Some of the important characteristics of society are as follows:
A comprehensive understanding of society requires a thorough analysis of its characteristics. But the term society could be understood both from a narrower and broader sense. In a narrower sense society refers to a group of people but in a broader sense it refers to the whole human society. However, society has the following characteristics:
A society must have population. Without a group of people no society could be formed. Of course society refers not to a group of people but to a system of social relationships. But for the establishment of social relationships a group of people is necessary.
This population is a self perpetuating individual who reproduces itself through some sort of mating relationship. Hence it is the first requirement of society.
Likeness is the most important characteristic of society. Famous sociologist Maclver opines that society means likeness. Without a sense of likeness, there could be no mutual recognition of’ belonging together’ and therefore no society. This sense of likeness was found in early society on kinship and in modern societies the conditions of social likeness have broadened out into the principles of nationality.
Society consists of like bodied and likeminded individuals. Friendship intimacy and association of any kind would be impossible without likeness. It also helps in the understanding of one by the other. That is why F.H. Giddings opines that society rests on the ‘Consciousness of Kind’.
(2) Differences :
Along with likeness, differences are another important characteristic of society. Because society involves differences and it depends on it as much as on likeness. That is why Maclver opines that “primary likeness and secondary differences create the greatest of all institutions-the division of labour”. Because differences is complementary to social relationship. If people will be alike in all respect society could not be formed and there would be little reciprocity and relationship became limited. Family as the first society based on biological differences and differences in aptitude, interest and capacity. Though differences is necessary for society but differences by itself does not create society. Hence differences is sub-ordinate to likeness.
(3) Inter-dependence :
Interdependence is another important characteristic of society. This fact of interdependence is visible in every aspect of present day society. Famous Greek Philosopher, Aristotle remarked that ‘Man is a social animal’. As a social animal he is dependent on others. The survival and well being of each member is very much depended on this interdependence. No individual is self sufficient.
He has to depend on others for food, shelter and security and for the fulfillment of many of his needs and necessities. With the advancement of society this degree of interdependence increases manifold. Family being the first society is based on the biological interdependence of the sexes. Not only individuals are interdependent but also the groups, communities and societies.
(4) Co-operation and Conflict:
Both co-operation and conflict are two another important characteristics of society. Because famous sociologist Maclver once remarked that “Society is Cooperation crossed by conflict”. Co-operation is essentially essential for the formation of society. Without co-operation there can be no society. People can’t maintain a happy life without co-operation. Family being the first society rests on co-operation. Co-operation avoids mutual destructiveness and results in economy in expenditure.
Like co-operation conflict is also necessary for society. Conflict act as a cementing factor for strengthening social relations. In a healthy and well developed society both co-operation and conflict co-exist. Because with the help of these two universal process society is formed. Conflict makes co-operation meaningful. Conflict may be direct and indirect. However both are necessary for society.
(5) Society is a network or web of social relationship:
Social relationships are the foundation of society. That is why famous sociologist Maclver remarked that society is a network of social relationship. Hence it is difficult to classify social relationships. But this social relationship is based on mutual awareness or recognition to which Cooley call we-feeling, Giddings call consciousness of kind and Thomas as common propensity. Without these social relationships no society could be formed.
As social relationships are abstract in nature so also the society is abstract in nature. Different kinds of social processes like co-operation, conflict constantly takes place in society. And the relationships established around these create society. Hence a network of social relationships which created among individuals constitutes society.
(6) Permanent Nature:
Permanency is another important characteristic of society. It is not a temporary organisation of individuals. Society continues to exist even after the death of individual members. Society is a co-herent organisation.
(7) Society is Abstract:
Society is an abstract concept. As Maclver opines society is a web of social relationships. We can’t see this relationship but we can feel it. Hence it is an abstract concept. Wright has rightly remarked that “society in essence means a state or condition, a relationship and is, therefore, necessarily an abstraction”. Besides society consists of customs, traditions, folkways, mores and culture which are also abstract. Hence society is abstract in nature.
(8) Society is Dynamic :
The very nature of society is dynamic and changeable. No society is static. Every society changes and changes continuously. Old customs, traditions, folkways, mores, values and institutions got changed and new customs and values takes place. Society changes from its traditional nature to modern nature. Hence it is one of the most important characteristic of society.
(10) Comprehensive Culture:
Culture is another important characteristic of society. Each and every society has it’s own culture which distinguishes it from others. Culture is the way of life of the members of a society and includes their values, beliefs, art, morals etc. Hence culture is comprehensive because it fulfills the necessities of social life and is culturally self-sufficient. Besides each and every society transmits its cultural pattern to the succeeding generations.
(11) Something more than mere collection of individuals:
No doubt society consists of individuals. But mere collection of individuals is not society. It is something more than that and something beyond the individual. Durkheim is right when he remarked that society is more than the sum of its parts i.e. individuals.
(12) Accommodation and Assimilation:
This two associative social process is also important for the smooth functioning and continuity of society. Hence it is also another characteristic of society.