Are they really just two aspects of the same thing, or are they fundamentally different? Trying to figure how to group the following:

  • essenes (community)
  • pharisees (community)
  • christians (community)
  • akkadians (society?)
  • sumerians (society?)
  • yayoi people (community?)

Can they all be considered "communities"?

What about the USA, or China, are those "communities"? In that sense they seem to large for a community. A society then is a large and diverse group of people while a community is a smaller group with similar interests? Is there a term which can group both of these under one umbrella? "Peoples" maybe, or "collective", or I was going to say "civilization" but that cuts out "hunter gatherer societies", which you would think would also be called communities, so I am a bit perplexed.

What is a group of people called, where it can be as small as a neighborhood to a city to a community to a society to a civilization? A "group" :], but specific to people.

3 Answers 3



from Latin societatem (nominative societas) "fellowship, association, alliance, union, community," from socius "companion, ally," from PIE *sokw-yo-, suffixed form of root *sekw- (1) "to follow."

They are quite similar and depending on language and context and be used synonymous. Community seems to be a bit more specific according to the etymology:


Commūnis is derived from con- (“prefix indicating a being or bringing together of several objects”) (from cum (“with”), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ḱóm (“along, at, next to, with”)) + mūnus (“employment, office, service; burden, duty, obligation”) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *mey- (“to change, exchange”)). Ostensibly equivalent to commune +‎ -ity. Doublet of communitas.

There were apparently also ideas to specify them more concretely: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemeinschaft_and_Gesellschaft

But when it comes to calling groups as names, it's likely that someone started and something stuck rather than that there is a deep thought behind that, especially when you're dealing with groups from all over the world and xenonymic translations of their actual self-description.


One can say that society is also a community. So community is the more general aspect of a group linked together with certain ideological, ethnological, or emotional ties.

On the other hand a society is a super community, usually having sub communities as parts where the main link is a state and/or shared economic structure or even some superstate or historical structure.


  1. Greek society (in Greece)
  2. Greek community (as part of American society)
  3. European society (not simply community)
  4. Scientific community (not society)
  5. Hunter-gatherer society (in the sense of common economic structure, that of hunting and gathering)

PS: Civilization can be defined as the shared ideology and practices of a society, or group of related societies, across a given historical time frame. Eg European civilization of the Renaissance.


I will offer an answer in terms of political terminology, but so first as a definition of "society," with the caveat that "community" might be equivalent to or at least a peculiar proper subset of "society."

Now, there's a naive "political compass" popular in various corners of the Internet, that tries to situate the right/left and freedom/authority dichotomies so as to yield the so-called compass. Notwithstanding its naivete, I will take this "model" as a point of departure in presenting my own. My motivation is trying to separate conservative/liberal (or conservative/progressive) from right/left, while showcasing the affinities between these categorizations, and in turn attempting to avoid prejudice against any of the four subcategories.

So, perhaps greatly oversimplifying what's at stake, let's say that the two freedom/authority vectors are (A) the range of punishable offenses and (B) the severity of attendant punishments. Factor in a simple min/max function, and you get the following "compass":

  1. Minimum A-range, minimum B-range: anarchism (for min(x) = 0), or then libertarianism or, I think, a peculiar option that Hannah Arendt spoke of as "isonomy" ("no rulers or ruled," but still not quite anarchism, somehow).
  2. Min(A), moderate(B): conservatism. Moderate(A), min(B): liberalism.
  3. Min(A), max(B): the Right. Max(A), min(B): the Left.
  4. Moderate(A, B): moderates/the Center.
  5. Moderate(A), max(B): nationalism. Max(A), moderate(B): socialism.
  6. Max(A, B): national socialism, i.e. totalitarianism.

Historically, there is often a meaningful overlap between urban populations and liberal/Left perspectives, and between rural populations and conservative/Right perspectives. Modulo the nationalism/socialism dichotomy, this seems (to me) to become the assertion that nations and societies are similar entities, with nations being the spatial example of what societies are a temporal example of besides.

If a community is not merely a society/vice versa, then, perhaps the distinction lies in the scale: a community is a smaller temporal (and accompanying spatial) unit of the kind of structure that a (national) society is the broader-scale case of.

Caveat: again, I suspect I'm oversimplifying a lot of these terms' definitions/usages. I have not, for example, situated the concepts of empires or civilizations, here. Or, by default, so-called "secret societies" can hardly be as large (in time) as nations (in space). Anyway, though, I hope this "speculation" (or wordplay?) is relevant to your question!

  • It's unfortunately not just oversimplified it's almost bound to fail, because most of these ideologies operate under radically different paradigms. That are not primarily even concerned with crime and punishment and would often argue it's just a temporal necessity rather than an ideological fix point. And the other is that it's quite subjective what min, max or moderate are. Like most of the actors would argue they are at min/moderate while those at the receiving end would rather group it as moderate/max, not to mention that moderation implies a reference level, which is not objective.
    – haxor789
    Jul 7, 2022 at 18:00
  • I doubt we would be able to construct predominantly objective definitions of words like community and society, and I would be disinclined to trust, say, the average American's self-report about which category they (or others) fell under. I see so many people accuse other people of being "right-wing" or "left-wing" without any sort of plausible demarcation, so I'd favor either jettisoning the terms altogether, or making at least some effort towards stabilizing their definitions. Jul 7, 2022 at 18:10
  • afai understand the Gesellschaft-Gemeinschaft dichotomy is about whether you focus on the collective or the individual, whether you treat society as an end in itself or as an instrument. So any real society would be somewhere on the spectrum as the edges are almost unreachable. Like the individual can't seize to be even if they wanted to and if you treat others as purely instrumental then they probably wouldn't want to have you in that group. But just because that is like "left and right" a dichotomy attempting to span the political spectrum doesn't mean the two neatly map.
    – haxor789
    Jul 7, 2022 at 18:43
  • I'm trying to collate other phrases/facts, too, like liberals are accused of wanting a "nanny state," or rightist/nationalist groups for some odd reason tend to be more violent than their foils, conservatives might be seen as family-oriented while progressives are peer-oriented, there are also correlations between urban/rural demographics and the hypothetical spectrum, etc. I might prefer to approach people's politics on an individual question-by-question basis rather than try to "lump" people under such "labels," though. Jul 7, 2022 at 18:49
  • The problem is that these are not just labels liberal, conservative, socialist, anarchist. Each of those is an existing political ideology with often long traditions and an entire political spectrum of it's own. And also left and right (though arbitrary) often are defined and not just labels. Like sociology apparently looks at social hierarchies to span a spectrum. Making the "right wing" actually something that most modern societies wouldn't rank as great. So if "right wingers" are actually right wingers, they'd love to make it "just a label" because that covers what they believe for example
    – haxor789
    Jul 7, 2022 at 19:09

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .