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The 5 functions of society: how does it influence our lives?

The 5 functions of society: how does it influence our lives?

June 11, 2024

In psychology and other social sciences, we often talk a lot about "society". We discuss how it affects us, about the types of societies we have built, we talk about the changes that our societies have gone through, and so on. We even differentiate between Western, non-Western, individualistic, collectivist, knowledge societies, developed, undeveloped societies, and many others. However, we rarely ask ourselves what we mean exactly when we talk about "society".

Considering that there is no single definition, and that it is a topic that we could approach from very different perspectives, in this article we will briefly review the psychosocial approach to what society is and what some of its elements are. Specifically we will see several of the main functions of life in society .


  • Related article: "What is Social Psychology?"

What is society and what elements does it have?

From the most classical traditions of the social sciences, society has presented itself as the element opposite the individual , that is, as an entity that is external to the subjects and that affects us, shapes us, oppresses us, or vice versa: it frees us, strengthens us or drives us. That is to say, society tends to think of itself as something that exists outside the subject, but in relation to it: it sustains it and at the same time limits it.

However, society can also be understood as the result of the activity of human beings ; activity that, when shared, also generates a set of rules. That is, society can also be understood as the result of our interaction.


And, when interacting, we produce and share a series of codes that allow us to organize ourselves in different ways. These codes are translated into elements that foster socialization (the process by which an individual becomes a competent subject for society).

Examples of these elements are institutions (family, marriage, school, science, religion, etc.), which depends on the geographical, economic, political situation, traditions , the values ​​and history of each set of individuals.

In other words, there is no single way of doing society; The same dynamics and minimal processes are not generated everywhere, nor have they been the same at all times. And beyond being an entity different from the subject, society is the result of the activity and interaction of the same subjects.


5 functions of society

Starting from what was stated before we could ask ourselves: why do we live in society? What's the use? Could we live without society or outside it?

No doubt the functions of society are, at least, problematic. Beyond the fact that the society itself is good or bad, harmful or beneficial, the whole of our own activity is often uncertain, with which, the effects and functions of society also become ambiguous .

If we also think about society in pragmatic terms, we can say that it is not only responsible for influencing our lives or our activity, but it is through the same society that we are able to maintain our own life (physical and psychic). However, and depending on what dynamics are generated, the opposite effect can also be had.

Broadly speaking we can describe the functions of society in different processes that are generated through shared human activity: identity, social norms, practices related to care, activities related to provision, and environmental management.

1. Generate identity

Identity is a psychosocial process by means of which a person recognizes himself in relation to a series of characteristics, traits, interests, desires, abilities, etcetera. Such recognition occurs largely through other people. And this is so because only through others can we recognize ourselves as "equal to ..." or "different from ...", that is, as unique individuals and at the same time part of a group.

In other words, if an individual recognizes himself as such, it is because there are other individuals who have recognized him as well. So, one of the functions of life in society is shape the subject and the small groups : society generates both psychic structures and social groups, without which we could hardly relate to the world.

2. Produce social norms

Social norms are the set of implicit or explicit guidelines that tell us in what way we should behave. Not only that, but also indicate what interests, desires, habits or expectations are appropriate or possible. Through social norms we relate to the world and to other members of society .


We generate and reproduce them through that same relationship, and when it is transformed, social norms also change. For example, the interaction and behavioral norms between human beings (and between human beings and nature), was not the same before we developed technology, and this is so because by introducing small material and discursive changes, social norms also change .

In short, another of the main functions of society is to generate and transform the rules of behavior that distinguish us as part of a social group. Thanks to this, we can make our interests fit without the appearance of too many conflicts to live close to one another.


3. Ensure practices of care and filiation

Another function of life in society is to generate practices that ensure the satisfaction of our human needs. To ensure this satisfaction, it is also necessary that the practices generated correspond to the needs and values ​​of a geographical and historical moment concrete. For example, a need shared by human beings is filiation, which is related to affective interdependence and care practices.

The latter is a value that some societies share, and to a lesser extent others. It is also related to the sexual division of labor and the socialization of gender that can be different between human groups. For example, in some western societies that have more economic resources, the practices related to care and filiation are different from other societies in which, having fewer resources, they also generate an important need for support and care among individuals


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4. Generate activities related to the provision

Related to the previous point, another of the functions of life in society is to ensure that practices related to provision are generated, that is, activities that assure the supply of products of first necessity , which we do through exchange and relationship with other people.

In other words, the interaction and shared activity among human beings has among its objectives to ensure that we survive. In this case, such as activities related to care, provision is a practice that in the history of Western societies is often socialized in relation to the values ​​of masculinity and based on the sexual division of labor .

5. Manage the environment in which we develop

Organize as a society, and become competent members of this, has among its effects the management and manipulation of the environment where our interaction occurs. That is, the manipulation of the environment. Life in society allows us not only to take from the middle what we need to survive, but because of the same norms and identities that are generated, social activity can have as a consequence the excessive wear of the environment due to the constant use of its resources .

Thus, society often not only has the function of satisfying basic needs, but also generates other needs and other forms of satisfaction that lead to the massive exploitation of the environment where society itself emerges. For this, another of the functions that our societies have generated has been the production of knowledge and the development of technology , devices that have influenced significantly, not only in the management of the environment but also in the same interpersonal relationships.

In short, rather than having certain functions, life in society has a series of effects that are not precisely external to the subjects, but are the result of our interaction. Also, they can be problematic, so it is important to take into account to ensure that this interaction is translated into coexistence and quality of life.

Bibliographic references:

  • Ibáñez, T. (2004) (Ed.). Introduction to social psychology. Editorial UOC: Barcelona.

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