Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A beginning theory about society as an emotional system

This article is posted with the permission of the Center for the Study of Natural Systems and the Family, P.O. Box 701187, Houston, TX 77270-1187. The article was published in Volume 12, Number 1 of Family Systems Forum, a publication of the Center for the Study of Natural Systems and the Family, in the Spring of 2010.

Some Thoughts on a Beginning Theory about Society as an Emotional System

Patricia A. Comella, J.D.

Foreword: This article is the second of two written for Family Systems Forum on the Bowen family systems theory and societal emotional process. The first was written in conjunction with planning for “Societies, Families and Planet Earth: Exploring the Connections,” the 2009 Spring Conference, co-sponsored by the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family and the Georgetown University Department of Sociology. That article, “Emotional Process in Society: The Eighth Concept of Bowen Family Systems Theory,” provided an overview of each concept of the Bowen theory, with particular emphasis on the concept of emotional process in society, which establishes that the triangle operates “the same in society as in the family” (M. Bowen, 269), and the societal regression hypothesis, which describes several possible anthropogenic drivers of prolonged societal regressions. It identified areas of potentially fruitful application of the theory toward a broader and deeper understanding of those drivers, which seem to underlie so many seemingly intractable contemporary societal problems.

This second article builds on the author’s decade-long effort to develop applications of the Bowen theory to societal-level problems (Comella, in press), insights gained from planning and execution of the 2009 Societal Conference, and post-conference work to identify a possible path forward to extend logically the concepts of the Bowen theory “into a beginning theory about society as an emotional system.” (M. Bowen, 386-387, emphasis added) Note: At the time Bowen wrote this, societal emotional process and possible human-induced, biological drivers of prolonged societal regressions were described under what he called the societal regression concept. Subsequently, a distinction was made between what constituted the concept of emotional process in society, for which Bowen had systematically marshaled sufficient evidence to warrant his including it as a concept of the theory, and the societal regression hypothesis. He left to the future the task of assembling evidence to validate or refute the hypothesis.

This article outlines an approach (with supporting rationale) that the author believes might facilitate movement toward a natural systems framework for observing and understanding human emotional functioning at the societal level.

Introduction: The Bowen theory concepts of emotional process in society (“societal concept”), emotional cut-off and the triangle, coupled with the societal regression hypothesis (“regression hypothesis”), provide the major points of departure for this article:

The societal concept describes what happens to human societies when they experience prolonged threats that are not in awareness. The threats nonetheless induce chronic, sustained anxiety that impels action. The action does not make the anxiety go away or diminish in intensity, but enhances it, thereby driving the regression.

• The foundational evidence for the concept of emotional process in society establishes that at behavioral and psychological levels, family emotional functioning influences societal emotional functioning, and societal emotional functioning influences family emotional functioning. The foundational evidence further establishes that the mechanism of mutual influencing is the triangle, and that the triangle exists not only at the level of the family (e.g., in the parental triangle, or the interlocking triangles among members of a nuclear or extended family emotional system) but in all human relationships. (M. Bowen, 386)

• Emotional cutoff describes what happens when people try to deny their roots: They automatically replicate past patterns of functioning that once may have been adaptive responses to threats and challenges but no longer are. Neither the automaticity nor maladaptiveness is recognized. Anxiety, not facts about the past, drives the process. The societal concept posits a form of societal-level emotional cutoff when the sources of underlying threats that drive anxious responding at a societal level are unrecognized, unacknowledged or unknown. Namely, the actions taken to calm or end the anxiety are misplaced and don’t (and can’t) work because they don’t address the underlying threats.

• The regression hypothesis postulates that some threats that drive chronic, sustained societal regressions are human-induced. People appear not to understand the biological underpinnings of human existence and act as if they are not subject to the same laws of nature as other forms of life on Earth. They act as if the Earth has infinite capacity to provide all the resources to satisfy human needs and wants without surcease or replenishment. The regression hypothesis lists three particular anthropogenic threats: “population explosion, decreasing supplies of food and raw material necessary to maintain man’s way of life on earth, and the pollution of the environment . . . [, which] are slowly threatening the balance of life necessary for human survival.” (M. Bowen, 386) When viewed in the context of the Bowen theory, especially the societal concept, the hypothesis postulates a societal-level link between behavioral and psychological functioning, on the one hand, and biological functioning, on the other.

• From the societal concept, the inference can be drawn that societies, like families, are emotional systems.

• Societal level emotional systems are composed of one or more emotional systems, e.g., the families that are part of a society and the institutions through which a society is governed or its functioning facilitated. That is, societies are emotional systems of emotional systems. By inference, the triangle operates between emotional systems and within emotional systems, the same as it does in family systems. In particular, anxiety (response to threat), whether or not a threat is recognized, can be transmitted within and between societies through operation of the triangle. Consistent with theory extension, the definition of triangle would include parties that are themselves relationship systems, as well as individuals.

In “An Odyssey Toward Science,” Murray Bowen describes the progression from preliminary estimates to hypotheses to concepts to integration of the concepts into a natural systems theory of human emotional functioning at the behavioral and psychological levels. (Kerr and Bowen, 349-352) This theory, the Bowen theory, proceeds “in logical steps from the family to larger and larger social groups, to the total of society.” (M. Bowen, 386-387). Of critical importance to development of the Bowen theory was the gathering of facts and functional facts (“observable facts about man and his relationships,” M. Bowen, 261; see also 359-360) to support movement from preliminary estimates into a theory. (Comella, in press) This approach provides a template for extending the Bowen theory into a beginning natural systems theory about emotional functioning at the societal level.

In taking a beginning step, this article focuses on areas in which evidence might be marshaled to support theory extension, based primarily on consideration of the societal concept, emotional cutoff, triangles and the regression hypothesis, as outlined above. The article also touches briefly on Bowen’s conceptualization of what he terms instinctive forces of individuality and togetherness and the necessity of striking an appropriate balance between the two in the promotion of a system’s survival. This effort is necessarily incomplete: not all of the concepts of the Bowen theory are discussed and the sketch of evidence for the concepts that are discussed is by no means exhaustive.

The 2009 Societal Conference: Consistent with the approach taken to develop the Bowen theory, evidence to support its extension to a beginning theory of society as an emotional system would flow from consideration of how each concept and the regression hypothesis would be applied at the societal level. The evidence would also take into account the broader theoretical framework that underpins the Bowen theory (and regression hypothesis). That framework considers the human as part of life on Earth and evolution as a fact. The primary relationship about which evidence should be gathered, then, would be the human’s relationship with the Earth.

The 2009 Societal Conference was aimed at facilitating examination of the human as part of life on Earth, including:

• the human as a social species that has to face the never-ending necessity, common to all life forms, of obtaining and allocating resources to sustain its form of life,

• the human sharing of interdependencies with other life forms essential to human survival and wellbeing, and

• patterns of response to biological-level threats that the human appears to share in common with other life forms.

The framework permitted examination of families, societies to which they are connected, and the ecological niches/regimes/domains they occupy. This made it easier to see the interlocking nature and complexity of the relationships, and that the members of these larger ecological systems also are emotional systems teeming with life that are influencing and being influenced by each other and by dynamic factors in the physical environment.

At the biological level, human individuals, families, communities, villages, towns and cities depend on the Earth, its physical resources and the forms of life it sustains, for their survival and wellbeing and for their multi-generational continuation. Human individuals are interdependent members of human families; human families are interdependent units of larger human relationship systems; and the larger relationship systems are interdependent units of biological communities consisting of many life forms living in specific physical environments (“ecosystems”).

As the interconnectedness among human societies has expanded, so has the interconnectedness among the ecosystems of which human societies are members. This increasing interconnectedness compounds the difficulties of penetrating from the mega-, super-society level of contemporary human social organization to the biological level. But when the functions of economies are brought into view and the biological implications of economic collapses, dislocations, adjustments, etc., are considered, it may become easier to move between societal super- and infra-structure to basic biological considerations of soil, air and water.

Economies exist to facilitate exchanges of resources that support functioning and meet needs at the societal levels at which they are exchanged – local, regional, national or international. In barter economies, where money or other financial instruments, especially credit instruments, or both are either lacking or scarce, direct, reciprocal exchanges of labor or other resources are made, often with deferral of reciprocation. In market economies, money and credit become preferred mediums of exchange. Labor is procured and secured in exchange for monetary compensation or in the form of redeemable or negotiable instruments that can be bought, sold or otherwise exchanged. Money or other financial instruments are then used to secure goods and services. The use of money and other financial instruments facilitates market expansion from local to national to transnational and even to “super-national.” (By this latter term, the author means that the economies may have “escaped” from effective regulation by individual national governments.) Barter and market economies often exist side by side, even in modern times. Especially during economic downturns, the barter exchanges of “underground economies,” functioning outside of regulation by society, may become more prevalent for procuring necessities of life.

At subsistence and barter levels, it is relatively easy to see the interaction of biological and physical factors with individual, family and societal functioning. Exchanges help in obtaining and distributing resources necessary for survival, wellbeing and reproduction at both family and societal (community) levels. Without mutual assisting, life would be unduly compromised. Further, at the subsistence level, it is easier to see that all life forms face at least one similar problem – obtaining resources necessary for survival and reproduction – and that social animals also face the problem of distribution, which requires regulation of behavior among members to ensure an acceptable (though not necessarily equal or even equitable) distribution of resources.

Joanne Bowen, PhD, an expert in the Bowen theory, curator of zoo-archaeology at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and research professor of archaeology at the College of William and Mary, drew upon her research on colonial New England and Chesapeake region subsistence systems to take conference participants to the biological level of human functioning. She traced how the family and society adapt and change in reciprocal fashion as economies of agricultural societies change from subsistence, based largely on exchanges of labor, goods and services, to market economies, based largely on exchanges of labor for wages or credit, and wages or credit for commodities. (J. Bowen, 1990, 2009) The discussion of relationships between family and society, beginning at the subsistence level, was intended to foster understanding that the human’s bond with the Earth cannot be severed, which in turn sought to facilitate understanding of interdependencies between the human and other life forms, including the soil.

Bowen described how families and societies, when considered as emotional units, mutually influence and change the functioning of each other over time, as an economy moves from a direct labor or commodity exchange-based subsistence economy, involving networks mainly of members of the same extended family or small communities of families and retainers, toward a monetary and financially based market economy, involving provision of labor for money and provision of money to buy commodities. She also described the variation of adaptation and response among families to the changes encountered.

(For a tutorial on the research in which Joanne Bowen has been involved, the reader may visit http://anthropology.si.edu/writteninbone, which details an exhibit about archeological and anthropological work on 17th century Jamestown, Virginia. The exhibit, for which Dr. Bowen served as an associate curator, is at the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.)

Daniel Hillel, PhD, senior research scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research at the Goddard Institute of Space Studies, Columbia University, and professor emeritus of environmental sciences, University of Massachusetts, has unparalleled knowledge of the ecological domains of the Middle East and the civilizations they have produced. In his writings, Hillel has conveyed in multiple ways that the health of the soil, which he describes as the “crucible of terrestrial life,” dynamically influences and is influenced in the relationship between the human and the soil. (2002, 2006, 2008) At the conference he was asked to demonstrate how inescapably fundamental the Earth and its resources are to sustaining human life and the life forms on which the human depends for existence. There Hillel described how variation in physical environments profoundly influences variation in psychological conceptualizations of the divine and religious practices among the ancient peoples of the Middle East, who inhabited those environments, thereby linking biological level functioning with psychological and behavioral levels of functioning. (2006, 2009)

Joanne Bowen and Daniel Hillel’s work provides some evidence of the interdependent relationships between the human and the Earth and of interdependencies and reciprocal functioning between families and societies in the conduct of the inherently biological task of solving problems related directly to sustaining human life. Like all life forms, the human requires other life forms for survival. While the human has become the top predator in the chain of macroscopic life, if it runs out of prey – faunal or floral – it will not be able to survive, enjoy a modicum of wellbeing or reproduce. Further, lack of sustenance can upset balances at the microscopic level, making macroscopic life susceptible to predation by microscopic life.

All terrestrial plants and animals, including humans, depend on the soil for their existence. Through natural processes, the soil also provides nutrients to sustain aquatic life forms, many of which contribute to human sustenance. (Hillel, 2008)

The soil “acts as a complex living entity.” (Hillel, 2008, 3). Soils and humans live in demonstrably dynamic relationships with each other, which the development of agriculture and the increased human population density, permitted by agriculture, have intensified. Soils respond in their relationships with humans. Soils affect human choices of, among other things, where to settle and whether to carry on agricultural or pastoral activities or turn to the sea to obtain food. In sum, soils sustain human life in whatever relationship systems humans organize themselves (and whatever the complexity of those organizations). Soils nurture humans, sustaining the plants and animals on which human life depends. (For Hillel’s description of soil, see inset note, this page.)

How humans treat the soils with which they are in relationship has profound influence on the soils’ capacities for sustaining or renewing their fertility, just as soils have profound influence on the sustainability of human life. Humans cannot live or survive multi-generationally without the soil and its continuing fecundity. In the first phase of the relationship, when the soil yields its bounty of nutrients, humans, plants and animals can flourish. But without replenishment of the nutrients needed to sustain the life of the soil and the life it supports, the soil grows tired and ultimately can die (become sterile). (Bowen 2007; Hillel, 1992, 2008.)

Further, while life the soil has supported early in the relationship may have been robust, as the supply of nutrients dwindles, plants and animals become weaker and ultimately fail to thrive. In some cases, the intensity of the human’s relationship with the soil reaches such a magnitude that the soil cannot replenish its nutrients rapidly enough to support life at its former levels. The plants and animals that humans eat become smaller, as do the humans themselves. (J. Bowen, personal communication; see also, Bowen and Andrews, 2007.)

History is replete with examples of soils becoming barren, unable to sustain life. (Hillel, 1992) The human moves on, abandoning the exhausted soil. Sometimes soils can recover. Sometimes they remain sterile thereafter. This is mutual influencing at a fundamental, biological level.

Humans also live in a dynamic, never-ending relationship with water. Humans cannot survive without water. Abuse of water compromises human existence and the existence of life forms on which humans depend for survival and well being. As Hillel discusses in Rivers of Eden: The struggle for water and the quest for peace in the Middle East, scarcity of water can be at the heart of seemingly intractable transnational political disputes.

Alice Outwater, MS, a civil engineer who managed biosolids in the multi-billion- dollar cleanup of Boston Harbor, discussed the interconnectivity of humans and non-humans in the health of water. Based on her book, Water: A Natural History, her presentation specifically addressed the degradation of quality of the North American waters through extirpation by European explorers and colonists of such “keystone” species as the beaver, buffalo and prairie dog, whose relationship with the land was essential to preservation of the water’s health. (See also Hillel, 1992, 2008.)

As indicated in the introduction, an important component of Bowen theory concerns what Bowen described as the instinctual forces of individuality and togetherness and the necessity of striking an appropriate balance between the two within a relationship system to promote the functioning of the system as a whole. At a biological level, one balance to be struck would involve the procurement of resources by members of a group and their distribution in such a way as to ensure the continuing survival of the group, even if not all group members receive equal shares or have equal chances of survival. The foundational evidence for Bowen theory demonstrates that there is wide variation in how human families strike the balance through the regulatory mechanism of the triangle.

In the author’s view, three other conference presentations, in particular, treated aspects of regulation of individual behavior at the group level and the importance of such regulation to long-term survival of the group:

• Laurie Lassiter, PhD, addressed the centrality of regulation of individual behavior within social systems (even social systems involving single-celled animals) to the survival of those systems. In social amoebae, pheromonal regulation of a triangular nature keeps just the right amount of distance between individuals during the feeding phase of the life cycle. During the reproductive phase, signaling processes bring the amoebae together. Some become fruiting (reproductive) bodies. Others become non-fruiting members of a stalk from which the spores of the fruiting bodies are released, thereby giving the greatest potential for a new generation of the social group to come into being.

• Daniel Papero, PhD, discussed aspects of the seminal work of John B. Calhoun, PhD, (1917-1995) a noted American ecologist and research psychologist, who began a thirty-three-year career at the National Institutes of Health in 1954. Calhoun studied the limits of adaptation to population density in captive colonies of a highly social species, which were allowed to reproduce freely under conditions of endless provisioning. Migration from the colony was not possible; only death provided an exit. Under conditions of unrestrained population growth and, hence, increasing population density, the regulatory mechanisms for members’ maintaining healthy distance from each other were outstripped as the space became filled to overcapacity. The ultimate outcome was extinction of the social group from failure to reproduce.

• Igor Krupnik, PhD, explored what happens among contemporary indigenous populations of the Far North as they cope with rapidly changing climatic conditions that appear to be disrupting the multigenerational process of transmitting knowledge essential to survival and reproduction. The knowledge of past generations no longer appears relevant to the rapidly changing conditions of ice and snow, with consequent disruption of intergenerational relationships among the social groups. This may be an example of a natural process of emotional cutoff in the interests of survival of the reproducing generation, as they adapt to the rapidly changing environmental conditions.

(The cited presentations do not exhaust the richness of the conference. Space does not permit a fuller discussion of all of the conference presentations and highlights.)

Moving Beyond the 2009 Conference: As the interconnectedness among human societies has expanded, so has the interconnectedness among the ecosystems of which human societies are members. This compounds the difficulties of penetrating from the mega-, super-society level of contemporary human social organization to the biological level. But when the functions of economies are brought into view and the biological implications of economic collapses, dislocation, adjustments, etc., are considered, it perhaps becomes easier to move between societal super- and infra-structure to basic biological considerations of soil, air and water. Marshaling evidence to connect the levels is critical to theory extension.

Although the conference explored the human’s relationship with the Earth at the level of subsistence, it did not attempt to explore reciprocal functioning between the Earth and extremely large social groups with very complex divisions of labor and relationships that may be global in nature. Such exploration is necessary, however, for a beginning natural systems theory to be able to describe how human-induced failures that apparently are far removed from the biological level of human functioning can affect human functioning at the biological level and must be dealt with as if they are biological-level threats and, conversely, how anthropogenic and other biological threats can affect economic functioning.

For example, what happens when actions that affect societal functioning at multiple levels are not under the regulatory control of society? In the author’s view, in the global recession that came into focus in 2008 (and which had already been in process before its massiveness and seriousness became evident), regulatory mechanisms at the societal level failed to strike an appropriate balance between the forces of individuality and togetherness. Society as a whole did not receive adequate benefit from the behaviors of some members to amass for themselves enormous resources, while transferring the risks from their behaviors to other components of society and to society as a whole.

From a theory-building perspective, the task is to marshal evidence to propose and validate a natural systems theory, grounded in facts and functional facts about what the human’s being part of life on Earth means operationally. If a theory of society as an emotional system is to have practical application and “add value” beyond the suite of analytic tools already available to understand the human condition at the societal level, its supporting foundation of facts and functional facts must satisfactorily lay the basis to grasp how threats from societal level conflicts – political, economic, financial, ethnic, religious, etc. – may be surrogates for or symptomatic of more deeply rooted, human-caused biological threats to societal survival or wellbeing. Conversely, those foundations must also promote understanding of how biological level threats, especially those that are human-induced, can be grasped at the societal levels (usually political) at which actions to try to “fix” the problems are undertaken.

The work of the French historian, Fernand Braudel (1902-1985) provides evidence that human societies at all levels, from individuals to families to villages to towns and cities, need the soil. In The Structures of Everyday Life, the first volume of his three-volume study of civilization and capitalism in the 15th – 18th centuries, Braudel pieces together a coherent picture of the dynamic forces structuring everyday life during the preindustrial period of human existence, when 80-90% of the world’s population could be classified as “peasant,” that is, “liv[ing] from the land and from nothing else,” with “[t]he rhythm, quality and deficiency of harvests order[ing] all material life.” (49)

Based on meticulous examination of many analyses of demographic data about human populations throughout the world, coupled with biological and physical data about variations in trees, rivers, glaciers, sea levels, rice and corn growth, olive trees and vines, etc., as well as humans and other animals, Braudel concludes that before the middle of the 18th century, human births and deaths during that period largely offset each other, such that, statistically, human populations on average did not exhibit a trend of increase. (33) From that time on, Braudel concludes, human population shows an upward trend worldwide, which has never ended. From his analyses, he concludes that the population breakout seems to have occurred during a period of favorable climate in the temperate zones of the world. (49-51)

Based on his examinations, including contemporary records, he concludes that prior to this breakout, the behaviors of human populations were dictated largely by the forces of nature. Populations increased during times of relative plenty. During the famines that inevitably followed, population levels were unsustainable and decreased. During regressions, when money or credit became scarce, primitive market economies would move back in the direction of barter economies. Even during times of relative plenty, malnourishment was a common condition of life. The energy from the nutrients available from agriculture was by-and-large insufficient to support and sustain the magnitude of population growth that would have permitted the development of towns and cities, with their complex divisions of labor. More than that, in times of plenty, the population would inevitably grow beyond the carrying capacity of the land during the periods of famine. So populations on average subsisted and evidence of technological, cultural and material innovation associated with towns and cities was sparse. Moreover, throughout this “ancient regime,” populations, irrespective of their concentration, remained vulnerable to microscopic level predation.

Braudel also examines the relationship between the rural populations of the countryside and larger concentrations of population in towns and cities. He concludes that each is reciprocally dependent on the other. Towns and cities cannot survive without countrysides to supply them with the resources needed to survive and flourish. Conversely, rural populations come to depend on the towns or cities to which they “belong” in order to have ready outlets (“markets”) for any surpluses beyond subsistence and to obtain resources they could not procure otherwise.

Lastly, with respect to the questions posed in this section, Braudel traces the place of markets and economies in the relationships between the tillers of the soil in the countryside and the production sectors in the towns and cities. He examines the replacement of direct labor and commodity exchanges with money and other financial instruments in achieving the exchanges. In doing so, he establishes a way of moving freely between and among the behavioral, psychological and biological levels of functioning to identify sources of threats and challenges to human survival and wellbeing and to understand the ways that they play out at different societal levels.

This is critically important to being able to understand and resolve seeming incongruities between threat and response to threat. Although masked in a market economy, the interdependencies among societal levels and functioning levels (behavioral, psychological, biological, etc.) are nonetheless present and perhaps increased. The market economy permits elaborate divisions of labor, time and space to accomplish what cannot be done in subsistence conditions, when the struggle to survive is or becomes paramount. However, when conditions threaten the functioning of a market economy, as happened in 2008-2009, the threats extend beyond the marketplace.

One of the easiest ways to grasp threats that affect families and societies alike at the biological level is to consider the effect of “pocket-book issues” on both family and societal level functioning. Structural and institutional weaknesses at the societal level have affected family survival, wellbeing and health across many levels. For example, the author believes that abundant evidence could demonstrate that in the 2008-9 recession, structural defects from abdication of responsibility at the governmental level of society to oversee financial and banking institutions, instruments and practices, in order to protect societal interests, have resulted in threats at multiple levels of society, including the biological level, as families have lost their homes, heads of households have lost their jobs and, with them, access to money or credit. With loss of income and credit, ability to procure food and other necessities has declined. Business, too, is affected, as newspapers report on a daily basis.

Though the evidence has not been marshaled in this article, the conjecture is germane to consideration of another aspect of living in groups. The balance between individuality and togetherness is essentially a regulatory function when carried out at the societal level by societal institutions, such as governmental or religious institutions. Non-human social species also regulate within-group behaviors to promote sufficient individual survival and wellbeing to serve the group’s interest in preservation.

For purposes of this article, David Sloan Wilson’s Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion and Society is instructive. First, it contains a primer on group-level selection from the perspective of evolutionary biology. Second, it examines the adaptivenes of religion at the group level. Wilson studies how various religions have struck a balance between individuality and togetherness to promote within-group behaviors that confer advantage to one group in relation to other groups. From the perspective of the Bowen theory and extension of the concepts to a beginning theory of society as an emotional system, these are relevant to understanding the essential need of a society to strike the appropriate balance between individuality and togetherness as part of ensuring its continuation.

Concluding Summary: The foundational evidence for the concepts of the Bowen theory consists largely of observations of emotional functioning at the behavioral and psychological levels. In identifying anthropogenicallly induced threats that operate at the biological level, it becomes clear that a theory of society as an emotional system must include consideration of the biological level of human functioning. This means that the foundational evidence for extension must support linkages that establish that the mutual interaction and influencing between and among the behavioral, psychological and biological levels of functioning in emotional systems.

Starting with the concepts of emotional process in society, emotional cut-off and the triangle, together with the societal regression hypothesis, and some consideration of the necessity for appropriate balance of the forces of individuality and togetherness within a relationship system, this article sketches an approach to marshaling evidence and otherwise developing a foundation to support extension of the concepts of the Bowen theory to a beginning theory of a societal emotional system. It outlined evidence that might be ordered to move among and between the levels of relationship systems comprising a society and to move among the levels, e.g., behavioral, psychological and biological, where threats and responses might become manifest. The sources of evidence discussed in this outline are intended to be illustrative and representative, not comprehensive. No attempt has been made to validate the evidence as supportive of extension. The article is merely intended to serve as a jumping off point for further work on theory extension.


Bowen, J. (1990). A study of seasonality and subsistence: Eighteenth-century Suffield, Connecticut. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Brown University, Providence RI.

Bowen, J. & Andrews, S. (2007). Domesticating the native landscape: The early years at Jamestown. Presentation to the Society for Historical Archaeology., Williamsburg, VA.

Bowen, J. (2009). Human subsistence systems: family households as emotional and economic units. In Bowen Center for the Study of Family & Georgetown University Department of Sociology (Producer), Societies, families and planet earth: Exploring the connections [DVD series]. (Available from the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, 4400 MacArthur Blvd NW Suite 103, Washington, DC 20007-2521).

Bowen, M. (1978). Family therapy in clinical practice. New York: Jason Aronson, Inc.

Braudel, F. (1985). The structures of everyday life: The limits of the possible (Vol. 1 of Civilization &
capitalism 15th-18th century). New York: Harper & Row (Perennial Library edition).

Comella, P. (2009). Emotional process in society: the eighth concept of Bowen family systems theory. Family Systems Forum, 11:2, 1-2, 7-9.

Comella, P. (in press). “Observing emotional functioning in human relationship systems: Lessons from Murray Bowen’s writings.” Bringing systems thinking to life: Expanding the horizons for Bowen family systems theory.

Hillel, D. (1992). Out of the earth: Civilization and the life of the soil. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hillel, D. (1994). Rivers of Eden: The struggle for water and the quest for peace in the Middle East. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hillel, D. (2006). The natural history of the Bible: An environmental exploration of the Hebrew Bible. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hillel, D. (2008). Soil in the environment: Crucible of terrestrial life. Oxford, UK: Elsevier, Inc.

Hillel, D. (2009). Influence of the physical environment in the development of the peoples and societies of the Middle East. In Bowen Center for the Study of Family & Georgetown University Department of Sociology (Producer), Societies, families and planet earth: Exploring the connections [DVD series]. (Available from the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, 4400 MacArthur Blvd NW Suite 103, Washington, DC 20007-2521).

Kerr, M. & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation: an approach based on Bowen theory. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Krupnik, I. (2009). Riding the tiger of climate change: Arctic people experience and interpret their changing environment. In Bowen Center for the Study of Family & Georgetown University Department of Sociology (Producer), Societies, families and planet earth: Exploring the connections. [DVD series.] (Available from the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, 4400 MacArthur Blvd NW Suite 103, Washington, DC 20007-2521).

Lassiter, L. (2009, April). Are there basic characteristics of social groups to prolonged environmental stress? In Bowen Center for the Study of Family & Georgetown University Department of Sociology (Producer), Societies, families and planet earth: Exploring the connections [DVD series]. (Available from the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, 4400 MacArthur Blvd NW Suite 103, Washington, DC 20007-2521).

Outwater, A. (1996). Water: A natural history. New York: Basic Books.

Outwater, A. (2009). The interconnection of humans and non-humans in the health of water. In Bowen Center for the Study of Family & Georgetown University Department of Sociology (Producer), Societies, families and planet earth: Exploring the connections [DVD series]. (Available from the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, 4400 MacArthur Blvd NW Suite 103, Washington, DC 20007-2521).

Papero, D. (2009). Space and the strategy of life: The work of John B. Calhoun. In Bowen Center for the Study of Family & Georgetown University Department of Sociology (Producer), Societies, families and planet earth: Exploring the connections [DVD series]. (Available from the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, 4400 MacArthur Blvd NW Suite 103, Washington, DC 20007-2521).

Wilson, D. (2002). Darwin’s cathedral: Evolution, religion and the nature of society. Chicago: The University of Chicago.

Conference Recordings Available

DVDs of Societies, Families and Planet Earth: Exploring the Connections from the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, 4400 MacArthur Boulevard, NW, Suite 103, Washington, DC 20007-2521 or through the website, www.thebowencenter.org.

Hillel on Soil

Hillel describes the soil as:

“the naturally occurring fragmented, porous, and relatively loose assemblage of mineral particles and organic matter that covers the surfaces of our planet’s terrestrial domains. Formed initially by the physical disintegration and chemical alteration of exposed rocks . . ., the soil is subsequently influenced by the activity and accumulated residues of diverse forms of life. It is within that natural body that living roots of plants can obtain anchorage and sustenance, alongside a varied interdependent community of microscopic and macroscopic organisms . . . that perform interactive biochemical functions. . . . It is an incubator of terrestrial life within which biological productivity is generated and sustained. . . .

“[T]he soil is not an isolated body. It is, rather, a central link in the larger chain of interconnected domains and processes comprising the biosphere. . . . In addition to its function of regulating the cycle of water, the soil also regulates energy exchange and surface temperature . . . [and affects] the composition and the radiative properties of the atmosphere” (Hillel, 2008, 2-3).

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