Group (sociology)
In the social sciences
Social sciences
Social science is the field of study concerned with society. "Social science" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences usually exclusive of the administrative or managerial sciences...

 a social group can be defined as two or more human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s who interact with one another, share similar characteristics and collectively have a sense of unity. By this definition, a society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 can be viewed as a large group, though most social groups are considerably smaller.

A true social group exhibits some degree of social cohesion
Social cohesion
Social cohesion is a term used in social policy, sociology and political science to describe the bonds or "glue" that bring people together in society, particularly in the context of cultural diversity. Social cohesion is a multi-faceted notion covering many different kinds of social phenomena...

 and is more than a simple collection or aggregate of individuals, such as people waiting at a bus stop, or people waiting in a line. Characteristics shared by members of a group may include interest
Interest (emotion)
Interest is a feeling or emotion that causes attention to focus on an object or an event or a process. In contemporary psychology of interest, the term is used as a general concept that may encompass other more specific psychological terms, such as curiosity and to a much lesser degree surprise.The...

s, values
Value (personal and cultural)
A personal or cultural value is an absolute or relative ethical value, the assumption of which can be the basis for ethical action. A value system is a set of consistent values and measures. A principle value is a foundation upon which other values and measures of integrity are based...

, representations
Social representations
A social representation is a stock of values, ideas, beliefs, and practices that are shared among the members of groups and communities. Social Representations Theory is a body of theory within Social Psychology and Sociological social psychology...

, ethnic or social background, and kinship
Kinship is a relationship between any entities that share a genealogical origin, through either biological, cultural, or historical descent. And descent groups, lineages, etc. are treated in their own subsections....

 ties. Paul Hare regards the defining characteristic of a group as social interaction. The members of the groups contact each other which Ackeema Johnson calls a "regular interaction." This group also should have, a common identity, rules, structure, etc.

Common uses of the term

Muzafer Sherif
Muzafer Sherif
Muzafer Sherif was one of the founders of social psychology...

 (1916–1982) formulated a more technical definition with the following elements:

A social unit
Social unit
Social unit is a term used in sociology, anthropology, ethnology, and also in animal behaviour studies, zoology and biology to describe a social entity which is part of and participates in a larger social group or society....

 consisting of a number of individuals interacting with each other with respect to:
  1. Common motives and goals
  2. An accepted division of labor
    Division of labour
    Division of labour is the specialisation of cooperative labour in specific, circumscribed tasks and likeroles. Historically an increasingly complex division of labour is closely associated with the growth of total output and trade, the rise of capitalism, and of the complexity of industrialisation...

    , i.e. roles
  3. Established status (social rank, dominance) relationships
  4. Accepted norms and values with reference to matters relevant to the group
  5. Development of accepted sanctions (praise and punishment) if and when norms were respected or violated

Though a group can have any number of members, Sherif held that the optimal size is three persons. A group of three persons can achieve better problem solving abilities than the best three or more individuals can accomplish individually. Group behaviours have a beneficial effect thus in augmenting the group's abilities and at the same time it has a detrimental or negative effect also. This is because members at a wrong stimuli can launch into destructive endeavours, since their wrong doings will not be found out as individual wrong doings or of a single person, they have the cover of the group. An example being individuals forming a violent mob burning buses and destroying other public properties.

This definition is long and complex, but it is also precise. It succeeds at providing the researcher with the tools required to answer three important questions:
  1. "How is a group formed?"
  2. "How does a group function?"
  3. "How does one describe those social interactions that occur on the way to forming a group?"

Significance of the definition

The attention of those who use, participate in, or study groups has focused on functioning groups, on larger organizations, or on the decisions made in these organizations. Much less attention has been paid to the more ubiquitous and universal social behaviors that do not clearly demonstrate one or more of the five necessary elements described by Sherif.

Some of the earliest efforts to understand these social units have been the extensive descriptions of urban street gang
A gang is a group of people who, through the organization, formation, and establishment of an assemblage, share a common identity. In current usage it typically denotes a criminal organization or else a criminal affiliation. In early usage, the word gang referred to a group of workmen...

s in the 1920s and 1930s, continuing through the 1950s, which understood them to be largely reactions to the established authority. The primary goal of gang members was to defend gang territory, and to define and maintain the dominance structure within the gang. There remains in the popular media and urban law enforcement agencies an avid interest in gangs, reflected in daily headlines which emphasize the criminal aspects of gang behavior. However, these studies and the continued interest have not improved the capacity to influence gang behavior or to reduce gang related violence.

The relevant literature on animal social behaviors
Ethology is the scientific study of animal behavior, and a sub-topic of zoology....

, such as work on territory and dominance, has been available since the 1950s. also, they have been largely neglected by policy makers, sociologists and anthropologists. Indeed, vast literature on organization, property, law enforcement, ownership, religion, warfare, values, conflict resolution, authority, rights, and families have grown and evolved without any reference to any analogous social behaviors in animals. This disconnect may be the result of the belief that social behavior in humankind is radically different from the social behavior in animals because of the human capacity for language use and rationality. Of course, while this is true, it is equally likely that the study of the social (group) behaviors of other animals might shed light on the evolutionary roots of social behavior in people.

Territorial and dominance behaviors in humans are so universal and commonplace that they are simply taken for granted (though sometimes admired, as in home ownership, or deplored, as in violence). But these social behaviors and interactions between human individuals play a special role in the study of groups: they are necessarily prior to the formation of groups. The psychological internalization of territorial and dominance experiences in conscious and unconscious memory are established through the formation of social identity
Social identity
A social identity is the portion of an individual's self-concept derived from perceived membership in a relevant social group. As originally formulated by Henri Tajfel and John Turner in the 1970s and 80s, social identity theory introduced the concept of a social identity as a way in which to...

, personal identity
Identity (social science)
Identity is a term used to describe a person's conception and expression of their individuality or group affiliations . The term is used more specifically in psychology and sociology, and is given a great deal of attention in social psychology...

, body concept, or self concept
Self-concept is a multi-dimensional construct that refers to an individual's perception of "self" in relation to any number of characteristics, such as academics , gender roles and sexuality, racial identity, and many others. Each of these characteristics is a research domain Self-concept (also...

. An adequately functioning individual identity is necessary before an individual can function in a division of labor (role), and hence, within a cohesive group. Coming to understand territorial and dominance behaviors may thus help to clarify the development, functioning, and productivity of groups.

Types of groups

Primary groups are small groups with intimate, kinship-based relationships: families, for example. They commonly last for many years or even generations. They are small and display face-to-face interaction.

Secondary groups, in contrast to primary groups, are large groups involving formal
A formality is an established procedure or set of specific behaviors and utterances, conceptually similar to a ritual although typically secular and less involved...

 and institution
An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given human community...

al relationships. They may last for years or may disband after a short time. The formation of primary groups happens within secondary groups.

Primary groups can be present in secondary settings. For example, attending a university exemplifies membership of a secondary group, while the friendships that are made there would be considered a primary group that you belong to. Likewise, some businesses care deeply about the well being of one another, while some immediate families have hostile relations within it.

Individuals almost universally have a bond toward what sociologists call reference group
Reference group
A reference group is a concept referring to a group to which an individual or another group is compared.Sociologists call any group that individuals use as a standard for evaluating themselves and their own behavior a reference group....

s. These are groups to which the individual conceptually relates him/herself, and from which he/she adopts goals and values as a part of his/her self identity.

Other types of groups include the following:
Peer group
Peer group
A peer group is a social group consisting of humans. Peer groups are an informal primary group of people who share a similar or equal status and who are usually of roughly the same age, tended to travel around and interact within the social aggregate Members of a particular peer group often have...

A peer group is a group with members of approximately the same age, social status, and interests. Generally, people are relatively equal in terms of power when they interact with peers.
A clique is an exclusive group of people who share common interests, views, purposes, patterns of behavior, or ethnicity. A clique as a reference group can be either normative or comparative. Membership in a clique is typically exclusive, and qualifications for membership may be social or...

A group of people that have many of the same interests & commonly found in a High School/College setting; most of the time they have a name & rules for themselves.
A club is an association of two or more people united by a common interest or goal. A service club, for example, exists for voluntary or charitable activities; there are clubs devoted to hobbies and sports, social activities clubs, political and religious clubs, and so forth.- History...

A club is a group, which usually requires one to apply to become a member. Such clubs may be dedicated to particular activities: sporting clubs, for example.
The household is "the basic residential unit in which economic production, consumption, inheritance, child rearing, and shelter are organized and carried out"; [the household] "may or may not be synonymous with family"....

All individuals who live in the same home
A home is a place of residence or refuge. When it refers to a building, it is usually a place in which an individual or a family can rest and store personal property. Most modern-day households contain sanitary facilities and a means of preparing food. Animals have their own homes as well, either...

. anglophone
Anglosphere is a neologism which refers to those nations with English as the most common language. The term can be used more specifically to refer to those nations which share certain characteristics within their cultures based on a linguistic heritage, through being former British colonies...

 culture may include various models of household, including the family
In human context, a family is a group of people affiliated by consanguinity, affinity, or co-residence. In most societies it is the principal institution for the socialization of children...

, blended families, share housing
Share housing
A share house is a model of household in which a group of usually unrelated people reside together. The term generally applies to people living together in rental properties rather than in properties in which any resident is an owner occupier.-Demographics:...

, and group home
Group home
A group home is a private residence designed or converted to serve as a non-secure home for unrelated persons who share a common characteristic.-Types of group homes:...

The term community has two distinct meanings:*a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household...

A community is a group of people with a commonality or sometimes a complex net of overlapping commonalities, often–but not always–in proximity with one another with some degree of continuity over time.
Franchising is the practice of using another firm's successful business model. The word 'franchise' is of anglo-French derivation - from franc- meaning free, and is used both as a noun and as a verb....

An organization which runs several instances of a business
A business is an organization engaged in the trade of goods, services, or both to consumers. Businesses are predominant in capitalist economies, where most of them are privately owned and administered to earn profit to increase the wealth of their owners. Businesses may also be not-for-profit...

 in many locations.
A gang is a group of people who, through the organization, formation, and establishment of an assemblage, share a common identity. In current usage it typically denotes a criminal organization or else a criminal affiliation. In early usage, the word gang referred to a group of workmen...

A gang is usually an urban group that gathers in a particular area. It is a group of people that often hang around each other. They can be like some clubs, but much less formal.They are usually known in many countries to cause social unrest and also have negative influence on the members and may be a target for the law enforcers in case of any social vices
Ochlocracy or mob rule is government by mob or a mass of people, or the intimidation of legitimate authorities.As a pejorative for majoritarianism, it is akin to the Latin phrase mobile vulgus meaning "the fickle crowd", from which the English term "mob" was originally derived in the...

A mob is usually a group of people that has taken the law into their own hands. Mobs are usually groups which gather temporarily for a particular reason.
Posse comitatus (common law)
Posse comitatus or sheriff's posse is the common-law or statute law authority of a county sheriff or other law officer to conscript any able-bodied males to assist him in keeping the peace or to pursue and arrest a felon, similar to the concept of the "hue and cry"...

A posse was originally found in English common law. It is generally obsolete, and survives only in America, where it is the law enforcement equivalent of summoning the militia for military purposes. However, it can also refer to a street group.
In military terminology, a squad is a small military unit led by a non-commissioned officer that is subordinate to an infantry platoon. In countries following the British Army tradition this organization is referred to as a section...

This is usually a small group, of around 3 to 15 people, who work as a team to accomplish their goals.
A team comprises a group of people or animals linked in a common purpose. Teams are especially appropriate for conducting tasks that are high in complexity and have many interdependent subtasks.A group in itself does not necessarily constitute a team...

similar to a squad, though a team may contain many more members. A team works in a similar way to a squad.
In sociology and social psychology, ingroups and outgroups are social groups to which an individual feels as though he or she belongs as a member, or to which they feel contempt, opposition, or a desire to compete. People tend to hold positive attitudes towards members of their own groups, a...

A group to which we do belong.
It is a group that an individual
An individual is a person or any specific object or thing in a collection. Individuality is the state or quality of being an individual; a person separate from other persons and possessing his or her own needs, goals, and desires. Being self expressive...

 identifies in positive direction.
Out group
A group to which we do not belong
It is a group that an individual
An individual is a person or any specific object or thing in a collection. Individuality is the state or quality of being an individual; a person separate from other persons and possessing his or her own needs, goals, and desires. Being self expressive...

 identifies in negative direction.

Groups can also be categorized according to the number of people present within the group. This makes sense if the size of the group has consequences for the way group members relate with each other. In a small group, for example, "each member receives some impression ... of each other member distinct enough so that he or she ... can give some reaction to each of the others as an individual person." This personal interaction is not possible in larger groups.


Social groups acquire and renew their members via recruitment
Recruitment (disambiguation)
Recruitment is the process of filling vacancies with people.Recruitment or recruiting may also refer to:*Recruitment , the process of developing the next generation of organisms...

Compare proselytism
Proselytizing is the act of attempting to convert people to another opinion and, particularly, another religion. The word proselytize is derived ultimately from the Greek language prefix προσ- and the verb ἔρχομαι in the form of προσήλυτος...


Unless in the initial stages of expansion, the groups usually do not accept every applicant. One of the ways to build a reasonably closed group is to accept new members after one or more existing members propose and recommend
A recommendation can be:* In technical contexts, a norm or a norm * Recommender systems use Information filtering systems to create computer generated recommendations* European Union recommendation, in international law...

 them. Such group expands along the lines of other existing social networks. Other approach is to use existing members to evaluate the applicant, like in Microsoft interview
Microsoft interview
The Microsoft interview is a job interview technique used by Microsoft to assess possible future Microsoft employees. It is significant because Microsoft's model was pioneering, and later picked up and developed by other companies including Amazon, Facebook, and Google .-Innovation:The Microsoft...

. Member evaluation can also be delegated to some team that is not part of the group itself (like in High IQ societies). Some groups may choose to easily accept a lot of people but only leave the most efficient new members after probation
Academic probation
Academic probation in the United Kingdom is a period served by a new staff member at a university or college when they are first given their job. It is specified in the conditions of employment of the staff member, and may vary from person to person and from institution to institution...

 (discarding others).

Development of a group

If one brings a small collection of strangers together in a restricted space and environment, provides a common goal and maybe a few ground rules, then a highly probable course of events will follow. Interaction between individuals is the basic requirement. At first, individuals will differentially interact in sets of twos or threes while seeking to interact with those with whom they share something in common: i.e., interests, skills, and cultural background. Relationships will develop some stability in these small sets, in that individuals may temporarily change from one set to another, but will return to the same pairs or trios rather consistently and resist change. Particular twosomes and threesomes will stake out their special spots within the overall space.

Again depending on the common goal, eventually twosomes and threesomes will integrate into larger sets of six or eight, with corresponding revisions of territory, dominance-ranking, and further differentiation of roles. All of this seldom takes place without some conflict or disagreement: for example, fighting over the distribution of resources, the choices of means and different subgoals, the development of what are appropriate norms, rewards and punishments. Some of these conflicts will be territorial in nature: i.e., jealousy over roles, or locations, or favored relationships. But most will be involved with struggles for status, ranging from mild protests to serious verbal conflicts and even dangerous violence.

By analogy to animal behavior, sociologists may term these behaviors territorial behaviors and dominance behaviors. Depending on the pressure of the common goal and on the various skills of individuals, differentiations of leadership, dominance, or authority will develop. Once these relationships solidify, with their defined roles, norms, and sanctions, a productive group will have been established.

Aggression is the mark of unsettled dominance order. Productive group cooperation requires that both dominance order and territorial arrangements (identity, self concept) be settled with respect to the common goal and with respect to the particular group. Often some individuals will withdraw from interaction or be excluded from the developing group. Depending on the number of individuals in the original collection of strangers, and the number of hangers-on that are tolerated, one or more competing groups of ten or less may form, and the competition for territory and dominance will then also be manifested in the intergroup transactions.

Dispersal and transformation of groups

Two or more people in interacting situations will over time develop stable territorial relationships. As described above, these may or may not develop into groups. But stable groups can also break up in to several sets of territorial relationships. There are numerous reasons for stable groups to "malfunction" or to disperse, but essentially this is because of loss of compliance with one or more elements of the definition of group provided by Sherif. The two most common causes of a malfunctioning group are the addition of too many individuals, and the failure of the leader to enforce a common purpose, though malfunctions may occur due to a failure of any of the other elements (i.e., confusions status or of norms).

In a society, there is an obvious need for more people to participate in cooperative endeavors than can be accommodated by a few separate groups. The military has been the best example as to how this is done in its hierarchical array of squads, platoons, companies, battalions, regiments, and divisions. Private companies, corporations, government agencies, clubs, and so on have all developed comparable (if less formal and standardized) systems when the number of members or employees exceeds the number that can be accommodated in an effective group. Not all larger social structures require the cohesion that may be found in the small group. Consider the neighborhood, the country club
Country club
A country club is a private club, often with a closed membership, that typically offers a variety of recreational sports facilities and is located in city outskirts or rural areas. Activities may include, for example, any of golf, tennis, swimming or polo...

, or the megachurch
A megachurch is a church having 2,000 or more in average weekend attendance. The Hartford Institute's database lists more than 1,300 such Protestant churches in the United States. According to that data, approximately 50 churches on the list have attendance ranging from 10,000 to 47,000...

, which are basically territorial organizations who support large social purposes. Any such large organizations may need only islands of cohesive leadership.

For a functioning group to attempt to add new members in a casual way is a certain prescription for failure, loss of efficiency, or disorganization. The number of functioning members in a group can be reasonably flexible between five and ten, and a long-standing cohesive group may be able to tolerate a few hangers on. The key concept is that the value and success of a group is obtained by each member maintaining a distinct, functioning identity in the minds of each of the members. The cognitive limit to this span of attention
Short-term memory
Short-term memory is the capacity for holding a small amount of information in mind in an active, readily available state for a short period of time. The duration of short-term memory is believed to be in the order of seconds. A commonly cited capacity is 7 ± 2 elements...

 in individuals is often set at seven. Rapid shifting of attention can push the limit to about ten. After ten, subgroups will inevitably start to form with the attendant loss of purpose, dominance-order, and individuality, with confusion of roles and rules. The standard classroom with twenty to forty pupils and one teacher offers a rueful example of one supposed leader
A leader is one who influences or leads others.Leader may also refer to:- Newspapers :* Leading article, a piece of writing intended to promote an opinion, also called an editorial* The Leader , published 1909–1967...

 juggling a number of subgroups.

Weakening of the common purpose once a group is well established can be attributed to: adding new members; unsettled conflicts of identities (i.e., territorial problems in individuals); weakening of a settled dominance-order; and weakening or failure of the leader to tend to the group. The actual loss of a leader is frequently fatal to a group, unless there was lengthy preparation for the transition. The loss of the leader tends to dissolve all dominance relationships, as well as weakening dedication to common purpose, differentiation of roles, and maintenance of norms. The most common symptoms of a troubled group are loss of efficiency, diminished participation, or weakening of purpose, as well as an increase in verbal aggression. Often, if a strong common purpose is still present, a simple reorganization with a new leader and a few new members will be sufficient to re-establish the group, which is somewhat easier than forming an entirely new group.this is the most common factor


There were no concepts of territory and dominance to inform the theory of sociology in its formative stages. Great bodies of literature have developed on social relations, family, property, law enforcement, aggression, and others with only slight mention of territory or dominance. It was not until the 1950s that scientists in human psychology, human socialization, and animal social behavior began to meet together to try to integrate their perspectives. But the professional disciplines’ traditions, basic concepts, and research methodologies were difficult to reconcile. Psychoanalysis, with its focus on introspection, and subjective data, had become the accepted theory for many psychologists and sociologists. However, the Macy Foundation did sponsor five annual scientific conferences, and published the proceedings in five volumes entitled Group Processes between 1954 and 1958.

Territory and dominance are basic, primitive, and well studied social behaviors in many animals, including humans and other primates. These two well-differentiated categories of social behavior can be considered as evolutionary and developmental twins in that they are profoundly connected. It is difficult to make observations about one without commenting on the other, yet they are clearly differentiated. Obviously, for example, territories can be invaded, captured, or destroyed by more dominant individuals. However, an individual occupying his/her own territory does have an advantage in the struggle for possession of that territory, and is able to exert increased strengths when defending his own.

Recognition of territorial behavior

Territory (animal)
In ethology the term territory refers to any sociographical area that an animal of a particular species consistently defends against conspecifics...

 was initially identified as a physical space which may be staked out by individuals singly or as mating pairs. "Owners" subsequently defend their space, sometimes quite vigorously, and when left by the owner there is the strong tendency to return to it. Territories may also be claimed by various aggregates of individuals such as families, tribes, or nations. Each species has well defined patterns of when, and how territory is defined and defended. Nesting behavior in birds, hunting territory in wolves, or home ownership in humans are easy phenomena to identify. However, this initial definition was elaborated to include not only other human objects such as friends, spouses, children, but domestic animals, pets of all kinds, and physical objects such as toys, jewelry, automobiles, and golf clubs. It can also mean, in a much broader sense, anything that has been claimed for a person or group. This includes intangible things like areas of business, market share, areas of research, social scenes, contacts and how a person or groups presents itself.

Territories are strongly defended. When they are lost, sold, stolen, intruded on or captured, there may be in humans an intense sense of loss, very much akin to depression
Depression (mood)
Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person's thoughts, behaviour, feelings and physical well-being. Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, or restless...

, and a sense of anger. Animals also have analogous reactions, but are naturally devoid of the expressions of emotion in language. Territory is functionally related to the survival behaviors of seeking food, shelter, sex, and reproduction, but there is no effort here to establish the survival value of territory or dominance. The universal presence of these principles in a wide variety of species would seem to argue for survival value, but there is, as yet, no scientific methodology to establish either validity or falsification of survival value. Over the long period of evolutionary time, humankind has developed a most complicated array of territorial behaviors that range from personal social relationships, to possession of land, property, and physical objects. Through the intermediation of spoken and written language, territory can be extended to abstract and symbolic objects and ideas such as religion, school, value systems, and jobs. The most obvious human territorial behaviors are the establishment of a home base, and home ownership. This extends to the ownership of many objects considered as property such as furniture, car, clothes, golf clubs, and club fungi and so on. The use of the possessive pronouns (mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs) is a valid signal of territorial behavior recognized in self and others.

Recognition of dominance behavior

Dominance behavior was first scientifically identified as the pecking-order in chickens. But, of course, authority, differences in strength, intellect, and social rank in humans have been identified in literature and history as far back as there are records. The simplest marker for dominance is that one individual is allowed to do something that others are not allowed to do. This may be anything from deciding a tied vote to kicking a person out of the group, or worse. Aggression and fighting are markers of the absence of an established dominance order in many cases (this includes politics). However, in small groups, there can exist a system where there is NO dominance, if the group is composed of people who will not abide by one trying to gain dominance over the others. Peaceful coexistence is the marker of the existence of a stable dominance order. Human beings have creatively defined, rationalized, and institutionalized many markers of dominance and authority, ranging from uniforms, titles, insignia of rank, to tone of language, mode of address, the corner office suite, size of bank account, make of car, and so on, to the next new word, symbol, or innovative marker.

Family territory and dominance

The family is an available, familiar, and informative social structure to use as an exemplar of the interactions of territory and dominance. This section will explore some of the ways that families exhibit territory- and dominance-behaviors. For the purpose of exposition, it will leave aside an unresolved variety of opinions about some of the issues discussed, i.e., revised definitions of the family.

In Western heterosexual nuclear families, there is usually a preexisting bond and history of interaction (courtship or dating) between a man and a woman before a family is considered formed. Other research in social psychology has provided information on the great variations in the mating selection process; however, none of these variations contradict the basic necessity of a bonding interaction between a man and a woman for the purpose of species maintenance. Most often there is an implied intention to reproduce. Indeed, sexual intercourse is a specific, required type of interaction for reproduction which undoubtedly can contribute strength of purpose to the pair's bond. Additional strength is usually contributed by the lengthy pregnancy and birth of a child. This is not to deny that pair territorial bonds may be weakened, or disrupted by other factors before, during, and after the pregnancy and delivery. The birth of a baby creates the strongest of territorial bonds—the mother-child relationship—and is famous for affecting (for good or bad) the husband-wife bond.

The birth of the child into a family provides a clear and uncontroversial example of how many of the early and stronger territorial bonds of an individual are provided without personal selection or choice by the individual. The child immediately has many potential territories: a mother and a father, often siblings and other relatives, an important spacial relationship to the arms of the mother, perhaps the breast of the mother, a blanket, and a cuddle toy, and a geographical home. Likewise over time the child involuntarily acquires numerous attitudes: to life, religion, social relationships, sex, aggression, learning, and so on through the complicated life from zero to six years of age. Gradually the child has some choice and preference in the selection of some objects, such as toys, and some types of food. There are, of course, examples of some young babies rejecting their nurses. Whatever the theoretical and technical flaws of Freudian psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, the thousands of hours of observation and verbalizations by subjects in these procedures provides innumerable examples of the importance of these involuntary, but long durational territorial relationships, as well as the conflicts between them. History, biography, and fiction provides the public with multiple examples of the variations in patterns over time, culture, and even next door neighbors. But the basic patterns of family territorial bonding remain unchallenged, including homosexual families with or without formal marriage. Body (self) image, and personal identity are two of the most important dynamic territories derived over the early and late interactions and territorial bonding that occur within the family structure.

Dominance relationships within marriage and family are as familiar and as inevitable as the territorial relationships. Aristotle described the man as being the master and manager of his household: to include wife, children, slaves, the ox and plough, and property. Roman law specified this to include the power of life and death over children. This is no longer the accepted pattern today (unless you count a fetus as a child, in which case it depends on the laws of the local area), but not even the most unobservant can deny the existence of a dominance order within every family. Many of the subtleties of territorial or dominance behavior may be taken as "just the way things are".

Dominance patterns are universal, but not rigidly determined. Learning, culture, circumstances, as well as individual intentional efforts are continuously molding the patterns. Many women may be the overall dominant individual in the family. Some men may be subordinate in earning income, but take the leading child-care role. Most modern families will have a unique pattern of shared responsibilities and dominance, but some form of dominance is inevitable, or the family would be totally dysfunctional. The rule that a stable dominance order is required for a properly functioning group is equally pertinent to the family. Most families do not function as groups, and they are not considered as such, despite the suggestion of such in the introduction to this article.

Likewise, it is perhaps the rare family that doesn't manifest some conflict within itself: conflict between the mother and father and assorted relatives; sibling conflict; conflict between children and parents; conflict over money and distribution of time and other resources; and adolescents are famous for their rebelliousness. Most conflict is over who can do what to whom, or who has what kind of access to some resource or privilege. Conflict does not necessarily weaken territorial bonds, even though some conflicts last for years, or forever. Every social worker who has responsibility for children is well aware that an abused child will often vigorously resist being removed from an abusing mother, and will return to the mother if allowed. The same territorial principle helps to explain why some abused wives return again and again to an abusive husband.

Intensity, modification, and change of a territory

Human territorial bonds are formed by the dynamic interaction of individuals with objects whether other individuals, physical objects, abstract ideas, religions, schools, or football teams. Territorial bonds vary in intensity and duration depending on the frequency of interaction, the intensity of the interaction, and the duration of the interaction. It is unlikely that a child with a reasonable normal childhood will ever forget his or her mother, but the territorial child/mother bond can be attenuated by separation in adulthood, by infrequency of face to face interaction, failures to visit or communicate, and so on. But most people remain alert to their maternal bonding for their lifetimes. Similarly the mating and marriage bond can undergo severe dilution by divorces, deaths, and remarriages, and lack of interaction. But it is the rare man or woman who cannot cite chapter and verse about a series of marriages, or intense relationships if motivated to do so. It is important to realize that there is nothing imperative about territory. The tendency to act in a territorial manner is deeply inborn in humans, but it is also quite modifiable by culture, learning, custom, habit, time, and most of all by replacement territories. The average individual has weak territorial feelings, and a few active memories about primary school, stronger ones about high school, even stronger about college, and perhaps still stronger about professional schools such as law, and medicine. The latter schools' territorial bonding may be somewhat weaker as the individual transfers much of the territorial bonding to the profession that he or she actually practices, and interacts with on a daily basis. The territorial feeling about the practice of law or medicine can be quite strong and the territory vigorously defended. But one does not have to be a member of a profession to have a territorial bond to one's job. Many people from mechanics to secretaries and wallpaper hangers take pride in their jobs and their job skills.


Another clearly defined function of territoriality and dominance is portrayed as the span of supervision and authority, as well as the normal flow of decision-making and -implementation up and down the tables of organization for all types of organizations, military, religious, or corporate with special reference to decisions under the designations of authority and identification. Perhaps it is not too late to consider territory and dominance as the unifying concepts that the early sociologists searched for so avidly and unsuccessfully in their comparative studies of different societies from primitive to the most complex.

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