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Frank Pardue

Overview of Societies
February 18, 2010

An Overview of Societies
We have tried to reduced the many different cultures in to types of societies in order to examine and
compare them. In reality, this is very simplistic each culture is different. This general introduction is
helpful to recognize some of the differences that are important for church planting. To be effective in
a particular culture, however, demands more study in that particular culture.
Band Societies
In various places all over the world band societies live on the edges of larger, more dominant societies.
Many years ago bands occupied much of the earth. Today, they have been pushed back from the more
dominant urban and peasant societies to the less fertile areas where their life is shaped by the
ecological environments which they depend upon for their livelihood.
Social Order They are hunter-gatherers and have learned to survive where few others can. Most live in
close relationship with other societies. Most governments have tried to settle them, but they have
resisted integrating into a more permanent agricultural society. Their society is simple, associating with
no more than five hundred people, but often as few as twenty. Thus, there is no need for complex
institutions or structures.
Band societies are often called face-to-face communities because of their small, intimate size. There
are few secrets and little social hierarchy. Other than the nuclear family, ties to relatives are loose,
voluntary, and easily broken. They tend to be very individualistic. Temporary small groups form around
specific tasks.
Economic Resources Because they live close to nature, they are deeply affected by seasonal changes
and natural disasters. They rarely have or use complex technology. Their primary resources are manual
labor and fire. There is little private ownership in these societies and people are expected to share what
they own. Material possessions are seen as glue for building social relationships. Greatness comes not
through acquiring wealth, but through sharing for others and not taking the credit.
Politics and Law There are no councils, courts, police, armies, or jails, no written laws or constitutions.
Often there is no chosen leader. No adult can force another person to do something. Consequently, in
disputes, there is no one who can make peace or enforce a settlement between them.
Tasks are often in relation to their subsistence lifestyle and are sporadic. There is little separation
between work and community life all are done together. Most band cultures are also nomadic and much
of their time is filled with moving from one place to another.
Cultural Order Because their culture is face-to-face, communication is important, but very little is
written. Myths tend to be the source of history and worldview. Rituals and dances are also very
Knowledge Band societies focus their knowledge, not on books and the like, but on tasks like hunting
and gathering food.
Religion is also focused on immediate concerns like rain, hunting or fishing children, diseases, defense,

Frank Pardue

Overview of Societies
February 18, 2010

and death. Most believe in a high god, but focus is often the focus is on lesser spirits who control the
spheres of nature. Attempts to placate the spirits require various offerings depending on the problem at
hand. Religious or magical rites are performed by part-time practitioners or shamans.

Tribal Societies
Tribal Worldview
(Hiebert and Meneses: p.124)

Modern Worldview

Wholistic No separation from natural and

supernatural realities.

Segmented Differentiate between

supernatural realities and areas of life

Organic Events out of human control. Value on


Mechanistic Man controls world. People

responsible for failures and success.

Human Centered Group oriented, collective

ownership of society

Self-Centered Individualistic, self-reliant.

Identity through achievements.

Particularist View of Reality Each tribe lives in

its own world with its own truth, gods, and

Universalist View of Reality All humans live in a

uniform world with uniform truth, morality and

Space and Land -Oriented Looks to the past

ties to gods, ancestors, people and land. Time is

Time and Future Oriented Time is linear. High

value placed on time and efficiency. Futureoriented.

Sound Oriented Belief is found in narrative


Visual Oriented Believe in what you see


Concrete-Functional Thought Think in terms of

life -related activities. Tell stories and parables.

Abstract-Analytical Thought Based on

reasoning. Have rational debates.

Ritual and Myths are Important Mystery in

life. Symbols and rituals create and transform

Rituals and Myths are Unimportant Rituals are

remembrances. Seek to understand all things.

Tribal societies are a confederation of groups who recognize a

relationship with one another, usually in the form of common
ethnic origin, common language, or strong patterns of
interaction based on intermarriage or presumed kinship.
Other Key Factors:

The group, not the individual is the building block of


Geographically, leadership is based in the village.

Associations are formed on the basis of sex, asgeec,roert

Hiebert & Meneses, 87

Frank Pardue

Overview of Societies
February 18, 2010


Power is based in the hands of a few chiefs, elders, etc.

Rural/ Peasant Societies

Today, the two billion rural cultivators, fishermen, and craftsmen form the backbone of most countries
of the world today. They are less connected by ethnic and family ties than tribal or band societies, but
the ties are not totally severed. Characteristics of a rural society are the following:

Rather than being nomadic or having communal lands, peasant societies own land or sharecrop to
make a living.

Farming communities are pluralistic.

On the one hand, their concerns are for their own family, community, and religious
tradition they are an inward-looking community.


On the other hand, they live in a society, connected by political, economic, and cultural
ties to the world.


While tribal societies tend to be politically and economically autonomous, rural societies
are subject to outside rulers who tax to maintain justice, provide the infrastructure, and
provide for national needs.

In Asia and other places they are multi-cultural societies, made up of different people groups
and languages. Internally, each operates as homogenous groups. Externally, they are held
together by social, economic and political systems. There are two types of social groups that
appear in rural societies: Ethnic groups, and classes.

Social Structure Political leadership is based, at least in part, on the control of the majority ethnic
group. In many parts of the world, governments have initiated massive redistribution of land to the
growing needs of farmers, causing the migration of people groups, often shifting the cultural balance and
affecting the political situation of the area. Ethnic tension and violence is often the result.
Religion is another possible source of tension in these areas. Over the past centuries, the propagation of
the various world religions have left a checkerboard of religious/cultural communities throughout Asia.
Often religious ties have affected (and been affected by) the political relationship with neighboring
cultures. Ex. India, Pakistan
Caste- based communities form an integrated part of a larger society, but retain their distinguishing
identities. The classic example of a caste society is India, but other Asian societies have castes to a
lesser degree. Castes provide specialization in occupations. They are based on ethnic and hereditary ties.
Classes are social categories through which various members of society associate. In most cases, two
types of groups are predominant: The dominant elite, and commoners. Unlike ethnic societies, class
rankings are based less on birth into a class and more on the rise and fall of personal achievement.
Indicators for class status are:

Wealth the acquiring of food, housing, and clothing.

Occupation field workers & manual laborers, vs. landowners, political leaders, religious priests.

Frank Pardue

Overview of Societies
February 18, 2010

Education Opens doors to higher occupations.

Dominant Elites People at the top of society due to social status,

as well as economic and political power. Emulated by others, these
people wield power, holding onto social and political social status
The powerless are at the other end of the scale, disenfranchised
as outcasts of society. The relationship between rulers and
peasants is symbiotic, forming a feudal bond called the patronclient relationship. The patrons attend to the dire needs of the
peasants, while the client-laborers work and remain loyal to the elite.

Hiebert & Meneses, p. 195

The economic structure of the rural community is similar to tribal societies in that they both focus on
subsistence farming and social relationships.
Peasant or rural societies have emerged out of tribal communities creating nations, shifting the focus
from kinship to larger, geo-political entities. Power has passed from ethnic communities to
institutionalized governments and elected leaders. Often these leaders are the same patron-leaders of
the past, but not always. Laws are now institutionalized and are not as susceptible to the whims of
leaders as before.

Urban Societies
Urban Characteristics
Size and Complexity Social organizations range in size from the family all the way to national levels.
The size of the city requires more levels of social organization than smaller societies.
Urban societies are socially and ethnically diverse.
Order is dependent on
Government organizations (police, firemen, garbage
col., etc.)
Businesses, education, religious, and communication
Surplus production of food and transportation with
rural areas.
Centers of Power They attract power, wealth, knowledge, and expertise.
(Hiebert & Meneses, 264)
Governments and businesses have a strong urban bias. Cities are the center
for: government, banking, business, industry, marketing, learning, art, transportation, & religion.
Diversity Cities are made up of many different kinds of people who attract their own cultural
communities. Rather than interact with everyone around them, they form their own networks of
Specialization Is the result of size and complexity. The technology found in the city requires an

Frank Pardue

Overview of Societies
February 18, 2010

endless range of jobs that require specialized information. Stores and institutions also specialize in the
marketing of goods and services.
Social Organization Unlike the rural communities where a person knows everyone around them (and may
know them through several roles), the majority of the people around the urbanite are strangers.

In the setting of anonymity, there may be a separation of

private and public life. Most are reluctant to allow too many
people to see all the facets of their life. This is reserved for
a few.


In urban societies there is less emphasis on community and

more emphasis on individualism.


Immigrants (1. People moving from rural to urban and 2. From

one city to another part of the world) are absorbed into the
city, often over two or more generations.


(Hiebert & Meneses, 276)

Squatters move to the city looking for work, excitement, and a better life.

Technology Cities are the creators, manufacturers, marketers, and distributors of technologies that
create an array of many types of goods and services.
Commerce The city is a marketplace the center where goods and services are exchanged.
Power through wealth and politics are another key social glue in society.
Culture Cities are centers of culture.
Religion Prominent institutions are found here.