Riesman’s early chapters of definition are essential to an understanding of the arguments presented later in the work. He identifies three broad types of character living side by side in the United States: the tradition-directed character, the inner-directed character, and the other-directed character. Each has valid and understandable reasons for its existence, as Riesman demonstrates. The tradition-directed personality has its roots in the past and is governed by intensive socialization and rigid etiquette. Traditional religious values play a major role for this person. The inner-directed figure is self-motivated and characterized by increased personal mobility; the “self-made” man is of this type. The other-directed character relies heavily on peer relationships and approval as standards of behavior; social skills are especially important for this person.
Riesman stresses the roles of both family and social milieu in producing these characters. In other words, a strong tradition-directed family may well produce tradition-directed offspring, despite other influences. Nevertheless, other environmental influences may outweigh family authority. Moreover, many characters are combinations of types; that is, they respond to different stimuli differently.
Taken as a whole, society’s composition is in a constant state of flux; at times, tradition-directed characters predominate, while at others, inner-directed or other-directed personalities...
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