Preferred Citation: Swartz, Marc J. The Way the World Is: Cultural Processes and Social Relations among the Mombasa Swahili. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.

11 The Dynamics of Swahili Culture A Status-Centered View

Limiting Cultural Diversity with Cultural Models

A closely related problem to that of multiple evaluators is that of multiple standards. Anything that encourages those involved in a relationship or interaction to apply similar understandings to participation and evaluation will lessen diversity of judgment, if only "locally," that is, to the individuals or situation at hand. The processes that promote "local" homogenization include double contingency and, a key source of its effectiveness, the use of emotionally loaded mnemonics such as those found in the use of relationship terms. These two processes are more focused and current than socialization and enculturation on which they depend, to some extent, for their effectiveness. More immediately and directly important to the effectiveness of double contingency and the display of cultural models is that those judged care about the relationship in which these processes occur.

Judgments are likelier to be effective when they are made by partners in multiplex relationships. Since these relationships are broad in scope (but by no means all-inclusive) by definition, their effectiveness in strengthening evaluations applies rather broadly and, since membership in them overlaps, making broad networks of relations, is conducive to some uniformity within the community.

The uniformity promoted in this way is not a uniform commitment to a single set of understandings. Mothers do not expect sons to perform in the mother-son role as they expect them to perform in the sister-brother role, much less the student-teacher role, but the mother's assessment of all of these roles is often influential. The woman who is mother, that is, may introduce or maintain some uniformity in effective understandings by her assessments of those who are in family roles with her and also in other roles that concern her. The "uniformity" they promote is, of course, differentiated according to the statuses and roles in which she judges her family members.

Note that since the son who is evaluated by his mother in the employer-employee relationship is reacting in some part to his mother's evaluation and by his actions is affecting the employer, the employer's behavior is affected by his worker's mother's standards whether the employer shares them or not. This sort of process does not guarantee uniformity throughout the group, but it is surely a force in that direction.

The pressures for uniformity based in evaluations are always through roles, not statuses as wholes. A mother's behavior is evaluated differently by sons, by daughters, by teachers, and by other mothers, with uniformity promoted less as regards the mother status as a whole than as regards its component roles. This is probably a considerable part of the basis for the finding here and, possibly, in Holland's study (1987a ) that status occupants do not share


more of the understandings concerned with their statuses with fellow status members than they do with nonmembers.

Mothers evaluate one another mainly in the mother-mother role and have only a limited basis for assessing, or directly influencing, one another in the other roles of the mother status since they are rarely present when these roles are played. Nuclear family members, however, not only interact with the mother in their particular roles but also influence her in her other roles involving fellow family members. Thus, the "local" homogenization in the family leading to more sharing among family members as concerns the mother status than among people who are all mothers but operate in different families is quite in accord with the processes hypothesized here.

The cultural conformity that is essential for social life and for individual adaptation is a highly differentiated one. Actors must follow at least some of the understandings that constitute the expectations in the various statuses they occupy in response to the requirements of their current situation and its relationships. Their conformity is not to a single set of expectations but, rather, must be attuned to the behavior of others in the particular situation and must shift as statuses and their roles change from situation to situation and relationship to relationship.

The sort of judgments sanctioners make provide impetus for just such conformity through the judgments' constant dual-status dependence—on that of the judged and on that of the judge. It is crucial to this process that people do not respond equally to all judgments by all judges. Because of the greater commitment to them, the judgments by those with whom the judged share multiplex relationships are usually more significant across a broader range of domains than judgments by those in simplex relationships. Participation in multiplex relationships, in other words, helps organize the various understandings available for guidance in a particular situation. Those likelier to guide behavior so that a positive evaluation in multiplex relationships results have an attraction in the Swahili community that understandings in simplex relationships do not have.[14]

11 The Dynamics of Swahili Culture A Status-Centered View

Preferred Citation: Swartz, Marc J. The Way the World Is: Cultural Processes and Social Relations among the Mombasa Swahili. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.