Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Study of Community in American Sociology, c.1900 - c.1975: Part VII - Conclusion: Social Formations, Systems of Classification and Social Evolution

Conclusion: Social Formations, Systems of Classification and Social Evolution
In sociology there have been at least two discursive formations in the investigation of community.  Of course, they are not mutually exclusive in time and so have always coexisted, though one predominated in the time before 1975 and the other became dominate in the years since.  During the first period, which dates roughly from 1945 until 1975, the discursive formation regarding community was  organized by the relation of four obects of study: definition, classification, evolution, and territory.  Discussions of community constantly referred to these as forming the parameters of sociological study during the period when the definition of community and the classification of definitions became a primary research activity.  Of course, definition had been important prior to this period, for writers such as Giddings and Tonnies, whose vision of social progress brought together evolutionary and taxonomic aspects of classification in the service of social reform.  This vision of social progress did not survive the realities of an era book-ended by trenches and camps.  However, it was the “normative-meliorative” vision of social progress that infused the discipline of sociology that gave rise to the myriad definitions of community. 

The sociological study of community had come to an impasse.  Researchers had no idea if they were speaking about the same object of study and there were seemingly as many definitions as there were researchers.  Hillery’s oft cited work did not offer a definition of community, only a classification that brought order to the chaos of idiosyncratic conceptualizations.  His classification was intended to bring order to the definitions that had preceded him, but he also established the boundaries of the sociological study of community for decades to follow.  At bottom, his classification of definitions constituted a representation of a scientific consensus.  Hillery’s  lesson is that neither the definitions of community nor the utopias it produces correspond to any particular community of the past or present.  Like him, we confront a moment in the history of sociology when community is expressed not as something “out there” but as an object constructed through the norms of sociology itself.

Franklin Giddings noted that
“the subject matter of classification may consist of concepts only.  The dichotomies are made in thought only.  Societal facts are actualities.  Classification of them is a sorting of them into actual, or as we usually say, factual, groups, the dichotomies of which have been actually made by processes which men have observed and may now observe” (Giddings 1924:69). 

The point is not to denounce classification, but to understand that the sociological definitions of community are also constitutive of the community it seeks to investigate.  The meaning or truth of community can not be understood apart from the ways in which we express its meanings.  Hillary assumed that the definitions he found in the library reflected real communities and therefore to classify definitions is the same as classifying real communities.  Then, as the definitions and classifications became synonymous with --- but also detached from --- real social relations, each tended to recapitulate the other and this repetition give validity to conceptions of social evolution.

Giddings argued that because “plants, animals, and human beings do not behave forever in the same way,” classifications must also change.  To understand these changes, any classification of social facts (concepts) must be articulated along with a scheme of “social genesis..... in sociology a study of societal variability, carried out into a classificatory scheme, and thereby checked up, is of correlative importance with the study of societal genesis, in a like manner carried out” (Giddings 1924:76).  Classification is necessary for a scientific study of community that centers on social evolution, and it is this evolutionary aspect that unites community with territory.  Definition and classification, evolution, and territoriality were essential for the sociological study of community.  They can not be connected in a broader or even utopian social formation without each undergoing significant transformation.  Neither does placing them in new discursive formations always deprive them of their oppressive force.  

The consolidation of any discipline carries with it changes in the production of knowledge.  In the case of sociology, its consolidation as a discipline brought with it a reliance on specific scientific ideologies (Canguilhem 1991).  Sociologists have often misread both the theory and the substance of the history of science.  There are no better examples of this than the sociological tendencies which have embraced forms of positivism, Spencerism, and orthodox Marxism.  But to misread is not necessarily to get it all wrong.  Hillery and others may have misread the ability of science to speak the truth about community, but they recognize the fundamental importance of classification in the practice of science and in the acceptance of scientific ideologies.  Systems of classification like Hillery's were necessitated by the demand that sociology be more than a mere scientific ideology.  Whenever experimentation is impossible, as is usually the case in social research, classification becomes the necessary foundation of science.  Classification became essential for legitimizing theories of social evolution by providing first a means for linking the sociological study of community to the production of the most “advanced” forms of scientific knowledge and secondly an evolutionary trajectory for  human society.  In some it compelled a historical movement: Gemeinschaft gives way to Gesellschaft, tradition to modernity.  In others, community became a utopian vision of social progress made possible by the precise application of sociological knowledge to social problems.  In still others, the problem of community was speed of social evolution and the constant danger of degeneration. 

Social evolution was believed to operate within the territorial boundaries each community established and maintained through either force or the internalization of a “consciousness in kind,” or consanguinity. The sociological problem of establishing the boundary and government of a community in time and space was one whose solution was sought in a consensus on the classification of types to express either to social evolution or degeneration. This solution was mandated by the needs of the day, proved inadequate to the challenges posed by the new conditions of authority and resistance in the post-war period.  The demise of this consensus was a signal announcing the appearance on the horizon of Gouldner’s coming crisis of Western sociology.

The middle of the 1970s,  definition, classification, evolution, and territory, formed the limits of the sociological study of community.  These objects of knowledge were decentered, but did not cease to exist.  They were transformed or replaced by new objects:  Identity as redefined by multiculturalism and postcolonialism; new social movements combined with identity to produce new struggles over everyday life as well as new forms of academic knowledge; degeneration reemerged as the threat of the underclass to a bourgeoisie no longer confident in its authority or destiny; new enclosures of community expressing an anxiety of loss and a reterritorialization of community not with the poor and working classes, but within the newly expanded middle classes.

Sociology, like all disciplines, rest upon particular regimes of truth.  A common element in these regimes is that the origin of the discipline in question is always to be found in a genius having lived, a discovery being made “out of the blue,” a theory and prediction being put to the test, or a group of texts establishing an entire field of knowledge.  The moments become the mythical history of a discipline, its “report, naming, the narration of a Beginning,  but also presentation, confirmation, explanation” (Horkheimer and Adorno: 1969:8).  Sociology is no different, its origins reveal the precariousness of its history --- a precariousness and a forgetting that is a general condition in the history of the disciplines.  Examples of unseemly origins abound in the disciplines: take geography, with its legacy of environmental determinism, or Indo-European studies and historical linguistics, which were often allied with  scientific ideologies supportive of Germanic/Anglo-Saxon supremacy (Gossett 1963).  As for sociology, it had amongst other tendencies its” eugenicist “normative-meliorative” reformism, its Spencerism and “Social Darwinism” ---- and all of these have been forgotten, minimized or treated as aberrations in the histories of the discipline.  Take for example Gouldner’s  periodization, where we find no mention of Spencer or Sumner.  A subtle reminder that the work of forgetting sociology’s  past “scientific ideologies” is not limited one’s political and ethical commitments. 

If the crisis of Western Sociology continues to haunt us --- and like all disciplines sociology is always in crisis --- then it demands genealogies of sociology and its interventions into public policy.  “Sociology has a venerable genealogy”  wrote Albion Small in 1924.  It is indeed true that sociology has come to acquire several genealogies intersecting to produce its specialized fields.  Although it only addresses the narrow question of community in sociology, this essay has presented a possible alternative to the usual history of sociology and its study of community.  The history of sociology, like the history of any science, is as much the history of errors as it is the history of truths and like the history of any science, it is also the history of forgetting. 

Previous posts in this series:

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Study of Community in American Sociology, c.1900 - c.1975: Part VI - A Break

A Break

Essays by Effrat and Gusfield in 1975 are among many that mark the transformation in the study of community in sociology. Gusfield’s invocation of the communal ideals of the New Left was located in the utopian forms of communitarianism, while Effrat identified community with a politics of localism and participatory democracy. Because Effrat provided a summation of sociological work, and it is best to begin with her analysis.

Central to Effrat’s analysis is the assertion that conceptualizing community was akin to “trying to scoop up jello with your fingers” (1975:1). Faced with the same heterogeneity of definitions that Hillery had already found, but with twenty intervening years, Effrat too attempted to bring order to the chaos of sociological definitions. Instead of producing categories of definitions as Hillery had, she commented more broadly on the “process of debate” within post-Chicago School sociology was responsible for the current chaos because sociologists had avoided the “controversial issues” surrounding community: territoriality and function. Because of the reluctance to engage those two aspects of community, sociologists had come to enveloped community within
a gelatinous mess of hypotheses, research, and value judgments.... The term “community” is frequently invoked in tones of profundity by ideologues (social scientists as well as “laypersons”) from the far left to the far right. Like motherhood and apple pie, it is considered synonymous with virtue and desirability. Indeed, much of the problem in identifying the various definitions lies in separating the content of the conception from the value-laden imagery of warmth and camaraderie attached to it in many cases (1975:1-2).

Effrat recommended a more empirical approach because the study of community had shifted away from the ecological concerns of territory and population which should have remained central to the sociological study of community. Instead, the study of community was understood as a problem of identity and not about conflicts in the everyday existence of an ideology whose function it was to unite a population within a territory. Only when territoriality was reduce to being a mere theoretical problem could sociologists ask “whether community must be grounded in a particular, delimited place, or whether it can exist among people who are territorially dispersed” (1975:6). The authority of sociology to effect social policy and reform rests upon such fundamental questions.

Although Hillery acknowledged that territoriality and social interaction are common characteristics of community, his own classificatory scheme could not fully “separate [out] the value-laden imagery” because it depended upon the same value-laden language. While aware of the political aspects of definition and classification in relation to evolution, Effrat wanted to separate out “the content of the conception” of community and highlight the conflicts between definitions of community while Hillery highlighted the points of agreement. To complete her task, Effrat presented a history of four traditions distinguished by their reliance on territoriality and the size of the population. The focus of studies on municipal power in urban and suburban areas with large populations characterized this investigation of the territorial community. However, newly emerging traditions without a strong territorial grounding, “community as society” and “personal community” are based instead on occupation, leisure, lifestyle, and professional associations as forces/institutions of social cohesion.

Gusfield’s typology of intellectual concepts reveals a series of disciplinary paradigm shifts. The 
development of sociological theories centered on the fundamental difference between “community and society,” or “concepts and counter-concepts” although this distinction is an artificial one, for 
community and society are always idealized concepts. For Gusfield, “the concept ‘community’ [has]
significance in three dimensions. In one dimension, it points to and describes a specific form of human association. In another it is part of a theory of social evolution. In still another dimension, it is part of an ideological debate over the value of the present as compared to the past and to possible alternative futures.... the concept of community” as “part of a system of accounts used by members and observers as a way of explaining or justifying the members behavior. (1975:21)” This ”consciousness of kind” formed the implicit basis of the concept of community that Gusfield compared to class consciousness: both are ”facilitated by the capacity to evoke symbols of community. Within the emergence of a consciousness of kind is the rise of a collective experience; a sense of participating in the same history” (1975:35). Community in this sense can not be separated from ideology and discourse. It is ”a system of accounts” to be drawn upon depending on one's social status and cultural capital, and the very phrase reminding us that the everyday experience of community is indistinguishable from the community of money.

Despite his invocation of a Left utopia, Gusfield’s analysis emphasized the traditional binary of community and society. “I use the idea of system to characterize the concepts of “community” and “society” and “tradition” and “modernity”.... Community must decline if society is to grow. “Tradition” and “modernity” are in struggle and one must give way to the advantage of the other” (1975:54). At the same time Gusfield also proposed that “this use of the community-society dichotomy as a theory of social evolution distorts and confuses processes of social change....We can better understand change by emphasizing the mixture and interpenetration of types than we can by emphasis on conflict between systems” (1975:55). By juxtaposing community and society, Gusfield removed them from the “dialectical” development of modernization and progress that he believed united community and society into a single object of study.

Gusfield once again quickly modified his view: “The persistence and continuation of communal elements and the emergence of social institutions and activities are not necessarily in conflict” (1995:55 [emphasis in original]) because they interpenetrate each other. He then suggested an additional conception of community: as a utopia that is nothing less than “an anguished cry against those facets of modern life in which men and women are categorized, isolated, typed and in which their specific qualities as human beings and as emotive and dependent persons is ignored” (1975:104).

In contrast to Effrat, Gusfield concluded that “the scientific, semantic meanings of sociology are not sufficient to grant significance and moral direction on their own. But the infusion of dramatic, poetic, even distorting, meaning is essential for the vitality of scientific concepts and their significance for relevant human concerns. That the concept of community has had so constant a usage is testimony both to its power and to the ubiquitousness of its ideal” of a “utopian communitarianism” (1975:104). These communes served as potent critiques of contemporary life. “Each age is the judge of its own utopias.... the ideology of community and the utopian communitarian movements are expressions of the concern of modern men [sic] with the specific quality of life today” (1975:102). As critiques, communalism and “utopian communitarianism” point toward the possibilities for social change inherent in their resistance to the community of money, including the possibility that they might become reactionary movements.

In the period preceding Effrat and Gusfield’s reassessment of community, the sociological work had centered on the concern for a scientific or rational definition of community. This search was organized around and greatly aided by the dichotomy of community and society. There was an emphasis on classification, definition, evolution, and the territorial aspects of community. The taxonomies of community existed alongside the broader sociological studies on the evolution of society. Not only did the community/society dichotomy contain an assumption of a progressive movement, but the task of classification necessitated a continuous search for intermediate types that might prove to be the links in an evolutionary development. Territory became a mandatory characteristic of community within which teemed a consciousness-in-kind rooted in a geographical landscape and sense of place. The positive aspects of this “sense of place” have been quite extensively explored by geographers (James 1972, Johnston 1983) and so too have its reactive aspects found obvious practical expressions, for it is not difficult to move from an emotive sense of belonging to an ideology of consanguinity and soil.

For Effrat, the study of community ---like much of sociological theory--- was straining under the weight of questions that could no longer be incorporated within the discipline’s structures. In a last attempt to preserve the integrity of the four traditions she described, Effrat proposed an system of four traditions, with each inhabiting its specialized niche. In Gusfield’s work, community became both an abstraction and aspiration.

If there is a typology of ideal (symbolic) types, along with a classificatory regularity, then there must also be criteria for their inclusion. Loomis gave three criteria which for Parson’s had to be met for a social group’s inclusion in a classification of community: history, derivation, and content. Hillery used several criteria to select the definitions of social groups for inclusion in his classification of community. Gusfield recognized how “the dichotomy between ‘community’ and ‘society’ has played a significant role in the development of such theories, especially in the distinction between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity.’ In positing ‘community’ as opposite ‘society,’ ‘tradition’ as opposite ‘modernity,’ both the evolutionary sociologists and the modernization theorists have given us a simplified and distorted picture....” (Gusfield 1975:80-81).

Hillery’s method for producing his classification of definitions further illuminates the methods and problems early researches encountered. Much like Borges” librarian, Hillery literally browsed the available literature on sociology on the shelves of the library. He first looked up the definitions that the are regularly referred to as important works. Then he used the cited references in that first group of important works to uncover additional definitions in less well known works. In the course of tracking these definitions down, he perused the nearby shelves for interesting titles and included these in his classification. He does not mention that the indexes of the texts and the bibliographical order of the library catalog provided a preexisting classification. Nor did he in anyway question how a work comes to be important. Hillery’s work was not theoretical; he was not testing a hypothesis or theory, his empiricism was descriptive and yet his study remains a fundamental reference because he captured the extent of sociological opinion regarding the definition of community, but never reaches a final true definition.

Gusfield shared Effrat’s desire to produce a classification of all previous sociological work on community. Effrat’s very different scheme limited the question of community to social theory or associate it with particular types of community. The break marked by the very different essays by Effrat and Gusfield was the shifting away from a classification of types and definitions of community toward reinvestments in and revaluation of identity, politics, and locality. Now proceeded a gradual deterritorialization of community as “a place where one’s life may be wholly lived within” (MacIver and Page in Hillery 1955) in favor of an identity which one lived in every setting. The era of the New Left ended, to be replaced by the emergence of the New Social Movements and an understanding of multiculturalism in which giving meaning to community became an explicitly political and organizational imperative: a style of life.

Next: Community: Discursive Formations, Systems of Classification and Social Evolution

Previous posts in this series:
Part I: Introduction
Part II: Understanding Community
Part III: The Reception of Tonnies Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft [Community and Society]
Part IV: Hillery and Hollingshead: Two Conceptions of Past Sociological Studies

Part V: The "Societal Community" of Talcott Parsons