Sorokin, Pitirim

Sorokin, Pitirim

Bio: (1889-1968) Russian-American sociologist. Pitirim Sorokin (Питири́м Алекса́ндрович Соро́кин) received his doctorate from the University of St. Petersburg, and at the beginning of the Revolution in Russia in 1917, he was the head of the cabinet of Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky. After the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia, Sorokin was expelled from the country. He soon moved to the United States, where he first taught at the University of Minnesota, and then became the first president of the Sociology Department at Harvard University. During his career, Sorokin wrote 37 books and over 400 articles. He has contributed to the development of many areas of sociology: the sociology of cultural and social dynamics, social differentiation and stratification, social conflicts, and crises. He contributed greatly not only to sociological theory but also to its epistemology and methodology.

                                          Rural Sociology

At the beginning of his career in the United States, Sorokin published two very important books in the field of rural sociology: Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology (1929), and Source Book in Rural Sociology, 3 vols (1930-1931). He collaborated with Carle Zimmerman and Charles Galpin in the writing of these books. The first book states that cities have the role of innovators, while the rural areas serve as the keeper of national culture. The heterogeneity of the population and the large share of immigrants make cities have a more "international" spirit, while patriotism and attachment to the local environment develop in rural areas. On the other hand, the differences between rural and urban areas are decreasing, because of the urbanization of the rural world and the ruralization of cities.

                                Social and Cultural Dynamics

Sorokin is best known for his study of social change, which he deals with in the four-volume book Social and Cultural Dynamics (1937-1941). In writing this book, he gathered a large group of collaborators who classified historical data, which refer to the entire Western civilization, for the period from 600 BC to 1925 AD. Sorokin classified these data according to intervals that varied from 25 to 100 years, and he also used methods of statistical correlation to analyze that data. Based on all these empirical data and methods of classification and correlation, he made a theoretical hypothesis about the basic cultural types. In his typology of cultural types, there are three basic cultural types, which are classified based on ideological aspects of cultures, while other cultural elements and physical products of cultures are interpreted as products of these ideological types. The level of integration of cultures is what makes diverse cultures different because the integration of culture depends on the logical consistency, interconnectedness, and interdependence of different elements of culture. The ideological aspects of culture provide answers to four main questions: the nature of reality; the needs and goals that need to be met; the level to which they need to be met, and the methods by which those needs and goals are met.

There are two opposing cultural types: „ideational“ and „sensate“. All cultures are on a continuum between these two extreme ideal types. In ideational cultures, the nature of reality is viewed in supra-empirical and supra-rational terms, and all knowledge is drawn from religious or similar sources. Needs and goals are also viewed in a spiritual and otherworldly context, meeting these needs should be complete, and the basic method of meeting needs and goals is by adapting oneself to religious or transcendental rules. Sensate cultures experience reality in the context of physical forces and material things. Goals and needs are material and are met to the maximum, and the main method of meeting these needs is through the manipulation of the physical environment. The third ideal cultural type is located in the middle between the two previous extremes. Sorokin calls it an „idealistic“ or integral type, and it represents a harmonious synthesis of the previous two extremes, although, in this type, ethical rules are also derived from transcendental (religious) sources. Differences between the ideational and sensate types of cultures are visible in different aspects of culture, such as philosophy, law, art, etc.

Through combining three main mentalities Sorokin comes to the assumption that there are six basic epistemological currents in European civilization. These epistemological systems are as follows. 1) Empiricism - sensory perception is the only source of knowledge and truth. 2) Rationalism - reason, logic, and mathematics as methods of cognition are more important than sensory data, and supra-empirical concepts and categories are also important; there is ideational rationalism that places greater emphasis on the truth of faith, and idealistic rationalism that places equal emphasis on all three forms of truth — the truth of the senses, truth of reason, and truth of faith. 3) Mysticism (religious irrationalism) - truth can be known only through ecstatic and esoteric experience, while the truths of the senses and reason are irrelevant or false knowledge. 4) Skepticism - systematic and methodical suspicion that it is possible to obtain correct knowledge. 5) Fideism - this system is between skepticism and mysticism because the truth about the most important phenomena can be learned only through the will to believe or through instinct. 6) Agnosticism and criticism - this epistemological system denies the possibility to know and/or deny the existence of supra-empirical reality; only reason and empirical knowledge can reveal the truth to us.

                                           Ethical Systems

Sorokin also studies the fluctuation of ethical systems. He believes that all organized groups have ethical values, but that only some cultures develop highly integrated ethical and philosophical systems. Although he notes that concrete practice may differ from prescribed moral values, Sorokin pays the greatest attention to the idealized form of moral values, and not to concrete practice. The three basic types of mentality produce corresponding ethical systems. The ideational ethical system bases its principles on sacred religious sources and commandments; it is absolute and rigid and does not allow the relativization of values, and the purpose is not to increase sensual happiness but to ensure observance of sacred rules. A specific variant of ideational ethics is the ethics of love, which imposes infinite and unlimited love and sacrifice towards God, and the best examples are the ethics of Jesus and the ethics of St. Francis of Assisi.

The sensate ethical system strives to achieve the greatest possible sensual happiness, comfort, and satisfaction; the rules are relativistic and prone to change following the change of sensory conditions. Variants of this ethical system are: 1) eudemonistic ethics - values ​​are nobler and more lasting; 2) hedonistic ethics - the greatest value is the maximization of sensory and sensual pleasures at all times; 3) utilitarian ethics - the emphasis is on the means to which happiness is achieved, so priority is given to the efficiency of methods of achieving happiness. Sensate ethical systems can be individualistic, striving only for individual happiness, or they can strive for collective happiness; while the collective itself can be a narrow group, the whole society, or the whole of humanity. The idealistic ethical system takes the main principles from religious and absolute authorities, while other, variable, rules are derived from reason and life experience.

                                    Types of Social Relations

Sorokin singles out three pure types of social relations: familistic, contractual, and compulsory. There is great solidarity in the familistic type and there are commonly shared values, and relationships last a long time. In a contractual type of relationship, the intensity and longevity depend on the individual objectives of each party. The compulsory type of relationship is characterized by conflict because one side has imposed on the other side the rules that that side must adhere to. The ideational type of culture is characterized by familistic relations, while the sensate type is dominated by contractual and compulsory relations.

From the eighth to the twelfth century, the familistic type of relationship dominated in Western Europe, while compulsory relationships were less widespread. From the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, familistic relations were more dominant, while contractual and compulsory relations were equal in representation. From the sixteenth to the middle of the eighteenth century, compulsory relations increased, to the detriment of familistic relations. From the middle of the eighteenth century until the end of the First World War, contractual relations increased, while after the war, compulsory relations increased again. Sorokin believes that capitalist relations between capitalists and workers have less and less the characteristics of a contractual relationship and more and more features of a compulsory relationship. A similar process is taking place in the field of politics because political parties monopolize many public and private institutions.

                                      Conflicts and Wars

Sorokin researched social conflicts very extensively, on the example of 967 wars and 1,622 internal conflicts throughout two and a half thousand years. Fluctuations between these two types of conflicts over time are significant. Wars between different societies are rarest when there are similarities between the basic values ​​of neighboring societies, while civil wars are most common in periods when basic cultural values ​​are undergoing a period of transformation. Internal conflicts are stronger when there is no agreement on the basic cultural values ​​of different factions in a society, while civil wars and revolutions most often occur when there is a rapid and general change in the value system of one segment of a society.

Social revolutions are characterized by a destructive phase, when, in addition to the use of physical force, the basic values ​​and institutions of society are destroyed. The destructive phase is characterized by an increase in mental illness and the spread of mass psychology. After the destructive phase, there is a partial re-establishment of previously existing values ​​and institutions. In addition to similarities in basic cultural values ​​between different segments of society, increased solidarity and reduced hostility are influenced by the prevalence of values ​​that emphasize compassion and mutual assistance, while values ​​that emphasize selfishness and competitive spirit lead to reduced solidarity and increased hostility and conflict. In his later books, Sorokin expressed fear of the outbreak of a global conflict between world superpowers and nuclear war.

                                  Theory of Social Change

Sorokin also developed a theory of change, that is, the dynamics of cultures. Sorokin believes that there is no social progress and that there are only cyclical movements in societies, which he calls „fluctuations“. Every society goes through fluctuations in many areas, of which most important is between different cultural types, but also in all of the sub-systems – epistemological systems, types of social relations, ethics, art,  periods of wars and peace, etc.  Every socio-cultural system is subject to external influences, but much more often the source of change is internal because every activity in a system causes small and large changes, both in the environment and in the system itself. Since changes are constantly happening in every system, no matter how small, every socio-cultural system is constantly changing, just as its reactions to the environment are constantly changing. Changing the reactions of the system to the environment changes the environment of the system so that the changed environment affects further changes in the system. It is precisely such a complicated dynamics of the relationship of parts in the system itself, as well as the relationship with its environment, that forms the basis of Sorokin's view that the constant change of any system is an immanent property of those systems. This is exactly what he calls the " principle of immanent change."

Another important theoretical assumption is that every socio-cultural system has the „principle of immanent self-determinism“.  Self-determinism of a system states that every system in itself contains, from the very start of the system, all the elements that determine its future development. This means that the system's environment can only positively or negatively affect the development of the system, speed up or slow down some processes, but can not lead to the manifestation of some features that the system does not contain in potentiality, and can not affect the order of its developmental stages, nor affect their character or quality. The system is most susceptible to external influences in the phases of emergence of the system, or the phases of its crisis or decline. The essence of the principle of self-determination is that, as soon as the system is sufficiently formed in all its peculiarities, it already contains in itself the basic plan for further own development.

Sorokin notes that these two principles, the principle of self-determination and the principle of immanent change, represent the middle ground between deterministic and indeterministic views of the development of society. Although there are some natural ways of system development, there is a lot of room for "freedom" in the development of a system, just as the environment can affect the way a system develops. In addition, some systems are more susceptible to external influences than others, which are more immune and resistant to environmental influences. The impact of the environment will be greater or lesser, depending on the type of social or cultural system that interacts with that environment. The degree of self-determination of the system also depends on the type of environment that affects it.

Sorokin distinguishes between the specific immunity of the system, when the system is immune to some specific types of influences, and total immunity when the system is equally resistant to all types of influences. Total immunity increases with the increase of the internal integration of the system, and this integration has three components: the degree of causal interdependence of the parts, the degree of solidarity between the members of the system, and the consistency between the parts of the system. The so-called "eclectic pseudosystems" are especially susceptible to external influences because they do not have a sufficient degree of integration of parts. Both integrated and non-integrated systems can be both elastic and rigid in their ability to change and adapt to external influences.

The size of the system itself affects the resistance to environmental influences, so systems with more members, higher quality of members, greater knowledge and wisdom, better organization of rights, duties, and functions, and greater ability to achieve goals and needs, are more resistant to external influences. Cultures vary between two extremes, ideational and sensate because bringing culture closer to either of these two extremes leads to a misconception and a reduction in the ability to meet the basic needs and goals of society and individuals. Such a situation creates fertile ground for the emergence of a completely opposite view of the world. Although the idealistic type of culture represents a fruitful harmony of two extreme types, this type is short-lived due to the difficulty of maintaining a balance between the elements of culture belonging to the two extreme cultural types.

                          Social Stratification and Mobility

In his book Social Mobility (1927), Sorokin presents his theory of social stratification. Social stratification is based on the unequal distribution of power, influence, privileges, rights, duties, and responsibilities. There are three main types of stratification: economic, political, and professional. Although high positioning by one type of stratification often means high positioning in two other types of stratification, there is always a degree of non-overlap, that is, cases where individuals are highly positioned in one sphere but not in the other two spheres of stratification. Sorokin strongly claims that every society that has ever existed has been stratified and that there are no classless societies. Even in the smallest and simplest societies, there is always a division by gender and age (beginning of professional stratification), there are privileged and influential chiefs (beginning of political stratification) and there are economic differences, except when the whole society is so poor that economic differences are practically impossible.

Sorokin believes that stratification in every society, and every type of association - family, church, company, trade union - is inevitable. Historical attempts to eradicate stratification have only led to one type of stratification being replaced by another type of stratification, which is obvious when looking at the fate of all social revolutions. What differs between different societies is the scope, type, and intensity (degree of distance between the bottom and the top) of the stratification. Stratification also differs in how formalized it is and how much members of a level make up a clearly defined and isolated group. The types of stratification also differ in whether individuals are divided by only one criterion or by more than one. When a group is at a high level in one type of stratification, and a low level for another type of stratification, then there is social pressure for change. Social mobility, both for individuals and groups, always exists in every society, but the form and intensity of that mobility vary between different societies. Upward mobility is facilitated by the most important social institutions such as political, military, or educational institutions.

                                      Culture and Personality

In his book Culture, Society and Personality (1947), Sorokin states his theoretical position that every socio-cultural system consists of three components: culture, society, and personality. In the study of personality, Sorokin singles out four levels of personality. The most basic level is the “biological unconscious”, the second level is the “conscious biological egos”, which contains an awareness of traits such as gender and age; the third level consists of “multiple conscious sociocultural egos”, and each of these egos refers to different groups to which the individual belongs, and it is this level of personality that creates most of the individual mentality. The fourth level of personality is “supraconscious” and it consists of our soul which is guided by intuition, which gives us creativity and spirituality and defines the concepts of truth, beauty, and good.

                                   Sociology of Integralism

In his works, Sorokin expressed his fear of the decline of the sensate cultural aspect in modern culture. He saw that this is evident in many areas: art, ethical system, the system of universal truths, science, understanding of freedom, declining family ties, political system (where the minority exercises power without adequate control), increasing state of anomie, increasing conflicts and wars. He believed that the best solution for the decline of sensate culture is to increase altruistic love, which will give positive effects both on the social and individual levels. Altruistic love will contribute to increasing cooperation, mutual assistance, and creativity and create conditions for achieving social harmony. A fundamental change is needed at the level of society and culture, but it is necessary, first of all, to make a conscious and deliberate decision on the individual level to change consciousness, and with it the world.

The social sciences can provide knowledge to increase love by discovering the universal values ​​of truth, beauty, and goodness. The basic principle of sociology and its methodology, ontology, and epistemology should be "integralism", which will combine empirical, rational, and interpretive approaches. The basis of integralism is that reality contains empirical, rational, and supra-empirical elements and that each of these elements should be studied in order to create strong and creative sociology. The study of each element of reality requires a different approach, and the study of the supra-empirical element requires the use of religious and mystical intuition. Each approach is flawed if used alone, but by using all three approaches simultaneously, the real truth is revealed. Integralism unites scientific, philosophical, and religious knowledge, in order to provide the best means for discovering complete knowledge, but also to provide the best basis for the reform of society, culture, and personality.



Main works

Sociology of Revolutions (1925);

Social Mobility (1927);

Contemporary Sociological Theories (1928);

Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology (1929);

Source Book in Rural Sociology, 3 vols (1930-1931);

Social and Cultural Dynamics, 4 vols. (1937-1941);

The Crisis of Our Age (1941);

Man and Society in Calamity: The Effects of War, Revolution, Famine, Pestilence Upon Human Mind, Behavior, Social Organization and Cultural Life (1942);

Sociocultural Causality, Space, Time: A Study of Referential Principles of Sociology and Social Science (1943);

Culture, Society, and Personality (1947);

The Ways and Power of Love (1954);

Fads and Foibles in Sociology and Related Sciences (1956);

Power and Morality: Who Shall Guard The Guardians? (1959).

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