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Society and Person – 4


5- Types of institutions.

– Level 0 Institutions (from now on L-0i). Subjective and Non-Formalized Institutions.

Institutions can be grouped in different levels according to their characteristics

Its most significant institution is the language. The language is not only a vehicle for communication, it’s also a mechanism of conception through which we construct the world around us. Thanks to a language we communicate stories with our peers and try to reach an agreement about what is canonical in our culture and how to deal with the exceptions. Language allows us to preserve a culture and makes it easier to pass it on to other societies. So, basically the language allows people to create and transmit stories, stories that let people to define themselves, to explain their thoughts, to objectify the perception of reality, to share this reality and to justify the unknown. All this is awesome. As a downside, language, even for the ones that really master it, can never offer such a direct and transparent knowledge about the other one as the natural communication does. That is to say, to verbalize, «I kiss you» it will never be like kissing you.q


Language is not as good as the real thing, but the capacity to talk helps a lot in keeping up the strength of the bonds in a group. Thanks to a tool like the language people may have knowledge of themselves. They may be aware of what they can and cannot do, what fears or virtues do they have, what do they like or dislike, etc. By talking people come to understand each other and when this happens it’s easier to behave considering the other people in the group. There is no need to establish any rule or law when people already know what the other ones will do.


With level 0 institutions, the distance between people and reality, including the other people’s mind, is quite small, because there are very few institutions intermediating their relations. People can sense nature, group and other persons, therefore there is a strong sense of community and of belonging to the nature, which usually gives rise to animistic conceptions of nature and the unknown. When there are almost no rules people and nature seems to be closer. In other words, the less institutions you need, the closer to nature and people usually you will get.
In a group society where the predominant institutions are those of level 0, people with more experience and wisdom usually become institutions themselves. There are no other vessels of knowledge so what they say is accepted as correct.

This is the first stage of any culture and is characteristic of hunter-gatherer societies, clans, families, friends, etc. any group where people know other people’s needs and because of this knowledge they could change their behavior, without any rule imposing them to do so.


– Level 1 Institutions (from now on L-1i). Objective and Formalized Institutions.

The Institution is defined and explained. With these words we mean that when there is to much people in a group, one can not act and plan ahead solely on the assumption that everyone knows very well all the other group members. When a group reaches a certain number of members, its members have to start creating rules and the group has to enable a space for communication where people can debate those rules, explain them, formalize its uses and deal with the problems.

In a Level 0 Institutions’ society, the knowledge about the others persons was always obtained through interpersonal relationships but now part of the knowledge is obtained inside this new public space and in this new sphere of communication, public and private begins to split. Communication cannot be as straightforward because now there are two different ways to communicate each one with its own peculiarities.


Once you create public rules, someone has to keep track of them and someone has to in-force and apply them, thus in the public sphere new characters began to appear that may have direct control over the communications in the public space and over the rules created.
When the people in a group formalize its particular way of thinking creating public institutions, it becomes easier for them to establish relationships with other groups. The other groups may not like their rules or traditions but at least they know them. Knowing the other one helps to define your particular ways of seeing the world and allows the groups to get closer to the similar ones or away from the different ones. It also allows tradition to become law, i,e., anything that before was done just because it had always been done this way, now it can be explained, justified and somebody can ensure its compliance. Similarly, experience turns into technology. The technical expertise that anyone could have in any area, when it is structured and formalized, it becomes easier to explain, and once explained it can be shared and improved.


In a L-1i society the possibility to do or not do something no longer depends exclusively in the knowledge of the people, now there are rules and therefore, generally, it’s at least as important to know the rules as it is to know the people in the group. And this weakens mutual trust, because is easier to know the rules than the persons. Why somebody has to waste his/her time talking and getting to know the people? You learn the rules and the ones that control the rules and you are done! Instrumental knowledge gets  reinforced over emotional knowledge.

When the rule is formalized, society begins to differentiate, as the social position is no longer determined only by experience and capabilities, but also by the person’s relation with the institutions. People and institutions validated each other. The social position gives prestige to the person and the person tries to force reconnaissance to his/her institution. For example: in a group with L-0 institutions, a brave and wise person could become the leader. That is to say, someone is a leader because of his/her personal capabilities. When the group is under level 1 institutions, this same person will have to go through a ritual of passage linked with a leadership institution, like the royalty, before he is accepted as a leader; a King. He is still a brave and wise person, but the fact of being a King (institutional position) is as important as his qualities.


We may found this kind of institutions in societies such as agricultural tribal societies, early trade organizations, early cities, etc. In these societies stories are not any more spread throughout the people, instead some institutions begins to control them. L-1i gives cohesion to cultures where oral tradition is still predominant and creates shamanic figures and heroes to deal with the unknown and the myths.