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The word “society” comes from the French société, which is based on the Latin words, “societas,” meaning “a friendly association with others, and “socius,” meaning “associate or companion. So, we can see that the word society is closely related to the term social, and that the two are related by definition as well.

Organization of society

Within the discipline of social sciences, the term “society” refers to a group of people who together make up a semi-closed social system, meaning that most interactions occur among people within the group. Some sociologists consider any interdependent community to be society. Others argue that there’s a difference between a community and a society because society includes social structure with roles and ranks, where a community can be made up of equals.

Societies also form and regulate in accordance with their food sources, available shelter and modes of safety. There are nomadic (pastoral) societies, who move according to where food is available, hunter-gatherer societies, which hunt and gather food to bring back home, horticulturist, farming and larger agricultural societies, all of which rely on planting and cultivating. The largest of these are referred to as civilizations.

Societies also serve to keep individuals safe, and to help them in times of crisis. Traditionally, when a member of society needed aid, while giving birth, when injured or sick, after a family death, or a disaster, other members of the community would step in to help, rally the help of others and render aid, be it physical, symbolic, mental, linguistic, financial, emotional, religious, spiritual or medical. But societies are not always all love and helpfulness. They can also outcast and scapegoat some of their members, either fairly or unfairly.

Societies often have ranks and classes. In some cases these are more pronounced than in others. Some grant public assistance to the underlings, and prestige, honor and special privilege on those they admire and recognize as particular contributors to the society, whether it be in the form of politics, military battle, finances, knowledge, entertainment, or some other value to the society.

Some societies are organized largely around a political structure. In order to remain organized, orderly, powerful and well protected, and to grow, they have bands, tribes, chiefs, and a hierarchy of political positions with checks and balances. Such societies, when competing with societies at their same level of technological and cultural advancement, are more likely to be the surviving society should battles over geography and other societal elements arise.

Shared beliefs, Common goals

There are times when people from many different nations and geographic locations are referred to as a “society” because of their like-minded cultural and political values, beliefs or traditions. Examples include Middle-Easterners, Westerners, Jews, and Christians. Used in this context, the term is revealing contrasts between larger "societies" whose members’ worldviews that conflict and compete with the worldviews of others.


In both anthropological and sociological circles, the debate still rages over whether there even is an entity that we can truly call a society. Marxists, such as Ernesto Laclau have maintained that society represents the limited view of those on the top of a class system and should not be employed as a sociological notion on its own. Marx believed that a society was simply the grouping of individuals and their social interactions. As globalization, world travel, the Internet and other technologies continue to blur the lines between so-called societies, the definitions may need to be redressed and analyzed anew.