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A society is a group of individuals that form a semi-closed system, in which most interactions are with other individuals belonging to the group. A society is a network of relationships between people. A society is an interdependent community. The casual meaning of society simply refers to a group of people living together in an ordered community. Societies are the main subject of study of the social sciences.

The origin of the word society comes from the Latin societas, a "friendly association with others." Societas is derived from socius meaning "companion" and thus the meaning of society is closely related to what is social. Implicit in the meaning of society is that its members share some mutual concern or interest in a common objective. As such, society is often used as synonymous with the collective citizenry of a country as directed through national institutions concerned with civic welfare.

Peoples of many nations united by common political and cultural traditions, beliefs, or values are sometimes also said to be a society (for example: Judeo-Christian, Eastern, Western, etc). When used in this context, the term is being used as a means of contrasting two or more "societies" whose representative members represent alternative conflicting and competing worldviews.

Also, some groups apply the title "society" to themselves, as the "American Society of Mathematics". In the United States, this is most common in commerce, in which a partnership between investors to start a business is usually called a "society". In the United Kingdom, partnerships are not called societies but cooperatives or mutuals are often know as societies (such as friendly societies and building societies).

If society is something of a shibboleth, confusions in its understanding can often be traced to the various nuances in which it has been used to describe a great variety of political opinion. For example, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously denied that society exists at all. However, Thatcher's use of the term was narrow and should be understood within the context of her polemic. In the interview in Women's Own magazine, October 3 1987, Thatcher argued that the obligation for solving social problems, commonly expected of the government, was more properly the responsibility of individuals and families: "no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first" (Thatcher 1987). Thatcher only denies the existence of "society" as she understands it -- the idea that social welfare is the responsibility of government and not individuals.

Margaret Thatcher wasn't the only one to claim that society doesn't exist. There is still an ongoing debate in sociological and anthropological circles if there exists an entity we could call society. Marxist theorists like Louis Althusser, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek argued that society is nothing more than an effect of the ruling ideology and shouldn't be used as a sociological notion.

See also


  1. Definition of Society (social)
  2. Learning Commons - What is Culture ? - Glossary Item - Society