The term society refers to the whole complex network of human relationships interacting upon one another. It may be defined as the sum total of relations forming an organization which regulates the life of the people within the structure. Hence society is a collection of aggregates, it progresses from small groups to larger ones, simple to compound and ultimately from homogenous to heterogeneous. British philosopher Herbert Spencer considered the evolution of society to the growth of organisms. He held that societies and biological organisms are analogous. Spencer wrote in his paper “social organism”, published in 1860, because of the fact that they both “slowly augment in mass; that they progress in complexity of structure; that at the same time their parts become more mutually dependent.”
Analogy between Society and Organisms
The theory of organismic analogy appeared in the theories of early classical sociologists Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim. An organism is a collective entity with high level of cooperation and low level of conflict among its component parts which allows it to adapt with the functions of the environment and later helps it to survive. Organisms emerge through a three-part evolutionary process following social group formation, social group maintenance, and social group transformation just the way the entire human society is produced. With this explanation, many thinkers including Spencer considered human societies as organisms. Spencer explains that the history of both organic and superorganic (social) life is a process of development and this process is enhanced in terms of quantity and complexity. The earliest forms of organisms came from cells and they were simple in structure. The primitive men lived in isolated groups and just like the mature form of organisms display differentiation and multiplicity in both structure and function. Hence the human organism is a later instance of the organic evolutionary process.
Transformation of the World
Spencer held the evolutionary view that the world was growing in a progressively better way and the individuals should adjust with the state of affairs following the struggle for existence. He opined that the organic social elements like plants and animals adapt progressively and positively to their social environment. Following this view, he suggested that a process of the “survival of the fittest” occurred in the social world. (It is interesting to mention that it was Herbert Spencer who used the term “survival of the fittest” several years before Charles Darwin’s work on natural selection). It implies that the ones adjusting to the changes of the social world would survive and the ones who couldn’t adjust would eventually die. Spencer emphasized on the crude of individualism.
Organismic Nature of Society
The organismic concept involves the idea of mutual interdependence and drew attention to cultural tradition, as a functionally necessary part of a society. It promotes that society is an institutional order containing a fundamental set of cultural ideas and there is also distinctiveness of culture in every society. The society expands rather than being constructed. It evolves as an organism and is not subjected to sudden and drastic changes, which may hamper its growth.