Chronicles of the Lifeworld

lifeworld–the world of everyday life; the world as experienced.

The Opaque Society

Ever since I started taking this sociology thing seriously, I have had trouble coming to terms with the concept of “society.” The term is ubiquitous in the field of sociology but suffers from an opaqueness reminiscent of some terms found in philosophy. “Society” is an important concept. Every other word that comes out of a sociologists mouth is “society,” and people act in such a way so as to take this hard to define concept into account when they go about their daily routines.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, society is “a group of people who share a common culture, occupy a particular territorial area, and feel themselves to constitute a unified and distinct entity.” That is not altogether different from ethnicity, which the same dictionary defines as follows: “Individuals who consider themselves, or are considered by others, to share common characteristics that differentiate them from the other collectivities in a society, and from which they develop their distinctive cultural behaviour, form an ethnic group.” The definition for ethnicity takes into consideration differences between collectivities, whereas the definition for society does not. However, if one perceives oneself to be part of “a group of people who share a common culture,” then one would naturally regard one’s culture as being different from other cultures because no two cultures are the same (otherwise there would be no need to differentiate). So society and ethnicity remain in this slightly overlapping conceptual purgatory in which everyone is sure there are differences but cannot quite point them out. “Society” continues to taunt me with its fuzzy boundaries, ensuring that I will not come to terms with it.

It is hopeless to try and devise definitions for each term that will be etched permanently on the pages of all future sociology handbooks and textbooks. Sociologists must have wiggle room to define their terms because the social world does not conform neatly and precisely to well thought out definitions willed into existence by social researchers. As long as researchers define their terms accurately and uses them consistently throughout their work, the opaqueness of common sociological terms should not be a problem. Unless, of course, two researchers defined their terms in radically different ways, therefore making comparisons next to impossible. Then you have a problem. And we’re back at square one.


Written by Cody

July 28, 2010 at 08:11

Posted in sociology

Tagged with , ,

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