When creating a new culture/civilization, I tend to reproduce the relational logic I know.

For example, I often use the family "type" I'm the most used to (two parents + children).

However, other familial structures are possible. The Iroquois see children of a paternal uncle or maternal aunt as siblings. The Mosuo people have no concept of lasting marriage and mothers raise their children with their family, without the biological father.
We can also imagine new systems, like a culture where the children of your neighbors who are the same age as you are considered your cousins.

The same problem applies for things like power distribution and subordination in an organization, relations between masters and servants, rules of inheritance, etc...

How to create original and coherent social structures ?

What methods should be used to model these systems ?

  • $\begingroup$ Note : I'm not fluent in English and I have no idea if I expressed myself clearly, please tell me if I should rephrase my question. $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2015 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ Note that, as far as I can tell from your link, the Iroquois have those parallel cousins/cross cousins thing, but the family units are the same. Just that this comes to importance at the time of finding a mate. You'll notice that they are more "tolerant" towards 1st cousins than modern Western societies. Traditional muslims families are also somewhat different than the 1Mo+1Fa+n children concept. $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2015 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ @bilbo_pingouin In this case, I'm especially interested in the relationship between the members of a family, and how they see their "place" relatively to each other. Sorry, I'm afraid I didn't express myself clearly, I'll rephrase the question later today. $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2015 at 13:09

4 Answers 4


Family units can be as diverse as you want as long as they meet the needs of the individuals involved. The classic "two parents + children" is common because it naturally organizes around human reproductive patterns. As cited in the OP, many other patterns are possible.

As long as the family unit or broader social structure can provide for the following conditions, it should be a viable family unit.

  • Sexual needs of adults
  • Companionship needs of adults
  • Creation of children.
  • Care and upbringing of children
  • Resilience to disease or accident
  • Determine where a couple will live (if marriage is a characteristic of this unit)
  • Not prevent a member of that unit from realizing all levels of Maslow's Hierarchy.

When viewed this way, it's easy to see how different organizations can satisfy all these requirements without adhering to the 2Adult+Children formula.

There's also the normal dichotomy between patriarchal societies and matriarchal societies.

Possible Group

Adults in the group have no expectation of sexual monogamy (there is a downside in this that if someone gets an STD somehow, everyone gets an STD). Adults are free to form emotionally intimate relationships with whomever they please though this may tend to be also with their sexual partner. Children are raised communally and owned communally. Mothers know which child is theirs but it doesn't matter to them. Resources are also communal. Organized this way, any one individual may be injured, ill or killed without large impact on the raising of children or functioning of the community. Children would live in a larger central building since the community takes care of them instead of two parents. Depending on the group's attitudes towards communal knowledge of sexual partners, adults may need to create their own private space for sexual activities or there's a space designated somewhere for those activities.

  • $\begingroup$ In your example, how do people determine where they live? Do they all live in one communal home, or in individual housing? If it's the second, where do children live? I can imagine this kind of society on a generation ship, or in a hive-mind specie. $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2015 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ Edited. I imagined a primitive aborigine society in the wilds of Africa. Generations ships work too. I was also working with human sexuality and psychology. A hive mind is something else completely. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Sep 10, 2015 at 14:28

We start with the type of social structures. Here are a few quick possibilities:

1- Economic Structures

In a quasi-socialist society, the richer an individual gets, the higher number of children he/she will have to support for the society. These children will be called "his/her" children. So Mr. Adolf might be a virgin aged 20 years, but he has inherited 3 children after his father died. Note that Mr. Adolf's father was his economic father, not his biological father. In this society, your father/mother is the person who is your economic caretaker. One's biological children can stay with them only if they can sustain their needs as the government sees fit. Else, they will be given away for sustenance to a wealthy person as their children. They will know their biological parents, but their social security and ID cards will name their economic parent.

2-Platonic Vocational Circles

Here all the children belong to the society. They do not know their biological parents and live together with other children in a training facility. So we get technical circle, beauraucrate circle, business circle etc.


What you need to do is to define the base variable of circle formation. What is the main thing (family ties, economic support, training etc) that determines where one belongs? Once you decide that, you have to develop a structure based on that variable and the things get going.

Let's say we want to create a structure based on IQ level. It simply means that people are grouped together in the society based on their IQ. This is step 1.

Now we need to start dividing the society into groups. People belonging to IQ range 130 and 140 would be belong to Beacon Circle. Then people between 120 and 130 who would belong to Genius Circle. Then people between 110 and 120 who would belong to Sharp Circle ... and so on.


One rule you can follow for social structure creation is that they must be easy for individuals within the system to learn and remember. There is a cost to remembering and modeling relationships. It's easy to remember 4 variants of a single relationship than to remember 4 unique relationships. A relationship which costs more from society to remember than it provides in return to that society is quickly selected against.

One pattern I have found shows up often is self-similar relationships. An example of this is the corporate hierarchy. You can remember the role of the CEO, the president, the VP, the upper manager, etc. all the way down to you if you choose. However, it is also easy to remember it as a pattern: unless I'm the CEO, I have a person I must ceed authority to; unless I'm an entry level worker, I have people who must ceed authority to me. And, in fact, this pattern works well even if you forget the first caveat: the CEO must ceed authority to the board/shareholders.

Also worth remembering is that relationships are complicated and often mix with one another to create more specific relationships. This is very visible in different parenting methodologies. Some elect to mix "parent" with "friend." Others elect to mix "parent" with "authority figure." This mixture is more efficient than trying to develop exact roles for each relationship. These sorts of relationships are often intentionally fuzzy, to permit mixing. Caste relationships, on the other hand, are intentionally not fuzzy, because the culture has found it most efficient to not mess with them.


Social systems are emergent complex systems, and can be described with system analysis and in he language of complex systems and graphs.

For example, I quote from here

In order to understand how societies can be modelled by systems theory it is instructive to look at some simple examples. In feudal Europe the organisation of society was exceptionally hierarchical. This is modeled in systems theory by a sort of control graph, which is a tree, with the lord at the top and his immediate vassals below him. In this structure it was possible to approximate, in many circumstances, control over a group of people with control over the leader of the hierarchy. This has a large number of consequences.

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If the behaviour of the system can be modeled by behaviour of the lord, then the system can not act in ways more complex than the lord. Because of this, the system remains simple. It also means that the system can easily act coherently. It is capable of leading armies, and interacting with other feudal states in simple ways.

In reality no perfect control hierarchies exist. There will always be lateral control links, various types of conspiratorial actions etc. However, for feudalism this model often remains a good approximation.As we move through history to early capitalism we start seeing a move towards more “hybrid” models of control, where many more lateral links exist and the system takes on the possibility of evolving more decentralised, more complex behaviours. In addition, it becomes less brittle. One might conjecture that feudalism was in some sense doomed when capitalism arose because the environment of interaction became too complex. The modern world has moved to a highly interconnected network-model capitalism. This is almost the antithesis of feudalism within the framework of the connectivity of the model.It is important to note a few things about the network model. Networks can have vary different internal structure. A large amount of interconnectedness does not rule out particular internal patterns, in fact we know that many complex systems, including social networks, don’t have “random” graph structures. This internal structure can have big effects on emergent behaviour. All networks are not the same.*

So what this is suggesting is to draw a picture showing the relations between your social entities. Each person can be one node, but a corporation or a family is a collection of nodes. You can also have non animate things like religious symbols or buildings as nodes. Look at how complex what you have drawn is. Are there missing links between nodes that plausibly ought to be there?

Any pattern of regularity, or clusters of highly connected nodes have the potential to be identified as the next layer up in the various layers of a complex system (which is generally always a pyramid with the emergent and more highly complex behaviours on top of a lower complexity layer below it.

The feedbacks between the entities and levels of hierarchy in the overall system characterise you social structure.

There are general 'rules' that apply to all complex systems whether we are talking about a human economy or a weather system. Even a convection current in a room of your house qualifies.


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