Unlock the Secrets of Different Types of Societies and Their Empowering Characteristics

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A society is a community of people with a common identity. The group will have similar beliefs, traditions, and institutions. It is a convenient way to study human history.  Societies can be divided into pre-industrial (hunter-and-gathers, horticultural and pastoral, agricultural), industrial, and post-industrial categories.  

What Makes a Society a Society?

Members of a society will share a territory such as an urban area in the United States or the savanna grasslands of Africa.  They will have a common culture, a way of life with certain norms of behavior.  There might be various differences but a society will share many common traits. 

A society is a convenient way to study human history over time.  

Societies can be divided into three basic categories: pre-industrial, industrial, and post-industrial. Pre-industrial is then subdivided into three more categories.  


The earliest human societies were small, rural, and relied on local resources.  

There were no major machines and humans only used simple tools.  Things mostly stayed the same and children followed in the footsteps of their parents.  Societies basically produced what they needed to survive.  And, there were not too many different occupations.

Pre-industrial societies had a traditional economic system.  

[1]  Hunter-Gatherer 

The first humans were hunter-and-gatherers.  They had to personally go out and hunt animals and gather food.  They lived in small groups and moved around a lot (nomads).

The basic unit is the tribe. They had few possessions and had little reason to divide into different classes of people.  This meant that there was little inequality.

There are very few hunter-and-gatherers left in the world today.  

[2]  Horticultural and Pastoral 

Humans learned how to grow their own crops (horticulture) about 10,000 years ago.  They did not have to merely collect food in the wild.  They began to settle down into communities. 

This is considered the beginning of human civilization as more complex societies formed, including the first governments, different types of occupations, and complex religious beliefs

We also began to raise animals for food and clothing, including sheep, goats, and cattle. People who raised animals (pastoralists) often still moved around. 

Animals need a lot of room to pasture (that’s where the word comes from) and you either need a semi-nomadic existence or have a lot of room to raise all that longhorn cattle.  

The Incas in Peru were an example of a horticultural society.  The Mongols in Central Asia were a pastoral people, who eventually had a great empire.  

[3] Agricultural 

Agricultural societies formed in the Middle East around five thousand years ago.  

These societies produce a great number of crops with the help of good soil and technology such as the plow.  A surplus allows people to do a range of occupations while farmers supply food to the rest.   Trade begins with other societies, including the trade of ideas.  

The production of excess food allows for much more people with complex social institutions but also leads to more conflict and inequality.  

Feudalism is the agricultural system in place during the Middle Ages

Industrial Societies 

The Industrial Revolution is the name given to the transition from an agricultural and small-scale manufacturing economy to mass production using machine power.  This began to take place in the 18th Century Great Britain. We are now moving into modern times.  

The growth of industry led to the development of a market-based society.  There was more chance that a person would not follow in the footsteps of their parents.  

This time period also brought the development of large nation-states, including the United States.  The importance of individual rights grew.  Knowledge and science flourished.  

Industry also brought difficulties, including a feeling that society was more impersonal, pollution, great inequality, and social unrest.  


Agricultural societies revolutionized farming so that many people could spend their time doing a range of other jobs.  People had a range of occupations, governed, and fight wars.  

The industrial revolution provided a means for only a fraction of the people to produce the food needed for a much larger population.  It did the same thing with manufacturing overall.

We now live in an information society where information and service professions dominate.  Manufacturing is often done overseas in “third world nations” where labor is cheap.  Education is particularly important.  It is harder for those with less education and skills to thrive.  

The world seems much smaller these days but with it problems have a global reach, including terrorism, global warming, and the flow of struggling people across borders.  

The Future of Society

We were a pre-industrial society for most of our existence though those who watch The Flintstones as a documentary might disagree.  Change came slowly. 

Then, things began to speed up.  In a few hundred years, we went from much of the planet still an agricultural society to a post-industrial world.  One where I can write this on a computer. 

What is the future of society?  We might think we are at the “end of history” with even science fiction conveniently overlapping our lives in many ways.  But, history has shown us that things change.  And, if things go as before, the change will come faster than we might think.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.