Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Socioeconomic Structures and Mate Selection among Urban Populations in Developing Regions

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Socioeconomic Structures and Mate Selection among Urban Populations in Developing Regions

Article excerpt


The topic of change and continuity in traditional behaviors evidenced by migrants from rural areas to urban settings in developing nations has been increasingly studied by anthropologists and others since World War II. Rather than abandoning traditional customs, rituals, norms and behaviors as earlier observers might have expected if Wirth's (1938) dichotomy between rural and urban life had been accepted, these former tribal and peasant peoples seem to unpredictably retain and/or discard formar lifestyles in urban settings. Bruner (1961) provided one of the classic descriptions of how indigenous people (the Toba Batak) in Indonesia maintained their traditional "Adat" (customary norms and lifestyle) in the urban setting of Medan. A host of other studies (Lewis 1952, Mangin 1970, Southal 1970, Shack 1973, Waldron 1988) in other parts of the developing world (even in the U.S., e.g. Gans 1962) confirmed his findings: urbanism did not have a homogeneous effect on peoples, nor was it clear what urbanism universally implied. Rowe (1973: 129) found in India, for example, that rather than creating anomie for former village residents, urban centers in India fostered an even stronger sense of being goan bhai, or village brothers, among men of different castes but from the same village.

Various proposals have been offered to explain the diversity of migrants' responses to living in cities but generally these are theoretically limited in that (1) the explanation is severely limited to a particular group's experience and lacks cross-cultural applicability, and, (2) they shy away from predicting what will change or continue for a given type of behavior in a specific context. Modernization theorists (e.g., Lerner 1958) too often simply assume urban contexts inevitably resulted in a series of social, cultural, political, economic and psychological changes which would render "them" carbon copies of "us" in the western (i.e., "modern") world. A begging of the question occurred when "deviants" from this model were encountered by simply labeling them as "traditionalists" even though they may have resided in cities for decades or a lifetime.

One area in which only piecemeal theorizing has been attempted regarding change and continuity related to urban living in developing nations and regions is that of mate selection practices among ethnic migrants. No explanation has been offered to account for all such phenomena in all urban contexts in the developing world. Often urban ethnographers have simply overlooked the issue, or gathered only impressionistic data on it, with a few exceptions. However, anthropologists spent a considerable amount of time gathering mate selection data on village-level groups since alliance theory as well as functional analysis found crucial links between mate selection practices on the one hand and politics, economics, religion and more on the other. Perhaps what researchers found around the urban developing world regarding mate selection seemed too diverse to justify a generalized explanation.


The question to be addressed here is: what are the effects of urban environments on traditional mate selection practices in cities of the developing world and why are these effects being experienced?

Cohen (1969, 1980) has argued that in cities of the developing world ethnicity becomes a political phenomenon, in which ethnic groups "stand together in the continuous competition for power with other groups." This conclusion is accepted in this paper and taken further in that insofar as recruitment into an ethnic group is primarily through birth, and giving birth is usually undertaken in the context of some form of marriage, it is here argued that at the level of the group, mate selection in urban contexts of the developing world is also, manifestly or latently, a political act. Further, since political acts by groups are usually concerned with the economic survival or betterment of the group, it is argued that mate selection in such multi-ethnic urban contexts analyzed at the group level must be examined in terms of the socioeconomic conditions and consequences of such marital decisions. …

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