The Social Trichotomy

The Social Trichotomy

It is of heuristic value to differentiate the social universe into three tendencies or dimensions, the external society, the sociometric matrix and the social reality. By external society I mean all tangible and visible groupings, large or small, formal or informal, of which human society consists. By the sociometric matrix I mean all sociometric structures invisible to the macroscopic eye but which become visible through the sociometric process of analysis. By social reality I mean the dynamic synthesis and interpenetration of the two. It is obvious that neither the matrix nor the external are real or can exist by themselves, one is a function of the other. As dialectic opposites they must merge in some fashion in order to produce the actual process of social living.

The dynamic reason for this split is the underground existence of innumerable social constellations which impinge continuously upon external society, whose structure may vary from one cultural order to another, partly in an effort towards its disintegration, partly in an effort towards their realization and, last not least, because of the resistance which external society puts up against its substitution or change. As the profound and chronic conflict between these two tendencies is never fully resolved, the result is a synthesis in the form of what may be called the "social reality".

A position which has become axiomatic for sociometrists until proven otherwise is that the official (external) society and the sociometric (internal) matrix are not identical. The one is visible to the senses, it is macroscopic, the other is invisible, it is microscopic. In the sense of this dichotomy all groupings, whether as rigidly formalized and collectivized as an army or a church, or as casual and transitory as a meeting of people on a street corner, they belong, as long as they are visible to the naked macroscopic eye, to the externally structured society. One can not assume in advance that the sociogram of an army platoon, for instance, is radically different from the official structure of the platoon, rigidly imposed upon the men, or that the sociogram of a casual gathering on a street corner is equal or nearly equal to the actually visible formation. It is possible that in certain cultures, widely divergent from our own, the sociogram of a rigid social institution is identical with its actual social structure on the reality level. It is therefore methodically of utmost importance not to mix the sociometric position which is neutral (or let us say as neutral as possible) with the social order just existing and passing. Sociometry is equally applicable to every type of society which has emerged in the past or which might emerge in the future. The structure of the external society is comparatively easy to describe. It consists of visible, overt and observable groups; it is made up of all the groups recognized by law as legitimate, of all the groups rejected by law as illegitimate, as well as of all the neutral groups permitted, although unclassified and unorganized The shortest way to obtain a picture of the legitimate groups is to use the system of law ruling a particular society as a guide. In order to obtain a picture of the illegitimate groupings excursions into the underworld are effective. Illustrations of legitimate groups are : the family, the workshop, the school, the army or the church. Illustrations of informal and illegitimate groups are the casual encounter of two, the crowd, the mass, the mob, the streetcorner gangs or criminal rackets.

The structure of the sociometric matrix is more difficult to recognize. Special techniques called sociometric are necessary to unearth it; as the matrix is in continuous dynamic change the techniques have to be applied at regular intervals so as to determine the newly emerging social constellations. The sociometric matrix consists of various constellations, tele, the atom, the super- atom or molecule (several atoms linked together), the "socioid" which may be defined as a cluster of atoms linked together with other clusters of atoms via inter-personal chains or networks; the socioid is the sociometric counterpart of the external structure of a social group; it is rarely identical with what a social group externally shows because parts of its social atoms and chains may extend into another socioid. On the other hand, some of the external structure of a particular social group may not make sense configuratively as a part of a particular socioid but may belong to a socioid hidden within a different social group. Other constellations which can be traced within a sociometric matrix are psycho- social networks. There are in addition large sociodynamic categories which are frequently mobilized in political and revolutionary activities; they consist of the interpenetration of numerous socioids and represent the sociometric counterpart of "social class" as bourgeoisie or proletariat; they can be defined as sociometric structure of social classes or as "classoids".

The social reality itself is the dynamic interweaving of and interaction of the sociometric matrix with the outer, external society. The sociometric matrix does not exist by itself, just as the outer society does not exist by itself; the latter is continuously pushed and pulled by the structure underneath. Within a socio- metric system we distinguish therefore three processes, the outer reality of society, the internal reality of the sociometric matrix and the social reality itself, the historically growing, dynamic social groupings of which the actual social universe consists. If one knows the structure of the official society and the sociometric matrix he can recognize the bits and pieces which enter from the two dimensions into the synthesized forms of social reality. Social conflict and tension increases in direct proportion to the socio- dynamic difference between official society and sociometric matrix.


Moreno, J. L (1978, 3rd edition), Who Shall Survive. Beacon New York: Beacon House. pp. 79-81