Recent Treatments of Social Grouping

Ernest L. Talbert
The University of Chicago

The factors which enter into the formation of groups are so diverse that the objective material must be sought for in many social sciences. A consideration of the various sorts of groups leads to such criteria as race, occupation, intellectual interest and national feeling, thus taking us far from a purely psychological account of the processes involved in the rise and maintenance of groups.

On the strictly theoretical phases, little that is fundamental has appeared recently. Some of the articles noted are semi-popular in mode of attack; they are included to indicate a drift of opinion valuable as content for the social psychologist, and to accentuate the necessity of further elaboration by means of hypotheses able to cover the complexity of the data.

From the usual crop of articles having to do with general classification of occupational strata and the moral to be drawn, the first selected is an attempt to distinguish the levels of contemporary English class structure (F. G. D'Aeth, 'Present Tendencies of Class Differentiation.' Sociol. Rev., 1910, 3, 267-276). The lower division is composed of the 'loafer,' the unskilled laborer, the artisan, and the small shopkeeper and clerk. The second division, constituting a minority of the population, consists of the smaller business man, the administrator and professional group, and 'the rich.' The old demarcation, laborers, shopkeepers, and gentry (including the professions), has broken down; the ancient family basis of cleavage is succeeded by that of 'economic ability' and standard of life; the working class group has increased immensely, while the gentry has diminished. There is now a greater migration from group to group, due to widespread education, democratic feeling, and city environment. The writer makes an inconclusive characterization of the classes regarding income and mentality. He sees in the artisans "a solid, independent, and valuable class in society, possessing a very fair general intelligence; shrewd at times; a simple mind, not following

( 418) a connected argument; laborious procedure at business meetings" (pp.270-271).

A severe indictment of 'the middle class' is written by R. G. Davis ('The Middle Classes and Social Progress.' Westminster Review, 174, 379–382), Dilettante and motived by money, having neither the courtesies of the aristocracy nor the homely virtues of the laborer, this group lives an unreal, unproductive existence. In the working people are higher concepts of art, and their class feeling comes from the "relative failure of modern civilization which has not seriously touched the masses of the people" (p. 381).

The criticism is undiscriminating, and there is no convincing criterion of differentiation. Nevertheless, there is an enormous volume of sentiment abroad in the world which Mr. Davis voices. In France the dissatisfaction is evident in the attitude of Le Bon, although he is the defender of the bureaucracy. In the organ of the Le Play school, La Réforme Sociale, appears an article on 'La Formation sociale de la Jeuneusse des Classes aisées' (Paul de Rousiers, 1911)62, 369–384). The premise is that the élite is the middle class, that it is losing its grip, that it should decide to work and be capable of working. How to elicit 'a moral élite' the author endeavors to explain. The youth must be trained to bear responsibility early, must gain technical knowledge as well as moral and religious dispositions, and in loyalty to his group and to the state must emulate the solidarity of the labor union.

There is an increasing amount of attention given to the causes and implications of the 'class-consciousness' developed among occupational groups. The student of social psychology finds the labor movement of Germany illustrative because of its traditions; strong organization, press, and leaders. Group control, feeling, and leadership are sympathetically and critically discussed in Das moderne Proletariat (Eine sozialpsychologische Studie, by Dr. R. Broda and Dr. J. Deutch. Berlin: G. Reimer, 1910. Pp. v+z26). In the preface the authors say that the book is the result of long association with those who feel most keenly the stress of the wage system: The treatment divides into three parts: (1) history and present organization of the labor movement; (2) description of the attitude of 'the proletariat' to religion, ethics, 'rationalism,' the family, nationalism, and 'Massengeist'; (3) personal confessions of working people,the authors endeavoring to use a kind of questionnaire method in order to get at the 'mind' of this group.

The discussion of class-consciousness follows well-known lines.

( 419) The writers recite the tale of monotony and weariness born of the machine industry. Medieval personality in product has vanished; the factory worker loses control of his time, his wages, and the conditions of labor. Alone he is a shrunken self; united with his class he is buoyant and strong. Not for himself but for a future coöperative society is he perfecting a group organization. He becomes more imaginative, intelligent, and hopeful because of this consciousness of unity, since he believes that his class is fundamental, destined to contribute a constructive point of view to all society. The discipline of poverty and the machine is the driving force, and the delineation of the effect of machinery upon the attitudes of the workers is similar to that given in Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class.

This book, along with periodical literature, registers several changes in the concept of class-consciousness. There is realization that no healthful unity is possible by mere unanimity on all subjects. Varying temperaments are welcomed (p. 128). Rivalry and flexible organization are assured by the policy of having the three divisions of the mass movement, trades unions, social democratic party, and coöperatives, develop individual methods without interference and at the same time, in matters affecting the common welfare, to act as a body. A nice question is presented by the conflicting claims of nationalism and internationalism. Writers have speculated on the relative power of patriotism and devotion to the international occupational tie. Each has its associations, its symbols, and emotional appeal. The answer in this volume is a reconciliation. "Die Nation als Kulturgemeinschaft ist dem Proletarier nicht minder teuer, als dem Angehörigen einer anderen Klasse" (p. 137). But no modern nation is safe unless the international class-consciousness of its people is strengthened in order to neutralize the destructive tendencies in present society (pp. 135–138). Formerly, stress was put upon stimulating a mass spirit without appreciating the need of accurate knowledge of changing conditions and the counter reaction of opposing groups. Now it is seen that the consciousness of one group is in terms of the shifting attitudes of another. A significant feature of the book is the narrators of the evolution of 'ein naiver Massenglaube' to one deepened and guided by education and better organization (p. 113). The development of class and sentiment has a bearing on the earlier doctrine of an ultimate classless society and suggests the more tenable principle that when a particular basis of class differentiation is found to be harmful it is the business of the bigger collective unit to replace a functionless grouping and preserve

( 420) conflict on a higher plane. In all the directions of change noticed the wholesomeness of group and sub-group alternate friction and harmony is demonstrated, and Professor Cooley's contention sustained, that a group-consciousness is an organization, not a consensus and motionless uniformity.

That class consciousness in the modern labor movement marks a distinct moral gain in the thesis of Vida Scudder (Atlantic Monthly, 1911, 107, 320-330). The broadening of sympathy and perspective is immensely superior to jingoism and clan exclusiveness. The working class tighten the lines to reach a humanitarian goal. Ac-cording to Hans Müller, the atheistic bent of socialism is giving way to an admission that a bare dualism of class and mass cannot supply the sympathetic attitude which must underlie constructive movements. The leaders direct most attention to reform of economic structure ('Das religiöse Moment in der sozialistischen Bewegung.' Sozialistische Monatshefte, 1910, 3, 1665-1669). It has long been held by the exponents of economic determinism that the technique of production and exchange controls the religious, legal, and every other phase of organization. Ethnological researches do not al-together sustain the view. A denial that there is an exact correspondence between economic structure and political system is advanced by L. Michels. He argues that the evolution of particular groups is guided by factors at variance with the demands of economic prosperity ('Wirtschafts- and socialphilosophische Randbemerkungen.' Arch. f. rechts. u. wirtsch. Philos., 1911, 4, 437-448)

Referring to the causes of group conflict within a state Max Huber points out that whenever the state loses touch with the demands of citizens, independent, hostile groups arise which may consolidate into an internationalism quite apart from national restrictions.

The tendency to attribute legislation to personal and class aggrandizement is due to the critical bias of democratic nations. People place a higher value upon the community than upon law, and when the state seeks to repress a force which denies its autonomy, the' groups concerned develop an 'international collective interest'('Die soziologistischen Grundlagen des Völkerrechts.' Arch. f. rechts. u. wirtsch. Philos., 4, 21-35). In the same vein John L. Gillin explains the conditions determining the rise of sects. He finds that fundamentally "sects are the result of forces stimulated to activity by a heterogeneity of the population of any social group. The lack of unity in the group results in the development of class-

( 421) consciousness" ('A Contribution to the Sociology of Sects.' Amer. J.of Sociology, 1910, 16, 236-252).[1]

A résumé of the present status of the problem of caste is given by D. Warnotte (Bulletin Mensual, Instituts Solvay, May, 1911, 238, 1-11). The caste system of India exhibits the principles of group decadence. For many years the Brahmans, by means of protective and isolative taboos, have kept apart. The segregation of groups in India has prevented the advance of national patriotism. It is well known that the English have drawn a number of their native officials from the Brahman class. Now the European education of the young Hindoo is leading to his denial of the sacredness of caste distinction, and he is using the ancestral devotion to a small group as a means of reaching a national consciousness. He recognizes that it is impracticable at present to include all classes in the exercise of political power, and he knows from European history that the élite spreads slowly among all classes. The objective point seems to be the glorifying of the 'ancient prestige' of India as contrasted with its 'present subjection,' and to utilize the high caste sentiment in order to oppose Hindoos to all 'strangers.'

The place of leaders in the control of groups is of much importance. Two representative tendencies of opinion are evident. As regards the function of leadership in the modern labor group, there is a rounded statement by Ludwig Quessel (' Führer and Masse.' Sozialistische Monatshefte, 1910, 3, 1407-1412). The earlier view was that a leader should be a passive instrument yielding to the popular sentiment, that 'the people' were unqualifiedly superior political agents, that membership in an organization carries with it the capacity to pass judgment on all matters relating to the purposes of the whole, and that which concerns all should be decided by all. Trade unionists and social democrats in Germany tend to deny these assumptions.They hold that the feeling of solidarity must proceed from the corporate body, but in questions calling for knowledge of detail, tact, and judgment, nothing can take the place of the specialist. Primitive face-to-face oversight is no longer possible. The writer comments favorably on the English plan of restricting the use of the initiative

( 422) and the referendum, and of making the representative in parliament responsible for forwarding general policies, at the same time allowing scope to special ability.

Aside from recognition of the value of the leader's training, two advances are noteworthy. First, there is a denial that collective sentiment has automatic and predetermined channels for its over-flow. Second, the leader's position becomes better defined. He is subjected to criticism from individuals in his group, a strong press, and hostile parties, and he is immune from freakish whims of popular feeling. Thus he is given leeway to act with initiative within a group whose traditions and purposes are fairly well defined.

Another view of the leader of the older political parties, following the school of Sighele and Tarde, is found in a work by A. Peterson (Politik og Massemoral, Copenhagen: G. E. Gad, 1911. Pp. 182). It is not yet available except through excerpts translated by W. Warnotte (Bulletin Mensual,. May, 1911, 236, 1–10). The line of argument is not unique. It premises the vast role of the 'social milieu.'The special direction taken by society depends upon the temperament, the set of habit, and the 'material interest' of its members. There are leaders of temperament, of habit, and of material interest. In like manner parties are formed, dictated by one or more of these forces. It is the business of the leader to control his respective group by suggestion, appeal to primitive emotions, and general ideas meaning little but having volitional influence. However, the leader's purpose is conceived to be that which emanates from the 'mass' whose product he is. For the author the word mass replaces the French foule, and is defined as "a group of individuals who at a particular time are imbued with the same idea of aspiration and who have a consciousness of this community of thought, of wish, and of action."

A favorable proclivity is to explain the 'collective mind' under its various aspects of national, occupational, political, and religious bases of differentiation on the principle of line of attention, direction of interests, or special 'set' initiated by historical crises or accident. In discussing 'national psychology' Dr. R. Broda appears to depend upon an uncriticized conception of 'psychological type.' He discerns in the German labor movement a characteristic mysticism and emphasis upon education. In France and Germany the radicals are idealistic and full of 'Zukunfthoffnungen'; Australians show unemotional experimentalism. In America the spirit of initiative attending its political and economic evolution renders a segregated

( 423) class-consciousness difficult ('Zur psychologischen Differenzierung der internationalen Arbeiterbewegung.' Dokum. d. Fortschritts, 4, 262-269). The concept of race is undergoing reconstruction; the criteria of the ethnological and anthropometrical schools are doubted. The assumption of fixed racial superiorities was assailed by Professor R. S. Woodworth in an address on 'Racial Differences in Mental Traits' (Science, 1910, 31, 171–186). He contends that not only the usual ethnological but also the as yet meagre psychological grounds of distinction between different races are inconclusive. The norms of 'type' and 'average' need to be checked up by that of distribution, since in two groups in which the average of abilities is equal the one with wider variations from genius to idiocy will rise to emergencies better (p. 173). Moreover, high rank in one direction may be accompanied by atrophy in another, and in a particular social circle, an approved sort of excellence is selected, ignoring equally good qualities. The psychology of peoples has not reached a satisfactory experimental basis, and about the only valid presumption is that instincts, emotion, and intellection are present in all groups. In tests by Rivers and others it is shown that in vision, color discrimination, hearing, reaction time; susceptibility to illusion, and power of attention, there are differences in individuals and some group superiorities, but when these results are corrected, there is slender justification for the theory of inherent racial qualities. Neither does the 'higher civilization,' e. g., of the German as contrasted with the native Australian warrant us to assert his superiority, because other factors—accidental inventions, amount of leisure and quickness of communication—determine the preëminence of a people. Some experimental work showing the relative facility in learning when school children are alone and in classes is described by W. H. Burnham ('The Group as a Stimulus to Mental Activity.' Science, 1910, 31, 761–767).

Another discussion of the same drift as that shown in Professor Woodworth's criticism is essayed by Mariano-H. Cornejo ('Le Race.' Rev. Inter. de Sociologie, 19, 161–189). Professor E. A. Ross takes the sociological position that the 'Chinese mind' is not a changeless racial entity: it is explainable by reason of the impetus given by centuries of memory training and exaltation of habit. The deliberate, unimpressionable, precedent-loving disposition of the yellow man, his aversion to the restless Western 'scientific' attitude is not due to absence of capacity, but rather to the fact

( 424) that hitherto the 'psychological climate' has been unfavorable to innovating thought ('Sociological Observations in Inner China.' Amer. J. of Sociology, 1911, 16, 721–733; 'The Race Mind of the Chinese.' Independent, Sept. 7, 1911, 526–528). Dr. R. Baron Budberg considers the patriarchal family and the consequent minimizing of individual responsibility to be the root of Chinese conservatism, since the Chinese state is the family written large ('Burg- u. Haftpflicht im chinesischen Volksleben.' Globus, 1910, 98, 285–287).

Israel Cohen describes 'The Jewish Community' (Soc. Rev., 1910, 3, 216–226). He attributes the enduring homogeneity of the Jews to rigid religious prescriptions, an intense 'historical consciousness,' and the solidifying effect of persecution. Modern Jews are mostly urban, and in the midst of a dense population and a hostile environment lead a separated life. Until recently they have been debarred from civic responsibility, thus turning attention to commercial exploits and strengthening solicitude for their own group. However, liberal education and tolerance are tending to take the new generation away from the old Hebraism; the Jewish community, nevertheless, remains unique in its union of the historical and the religious consciousness.

A comprehensive statement of the ‘Racial Element in Social Assimilation' is offered by Professor U. G. Weatherly (Publications Amer. Sociological Society, 5, 57–76). The advance is from family or tribal cohesion to 'cultural unity.' The fiction of blood kinship shades into devotion to a common sovereign, and into the 'psychic sympathy' of a nation. But ethnic patriotism is still a factor in recent history and may break down national cultural unity. Nationality is due to sentiment growing out of a community of past experience and present interests. "It is not sufficient that people should merely have undergone similar experiences. They must have under-gone them together" (p. 62). A common language is the great destroyer of racial separateness within a group. Immigrants, including the Jews, who come to the 'nascent social bodies' of such countries as the United States and Australia are quickly assimilated by the language, customs, and ideals of the new lands. The writer agrees with other students that "racial and geographical solidarity is already to a limited extent giving way to interracial and international class solidarity."

A suggestive paper which touches upon much of the theory of social grouping is contributed by Professor G. E. Vincent ('The Rivalry of Social Groups.' Publications Amer. Sociological Society,

( 425) 5, 241-256). The group is regarded as a definite and workable concept, for it is a tangible subdivision of the vaguer 'society' and the 'nidus of personality.' The idea of a group presumes (1) a common interest, (2) a realization of the group as such by each member, (3) that the constituents of the group are aware of the common interest and know that the image of their group is shared by the others. In the meaning of group the author includes the boy's gang, the labor union, the church, the coterie, the village, and the nation.

Competition, conflict, and rivalry are the chief agencies which force human beings into groups. Each group, by suggestion, imagery, and other means of control forms 'permanent types of reaction'—the mores. Collective pride, type heroes, the elaboration of a 'protective philosophy,' ridicule, and intolerance are ways of meeting the conflict situation. Fashion is interpreted as a form of group rivalry. The 'mob mind' may have a functional value in solving a problem quickly; on the ideational level 'free speech' induces a prompt cohesion of forces against a competing group. "A national group is to be thought of as an inclusive unity with a fundamental character upon the basis of which a multitude of groups compete with and rival each other. It is the task of the nation to control and utilize this group struggle, to keep it on as high a plane as possible, to turn it to the common account. . . . It is in conflict or competition with other nations that a country becomes a vivid unity to the members of constituent groups. It is rivalry which brings out the sense of team work, the social consciousness" (pp. 255–256).

So much territory is traversed in Professor Vincent's sketch that the promised longer treatment is to be desired. It is evident that on the whole the literature reviewed is either entirely descriptive and classificatory or that the psychological machinery is not adequate to interpret the social facts. This is, of course, characteristic of the present state of social psychology, with a few happy exceptions. The treatments are inclined to be too psychological in the solipsistic sense or too sociological in the structural sense. It is assumed, following tradition, that the self is entirely inner, and that the problem is to get consciousness into that of another self. Another tendency is to suppose that a sufficient method is to stratify the phenomena of society into psychic planes and currents, and to give the individual a part to play by a mechanism of suggestion and imitation. A statement of the 'converse of attitudes' involved in group relationships and the motor process by which the development of feeling, symbol and thought as a social dialectic is really explained and not obscured by a deluge of words, is imperative.

( 426)

The failure to give a satisfactory picture of a complex situation by the use of a halting psychology is striking when an attempt to apply a professedly social psychology to a social problem is made. No one has accused Gustav Le Bon of being unbiased, so that the employment of his latest venture for illustrative purposes will present the case somewhat exaggerated (La Psychologie politique et la Défense sociale). Like M. Lévy-Bruhl, who distinguishes primitive man's logic of the sentiments from the modern logic of the intellect (Les Fonctions mentales dans les Sociétés inférieures), he makes a cleft between the mob-like Mentalité ouvrière ruled by passion and the ideational scientific mind of the élite. According to his doctrine, individual psychology makes no contribution to the understanding of social facts, since l'âme collective differs in toto from l'âme individuelle (p. 126), Further, sentiment and intelligence are disparate, ruled by different laws (p. 141). The logic of ideas cannot interpret the feelings. Social consciousness is fostered in the crowd; the élite increase in self-consciousness and lose in consciousness of solidarity. In the concluding pages, the author, apparently realizing that since ideas are lodged in one section of the individual and society and sentiments in another, there is no encouraging prospect for effective communication, resorts to another faculty, that "of will. Just because the motor character both of idea and feeling is disregarded, the final deus ex machina must be a separate entity, une volunté forte (p. 375).

That there is a serious political situation in France is undoubted. It is doubtful whether on the basis of M. Le Bon's Cartesian philosophy it can be met. If we assume that the nearer we get to perception and feeling the lower down in worth we are; if we assume that the gregarious instinct, the unanimity of image and action in the mob, the losing of all the conditions of individuality, is a true characterization of what social consciousness means; if thinking is exclusively an isolating process and not an intercourse, it is no wonder that with Le Bon we are led to denounce, to despair, to demand scientific prevision of fatalities, and to appeal to pure force. The difficulty is that there is no motor technique to warrant us in advancing from sentiment to idea, and from the individual to the collective standpoint. Le Bon cannot admit that self-consciousness arises in a situation involving an analysis and interpretation of the attitudes of other selves, that this situation is first experienced as an emotional one, and that by alternate rivalry and adjustment the individual expands in feeling and cognition. It is legitimate, there-

( 427) -fore, in opposition to Le Bon, to interpret the conflict between the crowd and the élite as evidence of expanding sentiment and idea in both groups, each party growing in knowledge of the situation and defining the issues. Politics for Le Bon is a process of imposing superior power and control devices upon a non-contributive group. Its reaction is of no consequence, since what it possesses is identified with the primitive pre-ideational consciousness. Perhaps it is itself proof of provincialism and social grouping if one turns to Professor Cooley's balanced treatment of social classes and their mutual contributions in Parts 3 and 4 of his Social Organization.


  1. There is an interesting reaction against making so much of the national and international consciousness. Several years ago Professor Royce advocated the worth of 'provincialism,' the formation of a 'local consciousness' for the sake of realizing the values of cosmopolitan interests. He intimated that our imaginative reach must have its base on small group relationships. Race Questions and Other American Problems, p. 107. Cf. Professor Hibben’s recent defense of 'prejudice' and Cooley's discussion of the danger of superficiality, Social Organization, Chap. 10.

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