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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
13. The Sociocultural Space
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
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 23

Groups And Antifields*

By R.J. Rummel

The distinction between a spontaneous order based on abstract rules which leave individuals free to use their own knowledge for their own purposes, and an organization or arrangement based on commands, is of central importance for understanding the principles of a free society.
---- Hayek, 1967


Following Sorokin1 (1969, Chapter 8), I consider a group as a causal and meaningful unity of individuals, unity based on shared meanings, values, and norms and a structure of associated expectations. Of course, this could also apply to a collection of spectators at a sports arena, passengers riding a train, or shoppers in a store. What discriminates such collectives and a group is sanction based law-norms defining the members and their rights, duties, and obligations, and authoritative roles. Collectives become groups as law-norms become articulated.

Thus, a group is not defined by an explicit purpose or goal, contiguity, territory, or material factors, but by law-norms that establish a right-obligation relationship among individuals. But this very general definition is meant to cover diverse concrete groups ranging from the family to professional associations, to labor unions, to states. If groups all manifest law-norms, then what are the relevant dimensions along which they vary? This is not an empirical question,2 but a theoretical one. For the dimensions we delineate are those that distinguish the sociocultural field and antifield and the nature of classes.

There are five relevant dimensions of groups. The first defines the dominant interaction pattern among group members, whether solidary, contractual, or antagonistic. A family, church, or bridge club exemplifies primarily solidary interaction, where the basis of behavior is mutuality, love, cooperation. An investment club involves contractual interaction, in that members have simply chartered an organization to accomplish a certain goal and their interaction is primarily directed to its achievement. A prison is a case of antagonistic interaction. Coercion lies at its basis and there is a fundamental inconsistency and hostility in the values and goals of members.

The second dimension is the group structure. Groups differ in the codification and documentation of their law-norms, and the formalization of their positions, interaction, and procedures. Here we can define three structures: organized, semi-organized, and unorganized. An organized group codifies the major law-norms and formalizes its authoritative roles and procedures. There are charters, constitutions, bylaws to consult; explicit definitions of the membership and their rights, duties, and obligations; explicit sanctions and procedures for their application. A corporation, modern state, or labor union is such an organized group.

An unorganized group is one whose law-norms are mainly implicit rules and understandings; authoritative roles exist but with minimal codification. The group's unity largely involves an informal structure of expectations. But the sanctions of the law-norms are no less potent, as social ostracism or the withdrawal of love would testify. The family exemplifies an unorganized group,3 as do "Thursday night reading groups."

The organized-unorganized dimension is continuous: groups are more or less organized. At the middle we can identify the semi-organized group, a mixture of organized interaction and informal expectations. Such is the professional association, which combines enough organization to pursue its purpose of furthering and protecting a profession with a large measure of informal interaction. The traditional university is of this type; it codifies certain rights, obligations, and sanctions, but a measure of governance is based on informal discussion and persuasion, on a community of interests.

A third dimension of groups is their purposiveness. Some are organized for a superordinate purpose, as are a business, government agency, or political pressure group. But some have no such goal; group interests are diffuse. The family is a case in point, where it is not organized "to reproduce" or "cohabit," at least for Anglo-Americans. Two people decide to live together and out of this grows a family. Similarly, a philosophical discussion group generally meets not to discuss something specific or to achieve a task. It simply grows from the overlapping and complementing interests of its members.

The key term is task orientation. If the group is organized in order to gratify some purpose, then its goal is superordinate. If its organization develops in the process of members satisfying their interests, then its goal is diffuse. This is a difference between a planned, rational, or instrumental organization and a spontaneous one.

The fourth dimension concerns recruitment. How do members become such? The distinction is between voluntary groups, which people may or may not join, such as the family, political party, or consumer interest group, and those groups which require membership. People are coerced either into joining against their desires or staying in the group under threat of punishment. The totalitarian state which prevents people from freely leaving exemplifies the latter; the prison, concentration camp, or the conscript army the former.

There is a middle point here that is either neglected (such as by classical liberals) or overplayed (such as by socialists). Membership in some groups is neither entirely voluntary nor coerced. Voluntary means that we can decide in terms of our positive interests whether joining a group will provide a gratification worth the costs; coercion means that we must choose between joining a group we against our wishes and some linked threat. But what if we do not want to work in a factory but can get no other job and yet must work for our family to survive? We do not want to work and we do not want our family to starve. That we are not coerced into working by someone's explicit threats does not lessen the involuntary nature of our choice. We may feel as coerced as if a "capitalist" were standing over us with a gun.

The classical liberal would protest that we are free to shop around for a better job, to choose to contract for a particular job or not, and thereby we work in a factory voluntarily. The socialist would say that if we are poor we have the freedom of the poor to sleep under a bridge or not. Capitalist society coerces us to be a worker. What does it matter if it is one job or another? All would equally exploit our need to survive.

We can recognize some truth in both these positions. Each can be reduced to an absurdity (we are all coerced by our needs versus we are free not to beg), but each position does recognize a meaningful aspect of recruitment from its own perspective. Except in totalitarian societies, no one is coerced into working in particular jobs, for we have the option to shop around or not work at all. Nonetheless, although we suffer no intentional sanctions by our refusal, often by virtue of the overriding needs of our family, we must work whether we want to or not. Therefore, we can define an intermediary level that is neither voluntary nor coercive, but necessitated, as often is recruitment of workers into industries or peasants into farming.

The final dimension is the authoritative role within the group. What kind of social power tends to underlie its commands? I have already discussed the authoritative and coercive power melded into such a role. We can nonetheless identify groups which emphasize one aspect of authoritative roles or the other. Surely, coercion is the basis in such groups as the totalitarian state, penitentiary, or army division, while authoritative power primarily orders a university, parliamentary body, or family.4


I have discussed five abstract dimensions of groups in terms of their internal interaction, structure, goals, recruitment, and generative power. The next step is to identify those types of groups with similar profiles on these dimensions. For we will find that a particular profile, a particular type of group, most purely comprises an antifield.
Table 23.1

Table 23.1 shows the different types of group profiles of concern. The first type is spontaneous. It develops as an informal balancing of positive interests of individuals. It may be solidary or contractual, is unorganized, and has diffuse goals. Moreover, recruitment is voluntary and authoritative roles emphasize authoritative power. A family, book exchange club, and religious sect are examples. Spontaneous groups result from field processes.5 They are but particular manifestations of an informal structure of expectations within the field--a region of stable interactions. This structure may crystallize into one of the other types of groups or it may be disrupted, as in divorce or group dissolution.

A second type is the voluntary association. Interaction may be solidary or contractual, but is semi-organized according to some explicit group goal. Recruitment is voluntary and commands within are based on authoritative power. The many community and professional associations, such as the American Medical Association, exemplify this type. Such groups are purposive, but their internal organization is a mixture of task oriented rationality and informal structures of expectations.

This type of group is also an outcome of field processes. Part of the structure of expectations is formalized and people cohere in terms of some shared interest. Chronologically, it can evolve from a spontaneous group, as a discussion group can turn into a society, or can be formed anew from the balancing of similar interests.

The third type is a voluntary organization. Here also internal interaction could be solidary or contractual, but its structure is organized rationally to achieve a superordinate goal. Membership is voluntary, and authoritative power provides order. The Methodist church, a scientific research institute, or a political party manifest this type.

In organization and membership, the voluntary organization partially reflects a process of adjustment and balancing among diverse interests. Nonetheless, interactions are formalized and positions carry specified role expectations in order to achieve a purpose. The organization is partially a rational construction; a significant amount of interaction among members is arranged to pursue an organizational goal.

The fourth type is the quasi-coercive organization. This is a group whose interaction is contractual at most and quite possibly antagonistic. It is organized according to a superordinate goal, its membership is necessitated, and interaction is generated by coercion, bargaining, or authority. The factory, mine, or tenant farm are prime examples. In many single-industry towns or remote farming or mining communities, some people must of necessity work in the organization. This is not to say that all industries (whether private or nationalized) are quasi-coercive, but to note that conditions and monopolization may be such as to leave potential recruits little meaningful choice but to join. It is to recognize that there is a type of organization between voluntary and coercive.

The final type of organization is coercive. Here membership is obligatory and attempts to escape are punished. Interaction is antagonistic, and organized to fulfill a superordinate goal; and the basis of command is coercive. A jail, a slave6 labor camp, a totalitarian state, a public primary school, or a conscripted army unit are all examples.

The coercive organization is an antifield. Its origin may be in the sociocultural field. Its original purpose and organization may have resulted from a balancing of powers among those sharing similar interests, as the Soviet Union of the late 1920's was organizationally an outcome of the conflict between different socialist parties and Bolshevik leaders, as the organization of a prison will originally result from countervailing political and bureaucratic interests.

Moreover, a coercive organization can be destroyed, as was Hitler's Germany, or legislatively transformed, as was the American conscript army by eliminating the draft. It can dissolve into the field processes from which it emerged. But while it exists, coercively recruits or retains its membership, and organizes behavior coercively, it is an antifield. Field processes can occur in the organizational lacunae where coercive commands do not enter, but in relation to the command-structure one has a choice only to obey or disobey and risk punishment. The coercive organization of the group is thus a crystallized grid segmenting forces and processes within the social field. Social forces no longer flow freely in a field, but are now channeled along the grid pattern or entirely blocked by it.

The coercive organization is the purest manifestation of antifield. The quasicoercive, voluntary organization, voluntary association, and spontaneous group are different points along the continuum between pure antifields and field structures. The spontaneous group, with most of its internal interaction determined by field processes and little by command, is closest to a pure field. The remaining groups along the continuum are increasingly task oriented and organized instrumentally to achieve that purpose. Consequently, internal processes ordered by authoritative roles increasingly take on coercive overtones. Professional association members are not concerned with the sanctions at the disposal of the president and would be puzzled if asked about such sanctions. But the coercive power of a university president (a voluntary organization) or a factory manager (a quasi-coercive organization) and the sanctions available to them are more explicitly articulated.

Thus concrete manifestations of antifields are generally group phenomena, particularly seen in their organization and authoritative roles. More specifically, we can order types of groups as they show an increasing dependence on commands to regulate internal interaction and membership.


Rules of organization are thus subsidiary to command, filling in the gaps left by the commands
---- Hayek, 1973, p. 49

The various types of groups shown in Table 23.1 form a progression from those mainly reflecting field forces and processes in interaction between members to those which are primarily antifields. There is a division, however, which separates those which are primarily antifields from the others. This is when groups become organized to achieve a superordinate purpose at the level of voluntary, quasi-coercive, or coercive organizations.7 As I use the term, organization is a broader group subsuming these three types and is distinct by virtue of being an antifield. All things have their opposites, contradictions, antithesis,8 antonyms. A social organization is the opposite of sociocultural field.

To reiterate, a social organization is a group whose law-norms and internal statuses are organized towards achieving a specific task, in my terms, towards manifesting some interest of its leaders or members. There are therefore three facets of an organization: law-norms, elite, and interest.

The law-norms of an organization, as of any group, prescribe the duties and responsibilities of group members, their rights and benefits within the organization, who and how the elite are determined. Moreover, law-norms structure authoritative power, the "organizational chart," and define the legitimate power that each can wield. The rules and regulations of an organization in addition to the informal expectations that govern internal relationships constitute such law-norms.

Second, whether voluntary, quasi-coercive, or coercive types, an organization is governed by some elite. There is always a group which exercises command and is responsible for the organization achieving its purpose. It constitutes the Power within, the group with the authority to distribute rewards and deprivations according to the law-norms, to define in concrete circumstances the purpose or interest of the organization, and to make official decisions on its behalf. Within the elite, there is usually one leader who has the highest position of command, of authoritative power. How he gains or loses that position and his responsibilities are defined by the organization's law-norms.

Finally, there is the interest of the organization. Each organization comes into being and exists to manifest some interest shared by the membership or elite. It is task oriented. It has a purpose--a superordinate goal. In this sense, all organizations are "interest groups," whether the interest is imposed upon its members coercively by the elite (as in a prison, military draftee training camp, or colony), contracted to by membership (as in a corporation, university, or cooperative), or voluntarily established to pursue specific interests of all its members (as in a church or professional association).

Society abounds with organizations of diverse kinds, overlapping in their memberships and interests. The most conspicuous is government, whose superordinate goal may be variously defined by the governing elite as regulating society, enforcing the common law, maintaining peace and order, defending society against its enemies, or mobilizing society towards some future goal. As an organization, it may be one among many in society; or it may span all others, making them subordinate to the governmental elite and organizational goal.

Organizations contend and struggle. That is, the leadership strive to manifest their organization's interest, its superordinate goal. The outward directed behavior of the leadership is that of the organization ("The United States has gone on alert," "First National has raised its prime rate," "The stock exchange has suspended trading in . . .") and in the interorganizational balancing of the elite, they have the resources of the organization to strengthen their power.

Interorganizational interaction and conflict add no new agents to the sociocultural field. It is individuals that socially behave, that manifest interests and expectations. The interests may be that of organizations, the conflict may be between state and state, Church and state, or corporations, but those contending are the different elite. What differs are the resources or capability of these individuals.

An organization strengthens the power of an individual. Few can manifest their interests alone in opposition to another officially representing the interests of the Church, corporation, government, union. Only by joining others with similar interests or by gaining the support of other organizations can an individual hope to succeed in manifesting his interests against those of some organization.

Here I am focusing only on the lone individual opposing some other representing an organization. If, however, we consider an aggregate of individuals in their various unorganized interests, we have a combined effect on the behavior of an organizations' leaders. Thus, corporations (if unsupported by government regulations) are subservient to the interests and exchange power of the unorganized mass of consumers. Governments are responsive to public opinion, and in democracies the elite may be turned out of office by an unorganized majority. Thus, although a particular individual may have little power to oppose willfully the resources of an organization, many unorganized individuals acting spontaneously check and balance the power of organized elites.

It should be understood, therefore, that interaction as a balance of interests, and wills is not only forged out of dyadic relations, between an individual and a member of the elite, but also are formed between the elite and aggregates of individuals acting spontaneously. For example, the level of production of a commodity and its cost is a result of consumers' interests and willingness to pay the price. In other words, the exchange power wielded by the corporation elite is balanced by the aggregate exchange power of the consumer. Regardless of the form of power an organizational interest takes, it is actually or potentially balanced by the aggregate. Even the coercive power of dictatorship is bounded by the general sense of legitimacy among its subjects.9

The point is that an organization differs fundamentally from the sociocultural field. The sociocultural field is the space of meanings, values, norms, and status which are the seat of social forces. An organization, however, is a command structure dedicated to manifesting a particular interest, in which interaction between two subordinates is determined by their relation to that interest as judged by the elite. Thus, interaction between individuals within an organization is fundamentally ordered by the organization's hierarchy. You work with someone you would not ordinarily associate with because of your job. You cooperate with your immediate superior because you will be fired if you don't. As a soldier you take orders from your sergeant because those in higher command have given him that power, even though the social forces involved and your individual interests and capabilities could have power over him were it not for the organization.

At its simplest, the difference is between the multitude of adjustments made spontaneously between individuals in the field in terms of their interests and powers, and those adjustments commanded by the elite according to their interpretation of the organization's interest. The nature and behavioral manifestations of field processes are unplanned; behavior and processes within organizations are planned.

Thus a friendly after-dinner conversation is a relatively pure example of a field. It constitutes a fluid movement of interests, powers to exchange thoughts and ideas, induce mutual interests and authoritatively make some points ("it's a fact that . . ."). Balances are formed and reformed in quick succession and momentary structures of expectations are developed and disrupted in the flow of unified consciousness. Rapidly the conversation manifest conflict ("I don't think so . . .") or cooperation ("I agree . . .") as balancing and balance supersede each other. The words, the expressions, the result of the conversation are all unplanned: it is a pure process of mutual engagement and adjustment.

Now, consider the opposite, the relation between drill instructor and marine recruit in a training camp. The recruit must stand at attention in a certain way, prefix and suffix his sentences with sir, and follow all orders unquestionably. The drill instructor commands, and the recruit obeys. It is a planned relationship that is meant to turn the recruit into an effective fighting machine.

Once the concepts of field and organization are understood as ideal types, then we can note that in practice there is an interpenetration of field and organization. Some social situations are a mixture, as the family commanded by a strong husband and father who organizes its activities to further his political or business status; or the academic department in which most relations and decisions are a consequence of field processes (the so-called laissez-faire department), although organized to teach a certain discipline. Moreover, in large-scale organizations commands are not passed down in pure form nor are all tasks the resultant of elite decision and command. Field processes dilute the hierarchical passage of commands, tasks may result from field balances between administrative units, and the command relationship between organization levels may in part reflect a power balance. All chains of command are eroded by field processes, by nested structures of expectations. What the elite decide, the bureaucracy administers, sometimes in unexpected ways. Recognizing, however, that multiple sociocultural fields infuse organizations which in turn intrude into sociocultural fields, the contrast between them--between fields and antifields--is a theoretical and practical opposition. IBM is mainly an organization, an antifield. And the world of science is mainly a field. Most American families mainly are sociocultural fields, while prisons are organizations. Government is an organization, while the unregulated or free market is a field.

The existence of an organization should not be confused with its formation or initiation. An organization is itself the outcome of field forces and processes; it is a particular structure of expectations. The power relations between elite and members, the law-norms which govern the organization, the mode by which elite are selected form a balance of powers in the sociocultural field, incrementally changing as do all such structures, and destined for disruption10 in the future. Thus, the American nation and government came into being in the revolution of 1776 under the Articles of Confederation, became incongruent with underlying interests and powers, and was reformed under the Constitution of 1787. Since then this organization has undergone incremental change which has remarkably altered the original structure.

As an antifield, as a particular structure of expectations, the organization develops out of the field. Once formed, organized interaction opposes field processes until such time as the expectations are disrupted. Indeed, the organization may dominate and encompass the whole field out of which it was formed. The Russian revolution was a disruption of a traditional governmental organization, which eventuated in the balance of powers known as the Soviet government. This balance encompassed and replaced what had been field relations between a variety of organizations, such as the czarist government, the church, and the universities, with one organization. Russian society became organized mainly into a command structure, thus partitioning and segmenting the society wide sociocultural field.

One final observation. In societies where no one organization commands the others, such as in international relations, the interorganizational relations between elite are governed by sociocultural field forces and processes. As a result they form among themselves on behalf of their organizations structures of expectations, which may be codified in contracts or treaties, or left as unspoken understandings. Thus, the field of organizations calls for no new theoretical concepts than those already discussed, or to be considered in discussing the conflict helix. 


* Scanned from Chapter 23 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. Sorokin (1969, Chapter 9) presents a discussion and taxonomy of groups consistent with my perspective. I should stress that I am using Sorokin as a heuristic and therefore depart from his taxonomy as required by my concern with antifields and classes.

2. If the question were meant empirically, considerable research has shown that size, group-wealth, and leadership are the important dimensions. See the bibliography on such studies in Rummel (1970, pp. 553-54).

3. I mean unorganized only in the sense of largely unformalized law-norms. Surely, in the sense of patterned expectations and interaction, the family is organized.

4. Authoritative roles are dynamic, and may change from a basis in authority to coercion, or vice versa. For example, an army division in training may be based on coercion, while in combat authoritative power may be fundamental. Moreover, not all groups of a particular type are based on similar power. The authoritative roles are not based on authority for all families; nor are all such roles for army divisions coercively based. Nonetheless, we can recognize that certain types of groups manifest a form of power sufficiently to exemplify it.

5. By field processes, I mean the conflict helix to be discussed in the next Part of this book. For our purposes here, this can be understood as a balancing of interests, capabilities and wills.

6. Children have no choice about going, and the methods of regulating their activities are well known, such as punishment, bad grades, extra homework, staying after school, and so on. The fact that persuasion, authority and altruism are also involved does not alter the major emphasis on coercion. Imagine the reaction of public school officials to a recommendation that children choose whether to attend school or not, and the change in school procedures and curriculum if such were allowed.

7. "In confining the term here to a made order or taxis we follow what seems to have become the general use in sociology and especially in what is known as 'organization theory.' The idea of organization in this sense is a natural consequence of the discovery of the powers of the human intellect and especially of the general attitude of constructivist rationalism. It appeared for a long time as the only procedure by which an order serviceable to human purposes could be deliberately achieved, and it is indeed the intelligent and powerful method of achieving certain known and foreseeable results. But as its development is one of the great achievements of constructivism, so is the disregard of its limits one of its most serious defects. What it overlooks is that the growth of that mind which can direct an organization, and of the more comprehensive order within which organizations function, rests on adaptations to the unforeseeable, and that the only possibility of transcending the capacity of individual minds is to rely on those super-personal 'self-organizing' forces which create spontaneous orders" (Hayek, 1973, p. 54).

8. Although the field is a continuum ranging from entirely spontaneous to entirely commanded interaction, we can still note the opposites the continuum reflects. Thus we can observe that the continuum of temperature has the opposites of hot and cold.

9. On this, see the analysis by Sharp (1973, Chapter 1).

10. The idea of disrupted balances of power is treated in Section 29.5 of Chapter 29.

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

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