1: Introduction [and Summary]
---- Seneca, De Beneficius, VIII.I.
Meanings are the sociocultural interpretation we give to mental or physical objects. Two intersecting sticks have the meaning of a cross, a Cadillac means wealth and power, floating garbage means pollution, a certain facial expression means smugness. Meanings tie together and functionally integrate diverse human activities and objects. Simply consider the almost infinitely diverse but meaningfully integrated aspects of the "U.S. Government," such as military bases in Hawaii, aid to schools in Chicago, a U.S. ambassador's trip to Paris, war in Vietnam, a Watergate scandal, a social security check, a passport, and so on.2
Values are the sentiments, emotions, importance, and desires we attach to meanings and material things. Is it good or bad, something we want or reject, beautiful or ugly, deplorable or joyful, and so on? These values may be of the highest, attached to God, humankind, nature, and comprising what we call ethics and morality. They may be of our political-secular world, woven into the cluster of meanings we call democracy, socialism, capitalism, or communism, and constituting our "isms." They may lie at the heart of concepts people have died for, such as France, liberty, equality, independence. Or they may be the humdrum, everyday values reflected in our choice of a movie, our daily bread, our gossip. Remove values from meanings and you deprive us of our essence; you deny us our purposes, our self-determination.
Vehicles are the object which carry meanings-values, such as the cloth which is the flag, the expensive clothes that connote status, the house that means shelter and security, the paper that is a treaty, a contract, or a page of a book. Vehicles form our material culture as physical objects, as aspects of our environment (consider just the religious meaning that storms, the stars, and the mountains have had) and biology.
Agents are the human actors or groups who interact within the sociocultural field.3 The field contains our system of meanings, our values and norms, and the diverse vehicles manifesting them. Agents may be individuals, behaving in their own capacity, or organized groups for which individuals act in some official role. Now, groups, whether state, church, business, or college, do not behave. As clusters of meanings they have an integrated sociocultural life; as clusters of material vehicles, they obey physical laws; as clusters of people, they form subsocieties. But, they cannot behave. Only we can, and when we speak of the United States threatening Cuba, or of the Justice Department taking IBM to court, we are elliptically speaking about the cluster of behaviors of individuals acting mainly in their official roles for the group. Behaviors of groups are not simple acts as with individuals. An individual may shake hands with another, and this constitutes one continuous physical event between them. A behavior of a group, however, involves many different people in their official roles and comprises discretely different actions, all adding up to the complex called a group act. For a much simplified example consider when one state recognizes another. This requires much in government discussion and consultation, the decision to be made, and the implementation through the diplomatic chain of command and public media, ending in the communication of such recognition to the other government as well as to one's people.4
Returning to the major point, social reality consists of meanings-values, vehicles, and agents. Although they form one unified field, we can for analysis consider each separately as fields and spaces, and then reconsider the whole once the nature of these "Parts" is clear. Here, I will focus on the sociocultural space of meanings-values, leaving the fields of vehicles and agents to succeeding chapters.
How do we place a meaning or value in its proper relationship to others? First, meanings (at this point, let me extend the meaning of meanings to encompass values) form into systems which we learn as part of our socialization and acculturation. "Addition" we learn of as a part of the system of meanings called "arithmetic" and as an operation carried out on "numbers." All three meanings, "addition," "arithmetic," and "numbers," we learn to associate with "mathematics," a higher system of meanings we have come to differentiate from such meanings systems as "science," "philosophy," and "art." A "citizen" we come to appreciate as part of a system of "rights" and "duties," which themselves are parts of a larger system of meanings interrelated with "government," which in turn is part of the interrelated meanings we know as the "state."
Thus, meanings fall into interrelated systems, each nested in some higher system, all forming a complex mosaic called sociocultural space. To understand the nature of this space, let me move back down the ladder of abstraction to deal with individual meanings. Now, a meaning (as both content and value), such as "hot dog," "traffic court," "associate professor," is nested in some particular society and culture. Societies and cultures are particular systems of meanings, as can be seen easily from the various youth cultures and institutions like universities, and as any foreign traveler is aware.
A specific meaning is but a sociocultural manifestation, reflecting fundamental common and unique properties, causes, conditions, and interactions underlying these complexes. That is, our daily meanings manifest sociocultural latents5 either common to all societies and cultures or unique to one. Unique latent meanings are those resulting from wholly individual cultural experiences, such as a flood, an invasion, a bloody revolution, or based on cultural relationships to a unique environment, dominated say by a high mountain, excessive rains, or surrounding ocean or desert. These unique latents may be fully absorbed into the core culture, as with the Eskimos, the Polynesians, the Jews, and the Arabs, or may be congeries (in Sorokin's sense)--fellow travelers, camp followers of the core cultural system, temporarily related in time and space to the major cultural values, but living an existence independent of the core culture and fated to go their own way. Such are rock music, miniskirts, minority quota representational systems, youth subcultures, consumer interest groups, and so on, to the core American culture.
The common latents underlying manifest meanings are common in the sense that they are part of all cultures and societies. They generate, span, define the basic patterns, systems, clusters of meanings which we use to discriminate among cultures and to identify any one. What are these latents? Consider the word "house." Without its meaning, it is simply a specific sound or configuration of tines on a page. The particular denotative meaning this sound or these lines have is given within a language. At its most basic level, language is a common latent underlying all our meanings.6 All cultures have languages, although the particular language vehicles carrying meaning will vary, as, say, between "book" in English or its equivalent, "hon," in Japanese.
Consider the words "regression analysis." They denote a technique for determining statistical dependencies, which as a technique is a part of the social sciences, and which in turn is a compartment of science. In other words we can locate this meaning "regression analysis" in sociocultural space by knowing it is a part of the scientific enterprise and philosophy. All cultures have a scientific component, whether it be at the primitive cause-effect, concrete level of canoe building and weather prediction, or at the abstract level of Newtonian mechanics and Einsteinian relativity. Science comprises our second common latent.
In a similar way, in the meanings comprising the Mexican, the Japanese, the French, the Chinese cultural systems, we find that in general meanings are manifestations of not only language and science, but also of philosophy-religion, ethics-law, and fine arts. These five latents are the most general common components--latent functions--of sociocultural meanings. They are the most basic dimensions along which cultures vary and on which all meanings related to the core culture can be located.7
In moving from these basic latents toward a particular meaning, as a specific painting, a mathematical theorem, an occupational label, we move along a lattice combining religious, scientific, ethical, linguistic, and artistic meanings in complex ways. Thus, Botticelli's Adoration of the Magi combines religion, science (perspectives, anatomical knowledge, mixing of pigments), and art. Thus, "political participation" mixes in its meaning political philosophy, science with its emphasis on a pragmatic empiricism and criticism, and ethics and law.
Perhaps so far, so good. Where, however, is cultural space, which was the initial concern? Here again, we must call on our understanding of latent functions as developed in Chapter 10.8 These latents are components of the space of cultural manifestations. Clearly, this proposition needs elaboration in the present context.
Let i stand for a particular sociocultural system, j for a particular qualitative9 or quantitative meaning, and k for a particular qualitative or quantitative attribute. Then, Xijk will stand for a specific attribute of a specific meaning for a particular culture. For example, i can refer to Brazil (or Latin America or Rio de Janeiro, we can make i as broad as or as narrow as a major world civilization or a tribal culture), j to food (or house, or wife, or vote, or love), and k to such characteristics as good-bad, right-wrong, moral-immoral, or to such categories as social roles, politics, religion, crime, contracts, sex, social techniques, and so on and on for the myriad categories, classifications, divisions, and departments, of the meaning lattice (Figure 24.1) by which one would characterize and define meanings. Then,
- Xijk = ij1f1( ) + ij2f2( ) . . . + ij5f5( ) + Ui,
where f1( ), f2( ), . . . , are the five common components of sociocultural meanings, lamda () is the degree to which each component underlies a particular manifest meaning j in culture i, and U defines the unique meaning components for the culture. .
Because the components of Equation 24.1 define a space, we have in the Equation the embodiment of the cultural space of meanings. This space not only locates core cultural meanings with regard to each other, but also locates each culture on the basis of its profile on the five common components of meaning. Furthermore, cultures will cluster together in this space as they share common languages, philosophy, religion, and so on.
At the most general level, we can discern three major clusdters in this cultural space.10 The first defines those largely Western cultures, in which religion plays a relatively minor role; philosophy is of the empirical pragmatic variety; there is considerable emphasis on science, especially empirical-experimental science, ethics emphasizes value relativism, utilitarianism, hedonism, sex, and individualism to the point of social irresponsibility; and art is sensual, concentrating on portraying the immediately given or a rag-tag conglomeration of primitive, pseudo-artistic styles with ephemeral popularity. These are the so-called materialistic cultures, exemplified by contemporary American culture. Sorokin calls these sensate cultures. Their core comprises sensory meanings and values; their criterion of truth is empirical. Thus the empiricism, the hedonism, the utilitarianism, the concern with individual liberty; thus the diminutive role of religion, metaphysics, theory and intuition, reason, and ethico-legal systems emphasizing eternal values and ultimate truths.
The second cluster of cultures lies in an opposite region of cultural space. Religion and metaphysical philosophies dominate, science is speculative and theoretical; ethics stresses dissolving the self into a greater whole, of transcending sensual delights for eternal truths; art tries to capture the unchanging aspect of reality, to embody ultimates, and to speak to principles rather than to the senses. In sum, this kind of ideational culture embodies a total concern with otherworldly things, of spiritual qualities and essences. The criteria of truth is supersensory; it is revelation, intuition, insight, and reason. The differences between the sensate and ideational cultures are those distinguishing contemporary sensate cultures like the American, German and English from the ideational like the Indian, Syrian, and Siamese; and dividing our history into meaningful periods, as the ideational European Middle Ages and sensate twentieth-century Europe, and as ideational Taoist China and contemporary sensate Communist China.11
A third cluster of cultures in sociocultural space is called idealistic. These consist of those that mix both sensate and ideational cultures, such as contemporary Japan, fifth-century B.C. Greece, and Confucian China. Their cultural meanings and criteria of truth and values are partly sensory, partly rational and intuitive. A person is considered a sensory animal, but also a spiritual being who can discern final truths and the most basic values.
These three types of supercultural systems--sensate, ideational, idealistic--are the major ones found to demarcate contemporary and historical cultures. We will find in a later volume that the breakdown of one supercultural system and the shift to another, and the degree of crystallization of meanings and values within a super system, will provide us with a cultural explanation of excessive conflict. For the moment, however, my interest is in describing cultural space and the location of cultures within it.12 In sum, then, we find that sociocultural meanings are manifestations of five common meanings components: religion-philosophy, science, fine arts, language, and ethics-law. These five components combine in complex ways along a meanings lattice to generate a particular meaning and define the cultural space of common meanings. Within this space, meanings are located in terms of their relationship to the components, and cultural systems are clustered on the basis of their cultural profiles. In particular, we find sensate, ideational, and idealistic clusters--supercultural systems--in cultural space.
Each time we introduce two people, we map a rough social space of each to the other so that they have a "social guide" for their discussion. Let me introduce John Smith, we may say, and then point out that he is the chairman of both Excello Peatmoss and a Businessmen for Democrats Committee, and is visiting us from Iowa.13 From this "mapping" and the cues we perceive from the other's clothing, grooming, behavior, and speech, we have a fairly good idea as to who, socially speaking, he is. That is, we "see" his position in social space.
Let me try to define most basically the components of this space.14 The easiest way to locate people socially is by their family, occupation, group affiliations, citizenship, and language. These provide an immediate, rough social mapping of the person and enables us to relate to and anticipate much about him. Just to know at a party that one's momentary acquaintance is a lawyer or executive, or political party official, is to provide enough insight to keep the conversation rolling for a while.
But knowing a person's social structural position is not enough to isolate him in social space. We need also to know something of his status. Status is defined by a person's vertical rank within a social structure and by his informal status. Is a businessman an executive, a vice-president, or president? Is a soldier a private, a sargeant, or a colonel? Answers to such questions define the person's formal rank. His informal status is given by his wealth, power, and prestige. Although there is clearly a relationship between formal ranking and informal status, the two are not identical. A professor at Harvard may have far less wealth, power, and prestige than an associate professor at Ohio State University, for example. An executive assistant to the President of the United States, as was Henry Kissinger, may have far more power and prestige than any cabinet member.
We find, therefore, that others are socially intelligible to us as a function of their horizontal positions in the social structure (family, occupation) and their vertical formal ranking and informal status. Are these the components of the social space we seek? Consider for a moment what our concern is in locating others in social space. Are we interested just in the structural position or are we using these positions to uncover deeper social levels? Is it sufficient to know that another is a Frenchman, a politician, a member of the French Communist party? Of course not. Horizontal social positions are simply indicators of the person's location in the systems of meanings-values.
Thus, the horizontal positions indicate a person's religion, his sociopolitical philosophy (by his group affiliations, such as an American businessman or a labor union official), his culture and subculture (as indicated by being a jazz musician, for example), and duties. In essence, we consider horizontal positions to be simply manifestations along a meanings-values lattice, fundamentally based on the common latents underlying cultural meanings. In locating a person in social space, we are partly concerned with defining his religion and philosophy; ethics, rights, and duties; language; aesthetic nature; and scientific mentality (for example, education, scientific philosophy). In other words, social position indicates a person's meanings-values, his position among the major supercultural systems (whether sensate, ideational, or idealistic), cultural systems (whether French, Indian, Japanese), and subcultures (whether the New England subculture, the hippie subculture, or the academic subculture).
Therefore, social space and cultural space are at this level identical, because the same common meanings components define each. The space delineates meanings-values, the profiles of cultures, and the individual in his partial social meaning.
So far the vertical aspect of social structure has been omitted. Are formal rankings and informal status captured by the meanings so far discussed? First, let us look closer at social ranks. These indicate two things about a person: (1) the strength and scope of identification with particular meanings and values, and (2) informal status. As to the first, a person's rank, say as a U.S. congressman, vice-president of General Motors, or a Catholic bishop, tells us that the person is a central representative of the salient meanings, that they are not lightly held, and that they are most likely the dominant meanings-values for the person. Rankings thus enable us to separate the Easter churchgoer, the occupational transient, the cultural hybrid or independent, from those purely manifesting particular meaning clusters. Regarding formal ranking and informal status, ranks also provide cues about (but do not completely define) informal status. Knowing X is a judge or senator or actress or board chairman is to know approximately X's prestige, wealth, and power. Formal social ranks, therefore, participate in locating people in the cultural space of meanings and in their status.
The final question is then whether status (henceforth, meaning informal status unless otherwise indicated) is a manifestation of the common meanings components so far considered. Now, these components locate for us the possible content of the goals and intentions of others, their expectations and situations, their ways of interpreting others. In short, they delineate their possible and likely behavior and what our behavior toward them should be. Does status do this? Partly yes, for status indicates a certain manner, a certain capability, a certain behavior; it evokes deference, acquiescence, or dominance. Yet, these are really side effects. Status cuts across all the meaning components we have considered, since a person (or culture) can have high or low status in each of the meanings clusters (for example, he can have high wealth, power, or prestige in science, religion-philosophy, and so on). Moreover, status, that is, informal stratification, is present in all cultures on the basis of wealth, power, and prestige.15Therefore, status does not subsidiate to one of the five components of meanings, but is independent of them.16
Status does not indicate meanings so much as it tells us (1) what a person has achieved or has been born into in a culture, (2) what his potentials are, and (3) the esteem in which his culture holds him. In other words, a person's status tells us who he is socially (for example, he is a powerful person), what he can do, and what others (in the culture) think of him. We have then, in the three status dimensions, three components of social space in addition to the five common meanings components already described. A most generally complete social description of a person involves describing his position in the religion-philosophy, science, ethico-legal, language, and fine arts clusters of meanings-values and indicating his wealth, prestige, and power. Thus is a person (or group) located in social space.
* Scanned from Chapter 24 in R.J. Rummel, The Dynamic Psychological Field, 1975. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.
1. These are Pitirim Sorokin's distinctions consistently applied throughout his works. See, for example, Society, Culture, and Personality (new ed.; New York: Cooper Square, 1969): 41-63.
2. A similar example is given in Pitirim Sorokin, Fads and Foibles in Modern Sociology and Related Sciences (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1956): 171.
3. Note that I am now changing terminology. Before, I used the more specific "person" because a person's dynamic field was the focus. Now, in dealing at the societal level, I must use the more general category of agent, since interest groups, nations, corporations, and so on, can also be actors.
4. The question of group behavior involves the dispute between holists and methodological individualists. For a discussion of this question, see Section 33.4 in Chapter 33.
5. See Chapter 9 for a discussion of the manifest-latent distinction. Although obscured by a difference in terminology, my emphasis on meanings and the description of their nature and sociocultural space owe much to Pitirim Sorokin's work (see Notes 1 and 2), including his Social and Cultural Dynamics (4 vols.; New York: American Book Co., 1937-41). Especially pertinent regarding cultural space is his Sociocultural Causality, Space, Time (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1943).
6. I am using language to mean any mode by which meanings are communicated, whether by word, gesture, expression, movement, and so on. Thus, for example, a raised eyebrow and a wink are part of language.
7. Sorokin, Sociocultural Causality, Space, Time, op. cit.
8. From here on I depart in meaning significantly from Sorokin. Sorokin (Sociocultural Causality, Space, Time, op. cit.) used the concept of space and components metaphysically, as a heuristic to the intuition and understanding. He recognized the quite different nature of sociocultural space from physical space, but unlike the physicist in describing physical space, Sorokin could not admittedly make the precise nature of sociocultural space clear. Therefore, although Sorokin correctly tells us that the five meanings components (language, fine arts, religion, ethics, science) are the dimensions on which each (manifest) meaning will be located, he provides no logic by which such a space can be mathematically understood and empirically defined. That is, operational procedures are not embodied in his description. The path I am following remedies this, as can be seen in my Dimensions of Nations (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1972) and will be shown in subsequent volumes (see Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix).
9. If a qualitative property, characteristic, or attribute can be distinguished, that is, if we can make binary distinctions, we can logically and mathematically consider them as comprising a metric space. Failure to appreciate this one point alone has vexed virtually all attempts to define social spaces, whether of Sorokin, Lewin, Bentley, or Parsons.
10. Here again, although the language is slightly different and the logic clearer (I hope), the basic ideas are from Sorokin. In particular, the evidence for the three clusters of cultures to be described is contained in his four volumes, Social and Cultural Dynamics, op. cit. I believe Sorokin's three types to be far superior as a logico-meaningful typology than the sacred-intermediate-secular cultures of Howard Becker (Man in Reciprocity: Introduction Lectures on Culture, Society, and Personality, New York: Praeger, 1956); the High Culture-Low Culture Civilizations of Oswald Spengler (The Decline of the West, trans. C. F. Atkinson, New York: Knopf, 1926); the full-blown, arrested, and abortive civilizations of Arnold Toynbee (A Study of History, 12 vols., New York: Oxford University Press, 1939-61); and the theoretic-aesthetic cultures of F.S.C. Northrop (The Meeting of East and West, New York: Macmillan, 1946).
11. The distinction between aesthetic and theoretical cultures made by Northrop, op. cit., is similar to that between sensate and ideational. Northrop's two types, however, are not as clear nor are they as soundly based on an analyses of sociocultural systems and historical-social-cultural evidence as are Sorokin's.
12. The reason for this interest is well put by Herbert C. Kelman: "On the level of general laws, we would want to establish relationships between particular kinds of structures and the probability of war and peace. The derivation of such laws would be greatly facilitated if we had concepts that provide summary descriptions of complex structures (such as democratic versus totalitarian)" ("Societal, Attitudinal and Structural Factors in International Relations," in Stanley Hoffman, Contemporary Theory in International Relations, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1960: 216).
12a. To "meanings-values" I add "norms" on p. 311, line 7 from bottom, and following passim; and in subsequent volumes. This was done in order to bring this medium of the sociocultural field more in line with the nature of a structure of expectations and the integrating meanings-values-norms aspect of sociocultural systems.
13. Sorokin, Socioculture Causality, Space, Time, op. cit., p. 131, uses a similar example to illustrate how we socially locate people.
14. Here again, I am most indebted to Sorokin's work, particularly Sociocultural Causality, Space, Time and Society, Culture, and Personality, op. cit., parts 2-4.
15. This is not the place to cite the voluminous status literature to buttress my claim. Suffice it to say that the overwhelming consensus is that stratification by wealth, power, and prestige is cross-culturally invariant and that these three statuses are the major dimensions of stratification.
16. Again, to be clear, there is a partial relationship between status and meanings in the sense that status or wealth provides a clue to a person's attitudes, sentiments, support of the status quo, and so on. However, while present in each culture, status implies meanings that vary considerably between cultures.
17. Surely, the sociocultural space can be elaborated into many more dimensions by working along the meanings lattice from right to left ( Figure 24.1). Each of the meanings clusters comprises subcusters which in turn are divided into subcomponents. For example, the religion cluster subdivides into the world's major religious groups which then divide into many meaningful and active clusters, such as Eastern and Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, and the latter subdivides into many denominations. However, in comparing meanings and values at the most general level, the primary basic distinctions are the five components described.
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