e., society).
  2. Many phenomena cannot be reduced to individual behavior
  3. Collectives often endure beyond the lifespan of individual members.
  4. The human condition has always meant going beyond the evidence of our senses; every aspect of our lives is tied to the collective.

Evolution of societies

According to anthropologist Maurice Godelier, one critical novelty in human society, in contrast to humanity's closest biological relatives (chimpanzees and bonobo), is the parental role assumed by the males, which were unaware of their "father" connection.

Gerhard Lenski, a sociologist, differentiates societies based on their level of technology, communication and economy: (1) hunters and gatherers, (2) simple agricultural, (3) advanced agricultural, (4) industrial. and now (5) virtual. This is somewhat similar to the system earlier developed by anthropologists Morton H. Fried, a conflict theorist, and Elman Service, an integration theorist, who have produced a system of classification for societies in all human cultures based on the evolution of social inequality and the role of the state. This system of classification contains four categories:

In addition to this there are:

  • Humanity, mankind, that upon which rest all the elements of society, including society's beliefs.
  • Virtual-society is a society based on online identity, which is evolving in the information age.

Over time, some cultures have progressed toward more-complex forms of organization and control. This cultural evolution has a profound effect on patterns of community. Hunter-gatherer tribes settled around seasonal foodstocks to become agrarian villages. Villages grew to become towns and cities. Cities turned into city-states and nation-states.

Today, anthropologists and many social scientists vigorously oppose the notion of cultural evolution and rigid "stages" such as these. In fact, much anthropological data has suggested that complexity (civilization, population growth and density, specialization, etc.) does not always take the form of hierarchical social organization or stratification.

Also, cultural relativism as a widespread approach/ethic has largely replaced notions of "primitive," better/worse, or "progress" in relation to cultures (including their material culture/technology and social organization).

Characteristics of society

The following three components are common to all definitions of society:

Each of these will be explored further in the following sections.

Social networks

Social networks are maps of the relationships between people. Structural features such as proximity, frequency of contact and type of relationship (e.g., relative, friend, colleague) define various social networks.

Organization of society

Human societies are often organized according to their primary means of subsistence. As noted in the section on "Evolution of societies", above, 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 qualitatively different from traditional agricultural societies.

One common theme for societies in general is that they serve to aid individuals in a time of crisis. Traditionally, when an individual requires aid, for example at birth, death, sickness, or disaster, members of that society will rally others to render aid, in some form—symbolic, linguistic, physical, mental, emotional, financial, medical, or religious. Many societies will distribute largess, at the behest of some individual or some larger group of people. This type of generosity can be seen in all known cultures; typically, prestige accrues to the generous individual or group. Conversely, members of a society may also shun or scapegoat members of the society who violate its norms. Mechanisms such as gift-giving and scapegoating, which may be seen in various types of human groupings, tend to be institutionalized within a society. Social evolution as a phenomenon carries with itself certain elements that could be detrimental to the population it serves.

Some societies will bestow status on an individual or group of people, when that individual or group performs an admired or desired action. This type of recognition is bestowed by members of that society on the individual or group in the form of a name, title, manner of dress, or monetary reward. Males, in many societies, are particularly susceptible to this type of action and subsequent reward, even at the risk of their lives. Action by an individual or larger group in behalf of some cultural ideal is seen in all societies. The phenomena of community action, shunning, scapegoating, generosity, and shared risk and reward occur in subsistence-based societies and in more technology-based civilizations.

Societies may also be organized according to their political structure. In order of increasing size and complexity, there are bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and state societies. These structures may have varying degrees of political power, depending on the cultural geographical, and historical environments that these societies must contend with. Thus, a more isolated society with the same level of technology and culture as other societies is more likely to survive than one in closer proximity to others that may encroach on their resources (see history for examples}. A society that is unable to offer an effective response to other societies it competes with will usually be subsumed into the culture of the competing society (see technology for examples).

Shared belief or common goal

People of many nations united by common political and cultural traditions, beliefs, or values are sometimes also said to be a society (such as Judeo-Christian, Eastern, and Western). When used in this context, the term is employed as a means of contrasting two or more "societies" whose members represent alternative conflicting and competing worldviews (see Secret Societies).

Some academic, learned and scholarly associations describe themselves as societies (for example, the American Mathematical Society). More commonly, professional organizations often refer to themselves as societies (e.g., the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Chemical Society). In the United Kingdom and the United States, learned societies are normally nonprofit and have charitable status. In science, they range in size to include national scientific societies (i.e., the Royal Society) to regional natural history societies. Academic societies may have interest in a wide range of subjects, including the arts, humanities and science.

In some countries (for example the United States and France), the term "society" is used in commerce to denote a partnership between investors or the start of a business. 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). In Latin America, the term society may be used in commerce denoting a partnership between investors, or anonymous investors; for example: "Proveedor Industrial Anahuac S.A." where S.A. stands for Anonymous Society (Sociedad Anónima); however in Mexico in other type of partnership it would be declared as S.A. de C.V. or S.A. de R.L., indicating the level of commitment of capital and the responsibilities from each member towards their own association and towards the society in general and supervised by the corresponding jurisdictional civil and judicial authorities.

Ontology

As a related note, there is still an ongoing debate in sociological and anthropological circles as to whether there exists an entity we could call society. Some Marxist theorists, like Louis Althusser, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek, have 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. Marx's concept of society as the sum total of social relations among members of a community contrasts with interpretations from the perspective of methodological individualism where society is simply the sum total of individuals in a territory.

In 1987 Margaret Thatcher famously said "There is no such thing as society".

Notes

References

External links

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