Relationships: Do Participants Share Their Culture More?
One area of culture that has not yet been considered and that might provide the expected support for the idea that status members share more among themselves than with others remains to be examined: relationships between members of different statuses. The scales for mothers and for fathers concern elements dealing with what the status category member says he or she does, values, or believes, but examining elements concerned with joint or reciprocal activities involving relationships between members of different status categories might produce results more in accord with conventional theoretical assumptions concerning status membership and cultural sharing.
Table 9 reports the sharing of answers to questions concerning the relations between parents and children. There are ten such questions, and together they form the parent-child relationship scale. The questions in the scale ask about such things as informants' beliefs about how jointly owning property affects parent-child relations; how best to avoid parent-child conflict and deal with difficult problems; whether parents and children love one another; and what sorts of things parents and children do together (Swartz 1982a :336–338).
Part A reports sharing on the parent-child scale among informants from different families. This sharing outside of the family shows that for the Swahili, same generation pairs are about as high in sharing as cross-generation pairs are so that the relationships seemingly subject to understandings concerning parent-child relations fail to show consistently higher sharing than other relationships do.
These findings are particularly noteworthy since, as our earlier examinations showed, those assigned to status categories failed to share at distinctively high levels either general family culture or the cultural elements concerning their own statuses. The absence of particularly high-level sharing in statuses and relationships where it would be expected given the Linton view of how statuses operate will be discussed below. For now, the point is simply that unrelated members of the participant statuses in the parent-child relationship do not share our scale for that relationship at a notably high level.
Part B of table 9 presents data on sharing within the family, and it, too, offers little support for the idea that the participants in a relationship share culture concerned with that relationship at a uniquely high level. For the Swahili, and the comparison groups, a parent-child pair is the one that shares the relationship scale at the highest level, but for one of the comparison groups, it is a parent-child pair that shares at the lowest level.
This can hardly be taken as strong support for the assumption that members of the two statuses participating in a relationship share more of the culture concerning that relationship than do any others. Once again, then, the evidence indicates that for the nuclear family, the relationship between status membership and cultural sharing appears to be a good deal less clear than would be expected according to the Linton view.
Table 10 offers a somewhat different perspective on the relationship between being party to a relationship and sharing the cultural elements concerned with that relationship. This table reports sharing of the items in the spouse relationship scale. There are six items in this scale concerning such jointly or reciprocally relevant issues as who wins arguments between spouses, whether spouses share friends or not, and which could get along best without the other (see Swartz 1982a :337–338).
Part A reports sharing among actors belonging to different families. Only among the Swahili is the mother/wife and father/husband pair the one that shares at the highest level for members of different families. Part B, which reports sharing among members of the same family, gives different results, however. Here we see the statistically nonsignificant result that the mother/wife and father/husband pair is first not only for the Swahili but for both comparison groups as well.
This last offers some support for the intuitively appealing notion that parties to a relationship share cultural elements concerned with that relationship more than others do. More broadly, however, the results are quite mixed. We saw that for both of the relationships examined, members of the directly involved status categories in the society at large (i.e., informants from different families) did not share at a consistently higher level than did members of other status categories. For the parent-child relationship, the same lack of higher-level sharing among members of the directly involved statuses was also seen for members of the same family. These findings also fail to support a close association between status occupancy and high levels of cultural sharing.
However, the findings regarding sharing of the spouse relationship scale by members of the same family (table 10B) support the traditional view of statuses despite the fact that they are just short of statistical significance. It appears that spouses who are actually married to each other may have more sharing of the spouse scale than do spouses who are not married to each other (i.e., husbands and wives from different families) and also more than do other members of their families. If this is so, it suggests that spouses in the same family do not bring the cultural elements concerned with their relationship into that relationship—spouses in different families would show more sharing than they do if that were so—but, rather, that they developed shared elements in the course of their marriage. This would be what Wallace's "equivalence structure" (1970:27–36) view of cultural distribution would predict. That is,
through associating with one another, people work out understandings of what is happening (including what the partners in interaction will do) that are equivalent but not necessarily even similar in different families.
It seems very likely that in some family relationships, the participants do develop the sort of "structures" (i.e., collections of distinctively shared cultural elements) that Wallace alerted us to. It is my distinct impression that this takes place in developing relationships in the Swahili community and that, for example, the men in the same baraza (see chap. 4) over time come to share understandings about, at least, what topics will be discussed, when to say prayers, and what refreshments will be served. Men join the group with some understandings brought from earlier experience with other groups (including those involving members of their households which took place when the men were quite young) and develop new ones specific to the group they now participate in through their experience with it.
It is important to note that the understandings vital to groups and relationships are not always just those that adult participants bring to them when they begin their participation but also may well include understandings developed through experience. It is less than startling that such development of cultural elements is important in some relations and groups, with the processes of becoming accustomed (zoea) to people and groups a recognized occurrence among the Swahili and in many other societies. That it should occur for children and the relationships involving them in the nuclear family is what would be expected given the family's role in enculturation. That it should be so central in the spouse relationship in an ancient and relatively stable group like the Swahili is, perhaps, less obviously in accord with how culture is often thought to operate in a "traditional society." More generally, the statistical data support the general proposition that culture, the set of understandings shared among those in interaction, is fluid even in such well-established groups as the nuclear family and even in societies as traditional as the Swahili.