Understanding Contemporary Society Essay

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Relationship Between Individual & Society: Understanding Contemporary Society

The human being, by his nature, is a social creature. This nature drives him to live as a member of society, in which he interacts with others to satisfy his needs and instincts. No person can manage to satisfy his needs on his own; rather, he requires specific relationships with other human beings in order to satisfy them. The nature of these relationships is determined by the system which is implemented in the society. However, every system, in order to produce a progressive society, has to balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the society. If the individual's needs are ignored, then he will live in misery. Also, if the society's needs are ignored, then the society will not function properly as the environment in which the individual's strive to satisfy their needs. (LBA, 2010)

The relationship between the individual and society has altered over the course of time. There is a symbiotic balance the society and the individual. The society cannot function without the individual and a great deal of individuals must function as part of a society. While there may be those who are highly isolated, it is an extremely rare occasion where there exists an individual outside of society. In this relationship, there is a great tension and in this tension there rises a debate. There are those that argue that the society is more important than the individual and there are those who contend that the individual is more significant than the society.

The paper will demonstrate the ways in which this relationship has changed over time and what kinds of factors have the greatest influence upon this relationship as well as the perceptions of this relationship. The paper will explore this topic and reference the debate, though not necessarily engage in this debate. It is evident that both are vital to their respective existences; that is to say that the individual cannot exist as such without the society and the society cannot exist without the individual. They both need each other to survive. The paper will inquire as to whether the debate over which is more relevant or important is moot or relevant. The paper will additionally consider such concepts as individuation as part of the examination of the relationship of the individual and the society, in whatever form the society takes. The paper will conclude that there are moments when the needs of the society will outweigh the needs of the individual and there are moments, necessarily, that the needs of the individual must be honored in order for the society to function as such.

What do we mean when we say a society? Society is a word that and concept that is used often, and the definition may be taken for granted. What constitutes an individual? This definition is extremely intuitive, yet some of the definition is contingent upon the polar opposite of the individual, which is the society, the amassing and systemic organization of individuals. Kumar offers insights as to these definitions as well as provides a springboard upon which the discussion and examination of their relationship can begin.

A society refers to the whole and individuals represent only its parts. It is obvious that individual is both a social factor as well as a social product. Thus there is no antithesis or contradiction between society and individual. Nevertheless there may be occasions of conflict and opposition between the society and the individual. There is controversy among scholars as to who should be sacrificed in such cases. (Kumar, 2012)

This definition concurs with the general perspective of this paper. A society is the whole and the individuals are the parts. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole, yet there is great value within those parts. The individual exists as a being, yet the individual's existence is in part constituted by his/her participation within a greater society composed of many individuals. Kumar agrees that neither the individual nor the society retains a greater value over the other overall. There is value and necessity to both aspects. They are parts of each other as well as reflections of each other.

The debate over the primacy of the individual agent or the determining society has often been passionate (Hook); however, the vitriol assumes that a solution depends on the supremacy of one or the other form of reduction. According to Lukacs (1971) theorists in this tradition are polarized into two groups: "on the one hand, there were the 'great individuals' viewed as the autocratic makers of history, on the other hand, there were the 'natural laws' of the historical environment" (p. 158). (Juckes & Barresi, 1993)

One may render great understanding of a society by studying individuals, which some sociologists do; there is great insight to be gained about individuals by understanding the society within which this society exists and participates. The debate over the value of the society and the individual, which permeates the discussion of their relationship, puts society and individuals against each other. Kumar, as well as the point-of-view of this paper, dissolves this opposition as a strategy to widen the potential for understanding of the nature of this relationship and the factors that alter it. There has been some light shed upon the meanings of and the relationship between the society and the individual, the discussion will now proceed with the nature of the debate over which one is more important.

Jeffs and Smith (2002) discuss the debate between individual and the society with respect to changes into modern culture, in relation to youth work, and even education. They provide a history of the debate as well as insight into the debate's perspective, arguments, movements, and influences. They explain:

Debates concerning the 'conflict' betwixt individualism and community formed a backcloth for controversy. Within the emerging discipline of sociology, pioneers seeking to interpret the new world materialising around them were fascinated by the decline and demise of community…These concerns and debates had a profound impact on the development of youth work and community work. The relationship between the individual and a dominant market economy was not an abstract academic affair left by practitioners for others to wrestle with. Not least because youth work, adult education and community work attracted those struggling to address this issue precisely because each seemed to offer a partial solution to the conundrum. (Jeffs & Smith, 2002)

Jeffs and Smith have an impressive line of logic. They begin by describing the nature of the debate, which is fundamentally tumultuous. They proceed by linking the debate to the field of sociology. This field is ripe for sociological review, research, and consideration. They note how in most modern societies, due in large part of aspects of industrialization and capitalism, there is a rise in the value of the individual. The Lebanese Muslim Association offers a unique perspective as to how capitalism affects this tenuous yet strong relationship and how capitalism support the individual over the society.

Capitalism looked to the individual as the most important element in the society. It established individualism as the ideal, neglecting the impact that the individual by himself will have on the society as a whole. Thus, each citizen in the society looks to the things which will bring him or her benefit. The value of any idea is established based on the impact of that idea on the individual himself, irrespective of the impact on others. This view to the individual has made the capitalist societies the breeding grounds for selfishness, greed, and an unparalleled animosity among the people. The concepts of sacrifice and sharing are rare… (LBA, 2012)

As the individual's value rose, the community suffered and dissolved. If considering this debate from the perspective that they are both necessary to each other's existence (one cannot exist without the other), as well as consider that they exist best when they are in balance, the logic of their assertions become quite apparent. In an effort to rebuild the community and rebalance the roles and values of the individual within society, they relate this debate to youth and community work. While these kinds of areas of work would be valued and necessary in any society, in societies with a prevalence of particular problems and qualities of individuals, youth and community work emerged as the movements that they are in part because of the tension created in the changes that the relationship between the individual and society. Within these fields of work, the debate raged on and split into groups based on points-of-view and reactions to the changes in society that affect the individuals.

Those involved in the development of youth work came from a range of religious, philosophical and political traditions. These traditions shaped the practice of organisations and individuals but above all melded to bestow upon youth work a unique essence. Five overlapping responses to industrialisation in particular percolated practice creating a discrete entity - youth work. They…

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