Is Society Anything More Than the Sum of Its Individual Parts?

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Society, in its simplest terms can be described as ‘a body of individuals living as members of a community' (Oxford Dictionary, second edition). To define society, the expression, individual, has to be used and therefore this could suggest that one cannot survive without the other, rather like the chicken and the egg scenario; which came first? Durkheim, a sociological posivist, believed that society was the creator of individualism and to prove this, he utilised and investigated into the reasons why individuals committed suicide; whether it was an individual act or a rebellion against society. Looking at Durkheim's study will enable a greater understanding of the relationship between society and it's individual parts.

Society is the world we live in. It is the country we reside in. The town we shop in. The family we are born in. It encompasses a range of cultures, traditions, places and people. It provides rules and regulations that individuals are supposed to abide by, but do not always do. It provides occupations, homes, schools, universities; a life. But is it the society that makes the individual, or the individual that creates the society? ‘Why Jason runs away,' (Why Jason runs away, Carol Sarler, 1992) is an article telling of an 18-year old boy who is abandoned by what seems every institution of society. The article attempts to outline possibilities as to the reason why this young, confused boy rejected the norms and values of the society he was born into and raises the debate whether Jason became a social problem for society because of his individual behaviour in which he is control of, or whether it was societies integration and regulation that forced Jason into a troublesome life with his family and the authorities. Jason was born into a working-class family in a council house in Haverfordwest where ‘there is chronic unemployment' (Why Jason runs away, Carol Sarler, 1992, Page 2). His mother had given birth at seventeen to Jason with an alcoholic father and ever since Jason was born, he had been neglected by both parents. Within three years, both parents psychically and verbally abused Jason because ‘there was something wrong with him' and ‘he was hyperactive' (Why Jason runs away, Carol Sarler, 1992, Page 2). Jason's problems were carried into his education whereby teachers and social service workers got involved. Jason's social worker, said that ‘there [was] no doubt that [Jason] was physically abused at [three] and that this abuse continued into later years' (Why Jason runs away, Carol Sarler, 1992, Page 3). Jason's teachers at school had explained that his abusive relationship with his parents was ‘not enough to alert the social services to consider the boy "at risk"' (Why Jason runs away, Carol Sarler, 1992, Page 3). As Jason continued to grow up, his mother continuously neglected him because of his troublesome behaviour. Jason was looking for attention, a link to merge him back in with the norms and values of respected society. ‘[Jason] is terribly anxious to please' (Why Jason runs away, Carol Sarler, 1992, Page 4) and when Jason was passed around from foster home to foster home and further attempts to reunite him with his mother failed, he escaped to the London streets at just fifteen where he busked to keep his life afloat.

This article raises many questions. Jason was rejected by many institutions of society; the education system, for not reporting his abuse and failing to integrate him successfully into society with other children; the social services, for failing to reconcile Jason to his parents or find him a permanent foster home; the police, for not succeeding to notice that Jason's crimes were a cry for help and not deliberately hurtful; and finally; his family, for neglecting, abusing and rejecting him from their home continuously. But in turn, is this really the structure of societies fault, or could Jason have done something about his way of life? Individualism, according to Hayek...
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