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 methodologies.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 United States.
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