Primary Group: Meaning and Characteristics of Primary Group!
Passing to Cooley’s classification of groups, Cooley has classified groups into primary and secondary, though Cooley has never used the term ‘secondary group.’
His concept of primary group is similar to Sumner’s concept of the in-group.
Meaning of primary group:
The primary group is the nucleus of all social organizations. It is a small group in which a small number of persons come into direct contact with one another. They meet “face to face” for mutual help, companionship and discussion of common questions. They live in the presence and thought of one another. Charles H. Cooley, the first sociologist to draw the attention to primary groups, describes them in the following words:-
By primary groups I mean those characterised by intimate ace-to-face association and co-operation. They are primary, in several senses, but chiefly in that they are fundamental in framing the social nature and ideals of the individual.
The result of intimate association psychologically is a certain fusion of individualities in a common whole, so that one’s very self, for many purposes at least, is the common life and purpose of the group. Perhaps the simplest way of describing the wholeness is by saying that it is a ‘we’; it involves the sort of sympathy and mutual identification for which ‘we’ is the natural expression. One lives in the feeling of the whole and finds the chief aim of his will in that feeling.
It is not to be supposed that the unity of the primary group is one of mere harmony and love. It is always a differentiated and usually a competitive unity, admitting of self-assertion and various appropriative passions; but these passions are socialized by sympathy, and come, or tend to come, under the discipline of the common spirit.
The individual will be ambitious, but the chief object his ambition will feel allegiance to common standards of service and fair play. So the boy will dispute with his fellows a place in the team, but above such disputes will place the common glory of his class and school.
The most important spheres of the intimate association and co-operation—though by no means the only ones—are the family, the play group of children, and the neighbourhood or community group of elders. These are practically universal belonging to all times and all stages of development, and are accordingly a chief basis of what is universal in human nature and in human ideals.
In his definition of primary group, Cooley lays emphasis on “face-to-face association” and the relationship of “sympathy and mutual identification,” i.e., ‘we’ feeling. It is in the possession of the’ we’ feeling, the quality of ‘sympathy and mutual identification’ that Cooley distinguishes the ‘primary’ from the ‘secondary’ group. Now it is said that this distinction is not valid because all groups tend in some degree to possess the ‘we’ feeling in the members.
Without this ‘we’ feeling no group can retain its cohesiveness. So on the basis of ‘we’ feeling groups cannot be separated into primary and secondary. Further, this feeling cannot be limited to ‘face-to-face’ relationships. There are relationships which are not face-to-face’ but are friendly and closely intimate, and there are relationships which are face-to-face but are formal and impersonal.
Thus close scrutiny of Cooley’s definition reveals some ambiguity, yet the differentiation of groups into primary and secondary ones is an important one.
Characteristics of a Primary Group:
The essential characteristics of a primary group are intimate feelings and close identification. These qualities are found more abundantly in some concrete groups than in others. In a primary group we directly co-operate with our fellows and our relations with them are intimately personal.
Intimacy of relationship depends upon the following factors:
(i) Physical Proximity:
In order that relations of the people may be close, it is necessary that their contacts also should be close. Seeing and talking with each other makes exchange of ideas and opinions easy. It makes possible the “conversation of gestures”.
However, physical proximity though it provides an opportunity for the development of primary groups, is not a necessary feature of primary group arrangements. Whether or not physical proximity will provide an opportunity for the development of intimate relations depends on the situation as defined in the culture.
Differences of language, sex, status, occupation or age may prevent physical proximity from providing an opportunity for intimacy to develop. Thus intimacy of relationship may not develop among people living in close proximity while it may develop over great distances by various means of communication.
(ii) Small Size:
Relationship can be intimate and personal only in a small group. There is always a point at which further expansion of membership means “dispersion instead of concentration, dilution instead of reinforcement of the common interest.” It is impossible to be in sensory contact with many people at the same time. As groups become larger, each person counts less as a unique personality but more as a sheer cipher or unit.
Feeling and talking to each other facilitates subtle exchange of ideas, opinions, and sentiments. It makes possible the ‘conversation of gestures’ of which mind speaks. Even in a family the growth of children beyond a point may make it difficult for the members to come into close contact with each other. In a small group the members can know one another personally and develop a group character and an intimacy more quickly.
To promote intimacy of relationship, the primary group should be stable to some extent.
(iv) Similarity of background:
The members of a primary group must be not only close and near to each other but also approximately equally experienced and intelligent.There is,says MacIver, “a level on which every group must dwell, and the person who is too far above or below it, disturbs the process of group participation.” Each member must have something to give as well as to take. This feature is clearly evident in a discussion group where each member presents his own view-point and takes the view-point of others.
(v) Limited Self-interest:
Though members join the group with the motive of satisfying their own interests, yet they should subordinate their interests to the central interests of the group. They must come together in a spirit to participate cooperatively.
The common interest must predominate in their minds. If people meet merely to satisfy their self, they will not be representing fully the true nature of the primary group which shall find full expression if they come together to study a common subject or remove a common grievance. The commonness of interests provides mental pleasure and contentment to the members.
(vi) Intensity of Shared Interests:
In a primary group the common interest is shared by every member and by being shared by all the interest acquires a new significance, a new emphasis and a new valuation. Each member shares the interest intensely because he is sustained by the devotion and energy of his fellow members.
The interest is now supported by a greater number of people at a higher level since the people pursue it in association which they would not pursue in isolation. The person in the primary group is not merely a legal entity, an economic cipher, or a technological cog. He is all of these rolled into one.
He is the complete concrete person. His value attaches not to any particular aspect or activity of himself but to his whole self. Face-to-face companionship with other people enables a man to endure hardships in company that would be unendurable single- handedly. There is a fusion of personalities within the group, so that what one experiences the other also tends to experience.
It gives to the relation an altruistic character. The primary group not only sustains the common interest but does more than that; “It sustains the interest of living itself.” The relationship is not regarded by the parties as an end but rather as a value or end in itself, a good in its own right. It is not a means to a superior end but is intrinsically enjoyable. It is not contractual or formal. It is personal, spontaneous, sentimental, inclusive and non-transferable.
It may also be understood that face-to-face characteristic which is major aspect of a primary group does not mean that it exerts a compelling influence over its members. Members of a family may not necessarily cast a magic spell over each other; indeed, they may come to develop different and even opposed viewpoints and habits.
A group may be called primary because it has exerted an influence in the early life of a man i.e., before other groups could influence him. Family in this sense is a primary group because its influence over the child is the earliest.
Close identification means direct co-operation. In primary group men do the same thing together and may have similar desires and attitudes so that they are striving for similar things. They look at the world through the same eyes. Each party pursues as one of his ends the welfare of the other. They directly and face-to-face co-operate with each other to achieve their common interest.
They do not act independently even interdependently but all participate in the same process. They have a common experience. Though there may be division of labour in a primary group, yet it must act together. In a cricket group there are batters, bowlers and fielders but they all play together.
Similarly, the members of a research group may undertake study of different problems, but they must bring together their results in a common process at the point where the group activity begins. The members of a primary group are, thus, united not only in the product but also in the process. Face-to-face group and direct co-operation not only increase the economy and convenience of the members but also satisfy the need of their nature—the need for society.