What is the nature of our current societies? Do we see a clash of civilizations, or the end of history? The advent of globalization, or the birth of the network society? Are we witnessing the emergence of a risk society, or the advent of the knowledge society? More fundamentally, is `society' an ideological construct that should be abandoned? Coming into English from the Latin term `societas' via Old French `societe', the etymology of `society,' in the sense of a system adopted by a group of co-existing individuals for mutually beneficial purposes, can be traced back at least to the mid-sixteenth century. By the Age of Enlightenment, `society' was increasingly used in intellectual discourse to characterize human relations, often in contrast to notions of `the state'. During the nineteenth century, the concept was subject to highly elaborate treatment in various intellectual fields, such as political economy, philosophy, and legal thought; and `society' continues to be a central conceptual tool, not only for sociology, but also for many other social-science disciplines, such as anthropology, economics, political sciences, and law. The notion resonates beyond the social sciences into the humanities; it is a fundamental concept, like nature, the universe, or the economy. Moreover, `society' remains a highly contested concept, as was demonstrated, for example, by the controversy surrounding the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's pithy assertion of the neoliberal economic wisdom that `there is no such thing as society' (Woman's Own, 31 October 1987); and by the term's rehabilitation at the turn of the twenty-first century, not least with the ascendancy of the notion of `civil society'. This four-volume collection, a new title in the Routledge Critical Concepts in Sociology series, brings together both canonical and the best cutting-edge research to document the intellectual origins and development of what remains a key framework within which contemporary work in the social sciences in general, and sociology in particular, proceeds. Edited by Reiner Grundmann and Nico Stehr, two leading scholars in the field, this Routledge Major Work makes available the most useful, important and representative treatments of the subject matter, and helps to make sense of the great variety of perspectives and approaches in which social scientists and other thinkers have understood, and continue to understand, society. Fully indexed and with a comprehensive introduction newly written by the editors, which places the collected material in its historical and intellectual context, Society is an essential reference work, destined to be valued by scholars and students as a vital research resource.