The 5 functions of society: how does it influence our lives?

The 5 functions of society: how does it influence our lives?

In psychology and other social sciences we often talk a lot about “society”. We discuss how it affects us, the kinds of societies we have built, we talk about the changes our societies have gone through, and so on. We even differentiate between Western, non-Western, individualistic, collectivistic, knowledge societies, developed, undeveloped, and among many others. However, we rarely ask ourselves what exactly we mean when we talk about “society”.

Considering that there is no single definition, and that it is a topic that we could approach from very different perspectives, in this article we will briefly review the psychosocial approach to what society is and what some of its elements are. Specifically we will see several of the main functions that life in society has .

What is society and what elements does it have?

From the most classical traditions of social sciences, society has been presented as the element opposed to the individual , that is, as an entity that is external to the subjects and that affects us, molds us, oppresses us, or the other way around: it liberates us, strengthens us or drives us. In other words, society is usually thought of as something that exists outside the subject, but in relation to it: it sustains it and at the same time limits it.

Nevertheless, society can also be understood as the result of the own activity of human beings ; activity that when being shared, also generates a set of norms. That is to say, society can also be understood as the result of our interaction.

Because, by interacting, we produce and share a series of codes that allow us to organize ourselves in different ways. These codes are translated into elements that foster socialization (the process by which an individual becomes a competent subject for society).

Examples of these elements are institutions (family, marriage, school, science, religion, etc.), which depends on the geographical, economic, political situation, traditions , values and history of each set of individuals.

In other words, there is no one way to make society; the same dynamics and minimal processes are not generated everywhere, just as they have not been the same at all times. And beyond being an entity different from the subject, society is the result of the activity and interaction of the same subjects.

5 functions of society

Based on the above, we could ask ourselves: what is the point of living in society? What is the point? Could we live without society or outside it?

No doubt the functions of society are at least problematic. Beyond whether society itself is good or bad, harmful or beneficial, the whole of our own activity is usually uncertain, with which, the effects and functions of society also become ambiguous .

If we also think of society in pragmatic terms, we can say that it not only influences our lives or our activity, but that it is through society itself that we are able to maintain our own lives (physical and psychic). However, depending on the dynamics that are generated, the opposite effect can also occur.

We can roughly describe the functions of society in different processes that are generated by shared human activity: identity, social norms, care practices, provisioning activities, and environmental management.

1. Generate identity

In psychology and other social sciences we often talk a lot about “society”. We discuss how it affects us, the kinds of societies we have built, we talk about the changes our societies have gone through, and so on. We even differentiate between Western, non-Western, individualistic, collectivistic, knowledge societies, developed, undeveloped, and among many others. However, we rarely ask ourselves what exactly we mean when we talk about “society”.

Considering that there is no single definition, and that it is a topic that we could approach from very different perspectives, in this article we will briefly review the psychosocial approach to what society is and what some of its elements are. Specifically we will see several of the main functions that life in society has .

What is society and what elements does it have?

From the most classical traditions of social sciences, society has been presented as the element opposed to the individual , that is, as an entity that is external to the subjects and that affects us, molds us, oppresses us, or the other way around: it liberates us, strengthens us or drives us. In other words, society is usually thought of as something that exists outside the subject, but in relation to it: it sustains it and at the same time limits it.

Nevertheless, society can also be understood as the result of the own activity of human beings ; activity that when being shared, also generates a set of norms. That is to say, society can also be understood as the result of our interaction.

Because, by interacting, we produce and share a series of codes that allow us to organize ourselves in different ways. These codes are translated into elements that foster socialization (the process by which an individual becomes a competent subject for society).

Examples of these elements are institutions (family, marriage, school, science, religion, etc.), which depends on the geographical, economic, political situation, traditions , values and history of each set of individuals.

In other words, there is no one way to make society; the same dynamics and minimal processes are not generated everywhere, just as they have not been the same at all times. And beyond being an entity different from the subject, society is the result of the activity and interaction of the same subjects.

5 functions of society

Based on the above, we could ask ourselves: what is the point of living in society? What is the point? Could we live without society or outside it?

No doubt the functions of society are at least problematic.
Beyond whether society itself is good or bad, harmful or beneficial, the whole of our own activity is usually uncertain, with which, the effects and functions of society also become ambiguous .

If we also think of society in pragmatic terms, we can say that it not only influences our lives or our activity, but that it is through society itself that we are able to maintain our own lives (physical and psychic).
However, depending on the dynamics that are generated, the opposite effect can also occur.

We can roughly describe the functions of society in different processes that are generated by shared human activity: identity, social norms, care practices, provisioning activities, and environmental management.

1. Generate identity

Organizing ourselves as a society, and becoming competent members of it, has among its effects the management and manipulation of the environment where our interaction takes place. That is, the manipulation of the environment. Life in society allows us not only to take from the environment what we need to survive, but also, because of the same norms and identities that are generated, social activity can have as a consequence the excessive wear of the environment due to the constant use of its resources .

Thus, society often not only has the function of satisfying basic needs, but it also generates other needs and other forms of satisfaction that lead to the massive exploitation of the environment where society itself emerges. To this end, another of the functions that our societies have generated has been the production of knowledge and the development of technology , devices that have had an important influence, not only on the management of the environment but also on interpersonal relations.

In short, rather than having specific functions, life in society has a series of effects that are not precisely external to the subjects, but are the result of our interaction. Likewise, they can be problematic, so it is important to take them into account to ensure that such interaction translates into coexistence and quality of life.

Bibliographic references:

  • Ibáñez, T. (2004) (Ed.). Introduction to Social Psychology. Editorial UOC: Barcelona.

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