Of the four great types of interaction--competition, conflict,accommodation, and assimilation--competition is the elementary,universal and fundamental form. Social contact, as we have seen,initiates interaction. But competition, strictly speaking, isinteraction without social contact. If this seems, inview of what has already been said, something of a paradox, itis because in human society competition is always complicatedwith other processes, that is to say, with conflict, assimilation,and accommodation.

It is only in the plant community that we can observe the processof competition in isolation, uncomplicated with other social processes. The members of a plant community live together in a relationof mutual interdependence which we call social probably because,while it is close and vital, it is not biological. It is notbiological because the relation is a merely external one and theplants that compose it are not even of the same species. Theydo not interbreed. The members of a plant community adapt themselvesto one another as all living things adapt themselves to theirenvironment, but there is no conflict between them because theyare not conscious. Competition takes the form of conflict orrivalry only when it becomes conscious, when competitors identifyone another as rivals or as enemies.

This suggests what is meant by the statement that competitionis interaction without social contact.. It is only whenminds meet, only when the meaning that is in one mind is communicatedto another mind so that these minds mutually influence one another,that social contact, properly speaking, may be said to exist.

On the other hand, social contacts are not limited to contactsof touch or sense or speech, and they are likely to be more intimateand more pervasive than we imagine. Some years ago the Japanese,who are brown, defeated the Russians, who are white. In the courseof the next few months the news of this remarkable event penetrated,as we afterward learned, uttermost ends of the earth. It senta thrill through all Asia and it was known in the darkest cornersof Central Africa. Everywhere it awakened strange and fantasticdreams. This is what is meant by social contact.

a ) Competition and Competitive Co-operation. Socialcontact, which inevitably initiates conflict, accommodation, orassimilation, invariably creates also sympathies, prejudices,personal and moral relations which modify, complicate, and controlcompetition. On the other hand, within the limits which the culturalprocess creates, and custom, law, and tradition impose, competitioninvariably tends to create an impersonal social order in whicheach individual, being free to pursue his own profit, and, ina sense, compelled to do so, makes every other individual a meansto that end. In doing so, however, he inevitably contributesthrough the mutual exchange of services so established to thecommon welfare. It is just the nature of the trading transactionto isolate the motive of profit and make it the basis of businessorganization, and so far as this motive becomes dominant and exclusive,business relations inevitably assume the impersonal characterso generally ascribed to them.

"Competition," says Walker, "is opposed to sentiment. Whenever any economic agent does or forbears anything under theinfluence of any sentiment other than the desire of giving theleast and gaining the most he can in exchange, be that sentimentpatriotism, or gratitude, or charity, or vanity, leading him todo otherwise than as self interest would prompt, in that casealso, the rule of competition is departed from. Another ruleis for the time substituted." [1]

This is the significance of the familiar sayings to the effectthat one "must not mix business with sentiment," that"business is business" "corporations are heartless,"etc. It is just because corporations are "heartless,"that is to say impersonal, that they represent the most advanced,efficient, and responsible form of business organization. Butit is for this same reason that they can and need to be regulatedin behalf of those interests of the community that cannot be translatedimmediately into terms of profit and loss to the individual.

The plant community is the best illustration of the type of socialorganization that is created by competitive co-operation becausein the plant community competition is unrestricted.

b) Competition and Freedom.. The economic organizationof society, so far as it is an effect of free competition, isan ecological organization. There is a human as well as a plantand an animal ecology.

If we are to assume that the economic order is fundamentally ecological,that is, created by the struggle for existence, an organizationlike that of the plant community in which the relations betweenindividuals are conceivably at least wholly external, the questionmay be very properly raised why the competition and the organizationit has created should be regarded as social at all. As a matterof fact sociologists have generally identified the social withthe moral order, and Dewey, in his Democracy and Education,makes statements which suggest that the purely economic order,in which man becomes a means rather than an end to other men,is unsocial, if not antisocial.

The fact is, however, that this character of externality in human relations is a fundamental aspect of society and sociallife. It is merely another manifestation of what has been referredto as the distributive aspect of society. Society is made upof individuals spatially separated, territorially distributed,and capable of independent locomotion. This capacity of independentlocomotion is the basis and the symbol of every other form ofindependence. Freedom is fundamentally freedom to move and individualityis inconceivable without the capacity and the opportunity to gainan individual experience as a result of independent action.

On the other hand, it is quite true that society may be said toexist only so far as this independent activity of the individualis controlled in the interest of the group as a whole. That is the reason why the problem of control, using that termin its evident significance, inevitably becomes the central problemof sociology.

c) Competition and Control.. Conflict, assimilation andaccommodation as distinguished from competition are all intimatelyrelated to control. Competition is the process through whichthe distributive and ecological organization of society is created. Competition determines the distribution of population territoriallyand vocationally. The division of labor and all the vast organizedeconomic interdependence of individuals and groups of individualscharacteristic of modern life are a product of competition. Onthe other hand, the moral and political order, which imposes itselfupon this competitive organization, is a product of conflict,accommodation and assimilation.

Competition is universal in the world of living things. Underordinary circumstances it goes on unobserved even by the individualswho are most concerned. It is only in periods of crisis, whenmen are making new and conscious efforts to control the conditionsof their common life, that the forces with which they are competingget identified with persons, and competition is converted intoconflict. It is in what has been described as the politicalprocess that society consciously deals with its crises. War is the political process par excellence. It is in war thatthe great decisions are made. Political organizations exist forthe purpose of dealing with conflict situations. Parties, parliamentsand courts, public discussion and voting are to be consideredsimply as substitutes for war.

d) Accommodation, Assimilation, and Competition.. Accommodation,on the other hand, is the process by which the individuals andgroups make the necessary internal adjustments to social situationswhich have been created by competition and conflict. War andelections change situations. When changes thus effected are decisiveand are accepted, conflict subsides and the tensions it createdare resolved in the process of accommodation into profound modificationsof the competing units, i.e., individuals and groups. A man oncethoroughly defeated is, as has often been noted, "never thesame again." Conquest, subjugation, and defeat are psychologicalas well as social processes. They establish a new order by changing,not merely the status, but the attitudes of the parties involved. Eventually the new order gets itself fixed in habit and customand is then transmitted as part of the established social orderto succeeding generations. Neither the physical nor the socialworld is made to satisfy at once all the wishes of the naturalman. The rights of property, vested interests of every sort,the family organization, slavery, caste and class, the whole socialorganization, in fact, represent accommodations, that is to say,limitations of the natural wishes of the individual. These sociallyinherited accommodations have presumably grown up in the painsand struggles of previous generations, but they have been transmittedto and accepted by succeeding generations as part of the natural,inevitable social order. All of these are forms of control inwhich competition is limited by status.

Conflict is then to be identified with the political order andwith conscious control. Accommodation, on the other hand, isassociated with the social order that is fixed and establishedin custom and the mores.

Assimilation, as distinguished from accommodation, implies a morethoroughgoing transformation of the personality--transformationwhich takes place gradually under the influence of social contactsof the most concrete and intimate sort.

Accommodation may be regarded, like religious conversion, as akind of mutation. The wishes are the same but their organizationis different. Assimilation takes place not so much as a resultof changes in the organization as in the content, i.e., the memories,of the personality. The individual units, as a result of intimateassociation, interpenetrate, so to speak; and come in this wayinto possession of a common experience and a common tradition. The permanence and solidarity of the group rest finally uponthis body of common experience and tradition. It is the roleof history to preserve this body of common experience and tradition,to criticise and reinterpret it in the light of new experienceand changing conditions, and in this way to preserve the continuityof the social and political life.

The relation of social structures to the processes of competition,conflict, accommodation, and assimilation may be represented schematicallyas follows:

CompetitionThe economic equilibrium
ConflictThe political order
AccommodationSocial organization
AssimilationPersonality and the cultural heritage



The distinction between competition and conflict has already beenindicated. Both are forms of interaction, but competition isa struggle between individuals, or groups of individuals, whoare not necessarily in contact and communication; while conflictis a contest in which contact is an indispensable condition. Competition, unqualified and uncontrolled as with plants, andin the great impersonal life-struggle of man with his kind andwith all animate nature, is unconscious. Conflict is always conscious,indeed, it evokes the deepest emotions and strongest passionsand enlists the greatest concentration of attention and of effort. Both competition and conflict are forms of struggle. Competition,however, is continuous and impersonal, conflict is intermittentand personal.

Competition is a struggle for position in an economic order. The distribution of populations in the world-economy, the industrialorganization in the national economy, and the vocation of theindividual in the division of labor--all these are determined,in the long run, by competition. The status of the individual,or a group of individuals, in the social order, on the other hand,is determined by rivalry, by war, or by subtler forms of conflict.

"Two is company, three is a crowd" suggests how easilythe social equilibrium is disturbed by the entrance of a new factorin a social situation. The delicate nuances and grades of attentiongiven to different individuals moving in the same social circleare the superficial reflections of rivalries and conflicts beneaththe smooth and decorous surfaces of polite society.

In general, we may say that competition determines the positionof the individual in the community; conflict fixes his place insociety. Location, position, ecological interdependence--theseare the characteristics of the community. Status, subordinationand superordination, control--these are the distinctive marksof a society.

The notion of conflict, like the fact, has its roots deep in humaninterest. Mars has always held a high rank in the hierarchy ofthe gods. Whenever and wherever struggle has taken the form ofconflict, whether of races, of nations, or of individual men,it has invariably captured and held the attention of spectators. And these spectators, when they did not take part in the fight,always took sides. It was this conflict of the non-combatantsthat made public opinion, and public opinion has always playedan important role in the struggles of men. It is this that hasraised war from a mere play of physical forces and given it thetragic significance of a moral struggle, a conflict of good andevil.

The result is that war tends to assume the character of litigation,a judicial procedure, in which custom determines the method ofprocedure, and the issue of the struggle is accepted as a judgmentin the case.

The duello, as distinguished from the wager of battle, althoughit never had the character of a judicial procedure, developeda strict code which made it morally binding upon the individualto seek redress for wrongs, and determined in advance the methodsof procedure by which such redress could and should be obtained. The penalty was a loss of status in the particular group of whichthe individual was a member.

It was the presence of the public, the ceremonial character ofthe proceedings, and the conviction that the invisible powerswere on the side of truth and justice that gave the trial by ordealand the trial by battle a significance that neither the duellonor any other form of private vengeance ever had.

It is interesting in this connection, also, that political andjudicial forms of procedure are conducted on a conflict pattern. An election is a contest in which we count noses when we do notbreak heads. A trial by jury is a contest in which the partiesare represented by champions, as in the judicial duels of an earliertime.

In general, then, one may say competition becomes conscious andpersonal in conflict. In the process of transition competitorsare transformed into rivals and enemies. In its higher forms,however, conflict becomes impersonal--a struggle to establishand maintain rules of justice and a moral order. In this casethe welfare not merely of individual men but of the communityis involved. Such are the struggles of political parties andreligious sects. Here the issues are not determined by the forceand weight of the contestants immediately involved, but to a greateror less extent, by the force and weight of public opinion of thecommunity, and eventually by the judgment of mankind.



The term adaptation came into vogue with Darwin's theoryof the origin of the species by natural selection. This theorywas based upon the observation that no two members of a biologicalspecies or of a family are ever exactly alike. Everywhere thereis variation and individuality. Darwin's theory assumed thisvariation and explained the species as the result of natural selection. The individuals best fitted to live under the conditions of lifewhich the environment offered, survived and produced the existingspecies. The others perished and the species which they representeddisappeared. The differences in the species were explained asthe result of the accumulation and perpetuation of the individualvariations which had "survival value." Adaptationswere the variations which had been in this way selected and transmitted.

The term accommodation is a kindred concept with a slightlydifferent meaning. The distinction is that adaptation is appliedto organic modifications which are transmitted biologically; whileaccommodation is used with reference to changes in habit, whichare transmitted, or may be transmitted, sociologically, that is,in the form of social tradition. The term first used in thissense by Baldwin is defined in the Dictionary of Philosophyand Psychology.

In view of modern biological theory and discussion, two modesof adaptation should be distinguished: (a) adaptation throughvariation [hereditary]; (b) adaptation through modification [acquired]. For the functional adjustment of the individual to its environment[(b) above] J. Mark Baldwin has suggested the term "accommodation,"recommending that adaptation be confined to the structural adjustmentswhich are congenital and heredity [(a) above]. The term "accommodation"applies to any acquired alteration of function resulting in betteradjustment to environment and to the functional changes whichare thus effected. [2]

The term accommodation, while it has a limited field of applicationin biology, has a wide and varied use in sociology. All the socialheritages, traditions, sentiments, culture, technique, are accommodations--thatis, acquired adjustments that are socially and not biologicallytransmitted. They are not a part of the racial inheritance ofthe individual, but are acquired by the person in social experience. The two conceptions are further distinguished in this, that adaptationis an effect of competition, while accommodation, or more properlysocial accommodation, is the result of conflict.

The outcome of the adaptations and accommodations, which the strugglefor existence enforces, is a state of relative equilibrium amongthe competing species and individual members of these species. The equilibrium which is established by adaptation is biological,which means that, in so far as it is permanent and fixed in therace or the species, it will be transmitted by biological inheritance.

The equilibrium based on accommodation, however, is not biological;it is economic and social and is transmitted, if at all, by tradition. The nature of the economic equilibrium which results from competitionhas been fully described in chapter viii. The plant communityis this equilibrium in its absolute form.

In animal and human societies the community has, so to speak,become incorporated in the individual members of the group. Theindividuals are adapted to a specific type of communal life, andthese adaptations, in animal as distinguished from human societies,are represented in the division of labor between the sexes, inthe instincts which secure the protection and welfare of the young,in the so-called gregarious instinct, and all these representtraits that are transmitted biologically. But human societies,although providing for the expression of original tendencies,are organized about tradition, mores, collective representations,in short, consensus.. And consensus represents, not biologicaladaptations, but social accommodations.

Social organization, with the exception of the order based oncompetition and adaptation, is essentially an accommodation ofdifferences through conflicts. This fact explains why diverse-mindednessrather than like-mindedness is characteristic of human as distinguishedfrom animal society. Professor Cooley's statement of this pointis clear:

The unity of the social mind consists not in agreement but inorganization, in the fact of reciprocal influence or causationamong its parts, by virtue of which everything that takes placein it is connected with everything else, and so is an outcomeof the whole. [3]

The distinction between accommodation and adaptation is illustratedin the difference between domestication and taming. Through domesticationand breeding man has modified the original inheritable traitsof plants and animals. He has changed the character of the species. Through taming, individuals of species naturally in conflictwith man have become accommodated to him. Eugenics may be regardedas a program of biological adaptation of the human race in consciousrealization of social ideals. Education, on the other hand, representsa program of accommodation or an organization, modification, andculture of original traits.

Every society represents an organization of elements more or lessantagonistic to each other but united for the moment, at least,by an arrangement which defines the reciprocal relations and respectivespheres of action of each. This accommodation, this modusvivendi, may be relatively permanent as in a society constitutedby castes, or quite transitory as in societies made up of openclasses. In either case, the accommodation, while it is maintained,secures for the individual or for the group a recognized status.

Accommodation is the natural issue of conflicts. In an accommodationthe antagonism of the hostile elements is, for the time being,regulated, and conflict disappears as overt action, although itremains latent as a potential force. With a change in the situation,the adjustment that had hitherto successfully held in controlthe antagonistic forces fails. There is confusion and unrestwhich may issue in open conflict. Conflict, whether a war ora strike or a mere exchange of polite innuendoes, invariably issuesin a new accommodation or social order, which in general involvesa changed status in the relations among the participants. Itis only with assimilation that this antagonism, latent in theorganization of individuals or groups, is likely to be whollydissolved.



The concept assimilation, so far as it has been defined in popularusage, gets its meaning from its relation to the problem of immigration. The more concrete and familiar terms are the abstract noun Americanizationand the verbs Americanize, Anglicize, Germanize, and the like. All of these words are intended to describe the process by whichthe culture of a community or a country is transmitted to an adoptedcitizen. Negatively, assimilation is a process of denationalizationand this is, in fact, the form it has taken in Europe.

The difference between Europe and America, in relation to theproblem of cultures, is that in Europe difficulties have arisenfrom the forcible incorporation of minor cultural groups, i.e.,nationalities, within the limits of a larger political unit, i.e.,an empire. In America the problem has arisen from the voluntarymigration to this country of peoples who have abandoned the politicalallegiances of the old country and are gradually acquiring theculture of the new. In both cases the problem has its sourcesin an effort to establish and maintain a political order in acommunity that has no common culture. Fundamentally the problemof maintaining a democratic form of government in a southern villagecomposed of whites and blacks, and the problem of maintainingan international order based on anything but force are the same. The ultimate basis of the existing moral and political orderis still kinship and culture. Where neither exist, a politicalorder, not based on caste or class, is at least problematic.

Assimilation, as popularly conceived in the United States, wasexpressed symbolically some years ago in Zangwill's dramatic parableof The Melting Pot.. William Jennings Bryan has givenoratorical expression to the faith in the beneficent outcome ofthe process: "Great has been the Greek, the Latin, the Slav,the Celt, the Teuton, and the Saxon; but greater than any of theseis the American, who combines the virtues of them all."

Assimilation, as thus conceived, is a natural and unassisted process,and practice, if not policy, has been in accord with this laissezfaire conception, which the outcome has apparently justified. In the United States, at any rate, the tempo of assimilationhas been more rapid than elsewhere.

Closely akin to this "magic crucible" notion of assimilationis the theory of "like-mindedness." This idea was partlya product of Professor Giddings' theory of sociology, partly anoutcome of the popular notion that similarities and homogeneityare identical with unity. The ideal of assimilation was conceivedto be that of feeling, thinking, and acting alike. Assimilationand socialization have both been described in these terms by contemporarysociologists.

Another and a different notion of assimilation or Americanizationis based on the conviction that the immigrant has contributedin the past and may be expected in the future to contribute somethingof his own in temperament, culture, and philosophy of life tothe future American civilization. This conception had its originamong the immigrants themselves, and has been formulated and interpretedby persons who are, like residents in social settlements, in closecontact with them. This recognition of the diversity in the elementsentering into the cultural process is not, of course, inconsistentwith the expectation of an ultimate homogeneity of the product. It has called attention, at any rate, to the fact that the processof assimilation is concerned with differences quite as much aswith likenesses.


Accommodation has been described as a process of adjustment, thatis, an organization of social relations and attitudes to preventor to reduce conflict, to control competition, and to maintaina basis of security in the social order for persons and groupsof divergent interests and types to carry on together their variedlife-activities. Accommodation in the sense of the compositionof conflict is invariably the goal of the political process.

Assimilation is a process of interpenetration and fusion in whichpersons and groups acquire the memories, sentiments, and attitudesof other persons or groups, and, by sharing their experience andhistory, are incorporated with them in a common cultural life. In so far as assimilation denotes this sharing of tradition,this intimate participation in common experiences, assimilationis central in the historical and cultural processes.

This distinction between accommodation and assimilation, withreference to their role in society, explains certain significantformal differences between the two processes. An accommodationof a conflict, or an accommodation to a new situation, may takeplace with rapidity. The more intimate and subtle changes involvedin assimilation are more gradual. The changes that occur in accommodationare frequently not only sudden but revolutionary, as in the mutationof attitudes in conversion. The modifications of attitudes inthe process of assimilation are not only gradual, but moderate,even if they appear considerable in their accumulation over along period of time. If mutation is the symbol for accommodation,growth is the metaphor for assimilation. In accommodation theperson or the group is generally, though not always, highly consciousof the occasion, as in the peace treaty that ends the war, inthe arbitration of an industrial controversy, in the adjustmentof the person to the formal requirements of life in a new socialworld. In assimilation the process is typically unconscious;the person is incorporated into the common life of the group beforehe is aware and with little conception of the course of eventswhich brought this incorporation about.

James has described the way in which the attitude of the personchanges toward certain subjects, woman's sufferage, for example,not as the result of conscious reflection, but as the outcomeof the unreflective responses to a series of new experiences. The intimate associations of the family and of the play group,participation in the ceremonies of religious worship and in thecelebrations of national holidays, all these activities transmitto the immigrant and to the alien a store of memories and sentimentscommon to the native-born, and these memories are the basis ofall that is peculiar and sacred in our cultural life.

As social contact initiates interaction, assimilation is its finalperfect product. The nature of the social contacts is decisivein the process. Assimilation naturally takes place most rapidlywhere contacts are primary, that is, where they are the most intimateand intense, as in the area of touch relationship, in the familycircle and in intimate congenial groups. Secondary contacts facilitateaccommodations, but do not greatly promote assimilation. Thecontacts here are external and too remote.

A common language is indispensable for the most intimate associationof the members of the group; its absence is an insurmountablebarrier to assimilation. The phenomenon "that every grouphas its own language," its peculiar "universe of discourse,"and its cultural symbols is evidence of the interrelation betweencommunication and assimilation.

Through the mechanisms of imitation and suggestion, communicationeffects a gradual and unconscious modification of the attitudesand sentiments of the members of the group. The unity thus achievedis not necessarily or even normally like-mindedness; it is rathera unity of experience and of orientation, out of which may developa community of purpose and action.


1. Walker, Francis A., Political Economy, p. 92. (NewYork, 1887.)

2. Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, I, 15, 8.

3. Social Organization, p. 4.

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