N.B. The following paper outlines group-grid theory. Do not worry about the specifics of Afrikaner society etc. Simply concentrate on understanding the theory.






© 1988


Oom Gert went home early,

one thing was clear:

he didn't fit into this new world.

He, who had known better days

was too old to change...

new ways...

new times...



Totius (South African Poet)



The work of Peter F. Drucker and Mary Douglas provide anyone interested in the relationship between religion and society with unique and fruitful insights. Drucker's early work was concerned with the origins and appeal of fascism. Douglas seeks to understand the the relationship between the cosmology and social structure of a society. Together they provide a means of analyzing religious culture which is highly suggestive and very relevant to the South African situation.



Drucker's first major work in English, The End of Economic Man[1], is a study of the origins and appeal of fascism for both the masses and intellectuals. Drucker begins his work by arguing that both capitalism and socialism have lost the attraction which they had in the nineteenth century because as belief systems they have proved themselves unworthy of the trust of the masses and the faith of intellectuals. As a result they have ceased to give meaning to the lives of well informed people.


Capitalism and socialism failed because they shared a common faith in the concept of “economic man” which during the nineteenth century gave meaning to the lives of individuals and directed the goals of society. Both systems offered purely material rewards as the goal of life based on an image of humanity primarily as economic producer. Once this image was shattered by the inhumanities of both systems then the visions they had produced began to fail, at least for those who know their histories.


With the destruction of the idea of “economic man” as the basic human image many lost faith and a vacuum of meaning was created in society. As a result an unrecognized existential despair engulfed the western world leading many, eventually, to embrace fascism. Of course, there were always critics of the concept of “economic man” who held firm to earlier visions of humanity such as  the “rational man” of the Enlightenment or the “spiritual man” of Christianity. But, in general, it was the vision of “economic man” which prevailed dominating popular culture and intellectual fashions during most of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Loss of faith in “economic man” left the masses without the psycho-social supports they needed from ascribed status and socially recognized functions. As a result they were unable to cope with the psychic tensions of modern society. Modern technology, once the glory of “economic man,” now became a menacing force which threatened to engulf the individual who began to see him or herself as a cog in the wheel of society. Thus labor saving technologies, which had been promoted as a means of reducing stress and relieving suffering, were now seen as mechanical toys which simply emphasized the purposelessness of life.


In this situation, of psychic tension and loss of meaning, fascism offered hope and encouragement.   The success of fascism, according to Drucker, was that it offered the masses a non-economic system of value which created the illusion of purpose, significance, and meaning. Thus fascism was able to transcend both socialism and capitalism in its popular appeal. [2]


Actually, however, the meaning, purpose and significance which fascism creates is an illusion.   But, it is an illusion which many people desperately want to accept.    Fascism replaces the vision of “economic man]”with a new and appealing vision of “Heroic Man.” The vision of “Heroic Man”, however, is an illusion because it is built upon contradictions which become self-destructive. To sustain itself the vision of “Heroic Man” requires sacrifice and the glorification of war. Thus a collective madness results which leads a people over the abyss.


Drucker's analysis of fascism was indeed prophetic. On the basis of his theory he argued that fascism was not created by big business, a point which has only recently been conceded by historians after decades of intense debate [3], correctly analized the probable course of Germany's relations with Russia [4] and predicted the outcome of anti-Semitism as a

downward spiral of violence. [5]


When one considers other situations where fascist or neo-fascist organizations have arisen Drucker's analysis seems spot-on.   "Totalitarian revolutions" he says, are "clearly not the beginning of a new order but the result of the collapse of the old".   As a result they are not a "miracle, but a mirage". [6] They offer an apparent solution to real problems but in the last analysis substitutes efficiency in the application of their programs for any real solution to the problem of social and economic order.[7]


Thus population removals, which are characteristic of Afrikaner Nationalism, and the new visions of a pure white Boertustan of theAfrikaans Resistance Movment (AWB) neatly fit Drucker's analysis. More importantly his observations, on the inability of fascism to create a lasting solution to the problems of modernity explain, to a large extent, why Afrikaners like Beyers Naude, David Bosch and Pippin Oosthuizen turned their backs on the bankrupt vision of the “Heroic Trekker” in favor of a Christian vision of “Free and Equal Man.”[8]



Following his astute, yet depressing, analysis of fascism Drucker attempted to provide a pointer towards a non-fascist future in his next book The Future of Industrial Man. [9] Here he sets his earlier analysis of fascism in the context of western social history. He then outlines what he calls a "conservative" approach to society which he clearly hoped would provoke debate among intellectuals and policy makers about the need to provide individuals with status and meaning within a free society.


Drucker writes:


We know the requirements for a functioning industrial society. In the first place it must give function and status in society to the individual member of the industrial system. It must be capable of integrating the individuals in a social purpose. It must give a social meaning to the purposes, acts, desires and ideals of the individual, and an individual meaning to the organization, institutions and aims of the group.


Secondly, the power in the industrial system must become a legitimate rule.   It must derive its authority from a moral principle accepted by society as a legitimate basis of social and political power...Finally, in a free society political government and social rule must be separated..." [10]


The problem he argues is that while the business corporation is the "representative institution" of modern society, just as the Church was the representative institution of medieval society, it lacks social legitimation. That is to say "Managerial power today is illegitimate power". [11] As a result the modern industrial system:


neither provides social status and function for the individual nor group establishes a legitimate social power..." [12]


And because:


No social power can endure unless it is legitimate power. We have only one alternative: either to build a functioning industrial society or to see freedom itself disappear in anarchy and tyranny.[13]


To avoid this bleak future Drucker sought to understand the nature of the modern corporation more fully. The result was Drucker's third book The Concept of the Corporation [14] which quickly established itself as a classic study and has been credited by many with creating the academic discipline of management.[15] The rest of Drucker's career can be viewed as an attempt to answer the problems he raised in these early books. [16]    Throughout his career he has sought to find a solid basis for corporate action and has urged business leaders to provide society with a moral order that would create a bulwark against the fascist menace.   Thus all his writings and other activities may be seen as a continual dialogue with the issues of our day in an attempt to combat the ever present intellectual and emotional appeal of fascist “Heroic Man.”


Unfortunately, business corporations have not played the role Drucker envisaged.   Neither have other social institutions provided society with a basis for a non-fascist future.   As a result western democracies have drifted from one crisis to another in the vain quest for

higher living standards and an end to inflation. In the Preface] to the 1983 edition of The Concept of the Corporation,[17] Drucker sadly laments:


in all developed countries in the last ten years or so people have come to the top in politics who in traditional terms would have to be considered 'political adventurers'-a Jimmy Carter and a Ronald Reagan in the U.S., a Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain..."[18]


Thus the threat of fascism remains as strong as ever throughout the Western World even though, despite socialist rhetoric, none of today's western leaders can really be called fascist.   Yet the political forces they and their opponents represent express the same longings and fears of ordinary people as those successfully marshalled by Hitler to gain power in pre-war Germany. We must conclude with Drucker that as long as a void exists in civil society  created by the lack of legitimacy of modern institutions fascism will remain an ever present threat. [19]



Unfortunately, although "status and function" are key terms in Drucker's argument he never really gives them an adequate definition which would allow others to judge whether a given society is meeting his requirements. As John Tarrant observes:


Peter Drucker has drawn, with broad strokes, the picture of the imminent industrial society. He has implied that there is great hope for this new order-but that, first, a couple of big problems must be solved...The individual has to be given “status” and “function.”


The reader is ready for the answers-but he is not going to get them. Drucker does not have the answers..." [20] this is the "central intellectual problem" of Drucker's work. [21]  In his book The New Society: The Anatomy of Industrial Order, [22] Drucker recognizes the need to define "status" and "function" which are central to his argument. [23]  He writes:


Social status and function are terms of relationship, of 'belonging', of identification, of harmony.   'Status' defines a man's existence as related in mutual necessity...'Function' ties his work, his aspirations and ambitions to the power and purposes of the organized group in a bond that satisfies both individual and society.[24]


Even so after reading Drucker's explanation one is left with a feeling that one “knows” what he is talking about and can recognize the truth of what he is saying something is missing.  [25]



The work of British social anthropologist Mary Douglas fills the gap in Drucker's analysis of modern society by providing us with a means to give his key terms, status and function, a clear definition which applies cross-culturally. Like Drucker she is concerned with the problem of modernity. To analyze this Douglas develops a methodology to facilitate the comparative study of societies and their cosmological ideas. She calls this methodology "group-grid analysis".


Following Durkheim [27] Douglas argues [28] that similar social structures ought to produce similar cosmological ideas.   Thus an observer should be able to re-create a group's cosmology from information about its social structure and deduce its social structure from a description of its cosmology. To perform these tasks she uses the idea of "positional control" which she divides into two independent variables affecting the structure of social relations. These variables she terms "grid" and "group".


A grid, Douglas argues, exists when social roles are "allocated on principles of sex, age and seniority". [29] As such a grid represents ego-centered categories which are capable of varying independently of the group. Douglas use of "grid" seems to refer to essentially the same social characteristics as those denoted by Drucker's use of "status". Drucker says "The oldest term for status is 'personality..." [30] by which he clearly means ego centered identity. He also says that "The ideal 'free market' of the classical economist was a society which knew only status..." [31] this comment corresponds to Douglas' observation that  high-grid situations in the modern world produce personality types in terms of the "competitive cosmology" of capitalism like Lord Thompson of Fleet Street. [32]     Finally, Drucker tells his readers that status "defines a man's existence" [33] which seems to be another way of saying a person is "classified" in a certain way which is what Douglas says happens when a

grid is operative. [34].


Explaining the nature of a group Douglas writes:


To the extent that the family is a bound unit, contained in a set of rooms, known by a common name, sharing common property, it is a group...[35]


The relationships within a "group" as defined by Douglas seem to correspond to

those social relationships Drucker subsumed under the term "function". Drucker said "the oldest term for function is 'member..." [36] and compared a society which operates entirely in terms of function  to that of "The ideal tribe of the modern cultural anthropologist..." [37] He also argued that "function" is based upon a social "bond" which unites members of a

given society in a common purpose.[38]


All these indicators lead me to argue that “essentially” Drucker's use of functions corresponds to Douglas' use of "group". The major difference is that Douglas has worked out her ideas in a cross-cultural context and provided a framework for analysis which is missing from Drucker's work.


Another way of seeing these distinctions is to view grids as social relationships controlled by sets of rules and impersonal criteria while groups are social relationships governed by personal interaction. Thus status is conferred in terms of socially recognized rules and impersonal criteria while function refers to personal bonds between individuals as a result of their membership of a recognized group.


In both cases, however, it is very important to recognize that group-grid and status-function relations exist only to the extent that the actions of individuals are restricted or controlled by social sanctions imposed by society. Thus both group-grid and status-function are terms for social realities which represent constraints upon the actions of individuals backed by real or imaginary sanctions which the individual respects and fears. It is also necessary to note that the individual need not be consciously aware of these restraints, on the contrary, individuals

usually do not analyze their place in society but simply "belong". And it is this feeling of "belonging" which usually more than compensates for the restrictions an individual feels as a result of socialization. Thus the constraints which create group-grid-status-function relations within society are essential for the functioning of a viable society. [39]



To facilitate her analysis Mary Douglas uses the following diagram:

Grid +














Group +

Square 'A' represents a persion experiences no social constraints from the ties of a group but is strongly constrained by grid ties.  This is the type of individual who works for a multi-national corporation who moves freely wherever the company sends him.  His or her world is ordered and rational yet essentially impersonal.  In square 'B' the individual is constrained by neither group nor grid.  This is the world of the hippy which is spontaneous and irrational.  Square 'C' represents a society bound by group and grid.  Here the individual belongs to various social networks and has a clearly defined place in society which is both personal, ordered, and rational.  This is the world of medieval Catholic Europe.  In square 'D' all status is insignificant compared with belonging to the group.  The world is highly personal within the boundaries of the group but dis­ordered and dangerous outside its protection.  This is the world of the typical witchcraft society.


In segment “B” people experience few constraints upon their actions. The example used by Douglas for people living in segment "B" are the Ik people of Colin Turnbull's The Mountain People. [41] and the Californian car salesman who earns all he needs by sheer personal skill and needs no institutional or family ties to survive.


This is a world where life is spontaneous, irrational and exciting. Here creativity thrives alongside a cosmic loneliness and frequent search for truth and inner meaning where social organization is minimal and individuals are free from mystical, inward looking, anarchistic cosmology which identifies the universe with the self and sees everything ultimately relating back to the self.


In terms of Afrikanerdom, this is the sort of society that emerged immediately following the Second Anglo-Boer War in the Transvaal and Orange Free State.   Although the upper classes retained considerable social and economic power by many other Afrikaners were impoverished and lacked the support of both group and grid.


In segment "D" Douglas finds a society bounded like that of the Biblical Abraham bounded by strong group ties. Here the individual belongs to a highly personal social system which is or behaves like an extension of the family. Success in such a world depends, to a large degree, upon whom a person knows and how individuals are related to those in power.   Merit and/or the application of impersonal rules play little part in such a society. This is the society of many African peoples and of the the Voortrekkers.


The cosmologies of group based societies are highly personal, irrational, in the sense of lacking observable rules, and vividly aware of the opposition of good and evil.   Here the universe is governed by a personal Being but the individual and his or her group is also constantly threatened by equally personalized forces of evil which continually strive to destroy the group.


Mary Douglas labels such societies "witchcraft type societies" by which she means they are characterized by a strong trust of group members and an equally strong fear of outsiders.  [42]   Frequently the outsider is seen in terms of cosmic evil and as a potential threat to the survival of the group. So too the Voortrekkers identified the British not simply as a political enemy but also as representatives of cosmic evil seeking to destroy their religion and way of life.


When a crisis occurs within this type of society it is usually attributed to the work of external forces assisted by witches. In such a society a witch is a person who lives within the group but has allied him or herself with the forces of evil seeking to destroy the group's identity. Beliefs like this encourage the growth of witchcraft eradication movements arise which seek to purge the group of its enemies and restore the old order. [43]


In sharp contrast to group based societies are those found in segment "A" where "grid" rather than groups determines social interaction. Here a person experiences the world free from personal restraints but strongly controlled by the rules of the particular sub-group of the society to which they belong.   This is the world of the multi-national corporate executive, classical capitalism and the army officer where obeying "the rules" or living "by the book" comes before any considerations of personal good or favor and that of the modern Afrikaner bureaucrat and policeman.


The world of strong-grid-weak-group is one that is orderly and rational yet essentially impersonal.   The cosmology of people living in this situation tends towards deism and a mechanistic view of a regulated universe governed by impersonal laws.  


Paradoxically this ordered and impersonal world produces "big men" in times of crisis who assume leadership roles and develop millenarian type movements to restore a feeling of belonging to a human order. The leader in this situation functions to personalize the impersonal order of society and give his or her followers the hope of personal meaning and attention.[44]


Finally, segment "D" symbolizes the society where individuals are bound by both group and grid restraint like the society of the High Middle Ages in Europe. In some ways this would seem the most oppressive society but, Douglas argues, the effects of the grid remove the arbitaryness of a purely group based society while the influence of the group humanizes the rigidity of the grid. Here one finds a rational/personal cosmology where the fears of the group are restrained by the rationality of the grid network which binds the essentially local group to a wider society. Such a society, Douglas believes, produced the ethos where orthodox, Chalcedonian, Christianity made sense.  [45]


Like many anthropologists Mary Douglas writes in an ethnographic present which seems to ignore the historical dimension of life. As a result her analysis has a static quality which detracts from its overall usefulness. But, when it is viewed dynamically instead of statically group-grid analysis is even more useful. Thus instead of seeing individuals in segment "A" as permanently committed to a mystical quest and a lack of significant social restraints it must be recognized that few people actually live this way throughout their lives. Individuals who at one point in their lives are found to approximate the description of a person living in a low-group, low-grid, situation often move to more structured forms of society.


Again and again individuals who find themselves on highly personal quests devoid of constraining social relationships form themselves into communities structured along group or grid lines. Similarly, few maverick entrepreneurs remain free-wheeling adventurers. Over and over again they make their fortunes and then, usually, settle down to become pillars of the establishment they once despised. At the same time it is exactly these former free-booters who become the harshest critics of others who emulate their earlier careers. Thus community has a way of establishing itself through the association of like minded people who share common ideals which generates a desire to create stable relationships. [46]


One way of testing group-grid analysis is to apply it to the development of the so-called American "counter-culture" of the 1960's and early 1970's. Seen dynamically group-grid analysis both explains why, after a relatively short time, former hippies and members of the SDS [47] became pillars of the establishment. These developments are ably outlined in Steven Tipton's excellent study Getting Saved From the Sixtie] [48], Daniel Yankelowich's The New Rules [49]. and a variety of similar works which analyze the rise and fall of the counter-culture. All of these works vindicate group-grid analysis in terms of falsifiability. This is because although they were not written by people using group-grid analysis the details they provide in terms of the interaction between cosmologies and social structure fit what one would expect in terms of group-grid analysis.



When Peter Drucker's insights into the nature of fascism are viewedin terms of Mary Douglas' group-grid analysis the  development of South African society during the twentieth century assumes a particularly significant pattern.   Increasingly large sections of both the Black and White population has found itself living in a society characterized by low-group-low-grid situations where individuals experience a sense of loss of both status and function and the appeal of fascism becomes ever more understandable. [50]


Poor whites existed prior to the Second Anglo-Boer was but as a result of the social disruption caused by the war many more Afrikaners found themselves in an increasingly low-group-low-grid situation. [51] As they lost both status and function in a society dominated by English speaking South Africans morality broke down as family and other traditional social bonds ceased to exist. [52] Into this situation the theorists of Afrikaner Nationalism were able to project the image of Heroic Man in the guise of the Heroic Trekker. They argued that

in reality Afrikaners were not underdogs but true aristocrats. [53]


Afrikaner society prior to the Second Anglo-Boer War was essentially group based society of the Voortrekker the newer society of the republics was slowly developing various grid systems so that individuals, while primarily held within a social group also experienced grid restraints. But, with the war the restraints of both group and grid vanished as many people who found themselves in a low-group-low-grid environment which can be depicted as follows:


Here the appeal of nationalism was particularly strong because at a stroke it created a strong sense of group identity. As a result Afrikaners found themselves functioning in the large pseudo-family of the Volk. [54]



But, with increasing modernization and urbanization  Afrikaner society has not remained static.   On the one hand the growth of Afrikaner industry and commerce created a new managerial class. On the other the application of apartheid laws created a high-grid society for White officialdom and police officers.   In the process a bureaucracy of planners and administrators was created which was enforced by the police and increasingly the military. These developments worked together to destroy the sense of meaning Afrikaners could derive from belonging to the group based society of the Volk. Thus both economic pressures and the implementation of social apartheid have led to a weakening of group identity among Afrikaners and the emergence of individuals whose identity depends more on status than function.


Martin Mynhardt, the hero or perhaps I should say anti-hero, of Andre Brink's novel Rumours of Rain[55] typifies the new Afrikaner at least in terms of his rootlessness and alienation from Afrikaner Nationalism. Such a man clearly occupies a position close to "2" in the diagram having first moved from the earlier security of the Volk at position "1". This is a lonely place and although Martin survives he feels the existential anguish of his situation. Others survive less well and for a far shorter time relying on their own internal resources.



Out of the internal pressure created by a lack of status and function creative geniuses arise.   But, more often than not individuals  experience a destructive terror and quickly find ways of reinforcing their fragile identity through returning to a functioning group or acquiring status. In the contemporary South African situation it seems that many bureaucrats, police officers and military personnel escape the pressure created by the disintegration of the edifice of Afrikaner Nationalism by joining organizations like the Afrikaner Resistance Movement or AWB.


The AWB itself appears to be a high-group society that incorporates elements of millennial and witchcraft erradication movments giving its members apparent function through the hope of recreating a mythical Afrikaner society. Of course the function conveyed is ultimately illusory but the social experience of membership and the restraints which come into play through association with the organization are real enough.[56]


Thus the AWB creates a mirage of order and hope through a return to the discredited illusion of the “[Heroic Trekker.” Far more than the edifice of Afrikaner Nationalism, which was never the pure movement the Ossewa Brandwag desired, the AWB conforms to a fascist typology. [57]   In doing so it enables Afrikaners to move from disorder to order and reorganize their lives in terms of a group with a rich comforting mythology. Thus the individual experiencing the alienation that comes from the low-group-low-grid existence at "2" now moves to the security of position "3" where a group provides protection against the unknown and a mythological assurance of security.[58]



But, not all Afrikaners are following this route. Some creative individuals remain, and indeed thrive, in a low-group-low-grid society. Here van Zyl Slabbert is, perhaps, a good example.


Far more, however, seek to resolve the tensions of life through a religious experience which enables them to function in a high-grid work environment but socialize in a high-group setting.   The most obvious candidates for this particular pilgrimage are members of new charismatic churches who as Afrikaners join English-speaking congregatons where there is a strong emphasis on the experience of community through Bible study groups and the creation of an intentional family that embraces the congregation including people of different racial groups.   Here, and Hatfield Christian Community in Pretoria typifies this development, individuals find confirmation of existing family ties and are given new relationships through intimate cell groups. They also experience an international grid through the church's national and international links which confer status of teachers, prophets and evangelists in ways that reflect the status governed world of commerce or the modern civil servant.



What will the future of Afrikaner religion be? At present I simply do not know. Group-grid analysis enables us to select various promising avenues for further investigation and strongly suggest that increasingly Afrikaners will move towards the relative stability of charismatic type churches or towards fascist type organizations that create the mirage of security.


No doubt many readers will be wondering why the new charismatic churches are not judged reactionary?   After all Elda Susan Morran and Lawrence Schlemmer in their book Faith for the Fearful? claimed that such churches attract "neurotic or 'hysterical" individuals who tend

towards "conservative" politics. [60] The fact is that although the conclusions of the Morran-Schlemmer study have been widely accepted both within and without Southern Africa they are based on totally inadequate data and unjustified generalizations.  


Faith for the Fearful? is based on a total sample of 80 people. Of these only 30 were members of a new charismatic church and all the Durban Christian Center. Thus the control group was larger than the target population and although the book speaks freely about "new charismatic churches" all its evidence comes drawn from one church. Even worse no attempt was made to obtain a random sample. As a result both the size of the sample, which is far too small for meaningful statistical generalizations, and its lack of randomness mean that the result of the work are practically useless. [61] All the book does is give an apparent respectability to the prejudices of its authors. Further, my own observations of The Durban Christian Center and a number of other new charismatic churches in South Africa produced very different results to those of Schlemmer and Morran.[62] It should also be noted that other

scholars in North America are taking a far more positive view of charismatic religion than the one reflected in the Faith for the Fearful].[63]



The contribution of Mary Douglas to the study of religion, especially religion in Africa, has been widely recognized. [64] But, with the exception of Fred Welbourn in East African Rebels[65], Peter Drucker's work has been overlooked by students of religion. Yet Drucker's work on fascism and the problems of modernity deals with issues that are central to the study  of religion in modern society and is particularly relevant to the South African situation.   Further, when combined with the methodological tools developed by Douglas the insights of Drucker are released from their narrow European context to illuminate the religious and political situation in other societies. Much more needs to be done, however, I hope that this essay will stimulate debate and provide new tools for the analysis of religion and society in Southern Africa.


Bibliography and Notes

To be added