Sociofugal Space

Sommer, Robert 1967. Sociofugal Space. American Journal of Sociology 72(6): 654-660.

This is a case study of a place where people typically try to avoid one another, the type of area which has been termed "sociofugal space" by Osmong. (Sommer 1967: 654)
Curiously, another metaphor for my study of dystopian literature: Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four are on the opposite side of a continuum where the first the world is utterly sociopedal and in the second the world is utterly sociofugal. That is, in the first, John cannot be alone as being alone is "wrong", and in the second Winston is completely alone because normal human relations are inhibited - everyone avoids and distrusts everyone else.
...our chief concern is the way the occupants distribute themselves so as to increase psychological and social distance. (Sommer 1967: 654)
And I guess I have to look our for this in my participant-observation project.
The concept of sociofugal space has been used in the pejorative descriptive sense up to now, and its explanatory force has been almost nil. Little is known about what aspects of an environment keep people apart. it is hoped here to make a beginning to identify these features of the environment and, in addition, to relate them to more general concepts of sociality. Osmond first coined the term to describe unsuitable mental hospital architecture where the undesirability of sociofugality was self-evident. (Sommer 1967: 654)
"Sociofugality" is also an example of a notion coined in psychiatric research - this seems very common to nonverbal communication research in the 1950s (Ruesch, Goffman, Birdwhistell, Scheflen, perhaps even Ekman). The source is: Humphrey Osmond, "Function as the Basis of Psychiatric Ward Design," Mental Hospitals (April, 1957), pp. 23-29.
From the standpoint of its connotative meaning, sociofugal space tends to be large, cold, impersonal, institutional, not owned by any individual, overconcentrated rather than overcrowded, without opportunity for shielded conversation; providing barriers without shelter, isolation without privacy, and concentration without cohesion. (Sommer 1967: 655)
Sounds cruel. "Isolation without privacy" made me think of the bathrooms in our university department - the WC stalls/rooms for men and women are "isolated" by a thick wall, but conjoined by a window, making it possible to hear everything another is up behind the wall. Very uncomfortable if one is up to bigger business.
In theory the ultimate sociofugal environment is a row of isolation cells designed for solitary confinement, but in practice these have not effectively stifled communiaction between people. Numerous accounts of prison life, including those written on Death Row, describe the constant stream of messages traveling between vells. Inmates shout up and down the corridors, use tapping codes on the bars as well as messages carried by trusties who deliver the meals, and pull kites from cell to cell. No arrangement has yet been devised that completely eliminates communication between people who want to interact. (Sommer 1967: 655)
If there's a will, there's a way.
Instead, the ideal sociofugal environment is one where the rules prescribing isolation are accepted and enforced by the participants themselves and supported only secondarily by environmental constraints. In a sociofugal environment, intimacy between strangers is unexpected and generally unwelcome. This is particularly true if a person has deliberately sought the type of space that isolates him from other people. One must distinguish between sociofugal space chosen voluntarily (e.g., a study area) and space inhabited involuntarily (e.g., the corridor of a public building). Interaction is discouraged by the physical environment in both settings, but in the latter instance the motives for social intercourse may exist, while in the study area a person assumes that others present deliberately chose an isolating setting. (Sommer 1967: 655)
Thus sociofugal spaces, or at least ideal ones, are first and foremost based on self-censorship. Or is it a group's self-censorship or even alter-censorship? "Censorship" may even be the wrong word, perhaps "inhibition".
Avoidance works best in a room with many corners, alcoves, and peripheral areas hidden from view. An offensive display is most effective when a person can use features of a landscape to reinforce his dominance and control access and egress. If he can hold the high ground, he should be able to effectively dominate the territory. Over aggressive reactions to the approach of a newcomer, such as profanity, insults, or physical assault, rarely occur in a university study hall. A comparable investigation of territorial rights in a teen-age hangout might come up with very different findings. In the present situation, the cues for asocial motivation seem so apparent and easily understood by most patrons that there is no need for stronger measures to keep intruders away. (Sommer 1967: 658)
This claim about avoidance is universal enough to work just as well in discussions of military tactics. Egress, by the way, is the action of going out of or leaving a place.

Berger, Peter L. and Thomas Luckmann 1991. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Ch. 3. "Theories about Identity", pp. 194-200. & Ch. 4. "Organism and Identity", pp. 201-204.
Identity is formed by social processes. Once crystallized, it is maintained, modified, or even reshaped by social relations. The social processes involved in both the formation and the maintenance of identity are determined by the social structure. Conversely, the identities produced by the interplay of organism, individual consciousness and social structure react upon the given social structure, maintaining it, modifying it, or even reshaping it. (Berger & Luckmann 1991: 194)
The relationship of identity and society is thus a two-way interaction where various processes occur.
As we have seen, orientation and conduct in everyday life depend upon such typifications. This means that identity types can be observed in everyday life and that assertions like the ones above can be verified - or refuted - by ordinary men endowed with common sense. (Berger & Luckmann 1991: 194)
The argument here is that identity type modifies the conduct of individuals. In Theophrastus's sense, character and conduct are interrelated.
Identity is a phenomenon that emerges from the dialectic between individual and society. Identity types, on the other hand, are social products tout court, relatively stable elements of objective social reality (the degree of stability being, of couse, socially determined in its turn). As such, they are the topic of some form of theorizing in any society, even if they are stable and the formation of individual identities is relatively unproblematic. Theories about identity are always embedded in a more general interpretation of reality; they are 'built into' the symbolic universe and its theoretical legitimations, and vary with the character of the latter. Identity remians unintelligbile unless it is located in a world. (Berger & Luckmann 1991: 195)
In the first instance, identity occurs between what Mary Douglas calls the personal (physical) and social bodies. In the second instance, characters or identity/behavioral types are products of sociocultural processes - they are outside the individual.
The rural Haitian who internalizes Voudun psychology will become possessed as soon as he discovers certain well-defined signs. Similarly, the New York intellectual who internalizes Freudian psychology will become neurotic as soon as he diagnoses certain well-known symptoms. Indeed, it is possible that, given a certain biographical context, signs or symptoms will be produced by the individuals himself. The Haitian will, in that case, produce not symptoms of neurosis but signs of possession, while the New Yorker will construct his neurosis in conformity with the recognized symptomatology. (Berger & Luckmann 1991: 199)
This is why I am reluctant to read about Nonverbal Learning Disability. But it must also be recognized that this is a constructivist account of psychological disorders.
We discussed much earlier the organismic presuppositions and limitations of the social construction of reality. It is important to stress now that the organism continues to affec each phase of man's reality-constructing activity and that the organism, in turn, is itself affected by this activity. Put crudely, man's animality is stransformed in socialization, but it is not abolished. Thus man's stomach keeps grumbling away even as he is about his business of world-building. Conversely, events in this, his product, may make his stomach grumble more, or less, or differently. Man is even capable of eating and theorizing at the same time. The continuing coexistence of man's animality and his sociality may be profitably observed at any conversation over dinner. (Berger & Luckmann 1991: 201)
This seems true, but is also manifests a Socratic motive of "a body is an endless source of trouble," in this case to theorizing.
A pointed illustration of society's limitation of the organism's biological possibilities is longevity. Life expectancy varies with social location. Even in contemporary American society there is considerably discrepancy between the life expectancies of lower-class and upper-class individuals. Furthermore, both the incidence and the character of pathology vary with social location. Lower-class individuals are ill more frequently than upper-class indiiduals; in addition they have different illnesses. In other words, society determines how long and in what manner the individual organism shall live. This determination may be institutionally programmed in the operation of social controls, as in the institution of law. Society can maim and kill. Indeed, it is in its power over life and death that it manifests its ultimate control over the individual. (Berger & Luckmann 1991: 202)
This is a useful hint for what to look out for in terms of social constructionism and aging studies.
Sexuality and nutrition are channeled in specific directions socially rather than biologically, a channeling that not only imposes limits upon these activities, but directly affects organismic functions. Thus the successfully socialized individual is incapable of functioning sexually with the 'wrong' sexual object and may vomit when confronted with the 'wrong' food. As we have seen, the social channeling of activity is the essence of institutionalization, which is the foundation for the social construction of reality. it may be said then that social reality determines not only activity and consciousness but, to a considerable degree, organismic functioning. Thus such intrinsically biological functions as orgasm and digestion are socially structured. Society also determines the manner in which the organism is used in activity; expressivity, gait and gestures are socially structured. The possibility of a sociology of the body that this raises need not concern us here. The point is that society sets limits to the organism, as the orgnaism sets limits to society. (Berger & Luckmann 1991: 202-203)
The sociology of the body has of course by now bore some fruit.
In the fully socialized individual there is a continuing internal dialectic between identity and its biological substratum. The individual continues to experience himself as an organism, apart from and sometimes set against the socially derived objectifications of himself. Often this dialectic is apprehended as a struggle between a 'higher' and a 'lower' self, respectively equated with social identity and pre-social, possibly anti-social animality. The 'higher' self must repeatedly assert itself over the 'lower', sometimes in critical tests of strength. For example, a man must overcome his instinctive fear of death by courage in battle. The 'lower' self here is whipped into submission by the 'higher', an assertion of dominance over the biological substratum that is necessary if the social identity of warrior is to be maintained, both objectively and subjectively. (Berger & Luckmann 1991: 203-204)
This sounds awfully lot like the submission of biological needs - such as sexuality - in 1984.

Foucault, Michel 1993. About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self: Two Lectures at Dartmouth. Political Theory 21(2): 198-227.

To make someone suffering from mentla illness recognize that he is mad is a very ancient procedure. Everybody in the old medicine, before the middle of the nineteenth century, everybody was convinced of the incompatibility between madness and recognition of madness. And in the works, for instance, of the seventeenth and of the eighteenth centuries, one finds many examples of what one might call truth-therapies. The mad would be cured if one managed to show them that their delirium is without any relation to reality. (Foucault 1993: 201)
It sounds as if by resorting to the meta-level and recognizing the object-level for what it is should somehow reframe or modify the object-level itself. Whether this is so or not is in doubt.
Up to the present I have proceeded with this general project in two ways. I have dealt with the modern theoretical constitutions that were concerned with the subject in general. I have tried to analyze in a previous book theories of the subject as a speaking, living, working being. I have also dealt with the more practical understanding formed in those institutions like hospitals, asylums, and prisons, where certain subjects became objects of knowledge and at the same time objects of domination. And now, I wish to study those forms of understanding which the subject creates about himself. Those forms of self-understanding are important I think to analyze the modern experience of sexuality. (Foucault 1993: 202-203)
In short, "hermeneutics of the subject" is concerned with self-understanding (as opposed to "care of the self").
It seems, according to some suggestions by Habermas, that one can distinguish three major types of techniques in human societies: the techniques which permit one to produce, to transform, to manipulate things; the techniques which permit one to use sign systems; and the techniques which eprmit one to determine the conduct of individuals, to impose certain wills on them, and to submit them to certain ends or objectives. That is to say, there are techniques of production, techniques of signification, and techniques of domination. (Foucault 1993: 203)
This is a familiar passage. I have little to do with production, but the latter two techniques are exactly what I am interested in.
Of course, if one wants to study the history of natural sciences, it is useful if not necessary to take into account techniques of production and semiotic techniques. But since my project was concerned with knowledge of the subject, I thought that the techniques of domination were the most important, without any exclusion of the rest. but, analyzing the experience of sexuality, I became more and more aware that there is in all societies, I think, in all societies whatever they are, another type of techniques: techniques which permit individuals to effect, by their own means, a certain number of operations on their own bodies, on their own souls, on their own thoughts, on their own conduct, and this in a manner so as to transform themselves, modify themselves, and to attain a certain state of perfection, of happiness, of purity, of supernatural power, and so on. Let's call this kind of techniques a techniques or technology of the self. (Foucault 1993: 203)
This is more akin to care of the self. I very much enjoy the phrase "semiotic techniques" and I think in my work these are conflated with techniques of the self (and with techniques of the body, for that matter).
It is well known that the main objective of the Greek schools of philosophy did not consist of the elaboration, the teaching, of theory. The goal of the Greek schools of philosophy was the transformation of the individual. The goal of the Greek philosophy was to give the individual the quality which would permit him to live differently, better, more happily, than other people. What place did the self-examination and the confession have in this? At first glance, in all the ancient philosophical practices, the obligation to tell the truth about oneself occupied a rather restrained place. And this for two reasons, both of which remain valid throughout the whole Greek and Hellenistic Antiquity. The first of those reasons is that the objective of philosophical training was to arm the individual with a certain number of precepts which permit him to conduct himself in all circumstances of life without him losing mastery of himself or without losing tranquility of spirit, purity of body and soul. From this principle stems the importance of the master's discourse. The master's discourse has to talk, to explain, to persuade; he has to give the disciple a universal code for all his life, so that the verbalization takes place on the side of the master and not on the side of the disciple. (Foucault 1993: 205)
Here the ancient paraskeue actually links up with Goffman's presentation of the self and Mauss's techniques of the self.
One recalls what was the objective of Stoic technology: it was to superimpose, as I tried to explain to you last week, the subject of knowledge and the subject of will by means of the perpetual rememorizing of the rules. The formula which is at the heart of exomologesisis, in contrary, ego non sum ego. The exomologesis seeks, in opposition to the Stoic techniques, to superimpose by an act of violent rupture the truth about oneself and the renunciation of oneself. in the ostententious gestures of maceration, self-revelation in ecomologesis is, at the same time, self-destruction. (Foucault 1993: 215)
I wonder if self-revelation and self-destruction are somehow active in the fields I am studying. The latter, at least, seems to be associated with self-mortification.
Obediene in the monastic institutions must bear on all the aspects of life; there is an adage, very well known in the monastic literature, which says, "everything that one does not do on order of one's director, or everything that one does without his permission, constitutes a theft." Therefore, obedience is a permanent relationship, and even when the monk is old, even when he became, in his turn, a master, even then he has to keep the spirit of obedience as a permanent sacrifice of his own will. (Foucault 1993: 216)
This seems to be the way some modern "total" institutions are organized today as well.


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