In complex robotic operating environments in which robots must cooperate in a flexible and event-driven manner, a cooperative distributed environment for intelligent control is required. We develop a realistic technique for going beyond the model of a central controller for a multi-robot environment and replacing it with a schema of interacting, reconfigurable, cooperating robots. This schema provides the following main features: an open model of cooperation capable of supporting a wide variety of representations and algorithms for planning and executing tasks, a dynamic environment in which physical and reasoning capabilities can be added, removed, and reconfigured while performing tasks to best utilize limited resources, the capability of detecting and correcting errors and failures, a rich interaction model capable of handling the complexity and variety of communications and cooperation necessary between intelligent agents, and a realistic method of achieving global goals from localized actions. We formulate this model of interacting robots as a social system. We define this social system by specifying the members of the society, the interactions of these members, and the fundamental guidelines of the society used to judge the actions of the members. We successfully implement a prototype system that incorporates these concepts, and demonstrate it on some example situations involving multiple cooperating robots. Using the results of these examples, we also develop a qualitative analysis of this model against two other common models of intelligent control for multi-robot systems.