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Schismogenesis literally means "creation of division". The term derives from the Greek words skhisma "cleft" (borrowed into English as schism, "division into opposing factions"), and genesis "generation, creation" (deriving in turn from gignesthai "be born or produced, creation, a coming into being").


Concepts of Schismogenesis

In anthropology

The concept of schismogenesis was developed by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson in the 1930s, to account for certain forms of social behavior between groups. Analogous to Émile Durkheim's concepts of mechanical and organic solidarity (see functionalism), Bateson posited a symmetrical form of schismogenic behavior that consisted of a competitive relationship between categorical equals (e.g., rivalry) and complementary schismogenesis between categorical unequals (e.g., dominance and submission). Bateson's specific contribution was to suggest that certain concrete ritual behaviors either inhibited or stimulated the schismogenic relationship in its various forms. In his earlier formulations, Bateson tied the notion to that of ethos.

In music

Steven Feld (1994, p.265-271), apparently in response to R. Murray Schafer's schizophonia and borrowing the term from Bateson, employs schismogenesis to name the recombination and recontextualization of sounds split from their sources.

Two Types of Schismogenesis

Bateson, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind describes the two forms of schismogenesis and proposes that both forms are self-destructive to the parties involved. He goes on to suggest that researchers look into methods that one or both parties may employ to stop a schismogenesis before it reaches its destructive stage.

Complementary Schismogenesis

The first type of schismogenesis is best characterized by a class struggle, but is defined more broadly to include a range of other possible social phenomena. Given two groups of people, the interaction between them is such that a behavior X from one side elicits a behavior Y from the other side, The two behaviors complement one another, exemplified in the dominant-submissive behaviors of a class struggle. Furthermore, the behaviors may exaggerate one another, leading to a severe rift and possible conflict.

Symmetrical Schismogenesis

The second type of schismogenesis is best shown by an arms race. The behaviors of the parties involved elicit similar or symmetrical behaviors from the other parties. In the case of the United States and the Soviet Union, each party continually sought to amass more nuclear weapons than the other party, a clearly fruitless but seemingly necessary endeavor on both sides.

A form of symmetrical schismogenesis exists in common sporting events, such as baseball, where the rules are the same for both teams.


  • Feld, Steven (1994) "From Schizophonia to Schismogenesis..." In Music Grooves, edited by Charles Keil and Steven Feld, 257-289. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Tannen, Deborah (2004) “He Said, She Said; Exploring the Different Ways Men and Women Communicate” Portable Professor: Linguistics. Barnes & Noble Audio Lecture Series.

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