From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Social unit is a term used in sociology, anthropology, ethnology, and also in animal behaviour studies, zoology and biology to describe a social entity which is part of and participates in a larger social group or society.
According to Dimitrie Gusti, society is composed of "social units," as groups of humans linked by a voluntary organizing activity and interconnected spiritually.
A different use of "social unit" is where it may be used to mean a discrete transactable commodity within a society.
Some social units
Any such list will be inherently culturally and temporally embedded, and hence problematic to order. Some social units in the 21st century human Anglosphere, roughly in order of number of unit members and secondly in order of power are:
- Alien, stateless person, asylum seeker, refugee
- Partnership, marriage
- Village, town, city
"A "social unit" has (1) and identity of its own, separate from those of its members, (2) "recurrent and patterned" interactions, (3) members who identify themselves partly in terms of the unit..., (4) goals distinct from those of its members, (5) a division of labour, or differentiated goals attend to the goals. This is a pluralist definition, because autonomous entities that have properties or variables are simply assumed to exist. "Societies" are even defined as a "very large number" of social units with authority patterns (Eckstein and Gurr, 1975, P. 23). The problems of analyzing the relations at the societal level among the state, society, and economy, however conceived, are eliminated at one conceptuial stroke by the way the characteristics of social units are defined.
"A pluralist world view is therefore embedded in the fundamental conception of the unit of analysis and its properties. The view of bureaucracy emphasizes individual commitment to values and the common goals shared by all members of a hierarchical social unit"<ref>P. 122 Powers of Theory: Capitalism, the State, and Democracy By Robert R. Alford, Roger Friedland, Published by Cambridge University Press, 1985, ISBN 0521316359, 9780521316354</ref>
Sociologist Margaret Archer says "...it is perfectly conceivable that any social unit, from a community to a civilization, could be found the principle ideational elements (knowledge, belief, norms, language, mythology, etc.) of which do display considerable logical consistency -- that is, the components are consistent not contradictory -- yet the same social unit may be low on causal consensus."<ref>M. Archer (1988) Culture and Agency: The Place of Culture in Social Theory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004 edition</ref>(2004:4)
NGL Hammond: "Epirus was a land of milk and animal products...The social unit was a small tribe, consisting of several nomadic or semi-nomadic groups, and these tribes, of which more than seventy names are known, coalesced into large tribal coalitions, three in number: Thesprotians, Molossians and Chaonians...We know from the discovery of inscriptions that these tribes were speaking the Greek language (in a West-Greek dialect)." (1994). Philip of Macedon. London, UK: Duckworth.
For Hanifan, social capital referred to:
"those tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit....The individual is helpless socially, if left to himself....If he comes into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors."<ref>Putnam, Robert. (2000), "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community" (Simon and Schuster)</ref>