Is 社会 【しゃかい】 interchangeable with 世間 【せけん】?

from Jim Breen:

社会 【しゃかい】 society; public; community; the world
世間 【せけん】 world; society; people; the public

Here is an example sentence from Jim Breen:

There can be no human society without conflict.

Here is the quote from Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human that made me wonder:

‘It’s not society. It’s you, isn’t it?’


It's a bit of a subtle distinction, but I'd say the difference between the two is largely one of scale.

社会 is the closer of the two in meaning to the English word "society", most commonly referring to a community on the macro level, as a large complex unit. It feels more objective or scientific than 世間, so you're much more likely to see it in technical terms like 社会学 "sociology" and so forth.

世間, on the other hand, refers to "society" on a more personal level, as the web of interactions between yourself and all the people around you. It calls to mind the judging gazes of strangers who see your behaviour in public, but also your own extended network of friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances.

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