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Alfred de Grazia: Discovering National Elites





The title of this section might well be stated as question : "How does one find his way around in an unfamiliar place?" The question will have to be answered in terms of the people of the place, the things they have around them, and what they do in relation to things and other people. The problem is to understand the relationships between persons and things, and in particular between persons who control the actions of others. When this understanding is achieved, the operator can move and act in the new environment with confidence that his acts will produce predictable results.

One usually knows at least generally how a strange country fits into a larger world scheme. Argentina produces meat, Bolivia tin, Iran oil, and Australia wool. And in turn, persons who control operations related to each of these major products are a vital part of the elite of each area. To know who they are and how they operate gives clues to many other activities of the area which might not be as readily understood. In a like manner, one usually has a general impression of what relation a particular community has to the larger national whole. These general impressions, when supplemented with the operator’s observations and factual data gathered by him, serve as orientation. He sees the directions others are taking in their activities; he finds directions for himself.


III-1. Achieving an organic sense of the area. In the long run, one acts on the understanding of a situation that has become his own. He may read or hear about an area, but until he has observed the local scene and translated these observations into his own terms and his own conclusions, he cannot act in the area with sureness. Thus the operator must achieve an organic sense of the area; and since his special problem is the identification of elites, he should focus his attention on those details of cultural life that have meaning in elite terms. Since elite groupings will be related to the activity pattern of the area, the operator should be constantly asking himself: "What is the relationship between what this individual or this group is doing and what this city or this country does as a whole?" If he has prepared for his new post by a review of historical or descriptive material, he will repeatedly ask himself whether what he sees and hears affirms or denies the accuracy of this material. Through such observation, comparison, and evaluation, he will eventually arrive at a breadth of understanding which will make it possible for him to judge the effects of his own acts accurately.

III.2. Touring the Locale. If the operator is assigned to a city, one of his first acts should be that of making a "Cook’s Tour" of the place. The tour should be extensive - not just a quick run up and down Main Street or ascertaining the best route from the hotel to the market or casino. It may or may not be a guided tour, but in either case notes and questions should be kept on observations. One might well begin by asking himself if he actually knows physical directions, north, south, east and west. The question is simple, indeed, but sooner or later someone will say that a plant, refinery, mine or business operation is in such and such a direction and the initial orientation will be valuable.

How is the town laid out? Is it built around a square, at a point of break in transportation, where rivers meet, or where land meets sea, or at rail or road junctions? A knowledge of these points tells something of the functional significance of the city and its relation to a hinterland. What, too, is the general pattern of town layout? Where is the business district? Where are the major industrial establishment? Where do the people live who man the business and industrial facilities? Where are the governmental offices? What is the dispersal of religious buildings? For what purpose were the buildings built that one is unable to identify? Where are the fashionable neighborhoods? The slums? What are the major forms of transportation? What do they carry? What are their points of entry and exit in the community? Where do they go? What is their traffic volume?

What are the people like? Are they all of one race or mixed? Are there different nationality or racial groups. Do they live in separate areas? Do these areas appear to be equal in adequacy of facilities regardless of the ethnic composition of neighborhoods? How many are in each group? How many in the town as a whole? Which group furnishes community leadership and power personnel?

One needs to inquire into the time habits of people in the area in which he will operate. Do the people have a time sense as westerners have? Do they go by the clock or sun? Do they have a historical past? Do they look to the future? To a future life? What time do they rise? Retire? What hours do they work? Do their dress habits very in time? During the day? On weekends? Holidays? Festivals? Do holy days or seasonal changes mark the calendar? What are the recreation hours? Days? What are the forms of recreation according to various groups?

The general movement of people is also an index of a culture. Do they move in masses along the thoroughfares? Do they appear to move purposefully - as to market or to work - or do they move aimlessly? If the streets are deserted in any portion of the day, what are the people doing? If overly crowed, what then? Where do people congregate and for what purposes? When?

Have the people built cultural facilities, such as museums, art galleries, libraries, club houses or buildings, music houses, and park facilities? How much are they used? Who uses them? Who supports them?

These questions are merely suggestive. They are not intended as a check-list, but exemplify the kinds of questions the operator should have in the back of his mind. In answering them, the operator will obtain general and cultural information which will provide an initial basis for his analysis. While the elite may behave somewhat differently form persons outside its own limits of prestige and ritual refinement, it develops out of the same general environment and functions within it. Answers to the questions posted will give the operator a sense of this physical environment. Insofar as it expresses internal values, he will begin to see the meaning of these visible manifestations of them.

This process of overall observation need not be strictly organized. It is a browsing kind of activity. It is seeing a few trees and the forest. The operator doesn’t have to spend a long time at it, but its pace should be leisurely rather than hasty. It might be thought of as an attempt to gain insights which will be validated in the long run by more detailed observation and study.

III-3. The regional setting. Within the larger picture, observations of regional vegetation, animal life, and land formations may tell one something of a people. What is the agricultural base? What are the food crops? Cash crops? Is the land cultivated extensively or in small plots? Is the land locally owned and operated or is it a plantation system? How much arable land? How much under cultivation? To what use are animals put? How productive is the area in minerals? What are the rights involved? What machinery and tools are visible? How widespread is the use of various combinations of tools? Who uses them?

The approach to the region may also take up such questions as these: What is the population? What are the population trends,, the birth and death rates? What is the rural-urban population ratio? What is electric power capacity? Railroad mileage? Canals and road mileage? Is there an index of industrial production? Of resources and raw materials? What technical schools exist? How many students? What military schools? What is the literacy rate? Are data available to construct indices of telephones, automobiles, trucks, tractors?

Many of the questions cited relate to what people do, who they are, where they are, how they move, and in those instances in which values have been mentioned, how they think. In this, a structural-functional approach to social observation has been suggested. And by this latter statement it is merely meant: one looks for those elements in a society, a nation, or community in which physical structures or habit patterns and their relation to social goals are so fixed and stabilized that they may be observed.

III-4. Means of limiting perspectives. The sum total of actions in any community or nation, of all men, is a staggering figure. It is not conceivable that a single investigator could possibly observe the total action structure of even a small community in a given period of time, but one can rather quickly learn what acts are considered important to the overall well-being of the people. Some of the questions might be: what makes this area worthy of consideration? What makes it important enough to the United States that men within the policy groups there wish to affect the actions of men in Iran, Columbia, Calcutta? What do local leaders do that relates to the major activities of the area?

These are all questions related to "finding one’s way around," and none of them are profound in the sense that they have never been asked. The profitable exercise is that of asking all of them, and more, in order that the orientation to the culture visited may be broad and that the psychological environment that the operator carries with him from his own culture may be enlarged to embrace the cultural and sociological facts that may vary from his own. The operator can assume many things, which may or may not be true. His assumptions must be tested by seeing, hearing, and evaluating on the spot.

III-5. Avoiding simplism. To miss the fact that corn grows in Iowa, and that individuals activities and group functions there are related to it, would be a gross oversight and one that is hardly conceivable. To dismiss these facts lightly, to assume that everyone knows that corn-growing is important to Iowa, indeed, would be superficial. To explain the whole of Iowa culture in terms of corn-growing would be fallacious. The same might be said for auto manufacture in Detroit, gum Arabic and cotton culture in the Sudan, fruit production in Guatemala, and skin processing around Hudson Bay. But to orient oneself to any one of these areas, one would certainly need to know the significant facts related to activities revolving around corn, autos, gum, cotton, fruit, or skins. To pick one set of activities for illustration, one easily says the function of Detroit is that of making autos, meaning that there are specifiable groups in Detroit who make autos. It is equally easy to say that Detroit serves the rest of the nation and large parts of the world in a functional capacity, namely, making autos. To know the patterned relationships between those who make autos in Detroit and others who do not provides a functional basis for analysis of the area in question.

In Detroit there are other activities of great importance. In a dragnet survey of activities one would see governmental activities, commercial enterprises, chemical operations, and service establishments of some magnitude. As these are broadly scrutinized their major functions within social life will become clear. The physical questions posed earlier would be a part of the orientation scheme in this city as much as if it were a non-industrial town in a backwash area of the Yucatan or Transvaal.

III-6. Correlation of functions and elites. It may be said here, however, that as one travels across the United States and visits cities, towns and villages, he cannot help but be impressed with the correlation of major activities in the various communities and community leadership and élites. The variables in each situation are related to the kind of environment and environmental production, but stable patterns of leader-follower relations begin to emerge even in the process of asking about physical and external cultural arrangements. In the U.S. the major producer-banker-lawyer-civic association patterns of organization are unmistakably apparent, and give clues to total social configurations. Patterns in other areas of the world may or may not be as readily apparent, but a good starting point for testing social pattern validity is that of isolating and examining major functional groupings.

III-7. Functions as clues to presence of leadership. Whereas most techniques of research in leadership presume going directly to potential leaders, at times the camouflage or unconsciousness of leadership, or the lack of area knowledge by the operator may block an appreciation of where to look for the centers of leadership. An understanding of the target background is useful in shaping one’s theories about where to seek leaderships. In brief, wherever a population exhibits significant social separatism, corresponding leaderships may be sought. For instance, if two crops are important to a farming area - say rice and cotton - then the presumption is that two more or less different leaderships will be found: both may share many attitudes and there may be a general leadership that overlaps both groups, but on some questions the two may diverge sharply. Other long-range functional differences may provide similar examples of different leaderships. For instance, two types of orchard crops - plums and peaches - may bring about partially separate leaderships as a result of the first being primarily an export crop and the second a domestically consumed crop.

III-8. Documentary sources of background information. While stress has been placed here on the physical observations alone, documentary sources of information, expect informants, and exploratory and tentative study reports, when available, may be extremely useful. Sources, including those mentioned, might be listed and briefly explained as follows: written materials, including history, political analyses, industrial and commercial data, geographical and population data, bibliographies on the area, and special studies done by the international community of research analysts and scholars.

III-9. Use of informants. Expert informants may give verbal accounts and act as guides in the exploration of an area. These may be drawn from the area, or may be persons familiar with the area but who are now stationed and reside in the United States.

III-10. On-the-spot studies. The operator should also make his own studies on the scene, taking into account the various questions raised in earlier portions of this section, e.g. "How is the town laid out?" "What are the people like?" "What is the time sense of the people?" "what are the general movements of the people?" "What makes this area important to the United States?" "What are the major social groupings according to the over-all functioning of the community or nation?"

III-11. Systematic review of observations. It is not assumed that complete studies can be made relative to any of these questions, nor that all materials can be analyzed. However, a sample scanning of materials and a resident survey can be made and is vital to the analysis of power groups within any area. The operation described here is one of stage setting for later, more detailed work. If it is adequately done, it will provide clues to social behavior related to power and prestige elements within social groups.

A review of the materials and notes taken during the initial stages of inquiry is usually helpful, if done a few months after entry has been made into an area. Such a review serves as a check on bias that creeps into the operator’s thinking as he becomes acclimated to his social environment: it also turns up areas of investigation that may have been overlooked and that might shed light on present problems he is encountering.

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