Chapter 6 (pt.1)


The Dynamics of Dependence


The Dynamics of Independence

Individuality and society are to be understood not as opposed categories but as different directional tendencies on a single continuous variable. Specifically, as quantities, they are the reciprocals of each other. Any static measurement of the variable will necessarily be misleading, however, though this may be of greater or lesser importance. This is in part because the variable is dynamic, and self-influencing over time. Individuality thus produces more individuality. Viewed simply, the variable is also misleading because greater quantities of individuality, taken as a population attribute, occur only at the expense of individuality, taken as an individual attribute. In other words, the more everyone is an individual, the less individual is anyone, that is, the less distinctly is he or she 'one' in contradistinction to any determinate 'other' (cf. discussion of the social individual above, esp. re. Hegel). The extent of social solidarity thus determines the extent to which anyone may become an individual in relation to it. Paradoxically, thus, extreme individualism tends to produce an alienated mass, upon the homogeneity of which an increase in society may be based.

Any examination of this variable must involve a consideration of a number of coordinate factors which may influence its variation (or stability). This is especially true if one wishes to adequately consider a concrete instance of social organization, i.e., a social structure. If one does not consider the variable individuality/society at all, one risks a number of naive assumptions regarding 'the human condition', as for example, many have taken individuality to be in some sense its immutable essence (see Mészáros, 1970, pp. 254-288 for a good discussion of this). If one considers the variable in isolation from other coordinate variables, however, one is unable to see the mechanics of its operation or the means of its production. In this chapter, we shall look at the nature of the reciprocals individuality and society as they provide grounds for distinct conceptualizations as well as the single overall variable. Then we shall consider a cluster of variables organized about the ideas of intermediate associations and authority, and which we shall treat under the rather loose rubric 'the dynamics of dependence'. Next we shall consider a cluster of variables of the opposite tendency organized about the conceptions of centralization an alienation, here designated 'the dynamics of independence'.

It is worthwhile to remind ourselves that though we consider individuality on the other end of a continuum from society we are still concerned with individuality as a sociological variable. We are not, for example, primarily interested in an existentialist conceptualization of the individual, that is, in his life for himself, although it is difficult to entirely ignore some experiential aspects of individuality when considering alienation. We are interested in the extent and effects of individuality, not in the experience of it. Similarly, on the other hand, our conception of society here is an external and objective one. Unlike 'group', society does not involve the necessary element of 'membership', either self-defined or ascribed (see discussion of Merton's consideration of group in Chapter 5). As Simmel comments, the connections involved in making up society may be exclusively matters of 'consciousness' (thus setting society outside the range covered by Kant's axiom that connection is entirely subjective and therefore cannot inhere in things themselves), but

this does not mean, of course, that each member of a society is a conscious of such an abstract of unity. It means that he is absorbed in innumerable, specific relations and in the feeling and the knowledge of determining others and of being determined by them. (1908b, p. 7)

As Simmel goes on to note, it is of course possible for an outside observer (an "observing outsider") to perform an additional synthesis of the elements of the society. Simmel considers these elements as necessarily persons, a conceptualization with which we have already indicated our disagreement. The units of social organization which we have designated include, in addition to the social individual, relations and corporations. Such principles of construction as that of agnatic descent are also necessary to any social organization. It is, however, 'absorption' or reciprocal determination, as Simmel notes, that is the stuff of society, from the (objective, not subjective) point of view of individuality. Thus we characterize individuality as independence, stressing the extent to which the individual in society depends for his identity on his relations with other units. Conversely, when we refer to society as dependence we stress the multilaterally conditioned character of social action. Except for the more specific usage which we have already given the term, we might refer to the dynamics of 'incorporation' instead of dependence, for, as we shall see, it is primarily the character of becoming a part (stretching literalness: a part of the social body) which produces society from the point of view of the unit. The dynamics of independence are quite simply the factors which reduce the extent to which social units depend on each other.

There is no need to recount all the arguments which have been posed, most especially by the founders of modern sociology, to show that the social is not reducible to the individual. Nonetheless, there is something to be learned from brief reference to the most central. Generally these arguments attempted to separate individual from social levels, hoping to eliminate such reductionism as has recently returned to social theory with the neo-utilitarianism of exchange and transactional approaches. The early sociologists, however, tended to distinguish the social as category (perhaps for institutional reasons) and thus to lose from their theories any variable formulation of its extent. Thus Durkheim's famous insistence that social facts are both external and coercive designates a category of facts rather than a variable in the comparison of populations (1895, pp. 3-13). Sociology and anthropology both continued (and compounded) this error as they took 'society' for granted, both as boundary and as organization. Fortes, by the way, argued against the former problematic usage in his consideration of the Tallensi in the context of the Frafra area more generally:

For the concept of society as a closed unit . . . we must substitute the concept of society as a socio-geographic region, the elements of which are more closely knit together among themselves than any of them are knit together with social elements of the same kind outside that region. We must substitute a relative and dynamic concept for an absolute and static one. (1945, p. 231)

Fortes here at least introduces the extent of 'society' (in our terms) into his definition, if not into use as a variable of comparison among populations.

Fortes' usage is much like Simmel's, when the latter argues for an interaction-based consideration of the social:

The social scene cannot be put together through the mere addition of isolated and equal individuals. It only arises from individual interactions within a division of labor. And it rises above these interactions as a unit which cannot be found in the individual, not even as some sort of proportionate quantity. (1917, p. 83)

Simmel is similar to Durkheim not only in this passage but in his consideration of the role of coercion as necessary in social life (1908a, pp. 298-300). In general, as we have noted, Simmel's arguments suffer, however provocative and fecund they are, from an assumption of the individual as essentially given, in some irreducible sense, even though open to various conceptualizations. He does give, though, a good statement in this connection of the relationship between the social individual and the individual for himself (which is not simply the psychological individual, as this later would describe the sociated individual from a different perspective):

The fact that in certain respects the individual is not an element of society constitutes the positive condition for the possibility that in other respects he is: the way in which he is sociated is determined or codetermined by the way in which he is not. (1908b, p. 12)

The converse, it should be noted, is also true: the way in which the individual exists for himself is determined or codetermined by the way in which he is sociated, that is, made a part of society.

Though Weber also falls victim to an excessive methodological and conceptual individualism, it is he among those three turn of the century founding fathers who introduces and stresses the variable nature of sociation. He does this in the course of defining 'social relationship' (see our definitional discussion in Chapter 1), and does it through the introduction of mutually determined probabilities existing in sets of individual behaviours:

The term 'social relationship' will be used to designate the situation where two or more persons are engaged in conduct wherein each takes account of the behaviour of the other in a meaningful way and is therefore oriented in these terms. The social relationship thus consists entirely of the probability that individuals will behave in some meaningfully determinable way. 91925, p.63)

It should be clear that from a macro-perspective the behaviour must be 'meaningfully determinable' to an (actual or potential) outsider, not necessarily meaningfully determinable to any or every social actor (although the latter is probably an important condition of the former). Further, behaviour is meaningfully determinable not only in terms of individual expectations or accountings of other individuals' behaviour, but in terms of additional analytic categories. In particular, the category of accounting in the social relationship, as Weber introduces it, is a factor in determining the extent of dependence revealed in a social situation or social structure.

Durkheim sees the social as dominant in human history, with individuality evolving in proportion to the organic solidarity that he saw as the greater form of social solidarity (1893). Simmel, on the other hand, regards the social as the lower aspect of human existence because it requires greater commonality whereas development presupposes differentiation (1917, esp. pp. 31-39) and conflict between the individual and society (1917, pp. 58-59). Weber, in Gerth's and Mills' words:

conceived of individual man as a composite of general characteristics derived from social institutions; the individual as an actor of social roles. (1948, p. 73)

Despite this emphasis on the social, however, as the topic of stud, Weber's methodology was quite individualist:

Interpretative sociology considers the individual [Einselindividuum) and his action as the basic unit, as its 'atom' - if the disputable comparison for once may be permitted. In this approach, the individual is also the upper limit and sole carrier of meaningful conduct . . . In general, for sociology, such concepts as 'state', 'association', 'feudalism', and the like, designate certain categories of human interaction. hence it is the task of sociology to reduce these concepts to 'understandable' action, that is, without exception, to the actions of participating individual men. (1922, p. 415, cited in Gerth and Mills, 1948, p. 55)

The way in which this duality of viewpoint in Weber's work pre-figures much of modern (and recent) functionalist sociology as discussed in the previous chapter is obvious and certain of the paths of connection are well known.

It became all too easy for the followers of Durkheim (who often claimed also to be following Weber, though the accuracy of this convergence has been disputed; cf. Pope, et al, 1975, esp. p. 418) to take up the position that the relationships between individuality and society were implicit in the structure of society, and then to ignore them as topic of study. Although Simmel made this study central to his inquiries, his followers have tended to turn t the analysis of various social 'forms' in themselves or as purely 'particular' insights and again have lost the dynamicity of any variable individuality/society. This may well be because neither Durkheim nor Simmel, great as their contributions were, provided the necessary conceptual connection between such a variable and social organization. Weber too, although he suggested such a distinction at points, failed to make use of it in this way. It would not have been so difficult for any of these writers to theoretically incorporate this variable, however, for Marx had given it some pride of place in his writings years before. He did it with the help of (his amended version of) Hegel's conceptualization of alienation and his own insight into the importance of appearance in effecting the continuation of the circumstances which produce them by causing people to act rationally on an insufficient basis in valid understanding. The latter is a primary point made in the discussion of the fetishism of commodities in the first chapter of Capital (1867, pp. 76-87), and of eighteenth-century ideas of independent individuals and production in the introduction to the Grundrisse (1939, pp. 83-4). As to the former, witness his very Hegelian critique of the 'rights of man' theorists:

None of the supposed rights of man go beyond the egoistic man, man as he is, as a member of civil society: that is, an individual separated from the community, withdrawn into himself, wholly preoccupied with his private interest and acting in accordance with his private caprice. (1844, p. 26)

The point Marx is making is that man neither always has been, nor everywhere equally is, nor need continue to be to whatever extent he anywhere is, either rationally or capriciously private. (Note the connection, to which we shall return, between private interest and caprice.) The tendency of philosophers and economists to be preoccupied with -- or to take as a basic assumption -- the individual was part and parcel of the alienation produced by capitalism. More specifically, capitalism increased the power of production relations, but required a mis-construction of the conditions of social life in order to achieve and perpetuate its particular reified relations of production:

The relative liberation of man from his direct dependence on nature is achieved by means of social action. Nevertheless, because of the reification of the social relations of production, this achievement appears in alienated form: not as a relative independence from natural necessity but as a freedom from the constraints of social ties and relations, as an ever-intensifying cult of "individual autonomy". (Mészáros, 1970, p. 258)

'Bourgeois' writers (that is, those writing under the mis-constructions endemic in the capitalist system) have seen increasing individualism as liberation from the bonds of 'dogma', such as the Aristotian principle that man is by nature a political animal:

When this 'dogma' had lost its appeal, and philosophers started to be intensively preoccupied with the problems of 'individual freedom', this was due -- as we have already seen -- to the dynamic development of the capitalistic relations of production which required the universal extension of 'liberty' to every single individual so that he could enter into 'free contractual relations' with other individuals, for the purpose of selling and alienating everything that belongs to him, including his own labour power. (Mészáros, 1970, p. 255)

Marx did not only conceive, in the absolute, of the non-inherent nature of alienated individualism, but he noted that it obtained in varying degree. further, he incorporated this variance into a theoretical analysis of social history as a central dynamic variable. He accomplished this in no small part through an application of Hegelian dialectic, especially through the idea of the processual (as opposed to statically categorical) nature of existence and the idea of the mediating self. The general relevance of the former concept is obvious, and well, if simply, summed up in Marcuse's line:

Reality appears as a dynamic in which all fixed forms reveal themselves to be mere abstractions. (1941, p. 26)

It is in the process of negating partiality, false or immediate wholeness, and abstraction, that a subject realizes itself, and in the case of man this is a mediated realization, as man self-consciously creates himself.

The living substance, further, is that being which is truly subject, or what is the same thing, is truly realized and actual (wirklich) solely in the process of positing itself, or in mediating with its own self its transitions from one state or position to the opposite. As subject it is pure and simple negativity, and just on that account a process of splitting up what is simple and undifferentiated, a process of duplicating and setting factors in opposition, which [process] in turn is the negation of this indifferent diversity and of the opposition of factors it entails. (1807, p. 80)

Man is thus always becoming man; man as concrete human existence is always becoming man as notion.

The notion has a dual use. It comprehends the nature or essence of a subject -- matter, and thus represents the true thought of it. At the same time, it refers to the actual realization of that nature or essence, its concrete existence. (Marcuse, 1941, p. 25)

Hegel's idea of self-realization ('man making himself' as it becomes with Marx) is crucial to a sociological understanding of human history. At the core it is the conceptualization of human history as being of human determination, and further, of its succession as being coherent. What is not necessary in the theory is the idea that this coherence is found in any ultimate purpose. The coherence comes from the production of each historical stage by its predecessor, in particular its production through a process of manifold negation.

These stages are not merely differentiated; they supplant one another as being incompatible with one another. But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them at the same time moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes alone and thereby the life of the whole. (1807, p. 68)

Since man is inherently self-consciously self-realizing, stages in his social history are also stages in the history of his consciousness. In order to become more fully 'self-mediating', man's consciousness of himself and his situation must be improved. It is largely in support of more revolutionary improvements in human social consciousness aimed at greater self-realization of mankind, both at large in individuals, that Marx criticizes (or critiques) Hegel's later emphasis on reconciliation and its germs in the more early work. One difference that Marx notes between highly socialized 'primitive' man and the highly socialized man anticipated for socialism is that the latter will be much more directly and significantly self-consciously self-mediating. He will be no more (or less) determined by his social relations, but he will ne more accurately aware of them and thus more able to effectively take a hand in shaping them.

This process is inseparable from the realization of the "truly social individual ". The more the individual is able to "reproduce himself as a social individual", the less intense is the conflict between individual and society, individual and mankind. (Mésáros, 1970, p. 285)

Reproducing himself as a social individual involves essentially the process of mediation, for in Marx's usage the social individual is one who is neither isolated and alienated nor wholly absorbed in his social determinations.

To bring our discussion of Marx round in something of a full circle, we may cite from another of his critiques of 'natural law' theories. He criticizes those theorists who take a

merely objective bond as a spontaneous, natural attribute inherent in individuals and inseparable from their nature (in antithesis to their conscious knowing and willing). (1939, p. 162)

Such a bond belongs, of course, only to a particular phase in historical development, not to 'nature'. The existence of such a bond merely demonstrates that this historical production is still in process, but it must be remembered that the process itself is necessary:

Universally developed individuals, whose social relations, as their on communal [gemeinschaftlich] relations, are hence also subordinated to their own communal control, are no product of nature, but of history. (ibid.)

Two previous stages of this development are of importance here. The first is that of high sociation and low mediation. The second is that of alienated individuality but the development of the abilities which will eventually allow for fuller mediation. Leaving aside the hoped-for eventualities, then, we contrast sociation with alienation. Bearing this contrast in mind (and it appears concretely in many possible diads including traditional Tallensi/ modern America) it becomes possible to recognize certain supposedly logical problems as artifacts of individuality taken as both value and perspective. Arrow's problem concerning democratic social choice and its attendant paradoxes and 'impossibility theorem' exemplify this artifactuallity.

Arrow creates his paradox by perpetuating the utilitarian assumption of the totally knowledgeable and perfectly rational individual. This individual is also seen as having his private tastes in some logical priority to his social situation. This being a fiction, so are the (however logically possible) impossibility functions which he derives from his set of axiomatic conditions, or, more accurately, so is any statement of their applicability to the 'real world'. Arrow's basic problem is this:

If we exclude the possibility of interpersonal comparisons of utility, then the only methods of passing from individual tastes to social preferences which will be satisfactory and which will be defined for a wide range of sets of individual orderings are either imposed or dictatorial. (1951, p. 53)

To some extent Arrow preludes the criticism of artificiality by requiring that his choice methods "be defined for a wide range of sets of individual orderings", in other words, that they operate in a situation of high individuality. This, however, is in no way a logical requirement, but rather is an interpolation of a personal value (as Friedland and Cimbala note, 1973, although they fail to confront this fully or to work out many of its implications). Arrow's value-choice assumes a particular set of historical conditions as the 'natural state of man, quite in the manner Marx criticized. In particular, it is likely that he makes this value a requisite because he is attempting to deal with United States politics, explicitly, and further is attempting to deal with them not only with a static theory but with an implicit valuing of social statics. Paradoxically, he searches for a conservatively biased method of social decision in precisely that form of highly individuated social situation which cannot be stable.

In other words, it is his intention to deal with man as a private member of civil society, as differentiated as possible from his fellows. Differentiated, that is, in preference ordering, but not in his basic rationality. It is for this reason that we cannot say that Arrow is simply concerned to deal with 'man as he is', for he deals with man as he cannot be. It is also for this reason that Friedland and Cimbala can say:

Arrow's proof is actually a demonstration of the logical inconsistency among a set of value postulates and not of some inconsistency between the rules of logic and non-dictatorial methods of reaching social decisions. (1973, p. 61)

The problem which Arrow sets up becomes meaningless when considered in terms of the Tallensi, for the preference orderings of the Tallensi could only be considered imposed by tradition and socialization. They are the product, in other words, of the ongoing nature of Tale social life. A possible rejoinder to this line of argument would be to ask whether the Tallensi in fact make any social choices, implying that they might be considered somehow passively involved in their social reproduction. It is a difficult question to decide in any empirical way how much effect Tallensi are able to have on the self-creation of their society relative to Americans or Englishmen. Such artifacts of measurement as biases toward average or greatest individual influences are only part of the problem. A greater question revolves around the issue of whether 'social choice' means in fact social reproduction taken generally, or only conscious decisions of one of another sort. Certainly 'unanticipated consequences' are of the greatest importance in the functioning of Tale society, and are far from random in their effects.

With this mention of Merton's 1936 discussion of the results of action which are neither intended nor (at least in advance and presumably thus continually) recognized, we enter into a discussion taking production of independence and dependence as contrary tendencies. Since we have been discussing Hegel and utilizing some Hegelian terminology above, it may be well to make it explicit that our conceptualization of dependence and independence is different from Hegel's in his discussion of the self-consciousnesses of lordship and bondage (1807, pp. 229-40). Unlike Hegel, we introduce no concept of hierarchy, of super-subordination into the notion of dependence. Rather, it refers to the extent of sociation itself, to the domination only of the social over the individual in a variable of extent. Let us look, then at dependence, the core manifestation of sociation.


The Dynamics of Dependence
- Authority - The Dynamics of Independence

Previous chapter - Return to Contents - Next chapter- Return to Ancestors Page- Go to The Virtual Institute of Mambila Studies -online