Status: The Action Arm of Culture
To appreciate this, it is essential to understand that statuses are the instrument through which cultural distribution takes place. It is through statuses that it is established which cultural elements are associated with which individuals according to the categories they are understood to occupy in different circumstances. It is also through them that culture comes to bear on the problems and opportunities of life through particular understandings being
associated with particular people according to the statuses they assume and are assigned in various situations. Statuses, then, are the core of culture's part in social life. Although statuses are at the heart of culture's ability to serve as the basis for group life and individual adaptation, they are themselves culturally constituted. All of the components of statuses are cultural elements that can be divided, for purposes of analysis, into three different kinds of understandings distinguishable according to their different functions.
The logically prior of these three kinds of elements are the "identifiers" that serve as the basis for recognizing individuals as members of different categories. Another component, "expectations," indicates how category members are expected (by themselves and others) to behave and react both in general and in particular kinds of situations and contexts. The third type of status component, "salience understandings," concerns the appropriateness and relative weight accorded different category memberships in various situations. Since everyone classifies himself and is classified by others in what is invariably a very large number of statuses, salience understandings serve an essential function in indicating which one or ones are called for and acceptable in what circumstances. Since people often serve in more than one category at a time, salience understandings serve to indicate not only which understandings apply but also what priority is given particular statuses when more than one is called for in a single situation.
I agree with Goodenough (1965:2) and Keesing (1970:424) that the understandings that define status category membership may be different from those concerning the behavior and responses expected from category members. This can be seen, for example, with respect to the question of who is properly categorized as a Swahili. The differences between a "Swahili" and an "Arab" living in the Swahili neighborhood have long concerned the members of this community.
Controversy and shifting social alignments focused around this status assignment have been going on since the turn of the century and before. In fact, the question of who is and who is not a Swahili is, as shown in chapter 3, a major source of the change in social life that has taken place in Old Town in the second half of the twentieth century. Despite its importance, within the group itself, the status "Swahili" or "community member" is an unmarked category without a generally used name. One never hears the words Mswahili or Waswahili , the singular and plural of the noun that would be used to refer to group members if such a term were used.
There are, as we will see in the historical and ethnographic sketch given in chapter 2, specific traits, more or less directly observable, that members of the Mombasa Swahili group all share including, notably, being Sunni
Muslims of the Shafi canon. But the fact that this and other traits are widely or, even, universally shared by community members does not necessarily make them either sufficient or necessary as the basis for the understandings that lead someone to be categorized as a Swahili. Thus, religious affiliation and belief is not enough to serve as the basis for classification by itself, since there are followers of the Shafi canon (including many whose forebears fairly recently migrated to the city from the Indian subcontinent) who are universally understood by community members as belonging to other groups.
Further, in addition to being not sufficient for membership in the unmarked "Swahili" category, there is a case that suggests that religious affiliation by itself may also not be a necessary characteristic. A Swahili poet from Lamu, Mohamed Kijumwa, went so far as to convert to Christianity—among many other behaviors viewed as bizarre and outrageous—but even this did not affect the fact that he is unquestionably viewed and evaluated as a Swahili.
In the case of Sh. Mohamed, the absence of an identifier, being a Muslim as all other Swahili are, did not block him from being categorized as a Swahili and being subject to the expectations associated with that status, so that the two types of understandings are seen to be partly separate. Sometimes, however, the understandings that provide identification are the same ones as those that serve as expectations. Thus, all those who give the prayer call (adhan ) from mosques are muadhini , and no one is who does not. Nevertheless, even in these cases, more is gained in analytic ability by saying that the identifiers and the expectations are part of the same construct than by keeping them entirely separate, as Goodenough's "rights and duties" and "social identities" approach does (1965:3–18).
There are immigrants, and the children and grandchildren of immigrants, from Oman or elsewhere in the Persian Gulf who live in Old Town. Most of those who are the children of immigrants and all of the grandchildren speak Swahili, and, of those, some have converted to Shafi from the Ibathi canon followed in parts of the Gulf region. If these men (I have no data on women immigrants of this sort, if, as is doubtful, there are any) associate with undoubted members of the Swahili category most of the time and smoke and shave their beards (Ibathi do neither), they are mainly evaluated and treated according to expectations that are part of the Swahili status.
But there is a difference in how they are treated and expected to act even if it is a subtle one. Now and again, one hears one of these immigrants referred to as Muarabu (Arab, Warabu pl.), and it seems likely that they are assigned to the Arab status category as well as the Swahili category and that the expectations focused on them include those associated with both. When they behave in ways that are in accord with understandings concerning proper behavior by Swahilis, they are mainly evaluated and reacted to as Swahili by many community members despite a personal history that is not entirely Swahili (because it involves fairly recent immigration). When they do not be-
have in accord with understandings that apply to Swahili, many community members treat them according to Arab status expectations.
There is nothing unusual about two or more of an individual's statuses being involved in interaction at once. That is, salience understandings include those that allow (or, even, require) that acting and being evaluated according to one status involves simultaneously acting and being evaluated according to another.
The Swahili, to take one example of such salience understandings, differentiate among themselves on the basis of neighborhood. It is generally understood that all forms of manual labor are inappropriate for members of their group, with the partial exception of commercial fishing, which is practiced mainly by the men from the Kuze neighborhood of Old Town. These men are unquestionably classified as Swahili, but, unlike other Swahili, they are understood to be more blunt, uninterested in elaborate etiquette, and generally more direct and physical in what they can be expected to do.
This Kuze status is quite as real as the Swahili status, and both have expectations concerning their members. Since the Kuze men meet the identifying understandings for the Swahili status, they are classified that way, and since they also meet the identifiers for Kuze, they are classified that way as well. In some contexts, the Swahili status is dominant; in others, the Kuze status is. This can be seen in their own behavior and that of those interacting with them through inferring the expectations involved.
The occupancy of several statuses by each of the participants in a single event is quite common, and these multiple occupancies are often simultaneous, with the different statuses contributing differently to the expectations that guide the behavior of the statuses' occupants and of their social partners. Gender-based statuses, age-based statuses, and ethnic-based statuses often occur only or mainly in conjunction with other statuses, and, among the Swahili and others, almost all other statuses are occupied jointly with all three of these. But it is not only broad and widely inclusive statuses that are jointly operative in interaction.
The Swahili fisherman is a businessman when he sells his fish. These two statuses with their quite specific and limited expectations are occupied simultaneously, perhaps, with the broader statuses of Muslim, Swahili, Kuze resident, male, and person of whatever age. That this is so is discovered by inferring the expectations of those with whom the fisherman interacts and his expectations of them and comparing these to the expectations found in the various individual statuses at issue.
It would be possible, of course, to speak of a single status, businessman-fisherman or Kuze-Swahili, rather than a combination of the separate statuses.
However, so long as the understandings involved sometimes occur independently in association with only one of the sets of identifiers (e.g., so long as there are understandings about fishermen independent of businessmen), the analysis is better served by treating the statuses as occurring jointly.
Specific and General Expectations
Statuses differ in their importance both to the individual and to the group, and this difference is often associated with a difference in the kind of expectation they have. The differences can be seen in everyday life, of course, but they show themselves clearly in the attacks group members make on one another when angry. A particular sort of aggressive speech, "badtalk" (i.e., speech generally considered rude, coarse, and obscene), aims at questioning the targets' worth as assessed according to the expectations in the most fundamental statuses involved in group life (Swartz 1990a , 1990b ).
The most pointed attacks concern statuses such as community member, the true child of particular parents, or proper male and the relationships involving them. The attacks are mainly in terms of general, rather than specific, expectations. Statuses involving more specific expectations in relationships, such as those in being a bus conductor in relations with passengers, are less broadly important to social participation and usually psychologically less vital. These are not attacked by badtalk as the statuses involved in more crucial relationships are. The most common badtalk used, mainly by women and young men, is, "Your mother's cunt!" implying an improper parent and an improper relationship with inappropriate expectations of so broad a scope they need not be mentioned. No one is assailed with "Your bus conductor's cunt!" because the conductor status, as such, involves only superficial relationships with quite specific expectations.
Specific expectations involve narrow ranges of behavior that require little interpretation. The conductor either gets the fare or the passenger is put off the bus. General expectations, such as children loving their parents or friends helping one another, are quite different and call for elaborate interpretation of behavior in assessing whether they have been met. The reference to the mother's sexual organ is an assertion that the target of the badtalk fails to meet the expectation that he or she be the proper child of particular parents, which is made doubtful by having a mother so sexually active that her most notable characteristic is her vulva.
General expectations are broad and rather vague, so that being accused of failure to meet them is always possible. One cannot successfully accuse a tall person of being short, but everyone can be accused of having a mother whose chastity is less than it ought to be. But the opposite is also true. General expectations can be taken as being met by a broad range of behavior, not just a few specific acts. Most general expectations concern behavior by the status
occupant himself, rather than by his parent or other connected person, but that behavior is always in need of interpretation far beyond what is called for by specific expectations.