"Molecular" Processes and the Enduring Myth of Complete Sharing
The grand processes of cultural development have been, and continue to be, of great interest, the perspectives being the sweeping, universal ones associated with such writers as Marx, Toynbee, and Weber. But the everyday processes whereby culture actually accomplishes what anthropologists say it does, that is, provide the basis for the distinctively human mode of adaptation, have received far less attention. Cognitive anthropologists are currently in the forefront in this molecular approach where those interested in culture and personality once led and still make important contributions. These studies, however, mainly limit their focus to the psychological aspects of cultural dynamics. The study of the social aspects is still surprisingly neglected.
A main theoretical basis for that neglect is the enduring view that culture's part in individual adaptation and the regulation of social relations can be accounted for by reference to "shared beliefs and values." Although explicit support among students of society for the view that any culture is universally shared has vanished, much of the general understanding of how culture works is based on the implicit position that if a belief or value is truly part of culture, that is, if it is shared by group members, the invocation of that belief or value is sufficient to explain social phenomena.
Never mind that the invoker has usually granted that all beliefs and values are not, in fact, shared by all group members. Questions of cultural distribution, of who shares what with whom and how cultural elements find their way to the situations where they are used, are only rarely raised (Schwartz [1972, 1978] has been a leader in broaching these issues), and the questions concerning the relations among culture's elements are far more often left aside than considered. The issue of how cultural elements affect those who do not share them, clearly of central importance to culture's functioning if its elements are not uniformly shared, is almost never examined. The same is true concerning how cultural conformity is encouraged given the diversity that is part of incomplete sharing.
The tacit acceptance of completely shared culture, despite an avowed rejection of the view, makes it possible to ignore these and related issues, al-
though the cost from the perspective of understanding the functioning of the human adaptation is substantial. Here the interest is in the dynamics of Mombasa Swahili culture at what might be called "ground level." Explicit attention is directed to cultural distribution, organization, and differential conformity from a perspective that totally forswears the invocation, tacit or otherwise, of any but demonstrable sharing. This perspective is intended to contribute to raising new and, sometimes, different questions aimed at advancing understanding of fundamental cultural processes.