is what it is


 Front Door to “The Compound”  – where IS was formed


Sociometry is the quantitative analysis of individuals and their relationship to groups. An offshoot psychotherapy practice, Psychodrama, utilizes improvisational theater techniques to create a forum for participants to evaluate lived experiences. The Institute of Sociometry practices and documents Guerrilla Sociometry which is similar in focus to textbook Sociometry, and deploys improvisational performance like Psychodrama, but in no way conforms to the rigors of science or mathematics.

Instead is deploys strategies from:
Ontological Anarchy
and Dada Epistimology.

The term Sociometry was coined by psychiatrist Jacob Levi Moreno in his 1934 book Who Shall Survive? A New Approach to the Problem of Human Interrelations. The term was co-opted in total ignorance from the dictionary by Peter Miles Bergman in 1993 to credit a fictitious publisher, “Institute of Sociometry,” for an edition of five photocopy books documenting his practice of legibly tagging his full name and social security number around La Jolla, California.

The Institute of Sociometry was fully formed by 1995. Agents were recruited with mailed starter kits, containing a badge, certificate, incidence report form, and bumper sticker reading “I Have Been Institutionalized.” In 1996 IS held its first Sociometry Fair, a group exhibit of high school science fair style tri-fold displays in San Diego, California. In 2016 is (now lower case as not to be confused with IS, the international terrorist group) has accredited over 600 agents in 23 countries.

Agents are recruited via post. Active agents check in with reports, which are published here, and submitted on tri-fold displays at the quadrennial Sociometry Fair. Sociometry Fair 2016 is EMANCIPATION was held on the weekend of 11/11/16 in Los Angeles California at The Smell. See a selection of projects from iSFair 2O12 San Francisco and current reports for an index of iSFair 2O12 and Sociometry Fair 2008 Chicago reports. See All is archived reports : IXICV-MMVII for reports from Sociometry Fair 2004 Las Vegas, Sociometry Fair 2000 Denver, and Sociometry Fair 1996 San Diego.


The following report was submitted by longtime agent Mike Bonanno about the founding of The Institute of Sociometry 

INDIVIDUAL: Mike Bonanno of The Yes Men
GROUP SIZE: Several dozen
NATURE OF GROUP: IS agents in San Diego California, circa 1995
INCIDENCE: How and why the IS was and is

At the southwestern edge of the United States, in a pre-millennium moment, cultures collided to produce The Institute of Sociometry.

I was a graduate student at the University of California San Diego when IS came to my attention. I started seeing handbills and posters for a Sociometry Fair, and naturally I was curious. What in God’s name was sociometry?

To find out, I would have to find the source. It didn’t take long for me to discover Peter Miles Bergman, a lanky guy with curly blonde hair who looked like he could have been in Vice magazine – but before Vice existed. I learned how IS operatives managed to hang posters seemingly everywhere in town. Peter’s skater friend would work postering all day and night in trade for a wheel of brie, which for some reason Peter had a way to acquire at very low or no cost. What was this community where labor was compensated in French cheese?[1] And what in the name of science was sociometry itself?


Agents 001, 002, and 003 m[i]le[s], ry0n, and siri – photo by Laura Blackheart

There was the loose definition: the study of individuals and their relationships to groups. But there was something else going on. Something edgy. Something harder to pin down. I discovered I had already been doing some amateur Guerrilla Sociometry without knowing it – I just needed a group and a context, a frame within which I could understand it. The group of people that identified as sociometrists were fascinating to me.

The Institute of Sociometry had an academic sounding name, but it also functioned like a club or a gang. Its agents were dedicated to observing society and relationships, and sharing those observations with each other and the world. It could be likened to a book review club: but an anarchic one where anything at all could be reviewed, processed, reported on, and presented back to the group and the public at large. More concretely, IS was composed of a few resourceful college students and their friends around town.

The folks behind IS were skaters, artists, queers, surfers: a youthful mash-up of personalities with an excitement for the behavioral rejects of late 20th-century SoCal capitalism. They had lots of energy at an interesting moment, just before the web started to compress space and time into one big shopping mall. IS was a manifestation of culture in the last moments of pre-web social behavior.


Jimmy Wong’s – providing the nightlight at the IS Home Office

IS was also a creative response to a useless art market. Many of the people involved were art students, and for them it was probably much more fun to reflect on and bounce off the world around them than it was to stroke themselves and stew in their own ambition as the art market requested. It was probably influenced by other organizations that similarly rejected traditional commercial markets and interrogated dominant culture, such as the Church of the Subgenius, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, The Cacophony Society, the Luther Blissett Project, and the Center for Land Use Interpretation.

In hindsight, the perpetrators of IS seemed to be searching for authenticity in an increasingly vast, monotonous, and plastic culture. It was a creative response to the homogenizing forces of American development, a countercultural answer to the mind-numbing strip-mall architecture that stretched 200 miles from Malibu to Tijuana, interrupted only at San Onofre by the Marine base and nuclear power plant – land that had been used up and was in perpetual cycles of renewal and reuse: a perfect place to question and research alternatives.

That is how IS was, but the future will tell what IS is. Onward!


[1] This memory may not exactly reflect what happened, like all memories it may be a pastiche of several events, the order of which may in fact be jumbled. But it is truly the memory of the author. [2]

[2] Editor’s footnote: This is more or less exactly how this went down. Agent Hugh Goldspiel, an eccentric hand-to-mouth working man, was being paid by rock venues to flyer all over San Diego on his Vespa. He told me he’d flyer for Sociometry Fair ‘96 in exchange for some future service or commodity. A couple of months later the buzzer to The Compound, IS’s three apartment complex above Jimmy Wong’s Golden Dragon in San Diego’s Hillcrest Neighborhood, went off repeatedly from the frantic hand of Hugh. I opened the door to Hugh yelling, “I want you to buy me a brie wheel for all that flyering! It’s 50% off at Ralph’s [not an illicit brie dealer – just a chain grocery] RIGHT NOW! COME ON WE GOTTA’ GO RIGHT NOW.”

When we rolled up to Ralph’s in our midnight blue ‘74 Eldorado with Black Sabbath blasting on the 8-track (a car later sold for cut-rate cash to Igor’s brother on our way out of town to Colorado), Hugh leaped out of the convertible and ran into the store. As we hustled up behind him to the deli counter, he was pointing and yelling from the back of a three deep line, “I’m here for that brie wheel! The one that has Bergman written on it!”

A month later I was at Hugh’s basement apartment, which was sparsely furnished with alley treasures. He asked me if I wanted some of that brie. I got up to help myself and found a slim wedge left among a couple ketchup packs in an otherwise empty fridge. That’s when I realized Hugh had been living almost entirely off the brie. As I sat down with a thin slice he said, “I really should have had you get me some crackers or bread to go with it.”


This report is by agent Mike Bonnano – a double agent for IS and The Yes Men. Agent Bonnano’s work with The Barbie Liberation Organization, and The Yes Men were and are hugely influential on IS (and is).

This report was originally published in is EMANCIPATION a 130 page book with 2-color letterpress covers printed and hand-bound with a Japanese stitch in an edition of 200. is EMANCIPATION is a 21 year anthology of art intervention and prank collective The Institute of Sociometry edited, designed, and partly authored by Peter Miles Bergman and edited by MCA Denver Curatorial Associate Zoe Larkins.