The Function of Socialization in Social Evolution

Chapter 2: Conservation as a Function of Socialization

Ernest W. Burgess

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In our everyday thinking we emphasize origination, while conservation is assumed or taken for granted. It seems a paradox to suggest that for social evolution origination is of only secondary significance; it is the preservation of the new idea, process, or product which is of first importance. Anomalous as is this statement, a large number of facts may be brought forward to indicate the large measure of truth it contains. These facts fall under two heads: first, the selective function of conservation in appropriating invention; and, secondly, its rôle in inhibiting innovation.

1. The mental attitude of the group bent upon repressing variation and upon maintaining the tried and tested ways of thinking and acting comes into working relations with the human tendency to test and appraise the new, because both processes are predominantly social in origin and purpose, and because both are fundamental elements in the evolution of human valuations. The "social value" of an activity signifies either its objective or subjective advantage to the community; the "social valuation" of conduct denotes the appraisal placed upon it by the individuals constituting the group.[1] The process of valuation in which values are evolved is, then, an inter-mental activity which integrates the reactions of the entire membership of the community, comprising the dead as well as the living. We shall now endeavor to show in detail that conservation in both its progressive and reactionary phases is a process in social valuation and a function of socialization.

Socialization made possible the first great human achievements. In the very process of conservation, as well as in the transfer of culture from one group to another, the conserved idea, the sanctioned ways of doing things, the transmitted objects experience a gradual modification, due, of course, to the initiative of numerous individuals, but not assignable to any isolable person, but rather to be ac-counted for by the interplay of the co-operative mental activity which we name the "folk-mind." The origin and the development of language is the example par excellence and type of all invention

( 10) which results from the "give and take" of social life. Presupposing a low stage of socialization, the evolution of the capacity to control in an indirect way the thinking and the conduct of others by the employment of definite vocal symbols made the mental community possible and facilitated the inter-generation solidarity of the group. The taming of wild animals was the work of individuals, but their domestication was the result of the sum of the efforts of generations. The first control of fire was secured in learning to conserve it;[2] not until later was the process of creating fire invented. Mc-Gee thinks that the graceful curves of the reed-bundle boat of the Seri Indians are "nothing more than the mechanical solution of a complex problem in balanced forces wrought out through the experiences of generations." [3] The evolution of the plowshare is said to have been guided by raising the metal at the place where the mud clung.[4] The beginnings of all the arts and sciences are to be found in this mental co-operation of the folk-mind. Bücher in his study, Arbeit and Rhythmus, correlates the development of rhythm with its functional value as an accompaniment of co-operative work. The drama, as the representation of the significant moments in tribal experience, borrowed its material and inspiration from the common life; the ballad was a composite product of a series of men, each of whom added to or subtracted from the poem as it came to his hand. Counting by twos and threes on the fingers led to arithmetic ;[5] the invention of money is a social process worked out by generations of exchange. The beginnings of medicine are to be traced back to the collection of herbs and practices handed down by the old women or by the medicine-men in the group. The mixture of the ingredients in cooking receipts, like the proportion of metals in the old alloys, seems to have been worked out on a rude empirical basis of the selection of the desirable modifications. Our social etiquette, our marriage and funeral rites, our ceremonies of church and state, our parliamentary procedure, all have a long and complex history in which the outstanding fact is their origin in the

( 11) collective activities. In short, "social refraction," ' as Tarde designated this deflection of invention, as it is transmitted from person to person and from group to group, not merely transmits, but modifies and improves as well.

The socializing process provides the conditions, not only for the emergence, but also for the preservation of the innovation. The conservation of the invention is assured by its appropriation by the group, or by its diffusion through - society and by its trans-mission in the group. This machinery of conservation is set in operation by the utilization of psychic forces: by the fixation of attention, by the appeal to interest, by the formation of habits with reference to stimuli which have a real or apparent value for human welfare. The evolution of human wants and the process of social change involved, while conditioned, in a measure of course, by the congenital equipment and the individual experience of the person and by the requirements of the physical environment, are almost entirely determined by the psychic interrelations of men in association. An analysis of the processes of appropriation, diffusion, and transmission will clarify this point, namely, that conservation is a function of socialization. Appropriation by imitation differs from diffusion by education in that in the former process social consciousness and social control are either reduced to a minimum or are unobtrusive and non-coercive. Powerful sense stimuli, such as alcohol, narcotics, and condiments, possess an organic sanction and, therefore, the highest degree of transmissibility. Ornaments, weapons, and tools, with their obvious relation to the control of life, leap only less readily the barriers of race, language, and custom. The contact of the Europeans and the American Indians furnishes instructive instances of the relative rapidity of the adoption of new cultural values. The European and the Indian soon negotiated the exchange of fire-water for tobacco. It was not long before the horse and the dog and the gun of the white were in the possession of the red man. But the religion of the Caucasian and his esoteric symbols for reading and writing were not appreciated by the Indian ; the missionary must create an artificial demand for his commodities where the trader had only to appeal to the eye and the ear to adapt his business to the activities of the savage. In modern times, fashions, fads and crazes, those social institutions of ephemeral appropriation by imitation which

( 12) provide for the conservation[6] of many an innovation which might otherwise pass unnoticed, exhibit a type of social control which, while still largely in the social unconsciousness, marks an advanced stage in socializatiôn, because here the social sanction often counter-balances the organic and activity valuations. Diffusion by education attempts to lay hold of the natural means of psychic appropriation, but adds artificial stimuli as well. Attractive leadership, the glamor of place and rank, and the prestige of success afford "radiant centers of suggestibility"[7] for the aspiring members of the group. Besides intensifying certain stimuli by special devices for securing vividness and frequency, primacy and recency, the group narrows the range of conflicting influences by contracting the range of stimulation. The emphasis of a small religious community such as the Shakers upon its distinctive peculiarities of conversation and dress as well as its withdrawal from the allurements of the outside world illustrates the endeavor made by every group to maintain its integrity. In the methods adopted for securing the diffusion of knowledge and opinion by education we have the conscious control by the group of the process of conservation, an advance made possible by the attainment of the conscious stage of socialization. Word of mouth and oral tradition, the written manuscript and the printed book, the church and the school constitute the social media in which the achievement of one generation becomes the social heritage of the next. This organization of conservation through the agency of specialized groups and methods not only facilitates the rapidity of diffusion, but offers a secure basis for change. Thus we see that, while the appropriation of a cultural element implies at least a minimum of socialization, the diffusion of knowledge, even by the most attractive methods, requires a higher type of socialization.

The fundamental element in the conserving process is the appreciation by the group of the value of the innovation to the group. Whether this valuation be unconscious or conscious, individual or collective, subjective or objective, it is social, either in its formation or its criterion, or in both origin and purpose. Sumner[8] has

( 13) emphasized the function of the feeling of rightness or of group welfare in perpetuating ways of thinking and acting. The value attached to an idea, mode of action, or appliance may be predominantly habitual, fetishistic, supernatural or functional. The rôle of these factors in the beginnings of culture is well set forth by McGee[9] in his study of the Seri Indians, a tribe of the lowest cultural development in North America. So elementary are almost all their industrial implements that there is much to be said for the contention that their appliances are mere improvisations immediately reflecting the physical environment. The dwellings of the families are temporary bowers ; the source of the clothing was probably once exclusively, as now chiefly, pelican skins ; a shallow bowl of water serves as a mirror for the Seri belle; mollusc shells take the place of cups; the agave thorn with the attached fibers is the prototype of our needle and thread. Marine shells, in addition to their use as utensils and receptacles, are employed in scraping skins, in digging graves, in propelling the Seri boat, and in shaping the reeds required for the manufacture of arrows and harpoons. Stones of all kinds from pebbles to boulders are used for functions as diverse as manual implements and anvils. While McGee makes clear that the use of shells and the largest proportion of stone implements is fortuitous and impromptu, he points out that the modification which they receive by repeated use enhances their value in the opinion of their user and insures their continued preservation. The survival of the serviceable appliance is due to the emotional value which attaches to its altered form. This sentiment which extends the self-feeling of the user to objects in customary use and to the familiar and the habitual in general becomes an important element in the fixation and conservation of the function and form of objects, inasmuch as the habits of individuals tend to become the customs of the group. The fact that the general features of the crude bower, which serves merely as the temporary dwelling, are invariably uniform andconventional[10] is only one illustration of the many which might be cited to show the dominance of the folk-mind over individual initiative and caprice. McGee sums up the problem as follows : "Even the improvisations are made in accordance with regular custom, firmly fixed by associations quite in the way, indeed, of primitive life generally, and of the physiologic and psychic processes from which

( 14) primitive custom is so largely borrowed." [11] Thus, in general, the habitual sanction resolves into the customary sanction, inherited by the individual because of his membership in a mental community; as in the adoption of every innovation, the process is reversed, and the habit of the individual becomes the custom of the group.

The fetishistic or magical potence attributed to an object, even more than the habitual sanction, is a socio-psychic product and is employed with constant reference to the group welfare. Frazer in The Golden Bough has indicated the significance attached in primitive groups to sympathetic magic for the control of life. The survival, if not the origin of many elements of culture, is to be traced to the common consciousness of the ill luck that would come to the group by the slightest deviation from the conduct sanctioned by the con-science of the group. Among the Seri the origin of clothing is attributed to fetishistic motives in connection with the ritual of the tribe. The protection of turtle-shells and pelican pelts in battle is symbolic, and the wearing of textile clothing is evidently an elaboration of hair necklaces first worn ceremonially. Even in this tribe of low culture the practice of magic had developed into a cult in the hands of the old women. The arrow poison compounded by these old dames is a preparation more revolting in the details of its composition than that of the ingredients of the mixture of the cauldron of the witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth. The magical appropriation of an alien cultural element constitutes the lowest stage of acculturation.[12] Thus the shamanistic chipping of arrows which are not to be put to practical use in battle and the employment of the white man's Winchester as a fetish and not as a weapon in the fight indicate the nature of the process in which even hostile contact may occasion the development of a social valuation of the worth of novel objects and methods for group survival and success. While the sense of lack of control and reliance upon the efficacy of magic is the mental correlate of magical practices, the specific fetish employed is a social development with an origin and a function connected with group crises and owing its survival and efficiency to the mental attitude of the group.

( 14)

The supernatural sanction, although more often negative than positive, has always had reference more to the socializing than to the technical aspect of life and has demanded a higher integration and specialization of the social consciousness. The religious life of every people has centered[13] about the development of a deity or polytheistic hierarchy whose command enforced systems of hygiene and morality before a functional standard was recognized. Thus, bathing and purification had a magical [14] significance long before the perception of their relation to health had any compelling power over human conduct. With the breakdown of the tribal form of socialization and the emergence of the community and national types, the solidarity of the people came to express itself in a spontaneous way in worship and in ritual. In contemporary society we may discover the vestiges of this alleged divine sanction for social institutions. Every assault against the existing order finds the conservatives making their last stand on the "divine right of kings" or the "sacred rights of property" or upon the constitution and the courts as the "Ark of the Covenant" of society.

2. In the preceding paragraphs, evidence has been brought for-ward to demonstrate that the essential element in the habitual, fetishistic, and religious sanctions has been an appreciation of the social value of the activity of the object in question, and that the development of this social valuation has been the outcome of the mental interrelations of the individuals, living and dead, who constitute the psychic community. With this examination of the positive function of conservation we now turn to a consideration of its negative rôle for the purpose of discovering in how far the integration of the ideas, feelings, and activities of persons in that functional unity which we name the "social mind" represses variation and innovation.

The rôle of conservation in inhibiting invention is homologous to the resistance which an old muscular co-ordination or habit of thought offers to the development of a conflicting series of move-

( 15) -ments or to a radically different train of ideas. The ideas and sentiments of the group tend to become stratified in definite layers of conventionality and to assume a rigidity which serves as a protection against social change. Superstitious fears of change, the dread of supernatural vetoes, and the resistance of vested interests are typical forms of social inertia which have put brakes on progress.

Superstitious aversion to change refers to the uneasiness, not to be accounted for on functional grounds, felt by a person in abandoning a socially sanctioned practice. The record that no sound of tools of iron was heard in the building of Solomon's temple,[15] and the fact that as late as the fall of the Roman Republic no bolts of iron[16] were allowed in the repair of the Sublician Bridge across the Tiber hark back to the prehistoric struggle between bronze and iron, and testify to the deep-set prejudice with which the users of bronze and stone regarded the advent of iron. The reason that the cassock of the clergyman of today was the ordinary dress of the Elizabethan gentleman[17] is due not only to the conservative character of the profession, but also to the strong lay opposition to the least deviation from propriety by the priest. The paralyzing effect upon progress of a supernatural veto has been strikingly indicated by Professor Thomas : "Among the Hebrews a religious inhibition—'thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image'—was sufficient to prevent anything like the sculpture of the Greeks; and the doctrine of the resurrection of the body in the early Christian church, and the teaching that man was made in the image of God, formed an almost insuperable obstacle to the study of human anatomy." [18]

If a religious prohibition and a dogma were sufficient to inhibit an art and to arrest the development of a science, popular prejudice and superstition have exercised, in more recent times, a deterrent effect upon the diffusion of an invention. So set were the eighteenth-century English villagers in the agricultural practices of their ancestors that after five years of persistent effort to introduce the potato among his tenants, Sir Edward Coke of Norfolk, an enthusi-

( 17) -astic advocate of the "new agriculture," could win only the reluctant concession that perhaps "'twouldn't poison tha' pigs." [19] A singular delusion that "cast iron poisoned the lands" induced American farmers to reject[20] the first cast-iron plow in this country invented as early as 1792, although it seems to have worked successfully. The popular opinion that the erection of gas works and the distribution of the product "endangered the health and the lives"[21] of the people was a most serious obstacle to the introduction of gas in American cities in the twenties and the thirties. When in England, in the reign of Edward I, coal-using was denounced in a petition of the inhabitants of the city of London as "a public nuisance, corrupting the air with its stink and smoke, to the great detriment of their health," and as a result the practice was prohibited by the king, and in 1306 "a citizen was tried, condemned, and executed for burning `sea cole' in the city of London," [22] can we wonder that the arts of coal-mining and -burning made but little progress for centuries against this crystallized opposition of public opinion? The illustrations might be multiplied indicating that one of the chief factors responsible for delayed invention and retarded conservation is the conservative state of mind of the group.

The obstruction of vested interests, both of labor and of capital, is perhaps more effective than the drag of superstition and prejudice because of their active organized opposition. The investment of the artisan in skill like that of the manufacturer in machinery makes change difficult, if not impossible, for the individual. When the introduction of a labor-saving device adversely affects the life-conditions of a large number of men in a given trade or industry, the resulting state of mind of the workmen will not be favorable to the utilization of the invention. The history of the invention of textile machinery is full of these instances. In 1768 an enraged mob "gutted Hargreaves's house and destroyed his jenny and his loom."[23]

( 18) but the sanctioned idea or course of action. As such, it limits the variability of human action and tends to rigidity. Thus, the very process of social valuation, so important in the conservation of invention, contains within it, by the nature of its operation, an unprogressive tendency antagonistic to its function.

Conservation, then, in both its positive and its negative phases, reduces to an aspect of the process of personal and social valuation. The innovation must possess a value, conceived as magical, super-natural, or functional, appreciated by the group; in the long run, it must articulate with the practical activities of the group; and it must be sufficiently generalized throughout the group by appropriation and by diffusion to assure its conservation. Socialization, then, as the process integrating the ideas, attitudes, and activities of the members of the group into an organic whole operates to secure the preservation and survival of objects and methods of social value.


  1. Small, The Meaning of Social Science, 1910, p. 244.
  2. This is the present state of the art among the Andamanese (Mason, Origins of Invention, 1895, p. 101).
  3. "The Seri Indians," in the Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, XVII (1895-96), 173.
  4. Iles, Inventors at Work, 1906, p. 91.
  5. Conant, The Number Concept, 1896, p. 7.
  6. Vincent, “The Rivalry of Social Groups,” in the American Journal of Sociology, XVI (1910-11), 481.
  7. Cf. Ross, Social Control, 1910, chap. IX, “The Radiant Points of Social Control.”
  8. Folkways, 1906, p. 30.
  9. Supra, p. 10.
  10. Op.cit., pp. 221-22.
  11. Op. cit., p. 233.
  12. Cf. McGee, "Piratical Acculturation," in the American Anthropologist, XI (1898), 243-49.
  13. Wallis in his Sociological Study of the Bible, 1912, develops the thesis that the Bible and the Christian religion are the product of a socializing process.
  14. Stern, Geschichte der öffentlichen Sittlichkeit in Russland, 1907, I, 434-37; see also Frazer, The Golden Bough, (3d ed., 1911), "The Magic Art," I, 277; II, 157.
  15. I Kings 6:7. The Mormon temple at Salt Lake City was built without iron.
  16. Elworthy, The Evil Eye, 1895, p. 220, note.
  17. Cutts, Scenes and Characters of the Middle Ages, 1886, p. 225.
  18. Thomas, Sex and Society; 1907, p. 283.
  19. Stirling, Coke of Norfolk and His Friends, 1908, I, 281.
  20. Twelfth Census of the United States, Manufactures, Part IV, p. 359.
  21. Ibid., p. 713.
  22. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., 1911, XXV, 275; cf. Bateson, Mediaeval England; 1904, p. 408; and Green and others, Coal: Its History and Uses, 1878, pp. 227-28.
  23. Stephen, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885, XXIV, 380.

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