Review of Social Groups
Floyd Henry Allport
Two possible ways of discussing social groups suggest themselves, according to whether one takes the psychological or sociological view. In the former we may consider the group merely as so many individuals, and discuss it wholly in terms of their modes of thinking, feeling, and acting. On the other hand one may think of a group as a reality in itself, composed, to be sure, of individuals, but au entity in which the individual aspect is wholly secondary. In this view the laws which are sought are those not of the group-behavior of individuals, but of the group itself. The latter position is the one which characterizes Professor Brown's recent treatise. To him the elements comprising the group are not individuals, but certain relationships or conditions of individuals. Every group, for example, must have some physical base upon which its members operate (place basis). There must also be a certain homogeneity of interests, sentiments, and habits of life among its members (homogeneity). A structure also is necessary to define the interrelationships of the members and leaders, and to hold the group together and keep it functioning over a period of time. And finally there must be a dynamic, or purpose, consisting of a common objective or goal of the concerted group activity.
To the reviewer Professor Brown's book has been stimulating for the challenge it offers to one who thinks more naturally concerning groups in the psychological than the sociological vein. Such a one is tempted to reinterpret the concepts of the author in terms referring to individuals rather than to groups. The physical basis thus becomes the place or the tools used by individuals in the performance of certain acts which others about them are also performing. Homogeneity is the fact. that one individual resembles others in certain respects. Structure indicates the institutionalized attitudes or habits possessed by the individuals concerned, through which each member or official treats all the others in specific ways, and hence each can count on being treated in a, specific manner by the others. Dynamic, finally, is not a purpose of the group, but reduces to the similar purposes of individuals. The author himself, in fact, reverts to a dependence upon the individual for his dynamic element of the group (pp. 106-7).
Professor Brown differentiates between primary structure, adopted for carrying out the original purpose of the group, and secondary structure devised for maintaining the group in existence. The rôle and vested interest of the office seeker in the latter phase is indicated. Structure, says the author, keeps the channels of contact open, thus fostering the homogeneity which is so essential to the existence of the group. The tendency in groups is toward an increasing elaboration of structure; and with the increase of size, toward a loss of the original homogeneity and dynamic. The group purpose seems to become increasingly specialized and complex,
(100) as, for example, in the multiplying departments of a, government or a business firm.
The reviewer would question this extension of purpose or dynamic to the group as an entity. If we treat purpose as a human attribute, can we not find in the bank president, the director, the officer, the bookkeeper and the teller, and the like, all the purposes of an organization known as a bank? May we not at least find sufficient motivation there to explain all the visible and tangible events of the business? Regardless of the increasing number and specialization of departments, a teller keeps his own original fundamental purposes (i.e., getting a living, marrying, raising a family, etc.). These purposes are fairly constant; and they are his purposes and not the hank's, though without them his daily work, which makes up the activities of the "bank", would be unintelligible. And so with the other functionaries. The director or president may, of course, have a purpose of developing and extending the scope of the activities of the employees, a. fact, which Professor Brown has attributed to some mysterious purpose of the "business" itself. The development of structure, in the opinion of the reviewer, should be regarded as the invention of more elaborate and effective methods fulfilling certain constant purposes of individual human beings, and not; as an elaboration of the purpose of a group entity. Dynamic lies not. in the "structure" of the group, but in the individuals who compose it.
The two final chapters raise further interesting problems. The author shows how "group ethics" expand, with the enlargement and merging of smaller groups, into a standard of the larger groups. "Business houses have come to condemn cutthroat competition . . . not so much because it, is unethical as because in the long run it hurts business" (p. 159). The super group (business) is thus thought of as coining to dominate and alter the practice of the smaller groups (business firms). This treatment of groups as entities, however, seems to mask the more important fact, namely, that individuals find it more profitable, with the; increasing complexity of social organization, to form wider affiliations (larger competing groups) and consequently their financial success depends upon the adoption of ethical standards which will produce a wider homogeneity and allow the members of the larger group (business as a whole) to function more powerfully in the social scheme. Ethics like dynamics is a matter of individual, rather than group, motivation.
A similar interpretation may be made from the individualistic viewpoint regarding the interrelations and conflicts between groups. Since many individuals belong to two or more groups, "group-conflict" is often a struggle not between two group entities, but between two motives or two allegiances within the swine individual. This fact is implied but not clearly recognized in Professor Brown's statement that groups seldom opposed each other in toto, but only in certain points of issue. To understand such a situation we must really discard the notion of group entities, and think in terms of alignments of interests in individuals.
This criticism becomes highly significant in the field of international
(101) relationships. With respect to the formation of a super-national, or world. group the author believes that our first efforts should be directed toward fostering homogeneity and contact in smaller matters, Leaving the structural aspect to develop in its own time. This is no doubt sound advice, at least upon the negative side; but will it be likely to lead to an international organization capable of abolishing war? Let us form the group first, says Professor Brown, then this group can undertake whatever decisive action seems desirable. The view toward which the reviewer inclines reverses the formula. Let us abolish war and national alignments first, and then the world group can be formed. It is the very possibility of using war as a method of gaining advantage for individuals that produces national groups. Hence the formation of a "world group", since it would mean that every individual, everywhere in the world, must have the same political prerogatives as every other, would not be a joining of national groups into a super-nation, but a destruction of national alignments altogether. In true internationalism, the group standard would be meaningless, for everyone would belong to the same group, which, being as universal as the air we breathe, would he as little noticed. Internationalism would therefore not mean the formation of a super-group, but would be a reduction to the interests of ,specific human beings the world over. The group would disappear and individuals would emerge. The disservice of Professor Brown 's international formula is that it obscures, under the slogan of the group, the powerful alignments of interests of individuals before which groups are born and disappear according to the whim of the leader and the opportunism of the situation.
The most general and serious fault of the book is that of looseness of terminology. The term group, itself, is not defined-the author considering the notion too familiar to require definition. To the reviewer this omission seems fatal ; for it has led to wide and ambiguous shifts of meaning in discussing social phenomena. Professor Brown, for example, includes under the term group such widely differing aggregations as "the family, city, school, army, gang, Crowd, nation, club, Church, corporation, laboring class, different races, sexes, parties. and as many more as convenience may dictate" (p. 3). These various situations are in many ways distinct; and "laws" or "elements" which are true of one may not be true of another. Such laxness in phraseology scarcely supports the author's purpose to provide through the synthesis of the group, a "working conception of social life" (p. 6).
As a coherent and interesting exercise in thinking upon the purely societal level the book deserves more credit than would be apparent from the preceding account. Though its statements are made in a positive
fashion, Professor Brown's manner is free from dogmatism. The work is a fair example of what may be expected when group concepts are developed within their own sphere and divorced from the more elementary viewpoints of psychology and biology. The aim of the present writer has been merely to stress those defects of method the avoidance of which may aid productive research within the social sciences.
FLOYD H. ALLPORT