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  • J. J. Hanna

Creating Culture: Types of Societies

A while back I started a series about creating culture in your novels, and did a fairly large overview of various aspects of culture. To see that overview, go here.

Before we can go any further with culture, I’m going to give a brief overview of the major types of societies.


Foraging, otherwise known as “hunter/gatherer,” is often described as the first step to a community. These groups of people were usually small, including one or two families (children, parents, grandparents, maybe cousins). They traveled a lot because they followed the food. In this type of society, the males were the warriors and hunters, and the women were the artists, cooks, and foragers. The women provided the majority of the food, since while the men were hunting they’d be out collecting berries and other edible plants. This was strict in theory, however if an animal wandered into the area where the women were foraging, they wouldn’t have hesitated to kill it, just like the men wouldn’t have hesitated to pick a bunch of berries if they found them while hunting. Some common problems for people in this society would be constant hunger and people not doing their job. The typical way for conflict to be solved, however, was avoidance or “mob justice” through collective shaming.

When writing this type of society, keep in mind the small nature of it, and the requirement of being able to pack up and move quickly. It’s also important to realize these people were tied to the land they knew. You couldn’t take them away from what they know, because they won’t know what plants are edible or how the different animals interact. If a society of this type was used to foraging in Colorado, sending them to Pennsylvania would not be a good solution, since they won’t know the plants or how to get food.


In a Horticulturalist society, the people are slightly more stagnant than those of the foraging society.

They build more permanent homes and plant gardens. There are very strict gender roles in this society. It’s the man’s job to find a place for a garden, but it’s the woman’s job to tend it, to the point that he can refuse to weed it if she’s sick. This is where the first instances of pets were usually seen, since the people weren’t starving. If their wild garden didn’t provide enough food, they could kill the family pig or turtle and eat it, but they’d only do that if there wasn’t enough food. This was also the beginning of having elders in the community, since up until this point there wasn’t a high enough survival rate. They would work the gardens until the ground stopped providing and then they’d move on and find a new place to create another garden through slash and burn tactics. Again, the men would go out and hunt to provide meat for the family.

Another interesting aspect of the horticulturalist society is the concept of a “big man.” In order to be the “big man” you had to have the most resources and be willing to share them. You’d host parties and invite the whole village as a sign of your wealth. You’d give things away because that was what was expected. As soon as you could no longer do that, you lost your status as the “big man” and someone else in the village took your place.

Agricultural and Pastoral

These were the next steps in societies following horticulture. Either your society became an agricultural society, or you became part of a pastoral society. One centered around crops, the other centered around livestock. The two groups generally hated each other, since the pastoralists would drive their sheep, cows, or goats right through the agriculturalists’ land. This was seen in history with the “farmer and the cowman” and was the main reason for fences being built around crop fields.

The pastoralists would often have strict gender roles as well, with the men only being home with the women and children for three months out of the year. Otherwise they’d be out taking care of their herds or flocks. Social class was determined by the size of your herd and then your family. If a man with a large flock had enough children, he could rest all year at home with his wife while his sons went out to do the pastoral work.

The agriculturalists would also often have strict gender roles, however their roles in society were highly divided by class and age as well. The rich were the people who owned the land. The lower classes were the people who worked the land. The surplus created by this sort of living provided for the creation of art and specialized jobs. This is also where the idea of arranged, beneficial marriages came into play. A man with a daughter would marry her to an heir of one of the nearby fields and thereby both would gain wealth. The fields generally passed from father to son. The good news, for the people who worked the fields, was that they could eat what they worked. Grains became a staple food item and meat fell out of the equation with the decrease of hunting.


Lastly is the industrial society. This is the society most of us grew up in, although currently we are on the tail end of it and anthropologists don’t know what’s coming next. This is the type of society where people left their families for work in the large country as a whole. This led to smaller family units and an increase in the need for currency, since people would no longer accept a chicken or fresh milk from your cow in exchange for mending their fence.

Alright! I hope that helps with some general understanding of various different social structures. Watch for more lessons from anthropology in the future.


J. J. Hanna is attending Taylor University for a degree in Professional Writing. She has published multiple devotions and book reviews and draws comics about a stork named Lenard.

Pictures are all from

#creatingculture #culture #anthropology #typesofsocieties #foragers #horticulture #foraging #agricultural #pastoral #industrial

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