Systems of social organization as an element of culture: An introduction

One characteristic of human societies as they advance along the continuum of civilization is that they become increasingly organized. Small-scale systems -- or "micro-systems" -- of organzation might include such units as the family, a system which, arguably, is present even in some non-human societies. Other micro-systems might include living groups, work teams (eg. hunting parties), or communal groups which share tasks and products among themselves.

As societies become larger and more advanced, large-scale systems -- or "macro-systems" -- of social organization are usually developed. Necessity, in this case, is indeed the mother of invention:

These are just a few examples of how human societies organize themselves. These systems of social organization grow out of the culture of which they are a part, and at the same time their emergence changes the culture by becoming a part of it. The systems a society devises (or has imposed on it) to organize itself become a part of the system of cultural meanings in which they operate. Thus, in a U.S. culture whose governmental premise is that all people are created equal and can advance according to their own merits, and whose economic system allots a certain value to each person's productive role, citizens are to some degree judged by the outward tokens of their advancement and value: material possessions like houses, cars, clothes, and leisure pursuits. The organizational systems are, in this sense, inseparable from the cultural meaning systems; one cannot fully understand one without understanding the other.

Press here to move on to the first (model) exhibit, an exploration of the relationship between cultural meaning systems and systems of social organization.

return to Social Organizations Gallery