Growth, Structure, and Differentiation

Both organic andsocial aggregates are characterized by Spencer according to progressiveincreases in size. "Societies, like living bodies, begin asgerms--originate from masses which are extremely minute in comparisonwith the masses some of them eventually reach." Societal growth maycome about through two processes, "which go on sometimes separately, andsometimes together." It results either from an increase in population,"by simple multiplication of units," or from the joining of previouslyunrelated units by "union of groups, and again by union of groups ofgroups."

Increases in the size of units is invariably accompaniedby an increase in the complexity of their structure. The process ofgrowth, by definition, is to Spencer a process of integration. Andintegration in its turn must be accompanied by a progressivedifferentiation of structures and functions if the organism or thesocietal unit is to remain viable--that is, if it is to survive in thestruggle for existence. Animals that are low on the evolutionary scale,just like embryos of those higher on that scale, have but fewdistinguishable parts; they are relatively homogeneous. So it is withsociety. "At first the unlikeness among its groups of units isinconspicuous in number and degree, but as population augments,divisions and subdivisions become more numerous and more decided."

Social aggregates, like organic ones, grow from relativelyundifferentiated states in which the parts resemble one another intodifferentiated states in which these parts have become dissimilar. Moreover, once parts have become unlike, they are mutually dependent oneach other; thus, with growing differentiation comes growinginterdependence and hence integration. "While rudimentary, a society isall warrior, all hunter, all hut-builder, all tool-maker: every partfulfills for itself all needs."

As [society] grows, itsparts become unlike: it exhibits increase of structure. The unlikeparts simultaneously assume activities of unlike kinds. Theseactivities are not simply different, but the differences are so relatedas to make one another possible. The reciprocal aid thus given causesmutual dependence of the parts. And the mutually dependent parts,living by and for another, form an aggregate constituted on the samegeneral principle as is an individual organism.

"Thisdivision of labor, first dwelt on by political economists as a socialphenomenon, and thereupon recognized by biologists as a phenomenon ofliving bodies, which they called the 'physiological division of labor,'is that which in the society, as in the animal, makes it a livingwhole."

In simple hunting tribes, specialization of functions isstill only crudely developed. The same men are typically both huntersand warriors. But as settled agricultural societies arise, the roles ofcultivator and warrior become more distinct. Similarly, small tribalgroupings have but rudimentary political institutions, but as largerpolitical units arise, increasing political complexity anddifferentiation appear with the emergence of chiefs, rulers, and kings. With further increases in size, "a differentiation analogous to thatwhich originally produced a chief now produces a chief of chiefs."

As the parts of a social whole become more unlike and the rolesindividuals play become in consequence more differentiated, their mutualdependence increases. "The consensus of functions becomes closer asevolution advances. In low aggregates, both individual and social, theactions of the parts are but little dependent on one another, whereas indeveloped aggregates of both kinds that combination of actions whichconstitutes the life of the whole makes possible the component actionswhich constitute the lives of the parts." It follows as a corollarythat, "where parts are little differentiated they can readily performone another's functions very imperfectly, or not at all." In simplesocieties, where the parts are basically alike, they can be easilysubstituted for one another. But in complex societies, "the actions ofone part which fails in its function cannot be assumed by other parts." Complex societies are therefore more vulnerable and more fragile instructure than their earlier and ruder predecessors. Contemporaryexamples come to mind when one thinks, for example, of the contrastbetween American society and a simple agrarian society such as that ofVietnam.

The increasing mutual dependence of unlike parts incomplex societies, and the vulnerability it brings in its wakenecessitate the emergence of a "regulating system" that controls theactions of the parts and insures their coordination. "It inevitablyhappens that in the body politic, as in the living body, there arises aregulating system. . . . As compound aggregates are formed . . . therearise supreme regulating centers and subordinate ones and the supremecenters begin to enlarge and complicate." Early in the process ofsocial evolution, regulating centers are mainly required for dealingwith the outside environment, with the "enemies and prey;" but latersuch regulating centers assume the burden of internal regulation andsocial control when complexity of functions no longer allows theentirely spontaneous adjustment of parts to one another.

Thestringency and scope of internal regulation was to Spencer a majordistinguishing mark between types of societies, and he attempted toclassify them in terms of the scope of internal controls. At the sametime he also used another criterion of classification--degrees ofevolutionary complexity. These two ways of establishing social typeswere related, yet largely independent of each other and led to certaindifficulties for Spencer's overall scheme.

From Coser, 1977:91-93.


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