1. Introduction and Summary
Thus we shall only speak of a field-structure as long as the warring social atoms are regulated by social and natural laws, such as conflict and competition. Their activities are then co-ordinated by spontaneous adjustment and the flaws in the system take effect in a series of waves, like slumps in the trade cycle.
---- Mannheim, 1940
These are all fields that are not abstract, but with substance, meaning, and force. A field is felt concretely. We experience its power. Consider, for example, the field associated with team competition. Watching our basketball team play for a championship we become part of the enveloping sociopsychological field--the gestalt unifying teams, coaches, referees, spectators, and the melee of noises, sights, and smells. We become integrated emotionally and cognitively with the others; we raise as one to cheer a crucial play; we boo, hiss, and exclaim over an undeserved foul call; we are elated or dejected together. We are part of a crowd polarized in a specific direction, propelled by forces beyond our control. Sharing the meanings and values of the event, thus imbedded in the field's medium, we cannot remain detached observers. We feel the charged atmosphere, the spirit of play, the forces running back and forth. To remain unmoved requires a concentrated act of will, and the power thus required is a measure of the field. Who in such a context can deny feeling these field forces at work?
One more example may help. The family is the most powerful sociological field. Whether an extended one involving grandparents, aunts, and uncles as in traditional societies, or the nuclear one as is common in economically developed and urbanized countries, a family is more than a collection or sum of its members, material possessions, and territory. A family is a unique configuration of shared expectations, norms, meanings, and values. It is a common perspective on the world, a mutual cognitive mapping of reality, an integrated perceptual framework. It comprises a set of forces aligning and maintaining the rights and duties, privileges and obligations, status and hierarchy of its members. It is a causal-functional unity.
As with concepts of system, society, group, or culture, field has no generally accepted meaning. Therefore, the best way to develop an initial conceptual understanding is to compare scientific usage, and then determine if any commonalities exist. I did this in a previous work (The Dynamic Psychological Field) and concluded that field is used in three senses.
First, the term. often means a continuum of energy spread through some medium and comprising potential forces. Electromagnetic and gravitational fields are of this kind, where electricity, magnetism, or gravitation generates the field, the four dimensions of space-time structure the field, and physical objects are the elements in the field. Thus, placing an iron bar within a magnetic field activates its force potentials, which pull the bar towards the field's source.
Field in this sense has not only been applied to describing physical nature, but to understanding our psychological and social natures as well. Gestalt psychologists (Köhler, 1942) have conceptualized a psychic energy field under stress and with forces tending toward sensory and cognitive unity and balanced simplicity (Pragnanz). Influenced by Gestalt psychology, Kurt Lewin (1951) in his psychological field theory thought of psychic energy localized in systems of tension and forces. Our needs generate the field within which our potential activities and goals become manifest. Following Lewin, Edward Tolman (1951) considered sensory and cognitive psychological elements as affected by need-push forces activated in an energy system. Sociologists also have used field in this meaning. B. F. Brown (1936), a student of Lewin's, considered social behavior a result of individual needs localized in energy systems of tension and forces.
Field as meaning a region of potential forces, I call dynamic field, whether physical, psychological, or social. A second meaning of field is as a balance or equilibrium between diverse elements, interests, or forces. Thus, Harold Mey (1972) has conceptualized individuals and groups as forming a quasi-equilibrium of tensions, forces, and powers. The energy in the field results from the interpenetration of life spaces, overlapping role segments, and changing power balances. And Karl Mannheim (1940) believed that individuals formed a field of interdependent activities cutting across groups, involving spontaneous adjustment to pressures.
The third meaning is a relational field, of an interdependence between elements, a whole that transcends or is more than the sum of its parts. In these terms for Walter Coutu (1949), individuals and groups from a field of interrelated meanings, tendencies-in-situations and needs. For Yinger (1965), there is an interdependence of personality, society, and culture; of individual and situation. And for Quincy Wright (1955), the relations between nations, peoples, states, and governments are a field of reciprocal influences.
Dynamic, equilibrium, and relational fields are the major broad brush scientific meanings of "field." They are not exclusive, for the three share the notion of interdependence and both dynamic and equilibrium fields invoke forces. However, they differ in their operating principles: energy systems generating forces for dynamic fields; forces in balance for equilibrium fields; and interdependence for relational fields.
Dynamic fields are distinct. Continuously spread energy systems containing force potentials are consistently called fields. However, equilibria or interdependence among many diverse elements are conceptualized in many ways, such as balance of power, transactions, system, space. In fact a categorization of social, cultural, and political conceptions that are field theories in an equilibrium or relational sense would include most theories, such as those of Karl Marx, Pitirim Sorokin, Talcott Parsons, George Gurvitch, David Easton, and Karl Deutsch.
In this book, Understanding Conflict and War: Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix, I am concerned with all three kinds of fields, for we are at once a subject and actor, and object and agent of dynamic psychological and sociological fields, of equilibrium fields of power, interests, and conflict, and of a relational field of expectations, meanings, values, norms, class, and statuses. Through our nation, for example, we are involved in the balancing of powers and interests that are the heart of international relations; through our culture we are located within a system of interdependent meanings, values, and norms; and through our personality, perceptions, expectations, and behavioral dispositions we comprise a dynamic psychological field.
I have already described (1975) our dynamic psychological field in detail and structure. Moreover, at a general level I have described (1975) our sociocultural field and its relation to our biopsychological nature and ecology. Now, I will focus on the sociological fields and their relationship to conflict behavior. Before doing so, however, a brief summary of the psychological and sociocultural fields as well as the philosophical context for understanding them will be helpful.
* Scanned from Chapter 2 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.