No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Social Boundary

Boundaries in social relationships are significant both for individuals and groups. Boundaries are crucial where interests overlap; they help to define spheres of control and interaction. These boundaries can be legal, as in property disputes, or more abstract, such as those demarcating power dynamics. It’s necessary to understand others beyond what they consciously reveal, as social cohesion relies on interpreting and inferring beyond direct communication. This raises questions about the limits of such understanding, respecting the private mental sphere of individuals, and avoiding psychological intrusion.

Boundaries also vary according to social contexts and relationships. In simpler, less differentiated societies, boundaries might be less rigid but more encompassing. Conversely, in complex, individualized societies, boundaries become more precise and significant, like in commercial interactions, familial bonds, and diplomatic relations.

Partial membership in groups creates internal boundaries, affecting individual participation and identity within the group. Such partial membership has emotional and practical implications, as individuals might fully identify with a group despite only having limited participation rights. In medieval guilds and religious orders, for instance, social boundaries were variable and had impact. For instance, the distinction between full and partial guild membership could determine collective versus individual responsibility for actions. Similarly, the Franciscan tertiary order allowed laypeople to participate in monastic benefits without full integration, reflecting a nuanced boundary between secular and religious life.

So, boundaries are essential for clarity and stability in social relations; they become more tangible when linked to spatial or physical demarcations. Understanding and managing boundaries is important to maintain social order and cohesion.


Simmel, G. (1908), Exkurs über die soziale Begrenzung. in: Soziologie, p. 624 — 628, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot.