Wednesday, February 28, 2024

What Is a Society?: The Importance of Building an Interdisciplinary Perspective

I'm passing on the abstract I just received of a forthcoming article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences that I am starting to have a look through. Motivated readers can obtain a PDF of the article by emailing me.
Abstract: I submit the need to establish a comparative study of societies, namely groups beyond a simple, immediate family that have the potential to endure for generations, whose constituent individuals recognize one another as members, and that maintain control over access to a physical space. This definition, with refinements and ramifications I explore, serves for cross-disciplinary research since it applies not just to nations but to diverse hunter-gatherer and tribal groups with a pedigree that likely traces back to the societies of our common ancestor with the chimpanzees. It also applies to groups among other species for which comparison to humans can be instructive. Notably, it describes societies in terms of shared group identification rather than social interactions. An expansive treatment of the topic is overdue given that the concept of a society (even the use of such synonyms as primate "troop") has fallen out of favor among biologists, resulting in a semantic mess; while sociologists rarely consider societies beyond nations, and social psychologists predominantly focus on ethnicities and other component groups of societies. I examine the relevance of societies across realms of inquiry, discussing the ways member recognition is achieved; how societies compare to other organizational tiers; and their permeability, territoriality, relation to social networks and kinship, and impermanence. We have diverged from our ancestors in generating numerous affiliations within and between societies while straining the expectation of society memberships by assimilating diverse populations. Nevertheless, if, as I propose, societies were the first, and thereafter the primary, groups of prehistory, how we came to register society boundaries may be foundational to all human "groupiness." A discipline-spanning approach to societies should further our understanding of what keeps societies together and what tear them apart.

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