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Cultural Fossilization

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    Cultural Fossilization

    When a cultural group lives in isolation for a long time, certain habits and traditions become fossilized. That means that the people who practise them begin to feel as though there is no alternative and that there is only way to do certain things. An example? how to address people, the right way to cook biriyani, the correct pecking order in a house...

    Now if that family were still living in Nazimabad, probably these things would change 20 times in as many years. But if that family is in... say Brighton, change is harder.

    Sociologists have seen this is true with language when communities are isolated - the breakoff group preserves the old language while in the community of origin it continues to evolve.

    So, I wanted to ask all you wise folks, how many problems of immigrant communities (and in particular our own) that you have observed do you think can be atributed to this factor or exacerbated by it?

    Thanks, Shirin

    But who determines what/which culture is right from wrong?
    Some people might view that social evolvement is wrong, while some might view that isolation is wrong...

    And should we even use any yardstick to measure right from wrong?



      Dear Baleya,

      I wouldn't attach labels such as "right" or "wrong" to any of these phenomena... as you say that depends upon who interprets them. Its just a question of trying to understand where some of our cultural conflicts come from.

      For this and your other questions, I'm open to comment. My reason for pposting was to find out how people feel.


        Great subject.....certainly requires some thought on my part.

        At first glance it appears that a vast majority of migration concerns may be attributed to this factor.

        Resistance to change seems to be directly proportional to the degree of isolation that a family unit comes from. A family arriving from Jhelum would likely face greater difficulty in adapting to life in Toronto than would a family relocating from Karachi or Lahore.

        Am I on the "right" track?


          Dear Shirin,

          These are very interesting questions. The migrant communities, in my opinion, suffer a lot more adopting to a new and totally foreign environment, than to say, adopting to gradual changes within their own environment (basically the same as what You and Muzna are saying).

          The challenges to immigrants are far more resplendent than just a challenge due to fossilization. Since economic consideration has been (and still is) the main reason for immigration, the issue becomes multi dimensional. In my observation, newly arrived immigrants are more worried about finding a job than to retain their customs and cultures. Once that hurdle is crossed, then the second one is erect, which, in more cases than less, how to integrate into the new place and still maintain some of our inheritance. This stage is perhaps the most difficult one. Families are torn apart by the contrasting views of the members within the families. Some become totally absorbed into their new environment, and some still remain in their old, and yet some (I would guess most) find a balance.

          The challenges to immigrants, and NYC is perhaps as good a place as any to study, are multi-dimensional, are not just cultural.

          The buzzword these days is “Cultural Survival”, which has generated a very hot debate in many disciplines, and not just sociology. E.g., there is an engineering branch of hydroelectrics that is advocating stopping the building of dams in poor countries for the fear of displacing indigenous people, and therefore destroying their culture. The Greens of Europe are involved in such causes as well.

          Back to your question how much it has impacted on Desi community. From “living here” point of view, I can say that it has a pretty hefty influence on how desis relate to non-desis. When some Desis travel back to Pakistan, they always complain that people in Pakistan have changed so much (I sometime suffer from the same symptoms). This is very challenging to any group of immigrants, also challenging to the natives who absorb such groups. They fear as much as losing their own ways of doing things, as the arriving immigrants feel.

          There is a big debate about Fossilization of Languages. Since this area is relatively new to me, as I took my anthropology in the mid 80’s, I have not been able to stay current with new developments in linguistics. But I do know that this area of study is becoming a discipline within its own rights, as physical and social anthropology evolved out of sociology in the 50’s. I will be interested to know what your thoughts are.


            Muzna and Ahmedi, thanks for your input.

            I'm not an antropolgist or sociologist, I just dabble... and maybe in my case a little learning is a dangerous thing... (so any experts are more than welcome) but I was struck by the difficulties that immigrant communities have in many aspects of their life.

            As Ahmedi says the financial aspect is foremost in the beginning but as children grow up priorities can change and different approaches are taken by different families. It suddely becomes important to preserve the language, clothes, traditions etc. to an extent that would not happen "at home"

            A primary example is marriage. Will a desi girl or boy who has grown up outside her/his country accept an arranged marriage? With whom? Will their parents accept anything else? In theory a "desi" daughter in law will fit in more easily with the family, but I have seen that it usually makes not much difference if the mother in law has selected the girl herself or her son has picked a firangi, in some ways the pakistani girl who has grown up in a fluid society such as Karachi will have more trouble adapting to her new family than the foreigner ... there are more expectations, and the family doesn't realise that because the background culture and language and religion are the same, that doesn't ensure that both have evolved in the same direction. I have heard the complaint even from couples of Pakistani origin who have grown up abroad that their families are to different for certain differences to be reconcilable. Marriage is difficult enough, but these marriages seemed up for even harder times. I know there are exceptions, but I'm speaking about a general trend. Has anybody else noticed this?

            Language wise I remember my father, who is Gujarati (Kutchi) telling me about relatives he used to meet as a child who had migrated to Africa and who spoke the language very strangely - and then realised that they spoke the language which was two or three generations old! I imagine that their customs would also be a little different from those of the country of origin, as they were tightly knit and rather closed communities.

            Just thoughts.... thanks for sharing.