Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Social Atom

Originally posted on January 12, 2018

At the risk of offending some people, I will start out by saying there is no such thing as a “social atom.” It’s a construct, an idea made up by Jacob L. Moreno. It has its uses. But also it’s what the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead called, “The fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”  Name something and it gives the impression it’s real—more or less. But in fact the metaphor is misleading You don’t have a social atom, nor do I—it’s a way of talking about our social “embeddedness.”

In Moreno’s way of speaking, one has a different “social atom” for each involvement, each role.  Phil Carter in New Zealand writes, “If we really get with the protagonist, and not relate to any theory whatsoever, I reckon the chances of discovering what this person’s  ‘social atom’ are increased. The social atom having become agglutinated as the social self schema in the brain – thereby being internal-ly and externally existing.”  I agree, but note that this concept really shifts as the person’s own point of view, his or her attention, purpose, etc. So the social atom is subjective, not objective. It’s still a useful tool, with that warning.

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