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Volume 2

Expanded Contents


1. Introduction and Summary
2. The Concept of Field
3. Reality and the Intentional Field
4. Freedom and Intentional Humanism
5. Perceiving Another
6. Intentions, Attitudes, and Interests
7. Perceiving and Behaving
8. Behavior
9. Social Behavior and Interaction
10. Types of Social Interaction
11. The Equation of Social Behavior
12. The Transition to a Sociocultural Field
14. The Field of Social Forces
15. The Sociocultural Field
16. Distances
17. Status Distance
18. Status Distance and Behavior
19. The Fundamental Nature of Power
20. Social Power
21. The Family of Power
22. Social Fields and Antifields
23. Groups and Antifields
24. Class
25. Social Class And the Class-Literature
26. Conflict
27. Conflict in the Sociocultural Field
28. The Elements of Social Conflict
29. The Process of Conflict
30. Social Fields and Types of Societies
31. The State and Political System
32. Societies, Politics, and Conflict
33. Societies in Empirical Perspective
34. Testing for the Existence of Exchange, Authoritative, and Coercive Societies
35. Is Conflict Manifest as Theorized?

Other Volumes

Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

The Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices...


Chapter 13

The Sociocultural Space*

By R.J. Rummel

Newton warns us not to confound abstract space--the true mathematical space--with the space of our sense experience. Common People, he says, think of space time, and motion according to no other principle than the relations these concepts bear to sensible objects. But we must abandon this principle if we wish to achieve any real scientific or philosophic truth: in philosophy we have to abstract from our sense data. 7his Newtonian view became the stumbling block for all the systems of sensationalism. Berkeley concentrated all his critical attacks on this point. He maintained that Newton's "true mathematical space " was in fact no more than imaginary space, a fiction of the human mind. And if we admit the general principles of Berkeley's theory of knowledge we can scarcely refute this view. We must admit that abstract space has no counterpart and no foundation in any physical or psychological reality. The points and lines of the geometer are neither physical nor psychological objects; they are nothing but symbols for abstract relations. If we ascribe "truth' to these relations, then the sense of the term truth will henceforth require redefinition. For we are concerned in the case of abstract space not with the truth of things but with the truth of propositions and judgments.
---- Cassirer, 1944


Two individuals socially and freely1 interact. They constitute different personalities that mutually perceive each other and have mutually oriented acts, actions, and practices, which may be familistic, contractual, or compulsory. Do they together form a field, a social field? That is, can we view them from a field perspective which is consistent with observation and experience? This chapter will describe a positive answer.

If two freely interacting individuals comprise a field, what kind is it? A relational, equilibrium, or dynamic field? In essence, a relational field is a space of the multiple relationships between certain objects or events. This is a minimum definition. An equilibrium field in addition implies that there are forces involved in these relationships and they comprise some sort of balance. A dynamic field, moreover, implies some continuous spread of force potentialities within this field of relationships, potentialities which can become activated as forces acting on objects in the field. Inherent in this dynamic field concept is the notion of some source of energy, some generator.2 Let me begin, therefore, with the relational field and then show how this forms either an equilibrium or dynamic social field.

A dyad of socially interacting individuals forms the smallest sociocultural field. The interaction comprises a cluster of values and meanings, involves a set of norms, is within a structure of mutual expectations and roles, and has all the characteristics that we find within the most comprehensive social systems, such as that of nations. There is bargaining, deterrence, problems of credibility, threats and transactions, joint cooperation and conflict, status-quo testing and territorial demarcation, and the like. And power, status, and class have their place.

To begin, each interacting individual is a field of expression to the other, a field of determinables and manifestations, of dispositions and powers, of meanings and values, of intentions and capabilities. This public field is the outward gestalt of an inner dynamic field--it is the face man shows to the world. These public fields have certain communalities; otherwise we could not interpret them. The face, for example, an ingredient in a person's public field, is marvelously manipulable and expressive. A smile, frown, raised eyebrow, and so on have immediate meaning; they give direct manifestation to a variety of inner moods, needs, and temperaments. Although each person's face is different, expressions such as a smile share common features, form similar patterns in each field, so to speak, and thus similar--common--latents.

Therefore, the separate fields of expression, the intricate complex of manifestations, dispositions, and so on, also share certain communalities which make them mutually interpretable. These communalities, or common latents, are themselves interrelated, of course. They may be complex patterns giving subtle expression to a person's inner dynamics, such as the aloof "don't bother me" look or the invitational "I'm interested" looks exchanged between a man and woman. Or the expression may be direct, as in the laughter associated with a good joke. In any case, these common latents, their interrelationships, and the actuality and potentiality they reflect form a space3 of common expression, a sociocultural space.4

A space defining the variety of interrelationships common to the individual fields of expression must be spanned, delimited, and delineated by components--common latent functions--composing the invariant common patterns within these individual fields. In other words, even two socially interacting people form a sociocultural space. The components or dimensions of this space encompass the complex multifold context of common manifestations, dispositions, determinables, and so on that each displays to the other. They define the stable, orderly patterns underlying these public expressions. What, then, might these components (or dimensions) be?5

From previous discussions, we know that these components must involve at least the following elements. First, they must embody the major variation in three relevant types of meanings in these public fields.6 There are the cultural meanings that we unconsciously accord stimuli in the process of perception, that constitute part of our perspective transformation of reality, and that help define the other within our sociocultural world. These meanings resolve the fields of expression into "a religious person," "a conservative Republican," "a foreigner," "my father," and so on. Next, there are the meanings associated with understanding behavior within the mutual fields of expression. Is the behavior intentionally directed towards some future goal; is it guided by some norm, moral, habit, or reason; or is it caused by some prior event? Finally, there are the type of meanings associated with whether the field of expression constitutes an act, action, or practice.

Second, the components describing the fields of expression must span the primary moral-ethical-normative orientations they reflect. For example, by manner of dress, speech, body language, and opinions we can identify an American, a conservative businessman, a radical hippie, a liberal professional, a Marxist laborer, and so on.

And third, the components should encompass individual capabilities or abilities manifest in the fields of expression, i.e., reflect the power a person displays to achieve his interests.

In sum, then, the common components should envelop the public variation in underlying cultural meanings, intentions, values, and potency that our fields of expression display. What, then, can be the components of such sociocultural space? Before trying to answer this, let me develop them further.

Now, these components (or latent functions) will mutually locate fields of expression in sociocultural space, in the same way that people interpreting these fields mutually locate each other in this space. For example, a friend introducing a stranger to us may say, "Hey, I want you to meet Jim Douglas. He is attending the Chamber of Commerce convention and visiting with us from New York." Just this terse introduction plus our perception of his race, dress, and age enables us to assess the other's occupation, wealth, probable sociopolitical ideology, major values, and potency or status. In a momentary perception, we thus locate him--as a field of expression--in sociocultural space relative to ourselves. This provides us with expectations about him and the best direction our initial attempts at conversation might take. The components I seek should similarly determine the sociocultural position7 of individuals relative to their social interaction.


To define these components, again let us consider the meanings, values, and norms inherent in a field of expression. These meanings, values, and norms, whether cultural or comprising the other's intentions and behavior, are interrelated into clusters which themselves are part of larger systems. Thus, (1) a sloppily dressed, articulate women is (2) a biologist visiting from Ohio State University, and (3) a Catholic Frenchman who has written a book on a humanist ethics. Or (1) the poised young lady is (2) an actress, (3) a high school graduate with poor parents, and (4) Jewish, American, and a Democrat.

As these meanings, values, and norms interrelate, as one's particular norms may be part of a larger system of ethics, they divide at the most general level into two independent systems. The first defines a person's sociocultural system and his relative location within it; the second manifests social status and class. For example, by identifying a person as a women, a politician from Alabama, a Baptist, and a native American, we have in effect identified the major sociocultural system and subcultures of which she is a member, and we have gone far towards identifying her major values. Moreover, if we also know that she is a state legislator with no independent wealth, from a backwoods county, we also know her social status and class. Most generally regarding common meanings, values, and norms, therefore, we can "read" fields of expression in terms of the sociocultural and subcultural meanings, values, and norms underlying them and the status and class they display.

First let me focus on sociocultural meanings, values, and norms and then consider status and class. If the core basis for differentiating cultures can be defined, then clearly I should have some of the components I seek. For, to be able to discriminate fields of expression according to the subcultures and sociocultural systems they reflect (such as between a Christian Arab merchant and a Communist Chinese official), is to identify their meaning, values, and norms. What, then, are these differentia? Pitirim Sorokin devoted much of his scholarly life to just this question, and it is his conclusion which I will utilize.8

A first component is language. The language a person "speaks" undeniably bears sociocultural meanings and values and is an important ingredient of fields of expression. Language encompasses not only verbal and written communication, but gesticulations and body language (smile, frown, crossed arms, raised fist, and so on) as well. In its cultural varieties, dialects, and forms, language is a compass mutually orienting different individuals.

A second component is science, or a person's approach and orientation towards knowledge. Is he a scientist or technologist, does he have a scientific attitude or view, is scientific method part of his approach to life? Is he empirically and systematically oriented?

Philosophy and religion define the third component. Clearly, underlying a field of expression is a view of life and reality, of God, immortality, our soul, and our freedom. We encapsulate particular compartments of this component by characterizing others as Methodist, Orthodox Jew, Buddhist, atheist, idealist, materialist, and so on. All such types are simply common clusters of meanings, values, and norms associated with the philosophy-religion component of fields of expression.

A fourth component delineates ethics and law. A person's field expresses what ethics? Are they relativistic, utilitarian, Christian, hedonistic? What assumed rights, duties, and obligations underlie a person's expression? What are the person's normative ideals? Is he libertarian or equalitarian, socialist or classical liberal? Moreover, what law-norms does the person subscribe to? That is, of what judicial systems is he a part and with what groups is he associated?9 All such questions are undeniably important for people to mutually orient themselves. And answers to such questions underlie the meanings, values, and norms manifest in the fields of expression.

Finally, a fifth component comprises meanings, values, and norms associated with fine arts. Man has an aesthetic side expressed in our tastes for music, theater, movies, pictures, poetry, literature, and nature. Fine arts comprise the socioculture aesthetic core, and our relationship to this core, as symphony conductor, rock and roll enthusiast, painter, art collector, or movie goer is partly manifested in our style, our attitudes, our behavior.

In total, therefore, the five components of language, science, philosophy-religion, ethics-law, and fine arts are the most general components of meanings and values spanning attribute space. They are five latent functions underlying the dispositions, determinables, powers, and manifestations I am calling fields of expression.10 But what about status and class? Are they defined by these components? First, I have to consider what status means.

There are two kinds of statuses to be identified. One is the vertical or formal position a person has in society. Is he a president, foreman, executive, undergraduate, Ph.D., councilman, or governor? Is the person a pilot, musician, judge, farmer, or garbage collector? These ranks and occupations define the formal status of the person, which will underlie his field of expression in two ways. First, it plays a role in the meanings and values the person actualizes. To know one person is an African-American medical doctor and another is a white southern farmer is to know much about their relative languages, and scientific, philosophic-religious, ethical-legal, and fine arts meanings, values, and norms. This aspect of formal status is therefore already captured.

However, there is another aspect to formal status which is crucial to understanding societal-wide conflict, such as revolutions. This is class.11 Positions within groups (or what I will define later as authoritative roles) divide people into two classes: those who have the legitimate right to command and those who are obligated to obey. All groups formally structure this division, although the degree of its organization and its scope will differ between, say, a neighborhood association, a symphony orchestra, and a large industry.

Nonetheless, one class rules while the other is ruled. This divides people in terms of their rights and obligations and in their latent support or opposition to the status quo within a group and across society. We have here, therefore, a component of the sociocultural space not captured by meanings, values, and norms. It is a component of class.

There is, however, another kind of status involved in vertical position, and this is the informal status of a person. This is the person's wealth, power, and prestige.12 Although certainly correlated with various meanings and values and with social positions, informal status is sufficiently independent to be considered as separate components. For to know that one person is a Catholic scientist and professor at Harvard and another is a Protestant vice-president of Ford is not to well define their relative informal status. A professor may through his consultation with the President of the United States be more powerful than some Cabinet members; a minor executive may through inheritance or investments be wealthier than the president of his company; a dock worker may develop more prestige through his writing on society and man than professors of literature or social science. And so on.

So informal status and class are independent of the five components of attribute space. What do status and class have to do with the fields of expression? Recall that we see in these fields others' intentions, values, and potency. The potency individuals have towards each other, which is reflected in their public fields, is captured by their wealth, power, prestige, and class. These sum up the capabilities and abilities another has regarding ourselves; they encompass what he can do for, with, or against us. Wealth, power, prestige, and class are therefore four additional common components of sociocultural space.

Are the nine components13 so far delineated sufficient to span the fields of expression? That is, are they constituents in what is important in these fields to social percipients and actors? Do these components generally define intentions, values, and potency? Certainly, they fail to define the more direct, immediate kinds of goals, such as whether a person just about to arrange a theater date, cook pork chops or roast beef, or intends to ten a joke or talk about his childhood. However, a person's intentions as a general orientation, as a disposition to manifest familistic, contractual, or compulsory behavior towards us, can be read from the other's language (contrast the body language and speech of a street tough with that of a salesman), scientific outlook, philosophy and religion, ethics and law norms, and aesthetic nature. These components provide content and directions for a person's needs, attitudes, and sentiments.

For example, to know two devout Christians who follow the Ten Commandments and love the same music and art is to know their intentions win tend to be solidary and interactions familistic. However, to know one is a scientist, a materialist and atheist, and utilitarian while the other is a mystical poet with a profound sense for an ethical universe is to anticipate contractual relations between them at best, and most likely antagonistic and compulsory patterns of interaction.

Intentions are one aspect of the fields of expression. Values are another, and here no elaboration is needed. Clearly, the meanings, status, and class components together envelop the relative values, norms, and morality that people manifest. The third aspect of these public fields is their potency, and as already discussed, the components of wealth, power, prestige, and class define this.

In summary, then, the fields of expression constituting interacting, mutually perceiving individuals are encompassed by a space of interrelated manifestations, dispositions, determinables, and powers that is delimited by common components defining the latent patterns, the order, delineating these interrelationships. There are nine such components, five defining sociocultural meanings and values and four describing class and informal status.14 


* Scanned from Chapter 13 in R.J. Rummel, The Conflict Helix, 1976. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. The "freely" is essential here and lies at the basis of a field process. I will argue later (Chapter 22) that individuals whose mutual interactions are coercively regulated by others form not a field but an antifield.

2. These three types of field have been summarized in Section 2.2 of Chapter 2.

3. As Cassirer notes in the opening quote of this chapter, space is an abstraction, not in the sense of a distillation from experience, but as a framework imposed upon reality in Kant's terms, "who concluded that our ideas of space and time are inapplicable to the universe as a whole. We can, of course, apply the ideas of space and time to ordinary physical things and physical events. But space and time themselves are neither things nor events: they cannot even be observed: they are more elusive. They are a kind of framework for things and events: something like a system of pigeon-holes, or a filing system, for observations. Space and time are not part of the real empirical world of things and events, but rather part of our mental outfit, our apparatus for grasping this world. Their proper use is as instruments of observation: in observing any event we locate it, as a rule, immediately and intuitively in an order of space and time. Thus space and time may be described as a frame of reference which is not based upon experience but intuitively used in experience, and properly applicable to experience" (Popper, 1968, p. 179).

See also Margenau (1950, p. 128), who says: "One must carefully guard against the temptation to hypostatize space into an entity, an entity given in and through immediate sensation, pervading all experience, and with its properties fixed externally by observation. Space is not wholly an abstraction in the literal sense from direct perception. We hold it to be a construct playing the same role as all the others. Indeed, nowhere does the constructional character of physical concepts become more manifest than in the analysis of time and space. And further, these concepts furnish a beautiful example of the multiplicity as well as changeability of rules of correspondence. For there is not one, there are many constructs called space, all of which correspond to different forms of immediate experience."

4. If space is a framework for ordering reality, a construct in contemporary language, then it is no less valid to refer to a sociocultural space than a physical or geographic space. Of course, this point has been recognized and made by others. For example, Lundberg (1939, p. 104) says: "So thorough is our habituation to this use of the word 'space' that we have reified it into an entity which, it is frequently assumed, can be legitimately used only in reference to certain geographic situations and that the use of spatial terms in discussing societal and psychological phenomena is merely figurative. We shall here take the position that all relational thinking tends to structure itself in spatial terms and that the notion of social and psychological space is as valid as the notion of geographic space. Space in mathematics (and in sociology) merely means a manifold (a number of entities related under one system) in which positional relationships of any kind may be expressed. The use of spatial constructs in sociological description is, of course, very common as, for example, when we speak of high and low status, social mobility, social boundaries, distance, and barriers. This is as legitimate and useful employment of spatial concepts as is their use in geography, ecology, or physics."

Later (p. 121) Lundberg makes a direct connection between sociological space and field: "relational thinking tends to structure itself in spatial terms. We find it convenient to discuss segments of the universe within a frame conventionally called a 'field' in some sciences and a .situation' in sociology. Thus the sociological field is a space within which, for convenience of study, we assemble all the phenomena relevant to the explanation of a specimen of societal behavior, regardless of the diffusion of these phenomena in geographic space." Note that he is referring to a relational field, in my terminology.

Arthur Bentley (1954, p. 62) also has been clearly conscious of the nature of space qua social. "By social spaces we shall understand those discretenesses and continuities, those separations and distributions and purely social mensurations, which are found among men outspread in societies. By sociological spaces we shall understand theoretical constructions which, with respect to social spaces, hold a position comparable to that of mathematical spaces with respect to physical spaces."

Another conception of sociocultural space is found in the works of Sorokin. Even in his earliest works (1927, p. 3) he pointed out that "social space is something quite different from geometrical space. Persons near each other in geometrical space--e.g., a king and his servant, a master and his slave--are often separated by the greatest distance in social space. And, vice versa, persons who are very far from each other in geometrical space--e.g., two brothers, or bishops of the same religion, or generals of the same rank in the same army, some staying in America, others being in China--may be very near each other in social space."

Sorokin's spatial view reached maturation in his Sociocultural Causality, Space, Time (1943, p. 122): "the above analysis and the very expressions we use point out the advisability--even the necessity--of some sort of sociocultural space which will adequately permit us to locate sociocultural phenomena in their sociocultural universe, to determine their position in regard to physical phenomena. In brief, we need a category of sociocultural space as a fundamental referential principle as much as the physical sciences need a category of the geometric space of some sort. Without such a category, we are helpless in the study and description of the network of relationships among sociocultural phenomena. Hence the urgent need of the construction of a more or less adequate sociocultural space."

Later in the same work (p. 129), Sorokin explicitly connects this space to meanings, as I will do here. "Here again we see that the methods of the social thinkers of the previous centuries were in their general nature sound; that the problem of social space in its sound setting is not new; and that many an 'importer' of geometrical space into the field of meanings does not have any basis on which to claim the discovery of the problem of social space or the right way for its construction. Our analysis shows also that the problem of classification of meanings, that has taken so much effort on the part of a legion of sociophilosophical scholars, is not a superfluous preoccupation of the 'armchair philosophers,' but one of the cardinal problems of the social and humanistic disciplines. Among other things it is the problem of sociocultural space, and of the determination of the position of the position of the meanings in the meaningful plane of that space."

5. "It is common for sociologists to say that society is a many-dimensioned field. What the social dimensions are, or more properly what the most important social dimensions are for any specialized line of investigation, is our sociological problem in general. The search for precision in their analysis and use is the sociological space problem. Dimensions in this sense, though not under that name, have long been sought. A sociology setting forth individual, family, and state as basis for its interpretation uses, in effect, these three presentations as dimensions. Sociologies using basic human desires or instincts, or in a more elementary form depending on temperaments, take these factors for dimensions; they do not call them dimensions because they take them realistically, concretely, as forces or agents; but for us, seeing such materials as abstractions, and crude preliminary abstractions, at that, they have the dimensional meaning" (Bentley, 1954, p. 94).

6. "Through determination of the field or system of meanings to which a given meaning belongs and through 'location' of this field of meanings in the total universe of meanings, we precisely define the position and positional relationship of any meaning in the universe of meanings" (Sorokin, 1969, p. 360).

7. I mean "position" in the sense of Sorokin (1927, p. 4), "to find the position of a man or a social phenomenon in social space means to define his or its relations to other men or other social phenomena chosen as the 'points of reference.' " (italics omitted)

Incidentally, in his analytic approach to conflict, Boulding (1962, p. 3) employs "position" analogously: "Before we can proceed to a formal definition of conflict we must examine another concept, that of behavior space. The position of a behavior unit at a moment of time is defined by a set of values (subset, to be technical) of a set of variables that defines the behavior unit. These variables need not be continuous or quantitatively measurable. The different values of a variable must, however, be capable of simple ordering; that is, of any two values it must be possible to say that one is 'after' (higher, lefter, brighter than) the other." His measurement criteria can be met sufficiently to define sociocultural position as Sorokin means it. See for example, Rummel (1970, Section 9.1.3).

8. See particularly Sorokin (1957 and 1943). The patterns or components of culture that Sorokin defines are similar to Talcott Parsons' (1958) pattern variables, which are perhaps more familiar to American social scientists and were the partial bases of Quincy Wright's field of nations (1955). For a point by point assessment of the similarities and differences between Sorokin's and Parsons' theories, see Sorokin (1966, pp. 403-40).

9. Group membership will determine what law-norms govern a person. See Section 23.1 of Chapter 23.

10. These components also define the sociocultural space of meanings, values, and norms, the space which discriminates between cultures such as the French, German, Japanese, and so on. See Chapter 24 of The Dynamic Psychological Field. Even though working at the individual level, I am describing components that equally underlie the broadest systems of which humans are a member. And purposely so, since I am developing a perspective that equally encompasses fields at the individual, group, and cultural levels, and that thereby enables me to treat conflict and war within a unified viewpoint.

11. In my previous discussion of the sociocultural space (The Dynamic Psychological Field), I had omitted class. At that time I did not have the conflict helix as clearly in mind nor the role of class in conflict. Moreover, I mistakenly believed that informal status (to be discussed below) captured the relevant social meanings of class. A rereading of Marx and Dahrendorf (1959) and a systematic rendering of the conflict helix have persuaded me otherwise.

12. I will deal in more detail later with informal status and the associated literature. See Chapter 17 and Chapter 18.

13. Sorokin proposed ten components: "if we point out the main systems of meanings, values, and norms in the universe of meanings and then the main supersystems of these, these main systems and supersystems serve as the chief coordinates or vector system that define the position of meanings in the universe of meanings. If, for instance, we take a manifold of the main systems of meanings such a language, science, philosophy, religion, fine arts, ethics, law, technology, main unibonded and multibonded groups, this ten-dimensional manifold permits us, fairly exactly, to locate any meaning value, or norm in its proper universe." (1969, p. 360, italics omitted) Thus: "When the position of a person is determined on each of the ten coordinates of our manifold or vector system (with the sub-sub-classes of each coordinate), his or her total position in the sociocultural universe is quite precisely defined" (p. 361, italics omitted).

My language and fine arts components are the same as his; the science component combines his science and technology; the ethics-law component combines his ethics and law; the philosophy-religion combines his philosophy and religion. His "main unibonded and multibonded groups" confuses the bases of his coordinates. It shifts their meaning from dimensions of quality or characteristics (e.g., ethics) to dimensions as entities (groups).

Moreover, the basis of group bonding lies along the meanings, values, and norms dimensions (such as a scientific group or an association of Catholic lawyers), and is therefore not independent of them, and status-class components (see Sorokin, 1969, pp. 279-94). Sorokin, however, does not treat the status and class components partially implicit in his categorization of unibonded and multibonded groups and explicit in his discussion of stratification (1969, pp. 279-94) as independent dimensions. This I have done.

14. Compare with Sorokin's (1927, p. 6) conclusion: "To sum up: (1) social space is the universe of the human population; (2) man's social position is the totality of his relations toward all groups of a population and, within each of them, toward its members; (3) location of a man's position in this social universe is obtained by ascertaining these relations; (4) the totality of such groups and the totality of the positions within each of them compose a system of social coordinates which permits us to define the social position of any man" (italics omitted).

For citations see the Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix REFERENCES

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