Wild to Civilized

Movement
in Social Life

From small nomadic packs 

in the African wilderness . . .

How we study
human movement patterns
and the general forms
they take

. . . to megacities linked in

a global industrial civilization

Tracking human movement patterns

What we are doing in this work is tracing the changes in human movement patterns over the Ages. We focus on transitions from one movement pattern through intermediate movement patterns to a significantly different movement pattern. As we trace the changes in movement patterns, we have to account for where the people actually moved. For example, we changed from living in a self-contained village with few excursions out of it, to having more frequent trips to a local village-turning-into-a-town where goods are exchanged in a market held once or twice a week, and this change continues until we reach modern society with global trade patterns. We are, in other words, tracking the general form of changes in human movement patterns.

 

We illustrate these changes with actual examples from history or our inference of actual examples that have occurred in our past history. We trace the main patterns in Western European history. Many specialists in human history will surely find other examples that do not fit with the chain of movement patterns we are tracing. Those other examples are to be expected. We are following just one line of changes in movement patterns, from the prehistoric African wilderness to the development of towns and early cities in the Near East, to the growth and spread of cities and extensive trade in Western Europe. History is surely full of many other lines of change in movement patterns, unique to different locations or regions or continents, yet the line of changes we are describing for Western Europe have also occurred in similar ways elsewhere. So to specialists, please hold your judgment and consider a different approach to history: searching for basic human movement patterns and how they change.


What is movement?
 

We live in time and space. Constantly, never stopping. One dimension is time. It marches steadily onward in one direction only, never turning back. And three dimensions constitute space. We can go in any direction from a single starting point. Moving left or right is one dimension. Moving forward or backward is another dimension. Moving up or down is a third dimension. We can move in any direction on a compass, North, East, South, West, and all the directions in between. We also can move vertically, up and down, in an elevator or on a plane. We can, in principle at least, chart our movements on the one dimension of time and in the three dimensions of space.


As we move, the dimensions of time and space all change at once. They are locked together. As we go to answer the front door, time passes and we make a particular path in space: move away from the dining table several feet, head southwest three feet or so, then turn northeast, go down one step, and go straight two yards to the door.  Our movements as a group or collectivity can also be charted in these same dimensions. The result would be rather complicated, but could be captured mathematically or digitally.


Since we are human beings, most of our movements occur on horizontal planes—the (more or less) flat surface of the earth, the (more or less) flat surfaces of floors, sidewalks, streets, and roads—and we can (more or less) ignore the dimension of verticality. If we are studying birds, and we do include them in this work, the vertical dimension is also involved, but that does not complicate our analysis.


This conception of time and space is the normal one we use in our daily lives and even in much of physics. Albert Einstein threw a curve ball into science when he asserted that time speeds up or slows down and space curves under various conditions. For all practical matters in studying humans, all we need is our everyday understanding of time and space, which is what we use here.


Movement is everywhere, though we often do not pay attention to it. We and our environment are composed of atoms and molecules moving at incredible speeds within their infinitesimal world. So, too, in the vastly expansive world of astronomy, planets, stars, galaxies, black holes, and other celestial phenomena are in continuous states of movement in relation to each other. If movement is a constant of the universe at the micro level of particles and at the macro level of celestial phenomena, why would it not also be a constant at the intermediate level of social life among humans? And in social life among other animals as well?


This work takes the rather uncommon view that some of the most important, observable facts of human social life are movements. What we actually see in our perceptual field is movement. Every day we observe ourselves and others moving from one place to another, from one person to another, from one group to another, nodding to some persons, ignoring others, facing some persons, turning our backs to others, walking side by side with still others. Life for each one of us is a series of movements, even if some of those movements are especially slow or completely stopped. “Stopped” is just a period or periods within a larger pattern of movement, and thus is part of the movement pattern. But as some wise philosopher somewhere must have said: “If you stop moving altogether, you are dead.”


Movement, however, is not a common way to look at social life. Among academics as well as the general public, ideas about interpersonal relations and society are really quite static. Between any two people, relationships are “supportive,” “abusive,” “distant,” “close,” “professional,” “intimate” or other descriptive adjectives suggesting a constant state of affairs, like the color of one’s eyes or hair. Even more striking is the static quality of the concepts we use to describe society or social structure. Terms like “statuses,” “roles,” “positions,” “hierarchy,” and other labels imply that individuals occupy fixed positions in society, and they also suggest that individuals are vertical in relation to each other. People are “upper,” “middle,” or “lower class.” “Status” is high or low. “Hierarchy” is the top-to-bottom arrangement of people in an organization chart.


But we never actually see these static conditions or vertical placements. We mostly see horizontal movement. We see people in almost constant motion, with almost all their physical movements taking place in a horizontal plane, from the soles of our feet to the top of our heads, about six feet thick across the earth’s surface or other flat surfaces like floors. People may gesture wildly or bow or shake hands up and down, but what we want to focus on in this work is a basic, observable reality that is always present in human sociability: the horizontal movement of social beings.


Viewing movement from above


But how do we grasp this horizontal movement? It is best viewed from above – or as if we were above – looking down on people from directly overhead and tracing the paths that they take as they move about on the ground or on floors. We could even make scale drawings of these pathways on paper or on a sophisticated computer graphics program. We would have questions about these movements, such as: How fast or slowly are people moving on their individual paths? How many other persons does each individual make contact with in a given amount of time? How long is each encounter? How often do the same two individuals come back into contact with each other? From the answers to these questions, we can learn that different social settings have different movement characteristics.


The cocktail party

Let’s take a bird’s-eye view in our minds of humans living through a not uncommon event in their lives: a crowded cocktail party at a workplace. Let’s imagine we are hanging from the rafters looking down on this cocktail party. What we would observe – after we become accustomed to our view – is clusters and pathways. We would see clusters of various sizes with the people in them moving hardly at all or very slowly when we look at their horizontal movement only. And we would see narrow pathways, usually one person wide, with people moving relatively faster in the pathways. Let’s consider just two people at the cocktail party, a couple. From the rafters, we can see this couple stay for a while in a cluster, then move into a pathway, pause briefly to talk to each other, then move along and join a different cluster. If we look down on the whole party, we still can see this couple making its movements from one cluster to another. This shift between clusters and pathways is happening all over the room with different people moving at various speeds and tempos. But always the movement in the clusters is slower than in the pathways. Clusters and pathways are one simple way to observe human horizontal movement in many places.


The workplace

Let’s now consider zooming out to a position over the building where the cocktail party is taking place. And let’s assume we have x-ray vision and can see people in the building wherever they stand or move. Since the cocktail party is after-hours, most of the rooms and hallways outside of the cocktail-party room are empty but for a few individuals, usually lone individuals working at their desks or walking in the corridors. Nevertheless, from our vantage point, we can still observe that couple in the cocktail-party room, which is within the larger building we can now see.


The neighborhood

Let’s zoom out further still and take a position over the commercial district where this office building is located. From this higher position, we can see a dozen or so buildings, some smaller, some larger, another building with a cocktail party, yet another building fully staffed in a 24-hour business, and other buildings with just one or two people in them, or none at all. Yet once again, we can still observe that couple in the cocktail party in their office building, which is within the dozen or so buildings we are now looking at. We can still see that couple move from one cluster into a pathway and on to a new cluster.


The city

Now let’s take a helicopter and go up high enough to see the whole city within which this neighborhood sits, within which these buildings exist, within which a particular cocktail party is going on in one building, within which we see that couple. Now we see the whole city, and it is composed, in part, of slow-moving clusters: people in buildings in offices offering services in the evening, people in factories operating night shifts, people at concerts or lectures or movies all facing in the same direction. We would also see fast-moving pathways: sidewalks, aisles, corridors, streets, and highways. And on this evening at a certain hour, we would once again see that couple at the cocktail party that we have seen at the other levels of observation.

City and suburbs

Probably the most dramatic cycle of movement we might see from a still higher vantage point above the city is the shift from day to night. A sizable portion of the city’s crowded, daytime population disperses and spreads homeward to residential neighborhoods and suburbs, filling the larger radial roads and highways with faster-paced outward movement (alas, assuming people are not caught in traffic jams). At the end of the evening, we see that couple in the cocktail party move out of the cocktail-party room, then out of the building to a parking lot and into a car that joins that fast-paced outward movement to the suburbs. By nightfall, the city’s daytime population is spread out in small family or quasi-family clusters, and movement becomes slow and quiescent. Next morning, the process reverses as people go from their homes back to their offices or factories in the city, the cocktail-party couple with them.

The earth

Finally, let’s take an even-further-away view from a satellite. As we go over some of the least populated areas of the earth, like the Outback in Australia, the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, or the Kalahari Desert in Southwestern Africa, we will observe some of the tiniest, self-sufficient clusters, the same small clusters we discussed in Chapter 1: widely spaced nomadic packs of hunters and gatherers still using ancient survival skills as the rest of the world modernizes at a frenzied pace.


From our satellite position, we also go over the most populated areas of the earth, where we will see dense aggregations of people in large cities within which the many individuals spend most of their daytime hours in larger groups of people, each individual on average moving relatively fast from one person to the next and on to the next. We also see extensively traveled pathways between the cities – roads, train tracks, airline flight paths – in which some individuals move faster yet than individuals within the cities. We have come upon the same clusters and pathways we see at every other level of observation. And at all these levels, we can always see, with x-ray and telescopic vision, that same couple in the cocktail party.


The unity of social reality


When we look down from each one of these different levels of observation, the same individuals are present in each view. We just see them from further away. And everywhere we see movements of people occurring in the same horizontal plane, the space from the soles of our feet to the top of our heads,  about six feet above the earth’s surface or other flat surfaces, even if the people are in multi-story buildings.


Our point here is that the same social reality occurs at all these levels of observation. Whether we are looking at individuals, pairs of individuals, small groups of people, larger social structures or whole societies, the reality of people’s actual movements does not alter. Whatever is occurring at the larger level – clashing of political parties, racial integration or lack of it, gaps between rich and poor – is also occurring at the lowest level. For example, let’s say of our cocktail-party couple that one is white and the other is black. They are part and parcel of the larger societal picture of racial integration or lack of it. If the other individuals around them in the cocktail party are all white and avoid interacting with this couple, then the interactions at this party are signs that integration in that office building has not occurred, and the accumulation of many such interactions all across a nation constitute the reality of racial segregation in that nation. In sum, wherever we look, interacting individuals moving in a horizontal plane are some of the most important constituent elements of all levels of social structure and social reality.


Some scholars consider that phenomena at the level of interacting individuals are categorically different from phenomena occurring at the level of large collectivities. Emile Durkheim, the pivotal, late-19th-century sociologist, despite much great work, claimed that society was a sui generis phenomenon,
We do not agree. They are all part of one social reality. The one-time powerful Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O’Neill from Massachusetts once famously said: “All politics is local.” In other words, even at the level of political parties, legislatures, and nationwide systems of government, everything comes down to what goes on at the face-to-face level. In our context, we might say: “All social life is local.” Sociologist Randall Collins (2004) says he builds his theories “from the ground up” and starts out a book with the statement: “The small-scale, the here-and-now of face-to-face interaction is the scene of action and the site of social actors. If we are going to find the agency of social life, it will be here.” We could not agree more with these statements. ADD Norbert Elias???  


Patterns in movement


Now we must find patterns in this horizontal movement. Individuals can move only in three basic ways in relation to each other: they can approach other individuals, they can avoid other individuals, and they can approach some individuals and avoid others. Consequently, if all the interacting individuals in a group are all responding to each other with the same movement response, the result – when viewed at the level of the group – will be a distinctive collective movement pattern. Basically, corresponding to the three ways that individuals can move, three collective movement patterns are possible.


Flocks

If all the individuals in a group or collectivity respond with approach and move towards each other, they will all come together and form a flock or herd or school.


Territorial individuals

If all the individuals in a group or collectivity respond with avoidance and move away from each other, they will all come to be solitary individuals, each individual in its own territory.


Nomadic packs

If all the individuals in a group or collectivity respond with approach to some individuals and avoidance to all the other individuals, they will come to form small nomadic packs widely spaced from each other, each one free to roam over its own particular terrain as long as it does not come too close to another nomadic pack.


In Part II of this work, Types of Social Relationships, we will examine these three movement patterns in greater detail and see how they create and support different types of interpersonal relationships.

 

Centralization and decentralization

Centralization and decentralization are terms we can apply to the collective movement patterns we are concerned about in this work. Decentralization applies to nomadic packs spread far apart. Centralization applies to large, aggregated masses. As these two terms suggest, collective movement patterns vary continuously from one extreme to the other, just as a thermometer measures all the in-between points between freezing cold and boiling hot. As we trace our very long journey from prehistoric to modern times, we will identify many intermediate points along the way – agrarian villages, small towns, large towns, and small cities, large cities, and megacities – all along the way to what is perhaps the most centralized possibility  – a one-world order.   


But centralization and decentralization do not occur only at the level of whole societies, small or large. Societies contain within them groups and subgroups that vary from being more decentralized to being more centralized in their movement patterns. In the following list, we identify various kinds of social groupings. Each one exists as a subgroup within a whole larger society. We list these subgroups in order, from the most decentralized to more and more centralized types of groups: marriages, partners, friends, buddies, families, cliques, clubs, teams, work groups, churches, factories, and bureaucracies. These variously-sized groups may be nested one inside another, or they may overlap. Their boundaries may be strong and almost impassable, so that the individuals in a group stay in the group for a long time. Or their boundaries may be weak and more permeable, with the membership of the group changing as individuals pass in and out of a group. Centralization and decentralization thus occur at many different places and areas within a society.


With all these different movement patterns, however, a striking regularity occurs. Centralization and decentralization cannot be mixed any way we might like. They are antithetical to each other in close proximity. Strong areas of centralization cannot and do not interweave with strong areas of decentralization.


Let’s be specific. An American native tribe cannot coexist with a large city if the tribe is placed in the middle of the city. In such close proximity, violence will soon erupt between them, and one area will be transformed into the other one. Usually, the decentralized area, the tribe, disappears. Similarly, persons can come together in one large group or they can spread out in small groups, but they cannot do both at the same time – because individuals cannot be in two places at the same time.


Sharp differences in centralization and decentralization can and do occur in close geographical proximity, but only if some barrier exists between them. Dense cities in valleys and scattered tribes in the nearby mountains or thick forests can coexist because the mountains or the forest are a barrier between them. Within societies, barriers or partitions or other lines of demarcation all serve to allow more centralized areas to coexist in close proximity with areas of decentralization. Walls, barricades, and street curbs allow high-traffic areas to coexist with slower-moving areas, such as people on sidewalks next to heavily trafficked streets or in the interiors of buildings and homes. Walls and doors separate slower-moving areas of homes – living rooms, bedrooms, etc. – from the relatively higher-speed areas like hallways, entryways, and doorways. Partitions in offices keep isolated individuals at their desks separated from each other and from areas of higher-speed movement such as the proverbial water coolers, conference rooms, and other informal socializing locations. Even such devices as laws can create barriers. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a protection against unlawful searches and seizures without a search warrant and a suspected violation of law, effectively limiting the intrusion of public officials into the hallowed sanctity of homes.


Accordingly, in any given region, the level of centralization or decentralization has to be roughly the same. Lesser variations in centralization and decentralization definitely do occur throughout a region, but the variations become progressively smaller in magnitude as the area becomes smaller – until virtually no variation occurs in the very close proximity of immediate, face-to-face interaction.

Mathematical properties of movement

 

NOTE:  The following discussion may be difficult for some readers. In that case, we suggest reading through it quickly to get the general idea of this section and then moving on to Chapter 3.

           

We have already suggested that centralization and decentralization are incompatible with each other in close proximity or without barriers between them. We can look at this incompatibility in a somewhat different way. If we measure the various properties of movement patterns within a collectivity, this incompatibility between centralization and decentralization will show up on a grand scale. We can measure the movement patterns of individuals in five different ways.

 

Properties of collective movement patterns

(A)    Number of interaction partners 

The average number of different individuals that each individual interacts with over a given period of time. Bank tellers interact with a large number of clients over an 8-hour day. Marital or sexual partners interact with much fewer individuals, including themselves and others in their daily lives, over the same 8-hour day. In a nomadic pack, the number of different interaction partners will be low, while in an aggregated mass, a crowd, the number will be high.

(B)    Duration of interaction with the same person

The average duration of continuous interaction between any two individuals in a given geographic space over a given period of time. Psychologists spend a long time with each client, while bank tellers spend a short time with each client, yet both psychologists and bank tellers interact with people in approximately the same amount of space. Individuals in a nomadic pack (a small geographic area when its wandering range is excluded) will spend a relatively long average amount of time in interaction with each different member of the pack. In contrast, the individuals in, for example, a section of a crowd or flock that is the same geographic size as a nomadic pack (excluding its wandering range) will spend a relatively short average amount of time with each different individual they encounter in the crowd or flock.

(C)    Frequency of interaction with the same person

The average frequency of repeated interactive contact between any pair of individuals in a given period of time, that is, the average number of times within a given period of time that the same two individuals repeatedly move back together into close, face-to-face contact. Workers on an assembly line move frequently into contact with the same workers just before them and just after them as they repeatedly receive work products from the previous worker and, after working quickly on each product, hand them on to the next worker in line. By comparison, neighbors in a row of houses move relatively infrequently into contact with each other. In a nomadic pack, the individuals stay so close to each other that every pair frequently starts and stops face-to-face contact, while in a crowd or herd, the frequency of repeated face-to-face contact between the same two individuals is very low and sometimes even zero between some of the individuals in a crowd or herd. In the extreme case, no two individuals have any repeated contact with each other.    

(D)    Size of the group by area

The size of the interaction group by geographic area, measured as the smallest geographic area occupied for a given period of time when every any pair of individuals in the group spends, on average, a given amount of total interaction time with each other (adding together all the contact time between any two specific individuals). The geographic area occupied by individuals in a crowd or flock will be large because every pair of individuals in the crowd or flock interacts, on average, never more than a very minimal amount of time. The geographic area occupied by individuals in a nomadic pack (excluding their ranging area) will be small because all the pairs of individuals in the nomadic pack interact with each other, on average, considerably more than a minimal amount of time, such as when a nomadic pack sits around a campfire for an evening.

(E)    Size of the group by numbers 

The size of the interaction group by the number of individuals who stay within, say, 25 feet from any other individual for a given period of time. Nomadic packs will have a relatively small number of individuals who stay within the 25-foot limit – in all probability, the whole pack. A crowd or herd will have a relatively large number of individuals who stay within the 25-foot limit of each other.   

 

 [DIAGRAM: SOCIOGRAMS OF HUMANS, E.G. SOCIOMETRIC “STARS,” CLOSE FRIENDS, ISOLATED INDIVIDUALS, OVERLAPPING GROUPS, NESTED GROUPS, ETC.]

 

Combining these variables A through E

While we can describe and measure each one of these properties independently, the most interesting feature is that a change in one of them involves a change in every other one at the same time. In other words, the properties co-vary simultaneously.

A + B

Let’s take, for example, the two properties of number of interaction partners (A) and duration of interaction (B). The longer two persons spend interacting with each other (duration), the fewer becomes the number of interaction partners. If the same two individuals spend less time interacting, they can, of course, have interaction with more individuals. This simultaneous variation is simply a characteristic of time and space. Two individuals cannot have a large number of interaction partners and spend a long time with each one.

A + C

Now consider the two properties of number of interaction partners (A) and frequency of interaction with the same person (C). When an individual has a larger number of interaction partners, it must move into contact with the same person less frequently.

Since number of interaction partners (A) varies with the duration of interaction (B), and since  number of interaction partners (A) also varies with the frequency of interaction (C), it is an inherent characteristic of time and space and a logical deduction that duration of interaction (B) and frequency of interaction (C) also vary with each other at the same time. If A = B and B = C, then A = C. In other words, because time is finite, when the number of interaction partners (A) is larger, then frequency of interaction (C) declines – because it is not physically possible for a person to see a large number of different individuals and also make frequent contact with each one.

A + B+ C + D + E

Moreover, these three properties, (A), (B), and (C), also vary with (D), size of group by area and (E), size of group by numbers. When the number of interaction partners (A) increases AND the duration of interaction with any one individual (B) decreases AND the frequency of interaction with the same individual (C) decreases, then both the size of the group by area (D) AND by numbers (E) will get larger. In other words, all five properties vary simultaneously with each other.

 

Co-variation toward decentralization           

The fact that these properties all co-vary with each other brings us to a startling realization:  When they all vary together in one direction, the resulting social formation will be small groups of individuals widely spaced from each other with the pairs of individuals in each group spending more time with each other. In other words, decentralization.

Co-variation toward centralization

When these properties vary together in the opposite direction, the resulting social formation will be one or more very large groups of individuals with these individuals all closely spaced and all interacting briefly with each person they encounter. In other words, centralization. 

One might wonder: If these variables co-vary, how do we have centralization in some places and decentralization in others? The answer is that some amount of unoccupied space or time exists between different areas. Decentralization happens when people are at home with family members. Centralization happens when people move out of the home to more centralized areas:  schools, workplaces, stores, etc.

 

The big picture

We have, we hope, brought the reader to the point of seeing approximately how the movement patterns in a whole society and in any subgroups within it would look when viewed from above. And we hope the reader has a better grasp of the trajectory of human history, how the basic direction of history is from decentralized to centralized patterns of movement at all levels, from low density to high density, from wilderness to civilization. Nomadic packs of prehistoric hunters and gatherers slowly disappear, gradually replaced by villages larger in size than the nomadic packs. These villages in turn give way to larger villages and small towns, which give way to larger towns. These towns in turn grow into small cities, and these small cities in turn grow into large cities and nation-states. As these societies grow in size, the trade and social connections between them also grow, leading eventually to an international network of interconnected cities and nation-states. At the same time, at each level of society, the individuals gradually move into contact with an expanding number of other individuals and move with increasing speed from one individual to the next. In other words, regions once populated with scattered structured groups give way over time to unsettled masses.

We now embark on the two basic topics we will analyze in this work in terms of movement patterns: Part II, types of social relationships, and Part III, types of divisions of labor. In keeping with the trajectory of human history, our analysis will take an historical route, from pre-historic wilderness to modern civilization.


 

 
 
 
 

What we are doing in this work is tracing the changes in human movement patterns over the Ages. We will be focusing on transitions from one movement pattern through intermediate movement patterns to a significantly different movement pattern. As we trace the changes in movement patterns, we have to account for where the people actually moved, say, for example, the change from living in a self-contained village with few excursions out of it, to having more frequent trips to a local village-turning-into-a-town, where goods are exchanged in a market held once or twice a week. We are, in other words, closely tracking the immediate, day-to-day or month-to-month changes in movement patterns.

 

So we illustrate that change with an actual example from history or an inference of an actual example from history. Many specialists in the history of one of the Ages will surely find other examples that do not fit with the line of movement patterns that we are tracing. Those other examples are to be expected. We are following just one line of changes in movement patterns that happened through the Ages. History is surely full of many other lines of change in movement patterns, unique to a different location or region or continent, that are not quite or perhaps not at all like the line of changes we are describing. History is interwoven, most likely, with these lines of changes. So specialists, please hold your judgment as a specialist and consider a different approach to history: searching for exactly how human movement patterns changed, accounting for all the humans in an area, in spite of deaths and births at regular rates, and how, without losing any of them, they actually did change their movements. A group or area of humans can also divide and go in two or more different directions and lines of change, say, as hunters and gatherers split into agriculturists and nomadic herders and warrior gangs.


----------------------

We live in time and space. Constantly, never stopping. One dimension is time. It marches steadily onward in one direction only, never turning back. And three dimensions constitute space. We can go in any direction from a single starting point. Moving left or right is one dimension. Moving forward or backward is another dimension. Moving up or down is a third dimension. We can move in any direction on a compass, North, East, South, West, and all the directions in between. We also can move vertically, up and down, in an elevator or on a plane. We can, in principle at least, chart our movements on the one dimension of time and in the three dimensions of space.


As we move, the dimensions of time and space all change at once. They are locked together. As we go to answer the front door, time passes and we make a particular path in space: move away from the dining table several feet, head southwest three feet or so, then turn northeast, go down one step, and go straight two yards to the door.  Our movements as a group or collectivity can also be charted in these same dimensions. The result would be rather complicated, but could be captured mathematically or digitally.


Since we are human beings, most of our movements occur on horizontal planes—the (more or less) flat surface of the earth, the (more or less) flat surfaces of floors, sidewalks, streets, and roads—and we can (more or less) ignore the dimension of verticality. If we are studying birds, and we do include them in this work, the vertical dimension is also involved, but that does not complicate our analysis.


This conception of time and space is the normal one we use in our daily lives and even in much of physics. Albert Einstein threw a curve ball into science when he asserted that time speeds up or slows down and space curves under various conditions. For all practical matters in studying humans, all we need is our everyday understanding of time and space, which is what we use here.


Movement is everywhere, though we often do not pay attention to it. We and our environment are composed of atoms and molecules moving at incredible speeds within their infinitesimal world. So, too, in the vastly expansive world of astronomy, planets, stars, galaxies, black holes, and other celestial phenomena are in continuous states of movement in relation to each other. If movement is a constant of the universe at the micro level of particles and at the macro level of celestial phenomena, why would it not also be a constant at the intermediate level of social life among humans? And in social life among other animals as well?


This work takes the rather uncommon view that some of the most important, observable facts of human social life are movements. What we actually see in our perceptual field is movement. Every day we observe ourselves and others moving from one place to another, from one person to another, from one group to another, nodding to some persons, ignoring others, facing some persons, turning our backs to others, walking side by side with still others. Life for each one of us is a series of movements, even if some of those movements are especially slow or completely stopped. “Stopped” is just a period or periods within a larger pattern of movement, and thus is part of the movement pattern. But as some wise philosopher somewhere must have said: “If you stop moving altogether, you are dead.”


Movement, however, is not a common way to look at social life. Among academics as well as the general public, ideas about interpersonal relations and society are really quite static. Between any two people, relationships are “supportive,” “abusive,” “distant,” “close,” “professional,” “intimate” or other descriptive adjectives suggesting a constant state of affairs, like the color of one’s eyes or hair. Even more striking is the static quality of the concepts we use to describe society or social structure. Terms like “statuses,” “roles,” “positions,” “hierarchy,” and other labels imply that individuals occupy fixed positions in society, and they also suggest that individuals are vertical in relation to each other. People are “upper,” “middle,” or “lower class.” “Status” is high or low. “Hierarchy” is the top-to-bottom arrangement of people in an organization chart.


But we never actually see these static conditions or vertical placements. We mostly see horizontal movement. We see people in almost constant motion, with almost all their physical movements taking place in a horizontal plane, from the soles of our feet to the top of our heads, about six feet thick across the earth’s surface or other flat surfaces like floors. People may gesture wildly or bow or shake hands up and down, but what we want to focus on in this work is a basic, observable reality that is always present in human sociability: the horizontal movement of social beings.


Viewing movement from above


But how do we grasp this horizontal movement? It is best viewed from above – or as if we were above – looking down on people from directly overhead and tracing the paths that they take as they move about on the ground or on floors. We could even make scale drawings of these pathways on paper or on a sophisticated computer graphics program. We would have questions about these movements, such as: How fast or slowly are people moving on their individual paths? How many other persons does each individual make contact with in a given amount of time? How long is each encounter? How often do the same two individuals come back into contact with each other? From the answers to these questions, we can learn that different social settings have different movement characteristics.


The cocktail party

Let’s take a bird’s-eye view in our minds of humans living through a not uncommon event in their lives: a crowded cocktail party at a workplace. Let’s imagine we are hanging from the rafters looking down on this cocktail party. What we would observe – after we become accustomed to our view – is clusters and pathways. We would see clusters of various sizes with the people in them moving hardly at all or very slowly when we look at their horizontal movement only. And we would see narrow pathways, usually one person wide, with people moving relatively faster in the pathways. Let’s consider just two people at the cocktail party, a couple. From the rafters, we can see this couple stay for a while in a cluster, then move into a pathway, pause briefly to talk to each other, then move along and join a different cluster. If we look down on the whole party, we still can see this couple making its movements from one cluster to another. This shift between clusters and pathways is happening all over the room with different people moving at various speeds and tempos. But always the movement in the clusters is slower than in the pathways. Clusters and pathways are one simple way to observe human horizontal movement in many places.


The workplace

Let’s now consider zooming out to a position over the building where the cocktail party is taking place. And let’s assume we have x-ray vision and can see people in the building wherever they stand or move. Since the cocktail party is after-hours, most of the rooms and hallways outside of the cocktail-party room are empty but for a few individuals, usually lone individuals working at their desks or walking in the corridors. Nevertheless, from our vantage point, we can still observe that couple in the cocktail-party room, which is within the larger building we can now see.


The neighborhood

Let’s zoom out further still and take a position over the commercial district where this office building is located. From this higher position, we can see a dozen or so buildings, some smaller, some larger, another building with a cocktail party, yet another building fully staffed in a 24-hour business, and other buildings with just one or two people in them, or none at all. Yet once again, we can still observe that couple in the cocktail party in their office building, which is within the dozen or so buildings we are now looking at. We can still see that couple move from one cluster into a pathway and on to a new cluster.


The city

Now let’s take a helicopter and go up high enough to see the whole city within which this neighborhood sits, within which these buildings exist, within which a particular cocktail party is going on in one building, within which we see that couple. Now we see the whole city, and it is composed, in part, of slow-moving clusters: people in buildings in offices offering services in the evening, people in factories operating night shifts, people at concerts or lectures or movies all facing in the same direction. We would also see fast-moving pathways: sidewalks, aisles, corridors, streets, and highways. And on this evening at a certain hour, we would once again see that couple at the cocktail party that we have seen at the other levels of observation.

City and suburbs

Probably the most dramatic cycle of movement we might see from a still higher vantage point above the city is the shift from day to night. A sizable portion of the city’s crowded, daytime population disperses and spreads homeward to residential neighborhoods and suburbs, filling the larger radial roads and highways with faster-paced outward movement (alas, assuming people are not caught in traffic jams). At the end of the evening, we see that couple in the cocktail party move out of the cocktail-party room, then out of the building to a parking lot and into a car that joins that fast-paced outward movement to the suburbs. By nightfall, the city’s daytime population is spread out in small family or quasi-family clusters, and movement becomes slow and quiescent. Next morning, the process reverses as people go from their homes back to their offices or factories in the city, the cocktail-party couple with them.

The earth

Finally, let’s take an even-further-away view from a satellite. As we go over some of the least populated areas of the earth, like the Outback in Australia, the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, or the Kalahari Desert in Southwestern Africa, we will observe some of the tiniest, self-sufficient clusters, the same small clusters we discussed in Chapter 1: widely spaced nomadic packs of hunters and gatherers still using ancient survival skills as the rest of the world modernizes at a frenzied pace.


From our satellite position, we also go over the most populated areas of the earth, where we will see dense aggregations of people in large cities within which the many individuals spend most of their daytime hours in larger groups of people, each individual on average moving relatively fast from one person to the next and on to the next. We also see extensively traveled pathways between the cities – roads, train tracks, airline flight paths – in which some individuals move faster yet than individuals within the cities. We have come upon the same clusters and pathways we see at every other level of observation. And at all these levels, we can always see, with x-ray and telescopic vision, that same couple in the cocktail party.


The unity of social reality


When we look down from each one of these different levels of observation, the same individuals are present in each view. We just see them from further away. And everywhere we see movements of people occurring in the same horizontal plane, the space from the soles of our feet to the top of our heads,  about six feet above the earth’s surface or other flat surfaces, even if the people are in multi-story buildings.


Our point here is that the same social reality occurs at all these levels of observation. Whether we are looking at individuals, pairs of individuals, small groups of people, larger social structures or whole societies, the reality of people’s actual movements does not alter. Whatever is occurring at the larger level – clashing of political parties, racial integration or lack of it, gaps between rich and poor – is also occurring at the lowest level. For example, let’s say of our cocktail-party couple that one is white and the other is black. They are part and parcel of the larger societal picture of racial integration or lack of it. If the other individuals around them in the cocktail party are all white and avoid interacting with this couple, then the interactions at this party are signs that integration in that office building has not occurred, and the accumulation of many such interactions all across a nation constitute the reality of racial segregation in that nation. In sum, wherever we look, interacting individuals moving in a horizontal plane are some of the most important constituent elements of all levels of social structure and social reality.


Some scholars consider that phenomena at the level of interacting individuals are categorically different from phenomena occurring at the level of large collectivities. Emile Durkheim, the pivotal, late-19th-century sociologist, despite much great work, claimed that society was a sui generis phenomenon,
We do not agree. They are all part of one social reality. The one-time powerful Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O’Neill from Massachusetts once famously said: “All politics is local.” In other words, even at the level of political parties, legislatures, and nationwide systems of government, everything comes down to what goes on at the face-to-face level. In our context, we might say: “All social life is local.” Sociologist Randall Collins (2004) says he builds his theories “from the ground up” and starts out a book with the statement: “The small-scale, the here-and-now of face-to-face interaction is the scene of action and the site of social actors. If we are going to find the agency of social life, it will be here.” We could not agree more with these statements. ADD Norbert Elias???  


Patterns in movement


Now we must find patterns in this horizontal movement. Individuals can move only in three basic ways in relation to each other: they can approach other individuals, they can avoid other individuals, and they can approach some individuals and avoid others. Consequently, if all the interacting individuals in a group are all responding to each other with the same movement response, the result – when viewed at the level of the group – will be a distinctive collective movement pattern. Basically, corresponding to the three ways that individuals can move, three collective movement patterns are possible.


Flocks

If all the individuals in a group or collectivity respond with approach and move towards each other, they will all come together and form a flock or herd or school.


Territorial individuals

If all the individuals in a group or collectivity respond with avoidance and move away from each other, they will all come to be solitary individuals, each individual in its own territory.


Nomadic packs

If all the individuals in a group or collectivity respond with approach to some individuals and avoidance to all the other individuals, they will come to form small nomadic packs widely spaced from each other, each one free to roam over its own particular terrain as long as it does not come too close to another nomadic pack.


In Part II of this work, Types of Social Relationships, we will examine these three movement patterns in greater detail and see how they create and support different types of interpersonal relationships.

 

Centralization and decentralization

Centralization and decentralization are terms we can apply to the collective movement patterns we are concerned about in this work. Decentralization applies to nomadic packs spread far apart. Centralization applies to large, aggregated masses. As these two terms suggest, collective movement patterns vary continuously from one extreme to the other, just as a thermometer measures all the in-between points between freezing cold and boiling hot. As we trace our very long journey from prehistoric to modern times, we will identify many intermediate points along the way – agrarian villages, small towns, large towns, and small cities, large cities, and megacities – all along the way to what is perhaps the most centralized possibility  – a one-world order.   


But centralization and decentralization do not occur only at the level of whole societies, small or large. Societies contain within them groups and subgroups that vary from being more decentralized to being more centralized in their movement patterns. In the following list, we identify various kinds of social groupings. Each one exists as a subgroup within a whole larger society. We list these subgroups in order, from the most decentralized to more and more centralized types of groups: marriages, partners, friends, buddies, families, cliques, clubs, teams, work groups, churches, factories, and bureaucracies. These variously-sized groups may be nested one inside another, or they may overlap. Their boundaries may be strong and almost impassable, so that the individuals in a group stay in the group for a long time. Or their boundaries may be weak and more permeable, with the membership of the group changing as individuals pass in and out of a group. Centralization and decentralization thus occur at many different places and areas within a society.


With all these different movement patterns, however, a striking regularity occurs. Centralization and decentralization cannot be mixed any way we might like. They are antithetical to each other in close proximity. Strong areas of centralization cannot and do not interweave with strong areas of decentralization.


Let’s be specific. An American native tribe cannot coexist with a large city if the tribe is placed in the middle of the city. In such close proximity, violence will soon erupt between them, and one area will be transformed into the other one. Usually, the decentralized area, the tribe, disappears. Similarly, persons can come together in one large group or they can spread out in small groups, but they cannot do both at the same time – because individuals cannot be in two places at the same time.


Sharp differences in centralization and decentralization can and do occur in close geographical proximity, but only if some barrier exists between them. Dense cities in valleys and scattered tribes in the nearby mountains or thick forests can coexist because the mountains or the forest are a barrier between them. Within societies, barriers or partitions or other lines of demarcation all serve to allow more centralized areas to coexist in close proximity with areas of decentralization. Walls, barricades, and street curbs allow high-traffic areas to coexist with slower-moving areas, such as people on sidewalks next to heavily trafficked streets or in the interiors of buildings and homes. Walls and doors separate slower-moving areas of homes – living rooms, bedrooms, etc. – from the relatively higher-speed areas like hallways, entryways, and doorways. Partitions in offices keep isolated individuals at their desks separated from each other and from areas of higher-speed movement such as the proverbial water coolers, conference rooms, and other informal socializing locations. Even such devices as laws can create barriers. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a protection against unlawful searches and seizures without a search warrant and a suspected violation of law, effectively limiting the intrusion of public officials into the hallowed sanctity of homes.


Accordingly, in any given region, the level of centralization or decentralization has to be roughly the same. Lesser variations in centralization and decentralization definitely do occur throughout a region, but the variations become progressively smaller in magnitude as the area becomes smaller – until virtually no variation occurs in the very close proximity of immediate, face-to-face interaction.

We now embark on the two basic topics we will analyze in this work in terms of movement patterns: Part II, types of social relationships, and Part III, types of divisions of labor. In keeping with the trajectory of human history, our analysis will take an historical route, from pre-historic wilderness to modern civilization.

Questions or comments:  schlomings@gmail.com.

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