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Lenski's Five Types of Society

Lenski's Five Types of Society

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify the characteristics of and relationships between Gerhard Lenski's five types of society.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Images from; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology-- Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on Lenski's five types of society. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial. So today we're looking at Lenski's five types of society. Now, Gerhard Lenski is a famous sociologist, and he actually only came up with four different types of society. But the fifth one is something that's kind of added on and fits directly in with his general ideas.

And the focus is really going to be explaining those five different types, but I want to give you a little bit of a background first about who Lenski really was. Lenski is a sociologist born in the 1920s, and he really saw technology as the most important thing for society. He saw societies actually as like an evolution-- going through evolutionary steps-- and technology being the most important thing that help cause and result in those evolutionary steps. One of the reasons why he saw technology as so important is because technology really limits what kind of ideas and artifacts are even possible within a society.

So if we're looking at a society that doesn't have the technology of writing yet, the way they develop ideas and the kind of artifacts that we can look at-- they're going to be very different from a society that's in a modern post-industrial society. And if you don't know what those two terms are yet-- don't worry, that's what I'm about to get to. So the first one is hunting and gathering. This is the first stage. Now, hunter and gathering is just really the use of really basic tools and gathering food and hunting animals.

The aborigines are a great example of one of the few hunting and gathering societies still around today. The majority of their traditional society still works just as a hunting and gathering society. And they're a fairly equitable society. So the relationships within a society, people are pretty much equal. There's not a lot of social stratification. And that's the first stage of his five stages here.

The next one is horticultural and pastoral. Now, horticulture and pastoral are actually two different terms, but they kind of come together for this type of society. And in this type of society, there is basic farming going on or there's basic domestication of animals or there's both going on at the same time. One way I like to think about this group is you think about a nomadic group that maybe has domesticated sheep or some other animal. Maybe just to be clear, domestication is just when you tame an animal.

So we've, in our modern society, domesticated many, many animals. You know, dogs are domesticated animals. Pigs are domesticated animals. But this is actually a pretty important technological advance when they start to domesticate animals. And so this horticultural and pastoral stage is when they're just starting to domesticate animals and there's some basic farming going. So they're starting to actually plant goods, but they haven't really fully developed an agricultural system yet.

And with these technological advances, there is beginning to be some social distinctions between individuals, because slowly there's starting to become an excess of food. And so when you have a little of an excess of food, that allows for some flexibility-- that not everyone needs to be working on food all the time. The next type is agriculture. Now, agriculture is the use of large-scale farming and non-human power for farming. Let me put that in simpler terms. For agriculture, the difference between the last stage and this one is that in some way you're using something non-human to assist your farming. And so the scale is much larger.

A really great example of this is an oxen and a plow. You're using an ox to pull the plow and really dig into the ground. And it makes your farming so much more efficient, and you're able to grow so much more food. Now, some things that are happening when a society is in the agricultural stage is that there's actual permanent settlements happening. Because of the nature of farming and the amount of food that's being grown, people have to kind of settle down. And with that-- either have to or get to settle down-- the growth of cities is beginning.

Now, as you start to see these other things come in, that last point on the screen there is that society can start to be pretty unequal now. There really starts to be a differentiation between different types of jobs and different sorts people. You see religion start to be more powerful when a society is in its agricultural stage. So society-- it's not that all agricultural societies are unequal, but there starts to be some inequality going on in these types of societies. Industrialism is the fourth one.

Now, industrialism is just the manufacturing of goods using advanced power sources, so think factories. Right. Think Industrial Revolution. That is industrialism. Now, what industrialism is-- so industrialism further moves people towards the cities, but it also-- sometimes I think almost surprisingly, at least before I started to learn about this stuff, is that life expectancy and the standard of living actually improved a lot. I mean, we often hear stories about the Industrial Revolution, about how hard it was for the workers, and how many hours they had to work and the low wages.

But in general, it really increased the life expectancy and the standard of living of industrial nations-- or societies maybe is a better term there. Now, one thing that's happening in industrialization is there's certainly a lot of inequality amongst individuals within an industrialized society. You start to see though towards the end maybe of industrialism is that there is an attempt to actually broaden who has the power within society. So you start to see like the women's suffrage, or even just the right to vote, and the rise of democracy being more common. Those are all things that are coming about in this industrial type of society.

Now, the last step of society is post-industrial. Now, a post-industrial society is one that basically uses computer power, and it's all about processing information. In a post-industrial society, post-industrialism, there's really a de-emphasization of physical manufacturing. So we right now, in the United States America, live in a post-industrial world. We still have manufacturing. It is still part of how we have products, but it's not the central aspect of people's work anymore.

Most people work in some other part of the economy, and it's really focused on a symbolic culture. So that's really working with information, working with symbols, rather than working with making a specific good. So the information behind the iPad-- more people spend their time on creating that information than actually creating the iPad. And that's really a huge difference. And you think about just the internet in general, and that whole system there is based on the symbolic culture.

Another kind of point that I think is interesting in a post-industrial world-- there's really a de-centralization of information. I think a great example of this is the wiki pages. Wiki pages are an encyclopedia that are edited by just people that know stuff about stuff. And anyone can edit the pages, so there's some pushback about like can you prove that what you know there is what is actually is true. But the reality is that Wikipedia is so good that the Encyclopedia Britannica is not being produced anymore.

That encyclopedia is becoming obsolete, because information isn't just held within this one encyclopedia anymore. It can now be spread out, and different people can add differently. And different people can access that information much easier. Lastly, a post-industrial world is moving towards a service-based economy. And that is the fifth type of society.

So today's takeaway message-- Lenski was a sociologist, and he really argued that technology was the most important factor when looking at the evolution of societies and culture and just looking at society's and culture in general. And there are five stages. First one is hunter and gathering, so that's really using simple tools and gathering vegetation and hunting animals. Next came horticultural and pastoral, so that's basic farming and the domestication of animals. Next came agriculture, so using a much larger scale of farming and using non-human power for farming.

Then there's also industrialism, which is the manufacturing of goods using advanced power. And then there's post-industrial, which is the production of information using computer power. Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Agricultural Society

Societies in which people procure their livelihood using animal driven plows and large-scale cultivation.

Horticultural and Pastoral Society

Societies in which people procure their livelihood using hand tools to cultivate crops and domesticated animals.

Hunting and Gathering Society

Societies in which people procure their livelihood through hunting animals with simple tools and gathering naturally occurring vegetation.

Industrial Society

Societies in which people procure their livelihood using machines and advanced sources of energy such as steam, coal, and water.

Post-Industrial Society

Societies in which people procure their livelihood using computer-aided-technology and advanced information processing.

People to Know
Gerhard Lenski

American sociologist who advanced the theory that technology is the most basic driving force in sociocultural evolution.