Human Subordination From a Radical Interactionist's Perspective--Lonnie Athens


Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 40:3 0021-8308
Human Subordination from a Radical Interactionist’s Perspective




LONNIE ATHENSjtsb_435 339..368
INTRODUCTION
Herbert Blumer (1937, 1953, 1962, 1966, 1969, 1980, 1981, 2004) is widely credited with developing the perspective of “symbolic interactionism,” primarily from his study of the work of George Herbert Mead (1932, 1934, 1936, 1938, 1982), and, to a lesser extent, other scholars, including Robert Park (1950, 1952, 1955; Turner, 1967). While reviewing Blumer’s various accomplishments over his long career, Tamostu Shibutani (1970a: v–vi, see also: 1988: 24–5) drew the following conclusion: “Among sociologists, Herbert Blumer is known primarily as an expositor of George Herbert Mead’s social psychology . . . without question one of his major contributions to modern thought is his part in getting Mead’s seminal ideas into the main stream of social psychology.” According to Norbert Wiley (1979: 55), a noted authority on the development of American sociological theory, this assessment of Blumer’s contribution to symbolic interactionism “is not entirely fair.” As Wiley (1979: 55) correctly explains, Blumer not only coined the term “symbolic interaction,” but also “gave it much of its modern meaning.” Gary Fine (1993: 63) seconds Wiley on this critical point by asserting that “The primary source of the perspective of symbolic interactionism (and the meaning of Mead . . . ) was the writings and teaching of Herbert Blumer” (see Athens, 1993a, 1993b). Fine adds another important point: “For many, Herbert Blumer was symbolic interaction.” One thing is now for certain. If it was not for Blumer’s tireless efforts, then there is a good chance that this perspective would have neither arisen nor remained as a distinct sociological point of view for very long (Prus, 1994: 440; Rose 1962b: 179).
Nevertheless, it must be recognized that not only Mead’s ideas, but also Blum- er’s subsequent development of them, suffer from significant imperfections. Repu- table scholars have long charged that the main progenitors of symbolic interactionism discounted the importance that subordination plays in human group life (see for example: Cast, 2003: 186, Habermas, 1987, vol. 2:110, Hinkle,
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1992; Lichtman, 1975; Roper, 1973: 47–56; Smith, 1931: 380–85; Zeitlin, 1973: 216–218, 251). Today, there are a growing number of interactionists who concur with their non-interactionist critics that both Blumer and Mead slighted the importance of subordination in everyday human affairs (Denzin, 1992: 165–6, 1994, 1996a: 351–52; 1996b: 63–4. 73; Farberman, 1979: 157–58; Luckenbill, 1979; Meltzer et al., 1975; Musolf, 1992; Rose, 1962a: x; Shalin, 2000: 341–2). Thus, I (Athens, 2007, 2009) believe that most scholars, both interactionist and non-interactionist alike, would now agree that at least Blumer and Mead dis- counted human subordination’s importance in their work, although there remain some die hard interactionists who would dispute this conclusion (Dennis and Martin 2005; Maines, 1977, 2000; Prus, 1999: 10–14).
Despite this incontrovertible fact, however, I think that many profound obser- vations about the nature and operation of subordination in human group life that many interactionists and non-interactionists have neglected to examine can be found here and there in both Mead’s and Blumer’s work. Although Blumer relied much more heavily on Mead’s ideas, Park’s (Park and Burgess, 1924; Park, 1950, 1952, 1955; Turner, 1967) observations on subordination are in many respects even more profound than those of either Mead or Blumer. Thus, if Park’s observations are added to the mix, then we will discover that these early interac- tionists have contributed a much larger and more valuable fund of insights into the nature and operation of subordination than the vast majority of present-day scholars, including interactionists, are aware (for example, see: Dennis and Martin 2005; Hall, 1972, 1985, 1987; Hinkle, 1992; Kantor, 1972; Luckenbill, 1979; Maines, 1977, 2000; Meltzer et al., 1975; Muslof, 1992; Prus, 1999; Rose, 1962a: x; Schwalbe et al., 2000; Zeitlin, 1973: 216–218, 251). In fact, if Park’s ideas are not only added to Mead’s, but also given much more gravity than Blumer gave them, then the opportunity arises for the creation of a new form of interactionism, which gives far more prominence to the role that subordination plays in human group life than conventional symbolic interactionism does (Athens, 2007: 156–58; 2009: 403–09).
In my paper on human subordination, I hope to increase our present under- standing of it by not only drawing on the insights of Mead and Blumer, but also, more importantly, those of Park. By building directly on their thoughts, I will seek to explain how subordination operates in human group life from the interaction- ist’s perspective, which I have elsewhere labeled “radical interactionism” (Athens, 2007: 156, 2009). My view of subordination is commensurate with present-day common usage. According to the 4th edition of Webster’s New World College Dictio- nary, the word “subordination” means “subordinating or being subordinated” and its derivative, “subordinate,” means “inferior to or placed below another in rank.” Since the placement of people or groups into subordinate roles requires domina- tion and since domination requires, in turn, the exercise of power and sometimes even force, subordination is broadly conceived from this perspective as encom- passing not only the operation of domination, but also both power and force.
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Thus, to understand properly the nature and operation of human subordination from this new viewpoint, one must disentangle the nature of these three ideas, as well as the relationship among them, in a manner consistent with the basic premises of pragmatism. During my explanation of human subordination, I will not only try to distinguish these three ideas from each other in conformity with the pragmatist’s assumptions, but I will also try to describe the nature of their rela- tionship in the same manner (see: Blumer, 1980: 409–11; Campbell, 1992: 2; Denzin, 1996b: 62; Morris, 1970: 3–18; Rochberg-Halton, 1987; Rucker, 1969: 5–6; Thayer, 1973: 4–7).
SUBORDINATION IN EVERYDAY LIFE The Nature of Domination
The proving grounds of human subordination are social acts because it only emerges and exists in social action. A social act is any activity that the combined efforts of, at least, two people are needed for its successful execution (Athens, 2005a: 310–312). Domination occurs when an individual or group participating in a social act steers the direction of its development, according to their particular preferences (Athens, 1998: 675). If a certain individual or group sways the path of a social act’s construction to their liking, then it could be said that they have dominated it. More specifically, they must steer not only the social object formed of the prospective social act and the attendant plan of action developed for the goal’s accomplishment, but also the plan of action’s subsequent execution. Thus, domination expresses itself both in the design of a social act and the subsequent supervision of its construction (Athens, 2002: 37–38).
When defined in terms of social action, domination displays four defining characteristics: (1) certain individuals or groups exhibit subservient attitudes while others exhibit superior attitudes, (2) super-ordinate roles are always differentiated from subordinate ones; (3) the individuals or groups who seek to perform the super-ordinate roles exhibit superior attitudes, whereas those who resign them- selves to performing subordinate roles exhibit subservient attitudes; and (4) the individuals or groups performing the subordinate and super-ordinate roles con- sciously assume, however accurately, each other’s superior and subservient atti- tudes, and their conscious assumption of these respective attitudes significantly affects the construction of the social act in which they are joint participants (Athens, 2007: 141–42; Mead, 1934: 193–94, 284–86, 312–13, 1936: 380; Park and Burgess, 1924: 667–68, 720–21; Park, 1927: 17–18; 1939a: 122, 1940: 314–18) .
During a discussion of attitudinal assumption, Mead (1934: 277, emphasis added) aptly illustrates the points just stated with the case of an engineer super- vising the workers in a machine shop:
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The engineer has the attitudes of all other individuals in the group, and it is because he has that participation that he is able to direct. When the engineer comes out of the machine shop with the bare blueprint, the machine does not yet exist; but he must know what the people are to do, how long it should take them, how to measure the processes involved, and how to eliminate the waste. That sort of taking the attitudes of everyone else as fully and as completely as possible, entering upon one’s own action from the standpoint of such a complete taking of the role of others, we may perhaps refer to as the ‘attitude of the engineer’. . . . [It] depends on a man’s capacity to take the attitude of everybody else in the process which he directs.
The Agents of Domination
The acting units or participants in the social act in which domination is exercised maybe either single individuals or collectives, such as families, clans, tribes, races, nationalities, or even nation states (Blumer, 1962: 186–87, 1969: 16, 52, 58–9; Park and Burgess, 1924: 47–50, 722; Park, 1927: 14–15). Of course, to be considered an acting unit, a group cannot be an aggregation of separate individu- als who are merely bunched together on basis of some common attribute, such as gender, race, or class (Blumer, 1950: 5). Rather, a group is a set of separate individuals who are joined together in a mutual effort to achieve some common goal, the achievement of which requires them to exhibit complimentary attitudes and, in turn, perform complimentary roles (Blumer, 1950: 1–5; 1954: 232–234; Park and Burgess, 1924: 42). What matters most is not whether the acting unit is an individual or group, but whether it can seek to dominate the social acts in which it becomes implicated, whether it can assume subservient or superior attitudes in these social acts, and whether it can perform super-ordinate and subordinate roles in the subsequent construction of these social acts. Since col- lectivities, such as families, clans, tribes, and nation states, can participate just as well as individuals in the construction of social acts, both are equally capable of dominating social action. Thus, the notion of domination is applicable both to individuals and collectives—no matter how small or big that they are.
The Phylogenesis of Domination
Domination is a by-product of human phylogenesis. Both human beings and other animals not only can engage in social acts, but can also sway the course of their development. As Robert Ardrey (1966: 223) observed some time ago, “Dominance and subordination characterize all animal societies to the possible exception of certain schooling fish.” According to George Maclay and Humphry Knipe (1972: 32) “all social vertebrates are status-seekers,” by which they mean have “dominance ambitions.” All members of the animal kingdom, however, do not use the same form of subjugation. There are two basic forms of subjugation in which they engage: dominance and domination (Athens, 2007: 156).
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Human beings engage in domination, whereas most other animals only engage in dominance. On the one hand, during domination, some organisms construct their social acts by consciously assuming superior attitudes and per- forming super-ordinate roles while others consciously assume subservient atti- tudes and perform subordinate roles, thereby by everyone consciously assuming each other’s superior and subservient attitudes. Their conscious assumption of each others’ superior and subservient attitudes during domination is important because it gives them at least the opportunity to consider, however quickly, each other’s respective subservient or superior attitudes before deciding whether they should seek to perform a super-ordinate or subordinate role in a social act’s construction.
On the other hand, dominance is where organisms engage in social acts with some performing super-ordinate roles and others performing subordinate ones, but without any of them consciously assuming each others’ respective superior and subservient attitudes. Because the organisms do not consciously assume each other’s respective attitudes, they are not afforded an opportunity to weigh each other’s superior and subservient attitudes before performing their subordinate or super-ordinate roles. More specifically, in dominance, the organisms merely react directly and immediately, thereby unconsciously, to each other’s respective supe- rior and subservient attitudes. Thus, in the case of dominance, organisms exercise no conscious choice over whether they will perform super-ordinate or subordinate roles in a social act’s construction, whereas in domination, they always exercise some degree of conscious choice, however miniscule, in this matter (Athens, 2007: 155–56).
Whereas most other animals can only engage in dominance, we human beings can engage in domination because of our relatively unique capacity to use lan- guage (Mead, 1934: 81, 91–95, 118–25, 252–54, 354–58; Park, 1927: 17–18; 1939a: 119–22; 1939b: 258–59; 1942: 334). On the one hand, by virtue of their linguistic capabilities, human beings can consciously assume each others’ superior and subservient attitudes and, on the basis of their conscious assumption of each other’s respective attitudes, they can decide whether they should perform a super-ordinate or subordinate role in a social act’s subsequent construction. They can tell each other and themselves which role they prefer to perform—super- ordinate or subordinate—and how, where, and when they plan to perform that role. On the other hand, when most other animals perform super-ordinate and subordinate roles during social acts, they cannot tell themselves and each other which role they prefer to perform and when, where, and how they plan to perform it. Thus, by lacking the ability to use genuine language, most animals are severely handicapped in the means that they can use to subordinate each other. In fact, before human beings acquired language, they were restricted to using dominance, like most other animals. Although Mead never drew the distinction drawn here between “dominance” and “domination,” he (1934: 193–94, emphasis added) definitely recognized that there was a need for drawing it:
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It is the recognition of the individual as a self in the process of using his self-consciousness which gives him the attitude of self assertion . . . In such a case of self assertion, there is an entirely different situation from that of the member of a pack who perhaps dominates it, and may turn savagely on different members of it. There an individual just acts instinctively, we say, in a certain situation. In the human society, we have an individual who not only takes his own attitude, but takes the attitude in a certain sense of his subjects; in so far as he is dominating he knows what to expect. When that occurs in the experience of the individual, a different response results with different emotional accompaniments, from that in the case of the leader of the pack. In the latter case, there is simple anger or hostility, and in the other case, there is the experience of the self asserting itself consciously over others, with the sense of power, or domination.
Of course, the acquisition of language by the human species does have a serious drawback. Since we have acquired language, we have become the most proficient and, thereby, deadly dominators of any species on the face of the earth. In The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Mankind, Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin (1995: 232) stated, “There is no question that Homo sapiens is the single most dominant species on Earth.” They (1995: 323) importantly add that as much as 50% of the species that once roamed the earth may become extinct before the end of the 21st century. Since human beings first appeared on earth, they have directly or indirectly played an increasingly large hand in the extinction of many of these species. Human beings now wield the power to not only make most of the other remaining animals on earth extinct, but also to eradicate their own selves.
Because of human hubris, we often forget that we are members of the animal kingdom (Mason, 1993: 34–38; 279–83). Although we are quite willing to accept that concerns over super-ordination and subordination govern the affairs of other animals, we are quite unwilling to admit that such concerns also dominate our affairs. In fact, Mead (1934: 308–22) argued that long ago, we evolved beyond the point where concerns such as dominance and domination governed our affairs. The general feeling among most social scientists, including interactionists, seems to be that the “tooth and claw” may govern the activities of the so-called “lower animals,” but it neither does now, nor has it in very recent history governed those of human beings. As far as the issue of human subordination is concerned, we may have moved past the point where dominance still governs our everyday affairs, but we will never evolve beyond the stage where domination no longer controls them. To conclude otherwise is merely fanciful thinking (see, for example, Armaline, 2007: 430; Mason, 1993: 48, 269–98).
The Ontogenesis of Domination
Domination is not only a byproduct of phylogenesis, but also a by-product of ontogenesis. Before the human infant develops the capacity to use language with sufficient proficiency, it cannot engage in domination, but, like most other animals, can only engage in dominance. Unlike most other animals, however, human infants
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can develop the capacity to use language overtime and thereby engage in genuine domination later on. Thus, when a human infant is born and for sometime thereafter, it can only unwittingly assume the superior or subservient attitudes of their mother, father, and older siblings. It is on the basis of an infant’s unconscious assumption of her parents or older siblings’ subservient or superior attitudes that she or he performs either subordinate or super-ordinate roles in the social acts in which he or she participates with them. For those who may think that an infant or even a toddler is incapable of even unconsciously assuming superior attitudes and performing super-ordinate roles, as well as dominating the social acts in which they are participating with adults or older siblings, they may want to reconsider their position. It has often been observed that within a few days after being born, babies start to display temper tantrums when their parents prematurely stop feeding or holding them or leave their immediate presence. Later, during the stage that is commonly referred to as the “terrible twos,” toddlers usually begin displaying signs of consciously assuming others’ superior attitudes and, on the basis of their conscious assumption of these superior attitudes, refusing to perform subordinate roles by responding “no” and protesting in reaction to their parent’s and older siblings’ requests and commands (Erickson, 1950: 80–85, 251–54).
In Early Childhood Development: Prenatal through Age Eight, Anselmo and Franz (1995: 304) illustrate the typical interaction that takes place between a parent and a toddler during the terrible twos. What is interesting about this particular illus- tration is that his mother is trying to impose her domination over son, while her son is trying to resist her dominance over him, so that we have both principles in operation, rather than only one or the other.
Danny, you’ve hardly eaten anything. Can I help you with your dinner? No.
This is your favorite dinner. Don’t you want any chicken?
No.

Do you want any potatoes?
No.
Do you know what “no” means? No.

Domination and the Division of Labor
Domination is necessary for the completion of all complex human social actions. Complex social acts are social acts that require at least three persons to perform, at least, three different roles for their completion (Athens, 2002: 30–1; 2007: 141). A complex social act not only needs that three or more people to perform at least three different roles for its completion, but also these roles need to be performed
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in the proper way, at the proper place, and at the proper time. Neither people nor groups can properly perform their roles in a complex social act until there occurs what Park (1936a: 141; 1939a: 119) as well as Park and Burgess (1924: 42) liked to call a “division of labor,” but what Mead (1917: 214–17; 1932: 83, 1934: 323–8) preferred to call a “functional differentiation” of roles. Before a division of labor can be created or roles can be functionally differentiated from one another, however, some person or leader of a group must propose a tentative plan of action for executing the social act, identify the separate roles that need to be performed, assign people or groups to perform the different roles identified, and then monitor their performances of these roles. In complex human social acts, the most impor- tant roles that must be functionally differentiated are the super-ordinate from the subordinate ones (Mead, 1934: 277).
In fact, the more complex the social action that needs to be carried out is, then the more important that domination becomes for the organization of the social act. The complexity of a social act is often misunderstood. It is not simply a matter of how many different people or groups are needed to complete a social act, but it is also a matter of how many different roles that they must perform to construct it. The sheer number of people who participate in a social act is not always an accurate indicator of its complexity. A hundred thousand people may attend a football game, but the vast majority of them perform the role of spectator. What ultimately determines the complexity of any joint undertaking is the number of different roles that must be performed, rather than only the number of different people who must perform them. The more different things that different people must do at different times and places during a social act, then the more “division of labor” or “functional differentiation” that is required for its completion. The greater division of labor, then the more important that domination and, in turn, the differentiation of super-ordinate from subordinate roles becomes in a social act’s construction (Mead, 1934: 277).
The intrusion of domination into our daily life is not a gratuitous part of our existence that we can somehow eliminate from our lives if we only had the necessary will to do it. Human beings and groups need to perform complex social acts to ensure their survival as a species. It should be obvious that one woman or man hunting alone in the tundra with only a spear or bow and arrow could not bring down a mammoth. As much as we may hate to admit it, domination is still a necessary evil in human group life. If you believe otherwise, then you are a victim of utopian thinking (Athens, 2007: 141; 2009: 21; Giddens, 1984: 32, 257; Lee, 1973: 74). Thus, the only real question is what forms or types of domination are people willing and unwilling to submit to.
The Social Invisibility of Domination
Domination is usually signaled covertly rather than overtly, which can make at least the immediate detection of its operation difficult. People usually seldom make
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direct reference to it during the construction of a social act. They do not usually announce, “I am the boss,” or scream, “I am better than you!” On the contrary, they prefer to leave such matters unspoken. If they refer to the super-ordinate role that they play in the social act’s construction at all, it is usually done in an oblique manner. Among the members of the higher, more genteel classes, the covert communication of their superiority is raised to a fine art. The subtlety with which one conveys their superiority to others is seen as a sign of “class” (Goffman, 1967: 62–63; Zorbaugh, 1929: 46–68).
Thus, as a general rule, super-ordination and subordination operates under the radar. People usually take for granted that some degree or another of subordina- tion always operates during their participation in social acts. We all operate on the tacit assumption that there are real limits on what you can and you cannot do while participating in a social act without risking that the wrath of the gods will come raining down on our heads. In fact, this belief has become so deeply ingrained in us that for, at least, any adult not to operate on this fundamental premise is to risk being labeled a “naïve fool,” or, even worse, an “anarchist” (Park, 1931a: 285–86).
The only time that domination’s operation can become clearly visible is when a conflict breaks out over who should perform the super-ordinate role in the construction of a social act. Conflicts over who should perform the super-ordinate and subordinate roles in a social act’s construction are ignited when some of the participants’ taken-for-granted assumptions about who should dominate the social act’s construction are violated. The violation of their taken-for-granted assumptions about who should perform the subordinate and super-ordinate roles in the social act and, in turn, whose goal for the social act should take precedence and whose plan of action should be followed exposes not only the operation of domination in social action, but also the need for it (Park, 1929: 203–4). Although this description of the visibility of domination’s operation in social action has been formulated in terms of individuals, it applies equally to collectives (Athens, 2002: 30–32; 2007: 141–42).
The Imperceptiveness of Super-ordinates
It is far more common for super-ordinates than subordinates to assume inaccu- rately their respective attitudes during the construction of social acts. Although the participants in social acts must always assume each other’s respective attitudes, this does not always mean that they assume them accurately (Stryker, 1962: 44, 50–1, 59). Super-ordinates are notorious for failing to detect the seething resent- ment and disdain that subordinates often feel toward them. This imperceptiveness on the part of super-ordinates can be at times of such a marked degree that it can be best characterized as outright callousness, which undoubtedly reflects the asymmetrical power relationship that exists between them and their subordinates
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(Stryker 1962: 44, Thomas et al., 1972: 611–13; Walker, 1996: 820–23). A
popular refrain called the “tree of monkeys” underscores this very point:
A company is like a tree of monkeys, all on different limbs, at different levels, some climbing up, some climbing down.
The monkeys at the top look down and see a tree full of smiling faces. The monkeys at the bottom look up and see nothing but asses.
The inaccuracy of super-ordinates’ assumption of their subordinates’ attitudes can be accounted for in many ways. First, since super-ordinates usually wield more power than their subordinates, super-ordinates can punish subordinates more easily than subordinates can punish their super-ordinates for their imper- ceptiveness. Thus, it is more costly for subordinates to assume inaccurately the attitudes of their super-ordinates than vice-versa. Second, there is the matter of the self-conceit that super-ordinates can often suffer from. They often presume that it is perfectly natural that they should be the ones who perform the super- ordinate roles in social acts rather than any one of their subordinates because their superiority should be obvious to all. Subordinates also engage in deception to prevent a super-ordinate from accurately assuming their attitudes. They often take special pains to hide their feelings of disdain and resentment from their super-ordinates out of fear of antagonizing them. Finally, super-ordinates’ indif- ference toward their subordinates can come into play. Super-ordinates may often conclude that if a subordinate acts outwardly subservient, then there is no real need for them to concern themselves about what their subordinate’s true inner feelings may be toward them because they obviously know “who is the boss.”
In Blumer’s analysis of the “Color Line,” he (1965) points out how members of dominant racial groups can remain blissfully unaware for years of the real feelings that members of a subordinate racial group may hold toward them:
The color line forced into being among [blacks] a posture of concealment of strong feelings of resentment and bitterness. The color line stood fundamentally for a denigration of Negroes as inferior . . . Yet it was not wise for Negroes to express before whites their feelings as they experienced affronts, indignities, and the various forms of exploitation which went with their inferior and impotent status. It was precisely this area of feelings, and of the sentiments and thoughts built up in it, that was typically unknown to southern whites under the operation of the color line (1965: 323–24).
Blumer (1965; see also Blumer and Duster, 1980: 215–16) unfortunately makes the mistake of restricting this imperceptiveness to members of super-ordinate racial groups, when, in fact, it can be extended to all individuals and groups where one is under the other’s thumb (Park, 1928: 231–234; 1935: 166–68; 1934; 1936b; Washington and Park, 1912: 181–84). The only difference is that in the case of persons or groups from different races, it can be more blatant and, thereby, more
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readily apparent. As Park (1928: 239) has aptly observed, “The more obvious the differences in physical traits, the greater the presumption of fundamentally diver- gent moral characteristics.”
Domination, Power, and Force
Power is intimately related to, but not synonymous with, domination. According to the 4th edition of Webster’s New World College Dictionary, power refers to “the ability to do, act or affect strongly,” whereas to dominate means “to rule or control by superior power” (emphasis added). On the basis of our present day usage of these two terms, it is a serious error to presume that they are merely different words for saying the same thing or that one can be somehow understood while ignoring the other. On the contrary, one can neither understand power isolated from domination, nor understand domination isolated from power. Of course, power can include everything from economic extortion and material deprivation to raw physical force and annihilation to withdrawal of affection and emotional blackmail. Since power has so many different sources, there are more than one means that can be used to achieve domination. Domination always springs from a person or group swaying the formation of a social act’s goal and the attendant plan of action for reaching it in the direction that some group or individual prefers. Although power can have multiple sources and thereby take on many different guises, domination always displays the same basic form—a certain person or group performing the super-ordinate role in the construction of a social act.
Thus, to comprehend the nature of power or domination, it is necessary not only to connect the operation of one to the other rather than treating them as if they operated independently of each other, but also to avoid mixing them up with one another while doing it. As their dictionary definitions suggest, the key to understanding the connection between domination and power is to place them in a means/end scheme where power operates as the means and domination operates as the end. The great advantage of using a means-end scheme in studying human subordination is that it helps to prevent us from making one or more of these mistakes: (1) confusing power with domination, (2) confusing domination with power, (3) using only power or domination rather than using them both in con- junction with one another, and (4) failing to specify explicitly the relationship between power and domination when they are used in tandem.
In Robert Bierstedt’s (1974) classic analysis of power, however, he takes a position on the nature of power and dominance, which is at sharp odds from the one taken here. Although Bierstedt does not distinguish dominance from domi- nation as is done here, for our present purpose, they can be considered synony- mous. According to him (1974:225–227), dominance and power are relatively distinct rather than closely related phenomena. More specifically, he (1974: 225– 26, emphasis added) argues the following:
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It is relatively easy to distinguish power from dominance. Power is a sociological, dominance is a psychological phenomenon. The locus of power is in both persons and groups . . . The locus of dominance, on the contrary, is only in individuals. Power is a function of . . . the arrangement and juxtaposition of groups, including classes, and of the structure of society itself. Dominance on the other hand, is a function of personality or of temperament.
Contrary to Bierstedt, I argue that neither dominance nor domination emerges from within the individual or group, but rather from the interaction that takes place among them. Both individuals and collectives can perform super-ordinate roles in social acts and, thereby, practice domination or dominance, whatever the case may be. Moreover, they can both draw on whatever source of power that they may have at their immediate disposal or can later muster to insure that they perform the super-ordinate role and resist their performance of the subordinate role in a social act. Thus, Bierstedt’s reduction of dominance or domination to a psychological phenomenon and the elevation of power to a sociological one is ultimately based on a false dualism.
Bierstedt (1974: 229) also distinguishes power, which he defines as a “latent force,” from force, which he defines as “manifest power.” According to him (1974: 231, emphasis added), “Power, itself is the predisposition or prior capacity that makes the use of force possible.” He adds an important point: “Only groups that have power can threaten to use force and the threat, itself, is power (231).” In distinguishing power from force, however, Bierstedt (1974: 31–40) severely under- cuts his analysis by rejecting the use of a means-end scheme. He (1974: 34, 70) justifies his rejection of the use of a means-end scheme on the narrow positivistic grounds that it “violates most of the cannons and repudiates most of the criteria of objective scientific methodology because of the alleged “absence of empirical referents” for the terms “means” and “ends.” Means and ends, however, can be conceived in a manner in which they both refer to the visible actions of individuals or groups. Since the construction of social acts on the part of either different individuals or groups is open to observation, the usage of a means-end scheme would satisfy even the most extreme positivistic requirements for a scientific concept. In fact, to Bierstedt’s (1974: 39, fin. #9) great credit, he conceded that the use of a means-end scheme in conjunction with Mead’s concept of social action would definitely represent an exception to his critique.
If Bierstedt had ironically conceived means-end schemes in terms of Mead’s notion of social action, then Bierstedt could have placed his critical distinction between power and force into a much sharper perspective and, thereby, trans- formed it into an invaluable conceptual tool for understanding human subordi- nation. In a means-ends scheme, power would operate as a latent means, while force would operate as the manifest means that groups or individuals use to achieve domination. The only real difference between power and force would be whether they are means that people or groups only threaten to use, instead of actually using to gain domination over one another during their joint construction of social acts. Power operates as latent means when it is only threatened rather than actually
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used, while it operates as force when it is actually used rather than only threat- ened. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms, the distinc- tion just drawn between power and force, like the one earlier drawn between dominance and power, is consistent with popular usage, so that there is nothing esoteric about any of these distinctions. Of course, for power or threat of force to operate effectively, it must be perceived as credible.
More importantly, for our present concerns, when placed within the larger framework of a means-end scheme—neither the combination of power and domination, nor power, domination, or force individually are conceived as oper- ating independently from one another in social action. On the contrary, the operation of all three factors are perceived to be so closely intermeshed that to view them as operating in any other way would constitute a distortion of reality. More specifically, the greater amount of perceived power that a group or indi- vidual can mobilize, then the more force that it can exert in resolving the issue of whom should perform the super-ordinate and subordinate roles in a social act and, thereby, dominate its subsequent construction.
Thus, all other things being equal, a powerful group or individual can more easily dominate the construction of a social act than a weak person or group. Of course, an important complicating factor that must not be overlooked is that groups or individuals can bring different kinds of force to the table, and thereby, project different sources of power—communicative, economic, material, psycho- logical, or physical—during the construction of a social act. Moreover, some sources of power may be more effective than other ones when forcing the par- ticipants in a social act to perform subordinate roles in its construction. Of course, the key is to figure out which particular form of power should be projected to most effectively avoid the necessity of resorting to force in the situation at hand.
The Omnipresence of Domination in Everyday Life
There is no doubt that the most controversial aspect of domination discussed so far is that it is omnipresent. Whether or not we like to admit it, domination tints to one degree or another all our social acts and, thereby, pervades almost every corner of our social existence (Bottomore, 1979: 7; Farberman, 1979: 158; Hall, 1972: 48). Maclay and Knipe (1972: 102) assert that “ it seems that we are unable to escape from the need to signal our proper rank in almost everything we do.” Samuel Johnson once quipped, “No two people can be a half hour together, but one will acquire an evident superiority over the other.” The real message of Johnson’s quip is that the issue of domination can be kept under wraps only for so long before it rears its ugly head. I would add that it does not matter whether the half-hour referred to in his quip is spent at a cock tail party or in a boxing ring.
According to Georg Simmel (1950: 183), “relationships of super-ordination and subordination play an immense role in social life.” Similarly, Mead (1934: 205)
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observed that “there is a demand, a constant demand, to realize one’s self in some sort of superiority over those about us.” Nevertheless, we owe our greatest debt to Park and Burgess (1924: 668, emphasis added) for at least being the first interac- tionists to recognize that domination pervades all our social relationships to some degree:
Slavery and caste are manifestly forms of [domination]. The facts of subordination are quite real, though not as obvious, in other phases of social life. The peculiar intimacy which exists for example between lovers, between husband and wife, or between physician and patient involve relations of subordination and super-ordination, not recognized as such. The personal domination which a coach exercises over a ball team, a minister over a congregation, the political leader over his party followers are instances of the same phenomenon.
The omnipresence of domination in our social relations is often overlooked because, as Park and Burgess perceptively pointed out, its impact is harder to detect in some of our relationships with certain people than with others. It is only when domination becomes a matter of contention that its operation becomes fully visible or “knocks you over the head.” Conversely, if the allocation of the super- ordinate and subordinate roles does not become an issue of contention during the construction of a social act, then the operation of domination is much harder to detect because the participants merely take it for granted (Athens, 2007: 152–54). Of course, by definition, this is the case in ritualized and cooperative social acts. Despite the fact that struggles over domination are the exception rather than the rule in stable groups and communities, it remains wrong to conclude from this that power is only in operation when power or, more precisely, dominative struggles erupt during the construction of social acts (Hall, 1997: 403). Although force or manifest power only emerges when dominative struggles break out, latent power is always in operation during the construction of social acts in both stable and unstable groups and communities.
There are two particular forms of social action in which people are particularly apt to deny that domination operates and, thereby, deserve special attention: (1) simple, fleeting sociable social acts, such as greeting one another in passing, and (2) longer lasting sociable social action, such as parties and other recreational activities, including those in which all the participants are long-time friends. The deeply held belief that super-ordination and subordination are absent from these social acts is based on the specious assumption that, as a matter of course, dominance concerns are always suspended during convivial or fraternal affairs. As will be shown, these claimed exceptions to the pervasiveness of domination’s operation in social action, however, are more apparent than real because the subtleness with which it is displayed can make it hard for some people to detect immediately.
In demonstrating that domination actually operates in these two supposed exceptions, one a short-lived and the other a longer lasting social action, I will begin with the simple sociable act of exchanging greetings. If we say “hi” to a
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person, who refuses to return the greeting although they undoubtedly observed it, then the thought that immediately comes into our mind is, “Who does that person think he or she is ignoring me like that—they are no better than I am!” Of course, the issue can also arise of who should say “hi” first and the enthusiasm and warmth with which this greeting should be made. If people are performing a subordinate role in the social act, then they are usually not only expected to say “hi” first, but also say it with sufficient gusto to validate the sincerity of the greeting.
In the case of the longer lasting sociable social action during festive activities, the operation of domination can be demonstrated just as easily. Of course, the issue of who greets whom first and with how much warmth also comes into play here. In addition to these dominative concerns, however, others can arise, includ- ing who talks with whom, for how long, and with what degree of interest. If people are performing subordinate roles at a social gathering, especially at an office party, then it is always a good idea for them (and their spouses) to flatter their superiors, including their spouses. There are real limits, however, that must be observed. For example, you should never flirt with your supervisors’ spouses, but you should also never take offense if they should flirt with your spouse, etc. If your superior flirts with your spouse, it is to be seen as a compliment to your good taste, but if you flirt with their spouse, it is taken as a sign of your ignoring or disrespecting their superiority. Finally, to demonstrate the dominative concerns operate even in non-fleeting convivial affairs in which all the participants are long-time friends, I will draw on an example recorded in field notes that Sydel Silverman (1975: 92, emphasis added) took during her study of Montecastello di Vibio, a town in central Italy:
S., the wife of a local landowner, and P., the wife of a laborer, are two women of about the same age. S and P. both describe their relationship as that of old friends “who always ask each other for favors.” P. does domestic work in S.’s house from time to time, and if they encounter each other by chance S. readily asks P. to run errands for her. S. does not pay P. directly for her errands . . . ; rather she gives P. “gifts” of food (on various occasions) and of money. . . These payments are defined as “generosity,” because P. helps S. and S. is “fond” of P . . . I observed that the interaction between the two women is close and affectionate, though the rank distinction in terms of address and behavior is always maintained . . . They often pass the evening together in S’s house. Occasionally, they play cards: the loser is supposed to buy the beer, but in fact S. always pays for it and P. always goes out to buy it.
Once convivial social action is observed for any length of time, it is easy to detect the tell-tale signs that dominative concerns remain in effect rather than have been suspended from operation. If, however, for the sake of argument, we grant that domination can be temporarily suspended at convivial affairs, then its suspension and possible later reinstatement would be still done solely at the prerogative of the super-ordinates rather than the subordinates, thereby making it a very dangerous assumption for subordinates, at least, to operate on. Thus, the
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belief that there occurs a suspension of concerns over domination at convivial affairs would ultimately support rather than negate the principle that domination pervades all our social affairs to some degree or another because the need for the suspension of such concerns only confirms their previous existence (Goffman, 1967: 52–53, 73–76).
Legitimacy, Institutionalization, and the Use of Force
Whenever the parties in a dispute—regardless of whether they are nations, races, nationalities, sects, gangs or even spouses—decide to use force to dominate the construction of a social act in which they are participating, the issue that invari- ably arises is whether their exercise of it was legitimate. No sociologist’s name is more closely associated with the idea of legitimacy than Max Weber (1947: 124–132, 324–329). Weber (1947: 124) conceives legitimacy as social action “oriented by the actors to a belief in the existence of a legitimate order.” Accord- ing to him, for a social action to be considered legitimate, it must also display at least three characteristics. First, the participants in the social action must comply with the request for them to perform their assigned role in it, at least partly, out of a sense of duty or moral obligation (1947:124). Second, the participants must guide their performance of their assigned role in the social action on the basis of “determinate ‘maxims’ or rules.” (1947: 124–25). Finally, because the participants in a social act may be often subjected to conflicting maxims of action, the legitimacy of their engagement in social action is not an either- or proposition, but only an ideal from which a certain amount of deviation can be always expected (1947: 125–26).
Unlike Weber, neither Park nor Mead devoted much attention to the notion of “legitimacy” in their work. However, they not only devoted a great deal of attention to the notion of institutionalization, but they also envisioned it as displaying many of the same defining characteristics as Weber’s notion of legiti- macy. To oversimplify, both Mead and Park view institutions as social acts that are organized on bases of common principles, which Mead (1922: 161–62, 1925: 288, 1934: 152, 380, 386; 1936: 375) called “maxims” or “axioms,” but both Park and Burgess (1924: 786–99; 841–43) and Park (1931a: 284–92) preferred to call “mores.” Park (1931a: 290–92), however, added an explicit proviso to his con- ception of institutions, which is only implicit in Mead’s (1934: 272, 309) work, that the rules of action on which institutions are based must be always backed by public opinion. Thus, regardless whether these common principles are called maxims, axioms, or mores, Park (1931c: 246–47) and Mead (1934: 162–63) agreed with Weber that the prevailing attitudes among a community’s members must be an obligation to some degree or another to abide by these principles as they construct social acts.
Because both Mead (1934: 199, 264–69) and Park (1925a: 66) view the insti- tutionalization of a social act in relative rather than absolute terms, their view of
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an institution also resembles Weber’s notion of legitimacy in this important respect. Moreover, like Weber, they both recognized that people can be con- fronted with the problem of different rules of action for constructing the same social act, and, thereby, suffer from conflicting directives while participating in its construction (Mead, 1934: 141–44, 306–7, 321–23; Park, 1929: 203–204; 1931a: 291–92, 1931b: 366–71; 1937: 372–76). Thus, Park and Mead’s notion of insti- tution may be considered as synonymous with Weber’s notion of legitimacy, at least in these three important respects.
In determining whether a particular social act is institutionalized and, in turn, legitimate, it must be taken into account that the common principles on which institutions rest vary greatly with respect to the size of the community over which they effectively operate. Park (1925a: 66) has observed, “There is always a larger community. Every single community is always part of some larger and more inclusive one.” According to him, there are “minor,” “major,” and “world” communities (Park and Burgess1924: 124; Park, 1929: 181, 196; 1936b: 148; 1939a: 121; 1939b: 241–42; 1940: 310; 1942: 328–330). To the three different types of communities that Park distinguished, I would add two other important ones—“regional” and “supra-” communities. Thus, world communities would incorporate supra-communities, which would, in turn, incorporate regional com- munities, which would still, in turn, incorporate major ones, which would even still, in turn, incorporate minor ones.
Moreover, on the basis of the different communities over which a common principle of social action operates, at least, six different types of institutional principles can be distinguished. In the case of idiosyncratic ones, their effective sphere of operation is at most limited to a few small groups, such as cliques or gangs, within a minor community. The effective sphere of operation of local principles extends further to most of the groups in a minor community. In the case of a communal principle, their effective sphere of operation would extend to all the minor communities in a major community with only a few possible exceptions. The effective sphere of regional principles extends even further to all the different major communities in an entire a region, such as New England or the Bible Belt, with only a few possible exceptions. In the case of pan-regional principles, their effective sphere of operation extends even further to most of the different regional communities in a supra-community. Finally, a global principle would have the largest operating sphere of all, which would include all the different supra-communities that comprise the world community, with only a few possible exceptions.
Of course, the size of the community over which an institutional principle operates effectively is not immutable, but can change over time. On the one hand, the size of the community over which an institutional principle effectively operates can undergo evolution as the public opinion backing its use progressively expands. An idiosyncratic principle of social action can evolve over time into a local one as more and more members of a minor community develop attitudes obliging them
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to abide by them. A local principle of social action can subsequently evolve further into a communal one as more and more members of different minor communities and, thereby, a major community, become in favor of supporting it. A communal principle of social action can later further evolve into a regional one as more and more members of different major communities, and, thereby, a regional commu- nity, feel compelled to oblige. A regional principle can still later evolve even further into a pan-regional one, as more and more members of different regional communities and, thereby, a supra-community, embrace it. Finally, pan-regional principles can even later evolve even more into global ones as more and more members of supra-communities, and, thereby, the global community, develop these attitudes.
On the other hand, the common principles on which institutions rest may also de-evolve with the passage of time. A global principle eventually can devolve into a pan- regional one as more and more members of its different supra-communities lose their obligatory attitudes to follow it. A pan-regional principle can subse- quently devolve further into a regional one as more and more members of different regional communities, and thereby, the supra-community, feel less com- pelled to adhere to it. A regional principle can still later devolve more into a communal one as more and more of the members of different major communities and, thereby, the regional community, start to disassociate themselves from it. A communal principle can even later devolve even further into a local one, as more and more of the members of different minor communities and, thereby, the major community, continue to feel less of an obligation to follow it. Finally, a local principle can even still later devolve even more into idiosyncratic or, more spe- cifically, vestigial ones as more and more members of different local communities, and, thereby, the minor community, feel they can let go of it.
Thus, at any point in time, the social acts that display the greatest amount of institutionalization, and, thereby, legitimacy, including ones in which force is exercised, are always those that are constructed on the bases of global principles, whereas those that display the least amount of institutionalization and, in turn, legitimacy are constructed only on the bases idiosyncratic ones. The United States spearheading the Desert Storm campaign to liberate Kuwait from Iraq occupa- tion, which countries from around the world endorsed, would crudely illustrate this last point.
We must take into account, however, the operation of “bastard institutions,” a term which Evert Hughes (1951: 98–105) became known for, even though the original source of this idea was his mentors, Robert Park and Ernest Burgess (1924: 643). A bastard institution is basically a common principle of social action that effectively operates in a small community, say A-1, but is contravened by the common principles of social action that effectively operate in the larger commu- nity, say A, which this smaller community, A-1 is only a part of. Thus, the prevailing attitudes among members of the larger community A is that you should not abide by the principle of action, whereas the prevailing attitude among
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members of the smaller community A-1 is that you should abide by it (see, for example, White, 1943: 138–46). Although neither Mead, nor Weber used the term “bastard institution,” they definitely recognized its operation in human communities, including those where deadly force is used.
During Weber’s discussion of legitimacy, for example, he (1947:125) percep- tively makes the following observation: “A person who fights a duel orients his action to the code of honor; but at the same time, in so far as he keeps it secret or conversely gives himself up to the police, he takes account of the criminal law.” Similarly, in Mead’s discussion of institutions, he (1934:265) notes that: “The criminal as such is the individual who lives in a very small group, and then makes depredations upon the larger community of which he is not a member. He is taking property that belongs to others, but he himself does not belong to the community that recognizes and preserves the rights of property.” It should come as no surprise that from the participant observation study of nudist’s colonies, Weinberg (1976) found that the rules of action that operate in these minor communities prescribed public heterosexual nudity, whereas those that operated in the larger communities that engulfed these smaller communities proscribed it. According to him, in these minor communities, public heterosexual nudity was treated as something positive, natural, and unrelated to sex, while in the surround- ing major, regional, and supra- communities, it was treated as something nega- tive, unnatural, and intimately related to sex. Thus, all the principles of action on which institutions operate, except for global ones, could be bastard institutions, so that there could be bastard idiosyncratic, local, communal, regional, or even pan-regional institutions (see Steffensmeier and Ulmer, 2006; Ulmer and Stef- fensmeier, 2006).
Dominance Orders
Domination has social repercussions that endure beyond the original social acts during which it was exercised. Acting units who routinely perform super-ordinate roles in a group’s or in a larger community’s activities stand usually at the top of their dominance orders, while those who routinely perform subordinate roles in these activities sit usually at the bottom of their dominance orders. Over time, it becomes taken-for-granted that the acting units who are at the top of a group’s or community’s pecking order are generally superior to those who are at the bottom and, conversely, those who are at bottom of a group’s or community’s pecking order are generally inferior to those who are perched at the top. No matter whether the acting units under consideration are individuals, clans, tribes, nation- alities, races, or even nation states, this remains the case (Park and Burgess, 1924: 509–10: Park, 1942: 338). In Nasar’s biography of Nobel laureate winner, John Foster Nash, she (1998: 64, emphasis original) describes the pecking order and leaders of the cliques that operated while he was a graduate student during the late 1940’s in Princeton University’s highly acclaimed math department:
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The clique at the top of the hierarchy was the topology clique, which clustered around Lefschetz, Fox, and Steenrod. Then came analysis, grouped around Lefschetz’s archrival in the depart- ment . . . named Bochner. Then came algebra, which consisted of Emil Artin and a handful of anointed followers. Logic, for some reason, was not highly regarded, despite Church’s towering reputation among early pioneers of computer theory. The game theory clique around Tucker was considered quite déclassé, an anomaly in this ivory tower of pure mathematics.
In the early American sociology textbook by Park and Burgess, Introduction to
the Science of Sociology, better known as the “Green Bible,” they (1924: 26, emphasis added) pointed out, “the status and social position of any individual is determined by his relation to all other members of that group and eventually all other groups.” The argument made by Park and Burgess can be applied not only to individuals, but also to groups and minor, major, regional, supra-, and world communities. Thus, whether a person or group is a small or big fish in a small pond or a big or small fish in a big pond would ultimately depend not only on the individual’s or group’s position, but also on the size of the particular group or larger community in which their position in the pecking order was held. William White (1943: 272) describes vividly the relational nature of dominance orders in an Italian, slum neighborhood in Boston that he dubbed “Cornerville”:
Corner- boy leaders like Doc, Dom Ramano, and Carlo Tedesco served as intermediaries, representing the interests of their followers to higher ups. Chick and his college boys ranked above the corner- boys, but they stood at the bottom of another hierarchy, which was controlled from outside the district. There are, of course, wide differences between the big shoots. Viewed from the street corner of Shelby Street, Tony Cataldo was a big shot . . . On the other hand, he served as an intermediary, dealing with the big shoots for the corner-boys and trying to control the corner-boys for the big shots. T.S., the racket boss, and George Ravello, the state senator, were the biggest men in Cornerville.
Blumer (1958: 5) restricts his explanation of how a group’s position in a community impacts the status of its individual members to groups and individuals of different races. Despite this restriction, however, there is no reason why his explanation cannot be extended to groups and individuals of the same race, nationality, or ethnic group:
The sense of group position refers to the position of group to group, not to that of individual to individual. Thus, vis-à-vis the subordinate racial group, the unlettered individual with low status in the dominant racial group has a sense of group position common to that of the elite of his group. By virtue of sharing this sense of position, such an individual, despite his low status, feels that members of the subordinate group, however distinguished and accomplished, are somehow inferior, alien, and somehow properly restricted in the area of claims. He forms his conception as a representative of the dominant group; he treats individual members of the subordinate group as representative of that group.
An acting unit’s position in a group’s, or minor, major, regional, supra-, or world community’s pecking order has important ramifications for how these units act
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toward one another during joint activities. There is a good reason for referring to human dominance orders of one scale or another as “pecking orders.” Acting units at the top of their respective dominance order generally receive more and must give less deference to those at the bottom of it. Conversely, those at the bottom of a group’s dominance order must give more and receive less deference than those at the top of it. Thus, domination is not only created, but is also maintained, in social action in which people or groups of varying types, sizes, and the same or different races or sexes are the participants. Zorbaugh (1929: 54, emphasis added) offers us an apt example of the deference that subordinates had to show super-ordinates of the same race and both sexes to travel in the same rarified social circles as their super-ordinates did on Chicago’s famed “Gold Coast” during the roaring 2O’s:
B and her husband, A, are members of the smartest group in Chicago society, the types of members who [go to] work early and [stay] late to keep their positions . . . But as the A’s had an income that was relatively small, it was a real struggle to keep this position . . . Their real “hold” came through an unusual gaiety and zest which both possessed . . . This zest and gaiety, and a ready willingness to do services for their friends—from helping to choose the latest ball gown to arranging flowers at a funeral—are the assets which make their success despite a small income.
Another example taken from Silverman’s (1975) field notes from her study of Montecastello di Vibio, which she conducted during 1960’s and 70’s, illustrates the deference that male Italian peasants had to display in years past toward the caporioni, the “big men,” of the same race in their town:
They were all persons who were authoritative, serious, who frightened one with their physical presence . . . They wore boots without laces . . . They commanded respect. If someone was standing near the campanile and some of these patronages came by the arch, if one did not wait to pay his respectful greetings, that house would be closed to the rebellious vassal! At that house the person no longer entered . . . They all were very wealthy. In their houses the table was never cleared. Whoever entered there, spontaneously, to [perform] an errand, or called there, was well received (Silverman, 1975: 95).
Dominative Encounters
An acting unit’s ranking in a group, or minor, major, regional, supra-, or world community is not static, but always susceptible to change. Park (1925b: 176) argued that “every individual finds himself in a struggle for status,” from which, he contends, our only escape is to become a “hermit.” He (1929: 199) further contends that at the bottom of this struggle is our desire for status that “impels each one of us to maintain, to defend, and, if possible, to improve his status.” According to Zorbaugh (1929: 56), the struggle for status among the residents of the “Gold Coast” during the roaring 20’s took the form of a “social game” that required, among other things, the “art of publicity, of display, and lavish spend- ing,” which was practiced to a degree that was not matched anywhere else in the
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city. He further found (1929: 57) that the motive for them playing this social game was a “passion for recognition” that became the “center” around which their entire lives revolved. It warrants inserting here that this eternal need for status does not stem from our genes as some scholars (see, for example: Maclay and Knipe, 1972: 13–17, 31–2, 98–102) claim, but springs from the social process itself—the interaction that takes place among the different individuals in a group or different groups in the community (Park, 1925c: 10).
However, it is more important for our present concerns that Park (1941: 62) concludes that “status, whether it is occupational or social—in any of the various senses of that term—gets its peculiar character because it is the result of conscious competition, that is, emulation, personal conflict, war; because, in short, it is the outcome of a struggle not merely for a spot in the sun or job, but for recognition and a place in the existing social order.” Whether the rank of an individual or group rises, falls or remains the same in a group or one of these larger commu- nities and, thereby, whether it succeeds or fails in the “struggle for status” ulti- mately depends on how it fares in dominative encounters (Athens, 2005b: 21). Dominative encounters are social acts in which an individual or group becomes embroiled in a dominative dispute. Depending on how close one of these acting units comes to using actual force of some kind or another to settle the issue of who should display submissive and dominant attitudes and, thereby, perform the super-ordinate and subordinate roles in a social act in which they are jointly participating, three types of dominative encounters may be distinguished: domi- native engagements, dominative skirmishes, and dominative tiffs (Athens, 2005b: 21–22).
Dominative engagements occur when one or more of acting units actually resorts to force of some form or another to settle the issue of who should display superior and inferior attitudes and, in turn, perform the super-ordinate and subordinate roles during a social act’s construction, whereas a dominative skir- mish occurs when one or more of the acting units almost resort to some of type of force for settling this issue of contention but end up not carrying it out. A dominative tiff is a dominative encounter that ends before any of the acting units even reaches the point of almost using force to settle the issue of who will dominate the construction of the social act in which they are jointly involved. Thus, for present purposes, a dominative engagement may be thought of as a completed dominative encounter, a skirmish may be thought as almost completed domina- tive engagement, and a dominative tiff may be thought of as an almost completed dominative skirmish (Athens 2005b: 36–39).
The Institution and Legitimacy of Dominative Encounters
Of course, the institutionalization of dominative encounters, like other social acts, may vary in both degree and kind. Institutionalization is a means of regularizing social action, so that human communal life becomes more predictable for its members. Since conflict is an endemic feature of all human communities, no
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Human Subordination from a Radical Interactionist’s Perspective 361
matter how big or small they may be, it should not come as a shock to anyone that communities would want to institutionalize the dominative encounters waged within their borders.
The degree of institutionalization of a dominative encounters varies according to the diameter of the community in which the “rule of action” it is based on operates effectively. The most institutionalized forms of dominative encounters are based on global rules of action in which the sphere of effective operation would be the world community, whereas the least institutionalized form of domi- native encounters are based on idiosyncratic “rules of action,” in which the sphere of effective operation could be only a small group in a minor community. As Park (1941: 52–5) has pointed out, elegant bodies of global rules of action governing dominative encounters among supra-communities have been repeatedly pro- posed in the aftermath of “great wars” that have caused incalculable amounts of death, destruction, and general misery to human kind the world over, although none have been effectively instituted yet. Conversely, local rules of action not only have been often proposed, but also have been frequently instituted for regulating these encounters in minor communities, as various pacifists groups, like the “Old Order Amish,” have demonstrated (Kephart and Zellner, 1998: 45–46).
Of course, the institutionalization of dominative encounters can also vary in kind rather than only degree. An important distinction needs to be drawn between a bastardized or illegitimate dominative engagements and a legitimate one. In the case of the bastardized institution, the rules of action that govern how dominative encounters should be conducted and effectively operate in a smaller community contravenes those that effectively operate in the larger community of which this smaller community is a part of. On the other hand, in the case of legitimate dominative encounters, the rules of action governing how dominative encounters are to be conducted are at least consistent with those that effectively operate in the larger community of which they are part. Although the attitudes prevailing among the members of a smaller community may support rules of action on which the bastard institution operates, the prevailing attitudes among the members of the larger community condemn the use of those rules of action. The difference between a bastardized dominative encounters and a legitimate one is illustrated by the rules of the “black hand,” now better known as the “mafia,” which the mafiosi follow in settling dominance disputes in Sicily and in some American urban communities versus the “Marquis of Queensbury” rules that pugilists follow to settle dominative disputes during boxing matches across the world (see Washington and Park, 1912: 177–91; Zorbaugh, 1929: 170–174).
Domination Is Always Problematic
The domination of social action is always problematic to some degree. We can never exactly predict who will dominate the construction of a social act before the act itself is completed. The swaying of the social object made of the social act and
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362 Lonnie Athens
the attendant plan of action for executing it always depend on what happened during its formation (Athens, 1993b: 191). Although the acting units in most social acts that occur in groups or larger communities not undergoing drastic change can usually take for granted who will dominate the social act’s construction on the basis of their past participation in similar actions in that group or larger commu- nity, their unstated presumption always can be violated later.
Of course, it is always during conflictive rather than cooperative social acts that acting units violate the taken-for-granted presumptions about who should perform the super-ordinate and subordinate roles in their construction. The taken-for-granted assumptions about who should dominate a social act’s construc- tion are violated when the particular allocation of the super-ordinate and subor- dinate roles among the different acting units is contested. The contesting of the dominance order underlying a social act’s construction is what triggers a domi- native encounter, but it can never be predetermined with absolute assurance before the social act is constructed whether a dominative encounter will arise. If a dominative encounter does arise, there is no way to predict whether it will end in a dominative engagement, skirmish or tiff (Athens, 2005b: 36–39). If a domi- native encounter is completed and, thereby, leads to an engagement, then it is impossible to predict the winner and loser with certainty. Thus, domination of social action is replete with vagaries that open the doors for the unexpected, giving credence to the old saying that “even the best laid plans can always go awry.” Dominative encounters are not an exception; they prove the rule.
CONCLUSION
Like symbolic interactionism, radical interactionism is derived from the ideas of George Herbert Mead, Robert Park, and Herbert Blumer. Unlike symbolic interactionism, however, radical interactionism places just as much importance on Park’s as Mead’s ideas, and more importance is placed on both their ideas than Blumer’s. I am not the first person to point out the need for interactionists to draw on pragmatists’ ideas other than Mead’s if they want to develop interactionistism into a viable sociological perspective from which to examine the problems con- fronting the world today. Eugene Rochberg-Halton (1987: 198, emphasis added) made a similar plea over twenty years ago, although it was largely ignored: “Until symbolic interactionism gets over its half century long infatuation with George Herbert Mead, it will remain the dubious sociological sect that it does today” ( for some exceptions, see Athens, 1998, 2007, 2009; Wiley, 1994; 2008). As far as the role of subordination in human group life is concerned, radical interactionism places far more importance on Park’s ideas than either Blumer’s or Mead’s ideas. Thus, by selectively building on and extending all three of their and my own ideas, I was able to explain the nature and operation of subordination in human affairs from the new perspective of radical interactionism.
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Human Subordination from a Radical Interactionist’s Perspective 363
Of course, the explanation of human subordination developed here is not cast in iron by any means. As the perspective of radical interactionism undergoes further development, there is no doubt that new explanatory ideas will need to be added to the present ones and that some of the existing ones may need to be amended or deleted. Despite the inevitable need for the further refinement of this explanation in the future, however, it is presently stated with sufficient acumen to make two points clear. First, radical interactionism places much more significance on human subordination than the perspective of symbolic interactionism that Mead and Blumer had originally developed. Second, an interactionist’s perspec- tive can be developed from the fundamental tenets of pragmatist, which not only places much more significance on human subordination than the symbolic inter- actionist’s perspective does on the basis of Blumer and Mead’s ideas, but also makes human subordination of utmost importance in our understanding human social existence (Athens, 2007: 157–58, 2009: 403–07). Thus, unlike conventional symbolic interactionism, radical interactionism cannot be charged with minimiz- ing the importance of subordination and, thereby, the operation of domination, power, and raw force in everyday human life. As far as future research on human subordination from a radical interactionist perspective is concerned, there remains the urgent need to develop much further than done here the notion of the dominative encounter, especially by identifying the stages through which the three different types of dominative encounters—dominative engagements, domi- native skirmishes, and tiffs—unfold.
Lonnie Athens
Department of Criminal Justice Seton Hall University
South Orange, New Jersey 07079 USA
athenslo@shu.edu

Acknowledgement. I would like to thank the editor, Charles Smith, for pushing me not only to elaborate and refine, but also to provide support for my arguments, which made my paper immeasurably better than would have been the case if he had not done it.
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