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Developing the concept of society: Institutional domains, regimes of inequalities and complex systems in a global era

Walby, S. ORCID: 0000-0002-9696-6947 (2020). Developing the concept of society: Institutional domains, regimes of inequalities and complex systems in a global era. Current Sociology, doi: 10.1177/0011392120932940


This article develops the concept of society to meet the challenge of cross-border and global processes. Global processes have made visible the inadequacy of interpreting the concept of society as if it were a nation-state, since there is a lack of congruence of institutional domains (economy, polity, civil society, violence) and regimes of inequality (class, gender, ethnicity). The article engages with two strands of intellectual heritage in sociological analysis of society as a macro concept: the differentiation of institutions and the relations of inequality. The concepts of society and societalisation are developed by hybridising these two approaches rather than selecting only one or the other. To achieve this, the concept of system is developed by drawing on complexity science. This enables the simultaneous analysis of differentiated institutional domains (economy, polity, violence, civil society) and multiple regimes of inequality without reductionism. In turn, this facilitates the fluent theorisation of variations in the temporal and spatial reach of social systems.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (
Publisher Keywords: Complex systems, global, institutions, macro, regimes, social system, social theory, societalisation, society
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial.

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