top of page

Wild to Civilized

Types of 
Social Relationships 

Three basic movement patterns occur among humans and
all vertebrate species

From small nomadic packs 

in the African wilderness . . .

. . . to megacities linked in

a global industrial civilization

Origin of the unique perspective on movement patterns

This section on Types of Social Relationships was developed by Lenore Monello Schloming for her doctoral dissertation "The Geometry of Social Life" when she was a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Brandeis University (1965 - 1974). Looking at movement and not at spoken words undoubtedly had its roots in Lenore's love of ballet. She took dance lessons in her teens, and ballet has the quality of telling a story without spoken words. Similarly, her father was a composer, and music also tells a "story" without words.


For many years in our early marriage, we walked our greyhound dog Rishi every afternoon in various parks and reservations in Cambridge and around Boston. In these walks, Lenore observed Rishi's many interactions with other dogs. In addition, early on in the marriage, Skip gave Lenore the book "On Aggression," by Nobel-prize-winning scientist Konrad Lorenz, who advanced the study of animals in their natural habitat (called ethology). Lorenz focused especially on how animals interact and move in relation to other members of their own species. Skip gave her the book because of their frequent marital fights (which took 20 years to resolve happily), but Lenore took away Lorenz's many observations of animal movement patterns, which she soon identified as flocking, fighting, and friendship, described herein.


Lenore completed a substantial draft of her dissertation and had it reviewed, but she gave birth to twin sons, which derailed her efforts to get the final Ph.D. degree. This section presents her original discussions on fighting and friendship, while the chapter  on flocking has been redrafted by Skip, staying close to the original but making it more accessible to the general public. We start here with her original opening.

An experience of movement patterns

You drive into Fresh Pond Park in Cambridge, Massachusetts, park your car, and stroll up the nearby hill. You hear bird calls overhead. Looking up, you see a flock of many individual birds flying together in one big formation that periodically changes direction as if it were a single animal. Their one-on-one social relationships keep these birds moving together, all going in the same direction. For these birds and other animals who behave similarly, we call their one-on-one social relationships flocking, and we call the formations they make flocks. Other words -- like herd, school, drove, gaggle, colony --  also refer to the same phenomenon of closely spaced individuals all moving in the same direction, but we will use flocks to refer to them all.


As you continue to walk up the hill, you will see squirrels in the trees chasing each other back and forth across tree branches and up and down tree trunks. Each one of these endless little fights produces a winner and a loser. The winner stays put, claiming “ownership” of the geographic territory in which he stays put on some portion of the tree limb just won. The loser flees from the winner, which is fortuitous for the loser because it increases the loser’s chances of becoming a winner somewhere else and thereby “owning” a territory. A territory gives the “owner” its own ecological niche and an exclusive food supply. But it must always be fought for if challenged by another member of the individual’s species. For these squirrels and other animals who behave similarly, we call their one-on-one social relationships fighting, and we call the formations they make territorial individuals.


You reach the top of the hill to a broad, level expanse of grass, and you notice several family groups seated on the ground enjoying picnics. Individuals within each group laugh and chatter back and forth with each other. The individuals within each group know each other personally, stay together often, move together as a group, and if they part, return to each other often. Each picnicking family group, while apparently oblivious to the other picnicking groups, nevertheless have chosen their picnicking locations well apart from each other and more or less spread out over the available picnicking space. A group would take notice and feel uncomfortable if another group settled too close to them, but that seldom happens. Thus, the intergroup relationships of these families are fighting relationships that keep them apart. The one-on-one relationships within these groups we call personal bonds of friendship, or just friendship. The larger formations they make we call nomadic packs.


Two Principles of Social Interaction

As these social formations show us and as we shall see further, social interaction is involves two main principles. The first principle is flocking, which brings creatures together. The second principle is fighting, which keeps them apart from each other. In most animal species, one or the other of these principles is dominant most of the time. In any one species, flocking may be relatively strong while fighting is relatively weak. Or fighting may be a strong response while flocking is relatively weak. But in no species is there not both fighting and flocking. Which response is stronger in a species depends on the circumstances at the time, like threats from predators or seasonal changes, especially the breeding season.


In humans and other animals that are capable of forming personal bonds of friendship, the principles of flocking and fighting are combined continuously in different strengths at different times. A pair of individuals who relate as friends are not solely attracted to each other. They also have a quantity of aggression or fighting energy that must be redirected towards fighting an common enemy or pursuing a shared goal. Thus, the redirected energy supplied by the aggressive or fighting principle becomes a useful element in the relationship. When individuals capable of personal bonds of friendship form groups of three or more individuals, a complex and shifting pattern of alliances and divisions, however imperceptible to the individuals, arises within the group. These patterns get used in the various divisions of labor that the group uses to achieve its goals, whatever those goals may be, from physical survival to a smashing party.


A fascinating, early-twentieth-century German sociologist, Georg Simmel, put it this way: “Just as the universe needs ‘love and hate,’ that is, attractive and repulsive forces, in order to have any form at all, so society, too, in order to attain a determinate shape, needs some quantitative ratio of harmony and disharmony, of association and competition, of favorable and unfavorable tendencies.”[1]      


As we have described, each one of the three types of one-on-one, two-person relationships produces a distinctive collective dispersal pattern that occurs when many individuals of the same species occupy a given space.

Flocking animals form large flocks whose members are anonymous to each other and all move together in the same direction. “Everybody together” is their motto.

Fighting animals move away from each other, dispersing themselves relatively evenly across the space available to them. “Everybody apart” is their motto.

Friendship animals, who have personal recognition and lifelong relationships, move together with the same few individuals and  move away from other friendship groups, dispersing themselves relatively evenly across their habitat. “Together with some, apart from others” is their motto.


In the next three chapters, we discuss these three basic movement patterns in greater detail. Among us humans, they correspond to the different ways we interact with each other at any given time and place in human society. Interestingly, they also correspond to different times in human history, as we discuss in Part III of this work, which focuses on the three types of division of labor that occur among us humans. The sexual division of labor predominates in our prehistoric days when we lived with the same few individuals in small nomadic packs. The craft division of labor predominates in the "middle ages," broadly speaking, that arise when towns and cities develop and specialized craftsmen work from their individual workshops. The industrial division of labor predominates in modern society when a great deal of movement among a large number of people is necessary to connect us as very specialized workers to other specialized workers -- and to connect us as consumers to all the specialized products and services we need to survive. As you read about the three movement patterns in this Part II, perhaps you may notice where they show up in everyday life.



[1] Georg Simmel, Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations, pp. 15-16 (1964).

Questions or comments:

Two Principles of Interaction
homo habilis.jpg
bottom of page