Section 3.1: Types of Societies

Fundamentals of Sociology - Adam McKee and Scott Bransford

Across time and space, the types of societies in which people live vary and evolve.  In Section 3.1: Types of Societies, we will examine these different types of societies.   In the past, before the Industrial Revolution and the widespread use of machines, societies were quite different than they are today. They were smaller and more rural, which means they were located mostly in the countryside and not in cities. People lived off of the resources in their local area and did not have access to the vast array of goods and services that are available today.

Table of Contents

Life Before Technology: The Hunter-Gatherer Era

Imagine living thousands of years ago, with no smartphones, no internet, and even no electricity! Back then, life was very different from what we know today. People in these early societies had to rely solely on their physical strength and skills to survive.

Hard Work for Basic Needs

To get food, clothing, and shelter, which are basic needs, people had to work incredibly hard. Unlike today where you can just go to a store to buy what you need, they had to make or find everything themselves. This meant there weren’t many different jobs like we have today. Everyone pretty much did the same things to live.

The First Job Ever: Hunter-Gatherers

The very first job that existed was being a hunter-gatherer. Sounds cool, right? Well, it was really tough! People had to hunt animals and gather plants from the wild to eat. They needed to know a lot about their environment, like where to find food and how to catch it. This lifestyle meant they were always on the move and involved a lot of physical activities.

From Then to Now: The Power of Technology

Fast forward to today, and things have changed a lot, thanks to technology! Ever heard of the Industrial Revolution? It was a time when many technological inventions came about. Now, we have machines that do a lot of the work people used to do by hand. This change allowed people to become experts in specific jobs and to produce more things, like clothes, cars, and even smartphones, on a much larger scale.


  1. Can you imagine what your day would be like if you were a hunter-gatherer?
  2. What’s one technology you use every day that makes your life easier?
  3. How do you think our lives might change if all technology suddenly disappeared?

Preindustrial Societies

The Dawn of Human Societies: From Nomads to Farmers

Long before skyscrapers and smartphones, humans lived very differently. Let’s take a journey through time to understand how our ancestors lived in these types of societies.

The Earliest Nomads: Hunter-Gatherer Societies

Around 12,000 years ago, the first type of society was the hunter-gatherer. These societies were like big families, known as tribes. They survived by hunting animals and gathering plants. But here’s the thing: they didn’t stay in one place. When food became scarce, they packed up and moved to a new area. Imagine having to change your home every few months! Sadly, this lifestyle is almost gone now as the world’s population has grown (Appiah, 2006; Macionis, 2017).

Taming Animals: Pastoral Societies

About 7,500 years ago, something cool happened. Humans realized they could tame and breed animals. This led to the formation of pastoral societies. One example is the Maasai villagers in Africa. Instead of just finding food, they could now raise animals for food, clothing, and transport. But, they still moved around following their animals to new grazing lands (Macionis, 2017).

Growing Crops: Horticultural Societies

Then came the horticultural societies. These groups found areas where they could grow crops because of good rainfall. Unlike their predecessors, they didn’t need to move around since they could plant and harvest food in one place. This allowed them to create permanent homes and build up more stuff (Macionis, 2017).

Farming Revolution: Agricultural Societies

Fast forward to around 3000 B.C.E., and we hit the big game-changer: the Agricultural Revolution. Farming became not just possible, but profitable. Farmers learned crop rotation and used manure as fertilizer, leading to better harvests. With more food, some people became richer, forming a nobility class, while others had less. Cities grew, and so did concerns about owning and protecting resources (Macionis, 2017; Murdock, 2021).

The Age of Lords: Feudal Societies

In the ninth century, a new society emerged: feudal societies. Imagine a pyramid of power with lords at the top. They gave pieces of land to vassals, who in return promised to fight for them. This system was based on land and protection. But like all things, feudalism didn’t last. It eventually gave way to capitalism and the technological changes of the industrial era (Macionis, 2017).

Reflect 🔍

  1. How do you think your life would be different if you were part of a hunter-gatherer society?
  2. Which of these preindustrial societies do you find the most interesting, and why?
  3. Why do you think societies changed from being nomadic to settling in one place?

The Industrial Revolution: A Turning Point

From Hand to Machine: The Birth of the Industrial Era

Picture this: the 18th century, a time without smartphones, computers, or even electricity as we know it. This period in Europe brought a huge shift in technology and work, known as the Industrial Revolution (Macionis, 2017).

Steam Power: The Game Changer

Before this era, most work was done by human or animal power. Then came a game-changing invention in 1782: the steam engine, created by James Watt and Matthew Boulton. This invention was so powerful, it did the work of twelve horses! It led to mass production, making things faster and cheaper.

Farm to City: The Rise of Urbanization

Thanks to new inventions like mechanical seeders and threshing machines, farmers could produce more food. This surplus led people to move from farms to cities, seeking better lives and jobs (Macionis, 2017). Cities became melting pots of diversity, and products like paper and glass, once luxuries, became everyday items.

Social Changes: The Emergence of Sociology

With these changes, new social issues emerged. Crowded cities, poverty, and unclean living conditions became problems. This led to the creation of labor unions and laws to protect workers from being exploited (Crossman, 2021). Education and healthcare became more accessible, offering people new opportunities.

New Powers: The Rise of Industrial Tycoons

As industry boomed, some people, like the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts, became incredibly wealthy and influential. They shaped not just the economy but also politics (Macionis, 2017). However, this era wasn’t all positive. Many workers faced exploitation, but despite this, the middle class grew, and social mobility increased.

The Birth of Sociology

The Industrial Revolution was also the birth of sociology. It was a time of rapid change, and traditional agricultural society rules didn’t apply anymore. This period saw the end of the industrial age due to new technologies in the late 19th century. Yet, many social structures and ideas we know today, like the concept of family and time standardization, have roots in this era (Crossman, 2021; Macionis, 2017).

Reflect 🔍

  1. How do you think life changed for someone moving from a farm to a city during the Industrial Revolution?
  2. Can you think of any modern technology that has changed society as much as the steam engine did?
  3. Why do you think it’s important to study how people lived and worked during the Industrial Revolution?

The City Life: Understanding Urbanization

🏙️ What is Urbanization?

Imagine a world where more and more people are moving to cities, leaving behind rural areas. This movement is called urbanization. It’s like a giant wave that’s been growing for centuries, and it’s really picked up speed lately due to things like better technology, economic growth, and global connections. But, like most things, urbanization is complex and has a lot of different sides to it, affecting our environment, society, economy, and even politics.

🌳 Environment and Urbanization

Cities are often bustling places, but they can also mean more pollution, traffic jams, and harm to nature. When cities expand, they need more energy, resources, and structures to keep everything running. This can lead to increased pollution, using up natural resources, and contributing to climate change through greenhouse gases from cars, industries, and buildings (Glaeser, 2014).

🤝 Social and Economic Impacts

Urbanization can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, it can mean more jobs, better schools, and improved healthcare, potentially making life better for many people. On the other hand, it can also create gaps in society, where some people get left out of these benefits. Cities can sometimes become divided, with communities feeling disconnected. This can lead to issues like crime and political unrest (Rosenbaum, 2018).

🏛️ The Role of Planning and Governance

How cities grow and develop depends a lot on good planning and leadership. Effective urban planning can help solve some of the problems that come with urbanization. It’s about making sure cities have the necessary things like housing, public transport, clean water, and proper waste management. It’s also about making sure cities are fair and consider the environment (UN-Habitat, 2021).

But, planning and leadership don’t always work out. Especially in some developing countries, cities can face issues like informal settlements, lack of basic services, and unequal opportunities. This can make poverty and inequality worse and create informal economies (Brenner et al., 2012).

🌍 Sustainable and Inclusive Urbanization

Recently, there’s been more focus on making sure urbanization is sustainable and fair for everyone. The United Nations set a goal (SDG 11) for sustainable cities, emphasizing the need for inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable urban living. The New Urban Agenda, adopted in 2016, also stresses sustainable development and human rights in urban planning (UN-Habitat, 2016).

Reflect 🔍

  1. Can you think of examples of both positive and negative impacts of urbanization in your community or a city you know?
  2. How can cities balance growth with taking care of the environment?
  3. Why do you think it’s important for cities to be inclusive and fair for all their residents?

Navigating the Information Era: The Postindustrial Society

🌐 From Factories to Bytes: The Transition

Imagine a world that has shifted from factory smokestacks to computer screens. This is the essence of these types of societies, a new chapter in human history where knowledge and services have taken the center stage, leaving behind the era of manufacturing material goods. This change is largely fueled by digital technology, with figures like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates being the modern-day versions of industrial moguls such as John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt (Castells, 1996).

💼 Work in the Information Age

In this new society, the nature of work has transformed. Gone are the days when most people’s work was manual labor in factories. Now, it’s all about service-oriented jobs. People are more likely to work as software programmers or business consultants, dealing with information and knowledge rather than physical products (Webster, 2002).

🔑 Power, Wealth, and Education

In these types of societies, power and wealth don’t come from owning factories but from managing and sharing information. It’s like having the key to a vast library; the more you know how to navigate it, the more power you have. Access to education and digital literacy are critical for success. Those who can’t keep up with the tech skills needed in this society might find themselves at a disadvantage, creating a divide based on access to education and tech proficiency (Castells, 1996).

🌍 Society, Economy, and Culture: A New Landscape

This shift has not just changed work but has also reshaped the economy, society, and culture. There’s been a fundamental change in how people communicate and form connections. The Internet and social media have created new ways for people to interact, transforming the way relationships and communities are formed (Castells, 2001).

⚠️ Challenges and Concerns

However, this new information era doesn’t come without its issues. A significant problem is the digital divide – the gap between those who have access to digital tech and those who don’t. This gap can lead to inequalities in education and job opportunities. Another growing concern is privacy. In a world where personal information is constantly shared online, the question of who has access to this information and how it’s used by companies and governments is becoming increasingly important (Webster, 2002).

Reflect 🔍

  1. How have digital technology and the information society impacted your life or work?
  2. What are your thoughts on the digital divide and its effects on society?
  3. How important do you think privacy is in this age of information, and how can it be protected?


🌱 Pre-Industrial Societies: Simple and Local

Before the world was a bustling network of cities and technology, societies were much simpler and smaller. People lived in rural areas and depended on nearby resources to survive. Everyone’s job was pretty basic—mostly physical labor—and there weren’t many different types of jobs. Think of the early days when people were hunter-gatherers, relying on their smarts and knowledge of nature to find food.

🌾 From Gathering to Growing: The Agricultural Shift

Over time, humans started to get clever with how they lived. Instead of just hunting and gathering, they began domesticating animals and growing crops. This was a big deal! It meant people could settle down and not always be on the move. But this also led to some changes in how society was organized. People began to form classes, and societies became more divided. In the ninth century, a system called feudalism popped up, where power was all about who owned the most land. But eventually, this system didn’t work anymore, and a new way of doing things called capitalism started, along with some cool technological discoveries.

🏭 Industrial Revolution: Big Changes and Fast Growth

In the 18th century, things really started to change with the Industrial Revolution. Suddenly, new inventions like the steam engine made it possible to make lots of stuff quickly and cheaply. This led to big cities growing and new laws to make sure workers were treated fairly. Even though there were some tough challenges, the way we live and work today was really shaped by this time.

🏙️ Urbanization: City Growth and Its Effects

As time went on, more and more people started moving to cities, a process called urbanization. This has been happening for a long time, but it’s been speeding up lately. Cities can be great because they offer lots of jobs and chances to learn and be healthy. But they can also have problems, like people feeling left out or the environment getting hurt. Making sure cities grow in a good way is super important.

💻 Information Society: Digital Age and New Challenges

Now we’re in a time called the information society. Instead of mostly making things, we’re now focused on sharing knowledge and services, thanks to all the digital tech we have. Jobs are more about working with information than doing hard labor. But with all this tech, there are some big issues to think about, like making sure everyone can get online and keeping our personal information safe. This new era has brought lots of changes in how we live, work, and connect with each other, and it’s full of both exciting chances and tricky challenges.

Word Count: 2,756

Key Terms

rural societies, local resources, physical labor, specialized occupations, hunter-gathering, pastoral societies, horticultural societies, Agricultural Revolution, social class divisions, feudal societies, technological advancements, mass production, social change, urbanization, labor unions, workers’ rights, effective urban planning, positive impacts, negative impacts, information society, digital technology, knowledge creation, knowledge dissemination, power, wealth, information control, digital divide

References and Further Reading 

  • Appiah, K. A. (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Atkinson, R. (2008). The evidence on the impact of gentrification: New lessons for the urban renaissance? European Journal of Housing Policy, 8(4), 383-406.
  • Castells, M. (1983). The city and the grassroots: A cross-cultural theory of urban social movements. University of California Press.
  • Glaeser, E. L. (2011). Triumph of the city: How our greatest invention makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier. Penguin.
  • Jensen, O. B. (2018). The sociality of urban space. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space (D. Nicholson-Smith, Trans.). Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Macionis, J. J. (2017). Sociology (16th ed.). Pearson.
  • Murdock, G. (2021). Cultural hegemony. In Ritzer, G., & Rojek, C. (Eds.), Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology (2nd ed.). Wiley Blackwell.
  • OpenStax. (2021). Types of Societies. In Introduction to Sociology 3e. OpenStax.
  • Park, R. E., Burgess, E. W., & McKenzie, R. D. (1925). The city. University of Chicago Press.
  • Sassen, S. (1991). The global city: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton University Press.
  • Wirth, L. (1938). Urbanism as a way of life. American Journal of Sociology, 44(1), 1-24. 
Modification History

File Created:  05/07/2023

Last Modified:  11/01/2023

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