What is Society?

What is society? Would you be surprised to find out that society determines how you spend your life? Society can define everything from what you wear to where you work. For this reason, sociologists find it important to study society in detail.

Get started Sign up for free
What is Society? What is Society?

Create learning materials about What is Society? with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account

Millions of flashcards designed to help you ace your studies

Sign up for free

Convert documents into flashcards for free with AI!

Table of contents
    • In this article, we will look further at society. We will cover:
    • What is society's definition?
    • The characteristics of society
    • The types of societies and examples of society, including:
      • Preindustrial society
      • Industrial society
      • Postindustrial society
    • And finally, the importance of society in sociology according to different theoretical perspectives.

    So, let's start simple and begin with defining society.

    What is Society's Definition?

    Although there are many definitions of what a society is, we can consider the one below.

    People who live in a definable community and who share a culture." (Strayer, 2015)

    For sociologists, society is the cornerstone of everything - this is why it's important to study it. The type of society we live in determines many aspects of our lives, such as where we grow up, how we are influenced, who we meet, what we do, and how we experience life. Each society is different, and there are millions across the world.

    Social Institutions, aerial night map of USA, StudySmarter.Fig. 1 - The society we live in determines many aspects of our lives.

    Characteristics of Society

    Societies are characterized by their shared values, beliefs, and cultures. However, the remarkable thing is that every individual society has different values, beliefs, and cultures; no two societies are the same!

    In New York, it is very normal to get around using a virtual taxi app such as Uber or Lyft. But in many societies in the Netherlands, they don't use these apps; instead, their shared culture is to get around on a bike.

    A society consists of its people and the institutions that surround them. A characteristic of more advanced societies is that their members often share political authority.

    The Social Construction of Reality

    The Social Construction of Reality is a book published in 1966 by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. Within this book, they explore their idea of how society is based on human interaction, something that they called habitualization.

    “Any action that is repeated frequently becomes cast into a pattern, which can then be... performed again in the future in the same manner and with the same economical effort”

    This idea continues to enforce our societal characteristics such as shared norms and values. Berger and Luckmann's (1966) argument states that we construct our own society, and accept it because others have created it before us. Society is a social construct and due to habitualization, we continue to create it.

    Interested in learning more? Check out our full article on The Social Construction of Reality!

    Now that we understand a society's basis, let's look at some of the most common types.

    What are the Types of Societies?

    Societies change drastically over time; with each major change comes a different type of society.

    Sociologist Gerhard Lenski (1924) came up with a series of definitions for different types of societies. Lenski's definitions were based on how technologically advanced a society was. This is because along with the advancement of a society there come advancements in their use of technology.

    Lenski ranked societies in accordance with how industrialized they were starting with preindustrial society, then industrial society, and ending with postindustrial society.

    Sociologists now consider that most of the world lives in a postindustrial society. With the rise of technology, however, some believe we have moved even further than that, into an age of technology.

    Let’s explore examples of these three types of society below.

    Examples of Society

    Society is not linear, and shifts with the progression of a country. You could imagine society as a spectrum, usually beginning with preindustrial and ending in postindustrial. However, the rate at which a society moves along this spectrum varies greatly, with some even going back on their progress.

    Let's take a further look at the types of society on this spectrum, as defined by Lenski!

    Social Institutions, growing plant, StudySmarter.Fig. 2 - Societies have grown and developed over time, starting with nomadic agriculture.

    Preindustrial Society as a Type of Society

    According to Lenski (2009), there are five stages to preindustrial society:

    1. The hunter-gatherer stage emerged at the very beginning of human life. People were nomadic and relied mostly on foraging to survive. At this point, society had little inequality in materials due to a lack of resources.

    2. The pastoral stage had a focus on domesticated animals, including breeding and farming them for resources.

    3. The next stage is horticultural. This stage is more settled, as humans learned to plant crops rather than relying on what they found in the wild. People in horticultural societies were much less nomadic than hunter-gatherer societies as they had some tools and objects to help them.

    4. The next preindustrial stage is agricultural. This stage hosts larger agricultural settlements and advancements in technologies. People in these societies focus most of their efforts on food production but new technology, like the plow, helps them to farm more efficiently.

    5. The final preindustrial stage is feudal. Feudal societies have strict structures of hierarchy. Those at the top of the system have a lot of power and land compared to those at the bottom.

    Industrial Society as a Type of Society

    The Industrial society was famously named after the Industrial Revolution that began in 1760.

    The Industrial Revolution was a period of time in which there were significant developments in manufacturing. This revolution was resulted in heavy-duty machinery to aid with labor production and farm work.

    The Industrial Revolution began in England but quickly spread to the US, where technology started to be used to produce goods and services. The Industrial Revolution was a significant societal shift. It interlinked society and science, and showed the importance of sharing scientific information between individuals to develop society.

    Postindustrial Society as a Type of Society

    Postindustrial societies are a more recent development based on producing information and services. They come after industrial societies and mainly thrive from technological advancements. The members of a postindustrial society are likely to sell services as a job, like a digital adviser, rather than producing goods as they did in an industrial society.

    You can read more about preindustrial society, industrial society, and postindustrial society in our 'Types of Societies' article.

    Importance of Society in Sociology: Theoretical Perspectives on Society

    Most sociologists consider society to be an essential element of sociological study. In particular, they theorize about the importance of society for its members. However, different theoretical perspectives offer different explanations for this - let's look at these now.

    Social Institutions, people crossing street, StudySmarter.Fig. 3 - Society is considered very important in sociology.

    Functionalism and the Importance of Society

    Functionalists see society as a perfectly working body. They believe that each member of society and each institution of society have specific roles which, if performed correctly, make society run smoothly. They see that all aspects of society are interconnected and believe this is important to maintain.

    Émile Durkheim (1895) saw society as similar to a living organism and that each 'organ' had a vital role in keeping it alive. Durkheim went on to argue that even the deviant members of society are important, as they teach everyone else the accepted values and beliefs.

    Conflict Theory and the Importance of Society

    The conflict theory perspective, led by Karl Marx (1848), saw society as immensely important, but in a different way to functionalists. For Marx, it was important to study society to understand how it exploits its members.

    Marx saw conflicts in society between those who owned the means of production (the bourgeoisie) and those who worked for them (the proletariat). He viewed this capitalist conflict as a negative force in society, arguing that a society running on capitalism was damaging for its members.

    Symbolic Interactionism and the Importance of Society

    For Max Weber, one of the key symbolic interactionists, the importance of society lays within its changes. He saw the drastic changes that Western society experienced due to industrialization, and was concerned about the destructive effects this would have on its members.

    Weber emphasizes the concept of rationalization when looking at modern society. This meant that he saw certain societies as rational and others as not. For him, rational societies were ones that ran on logic rather than tradition. He differs here from Marx, as Weber believed a capitalist society was an extremely logical one.

    We have more articles going into more detail on all of the above!

    What is Society? - Key takeaways

    • Society is defined as 'a group of people who live in a definable community and share the same culture'. Society is often the cornerstone of many sociologists' research.
    • The main characteristics of society are shared norms, values, and beliefs. These characteristics help to socially construct society, as stated by Berger and Luckmann (1966).
    • There are three main types of society: preindustrial, industrial, and postindustrial. These were defined by Lenski (2009).
    • The importance of society differs for each social perspective. Functionalists believe society works perfectly and institutions are important to keep it running. Conflict theory sees the type of society as being important and believes a capitalist society is damaging.
    • Contrasting this, symbolic interactionists see that changes in society are the most important, and too many changes can be dangerous for its members.


    1. Strayer, H. (2015). Introduction to sociology 2e. Openstax. ‌
    2. Berger, P. Luckmann, T. (1966). The Social Construction of Reality. Anchor Books.
    Frequently Asked Questions about What is Society?

    What is the role of society in science?

    The industrial revolution was a significant societal shift. It interlinked society and science. It showed the importance of sharing scientific information between individuals to grow society.

    What is society in our life?

    Society refers to a group of people who live in a definable community and share the same culture.

    What are the characteristics of society?

    Societies have the same characteristics of shared values, beliefs, and cultures. However, the amazing this is that every individual society has different values, beliefs, and cultures; no two societies are the same!

    Why do we need society?

    Why do we need society? Well, different sociologist perspectives speculate about the importance of society but most agree that we need society to maintain order.

    Why is the study of society important?

    For sociologists, society is the cornerstone of everything- this is why it's important to study. This is because the type of society we live in determines many aspects of our lives.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following is not a characteristic of society?

    What is the key aspect of a pastoral society?

    According to Lenski (2009), there are four phases in preindustrial society: true or false?


    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Sociology Teachers

    • 9 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App
    Sign up with Email

    Get unlimited access with a free StudySmarter account.

    • Instant access to millions of learning materials.
    • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams, AI tools and more.
    • Everything you need to ace your exams.
    Second Popup Banner