Originally from Latin societas and socius indicating ally, partner and companion. Arrived in English through the French and formalized in some senses as “societies” for purpose (clubs, and organizations of generally voluntary actors).
Societies need to communicate, they select for communicative terminology that facilitates the society’s members being able to harmonize their activities or censure anti-social behavior. Those collections of individuals that do not possess the ability to communicate can hardly be said to be “societies” in any meaningful sense of alliance or partnership, and will probably vanish, leaving behind few cultural artifacts, if not devolve into either open conflict or avoidance.
In some senses “society” is used for general human aggregate interactions, with some degree of qualification (i.e., polite society, high society). Even here a sense of purpose emphasize the commonality or communicative nature of the society (e.g. politeness or “high”). Historically politeness was a cultural marker of wealth or education, and that one’s family had a certain cushion of isolation from coarseness or hard work (historically in that sense meaning working the land, pre-industrially).
The term society has found its way into broader contexts of human aggregates that in the past would not be seen as societies outside the confines or an isolated civitas (i.e., city or town). While a guild could very easily be seen as a society for purpose within a town, a “modern industrial” society is harder to explain as alliances or partnerships, except where legally incorporated or contracted to exist.
However some schools (societies?) of sociology have been adding to the confusion for some time. We are now stuck with hearing and reading about larger and broader societies that are now divorced from the concept of partnership per se. Perhaps this was planned, or perhaps memetically selected to make it possible to see “society” as a whole?
For the first I’d have to imagine a secret society existing for centuries that wants to destroy or control civilization. For the second, I merely have to extrude Thomas Kuhn’s concepts of “scientific paradigms” and how they form and constrain the field of activity for the pioneers by creating a gravitational (for want of a better term) barrier against escaping from the collective cultural artifacts of field.
Anyway, I don’t see the cultural drive to collectivism (i.e., “society as a whole”) as a conspiracy propagated by actors with a purpose (though I’m sure such things might exist for practical activities).
Culturally collectivism exists because humanity’s ability to interact with large numbers of people isn’t in our nature, but our ability to create generalizations and abstraction is within our nature. To cope with people (outside our family groups) humans imagine themselves in communities of relatively stable geographic sizes and value-exchanging roles. The material products of these concepts coalesce ultimately into cities and eventually civilizations (groups of relatively co-operating cities), but these are by no means required for human action or the pursuit of value.