Meaning and Concept of Social Environment:
True it is that man lives in particular geographical conditions and that he has for his society a definite pattern of economic activities; yet social man is as much the product of his social environment as he is of physical surroundings and economic conditions. The social environment has been equated with his culture and writers like Graham Wallas have termed it as his ‘social heritage’.
According to McIver, man lives under a ‘total environment’, a concept of his ecology that comprehends his total existence. As he lives in the plains or in the hills, and as he engages in agricultural or industrial activities, he lives a life that has been shaped by his social heritage. He is born under it and, in his family; he learns first to get conditioned to customs and practices, beliefs and norms that are of his community.
In India, he first learns the “meaning of the festival of ‘Diwali’ or ‘Id-ul-fitr’; and later he comes to know of the practices prevalent in foreign countries. In a way, social norms sit so heavy upon his understanding that, while he is at work, he semi-consciously responds to their dictates. In India, the belief is transmigration of souls and the doctrine of ‘Karma’, according to which the conditions of his present life are to be determined by his work in the previous life, brings to his mentality a feeling of detachment and an attitude of resignation which is so unique to our indigenous population. No matter how far we industrialize ourselves, this attitude remains at the back of all our activities.
It cannot be forgotten that in the soil of India a luxurious prince Siddhartha changes himself into the lofty Buddha, a Chandashoka gets transformed into Dharmashoka, and the Chambal dacoits offer their ferocity and tyranny at the feet of a Lokanayaka. Not all our conquerors at all times could free themselves of his tendency, as the pages of history tell us.
According to McIver, environment has both its physical and social aspects. A section of the physical environment remains uncontrolled by him, while another part he modifies to his advantages. He improves the soil that he cultivates, domesticates the animal that he uses, and makes tools and equipments suiting his knowledge and technical skill.
The social aspects cover the shape of the community of which we become members, and the norms and standards that we accept as our folkways, mores and customs. Graham Wallas states that, after socialising himself, man takes to his social heritage so closely and intently that, if he were to be removed from it, he would perhaps perish.
Socialization of an individual as discussed in an earlier chapter, will show that he must learn to live not merely as an individual, but as a member of the society to which he belongs. Yet there is another aspect of socialization which demands that he should learn to adjust himself to the material conditions that his society offers.
Our speech and our manners we acquire in the course of time without much of a difficulty and there is an element of generality in these matters. In certain respects, however, as in our attempts to participate in the traditions relating to art, literature, philosophy, music and religion, the demands upon our ability are exacting, and it cannot be said that our identification without our social heritage has become complete. There lies the difference between an artist and students of art; the former comprehends his cultural heritage while the latter merely make attempts at realizing it.
The social environment presents to every individual the problem of adjustment. Primitive man did not find a variety of conditions before him to which he was required to adjust himself; but modern man has a complex social set-up before him which makes greater demands for adjustment.
Features of Social Environment:
The process of adjustment has certain distinct features and they are as follows:
(1) Modern complex society presents problems for the individual that he reacts to the conditions with attitudes of ‘conflict’, to some extent, and of ‘accommodation’. As a result, he is able only partially to adjust himself to the surroundings. Every individual selects for himself only that part of his culture which suits his aptitudes and carefully rejects the rest. Thus, he has the right to choose his own occupation and, to adopt educational, recreational and living conditions that associate themselves with such occupation.
(2) Society is never static; it is always changing from one set condition to another. This factor alone requires man to be ‘dynamic’ in his attitude of ‘adjustment ‘. In the span of one single life, man may have to change from certain conditions to others; and in any developing country, the impact of industrialization is so intense that the individual undergoing the experience has to adjust himself with utmost rapidity.
(3) The efforts required by an individual accustomed to a given environment to adjust himself to a new and unknown environment would raise the question of ‘readjustment’. There may be conditions of political upheaval in a state which would throw out the old establishment and introduce new ideas.
In these conditions, environmental habituation would experience a rude shock, and a consequent readjustment of the individual to the new set-up would become necessary. In India, we have not had the experience of drastic changes in our social conditions and, besides the demands of industrialization no other phenomenon of revolutionary nature has ever affected our society.
But there have been different types of experiences for us which, from time to time, have required a re-adjustment to the new environment. The question of re-adjustment must have been important when foreigners came to our country’ and with their continued stay here, whether by way of adoption of the country itself or purely for purposes of governance of it, they imported a new culture into the soil.
A generally admitted fact is that whenever a culture enters a country as the ruler’s culture it tends to master over the local one; and this has been true with India and the change in the society would have been complete, but for the fact that the indigenous population here has an innate quality and a capability of negatively resisting anything that is unacceptable. ‘Satyagraha’ is characteristic of this quality of the average Indian.
There are other situations in which the problems of re-adjustment arise. When the rural population changes over to the urban, a revolution takes place in his ways of life and his attitudes. In a city, no person expects that degree of familiarity for him as he would express in favour of his rural fellowman. Next, the general tempo of life in a city is much faster than in a village, the ways of which are noticeably leisurely.
Similarly, when an immigrant enters a country he has to face the problem of readjustment and he must endeavour to feel at home in the country of his adoption. The United States has a population, a high percentage of which began their lives in that country as immigrants. American sociologists have noted that the English and the Irish more easily adjusted themselves to the conditions there than the French.
Some immigrants initially formed themselves into ‘colonies’ either on their own or, as in the case of Negroes, being compelled to do so. Adjustment by the immigrant can take the shape of mere accommodation or it can be complete assimilation with the parent culture, depending upon individual or social aptitudes as well as the standard of reception accorded to him by the host country. In the United States, for instance, the Chinese immigrants faced hostile legislation that adequately discriminated against them and prevented them from becoming one with American Society.
The World Federation of Trade Unions recently submitted a report on the conditions of the immigrants in Western Europe and the U.S. (extracts of the report was published in the Statesman, Calcutta, on 8th May, 1979). According to the report, about 12 million immigrants live in Western Europe, of whom about 2.3 million are Italians and a million Turks. In Britain alone, there are 850,000 Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Almost every continent has its problem of immigrants, including the problems raised by emigration.
Asia and Africa are troubled by this problem and, in India, there is already some official concern expressed over the ‘brain-drain’ from the country. According to the report, 1.2 million Uruguayans, about 44% of the total population of the country, left their home country because of poverty or repression; and this percentage has been regarded as the world’s highest figure for immigration from one single source.
The report further tells us that in all the West European host countries, immigrants rarely reach the higher position of a skilled worker. Everywhere the migrant worker is engaged in such occupations only which carry the lowest wages. There are various other forms of discrimination against immigrants that are expressed in the difference between the local worker’s average wages and the average wages of the immigrant worker.
The French worker in France, for example, gets about 57% more than what the immigrant earns for his work. Besides that, migrant workers have to live in overcrowded slums and shanty towns which are unsanitary and a virtual source of exploitation. In Britain, tuberculosis has been found to be three times more frequent among Irish immigrant workers, six times among Indians and thirty times more frequent among Pakistani workers than among British workers.