Sample Essay on Modern and Traditional Societies


From the perspective of an individual or a social scientist, it is possible to acknowledge that society is a body that is dynamic in nature considering that it is characterized by changes. This phrase is common in the understanding of social concepts because change is a phenomenon that is noticeable overtime. If the contemporary society were to be compared with, the society in 1970s there would be significant changes in relation to variables such as family ties, nature of social interactions, norms and values that define the society and governance structure in the society. The question of whether traditional society is better than modern society is dependent on the level of social cohesion between an individual and a group of individuals with their culture. The debate on the better society raises question of which society between modern and traditional is superior. This paper will be aligned with the views of Campbell who argues that the debate on which is the most superior society does not make any sense considering that both societies have values and norms, which make them superior in their own way.

In order to address the question, it will be important to compare and contrast traditional and modern societies. This will be through an analysis of the views of Campbell and Thompson in describing traditional societies with reference to the people of Sarakstani. In addition, the paper will also evaluate the4 modern society in accordance with the views of Bells and Shils.

Traditional societies

Traditional societies in the view of Campbell were communal in nature. This means that the resources were perceived as the property of the family and that of the community. When giving an example of the Sarakstani community among the Greece, the cohesion within the community at family levels made it a highly secretive community where tradition norms practices were passed on to generations in a large secretive manner (Campbell 112). Those outside the family but part of the community were viewed as strangers and competitors of the limited goods available for the community. Being largely cooperative, aspects such as child discipline was the responsibility of the adult population since children were expected to provide and demonstrate respect to the elderly in the society.

The family was the most important sector in the traditional societies. This is because it was form the families that children who guaranteed continuation of the society were born. In addition, the socialization process of children began at the family level before being introduced to the larger society. In traditional societies, families were largely patriarchal, with the father acting as the head. During the socialization process, it was the responsibility of the father to provide manhood teachings to the males children while the mother had the responsibility of teaching the female child the responsibilities of a woman (Campbell 114).

Chores in the traditional society were divided according to gender of the individuals concerned. It was the responsibility of the male population to fend for their families and protect them while the females were charged with the communal responsibility of taking care of homes, preparing food, bearing and taking care of the children (Campbell 109). While referring to the Sarakstani community, Campbell asserts that honor was an essential aspect in defining the activities and behavior of members of a family (Campbell 110). One way by which family members avoided negative public opinion was to act in accordance with the acceptable norms and values provided for by the community. This was done by ensuring that males and female children exhibited acceptable behavior while in eth community. In addition, communal activities such as payment of dowry were strictly adhered to as a way of protecting the honor of the family. In traditional societies such as Sarakstani, it was the responsibility of male family members to preserve and protect family honor (Campbell 110).

Relationships between members of the community in traditional societies were based on paternalism, reciprocity, and statues. Which meant that in the society roles and responsibilities among members were divided according to their gender orientation and social status. It was the responsibility of every members of the society to act according to the expectations of the society. Traditional societies were divided into upper, middle, and lower classes (Thompson 127). The upper class comprised of the elite members of the society, while the middle class were the traders in the society. Peasants were of the lower class and the relationship between these members of the community was based on their responsibilities in the development of a moral economy that was free of exploitation. (Thompson 127) Being the leaders of the society, the upper class were expected to act in accordance with the paternalistic model. This model required that the laws and policies developed were considerate of the social status of every member. For instance, in traditional societies it was the responsibility of the elite to ensure that the middle class did not exploit members of the lower class by raising process of bread. Occasionally the prices of bread would be rise sharply. However, through a demonstration against the immoralities of the economy, the upper class was compelled to introduce price regulations. Such actions by the upper class in favor of the lower class were in accordance with the requirement of the old moral economy of the provision in traditional societies (Thompson 129).

The paternalistic model governed social relations in traditional societies, which were largely associated with the idea of status. In traditional societies members of the lower class provided labor and rent to the upper class in exchange, the latter provided patronage and protection for the former against the exploitative actions of the middle class. Patronage from this perspective was viewed as a duty that the upper class owed the lower class considering that both classes shared a common understanding of the moral economy (Thompson 121).

Modern societies

The transition from traditional to modern society began with the breakdown of social order as the upper class embraced the idea of relationships governed by contract and political economy. The introduction of the new approach to understanding the economy meant a breakdown to the moral economy of provision that had characterized activities in the traditional society. In the modern society, the upper-class eliminated regulations that had previously benefited members of the lower class and their demonstrations were perceived as some form of interference to the free market economy (Thompson 122). The upper class rejected the idea of riots by the peasantry through the introduction of legitimate repression tendencies that had characterized the new ideology of political economy. Social relationship in the new political economy that characterized the relationship between members of the society was characterized by individualism, which was defined by the idea of contractual agreement between those participating in the free market (Thompson 129).

An outstanding attribute of the modern society in the view of Bell (155) is in its hedonistic features. The modern society in enshrined in the capitalistic tendencies where individualism and the desire to own more property has become one of the outstanding features of the society. The idea behind the introduction of capitalism in the view of Bell (155) was to not only expand the market but to also improve on productivity. With the expansion of capitalism in the society, human wants have become psychological rather than physical. Individuals in need of instant gratification characterize the modern society and this is perceived as a destruction of ethical morals that was used in traditional societies to limit he unending demands of human beings.

The economy in the modern society plays a crucial role in the definition of different aspects at the family and societal level. Individualism, for instance, is the defining feature of the type of relationship between different individuals in the modern society. In terms of governance, modern society is characterized by limited campaigns advocating for political change. Instead, every opportunity is perceived as a platform of amassing more wealth at an individual and at an institutional level (Bell 157). Modern society acknowledges its members according to what they possess. Any form of unity among different actors in the modern society is viewed as a technique through which they intend to protect their businesses for the threat of nihilism. Elite members of the society often take action against rioters and demonstrators as a way of shielding their property and using the naivety of the rioters to amass more property for their own benefits.

Despite the negative connotations that have characterized the modern society, definitive aspects such as individualism have provided members of the society with the urge to embrace hard work and realize personal success. This has been facilitated by the availability of educational and career platforms which allow individual members of the society to make decisions on that which they consider important for their wellbeing. Through individualism, children are socializes into a world that emphasizes on the essence of developing personal initiatives and strategies in the development of goals and objectives about the future (Bell 158).

Other than individualism, capitalism, which is an attribute of the modern market economy, emphasizes on competition in the free market. Competition is one way through which the modern society ensures that only the best individual are provided with opportunities in the economy. This approach to societal development provides members of the community with almost equal opportunities to access limited changes in the economy. This is the view of Bell (159) is synonymous- to the concept of cultural transformation where elements of communal inheritance and common responsibilities re replaced with individualism and a highly competitive society. Contractual relationships that characterized the modern society is an attribute that requires the elimination of al the elements that limit competition. This creates an environment of exploitation of those considered relatively weak in terms of ownership of resources.

An outstanding feature of the modern society, in the view of Shils (166) is in the ability of members of the society to make decisions in different stages in their lives. Inasmuch as the decision-making process is considered as an individual initiative, Shils argues that the consequences are also individual in nature making it a more complex phenomenon of modernity. According to Shils, the value of human life in the modern society is gauged by the property he is able to control (167).

Differences and similarities between modern and traditional societies

Traditional societies as propounded by Campbell were defined by their communal nature. Family was considered as the most essential unit in the society considering its influential role in the socialization of children. Thompson while presenting the element of transition for traditional to modern societies argues that the formers was characterized by paternalism and patronage which was characterized by the moral market economy. This meant that it was the responsibility of every members of the society to safeguard the interest of other members.

This is however different from the political economy that characterized the introduction of the new ideology of political economy. According to this ideology, the modern’s society was characterized by the introduction of free-market economy in which competition and the desire to make profit was an outstanding feature of the economy. In modern society, riots were curtailed with repressive laws since such riots were considered as destructions to the free market economy.

Socialization process in traditional societies was the role of the family. The role of the society was to provide assistance in the decision-making process considering that activities such as marriages were organized and decisions were made according to tradition and existing authority. In modern society, decisions are made in many spheres of life. Modern society from this perspective is liberated form the bondage of a centralized decision making process. Despite the presence of this liberation, questions have been raised on whether individualism and the capitalistic economy that characterizes modern society has created more problems compared to those experienced in the traditional societies (Shils 166).

Question regarding the superiority contest between modern and traditional society must be based on the context of each society with regard to the prevailing social practices. The traditional society was superior in its own way since it provided members of the society with a system upon which they could base their activities. Norms and values acted as the rules and regulations of society. The family, as the most important unit of the society, played the socialization role. However, with the increase in demand for more goods and services that the communal society could provide, capitalism merged as an element in the modern society that defined market operations. The desire to make profits introduced the concepts if individualism and competition which have made modern society a better platform for addressing societal challenges and accessing the available opportunities.

Works cited

Bell, Daniel. “Excerpts from The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism” from The Cultural

Contradictions of Capitalism , Basic Books, 1996. Course Kit for SOSC 1000 Volume 1, Terry Conlin. Toronto: York University, 2012. 155 – 158.

Campbell, John K. “Excerpts from Honour, Family and Patronage: A study of Institutions and

Moral Values in a Greek Mountain Community.”, New edition, Oxford University Press, 1999. Course Kit for SOSC 1000 Volume 1, Terry Conlin. Toronto: York University, 2012. 101 – 119.

Shils, Edward. “The Theory of Mass Society” from The Constitution of Society, University of

Chicago Press, 1982. Course Kit for SOSC 1000 Volume 1, Terry Conlin. Toronto: York University, 2012. 159 – 169

Thompson, E.P. “Childhood.” From the Making of the English Working Class , Penguin Books,

  1. Course Kit for SOSC 1000 Volume 1, Terry Conlin. Toronto: York University, 2012. 121