The 5 Functions Of Society: How Does It Influence Our Lives?

Society functions

In psychology and other social sciences we usually talk a lot about “society.” We discuss how it affects us, about the types of societies we have built, we talk about the changes our societies have gone through, etc. We even differentiate between Western, non-Western, individualistic, collectivist, 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 of life in society

What is society and what elements does it have?

Since the most classical traditions of the social sciences, society has been presented as the element opposite to the individual, that is, as an entity that is external to the subjects and that affects us, shapes us, oppresses us, or vice versa: it liberates us, strengthens us or drives us. That is, 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.

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

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

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

In other words, there is no one way to do society; The same dynamics or minimal processes are not generated everywhere, nor have they 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 what was stated before, we could ask ourselves: why do we live in society? What’s the use? Could we live without society or outside of it?

Without a doubt, the functions of society are, to say the least, problematic. Regardless of whether society itself is good or bad, harmful or beneficial, the whole of our own activity is usually uncertain, which is why, the effects and functions of society also become ambiguous

If we also think about society in pragmatic terms, we can say that it is not only responsible for influencing our lives or our activity, but it is through society itself that we are able to maintain our own life (physical and psychological). However, and depending on what dynamics are generated, the opposite effect can also be had.

Broadly speaking, we can describe the functions of society in different processes that are generated through shared human activity: identity, social norms, practices related to care, activities related to provision, and environmental management.

1. Generate identity

Identity is a psychosocial process through which a person recognizes himself in relation to a series of characteristics, traits, interests, desires, abilities, etc. This recognition occurs largely through other people. And this is because only through others can we recognize ourselves as “equal to…” or “different from…”, that is, as unique individuals and at the same time part of a group.

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In other words, if an individual recognizes himself as such, it is because there are other individuals who have recognized him as such as well. Thus, one of the functions of life in society is shape the subject and small groups: Society generates both psychic structures and social groups, without which we could hardly relate to the world.

2. Produce social norms

Social norms are the set of implicit or explicit guidelines that tell us how we should behave. Not only that, but they also tell us what interests, desires, habits or expectations are appropriate or possible. Through social norms we relate to the world and to other members of society.

We generate and reproduce them through that same relationship, and when it transforms, social norms also change. For example, the interaction and norms of behavior between human beings (and between humans and nature) were not the same before we developed technology, and this is because by introducing small material and discursive changes, social norms also change. .

In short, another of the main functions of society is to generate and transform the norms of behavior that distinguish us as part of a social group. Thanks to this, we can make our interests fit without too many conflicts appearing to live close to each other.

3. Ensure care and affiliation practices

Another function of life in society is to generate practices that ensure the satisfaction of our human needs. To ensure this satisfaction, it is also necessary that the practices generated correspond to the needs and values ​​of a geographical and historical moment concrete. For example, a need that human beings share is affiliation, which is related to emotional interdependence and care practices.

The latter is a value shared by some societies, and to a lesser extent others. It is also related to the sexual division of labor and gender socialization that may be different between human groups. For example, in some Western societies that have more economic resources, practices related to care and filiation are different from other societies in which, having fewer resources, they also generate an important need for support and care among children. individuals.

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4. Generate activities related to provision

Related to the previous point, another function of life in society is to ensure that practices related to provision are generated, that is, activities that ensure the supply of essential products something we do through exchange and relationships with other people.

In other words, the interaction and shared activity between human beings has among its objectives to ensure that we survive. In this case, just like activities related to care, provision is a practice that in the history of Western societies is usually socialized in relation to the values ​​of masculinity and based on the sexual division of labor

5. Manage the environment in which we develop

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 occurs. 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, due to the same norms and identities that are generated, social activity can have as a consequence the excessive wear and tear of the environment due to the constant use of its resources

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

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