The Part of Relationship Terms in Cultural Dynamics: Cultural Models
In the multiplex relationships that are the heart of Swahili social life, the identifying understandings that allow community members to know who is what under what circumstances are quite generally shared. So much so, in fact, that people take them as self-evident. Even when sharing of identifying understandings is less than complete at the beginning of an interaction, double contingency operates to create sufficient sharing for interaction to proceed. Further, less than complete sharing of identifying understandings is seen neither to halt interaction in many situations and contexts nor to prevent the differences in status assignments from having consequences in the relationship at issue and/or in others.
Thus, people disagree about placing one another with one set of identifiers, such as those for the statuses of friend and enemy, but may well be able to interact with one another in a variety of settings using statuses on whose identifiers they do agree, such as community member. At the level of interaction, identifying understandings are, by their nature, either shared or unimportant for immediate relations. Failures to share broader identifiers may well have consequences for broader relationships, if such exist, but they need not hamper day-to-day contacts.
The general effectiveness of status identification, however, is not sufficient by itself for social life to proceed. There must also be some sharing of expectations and of the salience understandings that make statuses effective guides to action. One of the sources of this necessary sharing is the same double contingency that is involved in identification. Another, seen to be particularly important for spouses, is the mutual socialization of those in close relationships with one another.
Another source, which has occupied most of this chapter, comes from cultural models that indicate how people are to act and interact. The terms that characterize people's behavior and relationships have been seen to provide statements of many of the broad and general expectations and salience understandings that constitute vital aspects of the multiplex relationships in the Swahili community. More than that, these models differentially associate ex-
pectations with specific statuses promoting conformity not only to the few broad understandings that ideally govern the behavior of all community members but also to the particular understandings concerned with how specific categories of people behave, or should behave, in their relations with other community members.
These term-based associations of statuses and desired behaviors provide potent reminders of the understandings central to the different statuses involved in relationships central to the community operation. More than that, through focusing on specific individuals the value-laden and often emotionally charged characterizations of relations and behavior have the potential, at least, for encouraging the meeting of the expectations contained in those understandings. The effectiveness of the terms in doing this depends on the extent to which people see the terms as applying to them and their concern with approbation and disapprobation. Relationship terms are not the only source of cultural models, but they are a potent one that is frequently and pointedly brought to the attention of all those who hear their own or anyone else's participation being characterized.
The next chapter examines a related but different basis for harnessing the emotional energies of the individual to cultural conformity through the operation of shame, aibu.