Individuals and Societies
The theoretical basis of sociology is the notion that both individuals and societies exist, and that the interaction between these two entities can account for many of the behaviors and actions of humanity. The entire discipline of sociological study is predicated upon this assumption. However, attempting to define the particular importance of the relationship between individuals and society can prove to be problematic, as it is seemingly impossible to present an adequate sociological definition of either ‘individual’ or ‘society’ without reference to the other term. While the claim is often made that individuals are the creators of society, recent theorists have insisted that the reverse can also said to be true – that society is in fact responsible for constructing the individual. Indeed, a number of prominent theorists go as far as to claim that there is no essential self, and that what we refer to as an individual is nothing more than a fragmented, tumultuous conglomeration of diverse sociocultural influences.
Clearly, such a slippery entanglement of circular logic cannot form the foundation of an entire field of scholarship. A concise explanation of the connection between the individual and society is a crucial starting point for any further exploration of sociological theory. Because ‘individual’ and ‘society’ are key operational terms that form the point of departure for the vast majority of sociological study, it is virtually impossible to venture onward in the field without a sufficient level of comprehension of the interaction between the two.
This paper will attempt to unravel the complex interrelationship between the individual and society. Because this topic is inherently complicated, a highly structured approach will be taken in the discussion, consisting of a series of analyses of the components of self and society. This discussion will be presented in a hierarchical fashion, beginning with the unit of the individual and progressing upwards to the all-encompassing scale of society. First, the concept of the individual will be explicated. Then, the concept of society will be addressed. Next, the ramifications of the interaction between the individual and society will be surveyed. Finally, a summary of the most salient points of the preceding discussion will be made. In conclusion, an overarching assessment of the question of whether individuals create society or vice versa will be presented.