This article explains the meaning and definition of society. The meaning of ‘Society’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Socius’, which means companionship or friendship. Thus, ‘society’ as a concept denotes the relationship and friendships created and entered upon by man as he experiences his life. Besides, Man is dependable and sociable by nature; he lives in the presence and company of others all the time. Thus, the most general term in sociology is society itself. Society makes our life liveable.


 According to Ian Robertson

“A society is a group of interacting individuals sharing the same territory and participating in a culture”.

 According to Parson

Parson defines the meaning of Society “as the total complex of human relationships in so far as they grow out of action in terms of means-end relationship, intrinsic or symbolic.”


Human life and society almost go together. Man is born in society and grew up in society, nourished, and nurtured in society. Man lives in society from childhood to adolescence, from adolescence to youth, from youth to maturity, from maturity to old age, from old age up to death. Therefore, he depends on society for protection and comfort, for nurture and education. In fact, to take part in society is required to develop a personality. Hence, society is a necessary condition for every fulfillment of life.

Society is the web of social relations. And it is always changing. Besides, it is the most inclusive and complex social organization in today’s world. Most other organizations exist within the confines of society.


Society is the most basic concept in Sociology. In fact, sociology has been defined as the study of society. Man is dependable and sociable by nature; he lives in the presence and company of others all the time. This, in turn, makes him create and enter into relationships from time to time to enable him to progress properly.

As George Simmel pointed out the meaning and definition of society as it is this element of sociability which defines the true nature of society. It indicates that a man needs a company of other people to survive. Therefore, Aristotle centuries ago says the meaning and definition of society as, ‘Man is a social animal.

A man never lives alone. Rather, they live in communities, towns, villages, tribes. Loneliness brings him boredom and fear. Thus, man needs society for his living, to work, survive, and to enjoy everyday life. Society has become a vital condition for human life to arise and to continue. Human life and society always go together.


  1. Abstractness:

Society means a system of social relationship which is invisible and abstract. We can only realize it. Therefore society is abstract. According to Renter, “Just as life is not a thing but a process of living, so society is not a thing but a process of associating. Thus, though society is a real thing, in essence, it means a state or condition a relationship and is, therefore, necessarily, an abstraction. “The meaning and definition of society is an abstract term that connotes the complex of interrelations that exist between and among the member of the groups.”

  1. Society consists of people

It is composed of people. Without the students or teacher’s there can be no college and no university. Similarly, a society cannot be formed without people. Thus, no social life at all.

  1. Society not confined to people

This means that society does not refer to people but to the relationship created and entered upon by people. Society is abstract because it studies abstract and complex relationships designed by people themselves

  1. Mutual interaction and mutual awareness

It is a group of people that interact with each other in a continuous process. It refers to the two-sided contact between two or more persons.

Besides, a person is a member of society so long as he engages in a relationship with other members of society. Social relationships exist when there are mutual interaction and mutual awareness among the people who enter into certain social relationships. Without these two psychic elements, no social relationship would continue.

Thus, mutual interaction refers to the continuous as well as the reciprocal contact between two or more persons. Mutual interaction takes place because there is mutual awareness or consciousness. People interact when people are aware of each other’s presence, preferences, common objective, common interest, opinion, etc.

On the other hand, social interaction is made possible because of mutual awareness. Society is known as a network of social relationships. But not all relations are social relations.

Besides, society exists only where social beings ‘behave’ towards one another in ways determined by their recognition of one another. Hence, There can be no society without this awareness. A social relationship thus implies mutual awareness.

  1. Organization of the relationship

Society is an abstract organization of relationships created and entered into by man with one another. It is organized in such a way that all forms of social relationships created and entered by man are all contained and included. Thus, society is a web of relationships and the only limits of social interaction alone.

  1. Society depends on Likeness

The principle of likeness is vital for society. It exists among those who match one another to some degree, in body, and in mind. Likeness refers to the similarities. People have differences in terms of their wants, jobs, goals, beliefs, morals, life, and so on. Just as the ‘birds of the same feather flock together’, men are from the same species called “Homo Sapiens. Hence, men have a lot of similarities.

  1. Society rests on difference too

It also means differences. It is based entirely on likeness and uniformities. If the likes of men are exactly the same, their social relationships would be very much limited. There would be little give-and-take, little reciprocity. They would contribute very little to one another.

More than that, life becomes boring, dull, and uninteresting, if differences are not there. Hence, we find a difference in society. Family, for eg, rests on the biological difference between the sexes. People differ in color, character, skill, talent, attitude, interest, taste, belief, ability, etc. People pursue different activities because of these differences. Thus, we find farmers, laborers, teachers, soldiers, businessmen, bankers, musicians, and others working in different fields in society.

  1. Society involves both Likeness and differences

In society, all members are not alike. They differ on various grounds. Therefore, society involves both likeness and difference. According to Maclver, likeness and difference are logical opposites but also with many sociological and psychological distinctions, they are an objective manifestation of each other. Without likeness, there can be no mutual recognition of belonging together and therefore no society. Society exists among those who match one another to some degree, in body, and in mind, and who is near enough or intelligent enough to appreciate the fact.

  1. Co-operation and division of Labour

Society involves both likeness and difference then inevitably society also involves co-operation and division of labor. For eg, people who share a common interest would cooperate to realize it though it may involve a proper delineation or division of labor.

Another eg: In a family, the common interest is to achieve a better standard of living. The members of that particular family would cooperate with each other, though the function, role of work of each is divided and allotted on specialized lines.

On the other hand, the division of labor involves the duty to each unit or group a specific share of a common task. For eg, A number of people like the farmers who grow cotton, the spinners, and weavers, the years, and the merchants share the common task of producing cotton clothes. Similarly: homework is divided and shared by the father, mother, and children.

  1. Division of labor leads to specialization

Division of labor and specialization are the signs of modem complex society. The division of labor is possible because of co-operation, Society is based on co-operation.

As C. H. Cooley says, ‘co-operation arises when men realize that they have common interests.’ It refers to the mutual working together to attain a common goal. People only fulfill their wishes and satisfy their needs through joint efforts. People may have direct or indirect cooperation among them. Thus, co-operation and division of labor have made possible social solidarity or social cohesion.

  1. Conflicts

There is no doubt there is a need for cooperation in society but modern theorist (Marx) highlights the importance of conflict in a society. If there is no conflict, even in small measures, society may become inert and inactive.
However, the expression of difference in the form of conflict must always be held within tolerable bounds.

  1. Society Involves Both Co-operation and Conflict

Society is a blend of both co-operation and conflict. It may be visualized as the behavior of human beings and consequent problems of relationship and adjustments arise.
Thus as observed by Gisbert, “Co-operation is the most elementary process of social life without which society is impossible.”
Besides, conflict is the opposite of co-operation. It mostly occurs when the interest is exclusive inharmonious. But the process of conflict also exists in society, because all things come to life through a struggle.

  1. Dynamic

Change is an inherent quality of human society. Society cannot be constant all the time. Thus, it never remains the same, but it changes from time to time, from experience to experience. This is so for change is inevitable, and hence society changes normally. Society changes when there are new associations, institutions, groups, etc. coming up or it changes through modification of the already existing ones.

Society is not static; it is dynamic. Change is ever-present in society. It is like a river, it flows forever. Laos, it is always in flux. Old men die and new ones are born. New association and institution and groups may come into being and old ones may die a natural death. The existing ones may undergo changes to suit the demands of time or they give birth to the new ones. Thus changes in a society are a slow process, society does not change suddenly.

  1. Interdependence

In society, there is interdependence between the individuals. Every member of society depends on other members.
Besides, “Social Relationships are characterized by interdependence. For e.g. Family, within the family, we all depend on others to satisfy one’s needs.
As society progresses, there is also a growth of interdependence. Today, not only individuals are interdependent upon one another, but even, communities, social groups, societies, and nations are also interdependent. E.g. the N.A.T.O, S.AA.R.C, U.N.E.S.C.O.

  1. Social Control

Society has its own way to control its members’ behavior. Co-operation, no doubt exists in society. But, side by side, competitions, conflicts, tensions, revolts, and defeats are also there. They appear and re-appear off and on.
An essential element of society is its system of controlling the behavior and attitude of its members. Social control is vital to prevent tensions, conflicts, clashes, etc. among people who may even share different ideas, beliefs, interests, etc. Thus, social control encourages the co-operation of its members.

The clash of economic or political or religious interests is not uncommon. Thus, society needs to control and regulate the behavior of people.

Besides, the meaning and definition of society have various formal as well as informal means of social control. It means society has customs, traditions, customs and folkways, manners, behaviors, and the informal means of social control. Also, it has law and regulation, police, court, etc. to control the behavior of its members.

  1. Culture:

Society has its own culture, own ideals, interests, beliefs and so on that distinguishes not only one society from another but also human society from an animal society. Varying degrees of likeness and difference stands to distinguish and separate human society from animal society. The presence of certain forms of social control that liberate and control man’s behavior, attitude, and talent further distinguishes a human society from an animal society. Each society is distinct from the other. Every society is special because they have their own way of life, customs, practices, etc.


The difference between human society and society are under two heads:

  1. Biological and
  2. Sociocultural Biological differences.


Although there are several biological similarities between members of the animal society and human society yet there are several biological differences as well. These are:

The physical structure of the members

The physical structure of human beings in a society is very similar but there are lots of differences in the physical structure of animal society. Thus, the physical structure of an elephant vastly differs from that of a lion. Even the animals belonging to one type are not similar in their body structure.

Mental Capacity

It is evident that the mind of a human is more developed than the mind of animals. Although the animals are seen building tiny nests and doing wonderful jobs, yet the mind of even the smartest animal is only one third in its cubic capacity than that of the man.

Capacity to stand straight

Another biological difference between animal society and human society is that the members of human society can stand straight on their legs and can use their hands freely. But animals cannot use their hands as men do.


The capacity of memory also creates a difference between animal and human society. Man can remember past facts and can thereby improve upon his past errors. He can find an answer to a difficult problem through mutual discussion. On the other hand, the animals are denied such capacity which makes their society very different from human society.


From the socio-cultural viewpoint, human society differs from animal society in the following respects:

Human society is a society of civilized and cultural beings

Even animals live in a society for various reasons. However, human society is a society of civilized and cultured human beings.

Human society is necessary to satisfy the physical and cultural needs of men. It is a higher stage of society in which men behave towards one another in ways define by the laws of the land and are clearly conscious of the social awareness and social contact that exists among them as members of society.

Besides, an animal society is a society of beasts.  As compare to men, they are far from being civilized.

Animal society is based on instincts

Animal society is highly based on instincts, while human society is based on logical reasoning. Also, animal society does not have rights and duties like men do.

Social Awareness

Though animals live in society, they do not know the value of society. The degree of social awareness is very dim. They cannot perceive logical relations between things and the power of integrating (not merely associating) various order of things through mental synthesis. Their division of labor is not learned, it is based upon biological specialization.

Mode of organization

The animal modes of organization are relatively fixed and rigid, whereas the human modes are flexible and adaptable. Man is not taught to live together as the bees and ants are. He is capable of developing complex modes of organization and changed them as the needs change. In human society we find institution marriage to regulate the sex behavior of men and women but in animal society marriage is non-existent.

Absence of symbolic communication

The animal society is a society that lacks intelligence, reason, culture, and stays on the same level despite the advance of thousands of years. It is based upon instinct. Being incapable of symbolic communication, animals are incapable of giving their culture to the next generation.

One of the main differences between animals and men is, an animal can learn to brush his teeth, to spit, to eat with a spoon, to go to bed and several other human activities but he cannot learn to Speak. Animals do not possess the ability to speak.

Human society thus involves people interacting and depending upon one another. Society exists because man is a social animal and he cannot live alone. He lives and experiences life in the presence of others. Man always lives in a group as togetherness is the strength of man’s group life. He is born and brought up in society, he lives and experiences many things in society and he grows and develops in society. From birth to death he depends upon society for everything, like-friends, education, work, etc. Thus, society shapes, molds, nurtures, and nourishes man from time to time. Man’s beliefs, capacities, talents, moral needs, growth, development, material comfort, psychological maturity are shaped in society. Society makes life bearable and liveable. Man belongs to society and society to man. Thus, human society is different from an animal society in ibis way.


There are three main types of society, tribal, agrarian, and industrial have been marked out on this globe. The African society tribal; the Indian society is agrarian, while the American society is industrial.

Tribal Society

The Tribal society is a collection of families bearing a common name, speaking a common dialect, occupying or professing to have a common territory, and is not usual endogamous.

Characteristics of Tribal Society

The following are the chief characteristics of a tribe:

  1. A tribe has a common territory, common name and members share a sense of unity.
  2. The members speak a common language and are related by blood.
  3. A tribe is an endogamous group.
  4. Every tribe has its own political organization.
  5. There is a chief of the tribe who exercises authority over all its members.
  6. Religion plays an important role in tribal organizations.

Agrarian Society

Agrarian Societies are classified on the basis of dominant types of economic activity into agrarian and industrial societies. In an agrarian society, the dominant type of economic activity is agriculture. Even today, from two-thirds to three-fourths of the world’s people live in agrarian or peasant societies.

Societies are classified on the basis of the dominant types of economic activities into agrarian and industrial societies. The dominant economic activity in an agrarian society is agriculture. The foundation of the agrarian society was laid in the Neolithic Age when the cultivation of plants had begun.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, agrarian societies are those which combine horticulture and animal husbandry in systems of farming.

Characteristics of an agrarian society

  1. An agrarian society is associated with the cultivation of crops and the domestication of animals.
  2. A simple division of labor.
  3. Family not only functions as the reproductive child-rearing and socializing agency but it is also the primary economic unit.
  4. Traditionalism is more effective in an agrarian society.
  5. These are simple societies with more solidarity-based on similarity.
  6. According to Redfield, rural societies are characterized by traditional, close-knit families based on ascribed rather than achieved status.

Industrial Society

In an industrial society, factory production is the main economic activity. It was just in recent years people came to know about industrial society. An important factor in the evolution of society has been the industrial revolution which brought drastic changes in society. The age of mass production and technological progress altered the structural aspects of society.

The industrial revolution leads to mechanized mass production using an inanimate source of energy. Family no longer remained the production unit and society moved from simplicity to complexity. Secondary relations begin to dominate in place of primary relations and production was geared towards the generation of surplus. Thus, industrial society is termed an energy-intensive society.

Changes in society due to the Industrial Revolution

  1. A shift from extended family to the nuclear family. The family changes from production to consumption unit
  2. Social mobility is an essential feature of industrial society because achieved status is more important.
  3. Capitalism is an important aspect of industrial societies.
  4. An extreme form of division of labor and organic solidarity is an essential feature.
  5. Education is secular, scientific, and utilitarian.
  6. Production organized in terms of contractual units.

Post-Industrial Society

After World War 2, a new kind of society emerged different from society in the 19th century and matures by the mid-20th Century. Daniel Bell in his book, “Coming of Post-Industrial Society” has described the economic and political changes which occurred in the late 20th Century. He argued that the meaning of society is in a state of transition which no longer is based on industrialism.

Daniel Bell has divided society into three parts-Social Structure, Polity, and Culture. According to him, post-industrial society is distinguished by the growth of service occupation at the expense of these producing material goods.

Characteristics of Post-Industrial Society

  1. Change from goods-producing economy to service economy.
  2. Integration of theoretical knowledge with industrial production or else we say theoretical knowledge becomes important in policy formulation.
  3. Expansion of new intelligentsia
  4. The prominence of professional and technology class.

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