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11 The Dynamics of Swahili Culture A Status-Centered View
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The Necessity for "Common Standards" and the Question of Sharing

Double contingency is much influenced by the immediate responses of those in direct relations with one another, but their responses are not completely ad hoc. Parsons (1964:37) is quite explicit in maintaining that an element of shared "orientation" ("understandings" is close to this in this context) is essential to the operation of this basic process: "The orientation of one actor to the contingent action of another inherently involves evaluative orientation, because the element of contingency implies the relevance of a [shared] system of alternatives . . . the particular acts of evaluation on both sides should be oriented to common standards."

In order for people to be concerned about how others respond to them and about how they should act themselves, they have to have some commitment to the relationship. It is also essential that they have some ability to predict the partner's response, and it is hard to see how this can be based in anything other than some sort of understanding of how the partner will choose among alternatives. This last is an understanding of the evaluations of different courses of action the partner is likely to make. Insofar as the understandings of alternative evaluations held by the different participants are similar, their interactions are probably likelier to lead to results they will find acceptable or desirable. Since, however, evidence supports much of Wallace's skepticism about the existence of sharing of understandings, it seems worthwhile to examine processes whereby what Parsons calls "common standards" are brought into action.

As has been made abundantly clear here, an "all by all" model of cultural sharing is quite unjustified by the facts. If acceptable, it would account for Parsons's "common standards," but the fact of generally incomplete sharing precludes its invocation. At the same time, a "none by none" view is clearly


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untenable. Some sharing among at least some group members is always present. Every study devoted to the topic has shown that sharing is limited, even sharply limited, but all of them, from Roberts's study of the Navaho at the beginning of the 1950s to Holland's study of university students at the end of the 1980s, show the presence of some sharing. The question is not whether there is sharing, then, but what is shared and by whom?


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11 The Dynamics of Swahili Culture A Status-Centered View
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