What Is the Meaning of Social Context?

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Social context, also called social environment, refers to the settings surrounding individuals, including the culture they live in and groups that they interact with. Social context influences customs, traditions and other socially acceptable standards.

Over time, people with a similar social environment learn to trust each other and, in turn, help one another. For example, communities might use shared natural resources for mutual benefit, such as setting aside land for a public park or developing farmland for sustenance and economic prosperity.

Social Context in Society

Sociologists consider social context to be one of the pillars of a "good society." Through social context, individuals adopt behaviors and norms that help others in their social circles. Social context is considered a building block of a moral society, and it is closely related to altruism and morality. These concepts set moral codes of behavior for people to follow. Collectively, these three principles consist of ways of living that benefit others. This can take place on a local, national or international scale. Following a devastating flood, for example, a nation will mobilize its people and resources to aid the affected area.

Negative Aspects of Social Context

Sometimes, social context can lead to problems within a society. Instead of inspiring a positive attitude toward others and showing concern for their well-being, it can lead to the unequal distribution of power and resources. For example, a group that finds safety and support only within its own circle might become distrustful of, and ultimately hostile toward, outside groups or individuals. A nation, or clashing groups within a country, may turn to warfare to protect and further their own interests. Social environment shapes many societal norms that guide interactions and relationships between individuals, among families and communities, between individuals and their government, and between a nation and the world. Regardless of whether these interactions take place on a micro or macro level, people are put under pressure to conform with their society's behavioral guidelines to maintain uniformity with that group. Deviating from those norms may result in a penalty, such as paying a fee for breaking a law.

Social Context and Societal Behaviors

Social environment also includes customs. Customs are guidelines that regulate behavior in social relationships. In many societies, customs date back many years.They are adopted over time by those with a similar social context and worldview. Customs can change over time to accommodate new socially acceptable best practices. They cover virtually every aspect of social interaction, including greetings, setting the table for a meal, dining, the engagement process and requesting permission to marry. Customs also carry over to the business arena, as they establish a code of conduct that people working in a certain profession are expected to follow.

Traditions, which are similar to customs, are rooted in historic origins. Traditions are passed down from one generation to the next. They include macro-level community views on subjects like religion and political affairs. While customs are generally conveyed through actions, traditions may be passed along orally and in writing. Traditions are typically conservative in nature and less receptive to change over time. Breaking with tradition can lead to an individual being mocked, scolded and sometimes excommunicated from his or her society.