Chapter 4 (pt.7)


Informal Relations: Let us briefly consider here the other side to this binary categorization: those relations which people do enter into as independent deciding individuals; both personal friendship and personal contracts. Friendship is of essentially two kinds: that which obtains between kinsmen and manifests itself in a greater degree of amicability and cooperation, and that which obtains outside kin categories and constitutes a separate class of relations. Such friendship is generally a lasting social tie, and is fairly common. In prior days, Fortes suggests, it was mainly clan boundaries that were crossed, but now men have friends from neighbouring tribes as well.

Friends visit one another occasionally, help one another sometimes, and give one another gifts. A man may also have a woman friend (som), usually the wife of one of his clansmen. The man takes small gifts to his som from time to time and she reciprocates by cooking a meal for him. She may assist him to find a wife from among her clan sisters. But if friends are not necessarily kinsmen, they very often have common kin. (1949a, p. 337)

Friends meet each other frequently at funerals in lineages to which they are both related, or when one friend-to-be visits a kinsman who is also a kinsman of the other. Fortes indicates that the friendships are prized in large part because they are voluntary and not bound by hard and fast rules. The example of friendship points out a generally significant fact about the traditional Tale social organization: contact generates kinship. Thus, not only are friendships formed through common kin, but friendships are significant in providing the occasion for meeting a wife, or perhaps assistance (if the friend is the girl's brother) in carrying out anelopement. Though the relationship is not ephemeral, but likely life-long, it is not passed on by inheritance (although it is apparent that the likelihood of either friendships or kinship among the offspring of friends is greater than where the parents had no link at all). Friendship is, thus, both revocable and individual; more transitory than other relations.

Lastly, friendship tends to follow general norms of residential aggregation. That is, friendships are most likely and most followed up among clansmen and unrelated neighbours.

Personal contracts are also short term and generally not inherited. On the latter point we may recall that such a contract can only be inherited where there is a kinship link to be passed on by agnatic descent; otherwise it applies only to the individuals who make the contract. Further, there are relatively few contracts of significance which are made between individuals. Marriage, as we have seen, is a contract between two lineages, two corporations. Of course the boundaries are indistinct. Inheritance, that is, significance beyond the original party to the contract is probably the key criterion for distinction, but no clear cut legal rules apply. Rather, it is the settlement of the various issues which arise, not extant 'law' which matters, and settlements very depending on the situation and the parties. The most common form of extra-kin contracts are pacts of cooperation and debt. Neither was frequently made with a non-kinsman in the past; both are apparently becoming more frequent. Fortes gives us little material to go on, but we may assume broadly that salient factors are such as an extent of common kin the two unrelated units have. It is , of course, just such issues as the resolution of contracts in a traditionally non-contract society which create a large proportion of the administrative issues in transitions such as that of Taleland. Where do individual and collective responsibility intersect or merge? To what extent can an individual act to endanger his corporation or its property in ways that he never could before, when everything depended on whether his kinsmen backed him up or not. Such questions are beyond the scope of this study (and of the data available on the Tallensi). The important thing to note here is simply the extreme infrequency of such interpersonal contracts not structured by agnatic or cognatic kinship in the traditional system. They were more a logical possibility than an actuality in that social organization. They are, in any social order, among the most ephemeral of bonds.

We have outlined now the basic categories of Tale interpersonal relations, and indicated the nature of their operation for their individual (and by analogy or descent, group) parties. We shall now turn to look at both some general factors which influence the operation of social relations in social interaction, and very briefly, at some significances of social relations for the social order as a whole.

Social Interaction

We shall divide this discussion into three sections: the influence of locality, the operation of formal relations, and the influence of personal preference. We have already noted most of the data which is the basis of these discussions; here we shall be only elucidating certain significances which have either not been mentioned, or insufficiently emphasized, in the preceding. Before proceeding, we may note that in this discussion 'social interaction' is being used to refer to events, as opposed to the ongoing natural of social relationships. Without going into great detail on this definitional point we may simply indicate that what is implied in this shorter temporal delimination is primarily a measurement in incidence or occurrence rather than duration or continuity. A computation of density, say, using either one of these would yield a different result (and also of course require a different definition and formula). The former, we will say, results in a measure of the density of actualization of links, the latter in the density of links.

The Influence of Locality: Residential contiguity works along with the various principles and factors of agnatic and cognatic kinship noted above to organize the Tallensi into what Fortes terms 'socio-spatial fields'. These are defined from the point of view of any chosen center; they do not have clear cut boundaries. This is a reflection of the fact that locality does not operate independently of the kinship system in organizing corporations or relations. It may exert a partially determinate influence, but it is never the defining factor. Locality is most significant in the construction of clanship:

spatial distance and genealogical distance are the main factors upon which the incidence and variation of the rights and duties of clanship depend. (1945, p. 64; see also disc. Chapter 1)

Even here, however, each clan is defined formally through the acceptance of a fiction of common descent. The key element here is the distinction between the formal rules of identification and relation and informal factors which also influence the process:

There seems to be a contradiction between the actualities of social relations and the formal ties of putative genealogy. Other things being equal spatial proximity exercises a stronger pull than assumed genealogical proximity. This principle has a general application in Tale social structure. (1945, p. 76)

In other words, formal genealogical ties tend to be made most of when they are coupled with close residential aggregation. Further, over time, as we have noted, ties of locality tend to become ties also of kinship. However, it must be emphasized that in the traditional Tale social order no significant social relationship could be constructed solely on the basis of locality. The influence of locality, no matter how strong, was secondary in the logic of the social organization. It could cause the rearrangement of genealogical ties, or different intensifies in their actualization, but it could not give rise to a counterposed system.

The confluence of local, lineage ad politico-ritual relations, as we have previously noted, is the keel of Tale social organization. (1945, p. 165)

Genealogy and residential aggregation worked together traditionally to constitute the socio-spatial field. This means nothing more than the collocation of social ties with spatial proximity in a series of continually overlapping ego-centered fields ('ego' may refer to a group).

Fortes refers to this collection in a number of places, noting generally that

lineage and locality are interwoven and interdependant factors of Tale social structure. But they are functionally discrete factors. (1945, p. 143)

Actually, the sense in which they are functionally discrete is a somewhat special one. Fortes seems to be referring to the counterposed pull of an individual or group's various ties of kinship and clanship which maintain splits within solidarity and links across distinctions. By 'functionally discrete' we will do well to understand not so much different functions as the necessity of distinction to the joint function. In general, as Fortes indicates elsewhere:

residential proximity is almost a measure of lineage proximity. (1945, p. 207)

And again:

Neighbourhood ties are ipso facto lineage ties, and therefore economic, religious, jural and moral ties . . . A man's central field of social relationships is integral with his central field of spatial relationships. (1945, p. 211)

The impact of this is to support dense associational networks at the lower levels of social organization, and there essentially to knit the individual into a mesh of multiple commitments (see discussion in Chapter 6; cf. also Gluckman on multiplex relationships, 1955, pp. 19 and 156; 1962, p. 26). It also results in a higher order set of connexions between multipurposive relations (1965, p. 290) groups which are primarily linked in the overlap of fields of socio-spatial relations. In this hierarchical difference, groups are distinguished by having a much higher density of association internally than externally; their relations with other groups are divided among a number of different social units which may have little or no direct relationship with each other. Relations between clans thus have two dimensions: they are mediated by the close knit lower order communities which lay on their 'boundaries' and they have relatively weak and isolated ties at the higher level of clanship. This focusing of association into a number of close-knit socio-spatial fields obviously depends on a relatively low rate of geographic and social mobility, both in the sense of cumulative 'moves' and that of everyday travel. This state of affairs is changing as mobility and migration increase and the old system of kin-based communities with some influence from locality is altered. In this traditional system boundaries existed only "in terms of social cleavages co-ordinated with residential distribution, and not of geographical or topographical features" (1945, p. 163), a rule which applied both within and between settlements. On the other hand:

the political structure of the newer settlement is rapidly crystalizing out, on the basis of a territorial unity re-inforced by inter-individual kinship ties. This process has been greatly accelerated under the influence of British rule, with its stress on the territorial definition of political units and the support it gives to chiefs and headmen in the exercise of administrative and judicial functions. (1945, p. 224)

Paradoxically, increased mobility results in the increased influence of propinquity on the formation of social relations and the constitution of communities. This is because purely local ties do not require either the long-term commitment or the traditional origin of genealogical ties. They admit of - and produce - a great deal more fluidity of social interaction. They may be formed or dissolved almost at will, and they do not form part of a larger system in which they imply other relations. Further, the relationship of any particular individuals is not constrained by any traditional or consensual definition of the general relation of which it is a particular instance. In sum, then, in traditional Tale social organization, locality is a factor which particularizes more general principles of social relations based on kinship and descent. It influences where new ones (eg. marriages) will be formed, and it helps select which among old ones will be actualized and how frequently (eg. among 'brothers' of a nuclear lineage). With the influence of migration, mobility and other dissolving factors in the social order, inter-personal kin relations and propinquity-based relations become the most enduring social bonds as corporations decline in significance. Individuals operate more and more on their own or in terms of short-term contracts. Settlements come to exist independently of ongoing communities, that is, as territorial not social units.

The Operation of Formal Relations: Relations based simply on propinquity are not, and cannot readily be imagined to be, formal. They vitiate, rather than establish ongoing conscribes patterns of behaviour since they are, in essence, undifferentiated, and since, in and of themselves, they have no mechanism of extension in time. To be sure, propinquity is a step towards social solidarity from absolute atomism, but precisely because its relations are not formal and differentiated it requires meshing with another organizing principle or system in order to have a measure of stability. External pressures could, of course, ensure some external stability despite internal atomism, but probably only temporarily. Such a situation could also be liable to autocratic rule of one form or another (see Chapter 6 below). Let us look here at the way in which formal relations operate to help create a different set of conditions and probabilities.

First among Tale social relations, as we have set them out, are those which maintain distinctions among agnates and yet unite them into a single line of descent. Unity dominates over separation, but distinctions are required to deal with the major problematic and avoiding disputes which disrupt lineage solidarity. The moral value of mutuality unites those who are socially equal and who, though close kin, do not stand to inherit from each other. Reciprocity, on the other hand, maintains formal boundaries between those who succeed each other and may thus (or otherwise) be expected to be in competition. Particularity of social identities is the basis on which they patrilineal corporations are able to maintain their close times in a hierarchically incorporative system. Fortes sets out to explain, especially in The Dynamics of Clanship, why a system based totally on principles of unity with internal and external differentiations would be less effective in maintaining a social order. As he puts the problem:

the greatest puzzle of all is why there is so little apparent unity and coherence in an area of such dense and close habitation, carrying a population that has been sedentary for a long time, has a more or less homogenous culture, and a strong sense of the continuity and stability of its social order. (1945, p. 27)

Paradoxically, it is the very density of the population and social interaction which necessitates this elaborate scheme of social differentiation. An important support to the social order is the fact that

the conflicts and rivalries that inevitably spring up in a human community, and occur as often in a Tale settlement as anywhere else in the world, have an additional significance, since they necessarily involve men who are kin to one another and belong to the same corporate unit. (1945, p. 210)

The decreasing complexity of formally differentiated relations with others in a lineage is paralleled by a decreased density of interaction as one ascends the hierarchy of segments. The ancestors are the most formal representation of this system.

Counterposed to agnatic relations run cognatic relations, first and foremost relations of distinction, relations between members of different social groups. The bonds of unity which they form always act as cross-cutting ties, linking a particular individual (and to some extent his close agnates) to other groups, and thus offsetting their basic dissociation and providing for alliances. Through cognatic relations interdependence is developed on an interpersonal level balancing corporate independence. Thus, in Fortes' terms, a balance it struck "between the centripetal pull of the agnatic line and the centrifugal drive of matrilateral kinship" (1949a, p. 135). The fact that this is done through formal relations means that links exist independently of individual distinctions, and therefore are neither dependent on the vicissitudes of everyday relations or severed by inter-lineage conflicts. We have detailed the importance of these ongoing relations fairly fully; there remains only one point to enphasize related to the formality of these ties. This is the importance of potential but unactualized relationships.

Within any category of formal relations each individual Talen will number a wide range of persons whom he may not ever have met but who stand by some extension of classification in this relationship to him. This is particularly important in the case of cognatic relations which form the primary mechanism connecting the individual to the social world beyond his everyday field of action:

The result of this overlapping of the fields of extra-clan kinship of adjacent clans is that these ties are interwoven to form an elaborate mesh, parallel, on the level of individual relationships to the mesh of clanship on the level of corporate group relationships. Hence the native think of his matrilateral kinship bonds are linking him to such-and-such a person of a different clan, who is himself linked similarly to someone in yet another clan and so on to the limits of his social horizon. It must be remembered, though, that most of these ties are only potential for a person for most of his life. He does not, as a rule, know of his more remote extra-clan kinsfolk until they become relevant for him on some special ritual occasion. (1949a, p. 291)

It is obvious that a totally individualistic and atomistic/egoistic theoretical approach (such as exchange theory or transactionalism? would be quite unable to deal with such potential goods, yet they are vital to the Tale social order, and are a clear sign of its operation beyond the lives and actions of particular individuals. It should be clear as well, that for such a system of potential ties to be available, Tale social order must be a highly stable one in which the predictability of social action is at a maximum (cf. Chapter 7).

The Influence of Personal Preference: In such a system of formal relations the role of personal preference is limited. It is conscribed both through proscription (i.e., limits on the disposability of goods, exogamy rules) and prescription (i.e., obligatory relations, rules of inheritance). In addition to these direct interdictions of the system of rules and relations there are the influences of a circumscribed availability of alternatives and the pressure of multiple commitments in a dense social network. Personal preference may influence the intensity of a relation within its formal bounds and norms (in marriage, say) but it does not constitute the definition of the relation or the range of its classificatory extension. This it can do only in the limited context of personal friendship.

Next chapter

Inter-Personal Categories of Relations - Agnatic Relations - Brothers - Father and Son - Grandfather and Grandson - Ancestor and Descendant - Women in the Lineage - Cognatic Relations - Marriage - Affines - Mother's Brother and Sister's Son - Maternal Grandparents - Ancestors - Cognatic Relations - Informal Relations - Social Interaction - The Influence of Locality - The Operation of Formal Relations - The Influence of Personal Preference

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