A Study of Social Institutions

Floyd Henry Allport

A study of social institutions.— In his recent work[1] Professor Judd has given us an important and, at the same time, novel presentation of the history of human culture. His treatment of institutions differs from that of the sociologists, who are interested chiefly in the regulated relations of individuals, such as the family and the state, through which social control and order are maintained. Professor Judd's "institutions" also deal with social control but in a more fundamental sense, namely, the control of individuals with regard to the natural objects of the world in which they live. Institutions are the co-operative products of human ingenuity, such as the number system, the alphabet, the time-piece, the calendar, and weights and measures, devices which on the one hand materially alter the primitive or instinctive relation of man to nature and on the other hand change the course of the individual's personal mental Life, bringing him. into conformity with the social pattern.

The first institution discussed deals with the use of tools. The process of tool construction is described by Professor Judd as a distribution of the primitive hunter's attention between the object, or prey, and the means of obtaining it. Later, attention became centered on the tool itself, and a class of artisans developed whose interest was solely the making of tools or weapons. The use of tools has had a further effect on civilization in stimulating search for mechanical principles. There thus occurs a situation which, according to the author, is completely removed from the simple instinctive and emotional responses of individual psychology. We look in vain to the innate tendencies to understand the influence exerted on human nature and society by the use of tools. It is to be noted that the author's general point of view is here predominantly introspective. If behavior instead of the conscious pattern of attention had been considered, it seems he might have defined tool-making as a modification of the efferent portion of the innate hunger, or food-getting, reaction. Such an account would have involved the prepotent (innately grounded) responses of the individual more fundamentally than Professor Judd has been willing to admit. The later specialization of the tool-maker's vocation and industry would then be regarded as a means of satisfying instinctive wants through socially recognized and accepted division of labor.


A lucid account is given of the development of systems of exchange. "The coin," Professor Judd significantly says, "was built up by human co-operation and depends .... on mutual confidences" (p. 48). Coinage, in particular the use of paper money, involves also the social acceptance of such ideas as govern-mental authority and responsibility. The historical treatment of the use of natural objects, metals, and various commodities as mediums of exchange, be-ginning with simple barter and ending with the acceptance of such highly abstract, substituted mediums as the dollar bill and instruments of credit is full of interest for the psychologist and the teacher.

Professor Judd defines the attitude of the individual toward all the institutions as one of expectancy. Enumerating commodities, weighing or measuring them, telling the time of day, and the like are activities in which the individual expects that others will act in a. definite and commonly accepted way toward the objects in question. The conscious counterpart of expectancy, according to the author, is habit; yet habit does not tell the whole story. For example, the master expects the servant to address him in a certain (that is, habitual) way, but this habit is not in the master. He has only the expectancy, which must be fulfilled by the regulated behavior of the inferior. It seems to the reviewer, however, that, after all, we are dealing merely with habit or, rather, with two different sets of habits-one in the attitude of the master and the other in the attitude of the servant. There is no need for placing "expectancy" in a category of social existence detached from individual human beings.

The psychology of number is a field for the similar development of the importance of the social institutions. Primitive number systems began with the use of the fingers and for a long time did not advance beyond a very few numerals. The use of zero, a highly abstract concept denoting merely position, developed late and met with much opposition. Through the use of numbers modern minds are capable of types of abstract thinking impossible to primitive man, who is interested only in the separate details of nature. Again, the number system has developed so that modern man is dominated by it. The child is born into an environment in which the use of such a system is an established fact. He understands nothing about its derivation but accepts it in the same objective way in which he accepts the institution of money or natural objects, such as rocks and trees. The use of a number system made possible the development of methods of precision in measuring linear quantities and weights. There is here also a dependence on simple natural objects, such as grains of wheat and parts of the body. It was only at a much later time, largely through the need of scientific accuracy, that individuals were set aside to establish precise standards for the measurement of quantities. Throughout history, rulers and government officials have had difficulty in compelling uniformity among different peoples and localities in the use of these measures. Another institution depending on a numerical system. is that of punctuality. Methods of reckoning and indicating time, beginning with the use of simple natural phenomena, are traced in their development down to the advent of the modern timepiece. The chapters on the

(549) alphabet and language contain interesting though fairly familiar material. In both these forms the course of evolution has been from the concrete gestural or graphic representation of objects to the highly abstract elements denoting the mere conventionalization of sounds (in the alphabet) or the mere relation of objects (in language). There is a good discussion of the gradual change in the meaning of words. Other institutions treated are music, graphic art, and, in a somewhat sketchy fashion, religion, government, and science.

This unique collocation and historical treatment of the separate elements of the basic culture pattern provides a perspective from which certain important generalizations can be seen. There are two main propositions which Professor Judd derives from the treatment of his data. The first deals with the psycho-logical (mental) nature of institutions. Institutions, such as money, for example, have been regarded by some as having a content only in economics or in other social sciences and not in the science of human nature. Issue is therefore taken with the economist, who treats of the development of money purely in terms of finding materials most suitable for use from the standpoint of durability, scarcity, and divisibility. These external materials, says Professor Judd, are only symbols. The essential nature of money is to be found in the habitual attitudes of confidence or acceptance which make possible the use of these materials as mediums of exchange. Similarly, the growth in the circulation of periodicals and newspapers in recent years is to be explained by the wider development of habits of reading throughout society, that is, by psychological factors, not, as some culture determinists would state, by the improvement of the printing press and facilities of transportation.

The second generalization of the author is that these great developments of culture become so thoroughly adaptive in their nature and so universally accepted that they, rather than the instinctive or biological factors of the race, become both the determinants of social development and the means of molding the point of view of the individual and of equipping him with the very tools of thinking. "Individual psychology," according to Professor Judd, "since it ignores these institutions, is inadequate in explaining society or even the individual himself."

It will be evident that the stressing of both these points of view at the same time may lead to inconsistency if care is not taken. Ta stress the psychological nature of institutions is to emphasize the importance of the individual, since psychology cannot be intelligently discussed without thinking of it as the consciousness or behavior of some individual. The institutions thus have their reality from a standpoint of scientific explanation in the large number of separate individuals. On the other hand, the strong emphasis on the study of institutions in themselves, as dealing with an important and neglected field of study, can easily pass over into an insistence that we accept them as separately existing phenomena, which, as if from the outside, mold the individuals of the group into conformity. On the one hand, therefore, the individual is emphasized as the causal factor; on the other hand, the institution.

That Professor Judd has fallen into this dilemma seems forcibly evident at

(550) various points throughout the book. An example of this occurs in an otherwise valuable chapter dealing with the maladjustments between the advanced cultural institutions on the one hand and the primitive and unchanging instinctive and emotional reactions of the individual on the other. The solution of the problem would seem to lie not in the artificial separation of these two elements but in trying to bring them into some relation; in other words, in conditioning the prepotent or instinctive drives of the individual in such a way that they could have satisfaction within the present complex social situation. In doing this, it is clear that we must work with both the demands of modern institutional behavior and the innately grounded responses of the individual. The institution as such becomes a kind of environment to which the individual must be adjusted through mechanisms peculiar to his biological nature. It is not a substitute for these mechanisms. The reviewer feels that part of this dilemma might have been avoided had the author given more attention to the face-to-face behavior of individuals in the primitive situations in which the cultural institutions were developed, in situations such as the earliest instances of communication, barter, or exchange. He has dealt effectively with similarities of behavior, as shown, for example, in situations in which all individuals respond in the same way to a natural object, but he has left untouched the field of face-to-face social behavior from which these uniformities must have developed. To have taken into account this direct give-and-take of primitive individuals would undoubtedly have revealed the intimate relation of the development of the institutions and of social control to the satisfaction of the instinctive needs of individuals both in primitive society and at the present time.

The relation of the development of institutions to educational practice, which forms the closing chapter of the work, is full of interesting possibilities which the reviewer wishes might have been developed further. "No consideration," says the author, "of individual traits, however comprehensive, can explain what goes on during the educational process. That process is one of transforming individuals so that they will conform to social institutions" (p. 340). He advocates the teaching of the common branches, which is in reality the fitting of the individual into the institutions of society, not as mere tables of numbers or letters but as carriers of the complex social situation of which they are the expression. This would seem to imply the desirability of taking the elementary pupils through a course, simplified to be sure, similar to that presented in Professor Judd's book. This is an excellent suggestion and well worth experiment as to how it could be done. The reviewer, however, wonders whether this procedure would not accomplish a result opposite to that described by Professor Judd as the process of education. When the child learns that the "dollar" and the "yard" are not primordial facts of the universe but simply conventions or ways in which individuals react to a certain standard of coinage or linear measure made out of some imperishable material by experts and maintained by methods of precision, he will not be easily inclined to the acceptance of these institutions as sacred things. It is true that he will tend to conform in their usage because he

(551) will not be able to satisfy his wants through social living if he does not conform. He will also be on the alert to challenge these conventions and suggest changes whenever such changes seem to be to his advantage or to the advantage of others. This statement would probably not apply to such relatively permanent and useful inventions as our numerical, linguistic, and time systems. It would apply to the more complex type of institutions, somewhat neglected by Professor Judd —for example, religion, the family organization, industry, and the state. A realistic attitude toward these institutions would have the effect of minimizing their potency for social control, of breaking them up, and of establishing new adjustments productive of greater individual freedom. Most of us would probably agree that this would be a desirable result. The teaching of the common branches, therefore, as products of co-operative behavior rather than eternal laws not only would arouse interest in children but would develop a critical insight which might lead in the end, though in different fields, not to the process of inducing conformity but toward individuality, which is the goal opposite that which Professor Judd describes as the essential social process.[2]



  1. Charles Hubbard Judd, The Psychology of Social Institutions. New York: Macmillan CO., 1926. Pp. X+346. $2.00.
  2. A more analytical discussion of Professor Judd’s book by the same reviewer from the standpoint of those interested in social theory is to be published in the Journal of Social Forces.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2