Youth (Culture) Subculture: A Useful Concept

On Structural and Functional Status of Culture in the
Social System
by Nadejda Stahovski
It is well known that the contents of a series of fundamental concepts handled by
social-human sciences is quite controversial in the works of reference. Any
dictionary of sociology or cultural anthropology would offer us the picture of the
“semantic pluralism” of such basic concepts as social structure, institute, culture
and, more recently, that of globalisation. Thus, the term social structure is defined
in both social anthropology and sociology by the term institute, whose semantic
field is not clear-cut even within one and the same school. In ethology, the term
social structure is used to designate the relationships among individuals, animals,
or groups using biological (age and sex) criteria.
Culture a concept of utmost importance in both understanding the motivation of
human behaviour and making out how does the social whole function is “too
amorphous, hazy and, purely and simply contradictory” (Veselkin, E. A., 1991).
There are several main causes to that:
Terms bearing on one and the same phenomenon have been formed in different
fields of knowledge over different historical times to meet different theoretical and
practical needs. Therefore, these same terms have drifted over social-cultural times
and space, from one investigation field to another, where they acquired different
connotations, according to school and discipline. Such semantic syncretism was
made easier by the lack of a theoretical model of the social whole integrating the
object of research, of a model acknowledged by all those working in the field of the
social-human sciences. An example is the term institute adopted by modern lawyers
from Roman law and used in the philosophy of law (Willms B., 1971). Hence it has
migrated into sociology and ethnology, adding new connotations;
The complexity of social-human phenomena, allowing their tackling from different
perspectives; causes the delusion that “actual research” would not really call for a
theoretical model of the whole, and that “contextual theories” would
sufficenamely, they would be adequate to the object. The lack of a theoretical
model of the social whole as a reference system acknowledged in various socialhuman sciences has caused differences in the languages describing the same
As for the culture concept, it has two main semantic fields, either of them having
its own scope of origin, own history and language. One of them is fed by
ethnology, by social and cultural anthropology, while the other has been
developed by theorists and historians of arts, religion, philosophy of science; by
culturologists. The first one generates many definitions (Kroeber A.L. & Kluckhon
C., 1963), while the other is based upon the general view on culture as a field of
creative spiritual activity. Yet, either field shares the tacit assumption that there
are, within the social whole, a number of phenomena having certain functions
even though the sphere they are manifest in, which is culture, is quite
controversial. However, there are some standpoints denying the existence of such
a sphere where culture might distinguish itself. They identify it with the social
whole, as a result of human activity (Gehlen A. 1971), or with creativity.
We believe that a deideologized operational theoretical model2 of the social whole
is needed, one applicable to the analysis of both complex contemporary societies
and the archaic, tribal ones, since both of them belong to the same class of
systemsthe class of social systems. Such a model would allow specifying the
contents of a series of concepts (e.g., those of social structure, institute, culture).
It would create a unitary criterial reference system operational in all social-human
sciences, as well as a basis for unifying, to some extent, the language. In short, all
that is necessary for effective communication between different schools. Such a
model would offer the possibility of outlining the content of the culture concept and
the objective structural and functional status of culture. This present study is an
attempt in that direction.
On the Theoretical Model of the System Analysis
The best in this approach is, in our opinion, to start from the system theoretical
model that S. Optner, the American systemist (S.L. Optner 1965), worked out to
solve economic and organisational problems, to optimise the functioning of
institutions and companies. There are many attempts at using the system
concepts in building up the theoretical model of the social macrosystem (Zamfir
C., 1987). The versions offered by this author need certain comments called for by
the developments in system approaches.
From the ‘60 to the‘80s, the system approaches of society were based upon the
generally abstract definition of the system in terms of the theory. As it was too
abstract, the latter proved, in time, insufficient for the investigation of structural
and functional aspects of supra-complex nonlinear, multilevel and unstable
systems, including the social macrosystem and its subsystems. Namely, they
proved ineffective in current research, to say nothing about the investigation of the
diachronic section of those systems. System approaches, structuralist approaches
(but, then, the structure concept is meaningless without the system one) in
sociology stirred up violent criticism by the “humanitarians, ” while the very
possibility and effectiveness of global system approach of society, as well as the
social reality’s system character, were denied (Schelsky H., 1970). Criticism of the
kind was rooted both in the poor knowledge of the achievements of system
approaches at the time, and in the limitations of the model applied. The level of
the system representations in the social-human sciences also caused disputes
between the structuralist (“structuralism”) and functionalist (“functionalism”)
descriptions of the social system. The present-day level of theoretical
developments in the study of nonlinear dynamic unstable systems sets this issue
in different terms. J. von Neuman’s view on the complexity threshold (acc. to
Jablonsky A.I., 1984) distinguishes between two states of a complex system,
which are qualitatively different from a structural and functional viewpoint, but also
between two possible ways of describing it. The works of mathematicians
Kolmogorov and Gödel come as a proof to von Neuman’s conclusion as to the
choice criterion and content value of such descriptions. As far as simple systems
are concerned, the functional approach is more effective (i.e., direct description in
terms of functionalism), while for the behaviour of complex systems, indirect,
mediated description by describing the structure carrying out that behaviour, is
more effective. This is a major methodological fact built upon the equivalence of
the fullness of both ways of description and upon the non-equivalence of the
length (simplicity) of description (Jablonsky A.I., 1984). Both ways of description
must, however, rely upon an explicit theoretical model of the system, of the social
one in our case.
Developments in the field of nonlinear complex systems have defined more
accurately the structure concept that had been defined, in most cases, also in
terms of the set theory, as an invariant relation between the elements of the
system. This specification brings together, and operationalizes, the structural and
functional approaches; from that perspective, structure is viewed as a
“characteristic of the inner organisation of the system which lays down its ways of
behaviour (i.e., its functions - n. N.S.) under different conditions at different times”
(Vasiliev P.V., 1994). On the other hand, complex systems, both living and social
ones, keep developing, and their organisation undergoes changes. What does a
tribe of hunters (reapers) from the Amazon basin and the post-industrial society
have in common in point of view of structure, if we were to consider Vasiliev’s
definition? The description of the structural specific features of the class of
systems that the system under consideration belongs to, is of critical importance in
rendering its theoretical model operational.
The qualitative conceptual model of system analysis, as developed by S. Optner,
enables a more accurate definition of the very fundamental structureinvariantof
the dynamic system, generally. The change of such fundamental structure can
give birth to a new class of systems. Thus, the change in the biological system’s
fundamental structure has brought about a new class of systemsthe class of
social ones. The structure concept usually associates with the stability idea of the
system’s organisation and behaviour over a fixed time interval. The term
fundamental structure is meant to designate an internal relation, invariant through
all the changes of the given system’s organisation. The identification of the
mechanism and limitations of the changes in system’s organisation (i.e.,
development) considering the invariance of its fundamental structure, is an implicit
issue that calls for a special approach.
Optner's System Model
Optner's System Model has a number of assets from this paper’s viewpoint:
It has been worked out from the study of the functioning of some social
macrosystem subsystems that can be viewed as belonging to the social systems
class. The author defines her model considering its purpose of building up a truthful
representation of the real world;
It is an example of a structural description of a functional system. But, then,
functional systems can be system-defined here as based upon the principle of the
input stimuli from the outer environment changing into output sequences enhanced
by the feedback structure. Such systems are not “composed” of elements; they
correspond to the integrality in the system paradigm (Vasiliev P.V., 1994).
The system is defined from a dynamic perspective: the fundamental category of the
model is the process. The main process also stands for the criterion to single out a
system of its environment (or, of its hierarchically higher system), and to identify
both inner and outer structural relationships of the system. Implicitly, it stands for a
criterion necessary in research for the “natural decomposition” of the complex
research object, of the system into subsystems.
All the terms of the model are rigourously defined in terms of systems, i.e., related
to a reference set of criteria of content.
As specified by S. Optner, the model is instrumental in solving “major qualitative”
ill-structured problems. Such problems are likely to occur in a system when its
structure and elements (structural components, to be more precise), conditions and
finalities (goals) are but partly known. But then, that is true of the culture
“problem.” For such problems, Optner’s method has a set of techniques that
facilitates structure detection (Optner S.L., 1965 – N.S.).
Finally, it is very important that “the one and same set of terms can be used to
describe both very large, complex systems and the very small and simple ones”
(idem). It is logical for us to infer that the “set of terms” of such a theoretical model
is also applicable to the “detection” of the social macrosystem’s structure.
The Particularity of the Social Systems
For want of the space necessary for a demonstration, we are postulating that the
social system is characterised by an ensemble of supra-individual and suprapopulation3 material and spiritual systems (tools, institutes, settlements, language,
behavioural patterns, sciences, arts, philosophy, etc.) that are processed by the
human population. They are human-made and supra-individual, meaning that
humans have created them and they are transmitted down from generation to
generation. They have appeared as having been developed as a means of
survival of the Homo Sapiens species. The systems in this ensemble are directly
or indirectly instrumental in the production of those material and spiritual goods
that are necessary as a minimum to the species’ reproduction in numbers that
would ensure its survival. (We leave aside, here, other finalities and functions of
the said ensemble, acquired and developed along history).
We shall consider the population’s production and reproduction integrated process
as the main process of the social system. Unlike the physical reproduction of the
individuals in biological systems, reproduction in the social system is ultimately
aimed at socialisation; namely, forming in human individuals, skills enabling them
to perform their processor function in different subsystems of the social
macrosystem, within the non-biological relationships. We think it useful to insist
upon the main function, upon the “role” of the human individual in the social
system. In a dynamic perspective on the social system, humanity is not an
“element” thereof. Leaving aside, here, other functions and activities of humanity
and its purposes, as well, as humanity performs processor functions in the social
system. According to S. Optner, the processor is “ the transformer of the spacetime distribution of energy” (S. Optner, quoted works). In the social system, it is
humanity (the population) that performs that function. Moreover, in the social
system, he is the source of that “free energy” that Prigogine is speaking about and
that generates destabilising and restructuring of a nonlinear dynamic system. The
processor activates the input, changing it into output. In manufacturing that role is
also performed by machines. S. Optner is using somewhere the phrase “human
processor” for a particular case of the human-machine relation.
At a closer look, however, humanity reveals its role as universal processor, as a
“processor of processors, ” since machines are specialised processors, created to
transform particular types of energy. Their functioning depends on the energy of
humanity. The processor-individual can be viewed as a multifunctional bio-social
system with several purposes that it is growing aware of (but also creates). The
number of “programs” of its activity, though subject to objective and subjective
restrictions, is large enough. The individual can intervene in the activity and
behaviour program prescribed by the controlling instances, can swerve from it, or
can act on its own program. Therefore, it does have a certain range of freedom.
But, then, the functioning of the social macrosystem and all its subsystems
(technical ones included) fully depends on the human activity. And the motivation
of the human behaviour is conditioned not only by the particular features of its
personality, including its physiological parameters and psychological trends as S.
Optner holds, but also by individual and group interests, and by cultural models as
The Structural-Functional Quality Model Of The Social
Further in this paper, there is an attempt at applying S. Optner’s model in order to
specify the structure of the social macrosystem that has developed all its structural
components. It goes without saying, that such specification can be but an
approximate and schematic one, yet sufficient for achieving the purpose of the
present approach. For his conceptual model, the American systemist resorted to
categories of cybernetics: input, output, feedback; the “black box” is replaced by
the process concept, on which there is certain information available, even if
incomplete. For social systems, the structure of the feedback control process is
materialized by bringing in notions like output model, real output, restriction,
intervention model. The process term is specified as main process.
Further on, we are attempting at organising and interpreting at a very abstract
level, the information available to us from the fields of history, sociology, and
social and cultural anthropology based upon the system analysis, in order to
detect the structure of the social macrosystem. For want of the space necessary
for an extensive coverage, we will focus upon the fundamental categories, such as
the main process and feedback control. Such an approach has yielded (Diagram
No. 1) bearing on a society that has differentiated its structural components. As
seen below, it is also applicable to the smallest (tribal) archaic societies.
Diagram No. 1
We have postulated that the main process is an integrated process of population’s
production and reproduction (Subsystem A, Diagram 1). The production of the
mass of items necessary to meet the ever more diversified necessities of the
population is a collective process. Even in its simplest form it generates division of
labour, i.e., the contribution of direct and indirect participants differing by quality
and quantity. In its turn, division of labour is system-generating not only in the
sense that human relationships are stratifying and restructuring according to the
former’s own needs, but also in that while generating the problem of the
distribution (and its criteria) of the product, it is differentiating the main process
The “solution” to this new problem consisted, therefore, in the emergence of the
third integrated sub-process (subsystem) of the main process (a2 in Diagram 1),
which distributes the product. The actual historical forms of this subsystem are
varied, and so is its inner organisation, yet its function in the ensemble of the
macrosystem is invariant. The ethnologists and anthropologists describe in their
works the profusion of the forms of products distribution and redistribution in the
archaic societies, where there have never been either “market, ” or money, or any
other objects with equivalent function in products exchange. Forms of ritualized
distribution are described also by B. Malinowsky (Malinowsky B., 1929) and M.
Herskovits (Herskovits M., 1965). Trade, as well as the tax system, etc., are
intricate forms of product distribution in societies with developed forms of private
or state ownership of the means of production. The structuring potential of the
distribution criteria (the issue needs actual historical investigation) increases along
with the number of the population categories that do not participate directly as
“labour power” or managers in the production process, and with the development
of the forms of ownership.
Diagram 1 shows the main process structure (S) of the social macrosystem (A),
where three integrated sub-processes, three major subsystems, are singled out.
Each subsystem is very intricate in the literate societies and is being studied by
special disciplines. The “normal” course of the main process should result in
maintaining the population at a level numerically sufficient for it to perform its
processor function, i.e. to survive. Obviously, the relation between these
components, which undoubtedly have certain quality and quantity indices for each
type of society at their different development stages, mainly accounts for the
social system’s state of balance. And the state of balance can be viewed as the
“goal” of any dynamic system’s functioning, as its objective finality, if we were to
use an anthropomorphic term.
In complex enough macro-social systems, such a trend towards a balanced state
is ensured by the differentiation of a control subsystem called, as far as society is
concerned, the form of power, or government. In the systems for which S. Optner
created his conceptual model, it is a question of control by means of feedback. It
is described by terms defined to the system theory, namely:
Outputan actual result of system’s functioning; the state of the system is also
considered as an output (3 in Diagram 1);
System’s output model (c1)the desired result or planned finality of system’s
functioning. Here the aims are meant as formulated by people-processors of the
control subsystem. The output model is being built according to the constraints;
Test of consistencythe comparison between c1 and 3 by applying the system’s
functioning criteria or standards (c2);
Establishing and assessinginterpreting the quantity and/or quality difference
between c1 and 3;
From this assessment the intervention model is developed, i.e., the model of
“action taken, ” of the changes in the main process or system parameters.
This coherent feedback process controlled by sequence is aimed, as it is the case
of the systems analysed by S. Optner, at changing the process under way in order
to remove its malfunctions and preserve or improve its output indices. Each
structural componentfirst degree subsystem of the macrosystemhas its own
control subsystem, therefore its criteria and standards should be correlated with
those of other subsystems and with criteria of the macrosystem’s control
subsystem. Otherwise, says S. Optner, the system will function under conflicting
conditions, which may lead to the destruction of structural connections. It seems
that “conflicting state” is rather normal of the social systems, as it expresses their
unstable character. More problems are caused by a conflicting context and some
of the major achievements of the humans have ensued from impossible situations
(S.L. Optner, 1965).
--To all structural components of this model corresponding realities can be
emphasised in the society. However, they appear in a very specific way there, not
always coherent, often functionally distorted and conflicting. This particular feature
is one of the indices of social systems’ instability (therefore, of their evolution), and
is directly related to man’s specific position as a processor in the social system.
Before outlining, approximately, the feedback sequences of a super-complex,
hierarchically organised system, in the empirical reality of the social life, it is
necessary, however, to specify an aspect that is important to the social
macrosystem. This aspect is tackled by the American scientist only as far as
control of the technological process and of the technical processor (the machine)
is concerned: it is a question of two types of feedback control existing in the living
and social systems. As to the living systems, the differentiation between the inner
and outer control is done by the American biologist T. Waterman in his analysis of
the living cells biochemical processes. Essentially, it is a matter of relation
between the control mechanisms of different hierarchical levels of a system’s main
process (Waterman T., 1968). Despite all the differences between a living and a
social system, not only the existence of two types of control, but also their
functions stand for their common characteristic: inner control activates, maximises
the process, while the outer one imposes limitationsrestrictionsto it.
The Social Macrosystem Control System
In the developed social system, the outer control functions (C in Diagram 1) are
performed by the control over the society’s functioning, through encoded
normative acts (subordinating particular normative acts), through laws,
respectively. They settle power prerogatives, the rights and duties of various social
categories towards the political power and political and social institutes (and vice
versa), proprietorship relationships, etc. To a large extent, this control is strict and
is exercised through constraint, as it is accompanied by the sanction system. One
can say that outer control ensures a rather strict coherence to the functioning of
the structural components of the social system, and control over the societal–over
the relationships among various social categories (of processors). It works out the
“output model, ” and formulates the aims according to the power politics among
classes. It seems that the outer control has differentiated itself out of the only
existing controlthe inner oneperformed through ritual, into a relatively
independent system, private property over the means of production emerged.
In social systems, the humans, the processors, the motivation of their behaviour
makes the object of the inner control. Thus, inner control used to be the first form
of coordination of the tactical behaviour of the beings that canand domake
decisions as to the meanings and ultimate goals of their activities, namely, they
benefit by a potential of freedom. In fact, the issue of the inner control is the issue
of actual mechanisms in rendering the concept of freedom operational. Inner
control connects the goal of an individuality’s dynamics to the dynamics of the
supra-individual’s system, affecting, from within, the motivation of the human
behaviour. In the social macrosystem, such types of control are interconnected,
but they can get “out of tune” at times of system’s instability. Each of them are
functionally specific and they undergo changes at a different pace.
Outer control is related to the forms of governing and way of production, while the
structure of the inner control mechanisms outlines the structural and functional
status of culture.
Therefore, what does the feedback look like in the empirical reality of the society?
What S. Optner calls output model is, in the social macrosystem a complex,
heterogeneous phenomenon somewhat historically determined, but also with
some aspects of permanence. At least three types of constraint connections
participate in its formation: 1) the resultant of the power relationship among
various social categories, their economical and political interests; 2) material and
human resources of the society, its geopolitical position, foreign
conjunctureseconomical, political and military etc. The importance of those
factors varies according to the actually-historical period in a society’s evolution; 3)
cultural models expressing the given society’s representations about itself, about
its mission and place among other peoples, about the role of the power structures
and their relationship with “the people,” about ethical norms, values and ideals,
It is about whatever relates to the aspect of permanence of the output model of an
actual type of society with very deep-going historical roots and having ideological
functions in the broadest sense of the word. Quantitative criteria hold a significant
place in the totality of criteria active in the control subsystem. A major part of
criteria cannot, however, be expressed in amounts, and is very difficult to
materialize in concepts and more often than not has unpredictable effects as the
economic, political and military developments of the very twentieth century
Optner defines the output model as the operationalised goal of the governing
structures. One of the important particular features of the output model’s shaping
itself in the social macrosystem, as compared to S. Optner’s description, consists
in the possibility of a gap between the “goals” of the systemsthe immanent trend
towards balanceand the goals of the control subsystem’s processors, of power
structures. This gap seems to be rather a rule in history and is an essential source
of the social system’s instability. The dynamic balance of a system means that it
functions under conditions of consistency between output model parameters and
the indices of intermediate inputs and outputs. However, the output models as
worked out by the “power” people both for the macrosystem and its systems often
come into conflict with the set of output models that are actually possible and
which can secure the dynamic balance for the given system under given
Such inconsistencies are causedapart from the class or group interestby the
extreme complexity of the social system: a series of constraints not perceived by
the power, or assessed according to their importance. Moreover, the output model
of the social system has too general a character, although it holds the quantity
data in its actually historical component. But, then, according to Optner, the higher
the degree of generality of the output model, and, hence, the failure of the latter in
operating in intermediate processes, the higher the risk that an intervention should
prove wrong. For this reason, the intervention that is expected to produce an
effect of the feedback, often proves to be the cause of the direct connection,
resulting in an increase of dysfunction and increased instability.
The complexity and non-homogeneity of the consistency criteria, as well as all
sorts of assessment systems, add in to the destabilising characteristics of the
social system’s output model – i.e., the causes of its instability. In real society, at
the macrosystem level, an operation of complete test of consistency, coherent and
logically organised, exists, rather, as an ideal goal. The system’s dysfunction
shows at the different levels of the system to a larger or lesser extent, while the
results of the guided interventionoften unpredictable or undesired occur where
they are expected least of all.
The condition of a fully controlled social system (where real output indices
coincide with those of the output model, while dysfunction is neutralized so that
the indices revert to their initial state) is generally called stagnation. It is in this
condition that archaic societies functioned for a long time; it seems that almost all
societies experienced such a condition over certain periods of time. In the
traditional stream of European thinking, the term stagnation has a deprecatory
semantic implication, axiologically speaking, although the criteria of progress
allegedly keeping abreast of the social system development, are quite
It follows from above that the main factor of instability of the social systems is the
human processor, as the population is characterised by an extreme and
increasing variety of personality types. The simplest proto-human union could not
survive unless it would secure itself with a special mechanism controlling the
behaviour of the species members towards cohesion, a non-instinctual
mechanism, more flexible than the instinctual one, respectively, which would
impose self-restrictions on the behaviour of the human individual. This is the
mechanism of inner control, which is aimed at preserving the system’s
functionality and, implicitly, at the survival of the population.
The Structural (Ontological) Status and Functions of Culture
The very mechanism of inner control is the one that outlines the structural and
functional status of culture. In ethnology, in social and cultural anthropology, the
content of the culture concept usually covers traditions, language, art, religion,
moral norms, customs, behavioural patterns, rituals and science; according to
certain authors, thinking styles are also added in (see Kroeber A.L. & Kluckhohn
C., 1963). All these characteristics are descriptive, empirical and redundant. Thus,
if the behavioural pattern stands for a structural diagram of a behavioural act, then
customs and rituals are but a dynamic ensemble of such acts: movements, verbal
formulae, bodily positions, gestures, mimicry, etc., having a very actual, welldefined finality. Their complex configurations are preserved in the memory of a
special category of people, or they are encoded in the sign systems. Tradition is,
in that case, the transmission through generations of such acts and aggregates of
acts. The meanings of those three terms can be expressed in one only -that of
behavioural model. It encompasses all behavioural acts of peopleboth in the field
of human relationships, and in the use of tools and objects, in a broad sense.
By the end of the twentieth century, the terms model, modelling, have acquired
meanings changing them into a specific instrument of investigation within the
system approaches, generally, and within the system analysis, particularly. With
such investigations, the model, as it is known, stands for a construct, namely, an
artefact, an analogue imitating, from the perspective chosen by the researcher,
the organisation or/and functioning of a category of objects or processes and is
used in research, to represent them. The models are reconstituted from their
phenomenological existence as a result of some complex abstraction procedures.
We mention that the model proper has such functions as: a standard to which the
modelled phenomenon is being reproduced; norm, i.e. the range-space, within
whose limits the modelled phenomenon parameters can vary without having its
identity affected (its fundamental structure); a specific way of encoding
information. The cultural model also has another major functionthat of axiological
criterion in assessing human deeds and works. The cultural model is a concept
increasingly used in anthropology, culturology, etc., while its cognitive virtues have
not been appreciated to their true value. From the angle of this work, the cultural
model term brings together all the semantic fields of the culture concept. From the
structural viewpoint, the cultural model stands for a link (a subsystem) in the inner
control of the human behaviour by feed-back, namely, a sort of output model for
the processor-man viewed as a system. Moreover, cultural models are part of the
subsystem of the macrosystem control mechanism’s criteria. This is what
structural status of culture seems to be in the social macrosystem.
The cultural model concept has a corresponding actually historical reality,
heterogeneous, yet having two main invariant functions: one bears upon storing and
transmitting social information on the form of a material or spiritual activity, as
well as on the human relationships in various fields of the social life. Along this
line, the ensemble of cultural models stands for a system of social information
codes impregnating both the consciousness and the unconscious of a given
population’s individuals. The second function of the ensemble of models is to act,
on one hand, as a system of criteria, whereby the deflections from the
“institutionalise” behaviour are corrected (by various mechanisms), whenever the
limits of the variability range admitted by the given society are exceeded.
Therefore, it is a matter of a control function. The ensemble of cultural models
covers as follows: 1) The set of behavioural models controlling the human
relationships in all the subsystems of the macrosystem (age, sex, profession, group,
among representatives of various social categories, etc.); 2) The ensemble of
models of the objects manufactured by people, as well as that of the tools and
production processes (“technologies”). 3) Language as a means of communication,
of information transmission, can be called, in a certain sense, “the model of
models”; 4) The models of perception, generally, the one of the aesthetic
perception, particularly. The form of perception varies from ethnos to ethnos,
within the ethnos, over different historical times and it is the common factor of the
different artistic styles of every people. 5) Even people’s emotions, feelings are
mediated by certain models: the medieval knights’ love, romantic love in modern
times, the obsession with sex in the post-modernist society, hatred (vendetta ) etc.
6) The existence of various styles of thinking in different ages, as well as the
content’s structural unity of the concepts and ideas in use makes it possible for us to
speak about cognitive models, generally speaking, about the thinking ones,
particularly. The paradigm notion developed by epistemology is, in fact, tangent to
the cognitive model, and to the model of thinking, as well, as it was built upon the
history of scientific cognition. The issue of the symbols and symbolic behaviour is
not covered above, as they belong to the cultural models and are related to their
inner structure, functioning and change. The ensemble of cultural models is
assimilated, appropriated by the humans along the socialisation process. From the
moment of birth, it pervades, “models” all the manifestations of their vital
activities. A certain part of this ensemble “descends” into the subconscious, and,
possibly, enters the genetic heritage of man, as it is considered by the
representatives of the social-biology current. It accounts for what A. Leroi-Gourhan
(1964) called “stylistic impregnation” of the human being, his life and activity. It is
apparent that models do not exist outside the actual phenomena they are merged
with, other than as an abstraction ensued from the analysis of such phenomena by
the humans. It is the only way to consider the cultural models as a construct.
Culture, however, cannot be viewed as an “ensemble,” only, of cultural models. It
is necessary for us to look at the ensemble of cultural models as an integrated
whole. A special examination would reveal here system attributes. Apart from the
inner stylistic unity of the cultural models of an ensemble, models of integrating
character can be singled out, such as models of cosmic, natural and social being
of man (mythological, religious, philosophical models). They are followed by
representations as to the meaning, purpose and value of human life. Traditionally,
they are called outlook on the world (Weltanschauung) and are studied by religion
and philosophy today. In the social realities, cultural models exist as material,
spiritual and psychological phenomena and acts and they shape all kind of
manifestation. This is the reason why it is so hard to define the concept of culture
starting from an utterly heterogeneous reality, where culture is ubiquitous.
The systems analysis makes it easier to grasp the structural and functional status
of culture as a dynamic whole of models integrated in the social macrosystem (the
control subsystem), such as: behavioural, technical and technological, cognitive,
communicational, informational, models of perception and feelingall integrated in
representationsmodels of the natural, social, human universe as a whole.
Therefore, as a certain component of the control subsystem, respectively, as an
objective and supra-individual reality, culture preserves and transmits the
ensemble of the social information controlling the human behaviour. It has,
therefore, a stabilising function as it is modelling the vital activity of the human
processor in the social macrosystem. In such capacity it possibly needs a special
type of system approach to be developed, one liable to bring together synchronic
and diachronic analysis. The culture of archaic societies is more homogeneous,
since the status differences between the individuals are not related to a different
way of living, but to a system of taboos and privileges of a ritualistic type. Along
the historical process, differentiation and “variations on a theme” of some
categories of cultural models appear as the population gets differentiated after its
way of living.
The development of the social system also implies the inner differentiation of the
cultural models ensemble: some of them disappear (the faster to disappear and
change are technical and technological models), some change, grow intricate (the
models of the universe, aesthetic models, etc.), others “descend” into the
subconscious. As it is well known, the longest to live are cultural models bearing
on structuring the cycle of life, as they are related to the perpetuation of the
species and welfare; models of life perception, of the world and perception of the
self. Which means, models underlying the ethnic identity. It is also here that we
find the most archaic remnants of cultural models bearing on the rituals of
passage: birth, marriage, death. Contemporary cultures are non-homogeneous
and syncretic and, as a rule, they bring together conflicting models.
Emotionally Experienced Culture
The complexity of the cultural phenomenon mostly consists in that it has two
aspects, two “forms of being”: the objective one, touched upon above, but also the
subjective one, at the level of the consciousness and the unconscious of the
human processor. The assimilation of cultural models is by no means a uniform
permeation of homogeneous psyches by some “neutral forms. ” They are full of
vivid and touching meanings selectively assimilated by different psycho-physical
types of human individuality; hence the personality is formed, and they are
influenced by its emotional dominant. This subjective emotional embodiment of
cultureexperienceis connected with the specific role that emotions play in the
motivation of the human behaviour. Emotional experience causes, under certain
conditions of social instability, the interpretation of the meanings and signification
of cultural models as a feature specific to the human psyche. Its tremendous role
in social life, on the whole, and in the socialisation process, particularly, has been
recorded by the keenest minds among ethnologists and ethnographists. What G.I.
Maltsev deemed as essential in traditional culture, is true of any type of culture:
the ensemble of “traditional schemes and standards”, in fact, of expression, is
“directed through another of its aspectsan essential onetowards complex
ensembles of latent popular representations, that do not surface always at the
level of consciousness, as they belong to the unconscious and subconscious.
Updating of the model stirs up those deep layers and is experienced at the level of
emotions” (Maltsev G.I., 1989). The emotional facet that imparts life and activates
the cultural models feeds upon the complex of individualized, modelled meanings.
The meanings (signification) are connected with the general integrating
representations, too, but also with the personal experience. As it is known, the
information encoded into the system of cultural signs and models is polysemantic,
namely, it is interpretable in essence. In small, archaic societies, the specific form
of socialisation and social-cultural control restricts or even blocks the urge to
interpret models. In large societies whose class structure is more complex,
particularly those undergoing a stage of instability (therefore, with a relaxed
control over cultural motivation) the models are increasingly interpretable.
Emotional experiencing of cultural models deepens, on one hand, the
impregnation of the human psyche, and strengthens the function whereby their
meanings are preserved. On the other hand, whenever social conditions are
threatening human life itself, it is emotional experience, again, the one that causes
swerving from the existing models, and their meanings reinterpreting. Therefore,
experienced culture shows another dimension and function in the social
macrosystem – a destabilising function. The deviation may affect a certain
subsystem (economic, of the family, artistic, scientific, etc.) of the social
macrosystem or the macrosystem itself. Under the latter circumstances, almost all
cultural models undergo changes. Models underlying whatever is called ethnic
identity have proved to be the most resistant to the destabilising impact of the
experienced culture. A considerable number (historically determined) of degrees
of freedom in choosing the behaviour, the activity, on the whole, which is
characteristic to the human processor determines, therefore, his potential and
actual capacity of swerving from cultural models. It is here, in the emotionally
experienced culture, that the creation potential, generally, is to be found: any
creation act is based upon a lesser or higher deviation of emotional experiencing,
of the activity, from the assimilated model. Therefore, it is “the ultimate cause” of
social system development. Thus, the function of the cultural model, i.e. to store
and transmit information, is merged with that of creating new information4.
On Social Structure
A clearly specified ontological status of culture and function thereof in the social
system is implicit to the social structure concept. Both in sociology and social and
cultural anthropology, social structure is more often defined by the social institute
concept. This latter term is sometimes interpreted as an ensemble of rules
(norms) of social control over human behaviour, sometimes as stable
organisational forms of human activity, built up in course of history. The various
definitions of the institute start from the meaning of the Latin word institutum. It is
worth mentioning that its semantics is based upon the theory of the social
contract, and, implicitly, upon the alleged existence of a “natural state” free of
laws, of “culture”, establishment, custom, organisation, etc. In actual fact,
however, as it is known, such a state has never existed. Since there is not, and
has never been any human activity that would not belong, directly or indirectly, to
an “organisation, ” or, would not be, in one way or another, “organised” by people,
the term “institute” is applicable to all processes and activities organised within the
social system. If we were to view the social structure as a system of relationships
among institutes, then it is not clear what kind of relationships and what kind of
institutes can be viewed as invariant, i.e., structural.
The conceptual model of the system analysis enables the approach of this issue
from a different perspective. It provides the possibility of materializing the general
representation of structure for the class of social systems. In Diagram No. 1 we
are dealing, actually, with subsystems that can be called main structural
components of the social system with invariant main functions and relationships,
subordinated to the stable functioning (provided some given values of the system),
and to the dynamic balance. Each structural component is characterised by: 1) the
type of its own main process organisation; 2) the special organizations controlling
this process; 3) the aggregate of processor-people (the “social category”); 4) the
system of rules, instructions, standards and laws regulating the technological
aspect (in a broad sense) of the process, as well as the relationships among
people, both within the given component, and with other structural components
(outer control); 5) a system of cultural models making the texture of the meanings
whereby humanity is interpreting its experience and is guiding its activity (Turner
V.W, 1983). It would be logical that functional relationships among structural
components aimed at the dynamic balance of the macrosystem should be viewed
as structural links of the social macrosystem. In the reference system chosen by
the author, in order to operationalise it in the scientific research, the institute
category can be assigned to the organizations in structural components of
different hierarchical levels of the system that controls their main processes. The
general-abstract meaning ensuing from the word’s etymology is valid in generalculturalistic discourses, rather than in the analytical ones, particularly in the
system one. The modern use of the concept of institute rather has a metaphoric
meaning in the light of this present study.
Each subsystemstructural component of the macrosystemis, in its turn, a
complex system having its own process and own organisation of the control
mechanisms. Along history, the organisation of each component undergoes
changes starting with the main process and ending with the control subsystem.
Still, their main functions stay invariant. They ensure the integrity and identity of
the social system along the ongoing process of change.
The population’s stratification depends on the concrete role played by its
categories as processors in various structural components (and in their
subsystems). Consequently, social structureor social system structurecan be
defined as an ensemble of invariant functional relationships among the main
structural components of the system, ultimately aimed at preserving, or restoring,
the dynamic balance of the macrosystem. The variety of organisational types of
societies is a result of multiple “crises,” of destabilising and restoring the dynamic
balance of the macrosystem at a different level of organisation. Destabilising is
caused, as mentioned before, by the activity of human processors having a given
range of freedom. The destabilising activity is a response of the dynamic element
(the processors) to the pressure exerted by some social or natural factors. That
response consists, in its kind, in the deviation from the existing models stabilizing
the main process. Should the control factors fail to restore the existing balance,
the society changes over to a different state, a different type of society emerges.
That does not mean that its fundamental structure changes. Its structural
components grow differentiated, the organisation of processes, of their
components and interconnections undergo changes, but its functional
relationships do not change. The main structure stays invariant, detectable in all
types of societies. Destabilising of the social system can be triggered both by
natural causes (natural cataclysms, devastating infectious diseases, etc.), and
social-economical, even “human” (psychological) causes. Characteristics of the
social system that were later expressed in the theory of unstable nonlinear
systems have been seized by the system analysis model.
In light of the above approach of the social macrosystem, it is possible to specify
the meaning of the term institute as a constitutive part of the structural component:
institutes can be called the organizations controlling various processes in the
structural components of the macrosystem. Such specification enables the
operationalization of the term institute, makes it “work” in actual research.
The Social Structure Of Archaic Societies
Diagram No. 1 shows the conceptual model of a social system that has
developed its main structural components. Can it hold true for simpler, archaic
societies? Such societies, described so far by ethnologists and anthropologists,
are societies of a different degree of complexity. Generally, they are singled out by
the little differentiated character and more simple organisation of their structural
components. At the given abstraction level, the structural diagram of the archaic
(tribal) society would look as follows:
Diagram No. 2
Control Subsystem (Ritual)
Production subsystem
Population Reproduction
S - Social macrosystem (the tribe)
A - Main process with its subsystems:
- input
a1 - Production subsystem;
a2 - Population reproduction subsystem;
- output
B - Control subsystem (the ritual)
1 - Input (raw materials); 2 - Mixed inputs; 3 - Output of the macrosystem (status)
- Flow of processors, matter, energy
- Information flows encoded in cultural
The main integrated process is little differentiated, and less differentiated is also
the control system. In exchange, it is multifunctional: the ritual performs the
function of all the subsystems in the control subsystemboth outer and inner
onein societies with a well-developed main structure. The “output model” is given
by totemic or mythological representations. The ensemble of cultural models also
performing criteria functions is assimilated, too, through ritual. V.W. Turner shows
that impregnation, collective assimilation of models through ritual is stronger, as it
is merged with a strong common emotion (Turner V.W., idem). It is the ritual
again, he says, the one that carries out the interventionthe action meant to
restore the behaviour which is prone to deviate from the existent models. The
stability of small, archaic societies (until meeting the European civilization) seems
to be determined, among other things, by this type of control, too.
The works of the ethnologists and anthropologists can profusely illustrate the fact
that two structural components have performed in archaic societies all the
functions of a developed society’s components. Also, that the development of the
social system consisted in differentiationformation of specialized organization
configurations meant to perform one function each from a functional bunch of an
undifferentiated structural component. An illustration to this effect would go
beyond the scope and purpose of this approach.
The specification of the ontological (structural) status and functions of culture
provides the starting point in specifying the content of a number of other terms.
The interpretation of the culture concept and its function in the social structure can
have methodological applicability. First, it brings together different semantic fields
of the term and outlines the ontological status of culture. Second, the specification
of culture function in the social structure can be a basis in developing the
methodology for the actually interdisciplinary (not multidisciplinary) research, in
order to solve concrete social problems, particularly in post-communist societies.
The model of the social macrosystempossibly improvedcan be operationalized
in order to provide a basis in developing average theories, and, further on, in
organizing the research of the actual phenomenon, both in its synchronic section,
and in the diachronic one. It enables the “natural” decomposition of the research
complex object, thus avoiding that the latter should be split off its structural
context (as it is done in sociology, economy, social psychology). Such a
methodology would provide the unitary theoretical basis for pooling the efforts of
various social-human sciences, with a view to reaching the desideratum implied in
R. Linton’s assertion at the middle of our century: “... the individual, society and
culture are so close integrated, and their action is so continuous, that the
researcher endeavouring to tackle one of these issues without referring to the
other two, soon comes to a deadlock.”(Linton R., 1968).
In sociology, the role term has become traditional in
designating the variation of human behaviour
under different
institutional circumstances. Unfortunately, the term
hints at
something intentional, with a tinge of artificial, of “play. ” At the same
time, in cultural anthropology, the term behavioural pattern is used,
which is, in our opinion, more organically related with the social
nature of man.
The pervasion of the social-human sciences, too, by the methods of
mathematical modelling does not do away with the following question:
“the use of formal methods only becomes effective when clear,
explicit notions are chosen, during the formalization process, as main
concepts and also as concepts indicating rules of complex
constructions formation” (Vasiliev P.V., 1994). There is a current
opinion, according to which the more complex a system, the larger the
gap between the emergence of the quality concept and the
mathematical model.
Supra-individual – i.e., they have not been created by an
individual or a population to a preset plan, but they have been formed
in a long historical process by the contribution of several generations.
Every man born into the world (and into a generation) finds them
Theory of culture as a generator of new information, as outlined
here, is crossing the semiotic concept of culture described by Ju.
Lotman and his fellow researchers. In our opinion, however, the
understanding of culture as a semiosis, as a system of texts
belonging to different languages, is narrowing to a certain extent the
scope of being of culture. It is but logical that such a vision should
lead to the definition of culture as a “collective intellect.” We believe
that the emergence of “new information” (creativity, in traditional
language), conceived as interaction of texts, as the “translation” of
texts from a language into anthers related with the interpretation of
cultural models transposed in art, religion, science. “Emotionally
experienced culture” (emotionally interpreted, experienced models) is,
in fact, the generator of new information. But, then, that level of
“subjective” culture cannot be expressed in terms of the semiotic
concept. The attempts at interpreting the image as a sign are not
convincing, yet. Besides, the “experiencing” of the models is not
confined to the image dynamics. Apart from the semiotic model there
still remains also the subconscious level of the “collective intellect, ”
without which there can be no understanding of any massive tier of
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