Society as a system

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MINISTERY OF EDUCATION OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS Belarus State Economic University REFERAT: «SOCIETY AS A SYSTEM» Minsk 2008 Approaches to understanding the society The concept society has its origin in the Latin societas, or a friendly association with others so it refers to associations of individuals, to group relations. But the definition “the society is a group of interrelated individuals” can not be fully correct because society may be understood as 1) a particular community of people living in a country or region, and having shared customs, laws, and organizations, for instance, English society or American society; 2) people who are fashionable, wealthy, and influential, regarded as a distinct social group, for instance, high society; 3) an organization or club

set up for a particular purpose or activity, for instance, a society of fishermen; 4) a situation of being in the company of other people, for instance, I like his company. Being polysemantic, the word “society” has a number of definitions. Long ago E. Durkheim stated that “every entity of individuals who are involved in continuous contact forms a society”. Following his tradition, social sciences use the term “society” for the body of institutions and relationships within which a relatively large group of people live. More abstractly, the society is defined as a network of relationships between social entities. But even within sociology itself there exist various definitions of the concept as there are various approaches to understanding the society. The basic

approaches are a narrow sociological and broad philosophic ones. Within a narrow sociological perspective the society is understood as: a particular group of people who are linked together for communication and a paricular purpose like joint performance of some activities; a definite stage in historic development of a country, for instance, capitalist society; a system of interactions between people that has its structure and institutions. It should be noted that a society is not equal to a country or state although they have much in common. Country is a part of the globe that has definite territorial fronties and possesses state sovereignity. State is political organization of the given country including a particular type of power (monarchy or republic), bodies and structure of

ruling (government, Parliament). Society is social organization of the given country based on social structure. Countries are studied by geography, states – by politology, societies – by sociology. It’s easier to present a society within the framework of certain state fronties, for instance, Belarusian society coincides with Belarus as the country and state. The same concerns British, French or American society, but the territorial or state criterion is not always rightful as there is no such phenomenon as the society of Luxembourg. Each society is characterized by some attributes but researchers do not agree about their number. For instance, in 1967 an American sociologist Robert Marsh suggested the following attributes of the society: constant territory, for instance,

France in its state bounderies; reproduction of the population due to native child-bearing mainly, and migration plays an insignificant role; highly developed culture; political independence which means that society is not part of another system, for instance, colonial societies like Indian couldn’t be considered as such before India obtained independence. This classification was regarded as incomplete by its author himself; some of its criteria are debated, say that of a highly developed culture. It can’t be applied to such countries as the USA where representatives of various religious and ethnic groups live, so the USA is by right called a “melting pot”. There are no common values and ideals shared by the whole population, and existence of such diasporas as the Italian