Society, social groups and social stratification


Any society comprises of several components which keeps it going. In other words a society is a system which has several sub-systems, viz, community, social groups, social stratification, institutions etc. In the following section we will understand each of these in detail.


Society has been studied by various scholars and has been defined and interpreted as per their perception. Some sociologists classified and studied society on the basis of geographical area, some on the basis of norms and traditions, whereas some on the basis of economy and technological advancement.  

According to McIver and Page “society is a web of human relationships”. They defined and studied society in terms of human relationships, i.e, how people interact with each other.

As per Anthony Giddens “a society is a group of people who live in a particular territory, are subject to a common system of political authority, and are aware of having a distinct identity from other groups around them.” He characterized society with a well defined territorial boundary and common system of functioning and s unique identity.

According to Durkheim “a society has an independent reality from individuals, and exists in its own right, exerting an influence over individuals within a ‘bounded territory” Durkheim looked at society as a ‘nation state’. However this perspective has been argued by modern sociologists as the phenomena of globalisation emerged.

According to Gidding “Society is the union itself, the organization, the sum of formal relations in which associated individuals are bound together’

Talcott Parson “Society may be defined as the total complex of human relationship in so far as they grow out of action in terms of means and relationship, intrinsic or symbolic.”

Cooley concept of society is “Society is a complex of forms or processes, each of which is living and growing by interaction with the others, the whole being so unified that what takes place in one part affects all the rest.”

Characteristics of a society:

  1. Abstract : society is abstract in nature. We cannot see or touch society as such. It is a concept of a complex of norms,mores, folklores etc.
  2. Population: It consists of groups of people. People’s interaction in a particular way distinguishes one society from the other. Human relationships define society.
  3. Likeness: Any society is characterised by the likeness of norms, food, traditional practices, cultural values etc. People identify with each other on the basis of some likeness.
  4. Uniqueness: Though there is likeness in a society yet an important feature of any society is that there is uniqueness in every sub-groups which are interdependent on each other and function like a system. It is the difference among the individuals who take up different activities and industries for the smooth functioning of a society. 
  5. Interdependence: people in a society are interdependent on each other. The primary unit of interdependence is the family. Similarly, the interdependence is at the macro level. 
  6. Co-operation: There is cooperation among the members of a society. Groups and subgroups function in a coherent manner. If there is no cooperation the society moves towards disintegration.
  7. Network:  A society has various types of networks which makes the life of people systematic. These are networks of human relationships that keep society functioning. 
  8. Dynamic: A society is dynamic in nature which means that it evolves with time. The cultural practices, norms, knowledge etc.  change with time. No society is static and the same throughout time. Changes always take place in a society. 
  9. Unique culture : Every society is characterised by their unique culture which consists of language, traditions, norms etc. These are specific to a particular society and two societies can be differentiated on the basis of culture. e.g, Western culture and Indian culture.


The term community is used in different contexts and has been defined on various grounds. Like society, community was initially defined on the basis of geographical spread and similarity of customs. 

According to Bogardus, “a community is a social group with some degree of we feeling and living in a given area”.

Many scholars have also  defined community on grounds like religious practices, languages etc. For social work practice the community is characterised by a fixed locality like a village or a small town where people share relationships.

A typical characteristic of a community is the ‘we feeling’ or the sense of belongingness. It is due to this that the traditional definition of fixed geographical area is now giving way to other ways of defining community.

Social groups

When two or more individuals interact with each other on a regular basis and share common interests and identify with each other it is termed as a social group. All of us belong to one or more groups at a particular time. A group is different from a mob in the sense that members in a group identify with each other and interact on a regular basis and are together for a long period of time whereas in a mob individuals might not know each other, never interact with each other and exist only for a short duration of time. 

 social groups and community are integral part of a society

Types of groups

Social groups are classified by different scholars on various grounds. Following are some classification of group types.

Primary group and secondary group: primary groups are those in which the individual has intimate relationships and shares their personal life. For e.g, family, peer group. These are permanent in nature and exist for a long time. Secondary groups are those in which individuals join for a particular purpose and when the purpose is achieved they cease to be a part of it. Secondary groups are larger and temporary in nature. For e.g, coworkers group, a group of students preparing for exams etc. 

In-group and out-group : In-groups are those groups which an individual is a part of. All other groups which an individual is not a part of are out-groups.

Treatment and task group: A Task group is formed for accomplishing a particular task and when the task is complete the group disintegrates. Treatment groups are formed by therapists for providing treatment to individuals in a group setting, as some interventions are best provided in groups. Task and treatment groups are temporary in nature.

Reference group:  Reference groups are those groups to which an individual desires to be a part of. These groups hold a high status in the individual eyes and the person wants to become like members of the reference group. For e.g, students of a particular educational institution.

Social stratification

Social stratification refers to the system of the society which categorizes people into specific hierarchical order. Every society has their own system of division based on class, caste, economy etc.

Caste system in India is a typical example of social stratification. This system is rigid and closed and does not allow people from one caste to move towards another caste. Individuals born in one caste will die being of the same caste. Though in ancient history the caste system was based on the vocation people practiced, eventually it became a rigid system.

Individuals are also divided on the basis of class,viz, upper class, lower class etc. based on their economic status. This system is open and an individual can move upward from lower class to higher class if they get better in their economic status. 

Another system of classification is based on the occupation and educational level of the people. This is also an open system which allows movement to other classes.


After reading this article you might have got an understanding of the meaning and characteristics of a society, different types of social groups and social stratification. These concepts help social workers to analyse the root causes of social problems and ways to find solutions for them. 

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