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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Society

Society


The term society is most fundamental to sociology. It is derived from the Latin word socius which means companionship or friendship. Companionship means sociability. According to George Simmel it is this element of sociability which defines the true essence of society. It indicates that man always lives in the company of other people. Man is a social animal said Aristotle centuries ago. Man needs society for his living, working and enjoying life. Society has become an essential condition for human life to continue. We can define society as a group of people who share a common culture, occupy a particular territorial area and feel themselves to constitute a unified and distinct entity. It is the mutual interactions and interrelations of individuals and groups.


Definitions of Society


August Comte the father of sociology saw society as a social organism possessing a harmony of structure and function.Emile Durkheim the founding father of the modern sociology treated society as a reality in its own right. According to Talcott Parsons Society is a total complex of human relationships in so far as they grow out of the action in terms of means-end relationship intrinsic or symbolic.G.H Mead conceived society as an exchange of gestures which involves the use of symbols. Morris Ginsberg defines society as a collection of individuals united by certain relations or mode of behavior which mark them off from others who do not enter into

these relations or who differ from them in behavior. Cole sees Society as the complex of organized associations and institutions with a community. According to Maclver and Page society is a system of usages and procedures of authority and mutual aid of many groupings and divisions, of controls of human behavior and liberties. This ever changing complex system which is called society is a web of social relationship


Types of Societies:


Writers have classified societies into various categories Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft of Tonnies, mechanical and organic solidarities of Durkheim, status and contract of Maine, and militant and industrial societies of Spencer. All these thinkers have broadly divided society into pre-industrial and post-industrial societies. Sociologists like Comte based their classification of societies on intellectual development. Most of them concede the evolutionary nature of society- one type leading to the other. One more way of dividing societies is that of Marx. His classification of society is based on the institutional framework of society as determined by a group of people who control the means of production. Marx distinguishes five principal types of societies: primitive, Asiatic, ancient, feudal and capitalist.

Following these classifications, sociologists often refer to societies as primitive or modern non-literate or literate. A more recent kind of classification which is also used while distinguishing societies into types is the one between open and closed societies. A closed society is the one which is a traditional and simple society or a totalitarian State tends to resist change, while an open society admits change.

None of these classifications is accurate; for every major type have number of sub-types. One type like the capitalist can be of various kinds like carboniferous type, finance capital, and the modern neo-colonial or multi-national type. Further, it is to be borne in mind that the chief task of a sociologist is not that of identifying societies but finding out whether a particular kind of society has the potential to nurture, defend and survive. Such a study alone can reveal the sociological aspects of societies and thereby facilitating understanding of societies as they are, and, if need be, activate the required changes. In other words, sociology based on values relies on objective analysis of societies.

However, in recent years there have been several studies of what are variously called irrigation civilization or hydraulic societies. These studies have been related to the general study of bureaucracy, but little has yet been done in the way of large scale comparative work of various complex organized societies. It is not enough, however, to characterize pre-British India as an irrigation civilization with a centralized bureaucracy and a village system of production. The unity and stability of Indian society depended also upon two other factors, caste and religion. There, the aspect of caste to be emphasized is not so much its rigid hierarchical character and the way in which it divided groups from each other, as its integrating function, closely connected with religion.

M.N. Srinivas, in a discussion of Indian social structure, observes that caste guarantees autonomy to a community into relation with numerous other communities all going to form a hierarchy. The importance of such an institution is obvious in a vast country like India which has been the meeting place of many different cultures in the past and which has always had considerable regional diversity. While the autonomy of a sub- caste was preserved it was also brought into relation with others and the hierarchy was also a scale of generally agreed values.

The work of K. Wittfoged suggests that many important similarities can be found, in ancient Egypt, in Byzantium and elsewhere especially in the social functions of the priests and in the elements and caste revealed in detailed regulation of the division of labor. Each human group develops its own social and political structure in terms of its own culture and history. There broad types of social structures may be distinguished. First, the tribal society represented by the social structures of African tribes second, the agrarian social structure represented by the traditional Indian society. And the third, the industrial social structure represented by the industrially advanced countries Europe and U.S.A. Sociologists also speak of yet another type, called post industrial society, which is emerging out of the industrial society.


Community


The term community is one of the most elusive and vague in sociology and is by now largely without specific meaning. At the minimum it refers to a collection of people in a geographical area. Three other elements may also be present in any usage. (1) Communities may be thought of as collections of people with a particular social structure; there are, therefore, collections which are not communities. Such a notion often equates community with rural or pre-industrial society and may, in addition, treat urban or industrial society as positively destructive. (2) A sense of belonging or community spirit. (3) All the daily activities of a community, work and non work, take place within the geographical area, which is self contained. Different accounts of community will contain any or all of these additional elements.

We can list out the characteristics of a community as follows:

  1. Territory
  2. Close and informal relationships
  3. Mutuality
  4. Common values and beliefs
  5. Organized interaction
  6. Strong group feeling
  7. Cultural similarity

Talcott Parsons defined community as collectivity the members of which share a common territorial area as their base of operation for daily activities. According to Tonnies community is defined as an organic natural kind of social group whose members are bound together by the sense of belonging, created out of everyday contacts covering the whole range of human activities. He has presented ideal-typical pictures of the forms of social associations contrasting the solidarity nature of the social relations in the community with the large scale and impersonal relations thought to characterize industrializing societies. Kingsley Davis defined it as the smallest territorial group that can embrace all aspects of social life. For Karl Mannheim community is any circle of people who live together and belong together in such a way that they do not share this or that particular interest only but a whole set of interests.


Community


The term community is one of the most elusive and vague in sociology and is by now largely without specific meaning. At the minimum it refers to a collection of people in a geographical area. Three other elements may also be present in any usage. (1) Communities may be thought of as collections of people with a particular social structure; there are, therefore, collections which are not communities. Such a notion often equates community with rural or pre-industrial society and may, in addition, treat urban or industrial society as positively destructive. (2) A sense of belonging or community spirit. (3) All the daily activities of a community, work and non work, take place within the geographical area, which is self contained. Different accounts of community will contain any or all of these additional elements.

We can list out the characteristics of a community as follows:

  1. Territory
  2. Close and informal relationships
  3. Mutuality
  4. Common values and beliefs
  5. Organized interaction
  6. Strong group feeling
  7. Cultural similarity

Talcott Parsons defined community as collectivity the members of which share a common territorial area as their base of operation for daily activities. According to Tonnies community is defined as an organic natural kind of social group whose members are bound together by the sense of belonging, created out of everyday contacts covering the whole range of human activities. He has presented ideal-typical pictures of the forms of social associations contrasting the solidarity nature of the social relations in the community with the large scale and impersonal relations thought to characterize industrializing societies. Kingsley Davis defined it as the smallest territorial group that can embrace all aspects of social life. For Karl Mannheim community is any circle of people who live together and belong together in such a way that they do not share this or that particular interest only but a whole set of interests.


Cultural Relativism


This is a method whereby different societies or cultures are analyzed objectively without using the values of one culture to judge the worth of another. We cannot possibly understand the actions of other groups if we analyze them in terms of our motives and values. We must interpret their behavior in the light of their motives, habits and values if we are to understand them. Cultural relativism means that the function and meaning of a trait are relative to its cultural setting. A trait is neither good nor bad in itself. It is good or bad only with reference to the culture in which it is to function. Fur clothing is good in the Arctic but not in the tropics. In some hunting societies which occasionally face long periods of hunger to be fat is good; it has real survival value and fat people are admired. In our society to be fat is not only unnecessary but is known to be unhealthful and fat people are not admired. The concept of cultural relativism does not mean that all customs are equally valuable, nor does it imply that no customs are harmful. Some patterns of behavior may be injurious everywhere, but even such patterns serve some purpose in the culture and the society will suffer unless a substitute is provided. The central point in cultural relativism is that in a particular cultural setting certain traits are right because they work well in that setting while other traits are wrong because they would clash painfully with parts of that culture.


Culture


As Homo sapiens, evolved, several biological characteristics particularly favorable to the development of culture appeared in the species. These included erect posture; a favorable brain structure; stereoscopic vision; the structure of the hand, a flexible shoulder; and year round sexual receptivity on the part of the female. None of these biological characteristics alone, of course, accounts for the development of culture. Even in combination, all they guarantee is that human beings would be the most gifted members of the animal kingdom.

The distinctive human way of life that we call culture did not have a single definite beginning in time any more than human beings suddenly appearing on earth. Culture evolved slowly just as some anthropoids gradually took on more human form. Unmistakably, tools existed half a million years ago and might be considerably older. If, for convenience, we say that culture is 500,000 years old, it is still difficult day has appeared very recently.

The concept of culture was rigorously defined by E.B. Taylor in 1860s. According to him culture is the sum total of ideas, beliefs, values, material cultural equipments and non-material aspects which man makes as a member of society. Taylor's theme that culture is a result of human collectivity has been accepted by most anthropologists. Tylarian idea can be discerned in a modern definition of culture - culture is the man-made part of environment (M.J. Herskovits).

From this, it follows that culture and society are separable only at the analytical level: at the actual existential level, they can be understood as the two sides of the same coin. Culture, on one hand, is an outcome of society and, on the other hand, society is able to survive and perpetuate itself because of the existence of culture. Culture is an ally of man in the sense that it enhances man's adaptability to nature. It is because of the adaptive value of culture that Herskovits states that culture is a screen between man and nature. Culture is an instrument by which man exploits the environment and shapes it accordingly.


In showing affection, the Maori rub noses; the Australians rub faces; the Chinese place nose to cheeks; the Westerners kiss; some groups practice spitting on the beloved. Or, consider this; American men are permitted to laugh in public but not to cry; Iroquois men are permitted to do neither in public; Italian men are permitted to do both. Since this is true, physiological factors have little to do with when men laugh and cry and when they do not do either. The variability of the human experience simply cannot be explained by making reference to human biology, or to the climate and geography. Instead, we must consider culture as the fabric of human society.

Culture can be conceived as a continuous, cumulative reservoir containing both material and non-material elements that are socially transmitted from generation to generation. Culture is continuous because cultural patterns transcend years, reappearing in successive generations. Culture is cumulative because each generation contributes to the reservoir.



The Development of Culture


The distinctive human way of life that we call culture did not have a single definite beginning. This is to say that human beings did not suddenly appear on earth. Culture evolved slowly just as anthropoids gradually took on more human form. The earliest tools cannot be dated precisely. Australopithecus may have used stones as weapons as long as five million years ago. Stones that have been used as weapon do not differ systematically from other stones, however, and there is no way to tell for sure. The first stones that show reliable evidence of having been shaped as tools trace back some 500,000 to 600,000 years. The use of fire can be dated from 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. Tools of bone had come into existence by 100,000 B.C. the age of Neanderthals. The Neanderthals also apparently had some form of languages and buried their deal with an elaborateness that indicates the possibility of religious ceremonies. Cro-Magnon, dating from 35,000 years ago, was a superior biological specimen and had a correspondingly more elaborate culture. Their cave paintings have been found. They also made jewellery of shells and teeth, and carved statuettes of women that emphasized pregnancy and fertility. They made weapons of bone, horn, and ivory, and used needle in the fabrication of garments.

Thus, a striking parallel appears between the evolution of Homo sapiens and the development of culture. The parallel cannot be drawn in detail because all inferences to the period before the dawn of history must be made from material artifacts, and these tell little about the total way of life of the people who used them. Moreover, the parallel between biological and cultural evolution should not be overdrawn. Cro-Magnon's brain capacity, for example, was large, but factors having to do with the growth of culture itself were sufficient to prevent any quantum leap in the development of learned behaviour


Diffusion


In spite of the fact that invention occupied a dominant place in culture growth over such a long period of time, most of the content of modern cultures appears to have been gained through diffusion. The term diffusion refers to the borrowing of cultural elements from other societies in contrast to their independent invention within a host society.

In order for diffusion to operate on a substantial scale, there must be separate societies that have existed long enough to have elaborated distinctive ways of life. Moreover, those societies must be in contact with one another so that substantial borrowing is possible. These conditions probably developed late in the evolutionary process. Once begun, however, culture borrowing became so pervasive that most of the elements of most modern cultures, including our own, originated with other people. Culture has grown, then, through a combination of invention and diffusion. It grew slowly at first, mostly as the result of invention. As the culture base expanded and societies became differentiated, the large -scale diffusion of traits become possible and the rate of growth speeded up. In modern times, and particularly in the Western world, the rate of culture growth has become overwhelming.

Cultural Lag


The role played by material inventions, that is, by technology, in social change probably received most emphasis in the work of William F. Ogburn. It was Ogburn, also, who was chiefly responsible for the idea that the rate of invention within society is a function of the size of the existing culture base. He saw the rate of material invention as increasing with the passage of time.Ogburn believed that material and non-material cultures change in different ways. Change in material culture is believed to have a marked directional or progressive character. This is because there are agreed-upon standards of efficiency that are used to evaluate material inventions. To use air-planes, as an example, we keep working to develop planes that will fly, higher and faster, and carry more payloads on a lower unit cost. Because airplanes can be measured against these standards, inventions in this area appear rapidly and predictably. In the area of non-material culture, on the other hand there often are no such generally accepted standards. Whether one prefers a Hussain, a Picasso, or a Gainsborough, for example, is a matter of taste, and styles of painting fluctuate unevenly. Similarly, in institutions such as government and the economic system there are competing forms of styles, Governments may be dictatorships, oligarchies, republics or democracies.

Economic system includes communist, socialist, feudal, and capitalist ones. As far as can be told, there is no regular progression from one form of government or economic system to another. The obvious directional character of change in material culture is lacking in many areas of non-material culture. In addition to the difference in the directional character of change, Ogburn and others believe that material culture tends to change faster than non-material culture. Certainly one of the imperative aspects of modern American life is the tremendous development of technology. Within this century, life has been transformed by invention of the radio, TV, automobiles, airplanes, rockets, transistors, and computers and so on. While this has been happening in material culture, change in government, economic system, family life, education, and religion seems to have been much slower. This difference in rates of cultural change led Ogburn to formulate the concept of culture lag. Material inventions, he believed bring changes that require adjustments in various areas of non-material culture.Invention of the automobile, for instance, freed young people from direct parental observation, made it possible for them to work at distances from their homes, and, among other things, facilitated crime by making escape easier. Half a century earlier, families still were structured as they were in the era of the family farm when young people were under continuous observation and worked right on the homestead. Culture lag is defined as the time between the appearance of a new material invention and the making of appropriate adjustments in corresponding area of non-material culture. This time is often long. It was over fifty years, for example, after the typewriter was invented before it was used systematically in offices. Even today, we may have a family system better adapted to a farm economy than to an urban industrial one, and nuclear weapons exist in a diplomatic atmosphere attuned to the nineteenth century. As the discussion implies, the concept of culture lag is associated with the definition of social problems. Scholars envision some balance or adjustment existing between material and non-material cultures. That balance is upset by the appearance of raw material objects. The resulting imbalance is defined as a social problem until non-material culture changes in adjustment to the new technology.

Cultural Relativism


This is a method whereby different societies or cultures are analyzed objectively without using the values of one culture to judge the worth of another. We cannot possibly understand the actions of other groups if we analyze them in terms of our motives and values. We must interpret their behavior in the light of their motives, habits and values if we are to understand them. Cultural relativism means that the function and meaning of a trait are relative to its cultural setting. A trait is neither good nor bad in itself. It is good or bad only with reference to the culture in which it is to function. Fur clothing is good in the Arctic but not in the tropics. In some hunting societies which occasionally face long periods of hunger to be fat is good; it has real survival value and fat people are admired. In our society to be fat is not only unnecessary but is known to be unhealthful and fat people are not admired. The concept of cultural relativism does not mean that all customs are equally valuable, nor does it imply that no customs are harmful. Some patterns of behavior may be injurious everywhere, but even such patterns serve some purpose in the culture and the society will suffer unless a substitute is provided. The central point in cultural relativism is that in a particular cultural setting certain traits are right because they work well in that setting while other traits are wrong because they would clash painfully with parts of that culture.

Ethnocentrism


Closely related to the concept of cultural relativity is the concept of ethnocentrism. The world ethno comes from Greek and refers to a people, nation, or cultural grouping, while centric comes from Latin and refers, of course to the centre. The term ethnocentrism then refers to the tendency for each society to place its own culture patterns at the centre of things. Ethnocentrism is the practice of comparing other cultural practices with those of one's own and automatically finding those other cultural practices to be inferior. It is the habit of each group taking for granted the superiority of its culture. It makes our culture into a yardstick with which to measure all other cultures as good or bad, high or low, right or queer in proportion as they resemble ours.

Ethnocentrism is a universal human reaction found in all known societies, in all groups and in practically all individuals. Everyone learns ethnocentrism while growing up. The possessiveness of the small child quickly translates "into my toys are better than your toys" Parents; unless they are quite crude, outwardly discourage their children from verbalizing such beliefs. But in private, they may reassure their off springs that their possessions are indeed very nice. Much of the learning of ethnocentrism is indirect and unintended, but some of it is deliberate. History for example, is often taught to glorify the achievements of one's own nation, and religious, civic and other groups disparage their competitors openly. Among adults, ethnocentrism is simply a fact of life.

Once one becomes conscious of ethnocentrism, the temptation is strong to evaluate it in moral terms; to label it with epithets such as bigoted chauvinistic, and so on, and to imply that one who has not discovered and compensated for his or her ethnocentric biases is not worthy. This incidentally, is another form of ethnocentrism. The important point, however, is that ethnocentrism is one of the features of culture and , like the rest of culture , it needs to be evaluated in terms of its contribution to the maintenance of social order and the promotion of social change.

The functions of ethnocentrism in maintaining order are more apparent than those which promote social change. First, ethnocentrism encourages the solidarity of the group. Believing that one's own ways are the best, encourages a "we" feeling with associates and strengthens the idea that loyalty to comrades and preservation of the basis for superiority are important values. Positively, ethnocentrism promotes continuance of the status quo negatively, it discourages change.

Second, ethnocentrism hinders the under standing of the cooperation with other groups. If the ways of one's own group are best, there is little incentive to interact with inferior groups. In fact, attitudes of suspicion, disdain and hostility are likely to be engendered. Extreme ethnocentrism is likely to promote conflict, as the records of past wars, and religious and racial conflicts reveal.

Conflict, of course often leads to social change and in that sense ethnocentrism becomes a vehicle for the promotion of social change. It does so, however, through encouragement of its peaceful evolution. There is little doubt that most social scientists are biased in favor of peaceful social change and are opposed to conflict. Consequently, they tend even if subtly, to denigrate ethnocentrisms and to imply that students must rid themselves of it if they are to learn effectively. In so doing, sociologists operate implicitly from a combination of evolutionary and functionalist models. Recent years have seen this stance called into question. The revolutionary efforts of groups who see themselves as downtrodden blacks, the poor, women, and young people have included deliberate efforts to foster ethnocentrism as a means of strengthening themselves. Slogans such as' "black power" conflict model of society from which they operate.
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