David Morrison by liaoqinmei


									                                                                   David Morrison
                                                                   UCLA Dissertation Proposal

            While a sociological literature has developed around communes and
       ‘intentional communities’ – those brainchildren of countercultural commitment
       to leftist or spiritualist ideology, which are relatively removed from mainstream
       society - relatively little attention has been paid to residential co-operatives, those
       sociologically under theorized step-children of community activism. This is
       unfortunate, given that co-operatives (both consumptive and productive) have
       more socially transformative potential as a mitigating ‘third way’ between the
       excesses of capitalism and communism. This study proposes to explore what is
       wrong with the co-operative movement (why it hasn’t realized that
       transformative potential) and the types of problems, difficulties, conflicts that
       arise within residential student co-operatives, along with the endogenous ways of
       resolving those problems, difficulties and conflicts. I plan to do this through
       participant observation and semi-structured interviews comparing two different
       co-operative environments: the 1,400 member co-operative environment at
       Berkeley, where the membership is relatively politicized, involved in leadership
       decisions, and committed to the principles of the co-operative movement, and the
       430 member student co-op at UCHA, with a more bureaucratized leadership
       structure and a membership in which ideological commitment is more sporadic
       and contingent. This comparison should shed light on the tension between
       ideological commitment and bureaucratic efficiency within the co-operative
       movement, as well as the role of ideology in shaping these relatively self-
       contained residential environments.

The Expression of Conflict In a ‘Co-operative’ Social

   I propose to study the expression of conflict in a cooperative housing environment

with 433 student residents as a way of supplementing the current work on interpersonal

conflict. There is an ambiguity in the phrase ‘the expression of conflict’ that I want to

highlight at the outset. Conflict is ‘expressed’ in terms of how conflict plays itself out in a

social process (what people do about the conflict and grievances, either actively or

interactively): Do they argue? Do they accommodate? Do they avoid the other party?

Conflict is also ‘expressed’ by how conflict is characterized (what people, either the

principles or third parties, say about the conflict): How do they define the conflict? Do
they even call it a ‘conflict’? What types of narratives do they construct and what are

their rhetorical strategies for framing the nature of the conflict? The ambiguity is

intentional here, because these processes are coterminous and interpenetrated. That is,

what people say about conflict (how they characterize and construct their grievances)

influences what they do, and is, in fact, part of what they do.

    Nonetheless, its helpful to keep action analytically distinct from constructions.

Physical violence, for example, is more than a characterization. While framing the event

is one part of how one galvanizes a group of partisan supporters, they undertake other

relevant courses of action as well (seeking out friendly or influential supporters,

gathering information, calling meetings or showing up for them, etc.). When two people

yell at each other, part of what they are doing (even in their epitaphs) is characterizing the

nature of their conflict (the other person is a jerk), but the yelling itself takes on its own

dynamics, and stretches the rationality embedded in dispassionate sociologic terms such

as ‘constructing’, ‘characterizing’, ‘defining’, ‘contextualizing’, ‘framing’, and the like.

    I intend to stick with the term ‘conflict’ here, in spite of the fact that I am referring to

a broader social process, because this in the term widely in play, and because overtly

expressed conflict has a special significance in that it (a) represents the end result of a

contingent interactional progression and (b) has a special significance to the actors

involved, as witnessed by the intensity of their actions, the development of methods for

managing potential sources of conflict in the future, and on how the outcomes of conflict

shape the social environment.

    I plan to engage the theoretical work of Emerson and Messinger’s, “The micro-

politics of trouble”1 and Donald Black’s, The Social Structure of Right and Wrong.

Emerson & Messinger develop a descriptive analysis of the social processes shaping the

emergence of conflict - in particular how conflict is identified and framed initially by the

principles, and subsequently through the efforts of informal and formal (or official) ‘third

parties’2. Black treats conflict management as a ‘dependent variable’, and attempts a

causal analysis of the styles of conflict management based on underlying ‘objective’

structural features of the context (pp. 91, 158). Black’s work is programmatic and

theoretical. While he draws on numerous empirical sources to reinforce his programmatic

statements and theoretical structure, he does not pursue any empirical evidence in enough

depth to either confirm or negate aspects of his theory.

       But two of Black’s students, M.P. Baumgartner and Calvin Morril, went on to

conduct such empirical tests of Black’s theory. In her book, The Moral Order of the

Suburb, Baumgartner examines a suburban community characterized by ‘moral

minimalism’, as the most prevalent approach to managing conflict. As an exploration of

the factors affecting the

        study of suburban life and Calvin Morrill’s (The Executive Way) exploration of

business practices by looking, in closer detail, at a relatively bounded community with

different characteristics: less affluent, greater social density, more member involvement

in community life, and with a distinctive characteristic that members are involved in

creating and enforcing the rules, norms and policies of the social environment – making it

    Social Problems, 1977
    They use the term ‘trouble’ rather than ‘conflict’ to emphasize the fact that ‘conflict’ is one possible way
    for participants to characterize the problems they are having (along with ‘deviance’ or more conciliatory
    frames). Conflict as a framework for defining and contextualizing troubles, is contingent on a previous
    social process. In so far as it functions to define a problem, it organizes the perceptions and actions of the
    person employing that frame.

a relatively self-contained community for study.

    I intend primarily to use semi-structured interviews, observational data, and

participant observational methods to develop a ‘natural history’ of three aspects of social


    1) Origins of the expression of conflict. This can be seen, as either (a) conditions

generating initial grievances or (b) the overt expression of grievances in conflict. While

my study is a descriptive analysis of a single social context, contrasts with other

empirical work (here, primarily Baumgartner’s) may make it possible to identify the

major social causes of such conflicts.

    2) Social processes shaping the management of overtly expressed conflict, and

subsequent personal or collective pursuit of remedies (either through individual, group,

factional or some form of bureaucratic action).

    3) Outcomes, functions, and effects of conflicts in shaping the social environment.

This is particularly salient for conflicts that take on a collective significance. In some

cases, conflicts specifically concern the resources, policies or composition of the

governing body of the organization as a whole. The outcome then directly shapes to local

political structure. In other cases policies and resources are shaped so as to manage

similar cases in the future. Memcom, for example, is a crew specifically established to

handle grievances and conflicts. In addition to serving in this role, the existence of

Memcom affects the local political topography of the organization and can feedback into

new conflicts - in some cases between Memcom and the board of directors (BOD).

    Conflict is an especially significant aspect of a social environment for several

reasons. Since a full theory of conflict should take into account the conditions under

which conflict both does and does not occur, the flip side of an analysis of conflict should

shed light on the Hobbesian question of how social order is possible. Social order cannot

be understood without an analysis of the conditions under which disorder and strife

become more or less frequent and salient aspects of the setting. Methods for handling

conflict (both as it occurs and in anticipation of future conflict) are a significant part of

how a social environment is structured. Conflict is also a key part of any analysis of

social influence and/or social control. As such, deviance and conformity to social norms -

both behaviorally and perceptually - are contingent outcomes of a fuller theory of

conflict. Moments of conflict are also significant in that these are moments when

underlying norms and values are invoked, elaborated serve as rationales for subsequent

social action.

Theoretical Orientation:
    I should begin with some general remarks about how I am conceptualizing conflict,

before moving on to a preliminary overview of several distinctive features of this context,

which make it useful for comparison with the existing literature.

    Most broadly, I conceptualize conflict as arising when two individuals or parties

desire separate and discordant outcomes about some issue for which they are personally,

materially, and/or ideologically invested. Additionally, it is important that the outcome of

these conflicting desires not be prefigured by some compelling relational, institutional or

bureaucratic praxis, and that the participants have at least some vague sense that the other

party is likely to resist their efforts for achieving their preferred outcome. Of course, the

term ‘compelling’ is a relative one. Even when confronted with a clear asymmetry of

power or legitimacy individuals can and occasionally do strive to achieve their preferred

outcomes: a child can complain about their chores to a parent even where there is a clear

standard of parental control in the family and wider society; individuals can reject the

legitimacy of property rights and engage in ‘restitutive’ instances of predatory crime;

where such asymmetries of power and legitimacy are socially established, the dynamic is

altered and conflict merges, fluidly but with important implications, into deviance.

   While we can conceptualize conflict in its broadest terms, methodologically, there is a

limit to what we can empirically establish about conflict. For conflict to move from

vague or private intrapersonal misgivings into witnessable, accountable features of

interpersonal life, the conflict must be expressed in some way. Initially, the conflict is

likely to be expressed through subtle references, in and oblique manner that I will term

‘covertly’ expressed conflict. While I believe that even covertly expressed conflict can

have interpersonal and relational dimensions (intimate acquaintances can both have clear,

although perhaps disparate, understandings for their relational troubles even in the

absence of an overt acknowledgement - in fact, some contexts, such as power

asymmetries facilitate covert conflicts that are nonetheless locally known and

understood), I agree with Emerson and Messinger’s (1977: 125) suggestion that the overt

expression and acknowledgement of conflict alters the basic dynamics of the trouble. It is

at this point that individuals begin to mobilize their resources for achieving their desired


   They can do this in a variety of ways. This variety is large, but not infinite. It is

constrained by the material, relational and ideological resources available in a given

context. Raw physical force is always an option, but in most modern contexts, an option

with serious associated sanctions that is generally out of step with an individuals’

normative framework. More commonly, individuals will turn to rhetorical strategies for

framing the issue in terms conducive to achieving their desired outcome. (It is often

difficult to discern whether individual’s rhetorical strategies are self-serving or whether

they are sincerely pursuing their preferred outcome precisely, as they may claim, because

of how they frame, account for, and contextualize the terms of the conflict.) Also, their

purposes in their initial expression of a grievance are multiple, varied and problematic.

They generally first express a problematic condition with some emotional intimate, but

this may or may not be the person with whom they are having the conflict, and they do so

in a process that is alternately solution-oriented (instrumental) or problem-oriented

(expressive). While they generally seek some type of support this may be emotional

support, practical advice or practical help on dealing with the person or situation.

   It is at this point that a grievance or covert conflict becomes an overt, interpersonal

conflict. But again who they approach, and the manner in which they approach another

individual or party has important consequences shaping the evolution of the conflict from

a private to a relatively public affair; covert and overt are end points in a continuum, as

an individual may confine themselves to confessions among intimates, achieving

understanding from a person not involved in the conflict. But here they may decide to

take more explicit action oriented to achieving their preferred outcome, and that can take

the form of mobilizing interpersonal resources (such as a supportive coalition of

partisans) or institutional resources (such as bureaucratic procedures or officially

sanctioned agents). At this point the conflict can move from the informal, interpersonal

realm to a progressively more official, collectivized and public matter.

   To recapitulate an initial natural history of conflict, conflicts begin as a vague sense

of some intrapersonal problem, and move to a grievance when acknowledged and defined

intrapersonally. Grievances can then: remain unexpressed, as individuals can either ‘lump

it’ or handle it unilaterally, such as through avoidance (Emerson, personal

communication); become expressed covertly, by attempting to subtly shape subsequent

interaction, or expressed overtly - either covert and overt expression of grievances can

lead to a satisfactory remedy; or grievances can be ‘named, claimed and the claim

denied’ (Felstiner, Abel, and Sarat, 1981) at which point they become overtly expressed

conflict. Overtly expressed conflict, also takes different forms: it can be handled

primarily between two individuals; other individuals can become involved informally and

act either as partisans or mediators; or official parties and more formal procedures can

become invoked.

   Even after the stage of involvement by other parties, the conflict can come to come to

be defined through a contingent social process primarily as: deviance, where one party

has mobilized either a coalition or some official process which has functioned to isolate

the other party; a conflict which continues to be framed primarily in interpersonal terms

as an issue between to individuals (although others may be disproportionally sympathetic

to one or another party, based on their affiliations and ideological commitments, they do

not conceive of themselves as involved, they frame the conflict as primarily being

between the principals); a conflict, such as around policy disputes or the allocation of

community resources and budgets, may prefigured to be framed in collectivized terms

through the manner in which it is initially raised; or a conflict can initially be framed in

interpersonal terms and come to be framed through incipiently collectivized terms.

   The existence of conflict calls into question group boundaries and loyalties. Labeling

theorists have critiqued the uniformity of social norms as they have been conceptualized

by functionalists. Moments of conflict are moments in which social norms are

questioned, either by individuals or by people in groups. An analysis of the various

‘sides’ of a conflict demonstrates the contours, fissures, and factions in a social

environment - replacing overly homogenous conceptions of social norms and cultures

with a richer appreciation for the fluidity and difficulty in defining social groups and

group boundaries (both for participants and analysts). Rather than beginning with a

notion of collective behavior, a focus on conflict within and between groups, poses the

issue of group cohesion and group boundaries - and how these are formed, maintained

and/or torn apart - as a dilemma for social actors and as an empirically researchable

agenda for social analysts.

   A key feature of how an initially interpersonal conflict comes to be framed and

accepted in collectivized terms is the invocation of some ‘community’, ideological or

normative principle which may contingently become accepted by a critical mass of the

community. This last process is interesting, and reminiscent of the Garfinkel-Parsons

debate on the relative role of agency versus cultural or structural determinism in that it

poses some intriguing questions, such as: How do norms actually work in social life?

How are they invoked, interpreted, framed, created, denied or reacted to? What purposes

to they serve? How are they related to underlying material or ideological interests? How

do they fit in the set of affiliative relationships? Do they function to separate and/or unite

partisans and (contingently) ‘third parties’ to a conflict?

   In all of the stages of overtly expressed conflict, the other individuals involved can

act either as disinterested officials, neutral third parties or partisans. The status of ‘other

individuals’ qua ‘others’ rather than as members of partisan coalitions themselves now

involved as active disputants to the conflict, is itself problematic, contingent and subject

to change. In relatively democratic contexts, the fact that ‘officials’ have become

involved does not necessarily mean that these officials are acting as ‘third parties’. Even

conflicts which are prefigured at the outset in collectivized terms can maintain a structure

of two party conflicts, take on a multi-party factionalist form, or become moderated by

some third-party process (such as the courts or some other ‘outside’ agent, that is, outside

of the immediate context of the conflict or organization).

    In their paper(1977), “the micro-politics of trouble”, Emerson and Messinger state

that third parties are significant in shaping the way in which the conflict is framed and the

outcome determined (they use the term ‘trouble’ to emphasize the status of ‘conflict’ as a

contingent outcome of the framing process). They bring attention to the fact, also

emphasized by Black (1993) that much conflict management is achieved through

informal social processes, and that these informal processes shape and, in turn, are shaped

by official third party agents and formal bureaucratic procedures. For example, the way a

conflict is framed by informal, interpersonal processes, can determine which official

agents are called in, and what specific types of procedures they will draw on. They make

some initial remarks problematizing the third-party status of official agents, and call for a

fuller theory of ‘trouble’ linking micro- and macro-sociological processes.

    I would suggest that one way to empirically explore the link between micro- and

macro-sociological processes in managing conflict would be through descriptive

qualitative analysis of meso-sociological processes within a relatively bounded

community small enough to be organized largely through informal social processes (and

for a field investigator to have intimate, detailed knowledge of the lives of a substantial

number of the participants) and large enough for quasi-formal and formal structural and

bureaucratic processes to begin to emerge.

   The UCHA co-op is such a place. The co-op is a distinctive and theoretically

interesting field setting in that it is a relatively bounded community in which members

are responsible for electing representatives who determine the rules, norms and policies

of the organization. While certainly other organizations do this (notably states) they are

rarely small enough to be witnessable and observable by both members and analysts in

their entirety, nor to be organized simultaneously by informal and formal processes. In

addition it serves as a useful contrast with the available literature on conflict mediation,

notably Morrill’s (1995) The Executive Way (which analyses professional environments)

and Baumgartner’s (1988) The Moral Order of a Suburb (which analyses a residential

environment with contrasting structural and normative characteristics).

   Since both of these studies are based on Black’s theory of ‘social control’ and

‘conflict management’ (which he treats as interchangeable terms, p.92:fn1), I will return

to a more in-depth evaluation of Black’s theory, before considering Morrill and

Baumgartner’s empirical work. Black outlines his ‘general theory of social primarily in

two articles of his book, The Social Structure of Right and Wrong: in “Social control as a

dependent variable”, and in “Elementary forms of conflict management”. Black identifies

several potential styles of social control (penal, compensatory, therapeutic, conciliatory,

preventative, reformistic and expiatory) as well as distinguishing whether social control is

exercised informally or formally and in a religious or secular manner. Black also

distinguishes forms of social control, such as whether it is exercised individually or

collectively. Black goes on to further distinguish the quantity of social control and the

quantity of normative variation before presenting several models of social control.

    Black’s focus, in treating social control as a dependent variable, is to treat the various

forms, styles and quantity that social control can take as an outcome, an effect, of some

underlying cause (independent variable). The article suggests empirical investigation into

the causes of a given instance of social control. He is rather careful not to suggest what

the independent variables are, leaving that as the topic of empirical research, but there is

an implication of a structural or even objectivist leaning (“we are concerned here entirely

with the development of sociological theory about social control and not in any way with

the psychology - or subjective aspect of this phenomena [fn:6]”). Fundamentally, Black is

recommending a line of research into factors influencing the specific varieties of social

control as an outcome measure of some underlying social cause.

    Black makes it clear that there is no necessary contradiction between investigating the

causes and effects of social control, that is, “a single approach might understand social

control as both an independent and a dependent variable. For example, social control

might be regarded as a reaction to deviant behavior that counteracts its disequilibriating

effects on the social system in which it occurs (see Homans, 1950:310-312; Parsons,

1951: 297-321) [fn.: 6]”. Essentially, this is the broader research agenda that I intend to

follow, as outlined above: an empirical investigation into the causes, styles and effects of


    For my purposes, Black’s most significant theoretical predictions are outlined in his

theory of the structural factors associated with 2 forms of conflict management: discipline

and rebellion, and avoidance. He lists the structural factors associated with discipline and

rebellion as being: inequality, vertical segmentation, social distance, functional utility and

immobility. Discipline and rebellion are both forms of conflict management within

hierarchical contexts (78). In these regards, and recalling my earlier comments on the

distinction between factors associated with the generation of a given type of grievance

and factors associated with the expression of a given type of conflict, I would predict that

hierarchical settings are more likely to generate rebellious or disciplinary orientations or

forms of grievances, but, based on Morrill and Baumgartners’ work, hierarchical settings

also tend to discourage the open expression of conflict by prefiguring the outcomes to

any potential overt conflict in favor of the more powerful party, such that, overall

hierarchical power structures would appear to have simmering grievances characterized

by covertly expressed conflict.

   Avoidance, for Black (79-82), is associated with: absence of hierarchy, social fluidity,

social fragmentation, functional independence and individuation. These factors each

seem relevant to Baumgartner’s characterization of the ‘moral order’ of suburbia as a

minimalistic moral order exemplified by avoidance of open conflict or confrontation.

Looking at her data, I would also add another relevant feature: territorialism. Here again,

in a different way, the outcomes of conflict are largely prefigured by the demarcations of

property: individuals confine themselves to confrontations largely within family units and

the shared property relations and affiliative structures implied within them, such that,

when faced with norm-violating behavior across family and property boundaries

individuals essentially retreat back into their prescribed social and territorial domain.

From this we can predict that shared property relations and shared responsibility for

managing the policies and resources of a context like the co-op would generate increased

opportunities for the open and conflicting expression of heterogeneous normative


   In her book, The Moral Order of a Suburb, Mary (M.P.) Baumgartner discusses her

partial theory of the conditions generating forms of conflict based on the 12 months she

spent conducting fieldwork in a small satellite community (16,000) of New York city,

which she refers to through the ‘pseudonym’ Hampton, possibly a reference to ‘the

Hamptons’ of Long Island. I say ‘partial theory’, because Baumgartner is aware of the

distinctiveness a community which she refers to as ‘middle class’ (but which sounds

more like ‘upper-middle’ and ‘upper’ class). Its not possible to generate a holistic causal

theory based on the analysis of one case - there is no independent variable which, in fact,

varies - hence, no basis for comparison, and Baumgartner knows it. Her theory emerges

implicitly, largely through her descriptions of the distinctive features of the place,

coupled with her characterizations of the forms of conflict and conflict management

emergent within her empirical field of reference. Her characterizations have problems,

which emerge more through her fairly conscientious references to exceptions and

negative cases. I want to discuss both her theory and a more comprehensive theory that

could emerge through an analysis of those negative cases, coupled with more extensive

data from a context like the co-op - where the forms conflict takes run counter to those

she discusses.

   She refers to the moral order of a suburb as an order of ‘moral minimalism’ which she

ascribes to a few factors, and from which some other factors may be inferred. ‘Moral

minimalism’ refers to a handling of conflict based primarily on its avoidance. It may

seem strange to study a context with so little open conflict as a basis for promulgating a

theory of conflict, but actually that is quite useful, largely by contrast with my context -

where this is a lot conflict. The factors she discusses (at times explicitly, at other times

these arise implicitly through her ethnographic descriptions of the place) are quite

different than the co-op and in many ways diametrically opposed, so the book serves as a

useful contrast.

    The society is affluent; individuals have a lot of space (allowing the possibility of

withdrawal into their homes or at least other rooms); there is very little community

property (she mentions several small and trivial examples such as a television used by

adolescent siblings, and even here, in each case, she cites these as examples where

conflict arose); in fact, there is little community at all - the social organization is best

described as atomistic, based on small (micro in the extreme) nuclear family units (again,

the exception to the is in the ‘working class’ families, which have more extended family

networks, and, again, she raises this example to discuss exceptions where there is more

conflict). This last point is particularly important by way of contrast with my case. There

appear to be very few conflicts of interest at any level of social organization beyond the

nuclear family - again her few examples of open conflict arise from such cases. There are

very few resources which individuals would debate the uses of. There are also very few

social structures beyond the nuclear family.

    One example is a small mall. The adolescents of the town would like to frequent this

mall and spend time associating with their peers; the adults would like the area relatively

peaceful and quiet. This, then, is a common area and common resource with separate

visions of how that resource should be used by incipient social groupings of individuals;

conflict arises. There is a planning department. Separate visions emerge as to the

appropriate standards for the community and what activities are acceptable (as when one

individual houses chickens and another wants to stable horses); conflict arises (in this

case open and somewhat organized conflict, which she does not attempt to reconcile with

her characterization of ‘moral minimalism’). There is a police department. Separate

visions arise as to the appropriate standards of community policing (for example, speed

ticketing and drivers passing a car on the right at a light); conflict arises. She treats the

cases of conflict as exceptions to the norm of moral minimalism, but of course the

exceptions are vital to an incipient causal theory of several factors underlying the

emergence of conflict and its subsequent form. Given the paucity of conflict the factors

must remain incipient, but the cases are nonetheless illuminating.

    In each of the cases where conflict does arise, there is either: some shared resource

individuals are vying for control over; mutually exclusive normative frameworks

underlying social action that come into contact with one another; or some type of social

deviance. This last bears mention first. Most of the cases of social deviance are basically

a subset of the aforementioned second factor, where one normative framework is

represented by one individual, or at most a few, individuals. She mentions a couple that

enjoyed drinking alcohol on their porch and cussing, for example. This is normal

behavior in some communities (a poor area of North Oakland I lived in, for example) and

would not cause notice or sanction. It contrasted with the general disdain for activity in

common or public areas in Hampton, however, and in this environment was cause

regarded as deviant and cause for the general social sanction of avoidance and isolation.

    There were a few instances of deviance which were a bit different, however, and

where individuals appeared to be acting in manners which they knew to violate norms,

and which were, perhaps for the titillating purpose of violating community expectations,

as where a man went naked and defecated in full view of his neighbors; or when a

woman ‘trapped’ people in conversation, either unaware or unconcerned, of their

discomfort. In these cases individuals were socially inept or intentionally disruptive. I’m

not sure if I can advance a causal theory of conditions generating these behaviors. A

functionalist tack would be to suggest that such deviance is an inevitable feature of all

societies. The oft-cited example goes: even in heaven, there would be individuals

sanctioned for wearing the hem of their robes to high (or low). This is really a non-

explanation however; it doesn’t account for variation in rates of deviance across societies

or social contexts - either in terms of the absolute level of the occurrence of deviant

behaviors or the subjectivistic tendency to label actions as deviance. That is, rates of

deviance or levels of (in)tolerance. Durkheim himself, however, did attempt to look at

rates of deviance in Suicide, and relate them to social structures of isolation or

community cohesiveness (although he committed the original ecological fallacy of failing

to account for whether his Protestants were actually the ones committing suicide or

whether they just drove the Catholics crazy). This is important, because he formulated an

implicit theory of anomie based on this topic, stating that anomie (and deviance) arises

where normative frameworks are not sufficiently fixed and certain within the minds of

individuals. I mention deviance as an exception for now; I am not trying to advance a

theory of it at the moment.

   I do think, based on Baumgartner’s analysis (and other sociologic traditions) that we

can conclude that conflict will arise more frequently where social actors or groups are

vying for control of a limited resource; or, where individuals are advancing divergent

normative frameworks or visions of how the community should be formed. Of course,

there can be no conflict between separate visions of the community if there is no

consciousness of living in a ‘community’, per se, to begin with.

   The conditions of Baumgartner's suburb go a long way to explaining its ‘minimalistic

moral order’, particularly its affluence, (lessening the scarcity of common resources), its

atomistic social organization and its general homogeneity. Again, the cases where

conflict does emerge are generally exceptions to those factors.

   Conversely, where there are (1) limited resources, (2) high community involvement,

(3) the factionalistic emergence of social groupings below the community level (such as

Baumgartner’s teens/adults or whites/Italians), and (4) high levels of commitment to

(potentially divergent) normative frameworks we can expect concomitantly higher levels

of emergent conflict.

   All of these points are significant to my study of a context that has (1) limited

resources, (2) individuals highly involved in a community life, (3) highly diverse cultural,

ethnic, and normative backgrounds, providing ripe conditions for ethnic and cultural

factionalism, (4) high levels of idealism and ideological commitment (to these potentially

divergent frames).

   A firth factor, the existence of relatively hierarchical or populist patterns of decision-

making and influence, is problematic. I would say this factor increases the likelihood of

grievances but decreases the overt expression of conflict. Quite simply, hierarchical

systems are less likely to be responsive to the concerns and ideological commitments of

the majority of the membership. Conversely, this ‘silent’ (or perhaps, quietly ‘griping’)

majority is likely to cynically assess their ability to individually or collectively ‘do

anything’ about their dissatisfying conditions, and instead decide to ‘lump it’ (Nader,


   Baumgartner’s study is also problematic in terms of the setting and her analytic style.

In terms of the setting, the community is simply too big for her to have personal

knowledge or a close personal relationship with any more than a small fraction of the

individuals comprising it. In addition, it is unclear how fixed the boundaries are. In order

for the reader to regard Hampton as a ‘community’ per se (completely aside from the

extent to which the residents themselves regard it as a community), there should be a

closer discussion of the permeability of Hamptons boundaries. Without this, is difficult to

assess its status as a sociologically meaningful unit of analysis.

   More vexing from an ethnographer’s point of view, and possibly relating to the issue

of her inadequate knowledge of Hampton’s inhabitants, is the paucity of descriptive

context she provides about individuals involved in the various disputes. Her writing style

is generally to provide an analytic point, and then a few indented paragraphs of cases

representing her theoretical conclusions. If one value of ethnography stems from its

ability to impart a totalistic sense for subjects’ Lebenswelten, her lack of ethnographic

detail is clearly short of the mark. The reader is left hanging about what individuals’ lives

are like; the cases appear as little notes in a bottle from some distant islands of social

reality. If we are to theorize based on analyses of individuals’ lives, we much represent

enough about them and their distinctiveness to understand them as full-fledged

individuals, not merely instances of a type.

   The reader may have noticed that I haven’t included deviance as an independent

factor generating conflict. Quite honestly, I’m simply not ready to commit to whether

deviance is an independent cause or a reflection of an underlying independent variable

about the society (such as diversity or tolerance). While I see the co-op as like a ‘mini-

society’ of 433 individuals, and I stand by my characterization of it as a sociologically

meaningful unit of analysis, its boundaries are admittedly quite permeable. To begin

with, it is a residential community, not a commune serving as both a unit of production

and consumption (admittedly all members are variably involved in the work of its

maintenance, but it requires a net inward flow of goods and services). Individuals are

engaged in socially formative professional lives. More significantly, since individuals

arrive there more or less as adults, I am not ready to say that social deviation and

intolerance are related to the cultural and structural conditions of the co-op itself. Some

individuals seem to arrive predisposed to deviance and others seem to arrive predisposed

to label deviance.

   Idealism and community involvement are self-selecting, in the sense that individuals

without these traits keep a low profile; making them simply less involved in the

community generally and in conflicts specifically. I don’t think this really undermines my

analysis of community involvement or idealism, however; once again, those individuals

who are highly involved in the community and highly ‘principled’ (that is, committed to

their normative frameworks to the extent that they are willing to publicly advocated and

argue for them) are more likely to become embroiled in conflict. These individuals are

more likely to enter the BOD and generally more likely to enter the center of community

life, with their more laid-back counterparts more likely play a marginal role in the

community - showing up to sleep and perhaps eat, and disappearing at other times.

   In his contemporary ethnographic study, The Executive Way, Calvin Morrill

distinguishes three types of social organization in professional contexts: mechanistic,

atomistic and matrix. Mechanistic environments have strong hierarchical structures and

rigid bureaucratic procedures; atomistic organizations, like Baumgartner’s suburb, afford

a greater relative level of autonomy to their professionals (or at least to their departmental

divisions) and hierarchical relations between professionals and their staffs; matrix

systems are characterized by overlapping hierarchical relations where one worker may be

accountable to two or more managing divisions, and where managers for one project may

conflict with managers from another division overseeing a different aspect of the same

project. Although Morrill does not engage the Marxist literature, the implication of his

study, for lack of a better phrase, is that the Marxists got it ass-backwards - as far as the

effect of hierarchical power relations on conflict and stability goes: hierarchical power

relations reduce conflict by predetermining the outcome of potential conflict.

   Morrill’s study is in line with Baumgartner’s to the extent that atomism and

autonomy, in giving professionals less reason to vie for competing visions as to the

direction of the organization and less occasion to compete for limited resources, reduce

the expression of conflict. Each professional’s territory, like Baumgartner’s picket-fenced

properties, is more clearly demarcated. The exception being in matrix organizations,

which are more intrinsically unstable.

   I find it somewhat ironic that Morrill’s insight as to the conflict-minimizing effect of

hierarchically rigid systems of power relations arose from observing the life situation and

concomitant world-view of the dominant class, while Marx’s haunting imbukes of

unequal relations of production and exchange reflect his position among an impoverished

segment of the population (two of his children died of poverty-related conditions after

Marx’s evident atheism pushed him out of a relatively privileged academic’s life). That

is, Morrill notes that hierarchy promotes stability; Marx notes the inequality promulgates

injustice and fans the flames of lower-class resentment of the existing social order. Their

analyses could both be right, reflecting and underscoring the class-positions of the

participants upon which the analyses are based. As Marx stated, “in all societies the ideas

of the ruling class are the ruling ideas”. Methodologically, this gets back to the issue of

how lines of inquiry affect, and in some sense predetermine, theoretical conclusions.

   So the theoretical crux of the matter here is whether we can analytically distinguish

and empirically measure factors which increase the subjective experience of resentment

towards a social order by a some (objectively or experientially) powerless social segment,

from the open expression of such tensions in relatively public or objectively measurable

displays of conflict. Based on my intimate knowledge of the co-op as a mini-society I

would say that we can. Further, to the extent that the social system of the co-op itself

independently generates acts of deviance (that is, independent the variable proclivities for

deviant behavior that individuals bring to the co-op upon entrance) I would say that it is

related to this subjective experience of resentment. Where the open expression of conflict

is repressed, hidden and relatively minor expressions of rebellion through deviant action

(conceived in strictly functionalist terms as rebellion from a coherent and consensually

agreed upon normative order) will increase. In the co-op, such resentment is expressed

passively by blowing-off workshifts, sluggish work performance once there, and

apathetic regard for community issues (such as elections and cleanliness); it is expressed

actively either through intentional disregard for rules (vandalism or smoking in forbidden

areas, for examples) or through cynically self-interested actions: cronyism, corruption,

and theft.

    In intend to explore the independent effects of these factors by triangulating 3 sources

of data: close personal observations of current social processes through participant

observation, allowing ethnographic detail of events as they occur; semi-structured

interviews of individuals’ (other than myself) characterizations of both current and past

conflicts and factors affecting them; lastly, semi-archival materials available in the co-op

itself, such as Memcom and BOD minutes, the rule book (as a the official definition of

the structure and normative order) or media depictions of the co-op. I view these last

sources of interest both as a source of information about past events and, where I have

more in-depth information available, as a way of tracing factors affecting media content

and its analysis.

    My first methodological goal is to describe in detail the features of this social

environment that distinguish it from Morrill and Baumgartner’s work - some of which I

have already described above. Through detailed description of the structure of this

environment, coupled with a description of the types of conflict and forms in which

conflict is expressed, I believe I can advance a causal analysis of the relation between

social structure and forms of expressing conflict. Again, Morrill dealt with professional

contexts organized around professional norms and goals, Baumgartner examined the

‘moral minimalism’ of suburban contexts characterized by limited community property

or community involvement in, or responsibility for, the norms and policies governing her

community as a whole.

    The deeper methodological question is the logic orienting my collection of data and

framing my phenomenon of study: what type of conflict am I planning to collect data on?

The preceding discussion was intended to pose a number of these issues, which I will

explore more explicitly here. My basic intent is to frame a ‘natural history’ of the stages

(and contingent forms) of expressing conflict. I distinguish grievances (either covertly or

overtly expressed); conflict expressed in interpersonal terms; conflict which comes to be

framed in collective terms; and conflict prefigured in collective terms at the outset (as in

policy matters or budget disputes).

    Among collective disputes I distinguish: conflict expressed without attempting a

remedy as in members ‘griping’, or airing grievances to other members who are poorly

situation to instigate a remedy (complaining about the food to people sitting next to them,

or about fines to other members who have received similar fines - rather than to the

kitchen manager or Memcom, respectively); conflict expressed in manners intended to

seek a remedy or to change the policy or problematized condition (fundamentally by

approaching the relevant members of the hierarchy or attempting to galvanize a coalition

from one’s social network or like-minded partisans); collectivized conflicts that maintain

a relatively impartial third party structure (such as a sexual harassment case invoking and

defining the boundaries of the normative order of acceptable behavior which galvanizes a

large segment but remains adjudicated by a relatively impartial Memcom); and

collectivized conflicts wherein the power structure itself becomes embroiled in the

conflict and their status as ‘third-party’ arbitrators is openly called into question (as in an

election dispute about the composition of the BOD that ends up becoming decided by the

BOD membership themselves).

    I don’t want to get into the reasons for the most basic definition of conflict stated at

the beginning: conflicting desires by two individuals or parties for preferred, mutually

exclusive outcomes around some issue for which they are personally, materially or

ideologically committed. That is, I view the reasons why people want what they want and

why individuals living in similar situations do or do not become embroiled in conflict are

too intrapersonal and varied to be amenable to sociologic analysis. At the same time, I do

view the structure of the environment as significant in shaping the types of conflict, the

expression of conflict, and the management and outcomes of conflict that will the found


    My way of reconciling these two concerns is to pose that, rather than constraining or

determining the actions of individuals, the structural and local cultural environment

provides opportunities3 for different forms of conflict. For example, the existence of a

high degree of shared property, community involvement, a relatively responsive local

political structure, shared responsibility for determining the norms, policies and

allocation of resources in the organization will in no way force or require individuals to

become embroiled in conflicts about any of the associated issues. Individuals do so based

originally, based on their intrapersonal definitions of the situation and conception of their

own interests and values. But the existence of these factors creates the potential for

individuals operating from different normative frameworks to clash about the direction or

goals of the organization. Such conflicts become witnessable as soon as they are

expressed, and become increasingly visible as individuals attempt to galvanize a partisan

coalition bend specifically on achieving their self-defined interests. They draw upon

affiliative networks, and advocate or convince others of their point of view, all in an

observable social process which clarifies the structure of their situation and takes the

interpersonal processes as the starting point for analysis.

       In addition close description of each stage in a natural history of conflict can help to

define both the structure of conflict, and reveal the factions, normative frameworks, and

social structure of the social context.

Distinctive Features of the Context:
       A few words on what life is like in a co-operative living environment. My interest in

this field environment is sparked in part by the idealism of the setting. There are slogans

on the wall proclaiming: “The co-op: we own it.” There is a stated egalitarianism

stemming in part from the Rochdale principles of co-operative living (more on this later).

Advocates of the co-operative movement self-consciously conceived of it as a ‘third way’

between capitalism and communism: emerging within a larger context of advanced

industrial capital, formed by individuals collectively pooling their resources.

       The specific co-op that I am examining is the UCHA (University of California

Housing Association) at UCLA. (It was previously called the UCLA co-op, but, so the

co-op mythology goes anyway, the university, in its wisdom, threatened legal action

based on UCHA’s ‘co-opting’ its proprietary name.) One thing particularly appealing

about it, as a research setting, is that it is a relatively bounded community. It currently has

433 members, housed in three buildings Robison, Essene and Hardman-Hanson (HH). It

has an operating budget of 2.3 million dollars per year. It makes sociological sense to

refer to it as a ‘place’ or ‘field setting’. There’s been a lot of increasingly reflexive talk

lately in ethnographic circles (see Emerson, 2001:43 or Gupta and Ferguson, 1997:15)

about the constitution of ‘the field’ as a legitimate social unit available for analysis.

    Perhaps with a neutral evaluative stance, rather than the positive associations that the word implies
While it is true that there are divisions within the co-op, it cannot be equated with the

conglomeration of alienated individuals in an office building that Gupta and Ferguson

critique as a sociologically meaningless ‘place’. (A skyscraper is a material structure, a

set of social relations, perhaps, but not a coherent ‘place’ in the minds of its inhabitants.)

The co-op is such a place, as witnessed by the way ‘co-opers’ talk about it. Their speech

is full of reifying references to ‘the co-op’ as a meaningful unit of endogenous analysis:

how ‘it’ does business, the decisions ‘it’ makes, etc.

   In my orientation I was told, with only a bit of irony, that the co-op is basically

organized along the lines of an Eastern European state before the fall of the Soviet Union.

While in principle the highest governing body is the membership itself, at 433 members a

full-house meeting is a bit unwieldy to be run on a consensus basis, and, in practice,

pretty much all governing decisions are made by the board of directors (BOD, or simply

‘the board’) in conjunction with an executive director (ED) named Arusha; he is a Sri

Lankan man who came to the co-op about 10 years ago as a student. Each member of the

BOD is elected in a house vote, and votes on the BOD. Arusha has no vote, and his pay

and employment status are decided by the BOD, but in practice he is a quite persuasive

orator and the BOD generally tends (with a few recent explosive exceptions) to defer to

his recommendations. Arusha is also extremely influential given that, while the BOD is

comprised of busy students, this is his full time job. He both implements and shapes BOD

policy, as a result of his competence, diligence and institutional role as a manager.

   The rent is rather cheap, about 400 dollars per month, which includes rent, food (such

as it is) and utilities (minus phone) in Westwood. Space is scarce, with only 28 singles in

HH and about 10 in Robison, and the rest of the members living in triples, doubles or

‘suites’ - rooms with a bit more space and two ‘sides’ separated by a wall. The co-op

could simply not run at this cost without each of the members working 4 hours per week

in one of the ‘crews’: kitchen, and vegetarian cooking crew (which I founded),

maintenance, security, the social crew, the MR (members’ resource) crew, the co-op

store, main office, postal room and cleaning crew. Previously ‘accounting’ was also a

crew run by an accountant, Junko, who was herself a previous co-oper, but I recently

fired her after her intransigence in supplying clear reports.

   It now appears clear that Junko was stealing from us, and surrounding herself with

Japanese office accounting workers, because they were loyal to her and did what they

were told. In her case it also came out of particulars of her relationship with previous

boards and her feeling that she was being exploited, asked to volunteer for a long period

without recompense - she was trying to make back her lost wages. This is one ‘case’ I

would like to discuss, given the danger of corruption to cooperatives once

bureaucratization begins to take hold. I believe that such corruption is born of student

apathy, in failing to keep close tabs on its leadership, coupled with a perception of ‘the

co-op’ as an impersonal bureaucratic structure unresponsive to their needs. I expect a

reader to complain that I have just claimed there was a sense of community here. This is a

bit complicated. Communalism is the utopian image; Eastern-European style communism

is the dystopian one. When members refer to ‘the co-op’ often they do so in both

dystopian and utopian ways. My ambivalence here reflects the ambivalence of the

membership themselves.

   In addition to the work crews there are two elected committees, the BOD which I

served on all last year (I was president in the Spring) and will probably return to this year,

and the membership committee (Memcom), which I served on as vice-president before

joining the BOD. The model I personally have for the two committees, a model which I

have advocated both to the board and Arusha, is as the board serving analogously to the

state legislature and Memcom serving as the judiciary. This is not a statement advocating

that Mecum’s process should resemble the impersonal, formal, asymmetric power

relations operating in government judiciaries; rather, it is a statement about the

appropriate separation of powers between the two committees. I believe they should be

one roughly similar power statuses, Arusha and most of the rest of the board don’t. This

is one of the sources of conflict that I myself have become embroiled in, based in part on

my previous experiences of being railroaded by the board as a Memcom member. So far

at least, when the two bodies come into conflict, the board reigns supreme; although, I’ve

instituted some policies designed to mitigate this a bit.

   Memcom’s primary formal role is to mediate, resolve and adjudicate member

disputes, as well as independently sanctioning deviant members with fines, work

penalties or expulsions. These disputes are often purely dyadic in nature, but can also

involve some sort of disgruntlement around fines given out by work shift managers,

bathroom-cleaning checkers.

   Independent sanctions are intended to be for work- and rent-deficiencies as well as

rule violations, such as smoking in ‘enclosed areas’ (the definition of which has been

mildly contentious). In addition to this, Memcom is also charged with running house

elections, and is specifically charged by the rulebook as having ‘sole discretion in

mediating election disputes’. Memcom also handles ‘reg check’, wherein students present

documentation as to their student status, and ‘bump’. Bump is a mammoth undertaking

whereby students vie for available room spaces once a quarter based on seniority (or

group seniority where two or more members bump into a double or triple together), in a

setting similar to an impromptu auction set up in the cafeteria.

   In practice, Memcom has often shirked off its role as house cop. While there is a

formal statement in the rulebook that any member who misses two shifts without notice

per (10-week) quarter or 3 shifts with notice, is subject to expulsion, in practice,

Memcom has rarely enforced this rule. Recently the board stepped in and expelled many

members for work-deficiency, but by this time, Memcom had also gotten around to doing

it in the same week, resulting in dual expulsion notices being sent out with conflicting

conditions for re-instatement. Memcom has also frequently blown off its responsibilities

in regards to expelling members in response to rent deficiency, with some members

literally owing thousands of past-due rent, before, again, the board finally stepped in with

its own round of expulsions.

   Such things lead to a lot of cross-committee griping: Memcom members (and

previous members like myself) are angry that the board is stepping on Memcom’s turf;

board members feel that Memcom is a bunch of flakes who don’t know what their job is.

Memcom is also upset about the range of their responsibilities and the lack of power vis-

à-vis the board. (The disparate verb conjugation is an artifact of Memcom simultaneously

being seen both as an entity and a collection of individuals.) I will return to what I’ve

attempted to do about these things and where it’s gone from there. Part of the difference

in professionalism stems from the fact that Arusha himself sits in on board meetings, but

does not attend Memcom meetings. He has admitted to me in private conversations that

he doesn’t see a legitimate role for Memcom, and would rather consolidate power with

the board - having it serve both functions.

   There are a lot of members fed up with the co-op, who simply talk about staying there

until some unspecified point when they have enough money to move into a place where

they can have more space and privacy, cook their own food, clean their bathrooms

whenever and to whatever level they desire and not have to deal with crew-chiefs,

‘unfair’ fines, and all the petty hassles involved in living in a place with three buildings,

one kitchen and 433 people. A lot of people use it as a temporary place to stay; a first

stop in Los Angeles or the USA. For this reason there is a very high composition of

foreign-born students, typically around 60%. There is also a very high level of racial

diversity. This is one of its impressive features given the racial and ethnic exclusivity of

the UCLA student body generally.

   Some history is worth mention here. The UCHA was founded in 1935 by George

Brown, who went on to be a congressman and support for the co-operative movement, in

part to confront racism in Westwood. At that time it was illegal for blacks to live in

Westwood, unless they were servants. The UCHA successfully argued that since all

members had to perform weekly work shifts, and contribute labor power such as food and

cleaning services, then all members were, pardon the expression, both masters and slaves.

   Over the decades since then many of these principles have been encoded in a

rulebook possessing something like the rule of law. The only hedge here is that it is up

for the membership committee, the BOD and Arusha to interpret that rule. Sometimes we

attempt to interpret it in a good faith effort to abide by the clear intent, other times we

either explicitly ignore the stated rules or interpret them through extremely heavy-handed

bad faith efforts to arrive at our desired agenda. I’ve done this, and I’ve seen others do it

too. In one of our worst meetings since I’ve been on the board, Darryl Parry, the current

kitchen manager said, ‘if the rule-book doesn’t say that, then fuck the rule book’. He was

speaking to a rather sympathetic audience, in retrospect. He was speaking to the board of


I’ve come to the conclusion recently that the co-op is one of the most diverse microcosms

that one could happen upon in the history of the world. It has emerged in a historical

moment where globalization has taken sufficient hold that people from all over Africa,

Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Austronesia find themselves sufficiently

connected so as to have heard of UCLA and have a reason and means to arrive here; but

the environments are still sufficiently disintegrated to be quite distinctive. Its an ideal

place to live if you want to brush up on multiple language skills, for example. At times,

Arusha and others have complained to me that it has become ethnically cliquish - he

recently complained about the ‘Chinese contingent’ of the board voting as a block rather

than in the interests of the membership as a whole, for example. I personally like its semi-

cliquish nature. One sees people from many different cultures and hears multiple

languages wafting around the lobby, cafeteria and common rooms, in a way that an

assimilation model would undermine.


    A full theory of conflict should adequately conceptualize the difference between a

problem, a grievance, covertly expressed and overtly expressed conflict.


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