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Toward a Sociological Model of Consensus

Author(s): Thomas J. Scheff


Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Feb., 1967), pp. 32-46
Published by: American Sociological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2091716 .
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TOWARD A SOCIOLOGICALMODEL OF CONSENSUS *
THOMASJ. SCHEFF
University of California,Santa Barbara

Two distinct meanings emerge from a review of the literature on consensus: agreement,
and co-orientation.Using the second meaning, a conceptual definition of degree of con-
sensus is formulatedwhich is based on a social system model, rather than on individual
system models.Drawing upon earlierresearch,two operationaldefinitionsof this model are
proposed.Finally, a set of propositionsrelate degree of consensusin a group to the type
of coordinationwhich occurs between membersof the group.

THE importanceof the conceptof con- as a dimensionand measureof integration,


sensus for sociological theory has been and inverselyof anomie; that moraleshould
stated eloquently and often. Park and not refer to solidarityas a whole but a kind
of consensusrelatingto tasks and goals; and
Burgess used it as the central concept in that solidarityis a loose term that shouldbe
their textbook in 1921, and Wirth made an specifiedas to whetherconsensusor integra-
impassionedplea for the study of consensus tion or somethingelse is meant.The idea of
in 1948. More recently, Gross et al. have social function,too, I believe should be de-
argued (in the context of their study of fined to mean a contributionto consensus,
hence,to organizations
roles) that sociologists should not merely
postulate consensus, but should transform These earlier discussions make clear the con-
the concept into a variable, in order to be tinuing need for rigorous conceptual and
able to study the degree to which it occurs.' operational definitions of the concept of
Klapp, most recently, has reaffirmedthe im- consensus. These definitions are necessary
portance of the concept, and strongly urged not only for research which is directed to-
its furtherdevelopment: ward consensus itself, such as small group
. . . consensusshouldhave an importancein and public opinion research, but also, more
sociology comparableto that of energy in widely, in the most diverse kinds of analysis
physics-namely, as a unifying concept, an in sociology, anthropology, and social psy-
abstractionthat will includeand relate more chology, on norms, roles, institutions, group
specificconceptsand data.Light,heat, sound,
andelectromagnetism are formsof energy;so, goals, and culture.
I think,culture,structure,norm,role, symbol, The purpose of this paper is to formulate
and so on, should be treated as forms of a conceptual and an operational definition
consensus.2 of degree of consensus, which may provide
a basis for a more precise and extensive
Klapp goes on to suggest the need for
theory. These definitions are used to formu-
analytic formulations which give a common
late a series of propositions which relate
theoretical base to concepts such as:
degree of consensus in a group to the degree
... nationalism,class and race consciousness, of coordination between members of the
culture,norm,status, system,morale,solidar- group, when communicationis held constant.
ity, integration,and anomie.For example,I
believe that consensusshould be considered Some dimensions of type of coordination
(formalization, complexity, and pay-off)
* Written with the financial support of the Re- and sub-dimensions of each of these, in
search Committeeof the University of California, turn, are also delineated. Finally, applica-
Santa Barbara, and the Social Science Research tions to three problems are discussed: a test
Council. The author wishes to acknowledge the
helpful commentsby Milton Bloombaum,Herbert of the interactionist theory of consensus, the
Costner,and my colleaguesin the Departmentof study of social integration, and studies of
Sociology,University of California,Santa Barbara. leadership and political representation. The
I Neal Gross et al., Explorationsin Role Analy-
discussion begins with a review of the litera-
sis, New York: Wiley, 1958.
2 Orrin E. Klapp, "The Concept of Consensus ture on consensus.
and its Importance,"Sociologyand Social Research,
41 (1957), pp. 336-342. 3 Ibid.

32

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A MODEL OF CONSENSUS 33
There are two main traditions in the rather than the individual orientations of
study of consensus. The majority of in- the members of the group. The most widely
vestigators have taken an informal, common- known use of this tradition is current theory
sense approach to the concept. For research- and research is found in the work of New-
ers in this tradition, consensus on an issue comb, whose ABX model of co-orientation
appears to be taken to mean simply agree- and whose empirical work on the estimation
ment in a group. The degree of consensus of group attitudes is related to the approach
with respect to a statement X, by this defini- that will be taken here.6 Implicit in the co-
tion, would simply be the extent to which orientation approach is a social-systemic
individuals in the group state their agree- model of consensus, rather than an indi-
ment with X. We may call this definition of vidual-systemic model as assumed by the
consensus the individual agreement defini- agreement definition.
tion. Research which appears to have been Perhaps the major difficulty with the in-
based on this definition has been reported dividual agreement definition is found in
by Riley, Riley and Toby, Bales and Slater, the paradox of pluralistic ignorance. If we
Gross, Mason, and McEachern, and E. postulate that consensus affects behavior,
Gross to mention just a few such stud- which is the usual assumption, it is not diffi-
ies.4 In theoretical work, the individual cult to find situations which violate this
agreement definition is implicit in formal assumption, when consensus is taken to
discussion of social norms (Morris, Blake mean agreement. If no one in a community
and Davis, Gibbs, and Clark and Gibbs), agrees with a view, but everyone thinks that
roles (Gross et al.), public opinion, and everyone else does, the effect on behavior is
theory (Parsons and Shils) .5 sometimes the same as if everyone actually
The other major tradition stems from the agreed. By the agreement definition of con-
interactionist social psychology of Dewey sensus, the norm should not be in effect,
and Mead, and stresses the co-orientationof since no one agrees. But actually, since
everyone thinks that everyone else agrees
individuals in a group toward a statement,
(each person thinks of himself as the only
exception), the norm might be as operative
4Matilda W. Riley, John W. Riley, and Marcia
L. Toby, "The Measurement of Consensus," Social as it would be if everyone did agree, to take
Forces, 31 (1952), pp. 97-106; Robert F. Bales an extreme example. Even allowing that
and Philip E. Slater, "Role Differentiation in Small such extreme situations rarely occur, the ob-
Decision-Making Groups," in Talcott Parsons and jection is not met. The agreement definition
Robert F. Bales, (eds.) Family Socialization and
Interaction Process, Glencoe, Illinois: The Free
of consensus makes no provision for percep-
Press, 1955, pp. 274-296; Neal Gross et al., op. cit., tions of agreement, which may be inde-
Edward Gross, "Symbiosis and Consensus as In- pendent of actual agreement, and affect be-
tegrative Factors in Small Groups," American havior. We need a modification of the
Sociological Review, 21 (1956), pp. 174-179. commonsense definition which would meet
5 Richard T. Morris, "A Typology of Norms,"
American Sociological Review, 21 (1956), pp. this objection.
610-613; Judith Blake and Kingsley Davis, Not all work on consensus has been based
"Norms, Values and Sanctions," in The Handbook on the agreement definition. For example,
of Modern Sociology, Robert E. L. Faris (ed.), the question which forms the basis for the
Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964, pp. 456-484; Jack
P. Gibbs, "Norms: The Problem of Definition and North-Hatt scale of occupationalprestige is:
Classification," American Journal of Sociology, 70 Which statement . . . best gives your own
(1965), pp. 586-594; Alexander L. Clark and Jack
P. Gibbs, "Social Control: A Reformulation," So- 6 Theodore M. Newcomb, "An Approach to the
cial Problems, 12 (1965), pp. 398-414; Neal Gross, Study of Communicative Acts," Psychological Re-
op. cit., pp. 11-79; Talcott Parsons and Edward view, 60 (1953), pp. 393-404; Mary Monk and
A. Shils (eds.), Toward a General Theory of Theodore M. Newcomb, "Perceived Consensus
Action, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Uni- Within and Among Occupational Classes," Ameri-
versity Press, 1951, pp. 193-194. A dissenting can Sociological Review, 21 (1956), pp. 71-79;
opinion on public opinion as agreement is found in Kamla Chowdry and Theodore M. Newcomb,
Kurt Riezler, "What is Public Opinion?" Social "The Relative Abilities of Leaders and Non-Leaders
Research, 11 (1944), pp. 397-428. Riezler appears to Estimate Opinions of Their Own Groups," Jour-
to argue that public opinion is a social system, nal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 47 (1952),
although his meaning is not always clear. pp. 51-57.

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34 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW
personalopinionof the generalstandingof a velop a concept of consensus more differ-
(specificoccupation)?7 entiated than the agreement model. His
separation of "homogeneity of orientation"
Although the juxtaposition of the phrases
and "perceived consensus" as two analyti-
"your own personal opinion" and "general
cally distinct group properties was one step
standing" might be expected to cause re-
in this direction. Another has been the de-
spondents some confusion, it is clear that
velopment of a model of co-orientation, the
the intent of the question is to obtain not
ABX model. In this work, Newcomb has
the respondent'spersonal opinion as to the
constructed a scheme for showing the rami-
prestige of an occupation, but his perception
fications of co-orientation between indi-
of other'sopinions.
viduals A and B, toward an object X. Since
In the study of occupational prestige, the
Newcomb has stressed that this model is
investigatorwishes to get at the individual's
based on the co-orientation of A and B to-
perception of group opinion, but the results
ward X, and not just on their individual
are probably confounded by those indi-
orientations, and he has explicitly linked
viduals who misinterpret this intent, and
this model to the study of consensus, his
express their personal opinion, rather than
work must be taken as a major departure
their judgment of the opinion of others. In
from the traditional approach.9
the question of Social Desirability, just the
opposite problem arises. The psychological
tests are intended to tap the individual's COMMUNICATION AND CONSENSUS
own personal beliefs and his actual behavior, The interactionist social psychologists de-
but, as has been pointed out, this personal scribe communication and consensus as a
information tends to be contaminated with collective process, rather than as an aggre-
answers which reflect the individual's judg- gate of individual processes. This distinc-
ment of what the tester or the community tion can be exemplified by comparing
would consider desirable or acceptable an- Dewey's discussion of communication with
swers.8 the model proposed by Lasswell. For Lass-
Perhaps one way out of both of these well, communication could be represented
difficulties is to ask both types of question. by the formula, "Who says what in which
This would certainly clarify the respondent's channel to whom with what effect?" Com-
task for him, and might give the investigator munication is seen as the transmission of
the kind of data which would allow him to a message by the sender to the receiver,
build a more complex, and perhaps there- with the sender and receiver considered to
fore a more adequate scale of occupational be independent agents. The model would
prestige, or of individual attitude or be- work as well for a mechanical system: the
havior. We suspect that the relationship sender could be an oscillator and the receiver
between individual and group attitudes is a tape-recorder.
often an intimate one. The model of con- For Dewey, however, the sender and the
sensus discussed below could provide an receiver were not considered to be separate
avenue for exploring and representing the systems; for human communication to oc-
joint effect of personal and group attitudes. cur, they must be at least temporarilyjoined
As stated, Newcomb has sought to de- together into a single system. Dewey con-
sidered communication to be the interpene-
7 Albert J. Reiss, Occupationsand Social Status,
New York: Free Press, 1961, p. 19. Reiss is also
tration of perspectives: the communicating
critical: individuals actually share, at least for the
moment, some of each other's point of view.
"The criteria that respondents used in rating the
"general standing" of an occupation were not stan- Communicationmight be deemed, therefore,
dardized, but left to each respondent to define for
himself . . . Is it a community content? How do 9Theodore M. Newcomb, "The Study of Con-
other people view it? How do you view it?" sensus,"in Sociology Today, Merton, Broom, and
(p. 22). Cottrell (eds.), New York: Basic Books, 1959, pp.
8 Allen L. Edwards, The Social Desirability 277-292. See also the treatmentof social norms in
Dimensionin PersonalityAssessmentand Research, Newcomb et al., Social Psychology, New York:
New York: Dryden Press, 1957. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965, Chap. 8.

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A MODELOF CONSENSUS 35
a type of "mind reading." Each person and that consensus, in turn, is a product of
knows what the other is thinking; they are communication.
engaged in joint thought about an object.10 Implicit in this tradition is a theory of
Using the concept of role-taking, Mead social coordination. Flexible coordination
suggested how such mind reading might take (coordination in situations in which there
place. As described by Mead, role-taking is are no rigid rules which allow for the fitting
a sequential, self-correcting process through together of individual lines of action into a
which one individual can experience an- collective act) is made possible by consensus,
other's subjective state to any required de- which in turn is made possible by commu-
gree of approximation." The sequence starts nication.'5 One serious limitation of this
with the projection of some of one's own theory is that it assumes that actors want
experience onto the other, hypothesizing to coordinate their lines of activity, and that
what gestures one would use that would cor- the only obstacle is the problem of articulat-
respond with this experience, perceiving the ing their actions with others. In other words,
gestures of the other that actually occur, the interactionist social psychologists (and
reformulating the hypothesized experience most other sociological theorists, as well)
to project, searching again for the corre- have dealt only with the case where motiva-
sponding gestures, reformulationof the sec- tion for coordination is high. The theory
ond hypothesis on the basis of the actual fails to deal with situations where motiva-
gestures perceived, and so on indefinitely in tion is low or absent. It also does not deal
a cycle of hypothesis-checkingwhich allows with another important contingency. Even
for the successive approximation of the if motivation is high, it may be high be-
other's experience. cause of threat of punishment, i.e., the moti-
Correspondingclosely to the Mead-Dewey vation may not be intrinsic to the goal of the
formulation of consensus and communica- transaction, but based on the superiorpower
tion is the Schutz-Scheler concept of inter- of the other.'6 A general theory of coordi-
subjectivity: the joint consciousnessof com- nation must deal not only with the situation
municating individuals.'2 Also related is in which the motivation to coordinateis high
Durkheim's concept of the collective con- and intrinsic but also with the situations in
sciousness, which will be discussed further which motivation is low or absent, and/or
after we have introduced the idea of tacit based on threat of punishment.'7The limita-
coordination.'3 tion of this paper to intrinsically motivated
Schelling'swork on tacit coordinationwill social situations should be kept in mind.
be discussed as a final example of the tradi- The conjunction of coordination, con-
tion of co-orientation in the study of con- sensus, and communicationis neatly caught
sensus.'4 The basic proposition in this tradi- in Schelling's consideration of tacit coordi-
tion is that the necessity of social coordina- nation. A person in a position in which he
tion gives rise to the seeking of consensus, must coordinatehis own line of activity with
another will engage in attempts to read the
10 John Dewey, Experience and Nature, New
other's mind by interpreting communicative
York: Dover, 1958, Chapter 5. A recent illustration
of the process of "mind reading" can be found on
acts. At times, Schelling argues, such proc-
pp. 227-228 in Harold Garfinkel, "Studies of the esses are successful; co-orientation may
Routine Grounds of Everyday Activities," Social occur even if there is no direct communi-
Problems, 11 (1964), pp. 225-250. cation. There is instead a "conversation of
11 George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self and Society,
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934.
gestures":
12 A discussion of Scheler's concept of intersub-
jectivity is found in Alfred Schutz, Collected 15 For a consideration of this theory, see the
Papers, M. Natanson (ed.), The Hague: Martinus author's paper "A Theory of Coordination Applic-
Nijhoff, 1962. able to Experimental Games" (in press).
153Emile Durkheim, Sociology and Philosophy, 16 Cf. I. L. Horowitz, "Consensus, Conflict, and
in George Simpson, Emile Durkheim, New York: Cooperation: A Sociological Inventory." Social
Thomas Y. Crowell, 1963, pp. 18-21. Forces, 41 (1962), pp. 177-188.
14Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Con- 17 For further development of this problem, see
flict, New York: Oxford University Press, 1963, the author's "A Theory of Social Order," (in
pp. 54-67. preparation).

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36 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW
If the Yalu River is to be viewed as a limit Once a basic numberof representationshas
in the KoreanWar that was recognizedon been thus created, they become . . . partially
both sides, its force and authorityis to be autonomousrealities,with their own way of
analysednot in terms of the joint unilateral life.
recognitionof it by both sides of the conflict
-not as somethingthat we and the Chinese Durkheim insists that collective conscious-
recognizedunilaterallyand simultaneously- ness is more than the sum of individual
but as somethingthat we "mutuallyrecog- consciousnesses,that it has a life of its own,
nized."It was not just that we recognizedit
and they recognizedit, but that we recog- yet he gives no explanation of how indi-
nizedthat they recognizedit, they recognized vidual consciousnesses (in "association")
that we recognizedit, we recognizedthat they become group consciousness. Durkheim
recognizedthat we recognizedit, and so on. leaves us not with a theory but an enigma.
It was a sharedexpectation.To that extent,
it was a somewhatundeniableexpectation.If It is possible that the example that
it commandsour attention, then we expect Schelling uses will allow us to resolve
it to be observedand we expect the Chinese Durkheim's paradox. Note that Schelling
to expect us to observe it. We cannot uni- allows for still higher orders of mutual
laterallydetach our expectationsfrom it. In understanding ("and so on"). This allow-
that sense limits and precedentsand tradi-
tions of this kind have an authoritythat is ance gives Durkheimian force to Schelling's
not exactly grantedto them voluntarilyby final sentences.
the participantsin a conflict. They acquire In that sense limits and precedentsand tradi-
magnetismor focal power of their own.18 tions of this kind have an authoritythat is
not exactly granted to them voluntarilyby
What is particularlyinstructive about this the participantsin a conflict. They acquire
example is that it suggests higher orders of magnetismor focal powerof their own.
co-orientation than the simple perception of
the other's feelings.'9 If we call agreement It seems that this is just the sense that
the zero level of co-orientation, then percep- Durkheim intended for his statement about
tion of the other's feeling ("we recognized the exteriority and constraint of social facts.
that they recognized it") is first-level co- The collective representations are felt as
orientation, and perception of the other's powerful exterior constraints because each
perception ("we recognized that they recog- individual agrees, recognizes that his neigh-
nized that we recognized it") is the second- bors agree, that they each recognize that he
level of co-orientation. agrees, that he recognizes they recognize,
Having introduced the higher orders of and so on indefinitely. Although he agrees
co-orientation,we may now return to Durk- (or disagrees) with the sentiment, it is also
heim. For Durkheim, collective representa- something beyond his power to change, or
tions were the fundamental building blocks even completely explore. The potentially
of society. Yet there is a paradox in his endless mirror reflections of each of the
formulations. others' recognitions is felt as something
utterly final. From this formulation it fol-
Collectiverepresentationsare exteriorto in- lows that each actor feels the presence of
dividual minds . . . they do not derive from
them as such, but from the associationof the collective representationwith a sense of
minds, which is a very differentthing. exteriority and constraint, even if he, as an
individual, is himself wholeheartedly dedi-
He goes on to say: cated or opposed to the representation.
A process similar to the mirroring dis-
18 Thomas C. Schelling, Toward a Theory of
cussed above is suggested by Schutz's con-
Strategy for International Conflict, Rand Pub-
lication P-1648, pp. 40-41. Schelling develops cept of "the reciprocity of perspectives."20
further the idea of tacit coordination in The The similarity is clearly seen in Garfinkel's
Strategy of Conflict,op. cit., especiallychap. 4. explication of the concept of "background
19For a discussion of the process of reflected, understandings."
reciprocatingattribution,see P. H. Maucorpsand
Rene Bassoul, "Jeux de Miroir et Sociologie de Accordingto Schutz,the personassumes,as-
la ConnaissanceD'Autrui,"(The MirrorGame and sumesthat the other personassumesas well,
the Sociology of Knowledgeof the Other) Cahiers and assumes that as he assumes it of the
InternationauxSociologie, 32 (1962), pp. 43-60.
Arturo Biblarz called this paper to my attention. 20 Schutz, op. cit., pp. 11-13.

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A MODEL OF CONSENSUS 37
other person the other person assumes the Lee. They have developed a technique for
samefor him.21 measuring three levels of co-orientation be-
tween marital couples, which they call agree-
The paper from which the quotation is
ment, understanding, and realization.22At
taken is concerned, for the most part, with
the first level the pair, interviewed sepa-
reporting studies which illustrate back-
rately, simply give the same response to an
ground understandings in ordinary social
issue. For example, the issue may be the
transactions.The concept of backgroundun-
following statement: "Mary is dependent on
derstandings would appear to correspondto
John." If Mary and John express agree-
what is referred to in this paper as the issue ment with this statement independently,
(X) about which consensus may occur. The
they agree. The second question is to ask
first three levels of co-orientations are ex-
each how the other would answer the ques-
plicit in Garfinkel's description of back-
tion. If John answers that Mary will agree,
ground understandings.The present formu-
and in fact she does agree, John understands
lation differs from his description in that it
Mary on this issue. If John's guess does not
posits still higher orders.
agree with Mary's actual answer, then he
It is not necessary for the actor to actu- misunderstands Mary. The third and final
ally explore the degrees of co-orientation level is called realization. The operational
higher than the second or third to be aware index of realization (for John) is contained
of the massiveness of a collective represen- in the question: How will Mary think you
tation. Just as in the endless chain of reflec-
will have answered this question? If John
tions in two opposing mirrors, the details
correctly judged how Mary thinks he has
that are reflected coalesce, after a few reflec-
answered the question, then John realizes
tions, into a formless blur, so the actor can that he is understood by Mary. If he does
feel the weight of the collective representa- not, he fails to realize that he is understood.
tion, without necessarily making a detailed,
Laing, Phillipson and Lee use a shorthand
level-by-level examination of its form and
notation for characterizing the profile of
extent.
mutuality between the marital pair. Allow-
This discussion leads us finally to a formal A to stand for agreement, D for disagree-
definition of a social system model of con-
ment, U for understanding, M for misun-
sensus: complete consensus on an issue exists
derstanding,R for realization,and F for fail-
in a group when there is an infinite series
ure to realize, then the profile (R U A U R)
of reciprocatingunderstandingsbetween the means that the husband and the wife agree
members of the group concerning the issue.
and that each understands and realizes that
I know that you know that I know, and so he is understood. Similarly, (F M D M F)
on. This is the definition of complete con- means that husband and wife disagree and
sensus. In actual research, one might find it each misunderstandsand fails to realize that
difficult to locate a single example of such he is misunderstood. The profile, husband
complete consensus, and of demonstrating (F M A U R), wife, is indicative of unila-
that it occurredif one did find it. For actual teral understanding. The husband and the
situations, one can derive various degrees
wife agree, but the husband thinks that they
of partial consensus, depending upon the
disagree and fails to realize that he is un-
level of co-orientation achieved. The zero
derstood. The wife, however, understands
level would represent agreement, but not that they agree, and realizes that she is
consensus. The first level (Newcomb's per-
misunderstood. The Laing technique may
ceived consensus), would be a first degree be used as a basis for the study of consensus
consensus, the second level (we recognized
by generalizing it to groups of any size, and
that they recognized that we recognized)
to co-orientation at any desired level. Two
a second degree consensus, and so on.
somewhat different techniques are relevant
If we accept this definition of consensus,
to this task: the measurement of accuracy
if only for discussion, the next problem is
to operationalizeit. Very suggestive for this 22Ronald Laing, H. Phillipson, and A. Russell
purpose is the work of Laing, Phillipson and Lee, InterpersonalPerception: A Theory and a
Method of Research, New York: Springer, 1966,
21 Garfinkel,op. cit., p. 237. Chapter5.

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38 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW
of role-taking developed by Stryker, and definite index presents some difficulty.A sim-
the measurementof perceived consensus, as ple majority means one thing, for example,
used by Newcomb.23Stryker's technique is when there is a large unified minority, and
the more elegant of the two, and will be another when the minority is composed of
discussed first. a set of competing opinions and/or apathetic
Stryker measuredthe amount of first level responses. The level of two-thirds would
co-orientation among persons in eight sta- have little support other than American
tuses in the extended family: son, daughter, legislative practice. Unanimity would ap-
father, mother, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, pear to be too stringent a requirement.
father-in-law, and mother-in-law. He asked Perhaps a successful resolution of the
each person to judge the answers given by problem of the index level for consensus re-
two other persons in his family to a twenty- quires two or more dimensions, rather than
item questionnaire on family ideology. The the single dimension of size of plurality. It
statuses of the target persons are randomly would seem logical to include both the num-
changed and an analysis of variance design ber and the size of modes in the distribution
is used. Since Stryker asked his respondents of opinion in a refined index of consensus.
to judge the answers of particular other Since the definition suggested here in-
people (for example, a respondent's wife volves some complexity even with a single
and father-in-law), the Laing technique is dimension of agreement based on proportion
directly applicable. If we measured the first alone, the question of further dimensions of
three levels of co-orientationusing the Stry- the agreement index will be postponed. For
ker design, the results would be profiles of the present, to advance the argument, I
inter-status consensus in the family, similar would like to designate the index level as
to those obtained by Laing on inter-person the majority. Choosing the majority as in-
consensus. What makes Stryker's design dicative of agreement is not a completely
promising is that it enables the researcher arbitrary decision because it represents the
to make a variable of relationships between situation in which the actor will be right
persons. For example, one could compare more times than he is wrong in acting on
the amount of consensus existing between the basis of his expectations.
spouses, as against the amount of consensus To use a simplified example to illustrate
existing between parents and children. The this approach, suppose in a survey we ask
significance of this kind of comparison will two questions: (1) Do you agree or dis-
be discussedbelow. agree with the following statement, "There
The other technique, similar to that used is a God"? (2) How will the average per-
by Newcomb in his studies of perceived son answer this question? The results can
consensus, is to ask the respondentsto judge be most easily visualized in a four-fold
the opinion not of particular persons but of table.
particular groups. In order to utilize the At this point it may be useful to introduce
Laing technique, it is necessary to decide a slight change in the Laing procedure con-
at what level of plurality an opinion will be cerning the meaning of agreement, as noted
designated as characteristic of the group. in Table 1. For Laing, agreement means
Previous writers have been reluctant to set
some specific level of agreement as an index TABLE 1.
of normative consensus. Although there ap-
pears to be agreement that this level should Majority
fall somewhere between (or including) a Majority Understands Misunderstands
simple majority, at the one extreme, and
Agrees (with the UA MA
complete unanimity, at the other, fixing a Monolithic Pluralistic
statement X)
Consensus Ignorance
23 Sheldon Stryker, "Conditions for Accurate (1st degree)
Role-Taking: A Test of Mead's Theory," in Arnold Does not agree UD MD
Rose (ed.), Human Behavior and Social Processes, Dissensus False
Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1962, pp. 41-62; Monk
(1st degree) Consensus
and Newcomb, op. cit., and Chowdry and New-
comb, op. cit.

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A MODEL OF CONSENSUS 39
TABLE 2.

Majority Realization Failure to Realize


Understands Misunderstands Understands Misunderstands
Agrees (with the RUA(UR) RMA(MR) FUA(UF) FMA(MF)
statement X) Monolithic Realized Monolithic Pluralistic
Consensus Pluralistic Consensus Ignorance
(2nd degree) Ignorance (1st degree)
Does not agree (with RUD(UR) RMD(MR) FUD(UF) FMD(MF)
the statement X) Dissensus Realized Dissensus False
(2nd degree) False (1st degree) Consensus
Consensus

simply similarity of response. It has there- necessary to ask respondents questions such
fore a double meaning: either that both par- as: "How would the average person think
ties agree with the symbolic statement X, that the averagepersonwill have answered?"
or that both disagree. For the purposes of Perhaps a less awkward approach to the
this paper, however, we will take agreement higher levels of consensus would be a ques-
to have a single meaning: that both parties tion such as: "Now pretend you are the
endorse the statement X. Since we wish to average person in this community. How
talk about conscious agreement and shared would he answer the question? How would
experience, it is important to avoid mere he think that you have answered it?" This
similarity of response in our conception of form or its equivalent might facilitate gath-
consensus. For example, one reason that re- ering of what is admittedly an intricate and
spondents do not agree with a given state- (for the respondent) confusing type of in-
ment may be that they do not understandit, formation.
i.e. it is not meaningful to them. Yet if the Introducing the third level of mutuality,
majority respondedin this way, scoring mere realization, generates a property space with
similarity of response in the way Laing does eight cells as follows.
would indicate consensus exists, which is far The difficulty of visualizing a profile such
from our intention. For convenience, we will as (R M A)-a majority of the group agree,
retain Laing's notation of (R U A), and so but a majority misunderstandsthat there is
on. It should be noted, however, that the D, agreement, yet a majority realize that there
which in Laing's usage stands for disagree- is misunderstanding-makes it necessary to
ment, will mean non-agreement in this dis- adopt an artifice. Suppose we divide the
cussion. group, at random, into two subgroups, and
There is monolithic consensus if the ma- then consider the responses of the majority
jority agrees and understands that there is in each sub-group, as if each were consider-
agreement; there is pluralistic ignorance if ing the responsesof the other. Using this de-
the majority agrees but thinks that there is vice, the profile becomes similar to the Laing
disagreement; there is dissensus if the ma- model, but consideringtwo majorities, rather
jority does not agree and understands that than two persons. Then (R M A) becomes:
they do not agree. And there is false con- Subgroup 1 (R M A M R) Subgroup 2, a
sensus if the majority does not agree and majority in each group agrees but a majority
thinks that they agree. This example uses in each misunderstands that there is agree-
only the first two levels of mutuality. If the ment, i.e., a majority in each sub-group
third level is added, that of realization, the thinks that a majority in the other sub-group
table becomes eight-fold and the conceptual does not agree, yet, a majority in each sub-
and operational difficulty of the approach is group realizes that it is misunderstoodby the
increasedgreatly. other sub-group. (F U A U F) is the situa-
Conceptually it is very difficult to con- tion in which the majority is in agreement,
ceive of partial consensus, say of the type understandsthat there is agreement,but fails
(R M D)-realization of misunderstanding to realize that it is understood.That is to say
about not agreeing. Operationallyit becomes the majority is unaware that others are

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40 AMERICANSOCIOLOGICAL
REVIEW
aware, that there is agreement. Similarly, antecedent conditions, and are in turn the
(F U D U F) is the situation in which the causes of certain consequences.
majority does not agree, understands that Newcomb's discussion of the ABX model
there is not agreement, but fails to realize suggests both causes and consequences of
that it is understood. consensus. He uses causal variables such as:
Such a typology of consensual structures
1. The attraction of A to B;
should allow a first approximation of the
2. Frequency of communicationbetween
complex process of inter-subjectivity. It is
not intended actually to represent this pro- A and B;
3. Intensity of A's feeling about X;
cess, but only to provide a static and finite
index of the reciprocating, inter-acting ex- 4. Degree of differentiation of A's and
periences of the members of a group. B's roles.
It should be noted that there is an exten- Newcomb goes on to link the antecedent
sive literaturewhich is relevant to the opera- variables to a consequent variable, "desire
tional definition of consensus: the critiques to communicate." The basic premise in all
of methodology in studies of empathy.24 of his propositions is that of balance: he
This literature points to the necessity of in- thinks that there is a "strain toward sym-
troducing experimental or statistical con- metry" (i.e. co-orientation). The postulate
trols for extraneous variables. For example, of the strain toward symmetry generates a
Hill, Stycos, and Back sought to determine whole series of propositionsabout the condi-
the role that empathy between husband and tions under which asymmetry (non-consen-
wife (what we have called first level co- sual structures) will lead to further attempts
orientation) played in contraception.25Since at communication.
they did not, however, control for other
variables, such as agreement or amount of 1. The stronger the forces toward A's co-
communication,they were unable to discern orientation in respect to B and X:
unambiguously the effects of empathy on (a) the greater A's strain toward sym-
behavior. A study of three levels of co-orien- metry with B in respect to X
tation of the kind suggested here would re- (b) the greater the likelihood of in-
quire either elaborate experimentalcontrols, creased symmetry as a conse-
or the large number of cases that would quence of one or more communi-
allow for partialling, in order to avoid this cative acts.
difficulty. 2. The less the attraction between A and
B, the more nearly strain toward sym-
CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES OF CONSENSUS
metry is limited to those particular
X's, coordination toward which is re-
So far we have outlined conceptual and quired by the conditions of associa-
operational definitions of consensus. These tion.26
definitions generate a series of possible con-
sensual structures in groups: partial consen- I think that Newcomb overstates the strain
suses of various degrees, and non-consensual toward symmetry, because he underestimates
structures such as false consensus and plu- the importance of the underlying variable
ralistic ignorance. We now turn to a brief of the degree and extent of coordination re-
consideration of the dynamics of consensus quired by different kinds of relationships
-how these structures are effects of various (see below). Nevertheless, his postulates
generate useful propositions.
24 For a recent review of this literature, see
Victor B. Cline, "InterpersonalPerception," in
DIMENSIONS OF COORDINATION
Brendon A. Maher, Progress in Experimental Per-
sonalityResearch,V. 1, New York: AcademicPress, One difficulty with the propositions stated
1964,pp. 221-284.
25 Reuben Hill, J. Mayone Stycos, and Kurt W. by Newcomb is that each in itself appears
Back, The Family and Population Control, Chapel
Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 26 Newcomb, "An Approach to the Study of
1959, pp. 152-160, and 316-321. CommunicativeActs,"op. cit.

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A MODELOF CONSENSUS 41
meaningful, but as a group they lack co- is the degree to which the transaction is
herence and completeness. Ultimately one scripted: symphonic music, with the excep-
would like to be able to list the determinants tion of an occasional cadenza in concerti, is
and consequencesof consensusin such a way almost completely scripted; some kinds of
that the items in each set would be mutually jazz have little if any script. This is the di-
exclusive and exhaustive. In Newcomb's ap- mension pointed to in Park's distinction
proach, personal, interpersonal and social between elementary and conventional collec-
variables are mixed together. In the follow- tive behavior. A second component of for-
ing discussion, as one step toward a theory malization is the extent to which control is
of consensus, we will limit our concern to a vested in a special office: the symphony
single sociological variable, the type of co- orchestra has a director; the jam session
ordination required by a social relationship. may not. A third component is obligatori-
This variable is suggested by Newcomb's ness; a fourth is preemptiveness. Usually,
second hypothesis, above, which concerns is- but not always, the more formalized the
sues in which coordinationis requiredby the transaction, the more obligatory and pre-
"conditions of association." Some types of emptive. Finally, degree of anonymity is re-
relationship involve little coordination and lated to formalization: the more formal the
therefore do not require consensus, except in transaction, the more fully the participant is
very limited areas. One doesn't need to know identified.
the bartender's political opinions in order With respect to the complexity of the co-
to get a drink. On the other hand, the con- ordinated act, there are many dimensions
fidence man seeks a high degree of consensus that could be considered. For purposes of
-to be sure, a unilateral consensus: confi- illustration, only six dimensionswill be intro-
dence man-(R U D M F)-victim. duced. A dimension of precision would seem
The following proposition is suggested: to be of primary importance: some kinds of
The type and extent of consensus is depen- transaction can occur if the participants'
dent on the type and extent of coordination actions are only very loosely coordinated;
required between the members of the group. others have only a very low tolerance or lee-
This proposition leads us back to the social- way in performance.When an infirm person
psychological bases of coordination, which is helped across the street by another per-
are communicationand consensus. son, there is some coordination involved,
What is needed for the further explora- but the leeway in the timing and positioning
tion of this proposition is the conceptual re- of the two participants is broad. With tra-
finement of the variable of coordination.Co- peze artists, on the other hand, one would
ordination is an extremely abstract concept need quite precise instruments to detect the
covering an enormous span of behaviors, range of variation in timing and positioning.
from an event as simple as shaking hands to Other components of complexity of a
a sequence of events as intricate as interna- transactionare duration,repetitiveness,sym-
tional trade. Let us consider, for illustrative metry, cumulativeness, and uniqueness. Du-
purposes, just three dimensions of coordina- ration and repetitiveness are self-explana-
tion, one antecedent, one concomitant, and tory; symmetry refers to the degree to which
one consequent. Other things being equal we there is division of labor among the co-
would expect that the higher the degree of participants in the transaction; cumulative-
formalization, the more complex and the ness refers to the degree of ordering in the
more cooperative (rather than competitive) sequence of acts which make up the trans-
the pay-off of the coordinated activity, and action; uniqueness refers to the degree to
the greater the consensusbetween the partic- which the participants can call upon anal-
ipants. Since degree of formalization, com- ogous experiences in coordinating their ac-
plexity, and type of pay-off are still quite tions. In general, the more complex the
abstract, we can break each of these down transaction, the more consensus there must
into sub-dimensions,beginning with formal- be for coordination to occur. That is to say,
ization. the longer, the less repetitive, the less sym-
One importantcomponentof formalization metric, the more cumulative, and the more

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42 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW
unique the transaction, the more consensus makes a judgment on his own future posi-
is necessary to bring off the transaction. tion and speed relative to that of the others.
The consequentvariable, the cooperative- Every such transaction on the highway,
tiveness or competitivenessof the pay-off, is whether successful or not, could be analyzed
also complex. Since this variable has been using the wave phenomena or trajectories as
explored with some diligence, particularly a dependent variable, and the consensual
in studies of experimentalgames, it will not processes as independent variables.
be analyzed into sub-dimensions here. In Moreover, the same type of analysis could
"Prisoner's Dilemma," a single dimension, be extended to any kind of coordination.De-
the temptation for each partner to defect, is pending upon the type of coordination,some
used. This dimension is constructed from a ingenuity might be necessary in selecting
ratio of the rewards for cooperation, com- the dimensions of coordination to be meas-
pared to the punishment if caught defecting. ured. In championshipchess, for example, a
Some such index might be constructed for crude measure of amplitude of movement
any transaction. would be of little interest. A more sophisti-
If we wish to analyze systematically any cated series of measurements,such as degree
particular type of coordinated activity, the of aggressiveness,obviousness and positional
variables of position and timing must be con- vs. exchange strategies might be in order.
sidered in precise detail. Consider, for ex- Nevertheless, the same basic plan of research
ample, the transaction which occurs on a would be followed: first, the measurementof
highway when an automobilepasses another, coordinated actions as interfering waves or
in the presence of an oncoming car. The trajectories, and second, the determination
exact positions and speeds of the three cars of the level and type of consensus existing
become desiderata, if we consider the three between the participants, with communica-
drivers to comprise a social group involved tion held constant.
in a transaction (one getting past another
without colliding). For such an example, it DISCUSSION
might be helpful to borrow the terminology
from the physics of wave phenomena or This approach may be relevant to one of
from ballistics. Each car generates a wave the difficulties which Stryker met in his
whose front can be considered a certain dis- study. Stryker sought to test Mead's hy-
tance from the point of origin. The measured pothesis that role-taking actually occurs. To
distance from the center of the lane would be do this, Stryker developed 15 hypotheses
the amplitude of the wave, the car's speed, and 147 tests. Having gone through these
its velocity. In this case, highway traffic procedures,however, he reports that the re-
would be analyzed as a pattern of waves, sults are ambiguous:
with measurable shapes and configurations. Of the 147 tests, 57, or 39%,producedresults
The characteristic patterns would be aperi- clearly supportingthe theory; 90, or 61%,
odic, but with quite similar sizes and shapes. did not. Onlyone test produceda statistically
Alternatively, we could consider the trajec- significantfinding contradictoryto the hy-
potheses.27
tories of the vehicles, as in ballistic studies.
In the case of automotive traffic, it would One way of evaluating these results would
appear that each transaction involving pass- lead to a quite positive conclusion: where
ing of the kind noted above involves a there was a statistically significant relation-
momentary consensual system: each driver ship, the ratio was 57 to 1 in favor of the
subscribesto, and attributes to the other two theory. On the other hand, Stryker had ex-
participants, certain rules of the road, e.g., pected to find such relationships in all 147
the car being passed, and the oncoming car, tests, but they occurred in only a minority
will not increase their speed, one signals (40%), which might be construed as a set-
and/or checks traffic before changing lanes, back for the theory.
and so forth. At the same time, each par- An even more troublesomeproblem is con-
ticipant is almost instinctively involved in a nected with the way Stryker's propositions
complex process of role-taking: he puts him-
self in the place of the other drivers and 27 Stryker,op. cit.

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A MODEL OF CONSENSTUS 43

were derived. Except for those hypotheses the higher orders of co-orientation. This
that are related to Mead's notion of a "com- comparisonallows a critical test of the inter-
mon universe of discourse," the relationship actionist theory against the common sense
between the hypotheses and Mead's theory is point of view. If the higher orders of co-
not always clear. Even if the empirical find- orientationpredict the degree of coordination
ings had been unambiguous, it might not better than simple agreement, the interac-
have been clear that Mead's theory had been tionist theory of consensus will have been
supported. given very strong support.
If we use the definitions and hypotheses The last section of this paper is con-
concerning consensus that were discussed cerned with two other possible applications
above, a different approach to the interpre- of the model of consensus discussed here.
tation of Stryker's findings is suggested. The first, which will be dealt with only
Since these hypotheses are more closely re- briefly, is the problem of leadership, the sec-
lated to the fundamental postulates in ond, of social integration. Newcomb and
Mead's theory, less ambiguous findings others have found that leaders are somewhat
might ensue. Two hypotheses provide such a more perceptive of followers'views than vice
test. First, for those issues which are directly versa.28This finding follows from the postu-
related to problemsof coordination,the more late above: the greater the need for coordi-
precise the coordinationthat is required, the nation, the greater the consensus. In the case
greater the consensus. For example, on the of leaders, the situation is asymmetric: it is
issue of permissiveness in child-rearing, one the leader more often than the follower who
would hypothesize that there would be more faces problems of coordination. (The fol-
consensusbetween spouses than between the lower must coordinate his actions only with
parents and the grandparents (since more one leader, but the leader must coordinate
coordinationis requiredbetween the spouses, his actions with all of the followers.) There-
who actually have the job of child-raising, fore we would expect Newcomb's findings on
than the grandparents,who look on from a the superior perceived consensus of leaders.
distance.) The study of the representative process
This hypothesis relates amount of con- is a particularly interesting area for the
sensus to type of relationship, and follows study of consensual structures in leader-
directly from Mead's theory. Since type of follower relationships. The degree of con-
relationshipis a variable in Stryker's design, sensus between the representative and his
this hypothesis could be tested by classifying constituency might turn out to be an ex-
the issues and the status relationships with tremely strategic variable in explaining the
respect to their inter-relation.This classifica- behavior of the representative.We can visu-
tion would obviously have to be made by in- alize situations in which the higher orders of
dependent raters who have no knowledge of co-orientationare used routinely by the rep-
the actual findings. resentative. For example, in planning his
A second hypothesis would allow a more campaign strategy, the representative will
refined testing of Mead's theory. The pro- wish to select issues, and positions on these
position that consensus varies with degree of issues, which will improve his chances of
coordination is not unique to Mead but is winning the election. In order to do this, he
shared by others interested in consensus. must not only visualize the opinions of his
What is unique to the interactionist frame- constituency with some accuracy (first level
work is the insistence on the existence and co-orientation), but also perceive what
importance of the higher orders of co-orien- groups in his constituency think his position
tation. The common-sensedefinition of con- on these issues is (second level co-orienta-
sensus is in terms of agreement. From this tion), so that the representative, by his
point of view, the more that coordination is choice of issues and position, can correct
required by a relationship, the more agree- them in order to win.29 We would also ex-
ment there will be. From our discussion of 28 Newcomb, "An Approach to the Study of
the interactionist view of consensus, how- Communicative Acts," op. cit.
ever, we can postulate an alternative hy- 29 This example was suggested to me by Janet
pothesis: agreement is less important than Chewning.

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44 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW
pect that the consensual structures in the pluralist society, one might find sub groups,
representativeprocess would tend to be uni- but there are groups which have agreed to
lateral, since the views of the constituency disagree, e.g., Switzerland, with its French,
are much more fateful for the representative German, and Italian sub-cultures. Just as
than vice versa. consensus based on agreement can be de-
The second application concerns the meas- picted by the profile (R U A) so consensus
urementof social integration. As Klapp notes based on disagreement can be described by
(in the excerpt quoted in the beginning to the profile (R U D U R). The first structure
this paper), degree of consensus can be used we might call a monolithic consensus, the
as an index of degree of social integration. second a pluralistic consensus. Using these
He argues that anomie is the negative pole of ideas, the straightline dimension of social
the continuum, and (by implication) that integration becomes a continuum with
complete consensus is the positive pole. His branchesat each end.
idea that lack of consensus can be used as A further complication is occasioned by
indicative of anomie seems well served by the the fact that the consensual structure which
model describedhere: normlessnessis not so exists between the subgroups need not be
much the situation that people don't know symmetric. Myrdal's discussion of "the rank
of any rules to fit the situations that con- order of discriminations"is a case in point.
front them, but rather they don't know With respect to the highest rank-the bar
which rules others share; normlessnessis the against intermarriageand sexual intercourse
absence of shared rules. involving white women-he states that there
SocialIntegration Lack of SocialIntegration
Monolithicconsensus(R U A U R) Anomie(F M D M F)

Pluralisticconsensus(R U D U R) Socialcleavage:
(R U A) withingroups,but
(F M D M F) betweengroups.
FIGURE 1.

The model of consensus used here sug- is agreement between the two groups. Im-
gests, however, that the dimension of social plicit in his discussion is the suggestion that
integration is more complex than the simple there is understanding of agreement on the
continuum suggested by Klapp's remarks. Negro side, but misunderstanding on the
At the negative pole, a possible alternative to white side. Thus he says:
the state of social anomie is the condition of
cleavage. Looking at the views of the popu- The writer has observed,however,that the
averagewhite man, particularlyin the South,
lation as a whole, it might seem that indi- does not feel quite convincedof the Negro's
viduals' estimations of the others' views are acquiescense.In several conversationsthe
no better than chance. However, if the popu- same white person in the same breath has
lation is partitioned by the right variable, assuredme on the one handthat the Negroes
are perfectly satisfied in their position and
e.g., Moslems and Hindus in pre-partition would not like to be treated as equals, and
India, the level of consensus is very high on the other hand that the only thing these
within the sub-groupsand very low between Negroes long for is to be like white people
them. Thus what might look like a state of and marrytheir daughters.30
anomie to the outside observer could be re- Using Laing's notation, the profile of inter-
interpreted to show that a split of the larger group mutuality on this issue, with the white
social group into two or more smaller social persons on the left, would probably be
groups has occurred; the larger group has (F M A U R), that is, agreementon the issue
distintegrated, but there is high social inte- of marital and sexual segregation, with in-
gration in the new groups it has spawned. correct attribution on the white side (note
At the positive pole of integration, there
is also a consensual structure alternative to 30 Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma,
New
complete consensus. In a highly integrated York: Harper, 1944, p. 64.

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A MODEL OF CONSENSUS 45
that Myrdal talks about the average white and so on, asymptotically nearer to the hy-
man), and correct attribution on the Negro pothesized infinite limit.
side. A similar analysis could be made of Utilizing techniques derived from the
the other ranks in the order of discrimina- work of Newcomb, Stryker, and Laing,
tions. Phillipson and Lee, procedures have been
In this case the profile (F M A U R) rep- outlined for generalizing these techniques to
resents an asymmetric consensus based on groups of any size and co-orientationof any
physical domination. Once again we have a degree. The two generalized techniques can
situation in which the structure of consensus be consideredto be operationaldefinitions of
derives from the nature of the coordination the concept of consensus for two different
required: because perception of the white problems: the Stryker design allowing the
person's views is far more fateful for the measurement of inter-status consensus
Negro than vice versa, the subordinate is through judgments of the orientation of the
more sensitive to the gestures of the super- other person in a pair; the Newcomb tech-
ordinate, and co-orientation tends to be uni- nique of judgment of group opinion allowing
lateral. The author has found what appears for the measurement of intra- and inter-
to be a similar situation in classroomsurveys group consensus.
of male-female differences in opinions on Newcomb's propositionsconcerningcauses
sexual permissiveness. The males tend to and consequences of consensus led us to a
agree on a more permissive standard than discussion of an important concomitant of
the girls do, but misunderstand this agree- the degree of consensus in a group: the type
ment, each thinking that he is more liberal of coordination. The analysis of type and
than his fellows. The girls understand,how- degree of coordination into various dimen-
ever. The profile of the intergroup consen- sions and sub-dimensionsleads to a series of
sus is the same as in the color-line situation propositions which relate degree of con-
described by Myrdal: men (F M D U R) sensus to the type, precision and extent of
women. coordination (with communicationheld con-
Both of these situations represent a par- stant). One application of such propositions
tial consensus, and therefore a middle is suggested by Stryker's attempt to test
amount of social integration in the larger Mead's theory. A design is formulatedwhich
community comprisedby the two subgroups, might lead to a less ambiguous test of inter-
the Negroes and the whites, or the men and actionist theory as over against common-
the women. There is neither complete con- sense notions of consensus.
sensus nor complete lack of consensus, but a Finally, two problemsare considered: con-
partial consensus based upon an asymmetric sensual structuresin leader-followerrelation-
profile of one-way understandingand realiza- ships, and the measurement of social inte-
tion. gration. Several other problems, such as the
measurement of occupational prestige, and
SUMMARY
the social desirability dimension of psycho-
logical testing, have been mentioned in pass-
This discussion began with a comparison ing. The model of the degree of consensus
of two approachesto consensus: interaction- outlined here offers a technique for the
ist theory and the common sense approach. systematic exploration of these and similar
From interactionist theory a social-systemic problems.
model of consensus has been derived. This Two theoretical problems alluded to in
model leads to a conceptual definition of passing seem particularly worthy of further
consensus as an infinite series of recipro- exploration. The first problem follows from
cating understandingsbetween the members Klapp's suggestion that consensus is the
of a group. In research, this model would common denominator of almost all of the
lead us to look for higher orders of co-orien- concepts in sociology and cultural anthro-
tation than the more usual investigations of pology. The definition of consensus de-
agreement, or, at best, perceived consensus, veloped in this paper might be used as a step
which would be represented as consensual first, toward systematizing the various basic
structuresof the second degree, third degree, concepts, such as norm, role, and institution,

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46 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICALREVIEW
and second, toward rigorously defining their erated by stating the dynamic interrelation
interrelationships. of all three variables. These four sets would
The second problem is the statement of a offer a series of propositions that could lead
formal theory of interactionin terms of com- to empirical testing, and would at the same
munication, consensus, and coordination. In time be directly articulated with sociological
the discussion above, it was shown how a set theory.
of propositions could be generated from the More generally, the investigation of
proposition that the degree of consensus is higher-orderco-orientations promises a pro-
reciprocallyrelated to the degreeof coordina- cedure for unravelingsome of the more intri-
tion, with degree of communication held cate puzzles in human relationships. For
constant, by introducing sub-dimensions in example, it is possible that much of the
the variable of coordination. Using similar moral ambiguity facing actors in modern
techniques, two further sets of propositions large-scalesocieties is a product of the multi-
could be generated, by partialling the rela- group, multi-faceted consensual structures
tionship between communication and con- depicted here. Exploration of these patterns
sensus with coordination held constant, on could lead, in the long run, to an under-
the one hand, and the relationship between standing of the processes which create and
communication and coordination with con- terminate consensus, and the consequences
sensus held constant, on the other. Finally, of these processes for the actors and their
a fourth set of propositions could be gen- society.

ORGANIZATIONS AS SEMILATTICES *
MoRRs F. FRIEDELL
University of Michigan

Semilattices, partial orderings in which every two elements have a least upper bound, are
proposed to model structures of complex organizations. They are a generalization of trees,
and may be more suitable for representing organizations which lack unity of command or
of informal relations. Control of conflict provides a rationale for the model. It is shown how
semilattices can represent structures of administrative units as well as structures of indi-
viduals; consequences of consistency between these two levels of structure are investigated.
The model also yields a framework within which the development of an organization's struc-
ture may be examined. An illustrative application is given, using data from Street Corner
Society.

THis paper presents an exploration of To avoid constant translating between


the use of semilattice structure as an mathematics and sociology the terminology
algebraic equilibrium model for or- generally used will be that for complex for-
ganizations composed of elements, generally mal organizations, to which the model is
persons, differentiatedin status. A rationale most clearly applicable. A list of correspon-
for the correspondence between organiza- dences between mathematical and sociologi-
tions and semilattices is followed by a se- cal terms is appended. Proofs are straight-
quence of parallels between organizational forward; and all but one are omitted.'
and mathematical phenomena and an illus- Terms will be underlined where they are
trative application to empirical data. Essen- first defined.
tially, the methodology is that of explication
of an ideal-type. I Ghbor Szasz, Introductio'. to Lattice Theory,
New York: AcademicPress, 1963, provides a brief
* I am indebtedto James A. Davis and Albert J. discussionof semilattices,with a demonstrationof
Reiss, Jr. for helpful comments. the equivalenceof the two definitionsgiven below.

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