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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
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 15

The Sociocultural Field*

By R.J. Rummel

We have taken one of the simplest examples of the reflex arc and attempted to apply stimulus-response concepts to it. In flying to do this We have discovered that We do not know what the stimulus is unless we know what the response is and what previous stimuli and responses were and that, as a matter of fact, we need quite a good understanding of the transaction in order usefully to call anything the stimulus. The same line of argument can be used for the so-called response side. We do not know what the response is unless we know what the stimulus is.
---- Slack, 1968

With the previous groundwork I can deal now with the sociocultural field. There is one caveat to be mentioned at this point, to be treated more fully later. The sociocultural field exists for all individuals at all times, but its effect on interaction depends on whether individuals are free to respond to field forces and to mutually adjust and balance.

Although a magnetic field may exist, iron filings cannot respond if compressed in a box. Similarly, if individuals are constrained in coercive organizations, such as a jail or totalitarian society, or physically restrained, their mutual behavior is not free to reflect and balance their mutual interests, capabilities and wills. Such field constraining organizations I call antifields, and will discuss them more fully later (Chapter 22 and Chapter 23). For our purposes here, I will assume individuals are free to spontaneously reflect field forces in their interaction. In this light, I will now turn to the sociocultural field.

Social interaction is a subspace of the sociocultural space. This is to say that sociocultural distance, perspective, behavioral dispositions, and expectation vectors are really in the same space.

Figure 15.1 shows this joint space and the four kinds of vectors. Since i is the origin of behavior, it is taken as the origin of the behavior space components shown in broken lines.
Figure 15.1
These behavioral components are oriented according to their dependence on the fields of expression that is, on the components of the sociocultural space.

In sum, j is a field of expression with the power to be manifest to i, as shown by the distance vector d. This power is confronted by i's perspective on it plus the occasion. This perspective transformation is vector alpha (). Perception--what i actually is aware of--is the product of d and alpha. But i is also disposed to behave towards j as a consequence of i's personality (perspective) and j's distance, as illustrated by the Wij vector from i. And given the occasion, i anticipates that his behavior will have certain outcomes as shown by the beta () vector.

Here we have a two-sided equation. Perception (P) of j by i is a vector product of distance and perspective on the occasion; spontaneous behavior (B) is a vector product of behavioral disposition and expectations. What is the relationship between perception and manifest behavior? They are the same. Our behavior and perception are one. For free individuals, they form a unit, and integrated gestalt: Bij = Pi.

This may seem odd, but remember that the elements involved in the perspective are not only stimuli, station, and receptors, but also the psychological field--our personality and will. Thus, personality and will are involved in both perception and behavioral disposition. B and P are simply different ways of viewing the same thing. However, if we focus on the dispositions and expectations, then the role of the fields of expression, perspective, will, and occasion is lost. A complete understanding requires walking around social space, and this is what I am doing here in presenting both B and P.

We perceive and act together. As we behave we perceive; as we perceive we spontaneously behave. Both are part of the same transaction with reality.

Then what is the sociocultural field? As fields of expression, individuals and occasions for their interaction generate forces within the sociocultural space. As described in the previous Chapter 14, there are four sets of forces: (1) those associated with individual fields of expression and comprising the sociocultural distance vectors between them; (2) the alpha vectors of perspective transformation from individuals to the occasion; (3) the mutual behavioral dispositions vectors; (4) and the beta expectation vectors from occasion to individuals. Sociocultural distances, perspectives, behavioral dispositions, and expectations are the forces of the sociocultural field.

Are these field forces, however? Yes, for the following reasons. First, each force is a power towards specific manifestations, and is thus a vector with orientation and magnitude. Second, these forces are generated within the regions of the sociocultural space associated with the location of individual fields of expression and the occasion; they are real and tangible and can be empirically felt.1

Third, these forces are activated potentials existing throughout the sociocultural space. This implies that the actual forces are a function of the location of individuals and the occasion in the space. Since the magnitude and direction of these forces is a function of the relative location of individuals and the occasion in the space (for example, consider the sociocultural distance vector), these forces are, indeed, a function of the components.2

The above is sufficient to indicate that there is a dynamic field of force potentials continuously distributed in a space. In addition, if individuals are free there is an equilibrium., a balance of forces among the sociocultural distances, perspectives, expectations, behavioral perception two people have of dispositions, occasions, and social behavior. For perception is a balance (a vector product) between inner directed powers associated with each person's field of expression and outer directed vectors of perspective transformation; and spontaneous behavior is a balance (also a product) between outer directed vectors of behavioral dispositions and inter directed vectors of expectations. Hence, the sociocultural field is both a dynamic and an equilibrium field.

The second half of this book, Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix, will deal with the process through which this balance is achieved and its relation to conflict. At this point I only want to make explicit the interactive nature of this balance. Although in describing the sociocultural space I have concentrated on the vectors to and from the actor i, the field comprises perspectives and behavior of both i and j--that is, of all individuals. It is a field of spontaneous social interaction. What then are the interactions among the four sets of vectors?

Each field of expression and occasion comprises in part the person's social behavior. We perceive the other, including the other's behavior; and we perceive the occasion which in part also constitutes this behavior, as an occasion consisting of another's negotiation with us over a contract. But then our reciprocating behavior is part of our field and contributes to a new occasion which in turn is responded to by the other. And so on back and forth.

Social interaction is therefore a continuous process of behavior, expectations, feedback, of perception and reality testing, of a balancing of interests, capabilities, and wills. This process is an interlocking of the two fields of expression around an occasion, itself a continually changing field of focus. Spontaneous social interaction is therefore a conversation.3

One example may suffice. Consider two political scientists acquainted with each other who meet at the American Political Science convention. Immediately, both locate each other in social space on the basis of what they know of each other, their previous communication, and their fields of expression (their appearances and behavior). That is, each reads the other in terms of his interests, capabilities, and wills. If the occasion is their sighting each other in the hallway, they will immediately respond with the appropriate ritual practices, and then the interaction will flow depending on the cues each communicates through his field, their true intentions, and the interests and capabilities manifest in their fields.

Now, let one be a Princeton professor, powerful in the Association and thus capable, if he wanted to, of opening many doors; let the other be an assistant professor looking for a better position, who through his comments has made this intention known. Their process of interaction may then flow from the amenities stage into a wary dance around the issue of whether the Princeton professor can help the younger colleague. Their mutual fields of expression will shift therefore as each adds to the conversion by word and appearance,4 and the occasion is a moving target skipping from question to answer within the context of a busy hallway, and shaping each other's expectations as to the other's responses. Moreover, the nature of their interaction may shift with these changing occasions, being slightly solidary when agreeing on the need for the Association to play a greater political role in Washington, slightly antagonistic over the demand for a quota minority participation in Association affairs, and cautiously contractual on the question of available jobs.

In sum, then, a sociocultural field delimits and structures a system of spontaneous interactions between individuals and their associated meanings, values, and norms, and orders their perceptions and expectations. It is not necessarily the totality of such elements, for there are many sociocultural fields, overlapping, coexistent, involving at one level a social dyad like two loved ones, and at another level a supercultural system like Western civilization.

A sociocultural field comprises six aspects. First, it is a complex of interdependent social interactions among agents in the field; it is the web of interrelated acts, conduct, behavior, responses, reactions, transactions, deeds, and so on involving individuals and their groups. Second, the field is the collection of acting, reacting agents (individuals and groups) and their objective vehicles (such as house, constitution, courtroom, or cross) that carry or contain meaning and values for them.

So far these aspects--interactions, agents, and vehicles--define only a relational field.5 However, the sociocultural field is a dynamic one of energy and potential energy. For the third aspect of the field is that it is generated by our goals and motives, our attitudes and interests, our sentiments and roles, and our will. These provide the energy for the field, its potential forces. The fourth aspect, then, is the field forces. Psychologically these are the sociocultural distances between the agents in the field, as well as their perspectives, expectations, and behavioral dispositions. Sociologically, these are their interests, capabilities, and wills.

But then any dynamic field has a medium for transmitting forces, a medium within which forces are potentials. The fifth aspect, then, is a medium of sociocultural meanings, values, and norms spread continuously throughout a sociocultural space. The cultural components of this space are language, science, religion-philosophy, ethics-law, and fine arts; the social components consist of wealth, power, prestige, and class.

And finally, we have the dynamic field processes through which the sociocultural field becomes solidified, maintained, transformed, or obliterated. These processes are those of the free adjustment of interests and conflict, the conflict helix.

Overall, then, a sociocultural field is characterized by interactions, agents and vehicles, generators, forces, medium, and processes. Now, the purpose of this book is to bring together the sociocultural field and conflict in a way to enrich our understanding of conflict and violence. Already I have posed conflict as a field process, a hint of things to come. To work up to this connection, I have dealt with the nature of social perception and interactions in these fields and with the social field forces and their generators.

Before turning to this process, however, I should clarify the meaning of the class and status components of social space and their distance relationships to social interaction. This presupposes a more thorough discussion of distance than given so far. 


* Scanned from Chapter 15 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. For example, consider the power or force towards manifestation of a women running towards us with a knife in her hands, or of an occasion involving a death in the family.

2. The potentials for forces to be activated within the field are themselves shifting. At one moment an action can have no effect, provoke no forces, in the field; at another, considerable social energy nay be triggered. One of the more dramatic examples of this is the effect in Washington of George Kennan's February 22, 1947, telegraphic message from the American embassy in Moscow to the Department of State on postwar Soviet policy and Its implications. As told by Kennan: (1967, pp. 309-10).

The effect produced in Washington by this elaborate pedagogical effort was nothing less than sensational. It was one that changed my career and my life in very basic ways. If none of my previous literary efforts has seemed to evoke even the faintest tinkle from the bell at which they were aimed, this one, to my astonishment, struck it squarely and set it vibrating with a resonance that was not to die down for many months. It was one of those moments when official Washington, whose states of receptivity or the opposite are determined by subjective emotional currents as intricately imbedded in the sub-conscious as those of the most complicated of Sigmund Freud's erstwhile patients, was ready to receive a given message....

Six months earlier this message would probably have been received in the Department of State with raised eyebrows and lips pursed in disapproval. Six months later, it would probably have sounded redundant, a sort of preaching to the convinced....

All this only goes to show that more important than the observable nature of external reality, when it comes to the determination of Washington's view of the world, is the subjective state of readiness on the part of Washington officialdom to recognize this or that feature of it.

3. "If, however, social interaction is essentially an interpretive process, then, as we have seen, descriptions of interaction are necessarily interpretive descriptions. But if at this most fundamental level the only way an observer can identify what actions have occurred is through documentary interpretation, then descriptions of interaction are not intersubjectively verifiable in any strong sense--since the interpretations of different individuals will necessarily agree only when they are able to negotiate a common social reality . . . --nor are such descriptions independent of context" (Wilson, 1970, p. 704).

4. Such as the facial expression, gesticulations, or physical distance one is standing apart, and the angle of the body. For an excellent discussion and pictorial presentation of body language, see Scheflen (1972).

5. See Section 2.2 of Chapter 2.

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

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