This chapter, the first in the book, argues for the importance of studying social life and societies within the MENA. Tracing the basic historical development and political institutions of the region, it shows that while governments and elites are important in understanding the behavior of modern states at the systemic level, we still need to know more about how social routines, cultural dynamics, and organized interactions occur below the level of regimes – within the realm of ordinary people and communities that populate these societies. It reviews the problems of the MENA’s representation in popular media, among them the hyperbolic emphasis on politics and the ugly shadow of Orientalism, before discussing why three master categories of analysis should guide research onto social life – societal structures, societal vulnerabilities, and societal forces. In essence, these tell us the constraints that prevent change, the human dangers of ignoring them, and individual actors and groups that can spearhead progress. By attending to these factors, we can gain a stronger grasp about the future trajectory of communities and populations across the region.