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Traditional society

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Title: Traditional society  
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Subject: Modernization theory, Tradition, Disenchantment, Inner-worldly asceticism, Pre-industrial society
Collection: Sociocultural Evolution, Theories of History, Tradition
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Traditional society

In sociology, traditional society refers to a society characterized by an orientation to the past, not the future, with a predominant role for custom and habit.[1]

Such a society will be marked by a lack of distinction between family and business, with the division of labor influenced primarily by age, gender, and status.[2]


  • Tradition/modern 1
  • Ritual 2
  • Diversity 3
  • Enlightenment and post-traditionalism 4
  • Internet 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • External links 9


Traditional society has often been contrasted with modern

  • Traditional society

External links


  1. ^ S. Langlois, Traditions, Social
  2. ^ S. Langlois, Traditions: Social, In: Neil J. Smelser and Paul B. Baltes, Editor(s)-in-Chief, International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Scences, Pergamon, Oxford, 2001, Pages 15829-15833, ISBN 978-0-08-043076-8, doi:10.1016/B0-08-043076-7/02028-3
  3. ^ M.Grenfell, Pierre Bourdieu: Agent Provocateur (2004) p. 41-4
  4. ^ Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (1989) p. 233-6
  5. ^ Langlois, in Smelser
  6. ^ Traditional and Modern Societies
  7. ^ John R. Hall et al, Sociology on Culture (2003) p. 71-4
  8. ^ Ulrich Bech et al, Reflexive Modernisation (1994) p. 63-5
  9. ^ Hall, p. 78
  10. ^ M. Hardt/K. Weeks eds., The Jameson Reader (2005) p. 319
  11. ^ David Attenborough, Life on Earth (1992) p. 304
  12. ^ Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1971) p. 276-80
  13. ^ Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion (1971) p. 81
  14. ^ M. I. Finley, The World of Odysseus (1967) p. 89 and p. 133-4
  15. ^ Quoted J. H Plumb, The Death of the Past (1969) in p. 24-5
  16. ^ J.Boardman et al eds., The Oxford History of the Classical World (1991) p. 232
  17. ^ E. Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou (1980) p. 283 and p. 356
  18. ^ R. W. Southern , The Making of the Middle Ages (1993) p. 74-5
  19. ^ J. H. Hexter, On Historians (1979) p. 269-71
  20. ^ Hardt, p. 264 and p. 251-2
  21. ^ M. Hardt, p. 240-4
  22. ^ Kate Fox, Watching the English (2004) p. 14
  23. ^ Peter Worsley ed., The New Modern Sociology Readings (1991) p. 317


See also

Global media such as the Internet have been seen as effective means of re-creating traditional cultures.[22] However, a key contrast now with traditional societies as they were is that participation has become voluntary, where before it was ascriptive: fixed in space, social stratification, and role expectations.[23]


Jameson however has seen as a defining feature of postmodernism the global elimination of residual, 'traditional' enclaves, giving it its one-dimensional, temporal nature - no longer offset by living examples of the past alongside the new.[21]

Much of the focus of Enlightenment thinking was directed at undoing the mindset of traditional society, and replacing a focus upon such concepts as rural/hierarchical/customary/status with one centred on the ideas of urban/egalitarian/progressive/contractual. Modernism and modernity continued the process of challenging and overcoming traditional society.,[20]

Enlightenment and post-traditionalism

Medieval Europe was an intensely local society of self-perpetuating peasant households,[17] living within a slow moving culture dominated by customary law and by respect for ancient authority[18] and pervaded with an ahistorical political mentality focused upon the concepts of experience, usage, and law-as-custom.[19]

The invention of farming some 10,000 years ago led to the development of agrarian societies, whether nomadic or peasant - the latter in particular almost always dominated by a strong sense of traditionalism.[13] Within agrarian society, however, a wide diversity still existed. Homeric Greece was a society marked by powerful kinship bonds, fixed status and rigidly defined social expectations;[14] with the classical polis, however, though festivals, in M. I. Finley's words, still "recreated for their audiences the unbroken web of all life, stretching back over generations of men to the gods",[15] new and more complex voluntary forms of social and public life balanced traditional society in a new equilibrium.[16]

For most of human existence, small tribes of hunter-gatherers leading an almost static existence formed the only social organisation: where they survived into the twentieth century, as in Australia, paintings, songs, myths and rituals[11] were all used to cement links to a deep-reaching sense of continuity with ancestors and ancestral ways.[12]

Fredric Jameson saw 20th century modernisation as encountering two main kinds of traditional society - tribal, as in Africa, and bureaucratic imperial, as in China and India[10] - although a much wider diversity of traditional societies has existed over time.


Practice theory however has recently emphasised the role of ritual in facilitating change, as well as continuity.[9]

Traditional societies have been seen as characterised by powerful collective memories sanctioned by ritual, and with social guardians ensuring continuity of communal practices.[8]


However theories positing the simple, unilineal evolution of societies from traditional to modern industrial are now seen as too simplistic,[5] relying on an ideal typology revolving round such polarities as subsistence/growth;face-to-face/impersonal;informal social control/formal social control;collective ownership/private ownership.[6] Recent work has emphasised instead the variety of traditional cultures, and the existence of intermediate forms as well as of'alternative' modernisations.[7]

[4] saw traditional societies as 'cold' societies in that they refused to allow the historical process to define their social sense of legitimacy.Claude Lévi-Strauss while [3]

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