Glossary Item

society

A society is any group of people (or, less commonly, plants or animals) living together in a group and constituting a single related, interdependent community. This word is frequently taken to include entire national communities; we might, for instance, comment upon some aspect of U.S. society. Society can also be used to refer to smaller groups of people, as when we refer to "rural societies" or "academic society," etc. Society is distinguished from culture in that society generally refers to the community of people while culture generally refers to the systems of meaning—what Geertz calls "webs of significance" which govern the conduct and understanding of people's lives. Nevertheless, because of the close conceptual relationship between the community and its culture, the distinction between these words is often unclear in common use of "society" or its derivative words; for example, when we refer to "societal problems," we are referring to conflicts which have as much to do with culture as they do with society. See also "sociology."


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