No. 037



TR Young

October, 1978


Distributed as part of the
TRANSFORMING SOCIOLOGY SERIES of The Red Feather Institute, 8085 Essex, Weidman, Michigan, 48893.



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A Marxist Perspective

          Postmodern understandings of the self system are put
          forward in a number of theses.  These theses take into
          account the structure of communication and interaction
          made possible or impossible by massification and
          desanctification processes inherent in large scale
          organizations.   These theses consider the implications
          of formal, bureaucratically organized social life on
          the degree to which the self system is anchored in the
          social order; the degree to which moral agency is
          possible in hierarchical systems; the content of the
          self system in fragmented social encounters as well as
          the degree to which the self system is colonized by
          advertising and public relations tactics by private
          firms and state agencies.


INTRODUCTION: The most interesting recent development in Marxism theory is, for me, the critical reexamination of the relation between human consciousness and the larger structure of social production.

Inspired by Horkheimer, Adorno, Lukacs, Marcuse, Habermas, and others, the relationship between base and superstructure, between art and relations of production, between technical   rationality and practical (substantive) rationality between self and society, has intrigued the discipline in the past decade.

As a result of the experience of the Soviet Union, there has been considerable renewal on both theory and practice---while consciousness is rescued as a vital element in the dialectics   production (Hearn: 1978:46). The "vulgar" Marxism of the Soviet Union and of trade unionism is, in theory, to be replaced by a dialectic Marxism in which "politics takes command;" i.e., in which  people talk to each other about the larger rationality of what they are doing rather than following orders in a technicized, mechanical sort of way.

In this model, secretaries question the reasons for research projects and, taking command, insightfully respond to the logic of the situation as informed by considerations of such human value as praxis, community, peace, priorities, or resources., In like manner, the authority of position found in bureaucracy is replaced by the authority of argument in the public sphere (Habermas: 1970:118).

In this model, the role of the self in the production of social reality and human knowledge is central since the dialectic is between the "rationality of technique" and the "rationality of consciousness" (Hearn: 1978:42).

In American social psychology, there is an endemic bias in which the self is an autonomous, creating, active even determining part of the process by which social reality itself is produced. I will develop this point in a later section.

Unlike more orthodox Marxism models in which the structure of self, consciousness and culture are determined by the relations of production and the means-of production, in the new Marxism model, there is a dialectical relationship between self and systems of production. The self, consciousness and knowledge can be (and should be) a force of production which alters the oppressive character of the relations of production.

In traditional Marxism theory the self shrinks to a passive, manipulated entity and process in which it is capable of pushing buttons during the week and drinking beer on the weekend while watching football. The new Marxist model stresses the self entity process as a variable process capable of remarkable liveliness in bleak situations.

The old Marxism model stresses the goals of material production while new model stresses the de-reified production of human knowledge as the central goal of social revolution. Such a major transformation of Marxist theory expels economic determinism and economism which renders socialism as very much like its capitalist foe.

The new model places socialism more directly opposite and more significantly different from capitalism.   The old model of self in socialist theory is compatible with bureaucratic socialism and elitism in the camp. The new model of self is overtly hostile to such bureaucratic organization of production and mass control.

In the old Marxism model, the significant question is how to industrialize; in an authentically critical methodology, one would rather ask, what are the social conditions under which a competent self system arises, what are the obstacles to self-other dialectics, and how may those obstacles be surmounted. Such questions place social psychology in the sphere of public discourse (politics) rather than in the sphere of academic science.. At the same moment, such questions reconstitute the social psychologist as a substantive rational actor and reduce the technical character of the role. Such questions assume that the structure of self is variable, is problematic, requires a supportive social matrix if it is to develop, has varying content and may not develop at all. Questions of this sort ask whether existing social conditions are adequate to the process of becoming human .... and inform a spirit of social revolution as these answers are approached. By such questions, social psychology as a discipline is transformed from a technical profession serving any master to an indispensable element in the process of normative discourse--a discourse about what exists, its failings and about what is to be done to repair the human process.


In transforming social psychology, it would be helpful to pose a set of theses for critical analysis and public discourse for the next, new generation of social psychologists and those interested in the sources and role of human consciousness in the production of everyday life. To that end, I have set forth some theses about the self as a beginning. before we look at those, I would like to return to a critique of conventional wisdom on the notion of the self in the writings of Mead, Schutz, Cooley, Goffman and others in the symbolic interaction tradition.

The Separation of Self and Social Organization. There are many characteristics of capitalism, as a system of production, which calls into question the validity of the assumption that self and society are twin-born. In the first instance, the socialization process is not geared to the production of specific social identities for young persons. it is rather oriented to the inculcation of skills and techniques which are sellable on the labor market. In capitalist modes of production, labor is a commodity to be sold while the function of the educative process in school and college is to produce workers to supply the market.

A stable self-system is no longer the point and purpose of education but, rather, a stable business system or a stable factory system is the focus of schooling. Those who manage the socialization process under capitalist modes of production are charged with running an efficient and economic operation not with building character, consolidating permanent and stable social relationships or with the integrity of the self-system.

A second aspect of advanced industrial capitalism which calls into question the historic linkage between self and society is the separation of the status-role on the one hand and the person on the other. In "modern" organizational principles, the status-role is the "property" of the corporation and the person only temporarily "assigned" to that status-role. The manager purchases the labor power of the individual via wages and, if the labor power is not profitable to the organization, the individual is discarded. That a sentient human being is the vehicle in which labor power resides is not of interest to the manager. The status-role and the social identity associated with the role, as the property of the capitalist corporation may be, with "proper" notice be withdrawn leaving the self-system of the worker bereft of the social identity which up to that time was used by the individual to organize his/her own behavior in stable, orderly, and predictable ways and which constituted a core of the self-system.

In those societies in which the social identity is a property of a self-system, a manager cannot on a week's notice take possession (and dispossess the worker) of a social position. There are, of course, disengagement routines by which, for reasons of moral delict, a person can be stripped of a social identity and cast out of the social base. But under capitalist notions of ownership and authority it is done for reasons other than serious moral failure. It is done as a matter of routine and with very little ceremony. The moral basis for the stripping process is replaced by a utilitarian basis--couched in terms of profit and loss and rationalized by the calculus of "overhead" and "selling costs." The company owns the status-role upon which self-identity depends. It fills the positions and empties them as profit, growth, and authoritative whim dictate.

In a depoliticized social psychology, the harm done to the self-systems of the members of those societies in which the social anchorage of the self-system is under the effective control of a cadre of managers in a formal, bureaucratically organized office, shop, or factory is masked by such concepts as achieved-status, career-path, role allocation or mobility. Each of these concepts is central to symbolic interactional theory and to the assumptions of how behavior is organized in the course of social interaction seen on a day-today basis or seen on a more macroanalytic basis.

In the neutered language of contemporary social psychology a distinction between achieved and ascribed status is usually made. In praise of achieved status over the "unearned" position to which one is ascribed in "primitive" societies, the textbook argument effectively forecloses critical examination of the process of status allocation. Such a bias in the language of social analysis cripples the capacity to reflect upon and to judge the impact on the self system of "modern" forms of role possession and dispossession.

If a status-position in a formal organization is "allocated" to an "employee," on the basis of achievement and merit, the question of the forms of achievement are glossed over; the question of who defines merit is by-passed, and the enormous amount of political struggle to keep one's job (status-role), and thus protect the integrity of one's own self, is excluded from consideration. The terms of achievement are controlled by a specially trained and motivated managerial cadre whose interests are in instrumental use of human beings to a purpose far removed from the production of normative behavior or the creation of culture.

In a humane society, the terms of "achievement" would be the central focus of attention; in a managed society (capitalist as well as bureaucratic socialist), the terms of achievement are given by the system and what is of interest (improperly), is the degree of achievement of those terms as registered on some scale of merit geared to G.N.P. or corporate interests.

One may look at the catalog of any course of "professional" study in any college or university in the United States and observe that the terms of accomplishment center around those technical skills necessary to design and control rational-purposive systems, i.e., systems organized to replace the idiographic world of normative human beings with the nomothetic world of the predictable and the externally controllable. All this is labeled science and forcibly imposed upon students and/or workers in regimented phases. The concept of science is interpreted as physical, objectified, closed forms of systems organization and operation. That human systems are and must be different from physical systems is never effectively raised as an issue in a competent forum. It is a given to which all students and workers must submit else forego the material luxury of the "professional" career.

The Technical Permeates the Self. Habermas (1975) sees the realm of the behavior mediated by the self reduced further by the intrusion of the realm of the technical into the realm of the cultural. All this is more understandable to a person equipped with concepts developed in classical European social philosophy (indeed the absence of such concepts in American education is proof demonstrative of Habermas' point) but still one can, with a little effort, grasp the salient point. Habermas distinguishes between the realm of the technical in which a society maintains itself vis-a-vis the natural world through instrumental activities involving fact and truth. But a society also needs a socio-cultural system by which it maintains itself since human animals stay in social harness and produce human culture through validity claims. In the socio-cultural system, not truth but correctness/ appropriateness of behavior is the subject of discourse. Symbolic interaction is the means by which the norms are generated which, then, are to mediate behavior for all those who have, in a competent communication system, ' participated in settling normative questions, Habermas says that the political system and the economic system in capitalism (and in bureaucratic socialism, one might add) displaces the socio-cultural system by asserting that rational-technical decision-making ,,prevails over symbolic interaction wherein norms are set.

The technical-rational Process is embodied, for example, in simulation of energy consumption of fuel and in computer analysis. Since the correctness of the capital-intensive mode of industry, agriculture, transport or other production is excluded from public discourse, only technical questions remain; which fuel to use, what priority of use is necessary, and how fast must development occur. Low energy, low technology, labor intensive modes of production are not considered within the range of moral choice.

It is a subtle point but a most important one. Behavior is not the product of a process of communication and shared symbolic discourse --behavior is directed by the logic of a closed, coherent set of deductions from a rational system of decision-making. There is, to be sure, symbolic interaction; however the symbols are not employed to determine which behavior shall be appropriate but to instruct people what is expected of them. Language and words are reduced to an instrumental purpose rather than a normative purpose. The use of symbols ceases to be a moral enterprise and begins to be a machine enterprise.

This analysis has been made before and made in more passionate terms. However, the point of interest here is to think about the degree to which the assumptions of symbolic interactional theory are rendered invalid by such a mechanical (i.e., precise, and predictable) use of symbols. One must ask what is lost when symbolic interaction is reduced to a technical enterprise. The answer must be the human enterprise itself--that of wondering, deciding, bearing the anguish and the singing joy of a decision rightly made or wrongly so.

It is clear that the end of innocence resides in the responsibility we bear for the consequences of our own behavior. In a fully technicized society, we all are innocent. We bear no responsibility for carrying out our orders derived from the logic of a program-- the program itself outside the realm of public discourse. Being human, we understand that such an innocence is wrongly purchased. However, the terrible risk we run is to lose the ability to be human and, thereby, to understand the price of innocence. We then use symbols to avoid interaction. (Transaction in some formulations) We disclaim any culpability for the evil we do as scientists, as teachers, as bureaucratic functionaries, as guards, custodians, or as workers.

In bureaucracies, in the factory, in the school, even in the church there is division of labor in which normative questions are pre-decided by an elite.. On the basis of these pre-decisions, rules and orders are made and the worker of the bureaucracy has only the right to apply the rule in technical, mechanical fashion. The lower echelon bureaucrat, as does the lower level instructor in a university or foreman in a factory feels regret and dismay over the plight of the mass processed individual before him/her, but can "do nothing" about it since technical rules mediate behavior, not mutually determined guides called norms. In this fashion, rules and orders displace the self as the mediator of behavior and the self is a thin, technical instrument for the management or control of a mass of unrelated individuals in behalf of the goals of the formal organization.

Of course, there are many evasions and infractions of the technical rules which are supposed to mediate behavior but Habermas' larger point remains. In a society in which the technical displaces the normative, one can only follow orders and the socio-cultural realm tends to disappear. One must ask why such a social organization continues which preempts the self system and the socio-cultural in the interest of the rule and the bureau., The answer is not long in coming. Any society in which such a division of labor and such a rational-technical mode of organization benefits a given class or congery and as long as those have power to maintain their benefits, that system will survive.

Capitalism and the Production of Culture. In folk communities, the whole point of a rational-instrumental mode of production is to provide the material resources by which a socio-cultural system can be organized through competent symbolic interaction. In capitalism, the point of production is, for the owner and manager, accumulation. As President Ford said, "The name of the American game is greed." The anthropological point here is that people are not human beings (species-being in socialist sociology) unless they produce culture. Not just some people, but all people must produce culture; not just some of the time but all of the time; not. just material culture but political and ideological culture.

Capitalism interferes with the capacity to produce culture on the one hand and progressively monopolizes various lines of production on the other. One has no measure of the worth of his/her self system if one is excluded from the production of culture. The marxian point here is that labor (praxis) is the process by which political, ideological and material culture is produced and, in the same moment, constitutes oneself as human. If this assumption is valid, mass production systems (and distribution) defeat the emergence of the human self. Profit consideration demands capital-intensive production rather than labor intensive. In the socio-cultural sphere, song, drama, art and music are mechanically reproduced. Instead of 40 million playing, 20 thousand or so play and the rest watch via television or listen via radio.

Capitalism also institutes a work/play division of life. At work, the realm of the technical-rational dominates behavior while on the week-end one has a second half to one's life. At work, one is dead to the cultural process but on the week-end one is to come alive and join the Pepsi generation. A mechanized self-system for five days and an autonomous, creative self-system on Saturday and Sunday, is presented as the appropriate model of self, using of course all of the consumer goods produced during the week. Small wonder people thank God its Friday and that Wednesday is hump day.

Capitalism creates an extraordinary schizophrenia for these two, separated worlds. On the one hand, the individual is to follow the Protestant ethic while on the job: work hard, be sober, industrious, thrifty, postpone gratification and accept orders. on the other hand, when the employee leaves the factory or the office, s/he is expected to seek pleasure, instant joy, and self fulfillment via commodity consumption. Only through consumption of commodities can one achieve an adequate and presentable self. Such assumptions fuel the demand cycle and negate effective criticism.

Capitalism and the Surplus Population. As capital-intensive production intrudes into more and more domains, farming, teaching, policing, healing, and child-rearing, ordinarily thought to be labor-intensive production, the work-ethic becomes superfluous to society and the leisure ethic useful. But, with capital-intensive production people are not needed and, under capitalism, do not have the fiscal resources to buy the forms of leisure identified on mass media as necessary to the "good life." The surplus population grows and the political system finds itself in a legitimation crisis.

As the crises grow, the need for reflexive commitment to capitalism also grows. The exclusion of the masses, especially the surplus population (some 55 million and growing), from the political process becomes necessary. A whole new industry, oriented to the generation of voting publics has arisen. Since 1966, when Mr. Nixon hired a P.R. firm to win the election for him from Mr. Brown, the technical world of the "professional" campaign manager has increasingly displaced the realm of the normative in political life.. There-, is the dramaturgical impression of public discourse on the issues, but increasingly issues and opinions are managed and manipulated by technical advisors whose goal is a campaign victory, not the formation of a public sphere and a public resolution of issues. The issues will be resolved by an elite; the opinion and dissent of the public tactfully handled after the decision has been made.

Ideological culture then is, under capitalism, produced by capital intensive modes and distributed via television and retail outlets as commodity produced for' profit. Art, music, myths, drama, sports, cinema, and science-religion as well, are not produced by situated, interacting groups as presumed in symbolic interactional theory but is mass-produced. The production

of political culture is preempted by an elite acting in the interest of capitalism as a system. That leaves only material culture to be produced by the masses: food, housing, dams, lumber, fuel, and autos, appliances, and other hardware, and yet, profits considered, machines are more efficient and less troublesome than workers and certainly less expensive-material culture itself is produced without people.

As more people become surplus to the productive needs of capitalism, the ordinary assumptions of symbolic interaction do not hold since people in the surplus population are excluded from interaction. Without jobs or income, the material base with which to produce a social life world in concert with a stable set of relevant and significant others is difficult. As more and more turn to crime as a response to the structure of capital intensive production, the assumptions of symbolic interaction fail. There is little authentic mutuality in creating meaning in scams, hustles, robbery and rape. There is little interaction in welfare offices, dis-employment lines, jails, prisons or asylums.

The presence of a surplus population means that some part of the total population is denied those social identities central to the productive process. Again, the presumption of a linkage between self and society is called into question. In the U.S., the estimates of the size of the surplus population vary. Mr. Ford set it at about 24.3 million when he was in office, With some double counting, I would suggest 55 million is a conservative figure.

The Private Ownership of Communication. When the means to produce meaning is in private ownership, the masses do not have the technical means to communicate and the basic preconditions for symbolic interaction are absent. Access to telephone, newspapers, postal service, television, radio and telegraphy is limited by one's ability to pay and by the owner's ability to extract the surplus value of labor. In a highly mobile society, the communication required to maintain those social relations of kinship and friendship central to valued social identities is limited by the cost of such services. The mobility of society is itself determined by the needs of capital to transfer, lay-off expand and restrict production.

Much of the capacity of the means of production of meaning under private ownership is not put to use for cultural purposes (in the Marxism, European sense) but rather put to commercial use. Yet there is no technical reason television and radio could not be linked to the human interest in intersubjective understanding. The phenomenal growth of Citizen's Band (CB) radio testifies to the possibility. But without access to a microphone, electronic support of symbolic interaction is impossible.

In the course of serving the commercial interest, the various media tend to produce meaning supportive of a capitalist system. It is not necessary to look for a conspiracy or censorship to validate such a statement. The very fact that products are advertised for sale on the basis of profit rather than for need sets as a given capitalist modes of exchange on the television and thus reproduce, every eight minutes, the capitalist world view. Some ads are, in fact, little else but essays on the virtues of capitalism: Bell telephone's ad which states that the system is the solution or the Texaco ad with Mr. Hope which concludes that Texaco is working to earn our trust is one of the most recent examples of the direct effort to buy legitimacy and manufacture meaning via the media. When the means to produce meaning is privately owned, the symbolic interactional process is privately owned. When the means to produce meaning is sold as commodity, symbolic interaction becomes commodity. When meaning becomes commodity, culture itself is commodity and human praxis is subverted. As the formal organization becomes the typical mode of social life, again, the means of communication are under tight control of an administrative cadre. In a university, in a factory, in an office, in a store, what one may talk about and to whom one may speak is narrowly constructed., As the public relations and advertising profession grows, the content of communication systems progressively comes under the control of those who can afford to purchase time or space in the media. One may still talk to family or to friends on the weekend but the range of such discourse is limited to quite private problems the answers to which must be found within the existing social paradigm itself under class or elite control.

Symbolic Interaction and Social Revolution. There are many exceptions to the capitalist control over social identity and social role via the claim of private ownership to service positions. There are exceptions to the generalization that skills and techniques rather than character and self are the object of the socialization process. Doctors, lawyers, priests and many professionals still go through a socialization which yields a fairly permanent social identity anchored in the social order. However, as medicine and law become integrated into the table of organization of a giant corporation, the role-position is no longer-under the control of the physician or lawyer. S/he sells labor power and is subject to dismissal just as are manual workers. The professor, in a university, is awarded tenure which fixes the relation between social identity and its role incumbent permanently. Only gross incompetence (very gross) and moral turpitude (openly flaunted) can trigger the stripping process. All this is changing with the attack on the tenure system and the practice of contract labor of adjunct faculty, with the advent of non-tenure track positions, the recourse to part-time help and to "extension" faculty.

Still another exception is to be found in church-related schools. In many Catholic, Protestant, and especially Pentecostal churches, the socialization process has not yielded to the rational-technical needs of large-scale enterprise but still is pointed toward the production of a stable and morally-oriented set of social identities within the self-system. The associated roles are anchored in the family, church life and community and not in a specialized salable skill or organizational chart of a multinational corporation.

There is a social revolution going on in the United States and elsewhere but it is not noticed by capitalists or by orthodox Marxists since the battleground is not "ownership" of material property nor are e proletariat and capitalists the protagonists in the struggle. Rather the struggle is focused in the over control of the means to produce meaning. It is not primarily a class struggle but a struggle against massification. It is not over the stratification of wealth but rather over the right to praxis and community.

The mass struggle (i.e., the struggle against the assault on the self-system by mass production processes in capitalism) has two main fronts. on the one front is the exodus from the public school system towards church and private school. The liberals, in charge of the federal educational agencies, try to further massify, rationalize, technicize the school system while parents rebel, resist, go on strike, boycott, and form parallel structures once again pointed toward character and a stable self-system for their children. That the self-system under construction has racist, sexist, authoritarian characteristics cannot be denied. However, the important thing to note for the radical social psychologist is that a strong, stable, competent and enduring self- system is the object of labor intensive socialization rather than merely commodity skills.

The second front on which the social revolution is occurring in the United States can be found in the Pentecostal movement and in the "born again" religions including Buddhism. Charles Colson, Gov. Harold Hughes, Eldridge Cleaver, and some 50 million other Americans have been "reborn" in the last ten years. Most of these are lower middle class, working class, and those in the surplus population for whom the economic institution offers little in the way of an authentically human social identity which to embrace as one's own self with pride and utter, blessed assurance. The church, especially the Pentecostal church, offers an attractive alternative to Americans conditioned to respond negatively toward Marxist theory and positively toward religious theory. In the Pentecostal movement as in Ananda Marqa there is a valued social identity, a permanent role relationship organized to permit praxis and a great deal of spirited symbolic interaction pointed toward community. Were it not for the fact that this revival of the human spirit leaves the structure of capitalism intact with all of its contradictions unresolved and its crisis unattended, this would be very close to the vision of social revolution and communism envisioned by Marx.

If we accept the distinction Marx made between social revolution and merely political revolution, the revolution going on in the United States is far more radical than the palace coups iii the Third World which replace one class elite with another or in the stalled revolutions in some east European nations. A transformation of self and society is involved in the Pentecostal movement and other less popular movements. While capitalist modes of relationships are intruding into the "reborn again" movement--with commodity fetishism of sacred objects, hucksterism, and "find wealth through God" radio scams, still the larger meaning of the movement is to repair the damage done to self and social relationships in a commodity society.

Socialism and the Structure of Self. The point of socialist revolutionary movements is to produce a socialist (i.e., communist) model of self. In this model, the capacity for praxis and for community is central to the structure of self. The moments of praxis include rationality, self-determination, sociality, creativity and intentionality (Markovic: 1974; Crocker: 1976). The interest in community includes collective ownership and collective control of the means to produce all forms of culture. In many socialist societies access to the means of producing ideological and political culture continues to be restricted to the top party echelons.

In Communist China, the cultural revolution was widely understood in Marxist circles to maximize praxis and collective control of the means for producing society and culture (see Han Suyin for a detailed explanation). Since the death of Mao, it is thought that the right wing is in control and that the emphasis has shifted from collective access to the means of producing ideological cultural to more material forms of production.

Whatever the problems of capitalism, whatever the failings of socialist societies, it is clear that the centrally important meaning of capitalism, socialism, and communism lays in the adequacy of the symbolic interactional process, the linkage between self and social order and the human need for praxis and community. While one cannot be overly optimistic in surveying existing conditions and long range trends, still one must agree that the tendency to couch the international struggles in and between capitalism, socialism and communism in purely material terms must be set aside in favor of an analysis of the meaning of such struggles for the rescue of the self process.

Implications of the Loss of Self. In capitalist societies, it is profitable to divorce self from social organization in the productive process; it is expedient to circumvent the self structure in the marketplace, and it is necessary to do so in the political arena. The old model of self useful in a society oriented to producing is hostile to the need to dispose of goods in the marketplace. Advertising, as a mythic form, suggests a new model. of self or parasitizes on traditional social identities attempting to generate publics via the family role-set, via ethnic identities or sex-linked identities.

The most direct consequence of all this is that, in a great many massified social settings, the self is not longer the mediator of behavior ... and there can be no self-control if there is no self. Another basic assumption of symbolic interactional theory becomes invalid. Formal social control becomes necessary as self- control is subverted by the forms of social organization in capitalist society. Law becomes an alternate source of ordered behavior as the self succumbs to the assault on it by professional educators, scientific managers, and by efficient bureaucrats. Police, surveillance, efficient court systems, "modern" prisons, and professional rehabilitation become technically mandated since authentic social revolution is not possible. Capital-intensive modes of control also become attractive: psycho-surgery, mass produced drugs for depressed adults or uncontrollable children, electronic implants, or group counseling become non-revolutionary ways to respond to the crises in self-control (Geiser: 1976). This shifts the crises from the economic system to the self-system while all sorts of self-help programs are developed from Alcoholics Anonymous to the "born again" movement.

These three responses all shift the onus of a poorly organized society from its institutions to the self-system. At the very time the dynamics of organization of those institutions work to loosen the connection between self and society, more demands are put on the self to assume the task of solving the problems of social life. There are limits to this use of self. However, we can begin to handle these problems if we have a coherent analysis of what is happening. For those genuinely committed to dealing with social problems, the social sources of the self is a place to start that analysis. To that end, I have framed some theses concerning e structure of self and its relation to the social order in which it grows or fails to grow. These theses are designed to help encourage thinking about how to proceed to organize the social conditions in which a competent and active self structure may arise.

Some Theses on the Structure of Self

1. Every statement about the self-other relationship must be historically grounded. For example:

a) The self-other relation in a volleyball game is different from that of a long-distance runner.

b) The self-other relationship in a wrestling match is different from that of a scholarly journal.

c) In a professional meeting, the role of the other may be located in a discussant or it may be diffused in the general audience.

d) The self-system of a teen-age mugger indifferent to the distress of his/her victim is different from the self-other system of a middle-aged scholar.

2. A self is not possible without an other(s) in:

a) the long, difficult socialization process.

b) the presentation process.

c) the validation process.

d) the construction of social reality process.

e) rites of transition.

3. Phenomenology as a discipline cannot properly be limited to the self as the source of constituted human knowledge. Others, groups, institutions and such structures as class, sexual divisions and ethnic constructions all (and more) play a role in the creation of a given knowledge set of a given person.

4. The role played by the other (and other structures) in constituting the self varies.

a) In open, democratic friendly relations, the role is great but constrained by the judgment, moral responsibility, and autonomy of self.

b) In authoritarian relations, the role of other is greater, more confining, and more destructive of judgment, moral responsibility, and creativity.

c) In mass societies, we don't experience ourselves as selves nor do others play a great role in the constitution of knowledge. Knowledge itself suffers.

5. In "rationally" organized bureaus, the rule, the order, the policy and the program replace both self-and-others as the chief mediator of the behaving individual.

6. In point of fact it is possible to establish the social conditions:

a) in which self-systems are strong, socially anchored and competent to the human enterprise. (E.g., in communes, collectives, colleges (in the old sense) and the unions.)

b) in which self-systems are shriveled, shrunken, mean, petty, and/or incompetent. (E.g., in total institutions, slave, feudal and class societies and such.)

c) in which the other is a powerful, dominating factor which preempts the self-system. (I have here in mind the work on conformity by Milgram, Asch, Sherif, Festinger and many others.)

d) in which "human" behavior is generated by non-subjective factors. (Behavior mode, "chemotherapy." Choice restriction by such structured means as programs, requirements, "depth" psychology, police and impersonal rules all serve to circumvent the self-other system.)

7. It is erroneous to present a given relationship between self and other found in a given society at a given time for a given status relationship as that which exists for all time and all societies. Mead, Cooley, Schutz and others tend to do this. In so far as they do, those who look at phenomenology and see a political conservatism are correct. Perinbanayagam is correct when he denies the right of Schutz and others to pre-empt phenomenology. They do, in fact, ignore the variable content of the self-other relationship. A radical social psychology must rescue phenomenology from those who eternalize it.

8. Without the social conditions in which a strong self-other system can arise:

a) self control is impossible.

b) behavior is unpredictable and labile.

c) empathy and pro-social behavior atrophies.

d) alternative systems of control seem justified.

e) the cult of the privatized self develops.

9. The Self-other relationship is the preferred way to organize human behavior. To do otherwise is to:

a) create terrible personal problems.

b) create terrible management/policing problems.

c) destroy the human character of social life.

d) to tolerate terrible iniquities, injustices, inequalities, and

e) invite revolution.

10. Revolution is necessary in this historical moment in most societies in order to:

a) destroy the conditions widely spread in 6b, 6c, and 6d above.

b) to deal constructively with the problems in 8a-e above.

c) to establish the conditions under which an adequate self-other relationship is possible.

11. In societies wherein people are placed in hostile, exploitative modes of relation, the self-other dialectic is aborted and the privatized self emerges. In class organized societies, in societies organized to exploit sexual, ethnic or age cohorts, the process of communication by which the self-other system becomes amplified is sacrificed.

12. In fascist societies, the other displaces the self as the mediator of behavior. The self-system itself shrinks to a pathetic fragment.

13. In societies wherein the socialization process is linked to the production of skills, knowledges, and attitudes suitable to the technical needs of the formal organizations, the self-other system fails to develop. In societies where education is so organized, those superfluous to society have no self-system at all with which to mediate behavior in prosocial ways.

14. The acting "I" is enemy to the formal rationality of a managed society. Spontaneity, creativity, uniqueness and originality are inimical to the predictability required by bureaucracy and by rationalized business interest.

Predictability is required for control: market control, control over lines of production, budget control, and control over the surplus population. The "I" must be absorbed into the technicized "me" in order to defeat behavior which is not connected to rational control.

15. The self-system (ego and other) requires symbolic interaction in order that it develop. In societies where information flow is largely mass, unidirectional information flow, symbolic intersection does not occur and the self-system atrophies. In those societies where the languages of business and science comprise the bulk of the load of symbolic exchange, the self-system becomes technicized and limited in its capacity to mediate behavior in ways compatible to praxis.

16. In capitalist societies, the Other as a mediator of behavior is displaced by needs. Created as a solution to the problem of realization of profit and of disposal of surplus production, needs create a particularly soliptic self system unable and uninterested in responding to the generalized other.

17. In a managed society (capitalist and bureaucratic socialist) the Other becomes dissociated from living human beings and becomes progressively conceived as technical rationality--a complex of interrelated rules which serve ends other than human. To some extent, non-human needs pre-empt the self-system.

18. In capitalist societies, the mass media are used to "colonize consciousness." The self-system is the battleground in which the acting "I" and the mediating "me" are displaced by commodity wants and by abstract rationality.

19. The capacity for praxis is the test of the adequacy of the self system. Praxis here, after Markovic and Crocker,  involves several moments but centrally it is the activity by which the individual produces her/himself as a distinctly human being. Among the moments of praxis are:

a. intentionality (the "I" in mead's formulation) as opposed to passivity;

b. sociality (the ME, the generalized other) as opposed to privatized individuality;

c.  rationality (substantive as well as technical) as opposed to purposelessness;

d. self-determination as opposed to conformity, and compliance

and e. creativity as opposed to sameness and ordinariness.

20. In mass society, where one is not the object and focus of the personal attention of an embodied other, the self-structure is distorted and fails to develop. In schools, churches, factories, medicine, and other mass systems, it is the cohort or congery which is the object and focus of attention. The individual does not experience her/himself as a unit of existence.

21. In a "rational" society, the capacity of the self to transform, interpret and discover forms of reality is reduced. Everything is "given" and the point of education is to "learn" what is given, made, or used in existing forms. Emancipation of the self requires one to break out of this prison, to oppose alienated society and to recapture the possibility of new and more human forms of social life.



Crocker, David 1977 Markovic's Concept of Praxis. As. Norm. Inquiry. V.20:1-43.

Geiser, R. L. 1976 Behavior Mod and the Managed Society. Boston: Beacon Press.

Habermas, Jurgen 1970 Toward a Rational Society. Boston: Beacon Press.

Habermas, Jurgen 1975 Legitimation Crises. Boston: Beacon Press.

Han Suyin (undated) The Wind in the Tower.

Hearn, Francis 1978 "Maoism and Bureaucracy." Sociological Quarterly, Winter, Vol. 19, No. I:37-54.

Markovic, M. 1974 From Affluence to Praxis. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

McNall and Young 1974 "Paradigmatic Conflict in American Sociology." The Red Feather Institute.

Young, T. R. 1972 New Sources of Self. New York: Pergamon Press.



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