Collective Behavior and Social Control

Park defined sociology as "the science of collective behavior," and thisdefinition already suggests that while he was not unmindful of the need foranalysis of social structures, he was mainly concerned with the study of morefluid social processes. In Park's view society is best conceived as the productof interactions between component individuals which are controlled by a bodyof traditions and norms that arise in the process of interaction. Social controlis "the central fact and the central problem of society." "Society is everywherea control organization. Its function is to organize, integrate, and direct theenergies resident in the individuals which compose it." Accordingly, sociologyis "a point of view and method for investigating the processes by which indi-viduals are inducted into and induced to cooperate in some sort of corporateexistence we call society."

Social control refers to the variety of mechanisms by which collective be-havior is organized, contained, and channelled. The social process involvesforms of antagonism, of conflict and competition, and social control serves toorder these processes. Whether it be the more elementary forms of control thatarise among members of a crowd, or the more elaborate forms that crystallizeinto public opinion and the law, social control always operates so as to regulatecompetition, to compromise conflict, and to harness individuals to the necessaryrequirements of the social order. Yet social control can never achieve a per-manent state of equilibrium in society. The fact that antagonisms are regulatedby control mechanisms does not mean that they are eradicated, but only thatthey have become latent or have been driven into socially accepted channels"Every society represents an organization of elements more or less antagonisticto each other but united for the moment, at least by an arrangement whichdefines the reciprocal relations and respective sphere of action of each. Thisaccommodation, this modus vivendi, may be relatively permanent as in asociety constituted by castes, or quite transitory as in societies made up of openclasses.''

For Park, a relatively stable social order is one in which mechanisms ofsocial control have for the time being succeeded in containing antagonisticforces in such a way that an accommodation has been reached between them.But while accommodation may be reached temporarily between specific groupsand individuals, there is, according to Park, every reason to believe that anoverall accommodation, at least in modern society, can never be permanent be-cause new groups and individuals are likely to arise and claim their shareof scarce values, thus questioning the scheme of things that has arisen fromprevious accommodations.

From Coser, 1977:358-359.


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