Школяр UA

What is a Society?

The concept “society,” like the concept “cul­ture,” is one of the basic building blocks used by sociology to better understand the world in which we live. We defined society as the interacting people who share a common cul­ture. This is an intentionally broad definition, since the concept
of society must encompass virtually all of the organizations and institu­tions we will encounter from families to nations.

Yet because this definition is so broad, it leaves many questions unanswered. Is the United States one society or many? Is there a middle-class society that is different from working-class society? Is there a society of Italian Americans that is distinct from a society of African Americans? Is there a society of thieves that exists outside the society of law-abiding citi­zens? If we speak of “American society,” are we referring only to people in the United States, or are we includ­ing people living in Canada? Do we want to include people from Mexico and Uruguay as part of “Ameri­can society”?

There are no hard and fast rules that determine what constitutes a “society” and what does not. At one time the notion of shared territory was also a part of the de­f­inition of society, restricting the term to people who oc­cupy a fixed geographical space. While such a defini­tion made sense at a time when the vast majority of people had contact primarily with others who lived within a few miles, it no longer makes sense today. Modern communications technology enables us to in­teract by telephone, fax machine, and electronic mail with people thousands of miles away.

Many sociologists belong to the International Soci­ological Association, a society of people who share the common culture of sociology yet are dispersed around the world. Television fan clubs, labor unions, and reli­gious organizations are but three of the thousands of societies that enable people who share a common cul­ture to interact with one another, yet which are not bounded by geography. In fact, one of the key aspects of globalization is that it involves vastly increased so­cial relations with people who are geographically dis­tant, and therefore permits the creation of societies that are not territorially bounded.

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