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I guess the question is what are you writing about? Which characteristics are key cannot really be determined without knowing what you are talking about as an issue.
For example, if we are talking about political attitudes, gender is pretty important. Women tend to vote differently from men and they tend to have different views on various issues.
When it comes to attitudes on gay rights, for example, age seems to be a very important variable.
So it will be hard for you to get a good answer unless you clarify the question.
Again, depending on what your topic or angle is, but another interesting topic to consider is race, especially given the dynamics of the 2008 election and the regions of the country with differing opinions on race.
You could also consider region as its own topic, as there is a distinct difference in culture and how culture is handed down generation to generation based on where you live in the country. Compare West Virginia hill country to Boston to New Orleans to Beverly Hills.
For religion, look at the "Bible Belt" of southern states, Mormons in Utah, Latino Catholics in the Southwest, and Jews in New York.
Society is a very complex subject. Societies differ from each other in respect of many different characteristics. Some of the key characteristic that we need to be familiar to understand the nature of a society includes study of many characteristics. Some of these key social characteristics are described below.
Arts: The nature of different forms of arts such as literature, painting, music dance prevalent in a society.
Beliefs: what are the common beliefs held by the people in the society that are influenced by the society and how these influence behavior.
Customs: What are the traditional or accepted of behavior in the society under different situations.
Demography: Size, composition and distribution of people of different regions and of different types.
Ethnicity: Composition of the society in terms of different ethnic groups, and how ethnic membership affects status of individuals in the society.
Legal System: Relationship between society's legal code and behaviour of individual and groups.
Politics: How people gain and use power within a society
Religion: The nature of religious beliefs of the people within the society and how these beliefs influence social behavior.
Social Classes: How people are classified in different groups and ranked. And how these classes affect behavior of individuals and groups.
Social Institutions: nature and functioning of the social institutions that exist within the society and how they influence social behavior.
Sociolinguistic: The way languages used in different situations.
Technology: Nature of technological advances made by the society and the influence of use of such technology on behavior.
Value System: The common values system of what is good and what is bad, and what is right and what is wrong. promoted and supported by the society, How these value systems influence behavior.
Defining "key" social characteristics can turn out to be a bit on the tricky side. It is difficult to create a hierarchy of such traits because in many complex social situations, they converge and interact against and within one another. Certainly, racial/ ethnic, gender, and class based social characteristics are all highly relevant and can provide a great deal of thought which can be expressed through writing. At the same time, you correctly point out religious or even national identity can also provide much in way of social characteristics which are very fluid and can be expressed in writing. In the final analysis, it might not be your social characteristic, but the explanation and indepth analysis of it which might be the strongest for the writing.
This is a bit of an opinionated topic. Without a specific question of sorts (such as what the question is you need to write about/answer) it is difficult to make a list of the key social characteristics. However, here are some key social characteristics that I think apply to making an individual perform well and be a contributing member of society.
- communication: this is key because it is the basis of all interactions between humans
- understanding of racial differences: without this, many conversations and work could be lost because an individual can not accept or tolerate other races
- understanding of the arts: to generate great conversation (or to even make one seem like a more interesting person) one must have a general understanding of either art, music, literature, theatre, etc (preferably all of them)
Hope this helps!
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