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The Iceberg Analogy of Society

Every society (societal system) is made up of four sub-systems (social, decision, lifestyle, and material). Different types of societies have different internal compositions of these four systems.

Imagine society as an iceberg.

In real life, and within the iceberg analogy, the Material System is the most visible of the four systems; it is experienced as built cities with service technologies. When most people hear the term ‘resource-based economy’ (RBE), they tend to think of, and imagine, the material system (i.e., cities and technologies). There are, however, three additional principal systems that compose any societal system, and though less visible, they are no less significant.

Iceberg analogy of society showing the material, decision, social, and lifestyle systems

A simplified version of the analogy

Simplified iceberg analogy of society showing the four systems of any given society


The analogy applied to the description and understanding of society

Iceberg analogy of the description and explanation of society
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