HomePersonalDemocratic PeaceDemocide20th C. DemocideMegamurderersLesser MurderersWhy DemocideDimensionsConflictMethodsTheoryPolicyLinks

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
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 22

Social Fields
And Antifields*

By R.J. Rummel

Wretched would be the pair above all names of wretchedness who should be doomed to adjust by reason, every morning, all the minute detail of a domestic day.
---- Samuel Johnson, Rasselas XXIX

For an individual, perception, behavioral dispositions, social distances, and so on form a seamless whole. We divide this whole into analytic parts, such as distance, status, and power, only to aid our comprehension of social behavior. It is understandable, therefore, that some parts will be so interdependent that adequate clarification of one requires the examination of others.

Thus, to consider antifields, groups, and class necessitates describing the process of conflict. But clarifying this process requires in turn an understanding of antifields, groups, and class. A solution to this is to weave them all into a common discussion. But this loses clarity, for then the distinctive aspects of, say, groups or class cannot be elaborated.

My solution will be to consider first antifields, groups, and class, making brief reference where necessary to the elements within the process of conflict. Then in the next Part of this book I will describe this process, after which I will discuss the relationship of antifields and the conflict helix.

Finally, I am still involved in clarifying social distances, but now as the class component of social space and class distance. This requires introducing the concept of antifield and relating this to the central sociological concept of group. I will argue that antifields are groups, that groups are formal structures of law-norms and authoritative roles, and that there are two classes, depending wholly on authoritative role incumbency. Class distance is, then, the over-all command relationship of two people across all groups of which they are members. Clearly, there is much here to unpack.


The sociocultural field is a continuum of forces generated by our mutual fields of expression. These forces are the various social and cultural distances between people, and reflect their interests, capabilities, credibility, values, norms, statuses, class, and so on. If people are free to respond to these forces, their social interaction is a mutual adjustment to these forces and their wills.

Note that the behavioral effects of the field require a mutual freedom to respond to forces. This is the key to the meaning of antifield, which is a region of the sociocultural field in which free adjustment is hampered or prevented.

Some analogies may help initially. If a magnet is moved underneath iron filings spread on paper, they will mutually adjust themselves to the magnetic field of forces. A wire grid on the paper, however, will constrain the movement of the filings within the grid's cells. As far as the filings are concerned, the grid has cut the magnetic field of forces into separated regions, and it is only within those regions that the filings can adjust. The grid is an antifield.

The grid only compartmentalized the field. Consider now a watch placed in a magnetic field. It is a structure whose pieces are interconnected by mechanical means. The screws, hands, face plate, spring, and so on have separate identities, but are linked into a system to perform a specific purpose--to keep time. In a magnetic field, these pieces have no physical freedom to mutually adjust to the forces of the field. The watch is therefore an antifield, but different from the grid: rather than partitioning the magnetic field's effect within that region of space it fills the watch totally neutralizes the field.

Finally, consider a rectangular sheet of copper with one comer over a fire and the diagonally opposite one packed in ice. The sheet is a field whose heat (forces) at any one point is a continuous function of the length and width of the sheet. Now, if a large rectangle is cut out of the sheet and replaced with a block of wood of the same size, the region on the plate containing the wood is an antifield. It does not conduct the heat or cold, as does the sheet, nor is its heat a function of the coordinates of the sheet. Indeed, it disturbs the surrounding field, for parts of the sheet adjacent to the wood do not generate heat as they should given their coordinates. The wood has annihilated the field within its space and counteracted the field in adjacent regions.

To summarize, an antifield partitions, neutralizes, or annihilates a field. It restrains, prevents, or opposes the free adjustment of elements to field forces. What is the counterpart in sociocultural fields? Let me approach an answer by way of some examples.

First, consider army draftees in the first weeks of their basic military training. Each soldier is a psychological field and to others a field of expression. Each has various needs, interests, powers. Each perceives the others from his own perspective, and all stand in various cultural and social distances from each other. Had they all happened on each other as civilians freely pursuing their interests, such as in a ski resort, along a roadway, or at a party, they would have sorted themselves out in terms of solidary and antagonistic behavior and mutually adjusted to each other consistent with the sociocultural field forces and their separate psychological fields. They would have established a spontaneous division of interests.

In army training, however, their interaction is not a mutual adjustment to field forces, but a response to the commands of superior officers. Recruits march in formation by command, and thus orient themselves to each others' moving feet and bodies; they eat and sleep at a time and place dictated by their superior officers. Most of their mutual activities are not a mutual adjustment to their fields of expression, but determined by an outside agency: an antifield. Like parts of a watch in a magnetic field, they are connected together for some purpose and unable to mutually adjust to forces within the common field. I cannot overemphasize that antifields are structures and relationships between individuals that are commanded by third parties. If two individuals form a spontaneous coercive balance among themselves whereby one commands the other, this is not an antifield. If one is placed in command of the other by a third party, who also requires the other to obey, this is an antifield. If two individuals interact by command of the third, this also is an antifield.

Consider this time an automobile assembly line. Those working side by side along an assembly belt are within an antifield. Their mutual interaction is that commanded by their foreman; most of their activities function to achieve a purpose outside of their interests regarding each other. During breaks, lunch time, and perhaps even while working, sociocultural distances, power, and interests have a chance to influence some of their interactions. But in the main, their interaction is controlled by others.

One final example. Two people chatting while waiting in a line at a bank window are freely adjusting to field forces. Their conversation, manner of looking at each other, distance they stand from each other, how they mutually angle their bodies, and so on are a continuing mutual response and adjustment process. Let a bank robber enter with a gun, however, and command that they quietly lie on the floor next to each other, and they can no longer respond to their mutual fields. They are in an antifield, for their mutual interaction (lying parallel on the floor, not speaking, eyes closed) is wholly determined by the robber.

These examples illustrate two common aspects of social antifields versus fields.

First, an antifield restrains, neutralizes, or annihilates the free adjustment of individuals to field forces. This is done through regulating by coercive command their mutual behavior.

Second, an antifield comprises a triadic relationship. In a sociocultural field, two individuals adjust to each other. Another need not be involved, and if there is a third party there is a mutual adjusting and sorting out. In an antifield there is always a third individual: the one who by command regulates the interrelationship of the two. Each of the two may have been involved in an adjustment of forces with the third, but to each other the two largely interact as commanded.

Now let me move to a more analytical discussion, which will require first clarifying what I mean by command.


The norms and expectations growing out of social interaction can become formalized to the point of specifying those involved, their authoritative roles, and their rights and obligations--to the point of forming a group.1 An authoritative role is a formal position carrying with it the power to command certain members. The role, not the individual, carries this power. The individual has the right of command insofar as he can satisfy certain role requirements (election by a majority, appointment by the chairman, support by the military commanders, and so on). Now this authority is legitimated by the group, and is a right. And herein lies a source of possible confusion.

Previously I defined two forms of power: coercive power based on a threat inextricably connecting two negative interests, and authoritative power based on legitimacy. One obeys authoritative power because it is proper to; one obeys coercion to avoid what is threatened. Then what is the power of an authoritative role? There are three levels providing an answer. First, there is the individual level, where the authoritative power of a role incumbent depends upon his personal legitimacy. His position may grant him the authority to command, but those whom he commands may feel that he holds the position illegitimately or that he is assuming powers not granted by his position. Richard Nixon during the height of the Watergate scandal was seen by many to have lost personal legitimacy, and his power to command was thereby weakened in spite of his still being President. Where personal legitimacy, and thus authoritative power, is lost, coercion is the final recourse. And an authoritative role does provide an incumbent with coercive instruments.

Second, there is the legitimacy of the role itself, independent of the incumbent. One may believe that the incumbent ought not to command because of personal failings, but not question the right to command given the role itself. Even though Nixon had lost legitimacy for many, few questioned the legitimacy of the presidency. The legitimacy of an authoritative role within a group is a separate source of power. If the role is felt to be illegitimate, if other authorities feel its creation involves the assumption of extraordinary powers or violates recognized procedures, then even though its incumbent satisfies the role requirements his commands may be considered illegitimate. And again, coercion may be resorted to.

Finally, the third level concerns the legitimacy of the authoritative role within society. A role such as "godfather" may be authoritative for the Mafia, but illegitimate within society. On the other hand, the state may impose an authoritative role on certain groups. A chairman or president of a corporation is a role required for corporate legalization in most American states, the role of union representative is legally defined for industrial groups in many collective bargaining laws, and the Communist party representative is a role required of many groups in Communist societies. Legitimacy then depends on a complex of questions, including one's view of society's right to impose authoritative roles on its subgroups and the justice of creating a particular role. Nevertheless, if the authoritative role carries little legitimacy, its incumbent does have recourse to sanctions and thus to coercion.

Thus the actual power of an authoritative role in a particular situation is an empirical question. Whether the power be based on legitimacy or threat, on authority or coercion depends on the concrete case. We can however indicate tendencies; we can array groups as types depending on whether authority or coercion tends to dominate. We can say, for example, that the authoritative roles of a university tend to rely on authoritative power; and those of a prison on coercion. But regardless of type of group, we must recognize the double powers of all authoritative roles: authoritative and coercive.

Before dealing with types of groups--of formalized structures of expectations--I should discuss the meaning of antifield in relation to authoritative roles.


Behavior directed and channeled by authoritative command comprises an antifield; authoritative roles structure interactions and determine their course insofar as the group is concerned.

All authoritative command structures are antifields, but not all antifields are governed by authoritative command. The example in Section 22.1 of a bank robber shows that nonauthoritative commands can produce antifields. Such are rare, but all of us are members of groups, commanded authoritatively to some degree, and the antifields thus produced define the conflict fronts traversing society. For this reason, I will henceforth focus on antifields resulting from authoritative roles.

In the sociocultural field, antifields segment interaction along lines of authority and coercion. Field processes are still possible in the lacunae between authoritative roles, in the areas untouched by command, but these processes within some groups such as the labor camps of the Soviet Union2 or prisons are isolated into small rectangles of interaction. Antifields may dot the sociocultural field, as in open and free societies or completely partition the whole field into segments, as in totalitarian societies. Between the ideal types of field and antifield lies a continuum of mixed fields and antifields. These can be best seen by classifying groups on this continuum. Before doing this, however, some further clarifications are necessary.

A structuring of interaction by authoritative command is an antifield. Dyadic coercion, as in a holdup, or the dyadic, authoritative demand, as when a policeman orders a speeder to pull over, are not antifields in themselves, although they contribute to them. In isolation, the interactions between robber and victim and policeman and speeder are field processes, since the people are not commanded by a third party. People working side by side mining coal have their actions authoritatively determined and are thus constrained in their interaction; prisoners are constrained by command in their mutual interaction while exercising; students attending a required lecture are constrained in their interaction by the professor's authoritative role. Thus, those in an antifield lose some of their individuality: they are authoritatively required to articulate with each other in particular ways for some purpose. It does not matter whether they share the desirability of this purpose. Nor does it matter for their interaction what their particular differences, interests, and powers are. Such, for example, is the job required interaction of workers on an automobile assembly line

Antifields may encompass a whole society or be limited to regions within a field. In any case, field processes breed their antifields which in turn contain the seeds of their dissolution into fields. A persisting3 antifield is but a particular type of formalized norms and expectations, what I will later call a structure of expectations. It is a group manifesting particular characteristics. Its history lies in a struggle of powers and a balance of mutual interests and expectations, in a process of conflict.

Fields and antifields are antagonistic. They are contradictory opposites whose lines of contact define the major conflict front of society. For a structure of expectations tends to rigidify, the associated group tends to oligarchy: to well defined positions of command by a few. This "iron law of oligarchy"4 freezes out field processes and increasingly emphasizes coercion as apart from authoritative power. The small college turned large public university, the political discussion group turned successful political party, and the small business turned large industry manifest this process, as noted by students of elite power and ruling classes.5 At a more general level, it is the notion that command-power breeds command-power. It is in the nature of such power to aggrandize, to grow until limited by other powers.6 Of course this is a classic view of power, one that underlies the checks and balances system of American government.

Fields tend towards antifields. But antifields tend towards fields, for with the growth in command-power segmenting the field comes a concomitant growth in coercion and an increasing resistance of those so ruled. For values and interests are diverse, multifold, and subjective. Command-structures cannot possibly adjust to this diversity, cannot satisfy such multiple interests and values. Increasingly, those whose needs remain unsatisfied, whose interests are denied, whose values are violated--become unified in opposition to the structure of command; increasingly, a situation of conflict grows between those for and against this status quo, increasingly the structure becomes susceptible to disruption, to total dissolution into field processes--a manifest struggle of power. And this is the class-conflict of which I will have more to say.

Field and antifield thus reflect antagonistic trends, a conflict of opposites, a tendency towards oligarchy pitted against a tendency towards freedom. Again, we have two faces of society represented. In the short run, a command-structure of a group represents equilibrium, a normative consensus; but in the long view, a command-structure is a momentary historical balance of powers becoming incongruent with an underlying reality.

To see the continuity in antifields and later pose the theoretical concept of class and class conflict, a relevant classification of groups will be helpful. This will be done in the next chapter, Chapter 23. 


* Scanned from Chapter 22 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. Compare Sorokin's (1969, Chapter 8) definition of a group as involving a causal-meaningful unity of individuals based on shared meanings, values, and law-norms which define rights and obligations backed by sanctions; and which has an informal or formal organization. Sorokin's causal-functional unity is my structure of expectations, as I will later define it, and the remaining elements formalize the structure which creates a group. For a critical comparison of his definition to other ways of classifying groups, see Sorokin (1969, Chapter 9).

2. See Solzhenitsyn (1973).

3. By persisting I mean the formalized norms and expectations comprising it has a certain durability. Antifields occur whenever people are commanded to mutually act in certain ways, which may be momentary, as when those holding up a store command the employees and customers to remain silent. However, my concern here is only with antifields manifesting a certain duration and stability, which are those associated with the authoritative roles of groups.

4. See Michels (1949).

5. See Mosca (1939), Michels (1949), and Pareto (1963).

6. See de Jouvenal (1962), who makes these points historically. Note that he defines the essence of power as command.

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

Go to top of document