The Polish Peasant in Europe and America

Part II: The Concept of Social Disorganization

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The concept of social disorganization as we shall use it in this and the following volumes refers primarily to institutions and only secondarily to men. Just as group-organization embodied in socially systematized schemes of behavior imposed as rules upon individuals never exactly coincides with individual life-organization consisting in personally systematized schemes of behavior, so social disorganization never exactly corresponds to individual disorganization. Even if we imagined a group lacking all internal differentiation, i. e., a group in which every member would accept all the socially sanctioned and none but the socially sanctioned rules of behavior as schemes of his own conduct, still every member would systematize these schemes differently in his personal evolution, would make a different life-organization out of them, because neither his temperament nor his life-history would be exactly the same as those of other members. As a matter of fact, such a uniform group is a pure fiction; even in the least differentiated groups we find socially sanctioned rules of behavior which explicitly apply only to certain classes of individuals and are not supposed to be used by others in organizing their conduct, and we find individuals who in organizing their conduct use some personal schemes of their own invention besides the traditionally sanctioned social rules. Moreover, the progress of social differentiation is accompanied by a growth of special in-

( 1128) -stitutions, consisting essentially in a systematic organization of a certain number of socially selected schemes for the permanent achievement of certain results. This institutional organization and the life-organization of any of the individuals through whose activity the institution is socially realized partly overlap, but one individual cannot fully realize in his life the whole systematic organization of the institution since the latter always implies the collaboration of many, and on the other hand each individual has many interests which have to be organized outside of this particular institution.

There is, of course, a certain reciprocal dependence between social organization and individual life-organization. We shall discuss in Part IV the influence which social organization exercises upon the individual; we shall see in this and in the following volumes how the life-organization of individual members of a group, particularly of leading members, influences social organization. But the nature of this reciprocal influence in each particular case is a problem to be studied, not a dogma to be accepted in advance.

These points must be kept in mind if we are to understand the question of social disorganization. We can define the latter briefly as a decrease of the influence of existing social rules of behavior upon individual members of the group. This decrease may present innumerable degrees, ranging from a single break of some particular rule by one individual up to a general decay of all the institutions of the group. Now, social disorganization in this sense has no unequivocal connection whatever with individual disorganization, which consists in a decrease of the individual's ability to organize his whole life for the efficient, progressive and

( 1129) continuous realization of his fundamental interests. An individual who breaks some or even most of the social rules prevailing in his group may indeed do this because he is losing the minimum capacity of life-organization required by social conformism ; but he may also reject the schemes of behavior imposed by his milieu because they hinder him in reaching a more efficient and more comprehensive life-organization. On the other hand also, the social organization of a group may be very permanent and strong in the sense that no opposition is manifested to the existing rules and institutions; and yet, this lack of opposition may be simply the result of the narrowness of the interests of the group-members and may be accompanied by a very rudimentary; mechanical and inefficient life-organization of each member individually. Of course, a strong group organization may be also the product of a conscious moral effort of its members and thus correspond to a very high degree of life-organization of each of them individually. It is therefore impossible to conclude from social as to individual organization or disorganization, or vice versa. In other words, social organization is not coextensive with individual morality, nor does social disorganization correspond to individual demoralization.

Social disorganization is not an exceptional phenomenon limited to certain periods or certain societies; some of it is found always and everywhere, since always and everywhere there are individual cases of breaking social rules, cases which exercise some disorganizing influence on group institutions and, if not counteracted, are apt to multiply and to lead to a complete decay of the latter. But during periods of social stability this continuous incipient disorganization is continuously neu-

( 1130) -tralized by such activities of the group as reinforce with the help of social sanctions the power of existing rules. The stability of group institutions is thus simply a dynamic equilibrium of processes of disorganization and reorganization. This equilibrium is disturbed when processes of disorganization can no longer be checked by any attempts to reinforce the existing rules. A period of prevalent disorganization follows, which may lead to a complete dissolution of the group. More usually, however, it is counteracted and stopped before it reaches this limit by a new process of reorganization which in this case does not consist in a mere reinforcement of the decaying organization, but in a production of new schemes of behavior and new institutions better adapted to the changed demands of the group; we call this production of new schemes and institutions social reconstruction. Social reconstruction is possible only because, and in so far as, during the period of social disorganization a part at least of the members of the group have not become individually disorganized, but, on the contrary, have been working toward a new and more efficient personal life-organization and have expressed a part at least of the constructive tendencies implied in their individual activities in an effort to produce new social institutions.

In studying the process of social disorganization we must, of course, in accordance with the chief aim of all science, try to explain it causally, i. e., to analyze its concrete complexity into simple facts which could be subordinated to more or less general laws of causally determined becoming. We have seen in our first volume (Methodological Note) that in the field of social reality a causal fact contains three components, i. e., an effect, whether individual or social, always has a composite

( 1131) cause, containing both an individual (subjective) and a social (objective) element. We have called the subjective socio-psychological elements of social reality attitudes and the objective, social elements which impose themselves upon the individual as given and provoke his reaction social values. If we want to explain causally the appearance of an attitude, we must remember that it is never produced by an external influence alone, but by an external influence plus a definite tendency or predisposition, in other words, by a social value acting upon or, more exactly, appealing to some preexisting attitude. If we want to explain causally the appearance of a social value-a scheme of behavior, an institution, a material product-we cannot do it by merely going back to some subjective, psychological phenomenon of "will" or "feeling" or "reflection," but we must take into account as part of the real cause the preexisting objective, social data which in combination with a subjective tendency gave rise to this effect; in other words, we must explain a social value by an attitude acting upon or influenced by some preexisting social value.

As long as we are concerned with disorganization alone, leaving provisionally aside the following process of reconstruction, the phenomenon which we want to explain is evidently the appearance of such attitudes as impair the efficiency of existing rules of behavior and thus lead to the decay of social institutions. Every social rule is the expression of a definite combination of certain attitudes; if instead of these attitudes some others appear, the influence of the rule is disturbed. There may be thus several different ways in which a rule can lose its efficiency, and still more numerous ways in which an institution, which always involves several regulating schemes, can fall into decay. The causal ex-

( 1132) -planation of any particular case of social disorganization demands thus that we find, first of all, what are the particular attitudes whose appearance manifests itself socially in the loss of influence of the existing social rules, and then try to determine the causes of these attitudes. Our tendency should be, of course, to analyze the apparent diversity and complexity of particular social processes into a limited number of more or less general causal facts, and this tendency can be realized in the study of disorganization if we find that the decay of different rules existing in a given society is the objective manifestation of similar attitudes, that, in other words, many given, apparently different phenomena of disorganization can be causally explained in the same way. We cannot reach any laws of social disorganization, i. e., we cannot find causes which always and everywhere produce social disorganization; we can only hope to determine laws of socio-psychological becoming, i. e., find causes which always and everywhere produce certain definite attitudes, and these causes will explain also social disorganization in all those cases in which it will be found that the attitudes produced by them are the real background of social disorganization, that the decay of given rules or institutions is merely the objective, superficial manifestation of the appearance of these attitudes. Our task is the same as that of the physicist or chemist who does not attempt to find laws of the multiform changes which happen in the sensual appearance of our material environment, but searches for laws of the more fundamental and general processes which are supposed to underlie those directly observable changes, and explains the latter causally only in so far as it can be shown that they are the superficial manifestations of certain deeper, causally explicable effects.

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In the next section, "Disorganization of the Family," we offer an explicit illustration of our method, analyzing in detail the problems raised by every document and showing the process by which the conclusion is reached. It would be, of course, superfluous for the professional sociologist and tiresome for the amateur reader if we pursued this exposition of the technique of research throughout the whole volume; in the following sections we state therefore only the general conclusions with just enough particular suggestions to make the bearing of the documents quite clear.


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