Four Major Social Processes

Park distinguished four major social processes: competition, conflict, ac-commodation, and assimilation. Competition he took to be "a universal phe-nomenon . . . first clearly conceived and adequately described by the biolo-gists" and "defined in the evolutionary formula 'the struggle for existence.' ""Competition is the elementary universal and fundamental form'' of socialinteraction. It is "interaction without contact whether the competition isamong members of a plant community struggling for a share of sunlight oramong human beings competing for prized goods or values, the individualunit is unaware of its competitors. "It is only when minds meet, only whenthe meaning that is in one mind is communicated to another mind so thatthese minds mutually influence one another, that social contact properly speak-ing, may be said to exist.'' When this is the case, unconscious competition be-comes conscious conflict and "competitors identify one another as rivals or asenemies." Competition is as universal and continuous in human society asit is in the natural order. It assigns persons their position in the division oflabor as well as in the ecological order. Conflict, on the other hand, is inter-mittent and personal. While competition is a struggle for position in theecological and economic order, "the status of the individual, or a group of in-dividuals, in the social order . . . is determined by rivalry, by war or by subtlerforms of conflict." "Competition determines the position of the individual inthe [ecological] community, conflict fixes his place in society. Location, posi-tion, ecological interdependence--these are the characteristics of the [ecologi-cal] community. Status, subordination, and superordination, control--these arethe distinctive marks of a society.''

Accommodation implies a cessation of conflict, which comes about whenthe system of allocation of status and power, the relations of superordinates tosubordinates, have been temporarily fixed and are controlled through the lawsand the mores. "In accommodation the antagonism of the hostile elements is,for the time being, regulated, and conflict disappears as overt action, althoughit remains latent as a potential force. With a change in the situation, the ad-justment that had hitherto successfully held in control the antagonistic forcesfails." Accommodation, like social control generally, is fragile and easily up-set. To Park, accommodation and social order, far from being "natural," areonly temporary adjustments and may at any moment be upset by underlyinglatent conflicts that press to undermine the previous order of restraint.

In contrast to accommodation, assimilation "is a process of interpenetra-tion and fusion in which persons and groups acquire the memories, sentiments,and attitudes of other persons and groups, and, by sharing their experience andhistory, are incorporated with them in a common culture." While Parkseems to have felt that the other three fundamental social processes operate ina very wide variety of social interactions, he reserves the discussion of assimila-tion more especially to the sociology of culture and to the process by whichethnic groups or races are slowly incorporated into a wider whole throughassuming a common cultural heritage. When assimilation is achieved, this doesnot mean that individual differences are eradicated or that competition andconflict cease but only that there is enough unity of experience and com-munality of symbolic orientation so that a "community of purpose and action"can emerge.

From Coser, 1977:359-360.


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