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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
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

"A Catastrophe Theory Model Of The Conflict Helix, With Tests"


Chapter 6

Field Theories In Summary*

By R.J. Rummel

Any thoughtful reader can hardly fail to see that the whole operation is a mere verbal preoccupation of "ordering of some phenomena of behavior" to the "psychological field" and rechristening some good and comprehensible terms of psychology with the terms "magnitude," "force," "vector," "field," and the like, which not only do not add anything to our knowledge of the behavior "of a hungry rat trying to get cheese" or "a man trying to clarify a psychological theory, " but only confuse this knowledge and distort the physicomechanical concepts of vector, force, magnitude, direction, and the rest. Such a useless transcription of the terms would have some advantage and cognitive value if the transported terms could be measured adequately or were metrical, as they are in physicomathematical sciences.
----Pitirim Sorokin, Sociocultural Causality, Space, Time, 101-110

The field concept and ideas have been applied by others,1 but these are relatively minor or irrelevant applications. It is time to pull together the previous chapters on the fields of physical nature and humankind to see what has been learned from them.

In Table 6.1 I summarize the major aspects of these fields, while recognizing that some distortion inevitably will be associated with compressing some of the more complex theories into the table's structure. First, note that there are basically three types of field theories. One is that which conceives of fields as continuous energy systems spread throughout some kind of space (physical, psychological, visual, social, and so forth) and involving forces or tensions that may appear anywhere in the space. This energy itself may be generated by magnetic objects, point masses, or human needs. Whatever the source, physical field theories, Gestalt psychology, and the Lewin, Brown, Tolman and Ushenko field theories have a common operating principle. I will call these dynamic field theories.2

A second type of field theory invokes no dynamic principle, but simply sees field as a totality of interdependent and reciprocal relationships. There are no field generated forces, although forces of various kinds may be some of the relationships contained by the field. These types of field theories, which are exemplified by those of Coutu, Yinger, and Wright, will be called relational. In between the dynamic and relational types are the field theories of Mey and Mannheim, which view the field as a manifold of tensions, forces, and powers standing in momentary balance or equilibrium. These I can call equilibrium fields.

Clearly there is overlap among these three types of fields, as for example, in the dynamic and equilibrium ones involving field forces. However, the three clearly differ in the operating principle: energy systems generating forces, interdependence, or tensions and forces in balance. At this point, I see no profit in quibbling over which type of field theory truly deserves the label. Suffice it to say that all theories sharing the operating principle of dynamic field theories are usually called field theories or use the field concept. However, there are many balance-of-power and equilibrium theories, and spatial conceptions of humankind untainted by the name field. Dynamic field theories are therefore distinct, while relational and equilibrium fields are conceptions found under many different names. Nonetheless I will use field theory as referring to all three types and will qualify it if I have a particular type in mind.

The first observation I made about the survey of field conceptions was their different natures. Second is that the various fields of humankind lack adequate formalization. Lewin started on the wrong path with his topological approach, which Brown and Mey found no alternative but to follow. Wright simply posited a Euclidean space, and Ushenko relied entirely on a conceptual structure. If, by adequate, we mean a structure that is sufficiently explicit to make the logic of the theory clear, which orders the theoretical conceptual relationships, and which embodies the means or method by which implications or deductions are to be drawn and tested by experience, then none of the field theories of humankind have an adequate structure. Even though most use vectors as part of their structure, the means by which vectors are actually to be measured or fitted into the field and associated space is not clear. In other words, no epistemic correlations between vectors and data, facts, or experience are given and the means by which the field-space can be empirically defined and measured in unclear.3

What if we allow that vector and space are theoretical constructs and therefore only deductive stepping stones which themselves need not be measured or empirically defined? Students of Lewin may make this claim, but if this is so Lewin's logical and mathematical treatment are not sufficiently explicit and consistent4 to enable tests of his overall theory. As has been done, one can treat his forces as equalities or inequalities from which certain empirical and testable implications will flow. But the tests are then structurally unintegrated and the empirical methods are not intrinsically part of the theory. It is thus that Lewin's ideas have had considerable empirical confirmation, while Lewin's field theory as a theoretical system has not. This may partly explain why Lewin's results have become commonly accepted into social psychological knowledge while his field theory remains of marginal interest.

At this point I will only state what will be argued in a subsequent volume. A theory, to be effective and most useful, must have a logically5 or mathematically articulated structure that is explicit, enables clearly drawn implications or deductions to be made that can be tested by experience, and that embodies or clearly articulates the methods or means for doing so. None of the field theories considered are effective or useful in this sense. In developing a dynamic psychological field conception here, I will try to remedy this weakness.

A third observation regarding field theories is that those (Lewin, Brown, and Mey) who apply field conceptions developed at the psychological level to the sociocultural sphere do not make the transformation or transition form one level to another clear. Simply, how can one move from subjective psychological fields to social fields, groups, or behavior between groups? Moreover, the epistemological questions posed by such efforts, as for example, those surrounding the debate between holists and methodological individualists, are almost completely ignored. Yet, unless we are to assume the most naive methodological individualists' position that only individuals are meaningful,6 we must attend to the logic by which we move from people's inner world to their sociocultural interaction, conflicts, institutions, norms, and so on. Of course, this problem is also crucial to my efforts. Here, however, my focus is the dynamic psychological field. In the next volume, which unites psychological and sociocultural levels, I will treat this directly.

Finally, I might note the narrow base of knowledge upon which such field approaches as those of Lewin, Brown, Tolman, Coutu, and Wright were built, School and disciplinary blinders are commonplace, and a certain narrowness of vision and insensitivity to other work are probably intrinsic to a discipline and to being a professional. It does appear to me as it has appeared to some others,7 however, that whenever relevant areas in the same discipline are ignored, this narrowness is carried to extremes. A case in point is Coutu's work, which makes meanings central to his field but yet makes no use of or reference to Sorokin's writing, the most persistent and ambitious attempt to deal with sociocultural meanings.

More generally, I find four major chasms separating field theories from useful developments and work in other areas. One is the unfortunate separation between psychological field theories à la Lewin and multivariate personality research of Cattell, Eysenck, Burt, and so on. The latter provides a wealth of structured findings easily integrable into field theories, were it not for the next chasm. The second one separates field theories from the mathematical area of potentially great use: linear algebra (or the mathematics of n-dimensional spaces). This mathematics provides an explicit logic for theorizing in multidimensional spaces, especially regarding vectors, and a precise way of dealing with the field as a whole.

A third chasm is that between field theorists and methods by which measurement of field dimensions, positions, forces, and behavior might be made. That is, field theorists have been methodologically unsophisticated and have been particularly weak in the very multivariate methods, such as principal components analysis, that could be most integrated into the structure of their theories.

Finally, those field theorists working at the social level (and I would include Yinger and Wright in this group) have ignored some of the most salient sociological theories and work. For example, whether the concern is with integrating society, culture, and personality or with the field of sociocultural norms, values, and meanings, I find the lack of reference to Sorokin's valuable insights and results to be a telling weakness.

In summary, then, we find in comparing field theories that they fall naturally into dynamic, equilibrium, and relational types. Regardless of type, we find that those applied to people suffer from inadequately formulated structures, lack of reference to measurement, and an unknown and unspecified relationship to experience. Moreover, those theories that are psychologically based and applied to society and culture do not clarify the logic by which such may be done. I noted that field theorists seem to be separated by a chasm from relevant multivariate personality research, the most appropriate mathematics and methods, and important social theories and results.8

To catalog these weaknesses is, clearly, to promise an attempt to correct them in this and in subsequent volumes and a beginning to which we should now move 


* Scanned from Chapter 6 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. As for example, Robert Dahl and Charles Lindblom's "field of awareness" (Politics, Economics, and Welfare, New York: Harper, 1953: 97 ff.), which is that acted upon by Sociopolitical controls; and Arthur Koestler's fields of associated ideas, thought, feelings, and such, the bisociation of which fields explains creativity in the arts and sciences (Insight and Outlook, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1949, chap. 4). In a later work (The Act of Creation, New York: Macmillan, 1969), Koestler changed from the concept of field to that of matrix, which was unfortunate because the idea of field better carried his contextual meaning.

Another use of field, called spatial field theory, is developed and applied by Brian Berry in Essays on Commodity Flows and Spatial Structure of the Indian Economy (Chicago: University of Chicago, Department of Geography Research Paper No. 111, 1966). In structure, this theory is identical to the social field theory I have mathematically elaborated previously ("A Field Theory of Social Action with Application to Conflict Within Nations," General Systems 10 (1965: 183-211) and will be discussed in a later technical volume.

Other uses of field theory are discussed and referenced in Harold Mey, Field Theory: A Study of Its Application in the Social Sciences, trans. Douglas Scott (New York: St. Martin's, 1972).

2. Although Ushenko uses the terms power, potentiality, and disposition rather than energy and forces, he clearly is conceiving of power as an energy system underlying forces in perception, meaning, art, and so on. Energy is that which generates a force and a characteristic of the field is that these forces are everywhere potentials in the field. Replace "energy" by "power" and the statement could have been taken directly from Ushenko.

3. The closest to presenting a clear field structure is Wright, who provides subjective data for determining the location of his people-nation-state-government vector in the international value-capability field, and suggests that the space can be empirically determined through factor analysis. See "Understanding Factor Analysis."

4. One inconsistency is that of forces with direction in a topological space disallowing directions.

5. By logically I mean a clear and consistent interrelating of the parts, which could be satisfied by a symbolic logical structure or one purely conceptual and verbal.

6. Even if only individuals are assumed to exist, we still have to determine how individually ordered fields interact. Lewin's unsatisfactory approach was to move from subjective fields to an objective field containing two interacting individuals, and back to their subjective fields after joint locomotion.

7. See for example Pitirim Sorokin, Fads and Foibles in Modern Sociology and Related Sciences (Chicago: Regnery, 1956). In my own field of international relations, for example, I could cite ad nauseum publications presenting empirical results as though constituting an oasis in a desert, ignoring the results of others even on the same variables and nations, regarding the same hypotheses or problems or topics.

8. To specify these weaknesses of field theories is not to say that other theories do not share them. Social system, structural-functional, social conflict, Marxist, and status theories share most of these weaknesses in kind, if not detail.

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