Institutional Behavior


Floyd Henry Allport

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ONE who devotes oneself to social psychology as a study of the behavior of individuals continually challenges, by implication, the method of those who view it from the standpoint of groups; and such an inquirer must eventually face the issues which these latter are raising. During the past ten years I have been pointing out the inadequacies which seem to me to arise from talking about 'societal' entities, such as groups and institutions, as though they possessed human qualities, causal potency, or characteristics for objective, scientific study. These earlier efforts were not a questioning of whether collective entities exist, but only a plea that we discriminate carefully in the manner in which such concepts are used, that we inquire whether, on certain occasions, a different conception might not reveal truths which are fundamental. In this book I have examined these group approaches more thoroughly, and have tested them not merely by the criterion of scientific method, but by tracing their consequences throughout human relationships and the structure of social organization. And in contrast with the societal view, I have outlined, however inadequately, the beginnings of a new orientation: I have tried to re-interpret both institutions and society in terms of the behavior of individuals.

Readers will recognize in this methodological issue the old problem of the one and the many, a puzzle transmitted from the ancient philosophers and carried by the Schoolmen into the endless ramifications of nominalism and realism. The claim of this problem on my own interest, however, is not one of an historic or academic nature; and its full significance goes beyond these earlier metaphysical speculations. The theory that the 'many,' unified through an ideal or a pattern of organization into the 'one,' is something as real and important as the individuals taken separately involves, in our modern social setting, two consequences of deep significance. It raises first, a question fundamental to

(viii) the methods of the human sciences. And secondly, it aids in the secret operation of desires, motives, symbolism, rationalization, and forms of control in a manner which cannot be understood without careful analysis. These effects of group and institutional thinking comprise an important though neglected field for psychological study.

In historical retrospect the device of symbols representing groups and institutions seems fairly obvious. When Cardinal Richelieu, in the drama bearing his name, inscribes about his ward the protective 'circle of Rome,' we are likely to smile at the superstition which made this strategy effective. The record of the conflict over investiture, the 'divine right' theory of kings, and the indulgences granted by the 'Church,' make one wonder no less at the audacity of the lords spiritual and temporal than at the fallibility of the masses. The solid front which the advocates of slavery made to uphold what they called the "South's peculiar institution," is likely to impress a modern reader as another instance of men's ideals gone wrong. And in the juridical tradition to the effect that when twelve men come together to take joint action there are not twelve persons present, but thirteen (the thirteenth being the corporate mind of the group), the collective fiction becomes a bit grotesque. It has an uncanny sound which is unsuited to modern ears. Such instances of elevating and personifying social aggregates probably do not beguile thoughtful readers today.

Insight into the gullibility of our forefathers does not guarantee, however, that we ourselves are free from a similar confusion. It may mean merely that we have invented subtler formulas. And indeed, with our modern collective symbols do we not deceive ourselves and our contemporaries quite as effectively as the rulers of an older time exploited their subjects? The theory of an additional, 'corporate' person, though we call it a "legal fiction," is nevertheless a principle which has been accepted in juristic practice down to the present day. When citizens of Georgia used the old doctrine of 'States Rights' to oppose a constitutional amendment concerning child labor, no one seemed to think their argument mystical. When a political candidate, who later became the President of the United States, argued that the 'Government' should not go into business in competition with its citizens, no one appeared to recognize the fallacy which this phraseology

(ix) concealed. Publicists who plead for the 'rights of Capital' or for the 'reconciliation of Capital and Labor' are not usually brought to task by citizens who see through these vague, collective symbols. Many of us still talk about Society's laws, trends, and cycles as though such concepts, rather than human efforts, control the acts and affairs of men. At a recent Pan-American Conference the activities of our foreign investors and of soldiers protecting their investments were quietly ignored, the delegates limiting their discussion to the rights and duties' of 'sovereign states.' When orators urge upon us an unquestioning, universal obedience to Law and a defense of our Country's Institutions, they tend to dull their own sensibilities and those of their hearers. As a result, few questions are raised concerning the actual practices which these terms so skillfully cover.

Is it not clear when we think about it, that many of our present appeals through institutions are as dishonest and as dangerous as the fictions of a bygone age? Are not the ideologies of today as full of illusory logic and superstition as those of yesterday? For they still abet, even while they conceal, the power and greed of men who would exploit their fellows; and they continue to exclude the masses of men and women from realizing their full capacities for living. If we would make true progress in understanding our social order, if we would take the first step toward extricating ourselves from our present confusion, it is my conviction that we must submit these controls of our thinking to a careful analysis. We must strive for a clearer insight into these subtle and pervasive illusions.

In close relation to the problem of the one and the many, there runs throughout these essays another theme of major importance. The entirety of the physical and psychological make-up, the full range of likes and dislikes, of traits and habits of every individual in an organized group comprise a totality too complex and unwieldy to serve as material for the social scientists. The groupings or the 'society' of the latter are composed, for the most part, not of human beings as wholes, but only of certain 'behavioral segments,' certain common interests, acts, and sentiments which function in an organized manner to 'keep society going.' Institutions are collections not of individuals, but of a portion of the activities of individuals. Now the tendency of some social students and leaders to ignore this fact, their at-

(x) -tempts, in theory or in practice, to force men and women into these narrow, segmentalized groupings, are yielding consequences which, in my opinion, are disastrous. Individuals cannot realize their full potentialities when we deal with them through societal categories and patterns. They must be regarded as unique organisms having tendencies and characteristic patterns of their own. It is my thesis that an individual's personality can be fully expressed only when he is given freedom of choice and responsibility in an environment composed of other free and responsible individuals.

The essays which follow are not intended as a complete or an authoritative treatise upon institutions. They represent rather a point of view. Their unity is not that of a systematic survey, but of a consistent approach. Taking up, in order, the spheres of government, business, industry, familial relationships, education, and organized religion, I have sought to apply this method in each field through a consideration of its immediate problems. It is hoped, therefore, that this book may have some interest not only for general readers, but for teachers and students who are seeking a psychological analysis of institutions and a discussion of the social problems which we are attempting, through institutional agencies, to solve.

From the standpoint of empirical investigation, I feel a certain diffidence in putting forth this book. I offer in its pages no pretense of scientific knowledge. It is presented not as fact, but as method. Though it may appear to be normative and persuasive in spirit, the only cause I have intended to plead is that of freedom in the quest for discovery and in the search of individuals for self-fulfillment. Although this book is not science, it is the view of one who tries to understand and share the task of scientists. It should be mentioned further that these essays are a by-product of a program of research upon which I have been steadily working. More precise and quantitative studies, based, like the present volume, upon the individual approach, are still in process of development. Meanwhile, because of my interest in applying this method to problems which are now urgent, and because of my confidence in it as an aid in living, I have the temerity to put forward these present efforts.


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