As a species, we are social beings who live out our lives in the
company of other humans. We organize ourselves into various kinds
of social groupings, such as nomadic bands, villages, cities, and
countries, in which we work, trade, play, reproduce, and interact
in many other ways. Unlike other species, we combine socialization
with deliberate changes in social behavior and organization over time.
Consequently, the patterns of human society differ from place to place
and era to era and across cultures, making the social world a very
complex and dynamic environment.
Insight into human behavior comes from many sources. The views
presented here are based principally on scientific investigation,
but it should also be recognized that literature, drama, history,
philosophy, and other nonscientific disciplines contribute significantly
to our understanding of ourselves. Social scientists study human behavior
from a variety of cultural, political, economic, and psychological
perspectives, using both qualitative and quantitative approaches.
They look for consistent patterns of individual and social behavior
and for scientific explanations of those patterns. In some cases,
such patterns may seem obvious once they are pointed out, although
they may not have been part of how most people consciously thought
about the world. In other cases, the patterns—as revealed by
scientific investigation—may show people that their long-held
beliefs about certain aspects of human behavior are incorrect.
This chapter covers recommendations about human society in terms
of individual and group behavior, social organizations, and the processes
of social change. It is based on a particular approach to the subject:
the sketching of a comprehensible picture of the world that is consistent
with the findings of the separate disciplines within the social sciences—such
as anthropology, economics, political science, sociology, and psychology—but
without attempting to describe the findings themselves or the underlying
The chapter describes seven key aspects of human society: cultural
effects on human behavior, the organization and behavior of groups,
the processes of social change, social trade-offs, forms of political
and economic organization, mechanisms for resolving conflict among
groups and individuals, and national and international social systems.
Although many of the ideas are relevant to all human societies, this
chapter focuses chiefly on the social characteristics of the present-day
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