PsycCRITIQUES - Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books
Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft in Social Psychology
A review of
Personality, Roles, and Social Behavior
William Ickes and Eric S. Knowles (Eds.)
New York: Springer-Verlag New York, 1982. 380 pp. $27.50

Reviewed by
John F. Kihlstrom

A fundamental human problem is the conflict between our lives as individuals and our lives as group members. A major theme in early development is the establishment of ego boundaries, and the self-concept emerges as we develop a sense of how we differ from others of our species. At the same time, humans are social by nature: We are built to live together rather than in isolation from one another, and in part we define ourselves by the groups to which we belong. It is not surprising, then, that the psychology of personality has faced a kind of continual identity crisis. The editors of Personality, Roles, and Social Behavior seek to address this crisis directly, if not to resolve it.

The problem is how to give a coherent account of the behavior of individuals in social interaction. The approach of psychology is through the analysis of both enduring and momentary dispositions, such as traits, attitudes, emotions, and motives, which are considered to be properties of the individual that have some form of existence independent of the situation in which the person is found. The approach of sociology is through the analysis of roles—patterns of behavior that are imposed by the sociocultural environment, which impinges on the individual. Interactionism in personality theory acknowledges the truth of both positions, arguing that social behavior is a product of both the individual's dispositions and the demands and constraints of the social situation. Ickes and Knowles seek to expand the scope of the interactionist argument by introducing an explicitly sociological perspective. But they and the other contributors to this volume are not satisfied merely to import the concepts and principles of another discipline. Rather, they seek to fuse psychology and sociology in order to produce an integrated social science.

Two essays by the editors place the other contributions in context. The first, by Knowles, is an extended and scholarly meditation on the classic distinction, drawn by Tonnies in 1887, between persons as members of a community and persons as individuals. Whereas Tonnies argued that Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft were ideal types of opposing organization, each represented to some degree in all existing forms, Knowles takes the position that they are opposing and conflicting forces. He then uses this dialectical opposition in the analysis of social theories rather than social organizations. The two opposing levels of analysis are apparent in theories concerned with group behavior. Groups are composed of individual members, but they also have lives of their own. Less intuitive, perhaps, is his discovery of the same kind of tension in role theory and the psychology of personality theory.

Knowles identifies role theory as fundamentally Gesellschaft because it is concerned with the disparate ways in which we present ourselves in different situations, and personality theory as fundamentally Gemeinschaft because it is concerned with the unity of the individual. Knowles's conclusions seem right on the mark: Theories of social interaction should consider both the factors that unite us and those that keep us separate, determine the circumstances under which the former or the latter will be paramount, and ultimately move beyond such simple oppositions to a truly synthetic theory of individuals in groups.

The final essay, by Ickes, describes the development of a research paradigm designed to reveal the influence of individual personality and social roles on interpersonal behavior. In a highly personal document, Ickes charts his growing disenchantment with the artificiality of the social-psychological laboratory and the low predictive utility of standard personality constructs. Such considerations led him to formulate a set of prescriptive rules for social research, involving a preference for overt behavior over self-report, controls for experimenter bias, naturalistic settings where the meaning of both stimulus and response are surrounded by a high degree of consensus, multiple-act criteria, and the use of psychologically weak manipulations to ensure that individual differences are revealed. Some of the prescriptions are noncontroversial, although the author may be a bit too sanguine about the ability of experimentalists to control for demand characteristics by using nonbiasing instructions and by eliminating the experimenter from the test situation. In advocating the use of weak manipulations and aggregate measures, however, he runs the risk of obscuring the contribution of situational factors, which seem crucial to any attempt 883 synthesize Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.

Ickes's paradigm entails a waiting room, into which two subjects selected on the basis of some set of demographic and personality variables, and possibly subject to some experimental manipulation, are thrust and left to behave. Their interactions are videotaped secretly and then coded for the dependent variables of interest. The situation as described is fairly naturalistic, is flexible in application, permits analysis of effects at the level of both the individual and the dyad, and has yielded a number of interesting empirical results. The only thing that seems missing, in view of the strategic and goal-oriented nature of so many naturally occurring social interactions, is a reason for the subjects to be together in the first place. Ickes refers to a couple of such studies in passing; we can hope to see many more in the future.

The remaining essays in the volume explore particular aspects of the interface between the sociological and psychological approaches to social interaction. Half of them are written by sociologists, emphasizing Gemeinschaft, and the others are written by psychologists, emphasizing Gesellschaft. All, however, seek to promote a fusion of the sociological and the psychological approaches to social interaction. Although the papers were written independently of each other, several themes crop up time and time again. There is, first and foremost, the challenge to the traditional concept of roles as imposed on the individual by the society at large. Then there is social exchange theory, which represents dyadic relationships in terms of the costs and benefits accruing to each partner by virtue of their interaction. Finally, there is symbolic interactionism, with its assertion that mind and self, the two central features of personality, are derived from interaction with other people and things.

Secord, for example, turns to the gender variable in order to challenge the classic Parsonian conception of roles as imposed on the individual by the society at large. He argues that individual motives and goals shape social structures, just as social forces shape individuals. In much the same vein, Athay and Darley seek to redefine the construct of role in such a way as to permit individuals a fair degree of freedom of action, while at the same time respecting the normative standards represented by social roles.

The remaining chapters present more concrete examples of the kind of synthesis sought by the editors. Davis presents a thorough review of the various factors influencing the listener's responsiveness to the speaker in dyadic communication. Patterson outlines the various functions of nonverbal communication and their implications for the assessment of individual differences in nonverbal behavior and their determinants. Wegner and Giuliano introduce the concept of social awareness (by which they mean how the actor's attention is distributed among the self, the other, and the group) and analyze some of its determinants and consequences. Stryker and Serpe review the evolution of identity theory from its background in symbolic interactionism, summarize its principles, and show how it has guided a program of research on religious activity. Lofland uses research on the experience of loss (through death, desertion, or separation) to provide a unique perspective on the ways in which people behave when they are together. Gordon and Gordon report on a job training program for displaced homemakers, which shows how changes in social structure can lead to changes in personality, which lead in turn to a shift in social roles. And McCall summarizes an extensive program of research on discretionary justice, analyzing the diverse determinants of such decisions as whether to arrest or prosecute, how to sentence, and whether to grant parole. It was perhaps inevitable that these chapters would not hang together to form a coherent package. Yet each one of them makes for interesting and rewarding reading, and each achieves its goal of integrating the contributions of personality factors, role demands, and situational factors to social behavior.

There is much to be admired in this book, but some things seem to be missing as well. For example, the discussions of role theory are devoid of any consideration of the contributions of Sarbin, Coe, and others who have written extensively on those roles that are freely adopted by, rather than imposed on, the individual. And the discussions of personality focus too much on conventional trait conceptions. Nevertheless, the volume will serve nicely as an introduction to psychosociology or sociopsychology, whichever label is preferred. More important, by raising the issue of the integration of group and individual approaches, and proposing some solutions, it moves us further toward a comprehensive science of interpersonal relations.

William Ickes is associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington. He is coeditor of New Directions in Attribution Research, Vols. 1–3 with J. Harvey and R. Kidd.

Eric S. Knowles is professor of human development and psychology and chairperson of the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He contributed the chapter "An Affiliative Conflict Theory of Personal and Group Spatial Behavior" to P. B. Paulus's Psychology of Group Influence.

John F. Kihlstrom is professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. A 1979 recipient of APA's Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology, he is coeditor of Personality, Cognition, and Social Interaction with N. Cantor.

Previously published in Contemporary Psychology: A Journal of Reviews, November 1984, Vol. 29, No. 11, 882–883
© 1984, American Psychological Association