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Definition of Society

(noun) A large group of interacting people in a defined territory, sharing a common culture.

Types of Society

Society Pronunciation

Usage Notes

Related Quotations

  • “A social fact is every way of acting, whether fixed or not, which is capable of exercising an external constraint on the individual; or, which is general throughout a given society, whilst having an existence of its own, independent of its individual manifestations” (Durkheim [1895] 2004:50).
  • “Each of us is a social being. We are born into a social environment; we fully develop in to human beings in a social environment; and we live our lives in a social environment. What we think, how we feel, and what we say and do all are shaped by our interactions with other people. The scientific study of these social interactions and of social organization is called sociology” (Hughes and Kroehler 2008:3).
  • “If one wants to change society, one needs to understand the logic of how it operates” (Babbie 2011:62).
  • “If religion protects man against the desire to kill himself, it is not because it preaches respect for his person based on arguments sui generis, but because it is a society. What constitutes this society is the existence of a certain number of beliefs and practices common to all the faithful which are traditional and therefore obligatory. The more numerous and strong these collective states are, the more strongly integrated is the religious community, and the greater its preservative value” (Durkheim [1897] 2004:74).
  • “If the rights and perquisites of different positions in a society must be unequal, then the society must be stratified, because that is precisely what stratification means. Social inequality is thus an unconsciously evolved device by which societies insure that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the most qualified persons. Hence every society, no matter how simple or complex, must differentiate persons in terms of both prestige and esteem, and must therefore possess a certain amount of institutionalized inequality” (Davis and Moore 1945:243).
  • “In American society, the basic kinship system consists of parents and children, but it may include other relatives as well, especially grandparents. Each person in this system has certain rights and obligations as a result of his or her position in the family structure. Furthermore, a person may occupy several positions at the same time. For example, an 18-year-old woman may simultaneously be a daughter, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, and a granddaughter. Each role entails different rights and obligations. As a daughter, the young woman may have to defer to certain decisions of her parents; as a sister, to share her bedroom; as a cousin, to attend a wedding; and as a granddaughter, to visit her grandparents during the holidays” (Strong, Devault, and Cohen 2011:19).
  • “No society lacks norms governing conduct. But societies do differ in the degree to which folkways, mores and institutional controls are effectively integrated with the goals which stand high in the hierarchy of cultural values. The culture may be such as to lead individuals to center their emotional convictions upon the complex of culturally acclaimed ends, with far less emotional support for prescribed methods of reaching out for these ends. With such differential emphases upon goals and institutional procedures, the latter may be so vitiated by the stress on goals as to have the behavior of many individuals limited only by considerations of technical expediency. In this context, the sole significant question becomes: Which of the available procedures is most efficient in netting the culturally approved value? The technically most effective procedure, whether culturally legitimate or not, becomes typically preferred to institutionally prescribed conduct. As this process of attenuation continues, the society becomes unstable and there develops what Durkheim called ‘anomie‘ (normlessness)” (Merton [1949] 1968:189).
  • Patriarchy literally means ‘rule of the fathers‘ and comes from the Old Testament—all power was given to male elders. Today, its meaning is more general: male domination of all the major institutions of society including government, religion, education, the economy, the military and the media” (Kaufman and Kimmel 2011:112).
  • Social stratification is universal but variable. Social stratification is found everywhere. Yet what is unequal and how unequal it is varies from one society to another. In some societies, inequality is mostly a matter of prestige; in others, wealth or power is the key element of difference. In addition, some societies contain more inequality than others” (Macionis 2012:225).
  • “Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible. Sometimes the object of the panic is quite novel and at other times it is something which has been in existence long enough, but suddenly appears in the limelight. Sometimes the panic passes over and is forgotten, except in folklore and collective memory; at other times it has more serious and long-lasting repercussions and might produce such changes as those in legal and social policy or even in the way society conceives itself” (Cohen 2002:1).
  • Sociology is the systematic study of human society and social interaction. It is a systematic study because sociologists apply both theoretical perspectives and research methods (or orderly approaches) to examinations of social behavior” (Kendall 2006:2).
  • “Such an assumption seems to me to ignore the central fact about deviance: it is created by society. I do not mean this in the way it is ordinarily understood, in which the causes of deviance are located in the social situation of the deviant or in ‘social factors’ which prompt his action. I mean, rather, that social groups create deviance by making rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labelling them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’. The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied; deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label” (Becker 1963:8–9).
  • “The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average members of the same society forms a particular system with a life of its own life; one might call it the collective or common consciousness” (Durkheim [1893] 2004:24).
  • “The undue reliance which sociologists have placed upon the idea of ‘society’, where this means a bounded system, should be replaced by a starting point that concentrates upon analysing how social life is ordered across time and space – the problem of time-space distanciation. The conceptual framework of time-space distanciation directs our attention to the complex relations between local involvements (circumstances of co-presence) and interaction across distance (the connections of presence and absence). In the modern era, the level of time-space distanciation is much higher than in any previous period, and the relations between local and distant social forms and events become correspondingly ‘stretched’. Globalisation refers essentially to that stretching process, in so far as the modes of connection between different social contexts or regions become networked across the earth’s surface as a whole. Globalisation can thus be defined as the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa” (Giddens 1991:63–64).

Additional Information

Related Terms


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Davis, Kingsley, and Wilbert E. Moore. 1945. “Some Principles of Stratification.” American Sociological Review 10(2):242–49. doi:10.2307/2085643.

Durkheim, Émile. [1893] 2004. “The Division of Labour in Society.” Pp. 19–38 in Readings from Emile Durkheim. Rev. ed., edited and translated by K. Thompson. New York: Routledge.

Durkheim, Émile. [1895] 2004. “The Rules of Sociological Method.” Pp. 43–63 in Readings from Emile Durkheim. Rev. ed., edited and translated by K. Thompson. New York: Routledge.

Durkheim, Émile. [1897] 2004. “Suicide.” Pp. 65–83 in Readings from Emile Durkheim. Rev. ed., edited and translated by K. Thompson. New York: Routledge.

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Strong, Bryan, Christine DeVault, and Theodore F. Cohen. 2011. The Marriage and Family Experience: Intimate Relationships in a Changing Society. 11th ed. Boston: Cengage Learning.

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Cite the Definition of Society

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “society.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved August 21, 2019 (https://sociologydictionary.org/society/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

society. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/society/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “society.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed August 21, 2019. https://sociologydictionary.org/society/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“society.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 21 Aug. 2019. <https://sociologydictionary.org/society/>.