Paper in the session “Civil Society, the State, and Social Change” chaired by Craig Jenkins at the meeting of the International Institute of Sociology (IIS) in Budapest, June 26-30, 2008. With thanks to Bo Anderson.

Using Societal Realms in Sociological Analysis

by Hans L Zetterberg, Bromma, Sweden

Abstract. In the introduction to this paper two traditional macro-sociological tools for the study of social movements are reviewed: the Gemeinschaft-Gesellschaft dichotomy and the organization-network-media trichotomy (in versions such as group-grid or bureaucracy-market). The paper then moves to its main topic, the use of societal realms – Polity, Morality, Economy, Religion, Science, and Art – as concepts in the study of total societies and their social movements. Max Weber’s life orders and value spheres are updated and revised to fit contemporary knowledge. When any one social realm of a society develops hegemony over other realms, contentious social movements emerge to seek and protect the autonomy of the subjugated realms; typically by promoting their special liberties, i.e. academic freedom, free trade, civic liberties, artistic freedom, religious freedom, or freedom of conscience. We illustrate by Augustus’ Roman Empire and its consequences for the structuration of Europe.

The Gemeinschaft-Gesellschaft and Social Movements

For over a hundred years Ferdinand Tönnies (1887) concepts Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (or their close synonyms) have been used and amended by social scientists. If they had not been available to us, we would have had to invent them. They tell that various attributes – the most important listed in Figure 1 – are correlated to form two master clusters. On balance their attributes group together more than not. This is very useful knowledge that condenses many discrete pieces of information.

Figure 1. Attributes of Societal Master Clusters: Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft





Habermas (1965) distinguished the life world in which the symbols have a stable and well understood meaning for everybody, from the system world in which special vocabularies are used and which lack general understanding of meanings.

Earlier, Sir Henry Sumner Maine (1861) distinguished a society in which the members' positions were based on ascribed qualities (status) from one in which positions were achieved by contracts.

Based on the dichotomy inspired by the philosopher Charles Stevenson (1944) — also explored by Parsons and Shils (1951) as "affectivity" — we separate language with emotive and executive loadings.

Durkheim (1893) distinguished communities of low differentiation where mechanical solidarity and strict conformity prevails, from differentiated communities bound together by organic solidarity, a mutual dependence on each other's specialized functions.

Based on dimensions inspired by Pareto (1916 para 2057), Weber 1922/1956 pp 12-13), and Sorokin (1937) that we distinguish cultural values that are marked by tradition ("being or residue I"), faithfulness ("wertrational"),  and humanism ("ideational"), from cultural values that are modern ("becoming or residue II"), flexible, ("zweckrational") and materialistic ("sensate").

Based on classifications of social roles by Parsons (ibid.) and others we have separated the closest ones with whom we have more lasting, continuous, familiar, inclusive, and personal relations from strangers, that is, persons with whom we have short, sporadic, unfamiliar, specialized, and impersonal relations.









Life world














Emotively charged


























'Folk life'






System world






































specialized, impersonal

'City life'

Transitions from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft give people opportunities for a rich and full life. For centuries, feudal families and households of kings and aristocracies represented the pinnacle of the European Gemeinschaft, while the great masses practiced rural folk life. Forceful liberal movements in the past two and a half centuries broke up these arrangements and opened up for a new life for everyone, regardless of station. In Europe these transitions included the rough and tumble early industrialization process. The transitions caused great dislocations and sorrows over lost forms of living (Polanyi 1944). They are not altogether different from the stress that contemporary Muslim youths experience in the Gesellschafts of Europe to which their parents have migrated from the Gemeinschafts of their native lands. 

Those at a loss at such turns of events have several options. They could join conservative or reactionary movements supporting the families, altars, and thrones and values of the old order. Or, they could form and join social movements to overturn or reform the new Gesellschaft. Some such movements emerged as compromises between the new and the old. For example, socialism promised the political and economic benefits of Gesellschaft but with the solidarity of Gemeinschaft. Or, fascism, a Gemeinschaft supported by secret police and married to a war-prone nationalism that accepted the technological advantages and the high standards of living that had come with Gesellschaft.

Rudolf Heberle, a student and son-in-law of Töennies, focused his pioneering research (Heberle 1951) on the social movements that emerged during the transition: liberalism, communism, socialism, anarchism, conservatism, and fascism. Only in passing does he note that many other movements emerged in the same expanding period of Gesellschaft that were non-political. They were neighborhood clubs, temperance movements, religious revivals, free masons, and similar orders. Their members could enjoy a Gemeinschaft in the midst of city life.

We can summarize a main conclusion of Heberle and others working on social movements from the Gemeinschaft-Gesellschaft paradigm in a proposition:

Persons experiencing a rapid change from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft tend to develop and/or join social movements that are (a) wholly contentious of their Gesellschaft, or, (b) organized as compromises between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, or, (c) organized as smaller Gemeinschafts inside the larger Gesellschaft.  

The Organization-Network-Media and Social Movements

A founding member of the Chicago School of sociology, Robert E. Park, had studied in Germany, and his doctoral dissertation in 1904 at Bonn University had the title Masse und Publikum. A "mass," he said, is an agglomeration of people without contacts with one another but exposed to a common source of information, e.g. the same newspaper. A "public" is a gathering in which people talk to one another and become aware of one another's viewpoints. This was the beginning of a schema of different forms of social interaction that came to mark the early teachings in sociology: the group, the public, the crowd (Park & Burgess 1924).

Today speech habits and terminology has changed. We would say that as the positions and relations in a society are formed, they cluster into three forms: organizations, networks, and media. These structures are the filled with participants. Organizations have members (leaders, staff, rank-and file), networks are filled by the general public, media have audiences. Streamlining this thinking, we note that lasting forms of symbolic interaction can be distinguished in part by the reciprocity of contacts and in part by the existence of a shared source or sender of communication (leadership). Using these two dimensions we can define communication structures. The combinations provide four types. All are clusters of interconnected positions and roles. See Figure 2. Our definitions give different labels to the participants and to the structures in which they are participating. The word “mass” has many meanings in contemporary social science. In the present context we may see it as undifferentiated encounters of many atomized persons with awareness of one another but without communication with one another, without any common issues to focus on, without a leadership to guide and coordinate actions. This streamlining of the terminology means that Park's original definitions and labels are changed.

Figure 2. Overview of Communication Structures

Is there a common symbolic environ-ment?




Yes or No

Is there a common sender of communic-ations?





Are there mutual channels
of contact?





Communication structure











In this theory, social movements develop into situations where the same issue concerns organizations, networks, and media. Combining the insights in an article by Downs (1972) and a book by Spector and Kitsuse (1977) we can identify six stages.

1.      Pre-problem stage. A harmful situation exists and is observed in some encounters but has not yet attracted the attention of lawmakers, journalists, or the public. Small networks and groups make initial claims and begin to recruit support.

2.      Alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm. A dramatic event with media coverage creates larger public support to solve the problem. There is a mobilizing effect from circular emotive reactions in demonstrations and manifestations.

3.      Official recognition of problem. Leadership in established organizations get involved: there may be legislation or a creation of agencies to deal with the harmful situation.

4.      Gradual decline in public interest. Recognizing the costs of significant progress and becoming bored with the problem, media attention fades, and the public loses interest. At this stage the movements will survive only if they find new issues.

5.      Active dissatisfaction in original groups. The groups who made initial claims reemerge and express dissatisfaction with how the harmful situation is being handled. Some who have lost confidence in how the problem is being handled try to create revivals with broader or more radical agendas.

6.      Post-problem stage. In spite of the fact that only limited improvement has been achieved, the issue at hand is replaced by new problems.

These stages are useful benchmarks in assessing public reaction in modern societies to potentially harmful problems. Knowledge of these stages is also useful in assessing the impact on social change of various movements, or on efforts to lengthen the life of a movement.

A sophisticated observer does not take for granted that a social movement will have its day and blow over. The century-old environmental movement has switched its concerns from issues of conservation and national parks to any recreation on lakes or in mountains and woods, to abatement of noise and congestion in cities, to air and water pollution, to abandoning nuclear energy, to the cleaning-up of poisonous waste, to biological diversity, to an agriculture free from chemical fertilizers and pesticides, to global warming. A core of ecology has remained in all these changes. The shifting foci have given environmentalism a much longer life than a typical social movement.

The Sect Stage

Social movements start as networks and tend to develop into organizations. This is the “iron law of oligarchy” (Michels 1911/1949). At the halfway point, when they are part sect and part organization, they are typically ‘sects.’ One usually speaks of sects in a religious context, but a sect need not be a religious community. It can be a marketplace for vegetarian food, a political movement, an aesthetic coterie, or the proponents of a scientific theory. The word ‘sect’ means followers.

A sect is a community of equals, held together by a firm, common standpoint. Its leader is a spokesperson for its followers, not the leader and spokesman of a staff, as in an organization. The internal life of the sect can be very fulfilling for its members. Here one can find an abundance of emotional warmth and involvement. Here one finds like-minded fellowship. Here one finds equality. Here is no bureaucracy.

Whether its ideology concerns religion, politics, the environment, or the art of living, the sect professes to support goodness, equality, and purity. The enemy of goodness is the evil in the world: sin, capitalism, industry, the decadent lifestyles of big-city Gesellschaft, or the like. The enemies of equality are hierarchy and centralization. The sects usually see a consistent equality as being more important than strong leadership.

Purity keeps the sect from living closely with non-members, the non-believers. The vocabulary of inclusion and exclusion is central to sects. The opposite of purity is worldliness. The sect's warning bells ring when a socialist has mixed with capitalists, the believer with heathens, environmentalists with those who are destructive to the natural milieu. Within the sect one protects one's genuine faith and guards against the seduction of outsiders. If you go out into the evil world it is as a missionary, not as a cosmopolitan.

A big problem for sects is to keep its followers together. You can understand a sect only if you realize that one of their overarching needs is to keep their networks intact. This need infiltrates almost all of the sect’s activities, even those that are apparently unrelated to it. Putting a priority on internal cohesion means an avoidance of very concrete answers to practical questions. It is enough to be against sin, apartheid, the atom bomb, gene manipulation, the ozone hole, etc. A detailed program and constructive compromises with adversaries might only lead to disagreement and schisms within the sect.

Many sects become missionary, and strive to spread their views and fellowship to others. A missionary position obliges everyone who wishes to remain in the community to acknowledge that they desire to convert outsiders. Of course it benefits the sect to convert heathens, which is the manifest function of its missionary efforts. But it also benefits the sect to reinforce the sense of solidarity among its members, which is the latent function of its missionizing.

Crossing Organizations and Networks

Max Weber lectured and wrote that the bureaucracies and the markets more than other structures shaped European society of his day. He called them "forces of destiny," thus hard to change. They were not unknown in America where tradesman had the sayings: "You cannot fight city hall" and "The customer is always right."

Mary Douglas, the British anthropologist, found such observations universally relevant for all societies. Her “group-grid theory” (Figure 3) is rightly famous.

Figure 3. Cultures in the Group-Grid according to Mary Douglas


───────────── Organization (Group) ───────



Atomized subordination
Backwater isolation

Strong group
Central community
Ascribed hierarchy
Conservative hierarchy
Collectivism with structure

Competitive individualism
Active individualism

Dissident enclave
Egalitarian enclave
Egalitarian collectivism

The long-standing difference between the British chartered corporation (organization) and the market economy of the Manchester School (network) inspired Mary Douglas to formulate a general cultural theory. It shows that the structural differences between organization and network result in different cultures. Her cross-classification of "group and grid" (i.e. organization and network) has been tested on societies studied by anthropologists on several continents, and it has gone through several modifications. Figure 3 from Fardon (1999, p 225) shows some of the labels and synonyms used by Douglas between 1978 and 1996.

Many consequences arise from this typology, which has made it useful in social science. Manuel Castrells (1987) compiled much evidence showing how persons in weak organization but able to exchange information over the growing Internet have acquired the kind of personalities and culture that strongly resemble what Douglas had called "enclavists." (Castrells does not cite Douglas.) Enclavists have formed the protest movements of their time, centered on localism, environmentalism, feminism, and sexual identity. In his subsequent work Castrells (1998) makes a dramatic comparison between the collapse of the Soviets Union with its preference for organizations over networks and the rise of the Pacific Rim with its scarcity of organizations but growing presence of networks.

We can summarize in a proposition a main conclusion of the social scientists studying social movements from the organization-network-media paradigm:

Social movements develop at historical junctions in a society when its organizations become weak and/or inadaptable, while its networks and media have few restrictions to become strong.

Social Realms and Social Movements

Lofland (1996, p. 116) makes the point that the beliefs held by social movements should be characterized not only by organizational attributes but also "in terms of the institutional realm to which they may primarily refer. Such institutional realm classification assumes, though, that the beliefs are framed so that they apply only or primarily to a specific realm."

Exploration of social movements in terms of realms is not as far advanced as explorations in the paradigm of Gemeinshaft-Gesellschaft and those that use models of network-organization-media. Using social realms in the study of social movements is the main topic in this paper. To learn about social realms we turn to Max Weber.

Weber’s Intermediate Reflections

During World War I Max Weber got involved in the war effort as a manager of military hospitals. He rushed into print with studies on world religions and economy that had long been in preparation. He published them in Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, a journal that he himself edited and where he could include long papers of his own to the envy of his colleagues. A 1915 essay called "Zwischenbetrachtung" (Intermediate Reflections) appears between two sections on Asian religions. It deals with much more than religion and economy, but is not marked as such with any subtitles or any other identification. It contains Weber's reflections on total societies, their constituent orders and value spheres with their bounded internal autonomy. This essay was not finished to Weber's satisfaction at the time. He kept revising it up to his death in the summer of 1920. In his posthumously published collected writings on sociology of religion (Weber, 1920, pp. 542–567/2004, pp. 220–241) we have his last version, still without descriptive title and any subtitles. This is one of the pearls of Weberian sociology that has been hard to find for many students, and when found, they have not always seen its significance for a total society since it is presented in the context of religion. It gives conceptual clarity to the two main subjects, i.e. religion and economy, of young Weber's breakthrough work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and it opens the study of how events in any one realm of society have consequences in any other. It breaks the academic mold of separate sciences of economics, political science, and sociology.

Max Weber specified these "life orders" (Lebensordnungen) for advanced societies: the economic, political, religious, intellectual, amorous, and the family order. Each of these orders is matched by a value sphere (Wertssphär) of particular priorities. The orders and spheres tend to become relatively autonomous and develop their own structures with considerable independence from one another. This Weber called Eigengesetzlichkeit der Wertsphären, "the bounded autonomy of spheres of value." In a couple of brilliant lectures on politics and science as professions, Weber elucidated the competition of the life orders as a perpetual "struggle of demons" (Weber 1921, 1922).

These insights can be updated. This means that we should treat Weber’s work, not as monuments as is common in social science, but as stepping stones. No author, dead or alive, is a supreme lord over his or her own formulations. New generations make their formulations. As George Herbert Mead (1936, p 116) said: "A different Caesar crosses the Rubicon not only with each author but with each generation." In my coming book The Many-splendored Society I make some reformulations of Weber and other classics of social science to fit into a new schema, more relevant to the contemporary state of knowledge. Some such reformulations are presented in this paper.

The Grand Realms of Society

Scholars have argued about the number of life orders and their delineation (as does, for example, Scaff 1989, pp. 94-96). The familial and erotic life orders are part of the socially small world and more based on wants than aspirations; the other are macro-concepts and the values they comprise are aspirations of mankind. For the moment we may leave out the two micro-sociological spheres, the familial and erotic value spheres, from Weber's list. Weber's political sphere is larger than what we normally call “politics,” in English we refer to it as ‘polity’ or ‘body politic’ or 'statecraft.' It includes, for example, executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of government.

More important, we need to add a moral realm to Weber's list. Its emotively grounded prescriptions cannot necessarily be reduced to political or religious expressions. This sphere of morality may be underdeveloped in the Western world, but it is nevertheless life area with Eigengesetzlichkeit.

This departure from Weber’s position – and indeed from common conceptions – to separate religion and morality may require some justification.

Separating Religion and Morality

In most religions the gods help or harm you in this world, not in any coming one. If you build a big temple for gods or goddesses, give them many and big offerings, and assign many holidays to their honor, then, you can expect to get a commensurate amount of service from the gods. The more you pray the better will your life be. If you ignore or curse the gods they may harm you.

The Greek gods of Homer used such straight trade-offs with mortals. They also added some mischief and practical jokes both amongst themselves and in dealing with mortals. In no way did Greek religion ask that you live a virtuous life; morality was something separate from religion. Ancient Greek and Roman religion did not engage in what we call hegemony of realms. By contrast, the Jewish and Christian religions strive to incorporate and integrate morality under their umbrellas. Jews and Christians have difficulties to understand the purity of ancient Greek religion. They usually call it "Greek mythology," instead of Greek religion.

Plato's word for virtue is arete. Bo Anderson explored its relevance to contemporary sociology in his paper at the 2006 meeting of IIS in Stockholm. It means excellence in important pursuits. The Greeks include also physical achievements in being virtuous. Plato does not restrict the term to humans; the brave soldier and the good cook have arete, but also animals may respond to fear by standing their ground and fighting, thus showing arete. In the same vain, Aristotle thought that much of what we call courage in human beings is also shown by animals. But adult humans have also what animals not have, at least not in human amounts, proairesis. This is a capacity for deliberate choice into which one can also take others than oneself into account. Wherever this faculty of deliberate will is involved we can talk about specific human virtues.

The search for virtue has often ended in enumerations, which was the simplest way our intellect can bring order out of chaos. In the fourth book of Plato's Republic the virtues were Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Moderation. This list was enlarged by Christianity with the three Pauline virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity, making a total of seven. They were counterbalanced by the seven deadly sins: Pride, Avarice, Lust, Anger, Envy, Gluttony, and Sloth. One can follow the fate of the seven virtues and sins through the art and history of ideas from the Middle Ages and up to the present time. They are portrayed in words and in images. Raising our sight to other civilizations than the European, the enumeration of virtues gets longer. For example, from Confucius we learn the virtues of Li: filial fidelity, benevolence, and fellow feeling. From Lao Tze we learn the virtue of Tao, the unperturbed poise at all turns in life.

Cardinal Values

In Weber’s world the division into Lebensordnungen (structuration into societal realms) is matched by a division into Wertssphären (spheres of cardinal values). In our updating we say that six communicative acts provide a potential for the six grand realms in human society. They emerge from the basic types of communication: descriptions, evaluations, and prescriptions, each of which can appear in an executive or emotive version (Zetterberg 2007). They are economy, polity, science, religion, morality, and art. Each realm produces a distinct cardinal value. The latter are knowledge, riches, order, beauty, sacredness, and virtue. (Figure 4)

Figure 4. Dominant Types of Communication in Grand Realms Accumulating to Different Cardinal Values

Dominant Communication

Grand Realms

Cardinal Values

Executive Descriptions



Executive Evaluations



Executive Prescriptions



Emotive Descriptions



Emotive Evaluations



Emotive Prescriptions



The sphere for which we apply the term 'science' is filled with informative executive descriptions, for example, facts and generalizations and account of methods used in investigations. This does not mean that any and all of the world's descriptive instrumental discourses belong in this sphere. Such discourse is scattered throughout society; it is only where it is the most common and/or concentrated discourse that we enter the scientific sphere. In science there is a systematic accumulation of ‘knowledge,’ the cardinal value of this realm.

When descriptions are emotive – or "expressive" as some prefer to say – rather than executive and abound in communications we reach the realm of 'art'. But, by definition, the artistic can never be dull of flat accounts without emotive accents. Its tales, pictures, and dance can be loaded with both positive and negative emotions, be pretty as well as scary. The cardinal value of ‘beauty’ is nowadays much more than mere harmony; it is congruent with existence.

The realm of ‘economy’ – or "business” as laymen often say – is full of executive evaluations, for example, prices and cost as well as other practical executive evaluations in monetary forms. Some evaluations may go way beyond dollars and cents and include any businesslike estimating and exchanging honors, and any forms of barter with brides, emblems, titles, and what have you. The cardinal value of ‘riches’ is not the things we possess but the accumulated evaluation of those things.

In religion we find an abundance of expressive evaluations. Here are solemn ideas about the fundamental value of mankind and the meaning of life. The religious discourse may range from values of more worldly traditions in Confucianism to the transcendent values of Christianity or Islam. The cardinal value is ‘sacredness.’

Politics and administration are connected with executive prescriptions, for example, laws and regulations. Such prescriptions are found also outside government, for example, in the by-laws of voluntary associations and corporations. The cardinal value is ‘order’ which gives predictability to social life.

Morality contains expressive prescriptions, ethical rules of conduct. The cardinal value here is ‘virtue;’ we have already mentioned this as something separate from religion.

‘Grand structuration’ is a summary term I like to use for the tendency of a human society to develop separate and rather independent realms of morality, religion, art, polity, economy, and science. It has also been called “institutional differentiation.”

The fact that these realms emerge from mankind’s use of language means that they have no developed counterparts in the animal kingdom. The order in which these realms develop in history may differ, but we hold that their potential differentiation is found in any symbolic environment, not only the European one where it is easily observed. The tree in Figure 5 is the message. It depicts the differentiation of society into distinct realms in Western Europe. It grows out of the period when the body politic of the Roman Empire reigned supreme and embraced all other realms of society and held de facto control of them. The Roman heritage of a monolithic multifunctional structure dominated by the state and later the church has become differentiated into a pluralistic society in the form of a few single-function structures, with cardinal values of their own, reward systems of their own, specific freedoms of their own, and also particular versions of rationalism of their own (Zetterberg 1991).

This is a new way of structuring European history. A traditional way is hinted on the right side of Figure 5 in the listing of the coming and goings of some empires which all attempt to revive earlier hegemony of the Roman type.

These single-function realms, pursuing knowledge, order, riches, beauty, sacredness, or virtue depend for their success on a measure of mutual interpenetrations with other successful realms. This is a precarious and unique strain in European history, and it has found new strength and expressions, particularly in the United States, Canada, and Australia, societies with personal freedom and a shining differentiation of six self-governing realms: economy, politics, science, art, religion, and morality. When these realms are joined together so that no one rules over the others we have, in my view, a good society, a “many-splendored society”.

Figure 5. The Grand Structuration of Europe from Hegemony of the Realm of Polity in Imperial Rome to the Present Six Realms with Eigengesetzlichkeit.

On Stratification in Realms

Both Marx and Weber define class by one's sway in the markets. Marx focused on the sway that gives some people capital with the purchasing power to invest in and own technically efficient means of production, a fact with many ramifications for their future wealth and its accompanying political power. Political power, in his view, was a result of class position. Weber agreed that there was a correlation here, but in his discussions of class he included and stressed people's purchasing ability for their own households, not only for investments in production.

Marx on a grand scale and Weber on a smaller scale assumed that classes are antagonistic. They both described class relations as a struggle. Words such as "exploitation" and "oppression," have been used by social scientists thereafter, sometimes even when class is redefined (as in the present text) in ways that do not necessarily include antagonisms. If the cardinal values in society – knowledge, riches, power, etc. – were fixed entities, their distribution would be a zero-sum game, and serious antagonisms would be at hand. However, they do not need to remain fixed but may grow, leading to milder struggles over the distribution of gains in societies with decreasing poverty.

Social reality in our time is stratified in more complex ways than Marx and Weber described. La Distinction by Bourdieu (1979) brought other dimensions into view, such as taste and manners, albeit much related to the bourgeois or working class. Modern mass media play havoc with all usual stratifications by creating temporary publicity around celebrities and persons without much distinction who are merely "known to be known."

A full multi-dimensional view of stratification sees separate stratifications in different realms and stratifies according to the possession of their cardinal value. Stratification can thus be divided into competence, purchasing capacity (class), power, taste, piety, and moral rectitude (Figure 6). This approach anchors the discussion of stratification in the language-based realms of society. If Weber had formulated his views on life and value spheres before he fixed his views on stratification he might have reached the same conclusion.

Figure 6. Cardinal Values and their Corresponding Stratifications

Grand Realms

Cardinal Values




















In the feudal society, the main dimension of stratification was political power, mostly inherited. In industrial society class emerged as a dominant aspect of stratification and became emblematic of successful living. It stands for clout in the markets in the form of capacity to invest in the means of production and the capacity to purchase the products produced. With the Enlightenment, competence in different spheres of knowledge has had considerable impact, but usually not as great an impact as political power and economic class.

Taste, piety, moral rectitude, and physical vigor also influence social rankings, but they have nowhere near the same effect in modern Western societies as have class, power, and competence. However, one should not underestimate the importance of virtues such as consistent politeness, sense of the dignity of self and others, charity and courage. The visible signs of virtue are good manners and politeness. Genuine assets of these kinds cannot be commanded, or acquired by public relations, or purchased on the market. They emanate from what the old called "good breeding." In smaller circles such rectitude can be more important for a person's social standing than her or his class, power, and competence.

The six ladders of stratification cannot be reduced to a single one, nor to the three proposed by Weber, class, status, and power. When the dinner guests from various elites include a professor at a top university, a business tycoon, a parliamentarian, a prima ballerina, a bishop, an international Red Cross official, the hostess has an impossible job if she tries to place them in rank order at her dining table. To have a good party at this dinner in such a many-splendored company she had better put those people whom she thinks will enjoy each other the most next to one another. She cannot construe a common hierarchy, but she can create exciting interaction in the central zone of her society. For her guests in this example represent elites that make up what Shils (1982 Chapter 4) called a “central zone” of the society.

On Rationality in Realms

Max Weber's main key to history is rationalization. Rationalization is a double star towards which development is heading: on the one hand, the multiplicity of human thought is arranged into systems, and on the other the great repertoire of action in human life is arranged in uniform institutions. The first star guides a rationalization that secularizes religions, demystifies nature, breaks the enchantment of art, lays bare magic in the pursuit of knowledge and salvation, and removes the sense of drama from power. The second star guides a rationalization that elucidates everyday life, organizes working life, ritualizes spiritual life, calculates the steps in business life, and bureaucratizes all aspects of governance.

These processes unfold unevenly and jerkily. They were first formulated, fairly naively, by thinkers during the Enlightenment, and they were developed further by social philosophers who wrote in Charles Darwin's spirit of optimism about progress. But, as Guenther Roth (1968) has emphasized, it was first through Max Weber that these lines of thought became historically established and many-sided: this happened when he sought to report on the special nature of our civilization and describe the severe conflicts in our everyday life and our institutions that have been caused by Western rationalism.

The development of rationalism in its twin forms, systematization of ideas and organization of actions, results in a kind of triumph of reason, and in our culture a triumph of bureaucracy and technocracy. Weber was not gladdened by this fate: as he saw it, development was moving towards a petrifaction, "an icy polar night." Already in the first decade of the twentieth century, he was able in his study of Protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism to outline the typical human being of the twentieth century: "an expert without a heart, a hedonist without moral stature.”

A careful search through Weber's writings finds twelve usages of the term "rationality" (Levine 1985, p. 210). Nevertheless, most of his life Weber seems to perceive rationalism as a unitary phenomenon, albeit with several attributes. In later writings Weber opens the door ajar to the idea of different rationalisms in different areas of society (Schluchter 1985). We will take the latter step in full and assume that different life spheres have different rationalities. Thus, in our schema we do not presume that the same kind of rationality is found in all spheres of life. It is open to the possibility that the rationalities producing the cardinal values of knowledge, riches, order, beauty, sacredness, and virtue may differ drastically from one another, and that dissonances exist between them. In Figure 7 we have spelled out such varieties of rationality. The issue of their communality is an empirical one and cannot be settled by a fiat.

Figure 7. Types of Rationality Different Realms

Grand Realms

Cardinal Values

Type of Modern Rationality



Scientific method



Market economy













Each realm develops ways to enhance its cardinal value. These ways may be more or less rational; and the criteria for rationality may differ over time and between realms. Science seeks and produces knowledge and we confirm knowledge by means of the rational scientific method. The economy seeks and produces riches, in our days mostly by the market economy, a rational process. The polity seeks and produces order, in our days by the logic of democracy and diplomacy. Art seeks and produces what in the old days was called beauty, with a logic of harmony and proportions, nowadays with a broader process that is also congruent with biological spontaneities. Religion seeks and produces sacredness, at least sometimes by the logic of redemption or other rituals. Morality seeks and produces virtue, perhaps by some logic with roots in mankind's interconnectedness

But as soon as you elevate any one of them to be Rationality with a capital R you invite trouble. For, as Michel Oakeshott wrote "the conjunction of ruling and dreaming generates tyranny" (Oakeshott 1964, p 194). The rational dream may be religious like that of Muhammad or Cromwell, or it may be Enlightenment as in the French Revolution, racial biology like Hitler's, or Marxian social science as interpreted by Lenin. All these dreams ended in tyranny and terror.

Realm Embedding

All the concrete parts of a realm – a corporation in the economy, a government agency in the polity, a research institute in science, a church in the religious sphere – contain minor elements from other spheres of life. We can call this “realm embeddings”. The realms cannot function well without them. Much in modern society cannot work really well without some money from the economy, some regulations from the polity, some commandments of morality, some of the knowledge of science. To achieve an optimum we may also need artistic enhancements in our living environment and of our designs. It also adds to any pursuit if it has a part of the meaningfulness that is offered by religion. Thus the organizations, networks and media in any of the realms of morality, religion, art, polity, economy, and science tend to embed smaller elements from the other realms.

Realm Hegemony

'Realm hegemony' to signal the extent to which one realm rules over another. Hegemony here means that the cardinal value of one realm, for example money in the economy, is the ultimate measure in another realm as well. A realm trying to achieve hegemony we call an 'imperialist realm.' Voltaire's closing phrase in many of his letters was "Écrasez l'infâme" (Wipe out the infamous!). It referred to superstitions and magic, particularly religious ones entrenched in the Roman Catholic Church. It was his battle cry for the imperialism of the advancing scientific realm during the European Enlightenment. A realm that has achieved full hegemony over all other realms we can call 'totalitarian.' The latter sets the tune for an entire society. For example, religion became a totalitarian realm in Iran after Khomeini's revolution in 1979.

Hegel and his student Marx are poles apart in many respects, For one thing, each points to one realm in society as the leading one, but they differ in the result of their analyses.

In Hegel's world there are only two realms, the state (Der Staat) and the civil society (Die bürgerlische Gesellschaft). In the latter he included family life, trading, farming, and manufacturing (small-scale in his days), as well as artists, priests, and professors. Hegel's firm conviction was that the state held the decisive role in developing society and civilization. A many-splendored society in which the body politic was just one realm equal in importance to several others was unthinkable to him. No wonder his name often turns up when we search the intellectual roots of Nazism and other recent totalitarian ideologies.

One should not accept a claim that a realm has hegemony in advance of proof. In the main, government institutions create and maintain order, not wealth. However, political activity requires money, and always needs to tax enterprises that generate money. Politicians also need information, and they commission inquiries in which experts and scientists participate. Their buildings and offices need architects and designers with a sense of esthetics. Political life also benefits in legitimacy when it receives the blessings of religious leaders. But all this obviously does not mean that business, science, art, and religion can be reduced to politics.

Marxian theory gives extraordinary power to the economic structure of a society. In Marx' world there are also only two realms: the economic "base" and its "superstructure." The main trends in the superstructure, i.e. politics, art, science, religion, and morality are shaped by the base, the economy. In capitalism everything becomes a commodity and gets a price: friendship, beauty, knowledge, virtue, and salvation. Science becomes applied and is used mostly for economic calculation. Art becomes window-dressing of the rich. Religion is seen as an opiate to keep the poor contented. It is striking that in Marxian thinking the body politic is also determined by its economic base. A government of a country is seen as an executive arm of the richest class.

Again, one should not accept a claim that a realm has hegemony in advance of proof. To be sure, money rules supreme in business firms, particularly in a capitalist economy. Nor is there any argument about the fact that a church, a museum, a university, a government agency also have incomes and expenditures. However, this fact does not determine the direction of their efforts as it does in business where you above all want to make money, and also to make more money with the money you have, sometimes to the exclusion of anything else. In the other realms, riches do not set as the goal of your efforts; they are only one among the several resources that enable you to reach the goal. Marxism fails to see that the moneyed class is not the lord of every modern realm. We have a parallel problem with scientific knowledge; it is used in every realm to facilitate its efforts. But this does not automatically make scientists lords of the entire society.

There is nothing in the conception of the six realms of society that says that one realm is more important than another. All realms are children of mankind’s language. They are born equal. As I see it, no one has any inherent right to hegemony over any other.

Most people in modern democracies have poorly understood that the different realms of society have their own ideals. The political parties of the left seek to impose the rules of democracy (voting, majority rule, et cetera) not only in the body politic – where it has done wonders – but on business, cultural and religious life, on education and research; all in the mistaken belief that this will lead to a better society. Nor have neoliberal intellectuals and the political parties they inspire grasped the need to protect the distinctive character of the different realms. In the Reagan-Thatcher era they mistakenly thought that they had done a good deed when they let loose the rules of the market economy – so helpful in the economy – also in jurisprudence, in cultural and religious life, in education and the welfare system, in the universities and research. Both sides show an amazing lack of insights in the workings of a total society. The rising tide of jihads (militant Muslims) in Europe represents an ultimate stupidity and ignorance of this kind in their attempts to introduce medieval religious laws from a desert society, sharia, into all realms of a modern society

Political problems do, indeed, have democratic solutions. But in all essentials the problems of business have economic solutions, problems about knowledge have scientific solutions, problems about spirituality have religious solutions, problems of art and literature have aesthetic solutions, and moral problems have ethical solutions. Sometimes democratic ideas can contribute to these solutions, but as soon as you move out of the political realm, they seldom become essential parts of solutions.

The main proposition – in this case an hypothesis in need of more systematic evidence – I want to formulate about the use of societal realms in the study of social movements is this:

When any one social realm of a society develops hegemony over other realms, contentious social movements emerge to seek and protect the autonomy of the subjugated realms; typically by defending and promoting their special liberties, i.e. academic freedom, free trade, civic liberties, artistic freedom, religious freedom, or freedom of conscience.

The consolidation of freedom in the various realms of society is a most important achievement of social movements. I wish to stress that a philosophical ideal of individual freedom is helpful but it is not a sufficient element of this achievement. Freedom must have its frameworks and checks and become concrete in the form of enforceable civil liberties, free trade, academic freedom, religious tolerance, freedom of conscience, and artistic freedom. The achievement of such freedoms is the silver lining among the dark clouds of Western history.

A Case Study of Realm Hegemony: Augustus

I am grateful to Erland Kruckenberg for many formulations in this illustration.

The Roman Republic had a structure that at least somewhat approximated a many-splendored society in the antique world. The Republic belonged to the Roman people. The people's power was housed in various comitae, that is, citizens gathered in council. We could say that they were the products of social movements of the time. A successful social movement in the Roman Republic normally resulted in a comitae. Most of them were not permanent, but they could be called when popular interests, leaders of emerging realms of the republic, judges or administrators needed grounded decisions by voting, for popular voting by established citizens was a foundation of the Republic. These councils were in continuous struggles and compromises with a permanent council of elders (patricians), Senatus. The latter was the most important advisory body that many times determined legislation and binding decisions on appointments rather than merely delivered opinions about them.

The logotype SPQR, which has been preserved on many of Rome’s ruins and stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus, that is, “the Senate and the People of Rome,” bears witness to the importance of both sources of authority.

The executive power was exercised by two consuls with one year terms of office. They were the high commissioners responsible for administration in different sections of society. To hold these highest offices in the Roman Republic you did not have to belong to families with wealth from land or trade, or with hereditary political connections, or have experience as a military commander. Cicero, for one, rose to his consulship in 63 BC from humbler origins on the basis of proven skills in some high-profile legal cases. In all, this organization of the Roman Republic allowed people to have different priorities and follow different life courses, pursuing different cardinal values.

In difficult times, such as facing war, natural catastrophes, epidemics, this distribution of power became impractical. To overcome the difficulties and to preserve the Republic then became a dominant concern shared by all. With war on the doorstep, the regular power structure was superseded by the appointment of a dictator for a six-month period, during which he enjoyed unlimited authority in all spheres, not only the military.

This arrangement worked well for a while, but during the social unrest that prevailed during the first century B.C., several dictators refused to step down at the end of their terms, among them Caius Magnus, and Cornelius Sulla. They had not only learned the use of rule by cruelty on the battlefield, they had also been able to amass fortunes from plunder of the defeated enemies, thus becoming independent of the taxation income in Rome. They continued in power beyond the statutory six months. When the war lord Caius Julius Caesar subsequently appointed himself dictator for life, the republicans eventually had had enough and assassinated Caesar. The term dictator, which had previously commanded respect, became a term of aspersion.

Caesar did not have a biological son, but had adopted his nephew Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus. Supported by the soldiers who had been loyal to Caesar and who could be paid by the estate he had left, Octavianus seized power. After the defeat of the republicans at Filippi, Octavianus shared power with Caesar’s general Marcus Antonius and another general, Lepidus. The friendship of this gang of three did not last long; after yet another civil war Antonius was defeated at a large naval battle at Actium.

Rome was now in turmoil, and Octavianus, who had assumed the name Caius Julius Caesar, was determined to set things right. He began by formally reinstating the Roman Republic, a popular measure. The different groups in Rome thought that they had regained their autonomy; no one had absolute power.

However, gradually, but within the framework of the constitution of the republic, Caius began to appropriate leadership in all of the most important groups in society. He was already imperator, commander-in-chief. He was appointed princeps senatus, “the first in the senate” (thereof the word “prince”). This did not mean that he became president of the senate, but that when the senators were assembled Caius would be the first to give his opinion and to vote – a shrewd way of swaying opinion in the direction he wanted. He also succeeded in getting himself appointed tribunus plebes, a kind of ombudsman for the people, a position that had long been available in the Republic. The people’s tribune had the opportunity to veto important decisions. He was also inviolable and could not be removed from office. In addition, he became the high priest, pontifex maximus, a kind of archbishop who officiated at the most important offerings to the gods. (The term survives today as a designation for the Pope.) Although the republic still existed formally, as holder of these offices, Caius now had total control of the central zone of the empire, that is, what we call absolute power. He made this power hereditary and founded what is known as the Julian dynasty.

It is often written about Caius that the once reckless and ruthless youth matured into one of the wisest rulers in history. In time, the senate awarded the honorary title pater patriae, “the father of the fatherland,” as well as the new title augustus, "the venerated." Caius would become known to history under this title, not his name.

Augustus (as we thus call him) demonstrates a model for transformation of a many-splendored republic with power sharing into a hereditary authoritarian state. He shows that a single determined person (and his party) can kidnap all realms of a society. If successful he gets the multiple honors of all their different reward systems. To be sure this benefited him and his times. But in the long run Roman society did not maintain the freedom, flexibility, and vitality of its republican days and it lost its moral fiber. The sense morale is that the augusti of human history should not be venerated.

The hegemony of the political realm created by Augustus, i.e. the Roman Empire, is the starting point for the process depicted in Figure 5 in which Europe is transformed into six separate and rather independent realms of morality, religion, art, polity, economy, and science. Social movements promoting academic freedom, free trade, civic liberties, artistic freedom, religious freedom, and freedom of conscience were responsible for this outcome.



Anderson, Bo, 2006. “Some proposals for a Social Psychology of the Virtue,” Paper presented to the meeting of the International Institute of Sociology in Stockholm.

Bourdieu, Pierre, 1979. La distinction. Critique sociale du jugement, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris. English translation by Richard Nice 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Jugement of Taste, Routledge, London.

Castells, Manuel , 1996. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol.1, The Rise of the Network Society, Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge MA and Oxford UK.

–"–, 1997. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol. 2, The Power of Identity, Blackwell Publishers, Malden MA and Oxford UK.

–"–, 1998. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol.3, End of Millennium, Blackwell Publishers, Malden MA and Oxford UK.

Durkheim, Émile, 1893. De la division du travail social, Alcan, Paris.

Heberle, Rudolf, 1951. Social Movements. An Introduction to Political Sociology, Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, NY.

Levine, Donald N., 1985. The Flight from Ambiguity: Essays in Social and Cultural Theory, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Lofland, John, 1996. Social Movement Organizations: Guide to Research on Insurgent Realities, Aldine Transaction, Edison, NJ.

Mead, George Herbert, 1936. Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Maine, Henry Sumner, 1861. Ancient Law: Its Connection With the Early History of Society, and Its Relation to Modern Ideas, London: John Murray, on line in Wikisource

Michels, Robert, 1915. Zur Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der modernen Demokratie, translated 1949 as Political Parties. A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy, Free Press Glencoe, IL.

Oakeshott, Michael, 1962. Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, Basic Books, London.

Pareto, Vilfredo, 1916. Trattato di sociologia generale (3 vols). Barbera, Florence. English translation 1935 by Arthur Livingston entitled Mind and Society (4 vols), Harcourt‑Brace, New York, NY.

Parsons Talcott & Edward A. Shils (editors), 1951. Toward A General Theory of Action, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Polanyi, Karl, 1944. The Great Transformation, Rinehart & Co., New York, NY.

Roth, Guenter, 1968. “Introduction” to Max Weber, Economy and Society, Bedminster, New York, NY., pp xxvii-civ.

Scaff, Lawrence A, 1989. Fleeing the Iron Cage, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Schluchter, Wolfgang, 1985. The Rise of Western Rationalism: Max Weber's Developmental History, Translated by Guenter Roth, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Shils, Edward, 1982. The Constitution of Society, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Sorokin, Pitirim A 1937-41. Social and Cultural Dynamics, (4 vols.), American Book Company, New York, NY.

Tönnies, Ferdinand, 1887. Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft,  Fues Verlag, Leipzig. Translated 1957 by Charles P. Loomis as Community and Association/Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI.

Weber, Max. 1915-16. "Die Wirtschaftsethik der Weltreligionen. Religionssoziologische Skizzen. Einleitung; Konfuzianismus I-IV; Zwischenbetrachtung. Stufen und Richtungen der religiösen Weltablehnung," Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, vol 41. no.1, pp 1-87; no 2, pp 335-421.

–"–, 1920. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie, vol 1-3, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen.

–"–, 1921. Gesammelte Politische Schriften, Duncker & Humboldt, München.

–"–, 1922. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen.

Zetterberg, Hans L., 1991. "The Structuration of Europe", International Journal of Public Opinion Research, vol 3, no 4, 309-32.

–"–, 2006. "The Grammar of Social Science." Acta Sociologica, vol 49, no.2 (September), pp 245-256.


Hans L. Zetterberg has taught sociology in the USA at The Graduate School of Columbia University and at Ohio State University, where he was Chairman of the Sociology Department. In his native Sweden he has been the chief executive of a foundation supporting social science (The Tri-Centennial Fund of the Bank of Sweden), a longtime pollster and market researcher (Sifo AB), and the editor-in-chief of a Stockholm newspaper (Svenska Dagbladet). He is a past President of The World Association of Public Opinion Research.

Web archive for this and other papers by Hans L. Zetterberg: