Before the social network Facebook, there was Jacob L Moreno’s research which led him to believe that “humans are social beings whose survival depended on the health of their position in a social and cultural web of relationships.” Studying these networks is part of what is known as Sociometry, or the quantitative method for measuring social relationships. It was developed by Moreno who was a psychiatrist and founder of psychodrama, where role-playing and dramatization is used in group psychotherapy sessions to gain insights on people’s lives.
In his article below, “Do you want to know yourself better and improve your relationship?” recently published in the Moreno Psychodrama Society eJournal The Mirror, author Ashfique Rizwan explains how to use Sociometry and the “social atom” to chart the people we relate to in order of closeness and how realizing these connections can help to improve our lives.
To know yourself better and improve your relationship, it is mandatory to understand the concept of the social and cultural atom. Now, the social atom is the people (alive or deceased), animals, places, and objects that have any influence (positive, negative and neutral) in your life. The cultural atom is the roles and relationship in between you and those entities in your social atom. For example, look at the below diagram to get a clear sense of the concept.
The diagram above shows the social and the cultural atom of me (an imaginative male). The males in my social atom are shown in the triangles (blue), females are in circles (purple), deceased male in the dotted triangle (blue), deceased female in dotted circle (purple), the female animal in circle (orange), object/ place is shown in rectangle (green). Now, what else do you see here? If we analyze the person’s social and cultural atom with the people that have any influence (significance) in his life and start with Iman, then you can see that the central person (me) considers Iman (a dead person) still has a positive influence (+) upon him (the son-me) as his (my) father. Here, the son (social role) and the father (social role) are connecting through a mutually positive role relationship (hence the cultural atom) Moreover, the central person has a mutually positive relationship with his friend Rono and his pet Cola where he considers himself as a caregiver of Cola and his pet being the protector of him (cultural atom).
On the other hand, you can see a mutually negative relationship (cultural atom) with his wife and his sister that means whenever he tries to communicate with his wife as a husband (their social roles) and with his sister as a brother (their social roles), this creates a negative influence upon him. However, he can interact with his wife as a friend (also a social role) instead of a husband (role) to build a mutually positive relationship and can bring lover of music (psychodramatic role) to interact with his sister who is also a lover of music to improve the relationship (if he wants).
Social roles such as son/father, wife/husband, brother/sister creates relationship (cultural atom) with positive (+), negative (-) and neutral influences (- – -). To understand a neutral relationship, you can see the relationship with Kanta (Diagram 1), an ex-girlfriend (and deceased), however, still belongs to his Social atom at this time, with no influence (mutually neutral tele). The positive, negative and neutral influences are called the “Tele.” These forces (like electromagnetic forces) are the invisible bonding that shapes the relationships (cultural atom) in our world.
The purpose of the diagram is to know yourself better, to figure out the roles you are enacting in everyday life, because it is the set of roles that creates your personality according to the creator of Role Theory and the Social and Cultural Atom Jacob Levy Moreno (an Austrian-American Psychiatrist, also known as the Father of Psychodrama, Group Psychotherapy, and Sociometry). Moreover, Moreno says that the roles do not emerge from the self, it is the self that emerges from the roles. So, we need to understand and be aware of our roles to know ourselves better. The personality is not therefore set. We can always have the opportunity to change as a person by changing our roles. Furthermore, we need to know that it is always two roles that interact to make a relationship (our cultural atom) and it is always possible to create new cultural atom within our social atom (like the lover of music role) to make a positive impact in a relationship which is currently suffering from some negative influences.
Therefore, you can create your own social and cultural atom like the diagram shown here and figure out persons, pets, objects and places like Cox’s Bazar in your social atom and connect with the place (host) with your traveller (psychodramatic role) by a mutually positive tele. Moreover, you can find out the resources and supports in your life such as Rono (friend) and Cola (pet) who can bring positive influences in your life during your ups and downs. Also, if you want to improve your relationship with your mother (which is currently negative from the son role in the diagram), you can certainly think of a new role to interact with your mother and create a new link to make mutually positive tele. For example, if mother likes grapes, bring her grapes. This role could be called “Thoughtful Son”, and the responding role might be ‘Appreciative Mother’.
Note: The diagram in this article was co-created by me, Sue Daniel, Director of Psychodrama Institute of Melbourne (in private conversations), and Mukul Barman, Sr. Communications Officer, BRAC JPGSPH.
- Daniel, S. (2017, November- 2018, March). Skype conversations
- Daniel, S. (2009), Psychodrama, role theory and the cultural atom: New developments in role theory. In C.Baim, J.Burmeister, Maciel, (Eds.) Psychodrama: Advances in Theory and Practice (pp. 67-81). London & New York: Routledge
- Moreno, J. L. (1946). Psychodrama, Vol. 1: Psychodrama & Group Psychotherapy. (7th Ed.) 1985. Ambler, PA: Beacon House Inc.
Ashfique Rizwan is Deputy Project Coordinator at BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University. This article was originally published in Moreno Psychodrama Society eJournal, THE MIRROR (No.11, June 2018). For more information, you may contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.