How do you theorize world society?

17 October

A good way to begin answering this question would be to ask yourself: “what is Society?” This question is certainly at the heart of sociology. Margaret Thatcher once said: “There is no such thing as society”. Her idea of what is society is, or is not, was more individualistic. In this view, society was a myth, an illusion or “false consciousness”. What really exists are individuals acting independently and of their own accord. There is no society; you are a free person to act as you wish and you owe nothing to anyone. This approach is known in sociology as methodological individualism. However, such an individual outlook could be an ideology itself. One that attempts to dismantle unified societies and “frame” people as individual actors, for the purposes of consumerism, cuts on public spending, or lesser tax rates for the wealthy. A few years later, Mrs. Thatcher went back on and corrected herself to include families or communities within her concept of Society. There is clearly more to existence than just the individual.

The word and corresponding concept of “Society” emerged around the mid-16th century, around the time of the beginnings of the industrial revolution. This is significant. The displacement of human labour in agriculture over time gradually gave rise to densely populated urban centres. Better-consolidated trade networks with factories, urban planning, housing slums and pollution, larger markets and city centres emerge as new phenomena. As with the children’s tale "Puss in Boots", the city was a place where ambitions could be realised, many were attracted to the hustle and bustle of city regions. The city held better potential for prosperity, while mechanisation was gradually substituting employment in the countryside. Former social groupings began to consolidate into greater industrial societies. This is an indication that “Society” began to develop as an idea, concept or word around the same time that urban centres increased in population size. Following the industrialisation of society, where worked were exploited for the profits of elite classes, socialism emerged as an idea and corresponding political ideology. The academic discipline of sociology was also born within this era of high modernity (in the 19th century). The nation-state system that had formed with trade unions and social welfare systems, which provided a more socialist concept of Society which Thatcher attempted to debunk.

To understand “World Society” we can focus on the trade networks and technologies that pull people together. Most sociologists tend to agree that technologies are socially embedded. Put another way, humans make technologies, and technology is therefore “social”. Technologies of advanced societies compress time and space in different ways. We are able to communicate in almost real-time with people from all corners of the globe. So social relationships can be extended or stretched out across the world in ways that were unimaginable one or two hundred years ago. Trade and technologies brought people of the high-modern era together in densely populated urban areas, and so the idea of “Society” emerged. Global trade and communication technologies are brining people from all around the world together, giving rise to the idea of a “World Society”. Because industrialisation has a negative impact on local and global environments (for example, in the form of global warming), some kind of global consensus must be formed by institutions such as the United Nations as a means of tackling problems associated with technologies and the networks that are pulling people together. Environmentalism further consolidates the concept of a World Society, which is why you are asked as an individual to “think globally, act locally” in environmental matters.

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