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Lecture 6. Society and social interaction

1. The concept of society.

2. Theories of social development.

3. Features of social interaction in the traditional society.

4. Theories of traditional, industrial and post-industrial society.


The simplest definition of society is a group of people who share a defined territory and a culture. In sociology, we take that definition a little further by arguing that society is also the social structure and interactions of that group of people. Social structure is the relatively enduring patterns of behavior and relationships within a society. Thus, a society is not only the group of people and their culture, but the relationships between the people and the institutions within that group.

In sociology, a distinction is made between society and culture. Culture refers to the norms, values, beliefs, behaviors, and meanings given to symbols in a society. Culture is distinct from society in that it adds meanings to relationships. For instance, what it means to be a "husband" to a gay couple in Boston is very different from what it means to be a husband to a polygamist man in rural southern Kazakh aul. Thus, while the relationship exists in both (i.e., they both have social structure), what the relationship means differs by culture.

All human societies have a culture and culture can only exist where there is a society. Sociologists distinguish between society and culture despite their close interconnectedness primarily for analytical purposes: It allows sociologists to think about societal development independent of culture and cultural change even though societal change and development are contingent upon culture.

This lecture presents a brief overview of some of the types of human societies that have existed and continue to exist. It will then present some classic approaches to understanding society and what changing social structure can mean for individuals.

1. Considering society as a social system we should refer to functionalism, which sees social structure or the organisation of society as more important than the individual. Functionalism is a top down theory. Individuals are born into society and become the product of all the social influences around them as they are socialised by various institutions such as the family, education, media and religion. Society as a system is a set of interconnected parts which together form a whole. There is a relationship between all these parts and agents of socialisation and together they all contribute to the maintenance of society as a whole.

Social consensus, order and integration are key beliefs of functionalism as this allows society to continue and progress because there are shared norms and values that mean all individuals have a common goal and have a vested interest in conforming and thus conflict is minimal.

Talcott Parsons viewed society as a system. He argued that any social system has four basic functional prerequisites: adaptation, goal attainment, integration and pattern maintenance. These can be seen as problems that society must solve if it is to survive. The function of any part of the social system is understood as its contribution to meeting the functional prerequisites.

Adaptation refers to the relationship between the system and its environment. In order to survive, social systems must have some degree of control over their environment. Food and shelter must be provided to meet the physical needs of members. The economy is the institution primarily concerned with this function.

Goal attainment refers to the need for all societies to set goals towards which social activity is directed. Procedures for establishing goals and deciding on priorities between goals are institutionalized in the form of political systems. Governments not only set goals but also allocate resources to achieve them. Even in a so-called free enterprise system, the economy is regulated and directed by laws passed by governments.

Integration refers primarily to the ‘adjustment of conflict’. It is concerned with the coordination and mutual adjustment of the parts of the social system. Legal norms define and standardize relations between individuals and between institutions, and so reduce the potential for conflict. When conflict does arise, it is settled by the judicial system and does not therefore lead to the disintegration of the social system.

Pattern maintenance refers to the ‘maintenance of the basic pattern of values, institutionalized in the society’. Institutions that perform this function include the family, the educational system and religion. In Parsons view ‘the values of society are rooted in religion’.

Talcott Parsons maintained that any social system can be analysed in terms of the functional prerequisites he identified. Thus, all parts of society can be understood with reference to the functions they perform.

2. Classical Views on Social Change. As Western societies transitioned from pre-industrial economies based primarily on agriculture to industrialized societies in the 19th century, some people worried about the impacts such changes would have on society and individuals. Three early sociologists, Weber, Marx, and Durkheim, perceived different impacts of the Industrial Revolution on the individual and society and described those impacts in their work.

Weber and Rationalization. Max Weber was particularly concerned about the rationalization and bureaucratization of society stemming from the Industrial Revolution and how these two changes would affect humanity's agency and happiness. As Weber understood society, particularly during the industrial revolution of the late 19th century in which he lived, society was being driven by the passage of rational ideas into culture which, in turn, transformed society into an increasingly bureaucratic entity. Bureaucracy is a type of organizational or institutional management that is, as Weber understood it, rooted in legal-rational authority. Bureaucracy is a complex means of managing life in social institutions that includes rules and regulations, patterns and procedures that both are designed to simplify the functioning of complex organizations. An example of bureaucracy would be the forms used to pay one's income taxes - they require specific information and procedures to fill them out. Included in that form, however, are countless rules and laws the dictate what can and can't be tied into one's taxes. Thus, bureaucracy simplifies the process of paying one's taxes by putting the process into a formulaic structure, but simultaneously complicates it by adding rules and regulations that govern the procedure. Weber did believe bureaucracy was the most rational form of institutional governance, but because Weber viewed rationalization as the driving force of society, he believed bureaucracy would increase until it ruled society. Society, for Weber, would become almost synonymous with bureaucracy.

As Weber did not see any alternative to bureaucracy, he believed it would ultimately lead to an iron cage: there would be no way to get out of it. Weber viewed this as a bleak outcome that would affect individuals' happiness as they would be forced to function in a highly rational society with rigid rules and norms without the possibility to change it. Because Weber could not envision other forces influencing the ultimate direction of society - the exception being temporary lapses into non-bureaucracy spurred by charismatic leaders - he saw no cure for the iron cage of rationality. Society would become a large bureaucracy that would govern people's lives. Weber was unable to envision a solution to his iron cage of bureaucracy dilemma. Since a completely rational society was inevitable and bureaucracy was the most rational form of societal management, the iron cage, according to Weber, does not have a solution.

Marx and Alienation. Karl Marx took a different perspective on the impact of the Industrial Revolution on society and the individual. In order to understand Marx's perspective, however, it is necessary to understand how Marx perceived happiness. According to Marx, species being (or happiness) is the pinnacle of human nature. Species being is understood to be a type of self-realization or self-actualization brought about by meaningful work. But in addition to engaging in meaningful work, self-actualized individuals must also own the products of their labors and have the option of doing what they will with those products.

In a capitalist society (which was co-evolved with the Industrial Revolution), rather than owning the fruits of their labors, the proletariat or working class owns only their labor power, not the fruits of their labors (i.e., the results of production). The capitalists or bourgeoisie employ the proletariat for a living wage, but then keep the products of the labor. As a result, the proletariat is alienated from the fruits of its labor – they do not own the products they produce, only their labor power. Because Marx believed species being to be the goal and ideal of human nature and that species being could only be realized when individuals owned the results of their labors, Marx saw capitalism as leading toward increasingly unhappy individuals; they would be alienated from the results of their production and therefore would not be self-realized.

But the alienation from the results of their production is just one component of the alienation Marx proposed. In addition to the alienation from the results of production, the proletariat is also alienated from each other under capitalism. Capitalists alienate the proletariat from each other by forcing them to compete for limited job opportunities. Job opportunities are limited under capitalism in order for capitalists to keep wages down; without a pool of extraneous workers, capitalists would have to meet the wage demands of their workers. Because they are forced to compete with other members of the proletariat, workers are alienated from each other, compounding the unhappiness of the proletariat.

While Marx did have a solution to the problem of alienation, he seldom discussed it in detail. Marx's proposed solution was for the proletariat to unite and through protests or revolution (or legislation in democratic nations) overthrow the bourgeoisie and institute a new form of government – communism. This form of government would be based on communally owned and highly developed means of production and self-governance. The means of production would be developed – through capitalism – to the point that everyone in society would have sufficient 'free' time to allow them to participate in whatever governmental decisions needed to be made for the community as a whole. By re-connecting the individual with the fruits of their labor and empowering them toward true self-governance, species being would be realized and happiness would be returned.

Two additional comments are in order here. First, the economic systems that developed in The Soviet Union and China - as well as other parts of the world - was not the communism envisioned by Marx. Rather, they had achieved a form of socialism, what Marx called the stage between capitalism and communism. Second, Marx believed capitalism, while harmful to species being, was necessary to advance the means of production to a stage where communism (as he envisioned it) could be realized. Thus, while Marx was highly critical of capitalism, he also recognized its utility in developing the means of production.

Durkheim and Solidarity. Durkheim's view of society and the changes it was undergoing as a result of industrialization also led him to believe unhappiness was a possible outcome. Durkheim believed that an important component of social life was social solidarity, which is understood as a sense of community. In his classic study, Suicide, Durkheim argued that one of the root causes of suicide was a decrease in social solidarity – termed anomie (French for chaos) by Durkheim. Durkheim also argued that the increasing emphasis on individualism found in Protestant religions – in contrast to Catholicism – contributed to an increase in anomie, which resulted in higher suicide rates among Protestants.

In another work, The Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim proposed that pre-industrial societies maintained their social solidarity through a mechanistic sense of community and through their religious affiliations. Most people were generalists in their work – they farmed and created their own tools and clothing. Because they were alike in their generality, they were also more likely to share a sense of community, which Durkheim saw as an important component of happiness. In addition to their similarity in occupations, many individuals belonged to the same religious groups, which also fostered a sense of solidarity.

In industrializing societies, Durkheim recognized the inevitability of specialization. By definition, specialization means that individuals are going to have dissimilar occupations. This specialization would also affect religion. In industrial societies, religion would become just one aspect of lives that were increasingly divided into compartments – home, family, work, recreation, religion, etc.

Durkheim believed there were two components that would alleviate the decreasing social solidarity in industrializing societies: organic solidarity and conscientious attempts to find camaraderie through one's place of employment. Whereas social solidarity was maintained in pre-industrial societies through a mechanistic sense of similarity and dependence along with communal religious affiliations, in industrialized societies, social solidarity would be maintained by the interdependence of specialists on one another. If one individual specialized in treating the injured or ill, they would not have time to raise crops or otherwise produce food. Doctors would become dependent on farmers for their food while farmers would become dependent on doctors for their healthcare. This would force a type of organic solidarity — organic in the sense that the parts were interdependent like the organs of an animal are interdependent for their survival.

In addition to the inevitable interdependence a specialized society would warrant, Durkheim believed that a conscientious effort to develop and foster friendships would transition from a religious brotherhood to friendships developed at one's place of employment. Specialized individuals would have a great deal in common with their co-workers and, like members of the same religious congregations in pre-industrial societies, co-workers would be able to develop strong bonds of social solidarity through their occupations. Thus, for Durkheim, the answer to the decrease in mechanistic solidarity and the increasing anomie was organic solidarity and solidarity pursued within one's speciality occupation.

3. Societal Development. The sociological understanding of societal development relies heavily upon the work of Gerhard Lenski. Lenski outlined some of the more commonly seen organizational structures in human societies. Classifications of human societies can be based on two factors: (1) the primary means of subsistence and (2) the political structure. This lecture focuses on the subsistence systems of societies rather than their political structures.

While it is a bit far-reaching to argue that all societies will develop through the stages outlined below, it does appear that most societies follow such a route. Human groups begin as hunter-gatherers, move toward pastoralism and/or horticulturalism, develop toward an agrarian society, and ultimately end up undergoing a period of industrialization (with the potential for developing a service industry following industrialization). Not all societies pass through every stage. Some societies have stopped at the pastoral or horticultural stage (e.g., Bedouin nomads), though these may be temporary pauses due to economic niches that will likely disappear over time. Some societies may also jump stages as a result of the introduction of technology from other societies. It is also worth noting that these categories aren't really distinct groups as there is often overlap in the subsistence systems used in a society. Some pastoralist societies also engage in some measure of horticultural food production and most industrial and post-industrial societies still have agriculture, just in a reduced capacity.

The Implications of Societal Development

The stages of societal development.

As noted throughout the above discussion of societal development, changes in the social structure of a society - in this case the primary means of subsistence - also affect other aspects of society. For instance, as hunters and gatherers make the transition into pastoralism and horticulture, they also develop a surplus in food stuffs. While it is common for people in the developed world today to have lots of surplus food, we rarely consider just how important that extra food is. To begin with, once a society has surplus food, that means more of their children will survive into adulthood. Additionally, as food yields increase in agricultural societies, smaller percentages of the population are required to produce the food for the rest of the population. This frees up those people not engaged in food production to specialize in other areas, like clothing or housing production. This results in specialists: some people become experts in growing crops or raising livestock while others become experts in clothing production, metal-working, home construction, etc. That specialization leads to rapid increases in technology as people are freed from having to spend the majority of their time finding or growing their food and can then spend their time improving at their speciality. The relationship between surplus and technology may not seem obvious, initially, but surplus is clearly the forerunner of technological development.

This is illustrated in the diagram. The diagram shows societal development along the top and the implications of societal development along the bottom. The arrows running between the two rows illustrate the fact that these relationships are very complex. For instance, specialization not only results from agriculture but also from denser populations and surplus and helps spur industry. The point being, these are interdependent aspects of societal development that co-evolve.

One additional outcome of surplus that is included in the diagram is inequality. It is important to note that as soon as there is surplus, there will be greater surplus for some people. Those with more surplus have an economic advantage relative to those with less surplus as they have greater bargaining power - et voilà, social inequality is born.

4. Traditional Society and Modern Society are two terms that are often heard these days thanks to the lot of advancements made in the fields of technology, science, education, fashion and the like.

Traditional society believes in the strict adherence to the scriptural directions. It believed seriously in the following of the directions as enjoined in the Bible or Quran or Vedas. Modern society tends to relax the following of the strict directions enjoined in the respective scriptures for lack of time and such other reasons.

Traditional society has a lot of time at their disposal to perform its duties as prescribed in the texts of the past. Modern society does not have a lot of time at their disposal to perform its duties as prescribed in the olden texts. This is a major difference between the two terms.

Traditional society does not believe in the application of technology and science to a great extent and hence, it tends to rely more on traditional methods of science and medicine. On the other hand, the modern society revels in making the best use of the technology available to it. It also makes use of the advancements made in medicine and science to a great extent.

Traditional society attaches more importance to the cultural and philosophical values of the land. On the other hand, modern society does not pay much importance to the cultural and the philosophical values of the land of its existence. Instead, it allows itself to be influenced greatly by the cultures of the other lands.

Traditional society believes in the joint family system of living. On the other hand, modern society believes in the individual family system of living. Traditional society does not believe in making use of the latest fashion in clothes and other accessories. On the other hand modern society believes in making the best use of the latest fashion in attire and other accessories.

An industrial society is a society in which the primary means of subsistence is industry. Industry is a system of production focused on mechanized manufacturing of goods. Like agrarian societies, industrial societies increase food surpluses, resulting in more developed hierarchies and significantly more division of labor.

The division of labor in industrial societies is often one of the most notable elements of the society and can even function to re-organize the development of relationships. Whereas relationships in pre-industrial societies were more likely to develop through contact at one's place of worship or through proximity of housing, industrial society brings people with similar occupations together, often leading to the formation of friendships through one's work.

When capitalised, The Industrial Revolution refers to the first known industrial revolution, which took place in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. What is some times referred to as The Second Industrial Revolution describes later, somewhat less dramatic changes resulting from the widespread availability of electric power and the internal-combustion engine. Many developing nations began industrialisation under the influence of either the United States or the USSR during the Cold War.

Today, industry makes up only a relatively small percentage of highly developed countries' workforce (see the pie chart above), in large part due to advanced mechanization. The use of machines and robots to facilitate manufacturing reduces the number of people required to work in industry by increasing their efficiency. As a result, a single worker can produce substantially more goods in the same amount of time today than they used to be able to produce. This has also resulted in a transition in most highly developed countries into a post-industrial or service-oriented economy.

A post-industrial society is a society in which the primary means of subsistence is derived from service-oriented work, as opposed to agriculture or industry. It is important to note here that the term post-industrial is still debated in part because it is the current state of society; it is difficult to name a phenomenon while it is occurring.

Post-industrial societies are often marked by:

  • an increase in the size of the service sector or jobs that perform services rather than creating goods (industry)
  • either the outsourcing of or extensive use of mechanization in manufacturing
  • an increase in the amount of information technology, often leading to an Information Age
  • information, knowledge, and creativity are seen as the new raw materials of the economy

Most highly developed countries are now post-industrial in that the majority of their workforce works in service-oriented industries, like finance, healthcare, education, or sales, rather than in industry or agriculture.

Post-industrial society is occasionally used critically by individuals seeking to restore or return to industrial development. Increasingly, however, individuals and communities are viewing abandoned factories as sites for new housing and shopping. Capitalists are also realizing the recreational and commercial development opportunities such locations offer.

Questions for Review:

1. Describe the Classical Views on Social Change

2. Which Theories of social development do you know?

3. List the Implications of Societal Development?

4 .What referred to Industrial Revolution?


Date: 2016-03-03; view: 178

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