Judging and Sharing: Conformity Independent of Consensus
From the point of view of cultural dynamics, it is important to note that one need not share the understanding that is the basis for judgment to be judged by it or agree with it to be affected by it. Since evaluations are relative to the statuses of both the actor and the assessor, the shared understandings brought to bear are not from a widely shared and generally applicable inventory of evaluational rules. Instead, the expectations in the roles that unite the statuses of the judge and the judged provide the basis for the assessment.
Since every status has as many roles as its occupants have relations with different categories of others, the expectations of a given status may be quite different according to the status of the individual with whom there is a relationship. The husband has expectations in the husband-wife's brother role that are quite different from those in the husband-crony role, and the judgments will differ accordingly.
The diversity of standards presents a potential difficulty for the evaluated and, since everyone is constantly evaluated, for all the members of the group. To put it melodramatically, the differentiated conformity called for by the fact that everyone has many statuses and an even larger number of roles offers the potential for painful individual conflict about the existence of potentially contradictory evaluations. Social difficulties also threaten in that individuals may be reluctant to participate in some kinds of relationships due to uncertainty about which standards will be applied to them.
If the numerous pressures for conformity to different, sometimes contradictory, expectations all work simultaneously, the individual's situation could become impossible. The fact that people not participating in a relationship, as well as those directly involved, assess behavior in it makes this even more difficult. Virtually everything a person does could be approved by some with whom there are important relationships and, simultaneously, disapproved by others with whom relations are equally vital.
To complete the melodrama, the social and individual dangers inherent in there being a variety of standards by which conflicting judgments may be made for the same behavior are not greater than the threat posed by a single standard being uniformly followed by all. If none of the differing pressures for conformity to different, sometimes contradictory expectations are effective in producing a differentiated conformity, there is the prospect of status distinctions failing and, with them, the performance based in different expectations that is indispensable to social life and individual satisfaction.
Since Swahili individuals continue to function and the community perdures, there are unquestionably ameliorating factors at work which allow differential conformity and, at the same time, reduce the incidence of contradictory pressures on people. One of these is the limitation on the array of statuses likely to be occupied by those who know about a given behavior.
This reduction in contradictory expectations and judgments, no doubt, comes about in a number of ways in different societies, but in the Swahili community, it is in some part the result of the quite sharp separations in the personnel and the location of activities involved in different domains. This serves to limit the range of statuses occupied by both judges and the judged in each domain and, thereby, limits the variety of expectations bearing on particular behaviors.
The business of earning money is mainly separated from family relations, juniors are separated from seniors, and, for most of the day and the great majority of activities, men are separated from women. This, of course, reduces the likelihood that the same behavior will be subject to judgment according to different standards by reducing the range of statuses whose occupants are aware of the activities.
An even more pervasive source of reduction in the difficulties arising from conflicting judgments derives not from social structure but directly from culture, namely, the widely shared understandings that the restriction of information about one's activities and those of people with whom one is closely connected is, pari pasu, always to be preferred to the broad dissemination of information. Insofar as this understanding guides behavior, it promotes uniformity in judgments by reducing the number of judges and reduces conflicting judgments by allowing the judged to choose who will have the information needed.