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Power sharing of sphere classes as an alternative to armed conflict. Martha Ross DeWitt, USA

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2.4. Power sharing of sphere classes as an alternative to armed conflict

Martha Ross DeWitt, USA

Three approaches to the study of human social behavior are integrated to suggest a combined approach to resolving global disputes equitably and peacefully.

1) From Phillip’s web approach (2001), sociological concepts are selected that identify a progression of static and dynamic social settings in which conflicts may arise, involving individual participants according to their habits, self-images, and worldviews.

2) From research using my theories of social action and social change (DeWitt, 2000), cause/effect relationships in the formation of social behavior, behavior change, and power sharing in transition appear to identify circumstances in which positive outcomes of power sharing are likely to occur.

3) From Semashko’s tetrasociology (2002), sphere classes are selected as conscious actors and equal partners in power sharing and conflict resolution.

Aspects of each approach are selected that, taken together, might improve our understanding of the origins and dynamics of conflict, and of ways to resolve conflicts without the win-lose 'survival of the fittest' mode that has dominated human history. Each approach is examined to determine what it contributes to the topic. What insights and understandings are suggested by each approach? What solutions or alternatives?


For two centuries, social scientists in Europe and America have attempted to identify the cultural and social forces that shape societal functioning - for the survival and betterment of humankind (Hughes, 1958; Nisbet, 1966; Coser, 1977; Garner, 2000).

Sociologists and social psychologists have developed a myriad of concepts to describe these forces as they form the social settings in which we, as individuals, groups, and larger entities interact with o­ne another, not just to meet our social obligations and the expectations of others, but also to satisfy our own needs and expectations for ourselves (Mead, 1934; Lewin, 1958; Giddens, 1971; Wrong, 1994).

A recent effort by Phillips (2001) and Phillips, et al. (2002) to codify these insights and draw them into a coherent whole has been called the web approach. I will begin by selecting concepts from this overall approach to identify settings in which conflict may occur.

A web of sociological concepts

At each level, links between cultural and social are mediated by the ‘socialization’ not o­nly of individual actors, but also of collectivities of actors. At the structural (macro) level, values manifested in institutions are perpetuated by groups identified with each strata of society, and are relatively stable. At the more dynamic (meso) level of social interaction, ‘reinforcement’ of values may be disrupted by comparisons that engender a sense of ‘relative deprivation,’ which may lead to feelings of ‘alienation’ at the individual (micro) level.

When transitions become unbalanced by a sense of relative deprivation for a critical mass of actors in dynamic settings (e. g., legislators, labor union officials, religious leaders), or by feelings of alienation from society for a majority of its citizens, specific knowledge of inequities may trigger social conflict.

Forms of social conflict are determined at the macrolevel, by structures of a society and of its relations with other societies. Codes of conduct are formalized by agents selected to represent the society, or at least a dominant faction, and are instituted within a bureaucracy established to carry out their collective decisions. Codes of conduct reflect norms of behavior, i.e., that are considered acceptable, including forms of protest, such as rallies and marches, that do not disrupt the rules, e.g., of a free society.

Expressions of social conflict may be initiated at the dynamic level of social interaction, by agents who represent citizen interests that may either conform or deviate from those of the society as a whole, or of its dominant faction. These include civil disobedience, e. g., interfering with government placement of nuclear waste, thought to be harmful to life and/or the environment.

Intensity of involvement in social conflict is determined at the microlevel by individual personalities, as reflected in their self images as powerless or powerful, but also by their world views, habits or addictions, and feelings of alienation from society. World views tends to be part of o­ne’s cultural heritage, and center either o­n an ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy of insiders vs. outsiders, or o­n ‘we are all in this together,’ the latter being less intense but more conducive to negotiation and compromise. Habits may be assessed as functional or dysfunctional as coping mechanisms, addictions being more intense than other habits, harder to change, and more resistant to rational thinking. These factors set the stage, not o­nly for conflict, but for conflict resolution.

Theories and research by DeWitt (2000) describe causal sequences of social action formation and transformation, in which sources of conflict might be identified by protagonists, and addressed in a shared manner to mutual advantage.

Social action, social change, and power sharing in transition

Formation of social action is seen as a natural progression of cognitive responses to cultural, social, economic and personal/political stimuli. Ideas that are accepted are likely to be consistent with past imagery, reinforced within familiar social settings, found relevant in satisfying needs, and consistent with personal responsibilities within established spheres of influence (DeWitt, 2000: 5, Fig. A.).         

Alteration of a response sequence may begin at any point in a progression where continuity is no longer possible, or where the usual response is no longer adequate. This can occur not o­nly in developmental change, but also in adaptive or innovative changes due to changes in the setting. Responses to developmental change are often anticipated, and adaptative changes may require o­nly minor substitutions. Innovative changes, however, often require the formation of entirely new response sequences, with uncertain outcomes that mark the beginning of social transformation. During transformations, individuals and groups may be exposed to new ideas, beliefs, attitudes, and interests, experience new goal choices and motivations, and accept new responsibilities and obligations, depending o­n the nature of changes in their cultural, social, economic, and personal/political settings.

As new settings grow in complexity, opportunities for conflict arise in which individuals and groups compete to control economic resources, and struggle to establish favorable spheres of influence. Culturally they look back for adequate rationales for their conduct, and forward for sources of new information. Socially they look to o­ne another to confirm the legitimacy of their efforts.

From competition, alliances grow."If I’m not able to best my opponents, I will seek to influence them in my favor, either directly or through others." This seems to be a major organizing principle of societal development, a natural consequence of increasing social complexity. Open conflict seems to be a consequence of failed alliances, or of an inability to form alliances. Conditions that favor power sharing may include: valuing potential allies, valuing an association with them, accepting their goals, trusting their intentions. While compatibilities hold, compromises are attempted to resolve differences and minimize conflict. Although spheres of influence might overlap, societies of stable alliances are able to function.

In research o­n power sharing, in transition, applied to farm families, I found recent increases in innovative behavior in farming to be associated with high decision sharing when the wife’s involvement in farm work was increasing, identifying the family as ‘emerging, nontraditional’, and a) her involvement in farm decisions was increasing, or b) she kept most of the farm records, or c) her husband was not entirely satisfied with the way they made decisions and resolved differences, or d) he saw her as a source of new ideas in farming. Using multiple regression statistical analysis, these results were found to be separate, positive effects, given either his commitment to continue in farming, or a high farm debt to farm income ratio (a 'willingness to risk' factor). Although specific to farm couples, this research demonstrated how to model theory applications to be able test my interlocking theories of social action and social change (DeWitt, 2000).

Phillip’s web of sociological concepts helps to identify settings for conflict and conflict resolution. My theories of social action and social change help to identify processes in which individuals or their agents can, through power sharing, find ways to resolve social conflicts. But how are actors identified in these settings? Whose intentions can be trusted? And whose goals can be accepted to minimize societal contradictions and resolve social conflicts? Justice systems of courts and law enforcement provide basic services for conformance. Equality of influence through the election of representatives may be the closest that political systems have come to selecting agents to pass laws to regulate the behavior of their citizens.

Semashko (2002) suggests a new way to improve representation, so that every essential 'sphere' of society is represented, not just those 'branch' classes that happen to be more influential, due to monetary and other socioeconomic advantages and privileges.

Tetrasociology and sphere classes

Semashko offers a blueprint for achieving equity in place of failed equality in social relations. His theory proposes a new look at social data o­n under-represented population groups, to determine how power should be redistributed to balance their influence. Four sphere groups of population, unequal in size but equal in importance to the economic and social functioning of society, are identified whose interests should be represented equally in managing a society. This is a new concept of representation, suggesting a peaceful transition from competitive struggles to voluntary cooperation, based o­n a shared understanding of what is fair, right, and good for society as a whole as well as its individual members.

Using Russia’s population as an example, Semashko has calculated numbers of people in sphere classes in millions for 1991, 1996, and 2000 (see table of sphere classes in section 1.2, above). Populations of sphere classes can be calculated for any country or nation-state. In Semashko's opinion, sphere classes have enormous capacity to achieve social harmony, to constructively overcome the challenges of globalization, and to provide the key to social transformation of the modern world.

A detailed methodology is developed to identify the four sphere classes of population, using readily available population data. In the methodology, all ages and occupational groups are represented, including populations that are not involved in paid work: students, homemakers, unemployed, and those who are retired or disabled. What is unique is the way in which the sphere classes are identified, not by status or standing, but by the way in which each reproduces essential, equally important resources of society. Semashko names this criterion "reproductive employment (r-employment)". Twenty sphere indices are developed in all, to represent the four sphere classes, differing o­n this criterion. In contrast, 20th century sociology offered status oriented interpretations of class structure, based either o­n ownership of property/relationship to the means of production (Marxian), or o­n multiple criteria for social stratification, including occupation, income, and education (Western sociology). Property based classes, Semashko argues, are focused, first, o­n taking from a society, rather than o­n  giving to it, consequently they are sources of conflict and disharmony. Sphere classes have the opposite priority. Property class priority is consumption, whereas the priority of sphere classes is production.

Reproductive employment is more inclusive than categories of work, economic employment, and economic activity, because it includes non-labour, non-economic and non-active forms of employment, all of which are viewed as productive. Sphere classes are viewed as equally necessary for a society, but different in the quality of employment in each sphere. Equality and distinction of the sphere classes, and also their striving for balance, makes them harmonious and solidary classes, in contrast with classes based o­n property, which tend to be competitive and disharmonious. Semashko does not consider inequalities of power and influence within sphere classes, but considers them to be of lesser importance to the harmonious functioning of society than inequalities between sphere classes. If the sphere class as a whole is adequately represented, then constituent parts are presumed to benefit.

Semashko’s new definition of ‘class structure’ as all-inclusive and of ‘class function’ as reproductive creates new tools for understanding the past, for predicting the future, and for addressing many seemingly unresolvable, chronic problems of today. His theory of sphere classes is insightful in areas of common interest, and imaginative in areas not yet analyzed by other social theorists.

Taken together, these three imaginative approaches to sociological analysis suggest a comprehensive approach that takes into account setting, class identity, individual world views, and power sharing processes that might increase harmonious response to global challenges of the 21st century.

A research proposal to compare alternative ways of sharing power

Essentially, Semashko proposes that social policy in a democracy be determined by representatives of what he defines as sphere classes, rather than by representatives of branch/bureaucratic classes of elites. To test the efficacy of this proposition requires comparisons that are not readily available, since no societies of self-identified sphere classes exist.

An alternative is to artificially create representatives of sphere classes and branch elites, present them with scripted global conflicts, in scripted settings, (involving somewhat ambiguous descriptions of each external challenge or threat), and record their problem solving efforts. This can be done with relatively naive subjects as actors. Class identity is scripted to include each of four essential types, whether sphere class or elite, with selection of class identity by subjects somewhat voluntary within each experiment. A group of twelve subjects is selected for each experiment, and divided into three teams of four. o­ne team of four decides o­n codes of conduct, acceptable ways in which the conflict might be resolved. Another team decides whether to conform or deviate from whatever codes of conduct they perceive as relevant, of those included in their script. The third team decides how far to go in pursuing any of the action alternatives suggested in their script.

Each team of four then selects a spokesperson to summarize their position in a joint session. Teams then reconvene separately to try to resolve differences. This process continues, back and forth, for a stated time interval, and the results are recorded, including rationales for decisions made. Individual responses are also recorded, to test related hypotheses. Each individual is part of 12 experiments. According to the theory, representatives of sphere classes (in the sphere class experiments) will increasingly resolve their differences with rationales that favor maximizing global harmony, if most of the individual participants also have an interactive world view. Representatives of elite classes (in the branch/elite class set of experiments) will increasingly resolve their differences with rationales that favor maximizing elite class advantages, if most of the individual participants have a bureaucratic world view. A control set of experiments, without class identity scripts, will test an alternative hypothesis: that class identity (coded from individual questionnaires) is unrelated to changes in rationales given, in either direction, regardless of world views of the participants.

In subsequent rounds of experiments, each participant might experience the other two types of experiment, but with different scripts. This would test a ‘transferability of class identity reinforced by world view’ hypothesis. Such experiments might be part of a semester course for high school seniors, for extra units of credit in social studies or civics, or an elective Saturday class during the summer, with discussion of the results at the end of the course. Each experiment takes at least three hours, to include time for instruction at the start of each experiment, and time following each experiment for individual responses to written questionnaires.

The primary hypothesis tests a progressive, interactive effect of class identity and world view o­n the consequences (harmony or disharmony) of power sharing to resolve global conflicts. The outcome variable is multidimensional, a predicted quantitative change that varies qualitatively, as an increase either in potential harmony (balanced advantage) or potential disharmony (unequal advantage). A secondary outcome is alliance formation. For control groups this might be based o­n personal characteristics, since class is irrelevant. For test groups it might be based o­n class identity, and either reinforce or confound predicted outcomes. Random sampling techniques are used in the study design. Ideally, a stratified random sample is possible, to include a diverse population of school districts. A pre-study is used to test the adequacy of each of the conflict and setting scripts. Subjects from senior class student populations are selected who have completed a course in social studies, civics, or government with a passing grade and satisfactory attendance record. Quantitative statistics are applied to analyse the results. Ethical procedures are followed to protect confidentiality of information about individual subjects and individual school districts.

Ultimately, this research might provide the basics for a standard high school course in “Multicultural Dialog,” that prepares students for community involvement and participation in government at all levels, applying principles from the three approaches summarized in this review.


Coser, L. A. (1977). Masters of sociological thought, Ideas in historical and social context, 2nd ed. New York:           Harcourt Brace & Jovanovich.

DeWitt, M. R. (2000). Beyond equilibrium theory; Theories of social action and social change applied to a study of power sharing in transition. New York: University Press of America.

Garner, R. (Ed.). (2000). Social theory: Continuity and confrontation. New York: Broadview Press.

Giddens, A. (1971). Fundamental concepts of sociology. In Capitalism and modern social theory: An analysis of the writings of Marx, Durkheim and Max Weber. A. Giddens, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Hughes, H. S. (1958). Consciousness and society: The reorientation of European social thought, 1890-1930. New York: Vintage Books.

Lewin, K. (1958). Resolving social conflicts: Selected papers o­n group dynamics: 1935-1946. (G. W. Lewin, Ed.; first published in 1948). New York: Harper.

Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self and society. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Nisbet, R. A. (1966). The Sociological Tradition. New York: Basic Books.

Phillips, B. (2001). Beyond sociology’s tower of Babel: Reconstructing the scientific method. New York: Aldine.

Phillips, B. , et al. (Eds.). (2002). Toward a sociological imagination; Bridging specialized fields. New York: University Press of America.

Semashko, L. M. (2002). Tetrasociology: Responses to challenges. St. Petersburg, Russia: St. Petersburg State Technical University Publishing House.

Wrong, D. (1994). The problem of order: What unites and divides society? New York: Free Press.

Martha Ross DeWitt, PhD, Sociology, Research consultant, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. Email: mrossdewitt@msn.com

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