Source Book For Social Psychology


Kimball Young

Table of Contents | Next | Previous  


This chapter deals with group controls : how they arise out of crises or new, untested situations, how they become organized through the "definition of the situation" into folkways and mores. It treats of the place of ritual and formalism, the place of authority in reference to custom, the relation of law to custom, and finally the nature of our culture ethos.

The first paper, by Thomas, discusses the importance of studying crises in social situations. The formation of habits, more or less common to a group, leads to custom. This is shown to rest upon some standardized method of solving a critical social situation. Such situations are those of birth, puberty, marriage, war, famine, and old age. Then, too, there is the relationship between crises and the rise of division of labor and function. This is evidenced by the special social functions of priest, warrior, medicine-man, trader, and so on. Williams' paper indicates that during crises the individual motives come to awareness. This phase of reaction is, perhaps, relatively recent. Many of the alleged motives turn out, on examination, to be rationalizations for deeper incentives lost to the individual and to the group. The paper by Prince on the Halifax disaster shows the social disorganization arising from a violent social catastrophe. Here, since the crisis is obviously one of unusual severity, it reveals in a more extreme manner social behavior under great strain. Both the profound physiological and psychological alterations are noted. The disintegration of morale and the enhancement of social attitudes is well shown, indicating the factor of individual differences in meeting unusual situations. A more careful study should be made of other disasters : floods, famines, hurricanes, earthquakes. Naturally, the basic problem of relief has overshadowed the more theoretical but scientifically valuable need for investigation of social changes under

( 79) crises. Yet, social workers are becoming ever more aware of the social-psychological effects of these crises upon personality traits and upon the morale of communities.

A crisis leads to some method of delimiting, or defining, or finding the boundaries of the situation. That is to say, in solving any problem one attempts to circumscribe it in such a way that he can react to it successfully. Thomas' paper of the "Definition of the Situation" is a very valuable statement of the place of the group : family, neighborhood, gang, trade union, etc., in defining the situation for the individual. Moreover, the definition is carried largely in verbal form. Throughout this book we shall observe the ever-present place which language plays in social intercourse. In defining th' situation for the individual it is of primary significance.[1]

As one of my students puts it, "speech is an essential to social control."

Sumner's volume The Folkways and Sumner and Keller's The Science of Society are classics in social science. The selections included here may well be supplemented by further reading in these works. The folkways and the mores furnish the basis for the definitions of all types of situations with which the individual comes into contact. Failure to conform to the folkways marks one as eccentric and queer; failure to conform to the mores marks one as anti-social and leads to various sorts of social pressure—ridicule, ostracism, punishment by pain, imprisonment, banishment, even death. The folkways and mores are the backbone of our cultural heritage. Taboo is a term employed to describe the forms of acts prohibited by the mores.

Associated with the folkways—a part of them in fact—one finds social rituals. Ritual, which is more or less unconscious, plays an important rôle in developing and establishing the mores. It is, in short, the most highly standardized form of definition of a situation. It is nicely seen in the ritualism of the Hebrew peoples described by the Tharauds in that interesting book The Shadow of the Cross.

The selection from Dewey and Tufts reveals the place of author-

( 80) -ity behind the customs (mores and folkways) of a group. The luck interest in the formation of custom is also stressed. One may consult Sumner's writings for material on this matter. Luck has played a large part in establishing and rationalizing custom. Events fall out contrary to the best laid plans of individuals. This is attributed to luck. (We say chance.) Or the chance configuration of events leads to an association of these events in the minds of persons (magical thinking). Out of this grows a definition which controls one's attitude and action in regard to some event. Finally, Dewey and Tufts summarize the means of enforcing custom and discuss briefly taboo and ritual.

Cooley in his paper on formalism in society describes a phase of this whole ritualistic tendency. He shows the ill effects of undue formalism in the group and in its effect on the personality. There is some question, however, as to whether Cooley is quite correct in doubting the ill effects of ritualism in present Western society. In the twenty years since Cooley's book was written there has been considerable drift toward the standardization of morals, life interests, and behavior which may bode ill for democratic culture. Machine culture may produce many comforts and increase the general average of wealth, but through its standardization it may "starve" the higher life of the personality quite as much as a thoroughly formalised, ritualistic religion may do.

Two papers, one by Hobhouse and one by Sumner, indicate in brief statements the relationship between custom and law. The latteris more formal, more conciously arrived at. And yet laws not resting upon mores have little efficacy, as we see everywhere about us today.

Particular cultures in time come to take on features which set themoff rather sharply from other cultures. Thus we easily separate Occidental from Oriental culture in terms of certain traditional conceptions of difference: differences in philosophy, in life organization, in modes of thinking as well as in action. Sumner has applied the Greek word "ethos" to this totality of characteristics. His paper and the one following it by Sombart, furnish a key to an understanding of the present ethos of the Western World. What Sombart calls "modern `values' " are the very things which mark our culture and give it its distinctive ethos. Size, quantity, hurry, belief in progress, etc., all these are part and parcel of our ethos. Since we are

(81) participants in it we find it difficult to realize any other form of cultural organization as quite "right" or "natural."

Excerpted Works


  1. I think the use of such a term as crisis to describe the combination of novel stimuli around which interpretative meaning and particular patterns of response are built will not offend the technical reader unless he has been overindulged in a certain pedantic atmosphere sometimes too prevalent in psychology. So, too, it is legitimate to employ the term situation to describe the totality of stimuli leading to behavior changes.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2