Kinship and Modernization in Developing Societies: The Emergence of Instrumentalized Kinship

By Al-haj, Majid | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Autumn 1995 | Go to article overview

Kinship and Modernization in Developing Societies: The Emergence of Instrumentalized Kinship


Al-haj, Majid, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


Theoretical Considerations

The effect of modernization on kinship structure and the extended family in developing societies is a controversial issue. For a long time this field of research was dominated by the "convergence approach", which postulates that "as countries are industrialized, they increasingly resemble highly developed societies in their family, kinship ties and other basic institutional arrangements" (Bernard, Mogney and Smith 1986:151). The social forces of modernization affect every known society, thus creating a remarkable phenomenon in the development of similar patterns of family behavior and values among much of the world's population, even if the family systems in different areas of the world move from very different starting points (Goode 1970:1).

This argument is based on the conception that in the wake of a conspicuous modernization process, family-oriented traditional values are confronted with different Western hierarchies of values, which stress achieved rather than ascriptive' elements, universalistic rather than particularistic orientation and individualism rather than familism (see Madigan and Almonte 1977:797). Modernization and kinship systems are inimical to each other in many respects. Therefore, kinship structure is either a victim or a barrier of modernization (Inkeles and Smith 1974), since extended kinship relationships cannot be adapted to modern industrialized society. The need for social and geographical mobility necessitates the creation of a conjugal family independent of kinship ties (Levy 1965). One of the main characteristics of this nuclear-conjugal family is the remoteness from affinal and blood relatives, including the extraction of mutual economic aid (Goode 1970:8). Therefore, all the relatively modern nations are non-kinship oriented (Levy 1965).

In this paper an attempt will be made to deal with the impact of modernization on kinship structures in developing societies. The analysis is based on a brief literature survey on this topic, in addition to a detailed analysis of a field study conducted among the Arab population in Israel. The findings of the study are based on a representative stratified sample of Arab men from the 1954 birth cohort who were interviewed in 1987. This sample was selected to maintain close comparability with a set of Jewish data (see Matras, Noam and Bar-Haim, 1984). A two-stage design was employed. In the first stage, localities were sampled-by type of locality: size, degree of urbanization and composition by religion. In the second stage, persons were sampled from each locality as listed in the Central Population Register, which is maintained by the Ministry of Interior. In all, 760 Arab men were interviewed from 39 towns and villages. We analyzed data only for Moslem respondents (N = 478). Druze and Christian respondents were excluded because their number was too small, not enough to conduct multivariable analysis. Data were derived by face-to-face interviews based on a structured questionnaire. The questionnaire maintained a retrospectively longitudinal life-history format, kinship relations, kinship identity, migration history, religiosity scales and other individual variables.

Kinship in Developing Societies

Recent evidence from developing societies in the Third World suggests the need for a serious reconsideration of the aforementioned convergence approach. Studies conducted in these societies indicate that despite the modernization process they experienced in different fields, some of the so-called traditional systems have continued to exist. In several societies the kinship system has been reconstructed and has adapted to the changing environment (Ekong 1986; Al-Haj 1989). Furthermore, radical modernization has strengthened, rather than weakened, the traditional system. In many cases kinship groups have become vitally important for social and political recruitment (see Talmon-Gerber 1966; Ramu 1986). …

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