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Types of Societies

Writers have classified societies into various categories Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft of Tonnies, mechanical and organic solidarities of Durkheim, status and contract of Maine, and militant and industrial societies of Spencer. All these thinkers have broadly divided society into pre-industrial and post-industrial societies. Sociologists like Comte based their classification of societies on intellectual development. Most of them concede the evolutionary nature of society- one type leading to the other. One more way of dividing societies is that of Marx. His classification of society is based on the institutional framework of society as determined by a group of people who control the means of production. Marx distinguishes five principal types of societies: primitive, Asiatic, ancient, feudal and capitalist.

Following these classifications, sociologists often refer to societies as primitive or modern non-literate or literate. A more recent kind of classification which is also used while distinguishing societies into types is the one between open and closed societies. A closed society is the one which is a traditional and simple society or a totalitarian State tends to resist change, while an open society admits change.

None of these classifications is accurate; for every major type have number of sub-types. One type like the capitalist can be of various kinds like carboniferous type, finance capital, and the modern neo-colonial or multi-national type. Further, it is to be borne in mind that the chief task of a sociologist is not that of identifying societies but finding out whether a particular kind of society has the potential to nurture, defend and survive. Such a study alone can reveal the sociological aspects of societies and thereby facilitating understanding of societies as they are, and, if need be, activate the required changes. In other words, sociology based on values relies on objective analysis of societies.

However, in recent years there have been several studies of what are variously called irrigation civilization or hydraulic societies. These studies have been related to the general study of bureaucracy, but little has yet been done in the way of large scale comparative work of various complex organized societies. It is not enough, however, to characterize pre-British India as an irrigation civilization with a centralized bureaucracy and a village system of production. The unity and stability of Indian society depended also upon two other factors, caste and religion. There, the aspect of caste to be emphasized is not so much its rigid hierarchical character and the way in which it divided groups from each other, as its integrating function, closely connected with religion.

M.N. Srinivas, in a discussion of Indian social structure, observes that caste guarantees autonomy to a community into relation with numerous other communities all going to form a hierarchy. The importance of such an institution is obvious in a vast country like India which has been the meeting place of many different cultures in the past and which has always had considerable regional diversity. While the autonomy of a sub- caste was preserved it was also brought into relation with others and the hierarchy was also a scale of generally agreed values.

The work of K. Wittfoged suggests that many important similarities can be found, in ancient Egypt, in Byzantium and elsewhere especially in the social functions of the priests and in the elements and caste revealed in detailed regulation of the division of labor. Each human group develops its own social and political structure in terms of its own culture and history. There broad types of social structures may be distinguished. First, the tribal society represented by the social structures of African tribes second, the agrarian social structure represented by the traditional Indian society. And the third, the industrial social structure represented by the industrially advanced countries Europe and U.S.A. Sociologists also speak of yet another type, called post industrial society, which is emerging out of the industrial society.