Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Patrilocal Co-Residential Units (PCUs) in Al-Barha: Dual Household Structure in a Provincial Town in Jordan

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Patrilocal Co-Residential Units (PCUs) in Al-Barha: Dual Household Structure in a Provincial Town in Jordan

Article excerpt


Al-Barha is a residential district in Irbid, the principal city in the north of Jordan and the second-largest urban area in the country (after Amman). Prior to the 1950s, al-Barha was a village located one mile west of the original city center of Irbid. With the growth of both places in recent decades, al-Barha was incorporated (in 1955) into the city of Irbid. It now lies in the northwestern portion of the city. Despite its contiguity with the other parts of Irbid, al-Barha is recognized, both by residents and outsiders, as a distinct neighborhood, set apart from others in the city. Strong kinship ties among its original clans continue to dominate the social structure, which is until now regarded as "village-like" both by other city dwellers and by the residents of al-Barha themselves.

The object of this paper is to describe the complex household form typical of al-Barha, referred to here as the patrilocal' co-residential unit (PCU),2 a three-generational domestic group in which parents and the families of their married sons occupy a common set of dwellings.

The PCU's component units - - nuclear families - - have some of the characteristics of independent households, the most prominent being their physical separation from one another as distinct living units and the segregation of most of their daily household activities (e.g., sleeping, eating, keeping house). However, in some important ways they form a single joint household. Their dwellings are in very close proximity to one another, but more significantly, they are almost always joint owners of these dwellings, which are held either in the father's name or in all of the sons' names together. Furthermore, the economies of the different units frequently overlap, most commonly in the form of the married sons offering monthly support and other benefits (e.g. the provision of medical insurance) to their parents. Finally, frequent and intense social interaction between the members of the component households in a PCU makes them a single social unit.

The PCUs described here provide an illustration of how complex household forms can thrive in an urban Middle Eastern setting. The high cost of renting an apartment or building a house of one's own away from the extended family is a significant factor limiting sons' ability to form completely independent households. By building onto the parents' house, the sons can maintain the current middle-class ideal of having separate, modern dwellings for their own nuclear families without incurring the financial burdens of moving out and living on their own. At the same time, however, the physical and functional separation of sons' and fathers' households on a daily basis affords a degree of privacy to the nuclear families, a factor which seems to compensate for the sons' inability to move elsewhere. Thus, PCU residents in alBarha seem to have reached a reasonable modus vivendi, striking a balance between the traditional desire of parents to have their married sons nearby and the desire on the part of sons, and above all daughers-in-law, for privacy and independence.

Anthropological fieldwork was conducted in al-Barha during two periods, from September to January, 1989-91 and from June-August 1992. In both periods I visited households in the neighborhood on a daily basis while living in another part of Irbid.3 Married women friends introduced me to a handful of households in al-Baha at the outset, and I made use of their friendship and kinship networks to become acquainted with other households later. With a few exceptions, most of the households studied in the first period of research were restudied in the second. During the second period I surveyed fifteen PCUs that contained a total of 44 households and that consisted of three households per PCU on the average. Data were collected on the social composition and economic activities of all households within each PCU. In addition to the surveys, participant observation in the neighborhood provided detailed information on the working of these households. …

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