“The Study of Groups”

Charles Fourier (1772-1837)


“The Study of Groups”


Note – this small piece bravely puts it to work, some real work with some numbers, although probably faulty.


The term “group” is conventionally applied to any sort of gathering, even to a band of idlers who come together out of boredom with no passion or purpose — even to an assemblage of empty-minded individuals who are busy killing time and waiting for something to happen. In the theory of the passions the term group refers to a number of individuals who are united by a shared taste for the exercise of a particular function. Three men have dinner together: they are served a soup which pleases two of them and displeases the third; on this occasion they do not make up a group because they are in discord about the function that occupies them. They do not share a common passionate inclination for the soup.


The two individuals who like the soup form a false group. To be properly organised and susceptible to passionate equilibrium a group must include at least three members. It must be arranged like a set of scales which consists of three forces of which the middle one keeps the two extremities in balance. In short no group can be composed of less than three people sharing a common inclination for the performance of a particular function.


One might object: “Although these three men are in discord about the trifling matter of the soup, they are in agreement about the main purpose of the get-together which is friendship. They are close friends.” In this case I would answer that the group is defective because it is simple; the only tie that binds it is a spiritual one. To make it into a compound group, a sensual bond would have to be added, a soup liked by all three members of the group.


“Bah! If the three are not in agreement about the soup, they will have shared preferences for other kinds of food. In any case the group actually does have two bonds, for besides the bond of friendship, these three men are united by the bond of ambition; they are in cabalistic league. They have gotten together for dinner in order to hatch an electoral intrigue. So there’s the double link, the compound bond that you require.”


This would only be a bastard compound relationship, formed by two spiritual bonds. The pure compound demands a mixture of the pleasures of the soul and those of the senses without any sort of dissidence. In this case the meal begins with a disagreement about the soup and the group is falsified despite the double bond... .


Since passionate series are composed only of groups, it is necessary first of all to learn how to form groups.


“Ha! Ha! Groups! What a silly subject that is! It must be very amusing to talk about groups!”


This is the way our wits reason when one talks about groups. At the start you are always subjected to a salvo of stale jokes. But whether the subject is comical or not, it is certain that people know nothing about groups, and that they don’t even know how to form a proper group of three people, much less one of thirty.


We have numerous treatises on the study of man. But what can they tell us about the subject if they neglect the essential portion, the analysis of groups. In all our relationships we persistently tend to form groups, and they have never been an object of study.


Civilised people, having an instinct for the false, are constantly inclined to prefer the false to the true. As the pivot of their social system they have chosen a group which is essentially false: the conjugal couple. This group is false because it only includes two members; it is false in its lack of liberty; it is false in the conflicts or differing inclinations which break out from the very start of married life over expenses, food, friends, and a hundred other little details like the degree of heat in an apartment. If people do not know how to harmonise basic groups of two or three people, they must be even less able to harmonise the whole.


I have been speaking only about sub-groups whose minimum size is three people. A full group in the societary system must include at least seven members, for it must include three sub-divisions or sub-groups. The central sub-group must be stronger than either of the two extremities which it keeps in balance. A group of seven may be divided into three sub-divisions consisting of two, three and two members. Each of these sub-groups devotes itself to one aspect of a given activity. Groups consisting of two members are false when they act in isolation, but here they are admissible since their activity is linked to that of others.


The central sub-group (which consists of three people) is in a state of balance with the two extreme sub-groups (consisting of two members each). The reason for this is that in any activity the central sub-group always performs the most attractive functions; the greater attraction of its functions compensates for its numerical weakness. Thus its influence within the group is equal to that of the four other members who perform two different functions... .


A group is sufficiently large if it includes seven members, but it is more perfect with nine members. Then its three subgroups can be supplemented by a pivot or leader and an ambiguous or transitional member. For example:


Transition 1 ambiguous member

Higher wing 2 intermediate members

Center 3 initiates

Lower wing 2 beginners

Pivot 1 leader


This division emerges naturally in any gathering for work or pleasure if the passions and instincts are allowed to express themselves freely. Man has an instinctual aversion to equality and a penchant for hierarchical patterns. Thus when free expression is permitted, this nuanced, hierarchical scale will emerge in a series of nine groups just as it will in a group composed of nine individuals.


There must be at least seven members in a full group and at least twenty-four in a full series. But to replace individuals who are sick or absent it is better for each group to consist of twelve and each series of forty members. In this way each group and series will be assured of having its full complement of leaders and ambiguous members.


2011-8-29 22:05:17

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Re:“The Study of Groups”

Charles Fourier (1772-1837)


“The Passionate Series”




The series of groups is the method adopted by God in the organisation of the kingdoms of nature and of all created things. The naturalists, in their theories and classifications, have unanimously accepted this system of organisation; they could not have departed from it without coming into conflict with nature and falling into confusion.[28]


If human passions and personalities were not subject, like the material realms, to organisation by series of groups, man would be out of unity with the universe; there would be duplicity of system and incoherence between the material and passional worlds. If man aspires to social unity, he should seek it by adhering to the serial order to which God has subjected all of nature.


A passionate series is a league or affiliation of several small groups, each animated by some nuance or variety of a passion. The passion in question is the generic passion for the whole series. Thus if twenty groups cultivate twenty different types of roses, the generic passion of their series is rose-growing; the groups cultivating the white rose, the yellow rose, the moss-rose, etc., represent its varieties.


To take another example: twelve groups are engaged in the cultivation of twelve different flowers. The tulip is cultivated by one group, the jonquil by another, etc. These twelve groups together constitute a series of flower-growers whose generic function is the cultivation of flowers. The flowers are distributed according to a scale of tastes, each group cultivating the variety of flower for which it has a special fondness.


Passions limited to a single individual are not admissible in the serial mechanism. Three individuals — A, B, C — like their bread salted in different ways: A likes his almost unsalted; B likes his moderately salted; C prefers heavily salted bread. These three people are in a state of graduated dissonance which does not lend itself to the creation of serial accords. For such accords to take place there must be a number of groups linked in ascending and descending order.


A proper group should have from seven to nine members at the minimum in order to permit the development of balanced or equilibrated rivalries among its members. In the passionate series, then, we cannot base our calculations upon isolated individuals. The intrigues of a series could not be maintained by twelve individuals with a passion for the cultivation of twelve different flowers. This will be proved in the body of the treatise. For the time being it should be kept in mind that the term passionate series always refers to an affiliation of groups and never of individuals.


Thus the three individuals. mentioned above — A, B, C — could not form a series of breadists or bread-lovers. But if instead of three people we suppose thirty — namely, eight of taste A, ten of taste B, twelve of taste C — they would form a passionate series, that is, an affiliation of groups with graduated and contrasted tastes. Their joint activity and their cabalistic discords would create the intrigues necessary to bake excellent bread and grow fine wheat.[29]


The passionate series always strive toward some useful end such as the increase of wealth or the perfection of work even when they are engaged in leisure activities like music.


A series cannot be organised with less than three groups, for it needs a middle element to keep the two contrasting extremes in balance. A balance may also be established among four groups, provided their properties and relations correspond to those of a geometrical proportion.


When there are more than four groups in a series, they should be divided into three bodies, forming a center and two wings, or into four bodies, forming a quadrille. In each body of groups the varieties which are closely allied and homogeneous are united.


The societary order must thus employ and develop all varieties of taste and character in a scale of nuanced gradations. It forms a group to represent each variety without making any judgment concerning the merit of a particular taste. All tastes and penchants are good and they all have their uses, provided they can be made to form a series with ascending and descending wings and transitional groups at either extreme to represent uncommon and peculiar tastes. When a series is arranged in this manner, according to the methods which will be explained in the body of the treatise, each of its groups will cooperate harmonically with all the others, be they a hundred in number. The groups will resemble the cogs in a wheel which are all useful provided they mesh properly.


The calculus of the passionate series is going to establish a principle flattering to the whole human race: it will demonstrate that all tastes which are not harmful or annoying to others have a valuable function in the societary state. They will become useful as soon as they are developed in series — that is, according to a graduated scale in which each nuance of taste is represented by a group.


Thus the theory of association is nothing more than the art of forming and activating passionate series. As soon as this science has been discovered on a globe, it can at once establish social unity and attain individual and collective happiness. Thus it is a matter of urgent necessity for the human race to acquire a knowledge of this theory.


The passionate series must be contrasted, interlocked, and kept in a state of rivalry and exaltation. A series failing to fulfil these conditions could not perform its functions in the mechanism of Harmony.


A series must be contrasted — that is, its groups must be arranged in ascending and descending order. Thus to form a series of a hundred individuals classed according to age the following division should be adopted:


Ascending Wing: Groups of infants and children.


Center of the Series: Groups of adolescents and adults.


Descending Wing: Groups of aged persons.


The same method should be followed in classifying series of passions and character traits.


This method serves to bring out contrasts and hence to produce enthusiasm in the various groups. Each group becomes passionately addicted to its own dominant penchant or special taste. At the same time it develops contrasting tastes and penchants, and it becomes critical of the penchants and occupations of the contiguous groups in the series, with which it is in rivalry.


This system of progressive or graduated classification creates sympathies and alliances between the contrasted groups, and a antipathies or dissidences between contiguous groups with similar tastes.


The series needs discords as much as it needs harmonies. It must be stimulated by a host of rival pretensions which will give rise to cabalistic alliances and become a spur to emulation. Without contrasts it would be impossible to form leagues between the groups and create enthusiasm; the series would lack ardour for its labours, and its work would be inferior in quality and quantity.


The second necessary condition is to establish intrigues and active rivalries within a series. Since this should result from the regularity of contrasts and the graduated distribution of nuances or varieties, it may be said that this second condition is fulfilled once the first is satisfied. Of course there is more to say about the means by which intrigues are created, but that will come later.


The third condition to be fulfilled is that of the meshing or linkage of the different series. This can take place only if the groups change their work at frequent intervals, say every hour or at most every two hours. For example, a man may be employed:


At 5: 00 A.M. in a group of shepherds.


At 7: 00 A. M. in a group of field-workers.


At 9: 00 A. M. in a group of gardeners.


A session of two hours’ duration is the longest admissible in Harmony; enthusiasm cannot last any longer than that. If the work is unattractive in itself, the session should be reduced to one hour.


In the example just given the three series of shepherds, fieldworkers and gardeners will become meshed by the process of reciprocal interchange of members. It is not necessary for this interchange to be complete — for each of the twenty men engaged in tending flocks to go off and work in the fields at 7:00. All that is necessary is for each series to provide the others with several members taken from its different groups. The exchange of a few members will suffice to establish a linkage or meshing between the different series.


A passionate series acting in isolation would be useless and could perform no functions of a harmonic character. Nothing would be easier than to organise one or more industrial series in a large city like Paris. They might be engaged in the growing of flowers or fruit or anything else, but they would be completely useless. At least fifty series are necessary to fulfil the third condition, that of meshing. It is for this reason that the theory of association cannot be tried out on a small number of people, say twenty families or one hundred individuals. At least four hundred people — men, women and children — would be necessary to form and mesh the fifty series required to activate the mechanism of simple association. To organise a compound association at least four hundred series, requiring fifteen or sixteen hundred people, would be needed.




2011-8-29 22:09:13

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