Society exists only where social beings create relationship with one another. Thus society is a web of social relationships.
Moris Ginsberg defines "A society is a collection of individuals united by certain relations or modes of behaviour which mark them off from others who do not enter into these relations or who differ from them in behaviour."
Characteristics or Elements of Society:
Following are the important characteristics or elements of society.
(1) A system of social relationships:
Society refers to social relationship. The meaning of social relationship shall be more clear if we distinguish it from physical relationship. The relation between pen and ink, table and chair, pen and paper etc. are known as physical relations. In this relations there is no reciprocal awareness. Social relations, on the other hand, those which exist between mother and child, brother and sister, teacher and student, husband and wife etc. are determined by reciprocal awareness or interaction. Without reciprocity there is no social relationship, no society. Thus society is a network of social relationship.
In a society all members depend upon each other. For example, family, the first society in which we all are closely and deeply associated is based on the biological inter-dependence. Similarly, in a family some members earn and all depend upon them. The children depend upon their parents in childhood age and parents depend upon their grown-up children in their old age. Both male and female members in the family cannot survive without the inter-dependence upon each other in every sphere. Thus inter-dependency is most significant element of society. At the higher level, one nation depends upon the other in the economic, social, political, cultural fields.
Maclver says that society means likeness. It exists among like beings, like-bodies and like-minded people. It is likeness which provides for understanding each by the other. This understanding is based on friendship, intimacy, association, institution and any such other types of relationships. Similarities are found among the people of society in customs, traditions, folkways, mores, norms, values, beliefs, attitudes, needs, objectives etc. So likeness or similarity is an essential element of society.
Though there is likeness in the society yet it is characterised by difference also. In every society, there are people who differ from one another in a number of ways. For example, family rests upon the biological difference between the sexes. Some are males and others are females. Similarly people differ from one another in respect of their ability, talent, capacity, interest, tendency etc. Human beings also differ from one another irrespective of rights and duties, thoughts and ideals, professions and economic activities. So society involves both likeness and differences. Difference is also very essential for society.
(5) Comprehensive culture:
Every society has its own distinctive culture, culture refers to the art, knowledge, beliefs, morals, law, value, custom, tradition, literature, science, philosophy etc. acquired by man as a member of society. Society preserves our culture and also transmits it to our future generations. Thus society is the store and centre of human culture.
(6) Co-operation and conflict:
Maclver says, "Society is co operation crossed by conflict." Both co-operation and conflict are the essential elements of society. Co-operation plays a vital role in every aspect of our social life. Society cannot exist without co-operation. People cannot lead a happy and comfortable life unless they co operate with each other. Family rests on co-operation. The members of the family co-operate with each other to live happily and peacefully. Not only co-operation but also conflict is essential for society. Society needs struggles to solve social as well as personal problems. Society also requires conflicts for its formation and growth, harmony and disharmony, association and dissociation as well. Conflict is a universal process through which all things have come to existence.
(7) Society is abstract:
Society is an organisation which consists of social relation, customs, laws, mores, norms, values and so on. These are abstract and intangible. People only feel and realise these relations. Thus society is same thing which cannot be seen or touched. It can only be felt and experienced by its members. Society does not include any concrete form and therefore, society is abstract. That is why, abstractness is a significant characteristics or element of society.