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SOCIETY and SPACE │ Meaning │ Definition │ Characteristics and Types of Society

Space or social space is a central organizing concept withing geography. As the discipline developed in the 19th, 20th and early 21st centuries the ways in which geographers have conceptualized space has become increasingly sophisticated.

A social space is physical or virtual space such as a social center, online social media, or other gathering places where people gather and interact. Some social spaces such as town squares or parks are public places; others such as pubs, websites, or shopping malls are privately owned and regulated.

Definition: According to Buttimer (1969), social space is a place where social activity can be done. Henri Lefebvre emphasized that in human society all 'space is social:
    1. It involves assigning more or less appropriate places to social relations.
    2. Social space has thus always been a social product'.
    3. Social space becomes thereby a metaphor for the very experience of social life.
    4. In this sense 'social space spans the dichotomy between "public" and "private" space.


A society is a group of individuals involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same spatial or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. Societies are characterized by patterns of relationships (social relations) between individuals who share a distinctive culture and institutions; a given society may be described as the sum total of such relationships among its constituent of members. In the social sciences, a larger society often exhibits stratification or dominance patterns in subgroups.

What is the definition of society?
  1. Morris Ginsberg: A society is a collection of individuals united by certain relations or mode of behaviour which mark them off from others who do not enter into this relation or who differ from them in behaviour.
  2. According to Cole: Society is the complex of organized association and institution within the community.
  3. According to Maclver: Society is a web od social relationships. In everyday life this term is used for various kinds of social units or social aggregates as if it exists ‘out there’ and beyond the individual subject such as Indian Society, French Society, American Society, Capitalist Society, etc.

Sociologists have defined society with two angles:
1) In abstract terms, as a network of relationships between people or between groups.
2) In concrete terms, as a collection of people or an organization of persons.


1. Society is abstract:

If society is viewed as a web of social relationships, it is distinct from the physical entity which we can see and perceive through senses. As written earlier, Maclver said,

we may see the people but cannot see society or social structure, but it's only external aspects.

Social relationships are invisible and abstract. We can just realize them but cannot see or touch them. Therefore, society is abstract. Reuter wrote: “Just as life is not a thing but a process of living, so society is not a thing but a process of associating”.

2. Likeness and difference in society

Society involves both likeness and difference. If people are all exactly alike, merely alike, their relationships would be limited. Thus, society needs difference also for its existence and continuance.

3. Cooperation and conflict in society

Cooperation and conflict are universal elements in human life. Society is based on cooper­ation but because of internal differences, there is conflict also among its members. This is why, Maclver and Page observed that “society is cooperation crossed by conflict”.

4. Society is a process and not a product

“Society exists only as a time sequence. It is becoming, not a being; a process and not a product” (Maclver and Page, 1956). In other words, as soon as the process ceases, the product disappears. The product of a machine endures after the machine has been scrapped. To some extent the same is true not only of material relics of man’s past culture but even of his immaterial cultural achievements.

5. Society as a system of stratification

Society provides a system of stratification of statuses and classes that each individual has a relatively stable and recognizable position in the social structure.

6. Society consists of people
7. Society have mutual interaction and mutual awareness
8. Society have co-operation and division of labour
9. Social relationships are characterized by interdependence.  
10. Society has its own way of control
11. Society always dynamic
12. Every society has a unique sense of culture


Humans have established many types of societies throughout history, anthropologists tend to classify differently societies according to the degree to which different groups within a society have unequal access to advantages such as resources, prestige, or power. Sociologists place societies in three broad categories: pre-industrial, industrial, and post-industrial.

[A] Pre-industrial

In a pre-industrial society, food production, which is carried out through the use of human and animal labour, is the main economic activity. These societies can be subdivided according to their level of technology and their method of producing food.

1. Hunting and gathering based society
o  The main form of food production in such societies is the daily collection of wild plants and the hunting of wild animals.
o  Hunter-gatherers move around constantly in search of food.
o  As a result, they do not build permanent villages or create a wide variety of artifacts, and usually only form small groups such as bands and tribes.
o  However, some hunting and gathering societies in areas with abundant resources lived in larger groups and formed complex hierarchical social structures such as chiefdom.
o  They generally consist of fewer than 60 people and rarely exceed 100.

2. Pastoral society
o  Pastoralism is a slightly more efficient form of subsistence. Rather than searching for food on a daily basis, members of a pastoral society rely on domesticated herd animals to meet their food needs.
o  Pastoralists live a nomadic life, moving their herds from one pasture to another. Because their food supply is far more reliable, pastoral societies can support larger populations. Since there are food surpluses, fewer people are needed to produce food.
o  For example, some people become craftworkers, producing tools, weapons, and jewellery, among other items of value.
 3. Agrarian society
o  Agrarian societies use agricultural technological advances to cultivate crops over a large area.
o  Sociologists use the phrase agricultural revolution to refer to the technological changes that occurred as long as 8,500 years ago that led to cultivating crops and raising farm animals. Increases in food supplies then led to larger populations than in earlier communities.
o  This meant a greater surplus, which resulted in towns that became centers of trade supporting various rulers, educators, craftspeople, merchants, and religious leaders who did not have to worry about locating nourishment.

[B] Industrial Societies
    1. Between the 15th and 16th centuries, a new economic system emerged that began to replace feudalism.
    2. Capitalism is marked by open competition in a free market, in which the means of production are privately owned.
    3. Europe's exploration of the Americas served as one impetus for the development of capitalism.
    4. The introduction of foreign metals, silks, and spices stimulated great commercial activity in European societies.
    5. Industrial societies rely heavily on machines powered by fuels for the production of goods. This produced further dramatic increases in efficiency.
    6. The increased efficiency of production of the industrial revolution produced an even greater surplus than before.
    7. Now the surplus was not just agricultural goods, but also manufactured goods.

[C] Post-industrial Society
    1. Post-industrial societies are societies dominated by information, services, and high technology more than the production of goods.
    2. Advanced industrial societies are now seeing a shift toward an increase in service sectors over manufacturing and production.
    3. The United States is the first country to have over half of its workforce employed in service industries. Service industries include government, research, education, health, sales, law, and banking.

  • Western world
  • Information society
  • Knowledge society
  • Other uses - American Mathematical Society, the American Society of Civil Engineers, or the Royal Society.

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Source of Information: WikipediaYourArticleLibrary│A Text Book of Social and Cultural Geography-Jyotirmoy Sen

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