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Volume 1

Expanded Contents


1: Introduction [and Summary]
2: Physical Field Theories
3: Psychological Field Theories
4: Social Field Theories
5: The Field of Power
6: Field Theories in Summary
7: Perception and Reality
8: Actuality versus Potentiality
9: Manifests versus Latents
10: Latent Functions
11: Perception, Space, and Field
12: Cognitive Dissonance
13:Behavior, Personality, Situation, and Expectations
14: The Behavioral Equation: Behavior, Situation, and Expectations
15: Situation, Expectations, and Triggers
16: Person-Perception and Distance
17: The Behavioral Occasion
18: Social Behavior
19: Motivational Explanation
20: Energy and Attitudes in the Psychological Field
21: Motivation and the Superordinate Goal
22: What About Other Motivations ?
23: The Dynamic Field and Social Behavior
24: The Sociocultural Spaces
25: The Biophysical Spaces
26: Intentions and The Intentional Field
27: A Point of View
28: The Self As a Power
29: The Will As a Power
30: Determinism and Free Will
31: Alternative Perspectives on Freedom of the Will
32: A Humanism Between Materialism and Idealism
33: Atomism-Mechanism versus Organicism
34: Between Absolutism and Relationism
35: Humanity and Nature

Other Volumes

Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
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

The Dynamic Psychological Field
And Social Behavior *

By R.J. Rummel

... the social sciences have to deal with human conduct and its common-sense interpretation in the social reality, involving the analysis of the whole system of projects and motives, of relevances and constructs.... Such an analysis refers by necessity to the subjective point of view, namely, to the interpretation of the action and its settings in terms of the actor.
----Alfred Schuetz, "Common-Sense and Scientific Interpretation of Human Action," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 1953

1 have described our dynamic field as it concerns perception, behavior, and motivations, as it has concerned our inner world of dialectical conflict and equilibrium. I have considered behavior from a fundamentally psychological perspective. Behavior, however, is not only the manifestation of psychological field tendencies and an act of will, but (to mangle Shakespeare) it also is an episode in the theater of humankind where we each are actors, directors, and audience. Our play is of society, of our many roles and assortments, our ranks and occupations, our loves and antagonisms, of the social dialectic that is our history--conflict, adjustment, balance, conflict. These name the play, the story of inner worlds colliding and coalescing.

It is now pertinent to say something about the nature of this sociocultural field in which we are actors, more specifically about the relationship it has to our inner dynamic field and our environment. My concern here will be to delineate only the most general aspects of the sociocultural, biological, and environmental spaces presupposed by the intentional field. A more specifically sociological, cultural, and political discussion will be given in the subsequent volume,Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix, when I directly engage the essence of social conflict.1

Clearly, society and culture are complex. We behave in multiple ways in multiple roles in the context of multiple groups and associations, on multiple rankings and regarding multiple meanings, values, norms. As observers, how to make sense of this complex puzzles us no less than it did the ancients. As actors we glide thoughtlessly through society and culture, first being a husband, then a father, then a clerk, now in harmony, now in conflict, here a member of this group, there an advocate of another, and all in an hour, rather automatically as fish in water.

In previous chapters I have shown the many ways in which there is continuity between our mentality--our dynamic field--and society. To outline them here:

(1) Stimuli received and transformed by our neural system are given orientation and meanings-values by our culture matrix. This matrix is integrated with our mentality; it is the result of our socialization and acculturation and reflects our unconscious learning since birth, and perhaps even before. It is this matrix that gives us the inner direction and confidence enabling us to move effortlessly through our daily routines. Only when first thrust into an alien society and culture can we personally appreciate the regulatory value of our cultural matrices. This matrix, without which. we and other animals cannot survive, is the basic passageway between the dynamic field and our sociocultural context and environment.

We are thus not psychologically isolated billiard balls, each colliding against the other in an endless, ever changing configuration of stimulus and reflex, of challenge and response. Rather we are each localizations of the same system of meanings, values, and norms, each adding our unique will and personality, but each within the same society and culture--not billiard balls, but points of local determination in a common sociocultural field.

(2) The dynamic psychological field defines our personality--our temperament, motivations, abilities, and moods and states. Each person's configuration of psychological components is unique, defining him as the individual we know, but its content and manifestation are given and channeled by society and culture. We have an innate sex drive, but how perception is activates it (whether by a well turned ankle, a flash of thigh, minced bound feet, or a saucer-shaped jutting lip) is a cultural matter, and how the sex drive is thus channeled into behavior is sociocultural in determination.

Moreover, a region of our psychological space defines the roles we can play, that we have learned. We are not born soldiers, priests, lovers; which mask we don, which behavior we actualize depends on the given situation and is ultimately a matter of society and culture. And so it is with our many innate abilities: how, where, and what will be emphasized is a sociocultural question. In the kingdom of the hunter, the strong and quick are kings.

(3) The behavioral potentials confronting us in each situation are mainly socioculturally defined. How we can act when entering the door of a stranger's house, when eating our meals, when currying congressional favor, or when negotiating with another nation--all are well ingrained, results of our socialization and acculturation into the relevant local sociocultural field. We can and sometimes do invent new behavior. We may refuse to go along with "the tyrant custom"; we may assert our individuality against "custom's idiot sway," but this requires thought, emotional investment, and will. Most often, we will accept unthinkingly our culturally bounded, behavioral potentialities.

(4) How we may behave depends on our sociocultural givens; how we intend to behave depends on our personality and the situation; how we do behave depends on our inner tendencies, will, and expectations. Expectations define for us the consequences of our behavior. They are our moment-by-moment predictions unconsciously guiding us through the sociocultural complex. And expectations are fundamentalIy learned and absorbed from our sociocultural environment.

We all live within a structure of expectations that are sociocultural in fundamentals and dialectically worked out in detail with our fellowman. Coupled with our cultural matrices defining the situations we perceive and behave toward, this structure of expectations integrates us into society and enables us to handle routinely the thousands of behavioral responses required in our daily lives while we pursue our different goals.

In tallying the "ways" society and culture breach our mental sanctum, then, we find in the main, four. What we sense is in part transformed by our culture,2 what content and role components our personality has is a product of socialization and acculturation,3 what we may do is a question of the behavioral potentials open to us, and what we will do is mainly a consequence of our socioculturally derived expectations and our will.

It is thus that to treat the dynamic psychological field as a separate, independent entity is no more warranted than to consider the liver apart from the human body. Our inner world is in reality a part of the whole which is our sociocultural totality; we also exists in a sociocultural field, and the dynamic field is a point of local determination--a local field--functioning interdependently within a larger field. These local fields contribute to and are necessary for the whole. Yet, the whole in its totality is not merely the sum of these parts, but transcends them as the living body does its components. The sociocultural field is thus an organic totality with laws not simply reducible to those of the dynamic psychological field.

As a corollary, our mentality forms a continuum with our sociocultural field. There are not sharp edges or clearly discernable boundaries. As fields within a field, the inner ones of personality, perception, thought, and will shade into the outer one of behavior, groups, roles, norms, and so on. Ontologically, personality, society, and culture form a continuous whole; organically, they are one. The unity of humankind is no ethic alone, not just a pious hope, but our being. 


* Scanned from Chapter 23 in R.J. Rummel, The Dynamic Psychological Field, 1975. 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. In the subsequent volumes I will deal directly with the "stuff" of politics, the nature of competing interests and groups, the role of sociopolitical expectations, the balancing of power among groups and interests, the significance of intentions and capability, the meaningfulness of a status quo, and the function of norms and laws with this field.

2. As discussed previously, our perspective transformation of reality comprises our station, physiological equipment, cultural matrix, and psychological field.

3. To be clear, I am talking about the sociocultural content of our personality components. Thus, aloofness is a personality component, for example, but what constitutes aloofness in one culture or the next (say, a warm, gregarious culture like the Italian versus a cool, distant one like the English) is a sociocultural matter.

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