Culture Conflict and Delinquency. II. Culture Conflict versus the Individual as Factors in Delinquency

Floyd Henry Allport
Syracuse University

THE concept of culture, as I understand it, treats human behavior in such a manner as to bring into relief those activities in which many individuals behave in the same, or in a closely similar, fashion. As a point of view discovered by ethnologists and sociologists, it has distinct value for large scale observations of human phenomena. It leaves out of account, however, an equally important aspect, namely, the phases of behavior in which each individual reacts in a manner which is characteristic of himself and different from the behavior of his fellows. This latter aspect, which is personality as the psychologist sees it, is likely to be overlooked by sociologists. Its importance was slighted by Dr. Wirth, even though he gave it verbal recognition. The sociological definition of personality as the social status of an individual really places an individual's personality in those round about him, and makes it a matter of their common behavior toward him. The psychologist's view, on the other hand, places personality upon foundations of biological differences and habit systems within the individual himself. It stresses elements of behavior which are unique and different from the behavior of others. This view point is significant for an understanding not only of personalities but of culture itself.

From the standpoint of prediction and control this difference of approach can be clearly seen. The culturist can predict the behavior of an individual in matters in which his behavior will be similar to that of others, or will follow the general pattern of the group; but he will fail in trying to predict that part of the behavior of an individual which differs from this group pattern or which concerns itself with spheres of activity for which no group pattern has been established. The student of the individual, on the other hand, will miss an important clue from the cultural pattern in making his prediction; but he will be at a decided advantage in predicting that which is characteristic of the individual as distinguished from his fellows. To say that there are no such individually differing and characteristic elements of behavior, or at least none worth bothering about, is a position which, I suppose, scarcely any sociologist would take. We make such observations and predictions daily about individuals whom we know. Yet Dr. Wirth seems to come dangerously close to this error when he says that "a personality without a cultural milieu is unthinkable;" and again when he implies that the psychologist's problem with reference to personality lies in the discovery of biological or psychological types. Furthermore, it must not be supposed that Dr. Wirth does justice to the rôle of individual personality when he pleads for a report of the subjective experience through which the objective culture manifestation is interpreted; far the subjective elements are also likely to be segments of behavior which, though implicit rather than explicit, are common to the cultural group and not peculiar to the individual. The issue here is more subtle

(494) than the old distinction between studying the individual and studying the group; for both individual personality and culture are the individual, that is, they represent the same human beings seen from different viewpoints. What I am arguing for, is the study of those phases of an individual's life, both subjective and objective, which are characteristic of him as distinct from others, as well as the study of those phases, subjective and objective, which mark him as similar to others, and which comprise, therefore, the cultural pattern of his group. Certainly no one can say that Dr, Wirth has meant to rule out either phase of the study. He has clearly stated that he considers the cultural approach only a partial solution. But unless we can hold the two aspects always in their proper relation we are likely, in presenting either side, to overlook its methodological limitations.

Although the notion of culture itself is valuable for certain purposes, I am inclined to think that the idea of cultural conflict is more confusing than enlightening. Dr. Wirth himself admits that cultural conflict can not be demonstrated objectively, but must be inferred. It is a factor in delinquency only if the individual acts as if it were so. A part of Dr. Wirth's therapy seems to consist in bringing this conflict into the subject's consciousness. Now it seems to me that instead of setting up some unseen agent behind the individual as causing his symptoms, it would be simpler to attack these symptoms directly. For, after all, it is only the symptoms which we are concerned about. If the Italian boy can learn to behave in school in an acceptable manner, and in a way which does no violence to his habits at home, we need have no concern aver the incompatibility of these intangible things which we call "cultures." What is the use of bringing the conflict of cultures to his notice? He probably knows already that the reason why he cannot get along is because he cannot behave elsewhere in the same way that he behaves in his home. The problem is a concrete one. Its solution is not the rationalizing of two abstract cultures so that they do not clash; but the specific job of helping the individual to adapt himself to a complex environment. Instead of putting our emphasis upon the conflict of cultures, let us therefore put it upon the conflict of specific habits in an individual, that is, upon his antagonistic reactions to a single stimulus in two different settings. Dr. Wirth may reply that this is just what he is saying. Granted; but it is a different manner of saying it. The emphasis now is laid upon the individual; the conflict is seen within a single individual and not between the common segments or cultural habits of groups, abstracted from individuals and considered as operating in a vacuum.

Referring again to our criterion of prediction and control, I can see a possibility for making headway if we deal with individuals, whom we can concretely stimulate and handle, rather than with cultural settings, which can only be indirectly or metaphorically handled and can never be integrated one with another except as habits of individuals. If cultural conflict exists only in so far as the individual behaves as though it exists, then a good way to abolish it would be to get the individual to behave as though it did not exist. Dr, Wirth would do this by getting him to envisage the ideals or culture of a larger and a more inclusive group. I would proceed in the opposite manner by getting him to react for the time as though he were not a member of, that is not constrained by, any group at all. The problem exists largely through his consciousness of membership in contrasting groups. Why not abolish the consciousness of membership, for the time, in any group? It

(495) goes without saying, of course, that we should have to include in our program the reduction of the consciousness of group differences in the persons composing the individual's immediate environment. In this way the individual could be led to discover himself and find his integration as a true biological and psychological organism, and not as a meeting ground of cultures. If this were done, the stigma of inferiority adhering to a certain race or caste would at once disappear; for the individuals concerned would be led to deny that these symbols represented any group realities to which, as such, and apart from individual differences, any fixed characteristics could be attached. The stereotype of the Negro race, in which all persons having black skins are believed to have certain accompanying inferiorities, would fade away. All that would remain would be individuals similar in skin color, but differing almost infinitely in a host of other aspects. To be a "Negro" would be a reproach neither to the Negro himself nor in the mind of the white man. Thus one of the principal evils inherent in cultural conflict, as Dr. Wirth sees it, would have vanished.

The conflict between racial or caste cultures is, after all, not a conflict between cultures, but between individuals ear-marked as belonging to two different groups. The use of a stereotype or conditioning symbolic stimulus by members of one group to designate members of another is a means of increasing the feeling of superiority of the former and of exploiting the latter. By treating the situation as inter-individual, and not as intercultural, conflict we can deal with it more realistically; for individual attitudes in the use of racial stereotypes can be altered. It does make a difference, therefore, how we state our problem.

Sociologists will probably reply that for the individual to detach himself from allegiance to any cultural group would be impossible; or if this could be done it would lead to that very irresponsibility and delinquency we are seeking to avoid. I do not agree. It is not the culture or the feeling of group affiliation of an individual which restrains him, in the last analysis, from antisocial behavior, but the fear of punishment or ostracism. And the dread of ostracism which constrains him is not the fear of separation from some group as such, but the fear of the contempt or ill will of the individuals who are, or may become, his immediate associates. The likes and dislikes between individuals are the compelling factors. Differences of cultural habits are contributory, but they are probably not fundamental. Sometimes they are only rationalizations of dislike incurred upon other grounds. As for punishment as a. restraining factor, the individual does not fear it, as a. rule, unless he trespasses upon the welfare of those about him. Should he so trespass he will be punished no matter whether his manners and speech reflect a similarity or a difference of culture from his fellows. It is true that he might be punished more severely if he is ear-marked as belonging to an alien culture; but this is largely because in the popular ignorance of the nation from which the offender has come, its cultural stereotype becomes a stimulus conditioning wider fear reactions. The offender is punished twice: once for his crime and once for the supposed evil motives of his race and as a means of deterring other members of that race from committing similar crimes. To call this cultural conflict seems to me a superficial description. It is really conflict between individuals who do not know one another very well. If a wild animal interferes with the interests or safety of another wild animal he stands a good chance of being

(496) severely treated. And this likelihood, in the absence of any culture at all, at least of any worthy of the name, is usually a sufficient deterrent. It is a mistake to confuse socialization with culture. Socialization is the mere fact of the learning of habits by which people can live together; culture, as defined for us by ethnologists, denotes the particular habits of living together which are learned in one group as contrasted with those in another.

Among the cultural conflict situations listed by Dr. Wirth as likely to eventuate in delinquency the following is prominent, namely, "Where the culture of a group to which the individual belongs sanctions conduct which violates the mores or the laws of another group to whose code he is also subject." Now is this situation really a potent factor in delinquency? Stealing, property damage, and sexual misconduct together can probably be said to cover the largest fields of delinquency. To what extent are acts of this sort due to differences of' moral codes of different peoples? Now, however greatly racial cultures associated within an area may differ as to modes of socialization, we can hardly deny that stealing is frowned upon in almost any culture, as are also sexual promiscuity and marital infidelity. European and Asiatic people, from whom our immigrants have come, have their codes protecting individual life and property just as we have, though the details of the protective restrictions may differ. Perhaps the individual may join a criminal gang outside his own home or settlement; but even here the members of the gang do not usually steal from one another. The conflict producing the delinquency, therefore, lies not between opposing cultures, but between individuals arranged as opposing factions.

I suspect that most of Dr. Wirth's examples of cultural conflict situations can be translated with an increase of clarity into conflicts either within or between individuals. It is agreed, of course, that the friction between the habits of the home and the outside community may produce tensions causing individuals to break away from the home and seek associations elsewhere. And I agree with Dr. Wirth that a knowledge of both the cultural background and present cultural milieu is necessary for an intelligent understanding of the problem. But this breaking away from the old pattern, and failure to take on the new, does not necessarily make criminals of the individuals concerned. We must see what kind of individuals they associate with when they leave the home setting. We must observe what opportunities are offered to secure a living by predatory means while at the same time escaping punishment. Dr. Wirth himself would admit that, among the more fortunate in economic and educational opportunities, those who break from the home culture often make a success rather than a failure of their lives from the standpoint of social adjustment. I will admit that the dislocation of an individual between two cultures, into neither of which he can wholly fit, may frequently thrust him out so that he readily joins other outcasts who do not conform to the mores, that is, the criminal class. But the conflict of cultures is not the sole, or perhaps even the main factor here. We have to reckon first with anti-social tendencies in the individual himself, and secondly with the racial or national prejudice against him in members of the community, a prejudice based perhaps not so much upon contrast of culture as upon nationalistic, concerted opposition against aliens who are economic competitors. In this case, again, our conflict resolves itself to one between individuals.

It has been pointed out that individuals

(497) who live in regions where two cultures overlap, and who themselves are, as it were, the meeting ground of those two cultures, may often experience no inner conflict or tension at all. I suspect that, if it were only a matter of ironing out the differences between ways of doing a thing, the adjustment could speedily be made, and the individual could soon make himself feel integrated and at home in his new environment. The mixture of cultures would become for him an orderly and unified way of living. I suspect also that underneath the surface of these seeming cultural frictions, which are after all only metaphorical inferences, lie the more significant factors, namely, the conflicts between individuals. In such conflicts the opponents merely seize upon conspicuous cultural difference as tools or as rationalizations for achieving, in one way or another, an exploitation of the opposing faction. To make the individual more fully conscious of the cultural conflict in the hope of solving it would therefore only sharpen the implements by which the real struggle is carried on, and would divert suspicion from the more basic attitudes which motivate the encounter. Here again, the conflict of cultures" becomes a cloud of terminology which befogs the issue.


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