Mens passive adaptation to environmental systems


Emery, Fred E.; Trist, Eric Lansdown (1975). Towards a social ecology. New York: Plenum Publishing Corporation. S. 58.

For our purposes it will suffice if we can determine the kinds of responses men might be expected to make when confronted with environments that are predominantly turbulent. It seems only natural that they will seek ways of reducing the turbulence to the point where their learnt responses to disturbed-reactive environments are again adaptive. Any generally effective way of doing so implies dis-integration, segregation of the social field so that men have to cope with only a part or an aspect of that field. All such responses are forms of passive adaptation. They are triggered off by the environment. They are also essentially defence mechanisms in that they seek to negate, downgrade, the environmental texturing with which they are confronted. Following Angyal (1941) we can distinguish three dimensions of system integration and hence identify the three possibilities open to passive adaptation:

  1. The depth dimension ranging from the superficial manifestations of the system to its deeper underlying determinants. In a social field, reductionism on this dimension appears as increasing superficiality. This is achieved by denying the reality of the deeper roots of humanity that bind social fields together and on a personal level denying the reality of their own psyche.
  2. The means-end dimension of hierarchically ordered purposes, goals and sub-goals. Reductionism on this dimension appears as segmentation: sub-goals become goals in their own right and various goals are pursued independently of any o’ver-riding purposes. To all intents and purposes the social field is transformed into a set of social fields each integrated in itself but poorly integrated with each other.
  3. The transverse dimension of co-ordination and regulation. Reductionism here appears as dissociation: the average constituent member of the social field reduces the degree of his association with others. In particular this is a reduction in willingness to co-ordinate one’s behaviours with others or to allow one’s actions to be regulated by the behaviour of others.