What Is the Individual Vs. Society?

Ernst Moeksis/CC-BY 2.0

The phrase “individual vs. society” refers to a conflict between an individual and their society. The phrase is often used to describe conflicts in a literary work. However, it can also be used in real life situations to describe scenarios in which a maverick wants to rebel from cultural norms and feels restrained by society.

In both literary and colloquial use, the phrase refers to the tension or drama that results when an individual does not want to live within the confines of their culture or society. For instance, if someone wants to be a nudist but their society requires clothes, that person may feel out of place, socially awkward or upset with society.

Individual versus society conflicts can play out internally, but they can also manifest themselves in real events. For instance, the individual mentioned above could walk around town in the nude, and the police, representing society, could arrest him. However, as the conflict continued, the individual may rally supporters and ultimately change the social landscape.

Individual versus society can be presented as a philosophical dualism; two ideas that are constantly in opposition. However, as humans are both individual and social by their very nature, one does not have to posit the two ideas against one another. Rather, one can figure out how to balance them.