Status, Culture's Action Arm
Statuses are the action arm of culture. They bring culture's elements to bear on actual situations and problems through categorizing the actor and his associates in the actor's mind and indicating not only who does (and does not) belong to the categories relevant at a given time or situation but also what is expected of category members and those who associate with them. The three different functions of the understandings that constitute any status need not be carried out by different understandings; a single understanding may serve two or even all three functions.
Those in interaction categorize each other and themselves as belonging to various categories that are taken as salient in the applicability of their particular expectations. The agreement of their categorizations and the saliences understood to apply are probably never complete, but, as will be seen, there are powerful processes that make a necessary minimum likely.
When I attended barazas, my fellow participants, judging by what they said and did, accorded me the statuses of visitor (rather than regular member), married man and father, European (i.e., white), university professor, non-Muslim, and probably others. I did not categorize myself in just the same ways, I suspect, but double contingency saved me—as it usually does most people most of the time—from inappropriate behavior. Similarly, I categorized the other baraza attenders as friends, senior community members, Muslims, my hosts, senior men, and family heads.
All persons categorize themselves in a substantial number of statuses at any given period of life according to the situation currently relevant. The actor, in turn, is categorized in a substantial number of statuses by the others involved. The agreement between the various classifications is neither complete nor uniform from instance to instance. Still, social life often proceeds relatively smoothly within the community, indicating a substantial agreement in expectations and in the identifying and salience understandings that "deliver" them.
The complex and simultaneous assignment of similar categories with equivalent salience and expectations by a number of different individuals is daunting to consider in the abstract. Since, however, all members of the Swahili community including two-year-olds have a fairly well developed ability to use statuses in shaping their own behavior and assessing that of others, the complexity can be seen as manageable for participants and, in principle, for observers as well.