Socio-economic change in a Saudi village : a social anthropological study of Assfan
The main purpose of this research is to investigate and explore aspects of socio-economic life in a village, Assfan, in Saudi Arabia and to see whether there have been changes, after three decades of formal development planning in the country, and how these changes have affected the lives of the population. Three themes were explored from a structural functionalist perspective: the family system, with a special focus on marriage, as an aspect of social life; the economic system; and observance of religious duties. The study was based on questionnaires, interviews and participant observation. Questionnaires were administered to 154 younger inhabitants (aged 18 to 38 years old) and 150 older inhabitants (39 years or older), as heads of households, selected from the records of villagers in the health centre at Assfan. Women's perspectives were obtained via in-depth interviews conducted by a female assistant. In addition, in-depth study of life before 1970 was undertaken through interviews with important and elderly people of the village. Further insights were obtained through participant observation of village life. Descriptive data are presented regarding the background of the sample, followed by the respondents' answers to the three aspects of the study; marriage: labour market and religious performance. Chi square tests were used to investigate significant differences in responses between the older and younger sample groups which would constitute evidence of social change. The findings revealed evidence of change in marriage customs and economic life. There was a trend towards later marriage, related to pursuit of education, and a trend away from polygamy and cross cousin marriage. Celebrations had become more ostentatious and commercialised. In the economic sphere, a move away from agriculture and pastoralism was evident in favour of teaching and government service, as well as entrepreneurial activity providing goods and services for other villages, and for travellers. Despite changes in prosperity, however, there was no fundamental change in the value system. Regard to observance and the related norms of mutuality and reciprocation were still strong.