Dowry: A Cherished Possession
or an Old-Fashioned Tradition
in a Modernizing Society?
Özlem Sandikci and B. Ece Dhan
Tradition and modernity are generally viewed as polar opposites in classical sociological thinking. According to the linear model of development (e.g., Lerner 1958; Rostow, 1960), as societies modernize, tradition gradually loses its significance and its role as a support mechanism. An important assumption in this model of change is that traditions are impediments to the development of a modern society and are things of the past. It is now clear, however, that neither traditional societies are homogeneous and static structures, nor are tradition and modernity mutually exclusive systems. There is an increasing awareness that the old is not necessarily replaced by the new, and the outcome of the fusion of modern and traditional forces is often a hybrid formation, rather than clash of opposites.
The notion of “detraditionalization” appears, at first glance, as a reiteration of the tradition/modernity polarity but offers some important differences. Beck and Giddens, among other advocates, argued that at the early stages of modernization, many institutions depend heavily on traditions characteristic of premodern societies. But moving toward advanced phases of modernity—“reflexive modernization” in Beck's (1992) terms and “high” or “late” modernity in Giddens's (1991) terms—the role of existing traditions as support mechanisms for social activity become increasingly undermined. This does not mean that traditions altogether disappear in the modern world, but that their statuses change. No longer unquestionably true and taken for granted, they become subject to public debate, reinterpretation, and renewal. Thompson (1996) argued that in the modern world traditions lose their normative authority but retain their role as a means of making sense of the world and as a way of creating a sense of belonging. However, whereas traditions retain their significance, they become “uprooted from the shared locales of everyday life” and “are continuously re-embedded in new contexts and re-moored to new kinds of territorial units” (Thompson, 1996, p. 94). Mediated in-