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An Unusual Prison Society Ruhleben was a prison camp set up near Berlin by the Ger-

Realistically Observed* man government at the outbreak of World War I to house


Herbert Blumer British male civilians then in Germany. Its population of
University of California, slightly over 4,000 was representative of a wide range of
Berkeley occupationsscholars, professional people, businessmen, skilled
and unskilled workers, and seamenand all social classes and
status positions. The camp was a converted race track with
virtually no facilities for occupancy by such a large number
of prisoners. Military direction and control of the camp was
minimal and consequently the organization and development
of camp life became both the task of and the opportunity for
the prisoners themselves. The present book describes and
analyses the formation of the camp and changes in its life
from 1914 to 1918. The author, the late Professor Ketchum
of the University of Toronto, was one of the prisoners in the
camp during that period. He had made the writing of this
book a major project of his career, accumulating a vast
cunount of material over the years and subjecting it to his
critical interests in social psychology and sociology. His
death prevented the completion of the latter part of his manu-
script. Professor MacLeod has added a narrative chapter
covering the terminal period of the camp and a thoughtful
analytical chapter on the sociological and psychological im-
plications of Professor Ketchum's account.
For several reasons the book must be regarded as a first-
rate contribution to scholarship. The fullness of its historical
and descriptive account and the perceptiveness of its observa-
tions give it a high rank in the growing literature on military
prisons. As such, the volume is well suited to scholarly inter-
ests in comparative study. The work should be of value also
to students of the ethics of modern war: the relatively benign
policies applied to Ruhleben are in stark contrast to the harsh
regimen of German prison camps a generation later. But,
above all, the book is a superb case study of a society in
formation, with a wealth of detailed observations and over-
arching characterizations which make possible a fruitful test-
ing of sociological generalizations on group life and psycholo-
gical generalizations on human nature. It is this latter dimen-
sion of the book's value that I shall discuss.
The camp at Ruhleben was populated by a highly diverse set
of males from different walks of life, thrown together abrupt-
ly and indiscriminately in different barracks, enjoying essen-
tially full freedom of circulation in the camp, and both allowed
and forced to develop a viable collective life of their own.
We have here a society starting from scratch, with no initial
body of social regulations or guide lines of social structure,
strangers with no established framework for association,
bereft of initial facilities for carrying on group lifeessen-
tially a large number of people, uprooted and psychologically
dislodged, forced to develop their own group life under gener-
ally unpropitious conditions. The group life that came into

'Ruhleben: A Prison Camp Society. By J. Davidson Ketchum with


a foreword and postcript by Robert B. MacLeod. Toronto: Univer-
sity of Toronto Press. 1965. xxiii, 397 pp. $7.50.

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being is truly amazing. Let me mention a few of the more
important features of that emergent life so nicely portrayed
by Professor Ketchum: the development of a proliferation of
organized activities and of corresponding organized groups
in such areas as sport, art, drama, music, literature, language
Instruction, technical instruction, and science; the formation
of an inti'lcate informal and formal organization which gave
the camp a remarkable working order; the growth of "famil-
ial" relations in the numerous small groups of people living
together in their crowded quarters; the emergence of fealty
to a barracks; an initial democratization of group life because
previous social distinctions had been pretty much washed
away; the emergence of a relatively high moral code which
kept theft and violence to a minimum; and the development
of a remarkably high morale. The picture which is presented
is of an Intense group life with pronounced self-involvement
and self-realization, to the point, indeed, that concern about
the war was only peripheral. These suggest only a part of
the rich and diversified group life which Professor Ketchum
describes.
Such a telling account of a society and of personal life in
formation should give pause to the sociologist and psycholo-
gist seriously concemed about the validity of their theoretical
schemes. The sociologist's two master idea of "culture" and
"social structure" fare badly as meaningful explanations of
either the group life that came into being or the changes it
underwent. Professor Ketchum's account requires us to per-
ceive the inmates as very active people facing a succession of
undefined and problematic situations, stimulating one anoth-
er's imagination, subjecting one another's proposals to the
sifting process of discussion, affirming or tempering one an-
other's moods and feelings, laying out prospective lines of
conduct, and inciting one another to action. Out of such
interaction collective life was forged. This was no mechanical
process in which neutral organisms were moved by the play
of established values and social rules; it was a creative pro-
cess in which human beings were inspired under the stimulus
of one another's remarks and actions to carve out new lines
of collective action and bring into being new social arrange-
ments. The new order of their life was not riveted in the
kind of fixed schemes so dear to the hearts of sociologists
and anthropologists but was, instead, tenuous and mobile in
response to the conflicts, problems, and ideas that arose in
interaction. I submit that the account presented by Professor
Ketchum is far more faithful to human group life than are
those accounts framed to fit the preconceived conceptions of
social science; it is for this reason that his penetrating depic-
tion will be found valuable as a starting point for theoretical
analysis. He presents the human group as composed of act-
ing people, meeting a continuous fiow of divergent situations,
stimulating one another in diverse ways, and aligning their
acts to one another in different pattems, regularizing and
sustaining some pattems for periods of time, abandoning
others, and introducing new arrangements under the contin-
gency of new events. Group life is presented as it is a
moving and developing social process. It behooves sociolo-

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gists to re-examine and recast their fundamental concepts in
the light of such a realistic account.
Professor Ketchum's account is of no less value for com-
parison with the theoretical schemes of contemporary psychol-
ogy. His description of the experience and conduct of the
inmates in their variegated social setting raises serious ques-
tions about the relevance of explanations based on such con-
cepts as "need," "motives," "perception," and "cognition,"
"frustration-aggression," "goals," or the idea of a Freudian
"unconscious." He gives us a picture of human beings as we
know them from ourselves and our close associates: indiv-
iduals seeking to construct their activity in the face of diverse
and changing situations, caught up in varied interaction with
others, receiving support as well as discouragement from
others, having to face others and behave as well as they,
seeking to define and grapple with a moving world of events,
and experiencing differential success in doing so. Such con-
ceptions of man as a puppet of various psychological elements,
or as a reacting organism merely responding to the play of
stimuli, or as an entity driven along by unconscious complexes,
or, to take the opposite extreme, as a rational being in full
command of his destiny, are not substantiated by the concrete
accounts given by Professor Ketchum. His accounts suggest,
instead, a conception of man as an individucd caught up in
the actions of other people, being stimulated and opposed by
such actions, having to fit his actions to others by controlling
them or responding to the direction of their acts, having to
deal with himself and his own actions, defining his own wishes
and intentions, creating and remoulding goals, checking much
of his own incipient behaviour, planning and organizing his
actions, determining the possibilities and limitations of the
situations which he encounters, and having to contend with
himself in much of the action which he forges. Psychologists
could profit by using the accounts in the present book to help
in forming their images of man and of his social action.
One can only speculate as to the sociological and psycholog-
ical schemes which Professor Ketdium would have presented
in the unfortunately unfinished analysis of his concrete ac-
count. Their absence, however, does not detract from the
value of his exceptionally fine account of the formation of a
society and a personality. The volume must be recognized as
a fruitful contribution to the literature.

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