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Agricultural Society: Definition & Concept

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  • 0:02 Definition of an…
  • 1:23 Social Order
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

In this lesson you will learn how the discovery of farming led to agriculturally based societies in which people settled, grew in numbers, and developed cultures as rich as those of Ancient China, Ancient Egypt, and the Roman Empire.

Definition of an Agricultural Society

An agricultural society, also known as an agrarian society, is a society that constructs social order around a reliance upon farming. More than half the people living in that society make their living by farming.

People in an agricultural society generally lead a more settled lifestyle than those in nomadic hunter-gatherer or semi-nomadic pastoral societies because they live permanently near the land that is farmed. Agricultural settlements tend to develop in areas of convenience near bodies of water, which is used for both crops and transportation, or along trade routes. Not everyone in an agricultural society is a farmer. Some people make a living trading or making and selling goods such as tools used for farming.

Though there are modern societies based upon agriculture, most societies today are either industrial societies, or societies that depend on mass production of goods using technological means, or postindustrial societies, which are societies dependent on services rather than goods. Workers in postindustrial societies tend to be professional workers such as computer engineers or investment bankers rather than manual laborers. The United States is often described as being a postindustrial society.

Social Order

In general, citizens of contemporary nations like the United States enjoy a lot of social mobility. Social mobility is the ability that individual citizens have to move from one class into the next. Ideally, someone who grew up in a lower class can work hard, become educated, and get a job that would allow him to become a member of the middle or upper class. Similarly, if someone from an upper class does not have a job that earns a high salary, it is possible they will drop from an upper to a lower class.

The social order in an agricultural society is generally very different. Because farming is the basis for an agricultural society, the land is of utmost value. Therefore, those who own land hold more power than those who do not. One comparatively recent example of an agricultural society is feudalism under medieval Western Europe between the ninth and fifteenth centuries.

In a feudal society, a king owned all the land. The king allowed other, less powerful nobles to own and work portions of the land in exchange for a pledge of military support in the form of knights, soldiers, and goods. The land was then further divided by these lords among vassals with their own resources to loan to the lord. Commoners were allowed to work the land in exchange for protection and a small share of the resources they helped gather. In an ideal feudal society, the lowest tier of the social order, the serfs, benefited wholly from providing labor for their lord's interests. In reality, serfs were practically slaves and had little if any form of mobility. They were essentially attached to the land they worked.

As previously mentioned, not everyone in a large agricultural society was a farmer or was immediately dependent on farming. Some people lived in cities. They performed different jobs, such as teaching, making and selling goods such as military weapons, or constructing roads or ships. People living in cities were often better educated and enjoyed more personal mobility than those tied directly to the land. Growing cities with a variety of needs gave rise to the earliest forms of craft and merchant specialists.

The middle class began to have a serious urban presence. The construction of roads and use of waterborne trade helped to feed growing city populations and set up trade relations between cities far-removed from one another. However, social mobility was still low. Even people in the cities survived by keeping the ruling class supplied with what they wanted. And mobility was still limited by things such as heritage, so noble-born individuals had much more to look forward to than commoners. It was difficult or impossible to advance because of hard work alone, even though working hard was expected of those born to the working classes.

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