Kinship, Achievement and Social Change in Tribal Societies: Report of 1300 Interviews with Rubber Workers in Liberia, West Africa
Hendrickson, Leslie Clyde
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Hendrickson, Leslie Clyde
What can be called the conventional view concerning the operation of family, kinship and other ascriptive ties during social change in non-Western countries is subjected to an extensive critique. The conventional view typically characterizes social organization in non-industrial areas as primarily subject to ascriptive principles. Social values are conceptualized as "tradition," "primitive," or "custom-bound," and it is asserted that an emphasis on family ties and ascription is part of an integrated set of phenomena found in non-industrial areas. With respect to industrial societies, the conventional view asserts that ascriptive principles do not operate to any important degree. These societies are described by concepts such as "modern," "civilized" or "individualistic," and it is argued that an emphasis on individual achievement and competition are part of an integrated set of phenomena found in more developed societies. The conventional view stresses the interrelatedness of all parts of society and therefore societies at different levels of development must have different social structures and social values. In this view, social change becomes a shift from phenomena which characterize the "traditional" society to phenomena which characterize the "modern" society. Since these two societies are in opposition at so many points it is asserted that the shift is generally sudden and dramatic. This dissertation criticizes the conventional view for its assertion that societies can be divided into these two types and that social change generally can be conceived of as a transition between these types. Societies with different levels of technology may in fact have similarities in their social organization. Social relationships are regular and recurrent but the same regularity may be found at different technological levels. In addition to offering a unique theoretical synthesis, the dissertation offers empirical data on the existence of achievement orientations among tribal peoples. A total of 1330 workers were sampled at four rubber plantations in Liberia, West Africa. The majority can be described as achievement oriented. Variables reflecting the conventional view, e.g. "modernization," "industrialization," and "urbanization" were used in an attempt to explain these findings. Specifically studied were education, work experience, "adaption to wage-labor," self-conception and urban experience. Achievement orientation was not positively related to any of these variables. Instead, this dissertation accounts for the existence of an achievement orientation among tribal people by showing that the amount of achievement orientation varied by tribe. Two factor analyses and a cluster analysis show that although a basic similarity existed among the tribes, i.e. all stress achievement, men from three Kwa-speaking tribes in our sample, the Kru, Krahn, and Grebo, were more achievement oriented than men from the other seven tribes. This variation by language group suggested that an explanation for the existence of achievement responses should be sought in the social structure of the tribes. Historical and ethnographic data showed that the Kwaspeaking group have a distinctive history of occupying coastal jungle areas and governing themselves through decentralized political authority. They did not have secret societies nor did they congregate in dense populations. The Mande and West Atlantic-speaking peoples had been pushed toward the coast by expansionary pressures from the interior. These latter peoples were relatively more stratified, had secret societies, were more likely to have farmed, and had a centralized political authority. The existence of centralized authority and secret societies probably weakened individual achievement emphases. This evidence shows the existence of achievement orientations among tribal peoples and provides an explanation for it that contrary to expectations of the conventional view does not make reference to modernization.