Family Concepts vs. Development? (fwd)

Cliff Sloane (cesloane@MAROON.TC.UMN.EDU)
Mon, 28 Nov 1994 03:10:09 -0600

I am forwarding this for Bjorn. Please reply to him, not to me. His
address is:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 26 Nov 1994 19:26:24 -0500
From: Bjorn Conrad Fry <bear@USNET.US.NET>
To: Multiple recipients of list THRDWRLD <THRDWRLD@GSUVM1.BITNET>
Subject: Family Concepts vs. Development?

1) How do different cultural attitudes about the family influence development?

2) What happens to individualism?

2) How is a culture's sense of community affected?

I have detected some patterns that I would like to investigate a bit
further. During my exposure to Latin American cultures, for example, where
the preeminance of the extended family has manifested itself in cultural
behavior that is not commonly associated with the most Developed cultures,
certain causal relationships seem to be emerging.

The relative dominance of the extended family in Latin American life seems
to have contributed to an historic suppression of the role and significance
of the individual. This seems to be, at least partially, due to the greater
priority given to the greater family or familial collective than to the
maximization of individual potential; a potential that is expressed in
freedom, creativity, individual motivation and achievement. It seems, at
least, that this has had the effect of not permitting the maximum
exploitation of the intrinsic human resourses that all communities have.
Indeed the individual, as he or she is characterized in Latin American
societies (and there are differences among them) is more of a
representative, personification, or authority figure of the extended
family, than anything else.

The implications of this might be reflected in a much greater need to
defend personal honor or reputation, regardless of the merits of the
original perceived assault, because it is really seen as an assault on the
family not on some more autonomous individual.

Predominant attitudes with respect to family might even be contributory to
the developmental problems associated with primal cities in Latin America.
Virtually all members of an extended family are much more likely to reside
in the same township or city due to the overwhelming importance that unit
has in their lives. It wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that an
extremely high proportion of everyday life in Latin America revolves around
the family. Significant proportions of the population, especially the
cultural elite, see their families as being their lives. Being seperated
from that entity is like being seperated from ones identity or most all of
what one loves, cherishes and believes in.

The Latin American extended family has arguably been highly significant in
the way it has influenced attitudes towards community. The concept of
community is often almost synonymous with family. Families are the bastian
of unconditional trust and support. All other forms of trust and support
seem to pale by comparison. Concepts of loyalty, trust, cooperation, honor,
love, and even faith largely revolve around and or are even confined to
family. I see patterns of something akin to partisan politicing going on
with community relationships outside of family. And I'm not talking about a
relationship involving the "loyal opposition" either. "Is it good for my
family?" seems to ring more true than "is it good for the greater community
or country?" The noticable lack of community and even national
organizations in Latin America, might be a reflection of these attitudes.
Outside the all important family, a state of anything goes that helps the
family, is all too pervasive.

The important societal need to have a socially just system of merit might
also be affected. The Latin American family, for example frequently props
up its failing members artificially, at considerable societal cost, I might
add, while at the same time it often prevents its most able members from
striking out on their own to pursue greater rewards for themselves and for
their countries. The great motivator ... free and unobstructed upward and
downward social mobility is all to often sacrificed at the alter of family,
whether we like it or not.

These ideas are by no means an attack on Latin American societies or other
Third World cultures that share similar characteristics. It is also
recognized that the patterns noted above are influenced by a multitude of
other factors as well. It is my sincere desire to help the situation both
in Latin America and anywhere else were similar patterns are recognized and
to foster greater discussion and understanding regarding these issues.

Any and all constructive contributions are encouraged and welcome.

Bjorn Conrad Fry
Bethesda, Md.