Everybody and the Foundation of the Social Structure


Two or three weeks after my arrival in Appleton, I met in the shopping center the nineteen-year-old daughter of one of my first informants. I had seen her briefly at her parents' home, and I knew that she had a somewhat controversial boyfriend and went out in the evening very often. I took the occasion to tell her that I would be glad to go to a party with her and her boyfriend. She answered, "Great! We had just been talking, John and 1, about inviting you. He would like to meet you. But we weren't sure you would like to go. We'll pick you up Saturday evening at eight."

John and His Friends

Around eight the following Saturday, John and Sue came to my place. I offered them a beer, and we talked for a little while. We left then, and all three of us piled into the front seat of John's Chevy. We stopped at his place briefly, a rundown one-bedroom apartment with half-destroyed furniture, dirty walls, psychedelic posters, and a black light, the type of place associated with radical students or archetypal hippies. It contrasted somewhat with the rather neat personal appearance of John and the even more conservative dress of Sue. We moved on again to pick up two friends who lived fifteen miles away in another town, had another beer, took off again back to Appleton, all of us still in John's car. There was "necking" in the back seat and beer drinking everywhere.

The party was held in a house in Appleton. There were about thirty people present-twenty in the darkened living room where a stereo was blaring in one corner while someone was trying to play the guitar in another, and ten seated around the dining-room table, apparently in earnest discussion. There was no dancing, and there would not be any; John told me that dancing was very rare. There was only drinking and joking, with more and more sexual emphasis as time went by. An attempt was made to have a sing-along, but apparently everybody was too drunk to go at it seriously and the songs never went beyond the first bars. This is the way the party went from ten o'clock to twelve.

Shortly before midnight, when things were getting louder, about half the people left without any apparent effect on the other half, who continued as before until someone proposed that the party move to a restaurant, a suggestion that was accepted matter-of-factly, without any visible decisionmaking ritual. So we all (now only eleven) climbed into cars and drove five miles to a restaurant on the interstate highway. We had hamburgers or sandwiches and coffee. Everybody was really "gone" (as it was termed) by then, the joking reaching extremes, even though we were in a public place. Things went on like this for about an hour, and then everybody went home.

John told me the next day that this had been a particularly "wild" party, but, with a little laugh: "They are all like that." Indeed, they were all like that-with variations, of course. There were not often so many people present (normally not more than a dozen); going to a restaurant at the end was frequent but not necessary; and jokes with a sexual emphasis were almost as rare as dancing, which did take place two or three times. People were more or less dressed up, the singing was sometimes better (most of the time about as bad, though the quality of the guitarist improved), beer was sometimes replaced by marijuana or hashish, and so on. The basic form-three to four hours of heavy drinking or smoking to reach a certain degree of intoxication-persisted, though, and of the fifty-two Saturday evenings of the year I spent in Appleton, at least fortyfive were occupied in this fashion by this little group of people. And even more important from the point of view of social organization, the same core of twelve people was present at most of these parties, and their "friendship"--to use a native termextended far beyond going to parties together, as I soon discovered.

At the end of the party I have just described, John said to me the usual thing to say after a first meeting: "Drop in anytime." I say "usual" because many people said the same thing to me many times, people of all ages, from all backgrounds. So I "dropped by" John's apartment the following day. I found him and three other men whom I recognized as having been present the night before at the party and at the restaurant watching a football game on TV. John was very sloppily dressed, unshaven, and he told me he had a headache and a hangover from the night before. He was sprawled on the dirty couch, and the other men were in similar postures on the floor or the chairs. One of them was rather well-dressed, but there was no feeling of stress. Nor did my entrance appear to make much difference. The polite formulas exchanged were kept to the bare minimum of "Hello, how are you?"

The talking rambled slowly along, about the plays in the game and what I was doing in Appleton, but even this was asked less from curiosity than from a desire to be polite. In fact, it took a long time for people in the group to realize what I was doing, and some never did. I just continued to be accepted matter-of-factly, more and more so as the year passed. This first afternoon went slowly by. Sue arrived, then another girl, a man left, another came, we continued to talk aimlessly, to watch TV-the set remained on all the time, even though it was watched only when there was a lag in the conversation, more as one would stare at the flames of a fireplace than from any interest in what was going on, especially after the football game ended. Around six it was decided-again "naturally," so to speak-to go to a restaurant and have a snack. We came back, and the evening was spent like the afternoon, until about ten-thirty when everybody started to go home.

There were many variations of detail in these Sunday afternoon or weekday mini-gatherings. What was striking was the regularity and frequency of the meetings between the members of the group-often four to five times a week, every day and several times a day if it was at all possible-for coffee in the morning, at the bar at night, at the bowling alley, or just at home. It was rare for the whole group to meet together more than once a week. During the week the meetings happened almost by chance and rarely involved more than two or three persons in the group. In these averages I have not included the meetings of the couples, husband/wife, boyfriend/girl friend, or those of the three persons who worked in the same office. I am talking only about activities not directly influenced by professional duties. As for the case of the man/woman couples, that is more complex and will be dealt with separately. Let us say simply that counting the meetings between those units, as I probably should, would simply raise the average rate of meetings in the group as a whole and thus reinforce my point.

Beyond "having fun together," this group of friends had another function more typical of social groups. It was also, though in a much more implicit way, a closed cycle of exchanges of certain services: if a friend asked you to do something for him, it wasn't possible to refuse. Of course there were limits to what one would ask, and the service requested could not surpass the capacities of the person involved. Nor could one demand a longterm engagement on a specific project; only the association itself was such a "project," which, I could say, was made up of short-range actions. The most current services exchanged were moving furniture, carpeting a room, lending a car or giving a ride, providing a room for the night, or cutting hair. The list cannot be exhaustive because the point was precisely to leave it open. To my inquiries about what could be asked, I was answered: "Anything."

The most important of the services exchanged-psychological help in periods of depression-does not appear on the list because it is of a different nature and was not consciously recognized as a service by the people in the group. They treated it differently. While the first set of services consisted of a definite series of acts bounded in time and place and thus could be considered eminently suitable for exchanges, psychological help rarely entailed anything beyond listening patiently and regularly, for it was rare for a period of depression to be clearly bounded. What is more, the depression rarely ended through an action of the listener, who remained, at most, a sympathetic spectator to a drama taking place outside his sphere of influence. I personally was considered to be good in the role of listener and was often used as such by members of this group and by members of other groups, but the service was often exchanged between participants. (I will give a long example of this process at the beginning of Part 111.)

The two main social qualities of these services were universality and equality. There were no explicit rules as to what should not be asked of one's friends. There were some implicit ones, which were part of the similarly implicit covenant on which the association of these twelve people rested. But the exceptions-and they were few-were left unsaid, while universality was affirmed. The real limits were those set by the necessity of equality: a service given necessarily implied a service given back of the same value or quality. To return more than one had received might be considered an attempt at shaming the receiver and would eventually lead to the expulsion of the deviating member from the group. To start off with a gift that one knew to be impossible to match would have the same result. Conversely, a systematic inability to manage the average level of gifts exchanged inside the group would also lead to expulsion. For example, this particular group spent from two to five dollars per person per party or night on alcohol or entertainment. One could not have been a full-fledged member of the group if one had not been able to follow this level of spending or if one had wanted to spend much more.

But just as the basic services exchanged were nonmonetary, the expression of the necessary equality should not be interpreted only in economic terms, however important these might also be. A certain equality of behavior or conformity to the specific rules accepted by this group was necessary and expected. In terms of dress and external appearance, it was understood that one could not wear dirty clothes to a Saturday night party. There was no need for anything beyond clean jeans (for boys and girls alike), although more elaborate pants and shirts were permitted and often worn. At the other extreme, I never saw anybody wear a suit and tie to a party, and the one or two times I arrived dressed this way I was asked jokingly, but with insistence, to take my jacket and tie off so that I would be "more comfortable." Politically, one could briefly defend liberal positions but only as long as a nationalistic, conservative position remained as the accepted framework. National origin or religion was not considered relevant, but one should not stress a strong sense of identification with either as long as one was behaving as a member of the group: the group had to be the primary referent of social loyalty. The same thing could be said about jobs: jobs were not relevant, but one should not stress his belonging to a certain socioeconomic category.

I could go on for a while listing traits by which the group could be recognized and differentiated from other groups. It would not serve any real purpose, because this group might have been the only one in Appleton to have these particular characteristics. If there was another one, the people in the group did not know about it. As far as they knew (and as far as I know), they were unique. They did know several other groups to which they felt close and from which they wished to differentiate themselves strongly. On one side there were the "greasers," with a slightly more conservative outlook, at least from the point of view of the reference group. (I could not really have told the difference.) On the other side there were the "freaks"-Iong-haired, aggressively dirty, more radical in their ideological outlook, more deeply immersed in the drug culture and so on. John's friends felt themselves to be "in the middle," at a sort of rational place between two extremes.

The Social Organization of an Elementary Group

The stable core of the group during the period that extended from November 1970 to August 1971 was made up of:

John Lawrence-blue- collar worker; first unemployed, then a salesman; "Italian"; raised Catholic; twentyseven.

Sue Elliott-secretary; "WASP"; raised a Methodist; nineteen; girl friend, then wife, of John Lawrence.

Robert Penn-in management; no definite ethnicity; raised a Catholic; twentythree.

Mary Segala-no profession; "Italian"; raised a Catholic; twenty-three; wife of Robert Penn; sister of Alexander and Harvey.

Ralph Steffof-in management; "Slavic"; raised a Catholic; twenty-three.

Sylvia Suboski-no profession; "Polish"; raised a Catholic; twenty.

Alexander Segala-engineer; "Italian"; raised a Catholic; twenty-five; brother of Mary and Harvey.

Ruth Johnson-schoolteacher; "WASP"; no religion; twenty one; Alexander's girl friend.

Harvey Segala-engineer; "Italian"; raised a Catholic; twenty-seven; divorced; brother of Mary and Alexander.

John O'Connell-barber; "Irish"; raised a Catholic; twentyseven.

It is important to note that religion and ethnic identity are indicative of a background rather than of any activity on the part of these persons. The quotation marks express the fact that when the subject was raised, the different persons would claim membership in one or another ethnic category. "WASP" was not a fully developed category. Sue would first say that she was "nothing"; if pushed, she might say "a mixture," and she would understand "WASP."

One of the stratification subsystems with which I will not deal at length is that based on sex. Except for one case, the women were accepted into the group through their husbands and boyfriends. But this is only one of the idiosyncrasies of this group and does not reveal any cultural necessity. Indeed, I have experienced groups in America, though not in Appleton, in which a woman was the focusing person, even though there were many men in it.

A rapid glance at the list reveals that most of the group have a Catholic and "ethnic" background, and almost half are Italians. Furthermore, the three Segalas are brothers and sister. Finally, the management and white-collar jobs of most of the members imply a somewhat high income. Indeed, in terms of consumer goods, the group could be considered very well endowed: ten cars (one per person), three motorcycles, one boat, five television sets, four full stereophonic ensembles, well-equipped and -furnished homes (except for three of them), and so on. Finally, the three older members of the group had gone through school together, and their friendship could be considered a carryover from that time.

These data might lead one to expect a social structure based solely on economic criteria compounded by ethnic and religious factors. From what I said earlier and from the data I am now going to present, it will become clear that this is not what happens empirically. An analysis that would insist on the sole relevance of these factors would be inaccurate from a cultural point of view.

Let us first consider some of the facts that go against a simple sociological interpretation. There were two men in the group whose level of income remained very low through nine of the eleven months of the study, and who lived in substandard apartments. But they were not outcasts. In fact, John Lawrence was the center or the heart of the group, the link between certain people who did not have such close relationships with each other as he had with everybody. For example, he was much closer to Robert Penn than Penn was to Harvey Segala, who slightly disapproved of him as a suitor for his sister.

Furthermore, if the process of inclusion in the group ignores to a large extent the sociological background of the person invited, the process of exclusion reveals the same attitude. These ten people formed a very tight group, but they were not totally closed. From time to time other people were invited to parties or just "dropped in." These people formed a sort of amorphous fringe of the reference group; they gave their loyalty to other small groups of the same general character as the one I am describing, but they participated in some of its activities. Thirty to forty people formed this fringe, some closer to, some farther away from, the core, the distance being calculated in terms of frequency and type of interaction. Some of them would have been totally acceptable to the group if they had decided to participate regularly. Others would not have been.

Further removed were the "freaks" and the "greasers," people who could clearly be identified as being a "different" group (from the point of view of our group-they may or may not have had any social reality), some members of which belonged to the outer fringe, some of which did not. I knew some of them, and many corresponded very closely in general background or even present behavior to the characteristics of our group-there were young whitecollar, upper-middle-class types who were indistinguishable from Ralph Steffof or the Segala brothers. There was, for example, John Lawrence's brother, who was completely immersed in the "freaks" group. Ralph Steffof's brother, on the other hand, led a normal style of life completely outside any of these groups, was never heard of, and yet was Ralph's business partner! Among the women, the same types of behavior could be observed. Sue Elliott's sister had had nothing to do with John when they were in high school together (and vice versa!), and she still "could not understand what her sister found in John." Ruth Johnson's sister was married to a totally middle-class husband, had three children, and they related only during rare family reunions.

In just the same manner as the Farm Bureau and its Creed emphasized "these friends and neighbors", John Lawrence and his friends did not get drunk together because they were Italian or ethnic or Catholic or middle class, not even because they belonged to a certain age group or had gone to school together or shared a certain ideology, but because they "liked" each other. John told me of the beginning of his friendship with Robert Penn: "At that time Harvey was married. They invited me over one night. You know Roger, don't you~ Yes. He was married, too, then, but to another woman. Cathy is his second wife. His first wife knew Robert, and he came with them that evening at Harvey's. Well, we just hit it off right away, Robert and me. I don't know why, we just liked each other, and we have continued ever since." Conversely, I was often told about people whom I knew to be unacceptable: "I don't know why I don't like him. He is really a strange guy. Don't you think so?"

From the point of view of a sociologist, these answers are often exasperating, and one can easily fall prey to a temptation to find "reasons" where the natives do not see any, and call these reasons "unconscious." But such unconscious reasons cannot really account for the process of formation of these small groups. The natives are expressing an ideological truth when they say that they "don't know," that they just "like" or "don't like" a certain person. What they are implying is that they like somebody-that is, enjoy being with him-if this person is in some ways like them, if they can communicate with him from a point of view of equality, if they can exchange equally. Being based on communication and exchange, the groups are eminently social phenomena, yet their basis for existence is personal if not psychological-in other words, individualistic, which takes us back full circle to our starting point.

John's Friends: A Historical and Processual Analysis

The two members of the group who had known each other for the longest time were John Lawrence and Harvey Segala. They were childhood friends, went through high school together, and graduated in 196 1. Shortly after that, John and some of his friends organized a rock band in which Ralph Steffof played. The band remained together for a few years performing at local schools and bars. They even recorded a song that succeeded honorably on Midwest hit parade charts but didn't make it all the way to the top. Eventually they disbanded. In the meantime, Harvey had married, and he ceased for a while to participate directly in John's social life. It was at the end of this period that John met Robert Penn. Then Robert and Ralph were drafted. John married, got a good job, and moved to another town. Two years later he got a divorce, came back to Appleton, remained unemployed, or underemployed, for two more years until he met Sue. He married her and returned to the outwardly more middle-class life that he had abandoned after his divorce. (See chapter 8 for a fuller account of his "journey.") During this period he remained in contact with the people who were to form the group, and met regularly with some of them, but it was only when Ralph and Robert returned from the service, sometime in 1969, that the present group came into existence as a social unit. They aggregated into it their girl friends or wives, rejected some people, saw with regret others leave.

Thus when I arrived and began the process of my own integration into the group, it was relatively new as a social unit, and at the end of my stay there were signs of disintegration as the two unattached males moved to another town, something that made frequent interaction difficult. (During the following three years, John O'Connell married and then was divorced, and Robert Penn and Mary Segala were divorced.) And yet while it lasted, the strength of the bond, the unity of the group and of its self-definition were very strong. During their frequent meetings any mention of other loyalties, even to one's family, had to be made with apologies, disparaging remarks, and comments to the effect that one's real duties were to the group. Nowhere was this feeling of unity more strongly felt than in the process of integration and segregation, which will be illustrated by the following examples.

In the fall of 1970, when I arrived in Appleton, Elaine Schneider was a member in good standing of the group. She was getting a divorce from her first husband, was going out with Arthur, an "associate member" of the group, and was respected enough to become a core member of it. The relationship "did not work" between Arthur and Elaine, and around Christmas she was officially recognized as "unattached," which meant that she had to be "fixed up" with somebody. Harvey thought Elaine should go out with Robert because "they are both very business-minded." John encouraged me to ask her out on dates: "You know, she is really intelligent, just like you." For a brief time later on, it appeared that Harvey himself was falling for her. About this latter development, Sue said: "I hope it works out, it would be very good for both of them." All of these efforts were totally endogamous, and the success of any of them would have created no problem for the group. But they all failed, maybe precisely because they were too strictly endogamous. It is also interesting to note that all the rationalizations about why it would be good for Elaine and one of the men to go together were based on psychological grounds. There were differences as to what would make the match possible; still, what was looked for was an assumed shared psychological trait (a business head, intelligence).

Then, suddenly, the word spread that Elaine had fallen in love with a man from La Crosse whom she had met at work and whom nobody knew and about whom she said marvelous things. "I am sure you will like him," she told Sue. "He is just like John." But Sue's opinion after she had seen him was: "My God, where did she find him? He's a complete nothing. How can she think that John is anything like him?" John's impressions were: "They came to see us, and they spent two hours telling us how beautifully they got along together! Truly!!" Harvey said: "Did you see the guy Elaine has found? Who is he? He looks completely stupid to me. She is going to marry him?!!" And so on.

Suddenly Elaine disappeared from the parties, she was not invited anymore, her invitations were not accepted, and John said one day: "I used to think she was pretty intelligent. But I don't know anymore, maybe she just fooled us." That was it. It is very possible that the dislike was mutual and that Elaine's friend did not want to join the parties. Unhappily, I have very scant evidence on this point. Yet the rejection is evident. This was the clearest example of rejection I came across. Other examples include parties to which members of the group had been invited that were rejected out of hand. John said about one such invitation: "I am not going to go there." Why? "They are just a bunch of teenyboppers, and the talk will be completely stupid." From my point of view, I would say that after the third beer or the second joint, the discussion in any group did not make much sense, but this, of course, was not John's point!

Cases of integration involve the same processes. One of them involved me personally, but since at the time, I feel, I was very well integrated into the group, they have ethnographic relevance. Through a friend of mine, totally outside not only the group but also their general life-style, I met a student at the state university, Cathy Ford, twenty, Dutch Reformed, a senior majoring in Spanish. She came from a nearby town where her father was a well-to-do insurance agent.

Upon hearing all this, John and Sue picked up on the fact that she was a college student and they were clearly afraid of her being "highbrow," since she would be better educated than anybody else in the group. (It is interesting to note here that Cathy's ethnic background and her religion were not considered relevant by members of this group, while education was. Once again, this does not mean that ethnicity is not relevant for small-town conservative liberals in their twenties but that one should not systematically explain stratification in America through ethnicity or any automatic criteria such as class, job, or educational level.) What they expressed was hospitality: "Why don't you bring her over one night? I am sure it will be all right." The implication was: "You are a member in good standing of the group. If you like her, then we'll like her." This is the same discussion that had preceded my own presentation to the group, as I was told once, and also the same as that which had taken place the first time Elaine had spoken of her new friend.

I felt Cathy would not stress her education too much, and, partly as an experiment, partly for personal reasons, I took her once to John and Sue's. We watched TV, drank a couple of beers, John and Sue satisfied themselves that there would not be any problem on the drug question, and the following day I was greeted by highly positive statements: "Wow, she is really a nice girl [with both physical and spiritual implications], you'll have to bring her to a party." I did, and she fitted right into the group without any problem. I started receiving invitations to other parties specifically including her. ("Why don't you bring Cathy Saturday?") After the second or third party, it became accepted that she was my girl friend, and, in fact, this gave me a higher standing in the group.

It must be stressed that all these decisions as to group acceptance or rejection of a new member were made by the whole group. There was no formal decision-making process-a grunt or a slight movement of the body was enough for everybody to know the opinion of a particular person on any subject-and it was only after assurances had been given that a position was widely shared that verbal, public statements could be made in a definite fashion. This does not mean that unanimity was constant. For example, there were Harvey's objections to Robert; but I never heard him comment on Robert, except privately to one or two persons at a time and as if in passing. The group was close enough, its unity so naturally accepted, that opinions could be transmitted through nonverbal communication -moods were more important than words. As I will say later, it is only in groups that do not possess such a strong sense of unity that formal methods of decision making have to be used. Another consequence of this closeness of the members to each other was the fact that they disagreed very rarely on important decisions. Of course this was also a cause for the establishment of this closeness in the first place. But just as in the life of a husband/wife couple, the process of adaptation goes both ways.

Other Groups

I may have given a stronger impression of this group's independence from other such groups than is warranted. I did mention the existence of a fringe group and also of two others, the "freaks" and the "greasers," who were felt to be somewhat in competition withJohn's group. But competition does not only mean differentiation, it also mea ns communication

One evening late in my stay in Appleton, I met for the first time a young man in a situation totally foreign to John and his friends' group: a townwide activity catering mainly to established middle-aged Presbyterians and Episcopalians. In outward appearance I would have classified Jim as a "normal college type"; that is, with well-to-do parents and liberal tendencies. I recognized that he was more radical than his appearance suggested when he answered my question about what he was doing by saying: "I do nothing, I am just a bum.... Well, in fact, I have been working in a garage for the last few weeks." As I realized later, Jim was very much out of place in the conservative association in which I had met him, particularly since he was not related to anybody in it. He had been invited by a former high school teacher. It was the first time he had gone to a meeting of this association, and he never reappeared.

Later that night I drove him home and he invited me to come in. He first showed me his bike, a huge machine in perfect shape, and then we entered the house. About half a dozen men and women, apparently in their early twenties, were sitting around. Everybody was drinking wine, but the atmosphere was subdued. The TV set was on, but nobody was really watching it. The whole thing felt more like an evening in one's home in a family situation than a party. I was interrogated in the usual way about my background and apparently passed the exam. It is never difficult to do so if you show that you generally agree with the two or three main idiosyncrasies of the group. So I did not show any disapproval when they told me such things as: "There really is nothing in this town," "If we had a campus, we would burn it down ... .. We do not have police here, we have PIGS. I mean it." I accepted some wine and did not show any surprise when talk of drugs arose. I was "all right."

During the hours I spent there, people moved in and out of the house without formality, and I got an inkling of the social organization of this group. Apparently Jim was supported by his grandmother, who owned the house and let him use it. The house appeared to be a sort of meeting place for his friends, a place where -)ne could eat, drink, and probably sleep in an almost communal fashion, with most resources held in common. I heard talk of food being used by the first person who needed it, even though it had been bought by somebody else, of a pair of blue jeans that had "disappeared"-all in good humor and without apparent resentment. The whole thing reminded me of descriptions of the true hippie life. In this respect this group was clearly much further "out" than John and his friends, whose reactions were much more traditional, particularly as far as private property was concerned. Their evident goodwill and hospitality had a different quality to it from that of Jim's group, even though they obviously used the same structural parameters. When I left, I was once more given the usual-and, I am sure, sincere-advice to "Drop in anytime. My door is always open, and there is always somebody here."

Although I thought I had never met Jim before, one of his friends reminded me that we had met several months before when John, Harvey, and Roger had played hockey with him, his brother, and two or three other men, whose social position I didn't know. I know for sure that none of these men was a member of John's group, not even of its fringe. Yet they knew enough about each other to organize a few afternoons of hockey.

I observed a second example of communication. The day after my first meeting with Jim, I went to have my hair cut by John O'Connell, and he greeted me with: "I know what you did last night!" He had had coffee with Jim that very morning. Now, as I said earlier, Jim was not a member of John's group (in 1970-7 1), while John O'Connell belonged to its very core. Of course, the relationship might have been diachronic; that is, a survival of the time when the two Johns were much farther "out" than they were then. It could also have been partly for kinship reasons-I was told afterward that John O'Connell's brother "ran" with Jim's crowd. And of course they all behaved according to variations on the same ideological theme: the "hip" theme.

This is evidence that there was some communication between the groups. And yet they maintained their separate identities. Later the same day, I conducted a kind of experiment. I hypothesized that if John O'Connell knew Jim, John Lawrence would know him, too, and probably Sue, also. I met her for lunch and was told: "I think he thinks a lot of himself, but he is not very bright. He runs with a much younger crowd than we do." John talked about "teenyboppers".

Segregation, in fact, implies a certain form of communication- segregation is not ignorance, properly speaking. It involves the perception-a form of knowledge-that an alternative exists, and its rejection. Racial segregation is not an exception. Civil rights leaders are correct in stressing the importance of "ignorance of the fact that differences in the behavior or appearance of human beings do not mean differences in their moral worth." But this ignorance is a form of knowledge of the behavior of the other that derives from a certain amount of (mis)communication. Prejudiced whites "know" what blacks are and what they do, and it is because they know that they reject behaving in a similar manner, even though they may in fact end up doing very similar things. The belief that one is different and the presence of a few symbolic differences are often enough to express the distinctiveness of a group. If segregation demands communcation, then people from different groups must meet in one way or another.

The young adults who belong to the various smaller groups I have been describing do meet each other, but outside the party or evening-at-home situations that are restricted to members of the group. They meet most often for breakfast or coffee In the morning or in the afternoon. I had noticed several times that John, Ralph, and Harvey, when they happened to be in town, more or less regularly had coffee at one of the two coffeehouses downtown. I had also noticed that when I joined them I was often introduced to people of the same general appearance as themselves but whom I would never see on any of the occasions when the whole of John's group met. I thought it odd until the incident I just reported made clear to me the meaning of these all-important coffee breaks in the life of Appleton (not only for the hippie fringe but also for the businessmen) and their structural role. Coffee breaks are the time when news of each other's doings is exchanged, when the groups communicate, when one decides whether to maintain the segregation that one enforces against a certain person. From time to time, one may try to invite somebody again to see whether he can be made to join one's own group. This may lead to "mistakes"; I heard of some. And of course groups shift, often quite quickly. Thus it can be understood why somebody who never goes to have coffee "doesn't know what's happening in town," a comment I heard many times, even though, as I observed, it was rare that highly interesting political news would be passed. More often the news concerned the weather or a football game. The real news that made the coffee breaks interesting was of a different nature.

On the other hand, there were also definite I nuts to the amount of communication taking place among the groups in town. For if the grapevine functioned well between hippie or almost-hippie groups in Appleton, it did not work in quite the same way between these groups and the many groups formed by people who attended the regular Protestant churches, or between these and the fundamentalist churches, between the Protestants and the Catholics, between the townspeople and the farmers, between the merchants and the workers in the factories, and so on.

These groups generally knew about each other's existence, and to this limited extent there was "communication," but they had only the faintest idea of the life-style of the people in them. Whatever idea they had, they gained indirectly, often from the mass media. They had even less idea of the details of each other's histories. During my stay, there was no issue of great enough import to involve all the groups in the town-not even the firing of the school superintendent and what the people involved considered a hot race for school-board seats. I myself was certainly not such a issue. Most people had no idea at all about what I spent my time doing when I was not with them.

This allows for an interesting phenomenon that I will call "double allegiance." Double allegiance among adults was relatively rare. It was very frequent in parent/child relationships when grown-up children had decided to shift their primary allegiance from their parents' larger groups and from their families to a group of their own. But for a while they continued to participate as full members, I f not of the parents' full group, at least of the family.

During that period young adults often had two different sets of behavior according to whether their parents were present or absent, but they very rarely informed them of the details of their behavior when they were with their friends or of the ideas that were current and accepted in their group. Conversely, parents were a subject that was rarely discussed in the public meetings of a group, for reasons very similar to those that emerged in the opposite situation: to speak of one's allegiance to a group ideologically very different from the one in which one happens to be at the time is unpleasant and disquieting. It implies that one is not so totally a member of the group as one is supposed to be. A feeling of guilt is also often raised because one has to confess to doing things and making statements that go against the accepted mores of the group that one believes he should be accepting without restriction while he knows that, in fact, he doesn't. These matters may be raised privately but always in a context of anguish and guilt and often hostility for being forced into a position of guilt. Shifting allegiance may be possible and frequent, but it is rarely easy emotionally. It may not be going too far to say that the creation of this feeling of guilt, which may take the form of hostility or dread vis-a-vis other groups, reinforces the segregative tendencies of American groups.

Farmers and Townspeople

A sharp split between wider groups is not a privilege solely of the parent/child relationship. The necessary split between themthe generation gap as it is called in Appleton- possesses many characteristics of a rite de passage, with the identifying of the child with one social group, the family, at the beginning, a rite or a series of ritual situations emphasizing illegality (booze parties, pot, "parking") and thus separation, and an ultimate integration of the now adult" child into a different social situation that often involves different social groups, though not necessarily.' It remains that being an active member of a strong group is not simply an aspect of the ritual passage into society, it is also the place to which the passage leads. I will not spend time exploring all the adult smaller or wider groups into which the people of Appleton were organized, because the literature is copious enough already.' What I want to do is give an example of what happens when representatives of two different groups are forced to meet face-to-face because of events outside their control.

The occasion was an encounter between representatives of the merchant/professlonal men of Appleton-the "town," as they liked to call themselves-and the representatives of some of the farmers who depended on the town for services-the "rural community," as it was sometimes called. The democratic representativeness of these people could be discussed, but it will suffice to say here that the people involved felt themselves to be somewhat representative and they behaved as one is supposed to behave when one is representative.

In a more specific way, it was a meeting between the Appleton School Board and the last members of the Johnson Community School Board. Johnson Community is the name by which the northwest corner of Appleton township used to be known (Johnson was the name of one of the oldest settlers of the area). This area used to sponsor (until the middle 1960s) a one-room elementary school. It formed a politically autonomous school district that had been integrated into the larger Appleton School District shortly before. The changing demographic character of the neighborhood, economic conditions, and the belief that it would be possible to give the children a better education in a larger school system--all these factors led to the consolidation of this district into the Appleton School District. The old building stood unused, and one night it burned. The question was: Who was to pay for the removal of the ruins? Legally the matter was not clear: the building had been donated to Appleton, but apparently only verbally and matter-of-factly, with several riders. The records could be read to say that the building was the responsibility of either Appleton or the Johnson Community.

The last president of the Johnson Community School Board felt somewhat responsible for what would happen. He rounded up two or three of the members of the old board, and they decided to talk about the situation with the Appleton School Board. I happened to be present at the study session when the matter was discussed. The situation was defined by the members of the Appleton School Board as a "study session," implying serious discussion, sharp questioning, and an absence of formality, particularly in dress and outward bearing. Open-necked, short-sleeved shirts, corduroy pants, and almost horizontal relaxation in an armchair was the accepted appearance for the university professor, lawyer, high-level public servant, two well-to-do merchants, the minister, and captain of the local state police post representing the Appleton School Board. However, the two representatives of the Johnson Community, both farmers, entered the room nervous, in their best Sunday clothes, and they remained uneasy and on the defensive all through the meeting.

The opposition between farmers and townspeople was strongly visible, and there was no doubt about social ranking. The townspeople felt themselves superior to the farmers, and the latter felt inferior. Eventually the farmers won their point, but not specifically on the strength of their case, as the exchange of comments that followed their departure reveals:

"Who are those people?"

"They are among the richest farmers in the area.

"We don't really have to do anything about it, do we, legally?"

"We don't, but they have some political power. If we don't placate them, we might lose some votes on the next bond issue."

The question of political power, real or imaginary, does not interest me so much here as what the confrontation reveals in terms of the social structure. Note the symbolic differences in dress and behavior. They are all the more striking since the farmers knew beforehand they were going to present their case in a study session, and also since at their own business meetings-at the Farm Bureau, for example-they would behave in much the same relaxed and casual way the school board usually adopts. I should then emphasize the ignorance displayed by most school-board members as to the identities of these farmers, an ignorance partially understandable since many of the former were relatively new to Appleton, but not totally so, since one of the farmers was president of the county-level organization of the Farm Bureau and his name, picture, and activities had been publicized several times in the local paper. But townspeople did not generally read news relating to farmers, and most farmers did not know who the president of the town council was.

The situation was finally saved for the two farmers because of a case of double allegiance: both of them belonged to the church whose minister was a member of the school board and thus belonged also to the "town." As minister of his congregation, he was a member of a subgroup that included both townspeople (not all of whom were the "town"!) and farmers. He had experienced in his congregation the power of these farmers. However, during the meeting he remained neutral and silent, even when the tone of his follow board members was particularly sharp in their attacks against "Johnson Community pretensions." He just explained who the farmers were and what positions they held in the informal social structure of the township. In other words, he personalized the situation and thus laid the ground-work for a subjective resolution of the conflict.

All the people involved in this affair considered themselves to represent rather large groups of people. It will come as no surprise that the true representativeness of the two sets of people who participated in the discussion was very limited. The school board presented itself as representing the whole of the school district, which it did, of course, by law. As a social unit, the Johnson Community had died many years before. It never had any administrative reality apart from its school district, and this had also dissolved. 

No elections to its school board had been held in years, and legally speaking, the farmers involved had no right to speak in the name of anybody but themselves, a matter that would have been raised if the affair had taken on some importance. Conversely, the Appleton School Board, though the legal representative of the school district, was given its mandate by a very small number of voters, and, strictly speaking, it could be said to represent only the relatively small group of people in Appleton actively interested in the administration of the town in general or, specifically, its school system-a few hundred at most of the several thousand people inhabiting the geographical area of the district. Furthermore, all members of the school board resided in the town, none came from the outlying areas.

The participants were rather well aware of the complexity of the situation and operated easily on the several levels of the social structure that were involved. At the most formal level there were two school districts considered to be of equal administrative standing who had got caught in a routine conflict to be resolved in a court of law that would balance the legal merits of the case and make an objective decision blind to the personalities involved. At a less formal, though still rather abstract level, there were the two communities represented by the respective boards. They were the realities behind the boards, what the boards "represented." Then there was the opposition of townspeople versus farmers. And finally there was the most immediate structure, that of two informal cliques, powerful men in the town and powerful men among the farmers settling their disputes directly in a face-to-face encounter where the subjective factors of power, ideology, and life-style were the primary motors.

Each of the informal cliques existed directly as a small group structured according to the same principles that structured John's group: conformity to a certain life-style (public service) and shared interests (political power, a better education, the "welfare and prosperity of agriculture," and so on) dependent on an individual choice (many farmers and townspeople who could have claimed to powerful status just weren't interested). Furthermore, both the farmers and townspeople involved in the incident were powerful in what was in other situations one community. They were all generally small-town conservative Republicans in their disputes with the large urban centers of the state. At this very abstract level they were one, and they would easily recognize it.

They would recognize this unity as they would recognize that they were part of the state (and root for the state university's football team), the nation (and feel personally honored by the feat of landing men on the moon), the human race (and point out that the landing on the moon was "really" a step for "mankind"), the middle class, the Italians, and so on. But they would recognize this unity most comfortably away from face-to-face interaction with people whom they might also accept abstractly as "one of us." This is true not only of references to mankind. It is also true at the most local level.

The townspeople rarely interacted with farmers, except in shops. Even in town churches where the congregation was mixed, there was segregation. In the same way that the members of John's group were more offended if I implied that they were somehow like the "greasers" than if I Iimplied that there was not so much difference between them and their parents, the townspeople, particularly the newcomers who had moved into the town for its country" atmosphere, would have nothing to do with what actually may have made it "country." They had their church or church organizations, and the farmers had theirs.

Similarly, there were many subgroups within the townspeople. They belonged to many different churches, and within each church there were various cliques vying for the possibility of defining the character of these churches. This is why it would be a mistake to give too much importance to incidents such as the one I just reported. For the dispute over the burned school was not a small episode in a larger fight between the town and the farmers. For such a fight to take place, there must be definite protagonists. But beyond the few people actually involved in the particular dispute-two small cliques at most-there was nothing, and certainly not a mass united by its antagonism toward the other.

References to the farmers might be made by people who believed that there is such a mass. And yet if one examines closely the context in which these references were made, it appears that they were always abstract and irrelevant to everyday life. For in every day life what my informants lived was the constant shifting of communities, the essential quality of which is fluidity. For example, only some of the old Johnson Community School Board got involved in the case. The others pleaded that they had no right or responsibility to get involved since there had been no elections, and they remained on the sidelines.


This fluidity is tragic for many, and a lot of time Is spent trying to make believe that it is not there as an integral part of the daily experience. Not everybody is involved in this dizzying movement, but every community, however small, closed, conservative, has experienced the loss of longtime members due not only to death or the geographical nomadism of middle-class Americans but also to ideological and life-style shifts that strike at the heart of the original community. This fluidity is a direct concomitant of the responsibility that is laid upon the individual to create society and then to maintain it by his constant activity. For a European, this constant worry is probably the most exotic aspect of American life, since a European would probably see society as an essentially indestructible, blind, and overpowering force from which Individuals must withdraw even if this means building walls around one's house and not talking to one's neighbors. Even American society, to an outsider like me, is so obviously an infinitely strong, solid environment and so redundantly structured that I believe only the strongest input could really rip it apart. This did not seem obvious to most of my informants, who did not see their society or community that way. For them, it was forever "falling apart" and in constant need of conscious, revivalistic efforts to "bring it back together." One way to do this rhetorically was through the concept of "everybody."

When I was Invited to a party of John's group, I was often told that "everybody" had been invited. This could mean all the members of the core group or all the members of the larger group. The word was used by many people on many different occasions to refer to the same sort of very small unit. Its use was particularly striking in the context of discussions of Ideological questions. It seemed very difficult for most people to accept the idea that they might be unique or even in a minority on a particular subject. Any position had to be legitimized by reference to the fact that "everybody" held it to be valid, not only the actual group in which the position was uttered but any intelligent, sincere person. Some of my informants could literally be brought to tears if someone they considered close to them appeared to seriously disagree with them. And in cases where it was well known that only a minority accepted the idea or the form of behavior-drug taking, for example-the argument easily became that "everybody" would accept It "if they knew what it is really about."

"Everybody," then, is both an integrative and a segregative concept. When members of John's group referred to themselves as "everybody," they were expressing their unity (integration) as against those who were not members of the group (segregation). The latter function is inextricably tied with the first. Small-group integration demands segregative processes against those who just could not be invited. But there was little expressed recognition of this, and, to a large extent, references to the small group as "everybody" is a way to avoid the facts of segregation, both the segregation that is generated by the group against other groups and the segregation that is generated by other groups against the group. This is particularly striking in the rhetoric of elected governing boards.

All members of local "community" boards were elected to their position by a very small percentage of the eligible voters. The more local the board was, the less interest there seemed to be in participating in it, through voting, at least. Some people did participate. They were often informally organized into two small cliques, one composed of most of the members elected to the board and the other of the people who opposed them. The latter clique remained latent most of the time and became activated only when the board took a controversial position. Membership in the opposition clique was transient and constantly shifting, and the people who participated had, of course, not been elected to their positions. They were self-proclaimed. Both cliques pretended in certain contexts to represent "everybody," "the people," the "district," the "community." Of course, the people who had been legally elected to the boards possessed the legitimate claim. They had submitted to a rite, they had been anointed, and they were by definition representative of their constituencies.

The claim of the elected members may be legitimate, literally speaking. It is no more justified than the claim of the opposition or the claim of John's group that they were, or represented, everybody. That elected officials are rarely truly representative of those they are supposed to represent is an interesting thing in itself, and it has been noted by many critics, political scientists, sociologists, or politicians in the opposition. It is, in fact, part of the general popu

lar wisdom. But this does not deter these same people from continuing to press the claim-defensively as justification for the value of their intervention, and offensively as an attack against the value of the intervention of the other cliques. The legitimacy of elected officials is grounded in the fact that everybody can vote (universal

suffrage). The (popular) legitimacy of community groups who revolt against decisions made by elected boards lies in the argument that the election was rigged both at the nominating and at the voting stages, so that only a few, and not everybody, or even a majority (which is an equivalent of everybody, since in democratic theory majority decisions hold for all), participated.

In fact, neither the board nor the rebels are everybody. "Everybody" is probably a notion that cannot be actualized in such a diverse and complex society as the United States, or even Appleton. The persistence and pervasiveness of its use must thus derive from something other than its experiential reality. Etymologically (every body) and in its polemical use, it is a statistical notion. The evaluation of "everybody" is numerical and is supposed to be literal within the predefined population. The question: Has everybody been invited? must be answered by an assurance that each, every, and all members have been contacted and invited. The absence of even one person raises the questions: Is he sick? Are they snubbing me? And yet it would seem that the notion I's used precisely to escape the pressure of numbers since the population that is everybody is constantly being redefined so as to preserve the appearance of universality.

In everyday usage, "everybody" refers to all the people who actually participate in a community's life. The fact that the group to which this refers is either extremely small or totally abstract does not make the need to use the word less pressing. What makes it necessary Is the risk of disintegration of the community, a risk that is perfectly real at the microlevel of small groups of friends, as I emphasized earlier. At the level of local governing boards, the risk that other competing groups will challenge the legitimacy of their claim to representativeness is also ever-present. There is always a dissatisfied clique ready to mount a campaign if the members of the board have not been able to manipulate the symbol of universality successfully. This is a very difficult thing to do, particularly when there is wide interest in the tasks of the board. The members are always individuals isolated in the middle of small cliques, cut off from most of the people whose confidence they need, so that their claim to universal appeal is very weak. Most of the board members I talked to knew this.

At broader levels, like that of the town or the school district, the risk of disintegration takes a different character, though it remains a distinct possibility in the minds of most people. The town as a physical entity is very resilient. Towns do die if their population dwindles to nothing, the post office is closed, and maps cease to carry their names. They also die as discrete units if they are incorporated into larger units. But it is not this physical risk that "everybody" is intended to mediate. At the most microlevels, to refer to half a dozen people as "everybody" or as representing everybody, mediates the group in its aloneness with the rest of society by denying the relevance, if not the existence, of alternatives: outside of everybody there is nobody.

It is the same sort of risk that the concept mediates at the larger levels, like that of the town-or the "community," as it is commonly referred to in such contexts. Communities can be broken by dissension. They are broken if disputes come out into the open, when it is affirmed symbolically that a population that ought to be one is, Iin fact, many. It is important that any disputes be handled within the rhetoric of universality and transcendent unity and that the appropriate rites-elections, the use of parliamentary procedure by elected boards-be performed.