Re: Must "Society" be Abstract?

Kevin E. Smith (kesmith@FRANK.MTSU.EDU)
Tue, 25 Oct 1994 23:56:57 -0500

The following is a "forwarded" response to Graber's post on Must
"Society" be Abstract? by Ben Austin, a colleague in Sociology:

On Tuesday, October 25, the post was:
> >
> > Is "society" abstract, as M. Lieber suggests? From my perspective, a
> > *social group* consists of two or more organisms of the same species,
> > engaged in patterned interaction in time and space; and a society is a
> > politically autonomous social group--i.e., one not under control by
> > outsiders of the same species. Social groups in general, and societies
> > in particular, to me are genuine physical objects. True, their
> > boundaries are fuzzied because the interacting organisms are more or
> > less separate in space; but they are demonstrably there, in principle,
> > nonetheless. Sociologists err by requiring a "sense of identification"
> > in their definition of society, thereby adopting a definition that
> > impedes rather than promotes the progress of inquiry. " Culture" I
> > define as the socially acquired way of life of a social group,
> > epsecially an entire society's (1) interfaces with its physical and
> > social environments (other societies); (2) interactions between members;
> > and (3) interpretations of reality, if any. Want to see a society,
> > which from Lieber's perspective is impossible? From my perspective,
> > take a good look at an anthill. Culture is more abstract than society;
> > to spot it, you have to have good evidence that some features of a
> > social group's way of life are a social rather than a biological acquisi
> > tion--easy for human groups, difficult for an anthill. --Bob Graber
> >
On Tuesday, October 25, Ben Austin sent the following response to me,
which I am forwarding to the list:

> Sociologists do not, uniformly, require "sense of identification"
> as a component of any social group affiliation beyond the primary unit.
> Rather, the emergent definitional strategy in the past couple of decades
> (cf. Marcia Pelly Effrat's work in the area of community analysis) has
> been to define the social entity in the broadest possible terms and then
> to treat dimensions of community as ordinal variables which may exist in
> some measureable degree. One may argue that "sense of identification" is
> one aspect of community without insisting that it be a necessary
> component of one's operating definition. This makes "sense of
> identification" an empirical rather than a merely conceptual issue.
> Ben S. Austin
> Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work
> Middle Tennessee State University
> Murfreesboro, TN 37132