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Mumford, E. (1973). Sociology and Aggression. Psychoanal Q., 42:234-238.

(1973). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 42:234-238

Sociology and Aggression

Emily Mumford, Ph.D.

Professor Trilling's luminous description of a utopia as he contrasts it with the authentic, often painful, sometimes creative adult life, commands renewed interest in the positive force of aggression. Dr. Hamburg's studies of chimpanzees and baboons and situations that elicit aggressive behavior intrigue us with analogies between these primates and ourselves. Dr. Joseph's discussion of the more life-giving, creative origins and potentials of aggression in the individual is a promising direction.

Reconsideration is timely in light of the popular tendency to equate origins and motives with outcome to the point that we seem embarrassed over the notion that aggression is or could be a positive force—for the individual, or for society. I agree with Dr. Joseph that the psychoanalyst's work, and his responsibility to treat pathology, partly explains his profession's emphasis on the dark origins and consequences of aggression while tending to gloss over the relationships between love and aggression, or between goal-directed activity and aggression. However, some other factors also contribute to our present tendency to use the term in a pejorative sense.

A similar phenomenon appears in sociology when it becomes occupied with a static model of social systems to the point of assuming that lack of consensus and that conflict necessarily threaten the social system. Dahrendorf (1965), among other sociologists, complains that we have tended to do little justice to the essential—the associational and adaptive force of aggressive pursuit of conflicting ideas and ways of life. Perhaps we tend to give only lip service to change as the essence of social systems because it is easier to cope with a static model of society. Perhaps also we like to carry in our heads a dream of community untroubled by struggle, by necessity and tension—in short a system in a state of suspended animation, a Nowhere.

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