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Understanding The Most Important Characteristics Of A Society - With A Free Essay Review

PROMPT: To understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities.

Society is a group of people historically living together and sharing common history, beliefs, traditions and moral values. Understanding these characteristics is a challenging process and involves analysis of both major cities and small villages. However, although big cities may show many distinguishing features of a society, the complete image of the common understandings and habits of a particular society lies beyond its mega cities, namely in rural areas.

First and foremost, urban areas originated from rural areas, so once they also kept all characteristics relating to villages. However, due to economic and politic roles of big cities, they take foreign influences, thus showing also qualities of foreign nature. In contrast to this, small areas are not much exposed to foreign influences, so they are able to keep their traditions and understanding unchanged. In other words, people in rural areas usually conduct their own small economy and their business and cultural relationships do not go beyond their region. Having less necessity and opportunity to expand their relationships in global aspects, they do not mix their values with the foreign ones, thus providing pure characteristics of their society for social scientists. For example, while young people in Moscow clubs dance in western music, people in Russian peripheries still sing traditional chastushka. Apparently, periphery is more eloquent about traditions of Russian people.

Secondly, even if one can detect a specific characteristic of people living in cities, without studying the roots of a certain peculiarity, it may be difficult to interpret it correctly. For example, it is very common in East African cities to be in open relationships: women are free to have different partners in the same time. At the first glance it may seem immoral and one may interpret this kind of relationship to perverse manner of the society. However, examination of moral standards in less developed areas reveals that African people accept polygamy. Armed with this information, one would have a complete perception of moral standards of the African community.

Finally, recent globalization processes have changed the nature of cities. Particularly mega cities such as London, Paris or Tokyo have become not only home to indigenous people, but also to foreigners from all over the world. Therefore defining characteristics of the local society in such an international environment would contain some deviation as it will consider a given city as a whole. Yet, as it is defined above members of a society historically live together. So studying cosmopolitan cities would be quite irrelevant.

In conclusion, roots of traditions, culture, religion and beliefs go to rural communities where people are more inclined to preserve them. Though people in major cities also bear the same values, they have evolved during the time and can be misleading if one is not familiar with their origin. So, study of a given society should start from the origin, namely from the people living in rural areas.



The problem with a prompt like the one given here is that it is ambiguous with respect to the very thing being interrogated; namely, the "most important characteristics." The problem, or course, is also an advantage for the essayist, who can freely chose whatever characteristics he likes as the "most important" ones, and as long as he chooses well, the argument of the essay will be irrefutable. You take advantage of this loophole by specifying from the outset what exactly are (for you) the most important characteristics of a society. You don't actually do this explicitly enough, however. You don't frankly say that shared "history, beliefs, traditions and moral values" are the most important characteristics of a society, but your essay proceeds as though it went without saying that such characteristics are in fact the most important ones. This is both the strength and weakness of your essay. It is a strength in that it allows you to make a reasonably compelling argument for the rural communities as the guardians of tradition. It is a weakness in that it exposes your essay to obvious objections: "No, those are not the most important characteristics. Societies are dynamic, historical things, constantly evolving. That's the most important characteristic. And if you want to understand how a society develops and evolves then you've got to go the major cities where change happens at an accelerated pace." Obviously, if I really held that the most important characteristic of a society were its dynamism, then everything that goes, in your essay, to prove the greater significance of rural communities as a source of understanding society would go in my essay to prove the greater significance of the major cities. To understand dynamism, for instance, you need to understand not the forces of tradition, but the forces of change, things like globalization, foreign influences, intermingling of different cultures and so on.

Okay, I think I've whipped that point senseless, so it should be clear enough what you need to do: explain why you think your set of characteristics is the most important set, or else explain why the question is a stupid question (as I have kind of done) because it fails to specify what it means by "most important characteristics," or (probably the best option) sit on the fence: explain why some important characteristics are best understood by studying the villages and some best understood by studying the big cities.

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: annamart


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November,11 2011

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