Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Social Activities

( Originally Published 1915 )

Social Forms Preceded by Social Action. It is evident from every side that social forms have been developed from social action. Just as the tiny clam grows and builds his house over him in the form of a shell, so each social action creates a certain social form about it. No established law or rule of action appears until first the need for it has been occasioned by the action of individuals or groups. Indeed, in most cases the action precedes its formal acknowledgment as well as the formal establishment of an institution. The social activities, like those of an individual, result from the endeavor of the social group to adapt itself to its environment in order to secure the satisfaction of certain felt social needs. We judge of the composition of society by its activities, and of its organs or parts by the functions of such organs or parts. Ward asserts that the purpose of organization is function and thus he holds that the performance of social activities is the object of human institutions.' But primarily the social activities were merely to satisfy human desire and, incidentally, permanent human institutions composing the social structure were created. After the unconscious creation of the social structures the conscious social effort appeared and under its direction the structures were changed and improved by the conscious direction of society.

Feeling and Restraint. The first general effort of man arises primarily from the sources of sensation. The sense of hunger causes him to make an effort to satisfy it. The pain of cold leads him to seek warmth by changing location, or else by making shelter. The desire for companionship induces him to seek associates. The emotions of fear and love prompt him to act in certain directions to satisfy his desires. Primarily self-interest was the only point involved, but by a process of social selection or a conscious weeding out of excessively self-seeking individuals by the majority of the group,' this gradually developed into a general or social interest. Feeling came to be modified by social restraint, which represents one of the primary social activities. The socialization of the individual's egoistic feelings doubtless was also furthered by the advantage for group survival rendered by self-restraint in the interest of the group. Even in animals this restraint has been developed, partly the out-growth of a prolonged infancy and partly of natural selection.' The instinct for the preservation and perpetuation of the individual was soon enlarged into the desire for the preservation and perpetuation of the social group. The ultimate justification of society as a whole can only be the superior advantages which association gives for survival and happiness. If association inevitably leads to the destruction of the individual, society and all its ways will cease to be. That it has flourished among human kind is a silent but cogent testimony that society means superior opportunities for social beings to live and perpetuate their kind.

While we now may look to the completed social structure with all its combined activities to find its ultimate purpose, this was not recognized by man in his primitive social activities. He went about following his natural desires and spent his efforts to satisfy his physical and social wants without any purpose to build a social structure. Viewed from the present stand-point, however, it is easy to perceive how these independent and individual activities, directed only to immediate ends, have worked together in a process which Ward calls " synergy " 3 to produce a social structure with its various parts and accompanying activities.

Pleasurable sensation arose in a state of blind, non-purposive Nature because it served to stimulate the functioning processes necessary for the survival of the creature. However, so intense is such sensation, that, unless restraints are imposed, the process which it promotes the functioning of the organism is overdone to the disadvantage of that organism. For example, the pleasant taste of food was of advantage because on account of it the animal of too low intelligence to know that food was necessary to survival would perform the otherwise rather wearisome function of eating. But if a man continues to eat just because food has a pleasant taste and overeats, he will have dyspepsia, a sign that his digestive organs are not functioning properly.

So, to sum up, in the social world pleasant feelings arising from association under certain conditions promote the formation of social bonds which make for the survival of the group. How-ever, those feelings unrestrained within certain bounds destroy their own ends social functioning hence the restraint of feeling brings about social order, and thus builds the social structure'

Preservation of the Social Group. Gradually the preservation of the individual passes into concern for the preservation of the social group. A little nucleus of group-conscious individuals begins to work as a unit for the preservation of its own existence. Conscious social action by each individual of each group takes the place of instinctive action and is directed to group preservation. The community interest in the preservation of the group is seen in the development of war for defense, where all are united in a common enterprise. Such group concern may be seen also in the development of a government where individuals are working together in the preservation of common interests. The observance of custom causes them to act as a unit and each individual who comes into the group through birth or adoption is subjected to the customs and traditions of the group and finds himself controlled, not by one individual, but by a higher power the will of the group to which all must be subordinate. His feelings and desires are restrained, not only by the natural environment, but by a newly created social environment. Gradually this restraint is embodied in decrees, laws, or rules of action which are formally declared necessary for the preservation of the group.

Moreover, in economic activities also there appears a great development of conscious cooperation. The individual primarily sought food independently and regardless of his fellows. The food supply at first instinctively and then consciously became a matter of social determination. Men hunt in groups and share the product of their combined labors. A whale found upon the shore or captured in the surf belongs to the family or tribe and not to the individual who discovers it. The field which is protected and defended by all belongs to the group, and consequently its products partake essentially of communal owner-ship. The building of the house is usually done with many hands, representing the entire group, and hence sometimes we have a communal ownership and use of the house. Although individual activity remains, group activities become increasingly important. Through this associated activity, and only through it, was man's present stage of development possible. In the course of social evolution these activities of social order and economic life expand until we now have a complex and highly differentiated form of political and economic life.

The Perpetuation of the Social Group. The love of life and its converse, the fear of death, have been the two great motives at the basis of the evolutionary struggle. These instinctive attitudes, however, are not alone in their primacy as fundamentals which explain the survival of the human race. They give rise to flight and other methods common to animals and men and adapted to promote escape from death ; they give rise to conflict with foes ; to attack of prey for food, with its joy of battle ; and to the activities which end in the satisfaction of immediate desires.

They are supplemented by another instinct necessary for the perpetuation of race, the sexual. It is doubtful whether, primarily, human beings desire offspring. But, following the desire for companionship which gradually develops in all social animals, and for sexual intercourse, the desire for offspring appears. There is evidence that low down in the scale of animal life the parents had no concern for the offspring. Yet in some species of such low forms as fishes, there appears a care for the nesting place, in certain higher animals maternal concern for the eggs and the young, but paternal concern is much weaker among many species of animals, as may be seen in the case even of cattle. In gregarious animals, however, a beginning of paternal regard is to be seen in the care which a gander and certain other males take of their females and the young. Even among human beings there is a wide difference in father care between the lower grades of social development and the highest grades. This growth in parental care doubtless developed owing to a process of natural selection and resulted in the better survival of those for whom their parents had manifested concern. Obviously such concern in most cases was of advantage to the preservation of the species. Even yet sentiment, that child of instinct and tradition, rather than reason, is the most effective weapon of appeal for the care of the young.

This instinctive concern for the offspring has produced important results in the history of mankind. Undoubtedly the child is the real cause of the home. Its long period of helplessness has caused the building of shelter and the construction of a permanent habitation. Around the child have been grouped all the early social affiliations. Clustered about the home idea we discover a variety of motives for the perpetuation of the whole group. Living together develops a tender feeling and sentiment among all inmates of the home. This is followed by family pride, which seeks to perpetuate the group and to cause it to survive the attacks of other groups. The ethnic idea becomes prominent and out of it springs national life with patriotism.

In the course of social evolution there appears, finally, a conscious effort for the perpetuation of the species. Certain customs and laws regulate marriage relationships. In some in-stances individuals are forbidden to marry outside the larger ethnic groups and also are forbidden to marry near relatives within the group, but are forced to take wives from the larger social divisions within the society, although it is uncertain how much of such regulations was consciously prompted by the perception of the advantage such arrangements gave for survival and how much by accidental taboos of primitive religion. Doubtless, however, to-day such regulations as well as laws against infanticide, child labor, and neglect of children are consciously directed towards race welfare. In a thousand ways the social group seeks to protect itself and to perpetuate its existence. It must be constantly on the defensive against external foes who seek to destroy it and also watchful to seize every advantage to ward off disease and to establish such laws and customs as will be conducive to the perpetuation of life. This social activity is absolutely essential to the existence of society and never ceases its operations in the highest and most perfected forms of social life.

The Advancement of the Group. Many efforts are made in several directions to raise the plane of living and to increase the efficiency of the social group. Among these may be mentioned all attempts to improve the physical conditions of mankind. The increase of the food supply, the invention of means of storing and preserving food, and the improvement of its quality, lead to a more constant and regular supply of the necessaries of physical life, do away with the loss of energy from hunger, and give the group leisure to improve itself in other ways.

Scientific discovery for the improvement of the material conditions of society represents one of its chief activities. Also the training of the physical man and the protection from disease involves another group of social activities making for social development.

Equally important for the advancement of society is the recreative life, the games and the amusements which were of great variety in primitive society as well as among civilized peoples. Through the ages not only of the human but also of the animal world, there has existed the joy of play. Only recently, however, has our philosophy found any justification for the " foolish " practice. At last it has been discovered that the play element is essential to the highest development and the best welfare of the community. Hence this phase of social activity is important for the advancement of the race.

Moral and Esthetic Activities. Every well-organized community has an unwritten code of moral law which has much to do with the unity and strength of society. Societies are organized for the express purpose of advancing the moral standard of the community. Such are temperance societies, those for the prevention of cruelty to animals, and the large number of rescue and charitable societies which seek the betterment of particular classes of unfortunates. Every movement which seeks to bring about a more socially efficient association of individuals and to increase the integrity and adjustment of the mass to better social ends elevates society to a higher plane and adds to it strength and vigor. Such efforts not only make for a lessening of social waste, but add to the labor capacity of the community, increasing its longevity and offering greater opportunity for survival of the ethnic group.

Very closely allied to the moral are the esthetic activities which seek to elevate taste and to inculcate a love of the beautiful. No doubt the general effect of the love of the beautiful is increased satisfaction in life. Moreover, the love of the beautiful has close connection with a passion for those social purposes and standards which we call the truth, and which work for the advancement of the race by promoting social adjustment te, better ideals, while the general effect of ugliness is toward de-generation. Here, as elsewhere, however, it is the proper use of the instrument that yields the highest reward, for the use of art may be directed toward immorality as well as toward morality. It is said that in Hungary, one effect of music is to develop a lazy emotional life, and many people have held that the excess of music in Germany, with its perpetual play on the emotions, has a tendency to destroy the power of inventive and logical thought. This is psychologically what is to be expected, for any stirring of the emotions those social engines of prime importance which does not result in action results in the atrophy of that natural connection between the emotional life and activity, and therefore in social degeneration. Moreover, it may be questioned whether the popular " ragtime " music, although furnishing recreation to the faculties, has a beneficial effect upon the community. It usurps the function of good music. It also tends to appeal to such naive and grotesque tastes that its effects soon pall. Further, it does not afford that diversification of satisfactions which best develops one's nature. How-ever, the general effect of art is to improve the ideals, to motivate the social actions of the community, and to develop those activities which lead to the study of the beautiful in nature and art and which are essential to the progress of the social group.

Cultural Activities. Culture has no standard definition, but in a sociological sense, besides implying the growth of our faculties with increased attainment of knowledge and appreciation of art, it implies an elevation of belief and a transformation of conduct. The social activities most directly enlisted in culture of the group are religious, educational, and scientific.

Of the many thousands engaged in religious propaganda, all are directly or indirectly attempting to change religious belief. Now religious belief has its most intimate connections with the emotions rather than with the reason. That gives it its peculiarly important function in society. It becomes a mighty dynamic force for social action. In all stages of social evolution it has played a very important part in society building. Religion, moreover, has to do primarily with belief and secondarily with conduct. To change the belief from a lower to a higher form, that is, from a less to a more socially efficient form, and to bring the conduct of society into subordination to a belief is the vital process of religion so far as its effect on society is concerned. Since belief has a most vital connection with action, in this capacity it is a powerful social organizer. While a society might exist without it, nevertheless it has always been an important element in the process of integrating the social life, and the periods of decline in positive belief of nations have been periods of decline of national greatness.

The educational activities are the most positive and direct agencies for the advancement of society through the process of culture. To persuade people to supplant ignorance by intelligence, to balance the emotions with reason and thus give them rational direction and control, to prepare the young for efficient industry and citizenship and to elevate the ideals of life, are the principal functions of the educational activities. It is in this field that the conscious activity of society is best seen. Through education society seeks to force its own conduct into new channels of action. In the highest types of modern society the organized educational forces represent the most universal social activity that may be discerned. They make for the unity and solidarity of society and are the chief methods to insure society's adaption to changing social conditions.

The scientific movement is a part of the educational; for while the object of science is to find out truth, its ultimate purpose is to make it useful to society. No sooner is a scientific truth discovered than great effort is made to bring it to a utilitarian basis. Science has thus become necessary to the material welfare of the human race. It is the handmaid of human betterment. When a tribe adopts modern civilization and fails to utilize the knowledge of life that science gives, it declines rather than advances. This principle is observed in the contact of savage or barbarous tribes with modern civilization. Failing to master and employ the full force of modern science in their adopted mode of life, they degenerate in the presence of civilized arts. They learn the vices of civilization while refusing to adopt the teachings of civilized science and morals. The result is social downfall. Better that the rude savage have nature as a guide than come in contact with civilization without the application of scientific truth to the conduct of life.

Anti-social Activities. As there are social activities which make for social advancement, so there are many activities which obstruct it, such as the activities of bands of thieves or burglars, street gangs, counterfeiters, " thugs," " grafters," etc. As those activities which are social tend to result in social progress, these activities which we must denominate as " anti-social " tend to destroy group life, or thwart constructive social programs. Genetically many anti-social activities must be explained as survivals of past social practices which later social developments have rendered obsolete and harmful to the new-born social conscience. They illustrate that " the good is the enemy of the best," and provide evidence that clearer social vision has rendered " ancient good uncouth." Moreover, they may point to a lack of perfect adjustment in the later social activities and inventions to the needs of the people. The saloon, the low dance hall, with all their low and evil practices, the street gangs of city boys, and the neighborhood gangs of country boys with their pranks and fights illustrate this point. They show that some social needs of the people of the community are being met in anti-social ways by reason partly of the fact that there are lacking for the satisfaction of those needs means that are socially constructive in their results. Organizations grow out of these activities against which the social group in self-defense must exert its most potent, preventive, repressive, and curative methods.

Cooperative Association. Much has been said previously in this volume about cooperation and it will suffice here to mention it in connection with the general social activities. It represents a unity of purpose and action in accomplishing ends. The working of people in groups for a particular purpose involves a large number of social activities making for the advancement of society. Here one must distinguish the immediate from the ultimate end. A group of people organized for the purpose of developing a large body of iron ore are all desirous of making an income, but the real service to society is found in the production of a volume of useful metal which will improve the material and probably the social conditions of the whole community. When an entrepreneur borrows capital, hires men, and leases ground, he is bringing capitalists, laborers, and landowners into a combination of effort for his own profit. However, under proper economic conditions he and these other beings are working together, often unconsciously, but none the less truly, in a cooperative enterprise of great benefit to the whole of society.

Such cooperation is indirect, but cooperation for the improvement of society may be direct when a body of men organize themselves into a civic league, to advance the social and political interests of the community, or when a body of women form a club with social purposes. This kind of cooperation is common and represents a distinct group of social activities. Here we approach the idea of the social mind with its concert of feeling, thinking, and willing for the welfare of the community. This is the highest generalization of social cooperative activity. It depends upon public conscience and public will for its action. Social activities in their highest forms are psychological in nature. This subject will be further discussed in the chapter on Psychical Forces.


GIDDINGS, F. H. Descriptive and Historical Sociology, pp. 67-71. SMALL and VINCENT. Introduction to the Study of Society, pp. 237-266. SPENCER, HERBERT. Principles of Sociology, Vol. I, pp. 473-478.

WARD, LESTER F. Dynamic Sociology, Vol. I, pp. 468-502, 524-565, 581

706; Pure Sociology, pp. 169-216, 544-572.


1. Show how in the early history relief of the poor in your country social activities preceded social forms.

2. How would you explain the fact that in early Iowa history laws providing for poorhouses preceded the building of any such institutions? (See Gillin, History of Poor Relief Legislation in Iowa, p. 183.)

3. After reading Ward, Pure Sociology, pp. 119 -135, supply instances from your own observations in elections, church revivals, and church quarrels, in tariff and tax controversies, in the history of women's clubs, and in the conduct of nations showing how feelings furnish the motive power of social action.

4. Describe in your own community a social action inspired by intense feelings upon which serious restraints had to be placed in order to further the success of the action.

5. Describe some present-day laws which restrain the individualiin the interests of the preservation of the group. Some customs.

6. What evidence does "race suicide" supply in support of the assertion that instinct rather than reason must be depended on for the perpetuation of the race? Point out the fallacy, if any, in such argument.

7. Make a list of all the activities in your community which have for their purpose the advancement of the group.

8. Classify the following activities : A church, a county fair, a temperance campaign, a social survey, a city planning exhibit, university extension work, a baseball game, a political campaign, a woman's dub.

9. If love of the beautiful has a close connection with virtue and truth, show the social justification of the movement for city planning, housing laws, art galleries, training in domestic science and art, and good music.

10. Explain the origin of a boys' gang, showing how that organization satisfies a social need. Show how it often achieves an anti-social result.

Outlines Of Sociology:
Social Life In General

Definition And Scope Of Sociology

Purpose And Method Of Sociology

Social Origins

Land And Its People

Social Activities

Social Organization

Organization And Life Of The Family

Disorganization Of The Modern Family

Origin And Development Of The State

Read More Articles About: Outlines Of Sociology

Home | More Articles | Email: