Social organism

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In sociology, the social organism is an ideological concept in which a society or social structure is viewed as a “living organism." From this perspective, typically, the relation of social features, e.g. law, family, crime, etc., are examined as they interact with other features of society to meet social needs. All elements of a society or social organism have a function that maintains the stability and cohesiveness of the organism.


The model or concept of society as an organism was developed in the late 19th century by Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist. According to Durkheim, the more specialized the function of an organism or society the greater its development, and vice versa. Generally, culture, politics, and economics are the three core activities of society. Social health depends on the harmonious interworking of these three activities. Hence, the “health" of the social organism can be thought of as a function of the interaction of culture, politics, and economics, which in theory can be studied, modeled, and analyzed. The conception of an "organismic society" was elaborated further by Herbert Spencer in his essay on "The Social Organism".

In the 2002 book, Darwin's Cathedral, David Sloan Wilson applies his multilevel selection theory to social groups. Quoting from his introduction: "Organisms are a product of natural selection. Through countless generations of variation and selection, they acquire properties that enable them to survive and reproduce in their environments. My purpose (of this book) is to see if human groups in general, and religious groups in particular, qualify as organismic in this sense".


  1. MacLay, George R. (1990). The Social Organism: A Short History of the Idea That a Human Society May Be Regarded As a Gigantic Living Creature. North River Press. ISBN 0-88427-078-5. 
  2. Rawie, Henry (1990). The Social Organism and its Natural Laws. Williams & Wilkins Co. ASIN B000879AT2. 
  3. Steiner, Rudolf (1985). The Renewal of the Social Organism. Steiner Books. ISBN 0-88010-125-3. 

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